An Early California Leader, and a Mason: John Bidwell

Featured at the California website this week.

The Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry has among its archives an 1857 petition for the Royal Arch degrees of John Bidwell. Shown here, with punctuation added for clarity, the certificate reads:

To the M.W. High Priest, King, Scribe, and Companions of Washington R.A. Chapter No. 13:

The petition of the subscriber respectfully sheweth that being a Master Mason in good standing and a member of Chico Lodge U.D. and residing within the jurisdiction of your chapter is desirous of receiving the degrees of Mark, Past and Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch therein if found worthy.

Residence: Chico, Butte Co., Cal. [....37]
Occupation: Farmer.


J. Bidwell
[The names of those who recommended Bidwell are then listed.]

John Bidwell (Aug. 5, 1819 – April 4, 1900) led a fascinating life. Originally from New York, Bidwell was part of the first wagon train that traveled from Independence, Missouri to California. He assisted in drawing up the Bear Flag Republic’s resolution of independence and fought in the Mexican War. After the war, he was the first person to find gold on the Feather River in Sutter’s Creek.  Bidwell founded the Chico Masonic Lodge No. 111 on December 31, 1856.

Bidwell used the profits from his good fortune to create a dual career as California’s leading agriculturalist and as a state politician. He served in the state senate and was a strong supporter of Lincoln in the bourgeoning Civil War. Bidwell was unsuccessful in bids to serve as governor of California and president of the United States. Around the same time, he became disillusioned with Freemasonry, and left the Craft in 1867.

To learn more about Chico-Leland Stanford Masonic Lodge No. 111 history and John Bidwell go here

To learn more about California’s Masonic history and to view archival documents and artifacts online, visit

All articles may be repurposed by any Masonic publication with credit to the Grand Lodge of California.