Sunday, November 15, 2015

“John And Annie Bidwell: The Long And The Short Of It”

Chico writer Nancy Leek and Paradise artist Steve Ferchaud have combined their talents to create a picture book telling the story of Chico’s founding couple. “John And Annie Bidwell: The Long And The Short Of It” ($16.95 in paperback from Goldfields Books, is for kids grades K-4.

It’s available at Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, Made In Chico, and The Bookstore. (Leek also authored the acclaimed biography for young readers, “John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life Of A California Pioneer.”)

She writes in the new book that “John Bidwell was a tall man. In a time when the average man stood 5 feet 7 inches, he was 6 feet tall. Annie Bidwell measured 4 feet 8 inches. John was not only 16 inches taller than Annie, he was 20 years older. They met when he was 46 and she was 26 years old, and they married two years later.”

Leek adds: “She was a cultured lady from Washington, D.C.; he was a farmer from California. Yet they loved each other deeply. She called her husband ‘General’ and he called her ‘Precious.’ Here is their story.”

The book begins with John joining a wagon train though “none of them knew the way to California, but they got lucky. They met a group of missionaries who had hired a trail guide.” The journey wouldn’t be easy, but Bidwell arrived intact.

Much later, in “1850, John stood by President Fillmore as he signed the bill admitting California to the Union.” In 1865 “he left for Washington, D.C. to serve in the U.S. Congress. In Washington he met his future wife, Miss Annie Kennedy.” She “had strong views on many subjects.” In addition to her temperance work, she “believed that women should have the vote, and so did John.”

Later still, “in 1905 Annie gave Vallombrosa (‘shady valley’) to the city of Chico. It became Bidwell Park.”

Leek’s colorful and captivating story (there’s a full-color illustration from the inimitable Ferchaud on every page) features these words of John Bidwell: “The history of California lies like a map before me. Somewhat confused it may be, but I have seen it all.”    

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