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John Bidwell

John Bidwell (August 5, 1819 – April 4, 1900) was known throughout California and across the nation as an important pioneer, farmer, soldier, statesman, politician, prohibitionist and philanthropist. He is famous for leading one of the first emigrant parties, known as the Bartleson-Bidwell Party, along the California Trail, and for founding Chico, California.



Bidwell was born in Chautauqua County, New York. The Bidwell family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1829, and then to Ashtabula County, Ohio in 1831.[1]. At age 17, he attended and shortly thereafter became Principal of Kingsville Academy.[2]

In 1841 Bidwell became one of the first emigrants on the California Trail. John Sutter employed Bidwell as his business manager shortly after Bidwell's arrival in California. Shortly after the James W. Marshall's discovery at Sutter's Mill, Bidwell also discovered gold on the Feather River establishing a productive claim at Bidwell Bar in advance of the California Gold Rush. Bidwell obtained the Rancho Colus Mexican land grant on the Sacramento River in 1845; later selling that grant to establish a ranch and farm on Chico Creek.

Bidwell obtained the rank of major while fighting in the Mexican-American War. He served in the California Senate in 1849, supervised the census of California in 1850 and again in 1860. He was a delegate to the 1860 national convention of the Democratic Party. He was appointed brigadier general of the California Militia in 1863.[1] He was a delegate to the national convention of the Republican Party in 1864 and was a Republican member of Congress from 1865-1867.

Annie and John Bidwell

His wife, Annie Kennedy Bidwell, was the daughter of Joseph C. G. Kennedy, a socially prominent, high ranking Washington official in the United States Bureau of the Census who was active in the Whig party. She was deeply religious, and committed to a number of moral and social causes. Annie was very active in the suffrage and prohibition movements.[1]

The Bidwells were married April 16, 1868 in Washington, D.C. with then President Andrew Johnson and future President Ulysses S. Grant among the guests. Upon arrival in Chico, the Bidwells used their mansion extensively for entertainment of friends. Some of the guests who visited Bidwell Mansion were President Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Governor Leland Stanford, John Muir, Joseph Dalton Hooker and Asa Gray.

In 1875 Bidwell ran for Governor of California on the Anti-Monopoly Party ticket.[1] As a strong advocate of the temperance movement, he presided over the Prohibition Party state convention in 1888 and was the Prohibition candidate for governor in 1880.[1]

In 1892, Bidwell was the Prohibition Party candidate for President of the United States.[1] The Bidwell/Cranfill ticket received 271,058 votes, or 2.3% nationwide. It was the largest total vote and highest percentage of the vote received by any Prohibition Party national ticket.

John Bidwell's autobiography, Echoes of the Past, was published in 1900.

Fraternal allegiance

  • Bidwell was a Freemason for a time but left the group. He stated that allegiance to the fraternity "was pointless" in a letter to Annie Bidwell on October 17, 1867.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "John Bidwell-Biography". Spartacus Education. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  2. ^ Guide to the John Bidwell Papers
  3. ^ Michael J. Gillis and Michael F. Magliari. "John Bidwell and California: The Life and Writings of a Pioneer, 1841-1900." ISBN 0-87062-332-X p. 223-4.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomas Bowles Shannon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
James A. Johnson


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