Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Bidwell Casaba Saga

As you all very well know I purchased a seed catalog in February and happened upon a family seed. I discovered that the famous General John Bidwell was a cousin of mine, led the first wagon train to California (the Bidwell Bartleson expedition), and was a spectacular gardener towards the end of his life.

What proceeded was me spending way too much money on melon seeds that probably need a longer growing season then I have. The seed company assured me that the seed would grow here though, as long as I didn't let it get root locked. I know that I started the three little seeds too early but I was eager. Eager and gardening have never been a good mix.

At ten years of age my 9x great grandfather John Bidwell (1620) traveled from England to Connecticut with his father. The Bidwells were among the first settlers in Hartford Connecticut. In 1639, at 19 years of age he was allotted 4 acres of land in Hartford, Connecticut. To this day his name is on the monument erected in memory of the first settlers at Hartford.

(Feel free to skip ahead as a long list of who fathered who shall follow) John Bidwell (1620) was father of John Bidwell (1641) who was father of David Bidwell (1687) who was father of David Bidwell II (1720). The Bidwell's stayed in Harford, Connecticut for 100 years until my 6 times great grandfather David Bidwell II moved his family to Saratoga, New York. If you do any math you'll notice that a good deal of these boys were born when their father's (and actually their mothers too) were in their 40's. These were large families and some of the children were born later in the list but my reason for noting this is that my mom was born when her mother was in her 40's. My dad was born sixth in his family when his mom was in her 30's. And I had my first (and only child) at 32, which is considered borderline old these days. It's just a neat observation for me that even in the 1700's my family was having children late in life.

My 5 times great grandfather Jacob Bidwell (1758) was born in New York. His brother Abram Bidwell (1769) was THEE General John Bidwell's (1819) father. This all means that General John Bidwell (1819) and I share the same grandparents: my 6 times great grandfather David Bidwell II and my 6 times great grandma Esther Lawrence, making General John Bidwell of the Bidwell Casaba melon a first cousin.

After researching all of the above, three Bidwell Casaba melon seeds were sewn indoors at my house in March. Two of them sprouted almost right away and took off. The third sprouted several days later and grew slowly. The first two had roots growing out of the bottom of the little pots almost instantly. I thought it'd be a good idea to buy potting soil and move them to a bigger pot so they wouldn't get root locked. They didn't like that however and slowly wilted away. The third seed still grew slowly and I sort of considered it a dud. But I kept it around and eventually it made it's way to the small bed behind my garage (I really think it's roots were a jumbled mess by that time though).

My cousin general John Bidwell (1819) was born in New York, as was his cousin Ruth Bidwell (1790), my 4 times great grandmother. On June 4, 1833 my 4 times Grand Grandma Ruth Bidwell and her husband, my 4 times great grandfather Mishael Beadle were issued a land grant from the federal government for 53.06 acres of land in Michigan very near Lake Michigan (the grant states, "paid in full by Mishael Beadle"). The Bidwell's have been in the US for 386 years. But this line of my family has been in Michigan on the west side ever since, from 1833 to date, 183 years.

Very close to the same time that my 4 times great grandparent's came to Michigan, Ruth (Bidwell) Beadle's cousin General John Bidwell at the age of 20, in the spring of 1839, living in Western Ohio with his father Abram Bidwell had a "desire to see the great prairies of the west."

In 1839, six years after my family moved to Michigan General John Bidwell set out on foot to see the great prairies of the west with only a knapsack strapped upon his shoulders and a pocket knife for protection. He eventually found himself in the Iowa territory with a 160 acre plot. He wrote that he worked at putting up a log house on his 160 acres, "until all the people in the neighborhood became ill with fever and ague - I concluded to move on."

He moved on to Platte county of the Missouri territory. The area had just been purchased from the Indians and populated rather quickly. General John Bidwell wrote that it was rich with black dirt, there wasn't a field that wasn't fertile. You couldn't find an area without a beautiful spring of clear cold water and you'd find wild honey bees in every tree that had a hollow. It was a heavenly country.

He decided to stay, took the first job he could get as a teacher, and got a claim for a large area of land in 1839. Apart from the abundant rattlesnakes and copperheads he decided that this was precisely the "great prairies of the west" he'd been looking for and he wanted to make it his home. He planned to have his father join him there after he'd established himself. Unfortunately the following summer in 1840 he took a trip to St. Louis for supplies. He was gone for a month. He wrote in his memoir that, "This trip proved to be the turning point in my life, for while I was gone a man had "jumped" my land." Normally the locals would join together in removing such a scoundrel but the squatter, "was a bully - had killed a man in Callaway County - and everybody seemed afraid of him."

"All I had earned had been spent on the land and when it was taken I lost about everything."

Out of this bad luck he decided to go on a journey that no one had thus ever been on, to take a wagon train to the almost mythical land of California. He commented that at the time there were but 100 Americans total in that land and they were almost all wild men; trappers, fur traders, or sailors that jumped ship at port. Gold had not yet been found and so not many people were adventurous enough to make such a journey.

This year I've chosen to grow a strange orange sherbet flavored melon in tribute to this man, my cousin who went on a monumental journey filled with the unknown, founded a city (Chico, California), became a master gardener, sat on the California senate and fought for the rights of Indians but had no children and in tribute to my Bidwell line; settlers, travelers, and brave ancestors that have been in the US for almost 400 years. 

The one late blooming seed, the slow goer was planted in the back bed and started to do quite well until one day weeks ago when my dogs found a rabbit in our backyard and went on a rampage thoroughly trampling the gorgeous plant. The main shoot was severed. The leaves were all torn to bits and, well, it'd made it this far so I left it in hopes that it would stay the course.

At this point I imagine it should have long luxurious shoots all over my yard, much larger leaves, and maybe some tiny fruit but at least, and I say this with continued hope, at least it now has some flowers on it. I direct sowed a second seed in the bed next to this first plant but I really think it was planted too late. The Bidwell Casaba saga continues much the same as General John Bidwell's entire life, filled with the unknown.

This took a REALLY long time to write. I now feel the need to give a HUGE shout out to Sluggy as she writes some great ANCESTRY PIECES quite often. Oh, oh, OH AND one of Sluggy's relatives was apart of the 69 people who went on the Bidwell Bartleson expedition AND the 32 people who actually made it to California. What a super small world, right!?!?!


  1. Life and the world get smaller and smaller all the time!
    I am anxious to hear how the melons fare. Keep us posted.
    No one in my family did anything incredible_bummer!

    1. It does seem that way, that we're all connected somewhere in history or through someone mutual. We just have to stumble upon the knowledge. It's a small world indeed!

      I hope I get at least one melon. Truly one is all I'm hoping for. I will definitely be reporting back how it goes though.

      And I bet there were people in your family that did incredible things. You just have to find them :)

  2. Whether you get to eat the fruit of the melon (and I hope you do!) growing it has yielded a rich harvest of research. Well done you!

    1. I'm ever so hopeful but I feel the exact same way. It was such a neat discovery. Just having given it a try and learned all that I have along the way, that's really all worth it for me. Plus, if no fruit does come of it this year I have plenty of seeds for a round two of trying next year.

  3. I've walked by that monument many times!

    1. How cool! I've never been over there but it's definitely on my to-do list ever since I found out I have so many ancestors from the area.