Sunday, December 18, 2016

"A Short Golden Life … The Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar 1848-1860: Volume II"

"In 1998, as a volunteer for the Bidwell Bar Association at Lake Oroville Visitor Center," Chuck Smay writes, "I set up a three-ring binder titled The History of Bidwell's Bar In One Place. … That started a fifteen-year search."

Several years ago Smay published his findings as "Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar: Boom To Bust, 1848-1860," but now comes a new book, twice as long as the first, with new source material.

"A Short Golden Life … The Town Of Bidwell At Bidwell's Bar 1848-1860: Volume II" ($30 in paperback, published in association with the Butte County Historical Society) is available at the Society's Museum Store, 1749 Spencer Avenue (at Baldwin) in Oroville ( or through ( Additional materials are at The book contains historical photographs, 50 pages of endnotes, and a name index.

In the Foreword, Smay writes: "As you read, allow your senses to hear the distant bells on the freight wagon as it descends the hill into town, and the responding whinny of the horses milling about … sense the terror of the nighttime fire burning the town's buildings as you helplessly watch the destruction."

The book is far more than a collection of historical documents. Smay writes a narrative that weaves together the lives of business and political figures, and ordinary citizens, so that the reader senses the vibrancy of this Butte County mining town.

It was once the county seat but found itself "locked in a bitter political struggle" with Oroville; it was a community which burned twice (in 1854 and again in 1859); and a place which ultimately was inundated by the waters of the Oroville Dam project.

The final chapter details the fate of the Mother Orange Tree, a Bidwell legacy that lives on. The plaque near its protected enclosure in Oroville notes that the Mediterranean sweet orange seedling, first planted at Bidwell's Bar, is in large measure the origin of California's citrus industry.

Smay closes with a sweet confession. The fruit, he writes, tastes "like tangerine" but "more important than the taste was the feeling of being connected with the past!"

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