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Captain Jack
Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



Historic Sites
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A History of American Indians in California:

Mechoopda Indian Rancheria
Butte County

The Mechoopda Indian Rancheria, represented today by the Wilson Home located at 620 Sacramento Avenue in Chico, California, is one of the last remaining buildings of the historic rancheria that was situated on General John Bidwell's ranch. The house is a wood-frame, single-story structure with a south entrance and covered front porch. The house may be one of the original wood-frame structures built by the Indians living on the Bidwell Ranch in the 1870s, or it may be one of three house types designed for the ranch by an architect commissioned by Mrs. Annie Bidwell in 1910. The Wilson Home is now a private residence and belongs to the descendants of the family. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the site is used predominantly for rentals to students who attend California State University, Chico, a short distance away.

Prior to European contact, evidence indicates that a great variety and supply of food and material resources from several ecological zones were available to the Indians, and that there were several hundred village sites between the Sacramento and Feather rivers in the Chico area. (Hill, 1978:7) Jedediah Smith, the first American trapper to record his visit, entered the region in 1828. Brigades of Hudson Bay Company trappers came shortly thereafter. In 1841, a United States Exploratory Expedition reported that the game around the Feather River had decreased substantially because of the large numbers of animals taken by Bay Company trappers. (Hill, 1978:9) Depletion of food resources seriously affected the Indians living in the region, and tension increased between them and the newly arrived Whites. By 1849, General John Bidwell had established a ranch near Chico Creek. Most of his work force was made up of Mechoopda Indians. More Mechoopdas came to the Bidwell Ranch after the death of rancher John Potter. The leader of Potter's Mechoopda ranch workers asked Bidwell to take them on to his ranch in order that they might continue working. Bidwell agreed to their request and relocated this group of Mechoopdas to the areas between Main and Orient streets and First and Fourth streets in Chico.

Tension between Indians and Whites continued to mount. In 1850, the government authorized treaties with the California Indians whereby the latter would be guaranteed reservations and some economic aid. A treaty of "peace and friendship" was signed on September 18, 1853 with the Mechoopda, Eskuin, Hololupi, Toto, Sunus, Cheno, Batsi, Yutduc, and Simsawa; tribes at Bidwell's Ranch; Indians at Reading's Ranch at Colusa; and tribes along the Consumnes and Yuba rivers. United States Indian Agent O. M. Wozencraft represented the U.S. Government at Bidwell's Ranch. (Hill, 1978:20) In the 60 years following the treaties of 1851, the heavy influx of miners and ranchers caused massive faunal change to the land, equaled only by extinctions of the post-glacial period. Some species, such as condor, elk, antelope, and grizzly bear, disappeared entirely from the Chico region. (Hill, 1978:19)

More than 800 Maidu Indians in Butte County are said to have died from influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis by 1853. There are also indications that Indians died from cholera, smallpox, and typhoid. (Hill, 1978:23) In 1863, after much conflict between Indians and Whites, the U.S. government relocated the majority of the Indians in the Chico area to the Round Valley Reservation at Covelo in Mendocino County; however, 300 Indians moved to the Chico Rancheria for protection. They and their descendants remained and worked there for the next 70 years.

In March 1869, the Mechoopda village was relocated to Sacramento Avenue, approximately one mile from Bidwell's residence. It remained there until 1964. Prior to relocation, rancheria houses were traditional, dome-shaped, earthen beehive structures. After the move to Sacramento Avenue, the Indians replaced their traditional homes with wooden structures although three families continued to live in earthen domes. The Indians also built a new dance house 40 feet in diameter, but they burned it down upon the death of the last Mechoopda headman. In the early 1900s, the Mechoopda Indian Rancheria census recorded several Northern California Indian tribes, including the Maidu Mechoopda, the Maidu Konkau, the Maidu Oroville, the Wintun, and the Yana residing at the Rancheria, but Maidu Mechoopda constituted the majority of the population. (Hill, 1978:84)

In 1900 when John Bidwell died, he left provisions and a plot plan in his will for the Indians living on the rancheria. The plot plan assigned 19 lots to certain resident families and individuals. Prior to John Bidwell's demise, Annie Bidwell asked Amanda Wilson, Santa Wilson's wife, to record various aspects of Mechoopda tradition. Amanda Wilson recorded information pertaining to the sweathouse and its use and to the boys' training for the dance society of which her first husband was leader. This information is now among Annie Bidwell's memoirs at the Bancroft Library. Before Annie Bidwell died, she confirmed her husband's land distribution to the Indians by issuing certificates of title for lots on the rancheria to individual Indians. The only certificate saved was that of title "No. 17," issued to Mr. and Mrs. Santa Wilson. Santa and Amanda received Lot 25 from Annie Bidwell for a consideration of $1. (Hill, 1978:83) She also deeded 14 acres of land to the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church to be held in trust for the Indians. The board could not pay the taxes on the land, however, so in 1939, on request from the mission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs paid the back taxes and began administering the land. In 1961, the BIA sold the land to California State University, Chico for $85,000. The BIA distributed the proceeds of the transaction to 45 Mechoopda Indians. In 1964, the tribe received another 12-acre tract of land adjacent to the city of Chico. Today, the Wilson Home is the only remaining evidence of the original Mechoopda Indian Rancheria, which the U.S. government terminated in 1964.

Mechoopda Indian Rancheria
Mechoopda Indian Rancheria

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