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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Ira Bidwell

The life which this narrative depicts began in Lafayette county, Mo., August 8, 1828, and came to a close in Sonoma county, Cal., in 1893. The first epoch in the career of this well-known California pioneer was passed within a mile and a half of Lexington, Mo., where he attended school when it was possible to be spared from the work of the home farm. Later he undertook farming in earnest and it was while working in the field that the news of the finding of gold in California reached his ears. He was not the only one in the locality who was impressed by the news, as was demonstrated by the large party made up of residents of Cass and Henry counties to cross the plains to the eldorado in 1850. Mr. Bidwell joined this band of argonauts, who followed the main trail via Fort Hall and down the Humboldt, over what was known as the Carson route. After a journey of six months, not unmixed with adventure, the party finally arrived at Georgetown, where Mr. Bidwell mined for one year.

The records do not so state, but it is safe to say that Mr. Bidwell did not meet with the hoped-for success in his mining venture, for at the end of his year’s experience at Georgetown he came to Sonoma county, just a few days before Christmas of 1852, and located on a ranch near the old Franklin Bidwell place half a mile from the Russian river and near the land owned by Capt. H. D. Fitch and Cyrus Alexander. At that time Ira Bidwell and Cyrus Alexander were the only residents of the valley. Game of all kinds was plentiful at that time and hunting offered great possibilities to those who liked the sport. Mr. Bidwell followed hunting as a means of livelihood for a considerable period, finding a ready market in San Francisco, the game being hauled to Sonoma, and shipped from there by launch to the city. Deer meat brought from twelve and a half to twenty cents a pound, and all other game brought equally good prices. Mr. Bidwell was considered an excellent shot, and during those early days many grizzly bears fell before his unerring aim. In 1857 he gave up hunting and went to Block Mountain, where he selected a ranch upon which he lived for one year, during this time setting out an orchard and otherwise improving the land. Various tracts of land were thus bought and improved and finally sold, but in 1876 he purchased and located upon the ranch which was his home thereafter until his death. During the time he managed the property he made a specialty of stock-raising, having six hundred acres stocked with cattle and sheep, but finally he turned the enterprise over to his two sons, John and James.

The marriage of Ira Bidwell was celebrated in Missouri and united him with Miss Elizabeth Brooks, who passed away in 1855 leaving three ch9ildren, John, James and Nancy, the latter of whom later became the wife of James Anderson. Mr. Bidwell’s second marriage was with Miss Caroline Howard, who was born in McDonald county, Mo., the daughter of William and Rachel (Markham) Howard. Mr. and Mrs. Howard originally came from Tennessee, going from there to Missouri, and in 1854 they made the overland journey across the plains. She died in June, 1891.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011