The John Bidwell Papers came to the Special Collections Department from several different
sources. The main bulk of the records are original documents, correspondence kept by
Bidwell regarding the day to day operation of the Rancho Arroyo Chico, come from the
State Parks and Recreation Department (Sutter's Fort). The diaries and other
miscellaneous items are photocopies of originals held at the California State Library and
John Bidwell was born in Chautauqua County, New York, on August 5, 1819. His father was
Abraham Bidwell from Connecticut and his mother, Clarissa Griggs, was from Massachusetts.
He later moved, as a child, to Pennsylvania and Ohio with his parents. At age 17, he
attended Kingsville Academy and shortly afterwards became it's Principal. In the spring
of 1839 he walked and rode to Cincinnati, went down the Ohio River to the Mississippi,
then to St. Louis and into the Territory of Iowa. By June of that year, he had reached
Missouri with the idea of becoming a farmer. While there, and after having his land claim
"jumped," he talked to a Frenchman named Roubidoux, a trapper who had been in California.
Bidwell decided to join with sixty-nine others at Sapling Grove (now in Kansas) in May of
1841, determined to cross to a mythical California. The group was joined by Father De
Smet and began its journey, first to the Platte River and Fort Laramie, then north to the
Great Salt Lake (September). Some ventured on to Oregon with De Smet. Bidwell and others
stayed with the California plan. After reaching the Humboldt River, they followed its
shoreline to the Walker River at the base of the eastern Sierras. They crossed here,
meeting the headwaters of the Stanislaus River, came down that gorge into the San Joaquin
and eventually to the Marsh ranch near Mt. Diablo.