John Bidwell, one of the few early-day immigrants to benefit directly from gold mining, guided a party of immigrants across the plains to California in 1841. Later he became a trusted friend and lieutenant of John Sutter. Bidwell began prospecting in early 1848 and on July 4, at Bidwell Bar on the Feather River, he made one of the richest strikes of the Gold Rush. Bidwell dug a huge fortune in a short time, and he used the gold to buy and cultivate a sprawling fiefdom of farming lands near what is now Chico, a town that he and his wife Annie were instrumental in designing and establishing. Over the ensuing decades he became one of the richest and most respected Californians, a Congressman and a candidate for President on a Prohibition ticket. Long after the real excitement over gold had dwindled away, his plantation in the upper Sacramento Valley remained a showcase of agragrian prosperity. His mansion (pictured to the right), in Chico, is now a state park open to the public.
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