John Bidwell’s interest in farming and agriculture began in his childhood. He was the son of a farmer and held dreams of having his own farm. The early stories of free land in California enticed Bidwell to make the long trip west. John Bidwell’s success in mining along the Feather River provided him with a means to procure the land he desired – Rancho del Arroyo Chico. The purchase of this Mexican Land Grant provided Bidwell with over 22,000 acres of productive and fertile soil. Rancho Del Arroyo Chico would eventually turn into a thriving agricultural empire that would help shape California as America’s leading farm state and a successful agricultural economy.
The Gold Rush and its subsequent increase in the population of California created a need for farm products from mining towns and big cities. “Like most California rancheros, Bidwell began by focusing his efforts on raising stock. By 1860 his cattle numbered over 1,300 head… Meanwhile, inspired by the high wool prices of the Civil War era, Bidwell began investing heavily in sheep, buying high quality specimens of the Merino and Cotswold breeds.” 1. Gillis and Magliari, 132
Wheat became a dominant staple grown throughout the valley, and Bidwell’s wheat was famous. “In 1862, Bidwell’s grain farm was declared the best in California by the state agricultural society and, in 1878, his wheat earned a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition after being judged the finest in the world.” 1. Gillis and Magliari, 135
John Bidwell was an early champion of diversified commercial agriculture. While flour and wheat proved to be primary sources of income for many California farmers such as Bidwell, he did not base his fortune exclusively upon a single crop or agricultural product. Very early on in the agricultural production of Rancho Chico, Bidwell was planning future prosperity through the growth of exotics and specialty crops. He introduced and experimented with new species of melons and corn. He pioneered the growth of the almond and walnut industry. In the last few years of his life, John Bidwell could say that his Rancho had become a model of California’s farm industry.
1.Michael J. Gillis and Michael F. Magliari, “John Bidwell and California: The Life & Writings of a Pioneer 1841-1900″ (Spokane: Arthur H. Clark Company, 2004).