Published on June 26, 2014 by Amy
The people of Mechoopda had a long relationship with early pioneer John Bidwell and his wife Annie. It has been the subject of controversy, and opinions about the relationship vary. The Bidwell’s prospered with the help of Native labor and the scene resembled that of a plantation to some. Yet, the Native residents of Rancho Arroyo Chico were provided work, homes, and some protection from hostile vigilantes. The rancho also became a refuge for individuals escaping government sponsored removals of Native people from Butte County.
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In 1847 John Bidwell arrived in the vicinity of Mechoopda and grazed cattle. He apparently lived with the people of Mechoopda for several weeks. It may have been during this time that he met Nuppani, the daughter of headman Lukiyan. Bidwell’s relationship with Nupanni appears to have been recognized as a marriage. This early association helped establish a relationship that would last into the 20th century.
Soon after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, John Bidwell began mining on the Middle Fork of the Feather River with about twenty Native workers. With his fortune made from gold mining, Bidwell purchased a Mexican Land Grant, Rancho Arroyo Chico in 1849. From the earliest days of Rancho, local native people worked for Bidwell, clearing the land for plantings of wheat and oats, working with livestock, harvesting and packing fruit from the orchards.
With the establishment of Bidwell’s Rancho Arroyo Chico, most of Mechoopda (as well as residents from several other local villages) moved on the ranch. The native people provided Bidwell with a resident work force, and he was much the envy of landowners. Examination of ledger books shows that native people were paid the same rate as non-Indian workers performing the same or similar work. Residence on Rancho Arroyo Chico also afforded protection from the prevailing lawlessness from which many native communities suffered. In one instance (1863), after a series of violent incidents in Butte County, Bidwell found it necessary to bring a company of soldiers from San Francisco to protect the native population of the rancho from threats of extermination by local militias. The soldiers stayed for over a year, and were routinely picketed around the village at night.
Bidwell’s marriage to Annie Kennedy in 1868 brought further changes to the lives of native people. Mrs. Bidwell instituted Christian religious teachings, and established a church within the village in 1895. She also taught sewing, administered a small school, preached temperance, and was Vice President of the Nation Indian Association. In 1904, she had written Senator Perkins in support of a bill before Congress which would have allowed land to be granted to Indians. The population of the village in 1910 was fifty (13th U. S. Census).
After John Bidwell’s death in 1900, Annie continued her role as overseer and protector of the village, a stance many now view as maternalism. Nonetheless, Annie had new frame houses built for most of the Native families in the village, and before her death, secured their rights to live there by deeding the property to the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church as trustee for the Native residents. Annie Bidwell died in 1918 and the land she had deeded to the church as held in trust until the Untied States conveyed the land into federal trust in 1939.