California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
A United States Army Museum Activity
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts:
Fort Bidwell
(Camp Bidwell)

 
Although various dates have been given for the inception of this post (1863 to 1866), located at the present town of Fort Bidwell at tile northern and of Sunrise Valley in Modoc County, it was most probably established sometime in 1863. The post, strategically located in the northwestern corner of the state, was intended to hold in check the marauding Indians of northeastern California, southern Oregon, and western Nevada, and to protect the travel routes into eastern Oregon and Idaho. Originally called Camp Bidwell, it was named for Major John Bidwell, California Volunteers, a veteran of the Mexican War, and a pioneer California settler Abandoned early in 1865, it was reestablished as a log built two company post on July 17, 1865, close to its original situation on a new site selected by Major Robert S. Williamson, Corps of Engineers. Major General Irwin McDowell, the department's commander, then referred to it as a fort, but officially it was designated as Camp Bidwell until April 5, 1879, when it became Fort Bidwell. (Records in the National Archives maintain that when the post was reestablished, it was designated "Fort" Bidwell by General Orders No. 44.)

Although tile post was still garrisoned until October 21, 1893, the military reservation had been transferred to the Department of tile Interior on November 22, 1890. The property then became a government Indian school and the headquarters for the Fort Bidwell Indian Reservation. In 1930 the boarding school was discontinued and the military barracks, formerly used as Indian student dormitories, were torn down, The commanding officer's quarters, however, are still standing, and nearby is the old post's cemetery.
 
History
by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired)
Executive Director, Council on America's Military Past
 
The corner where California, Nevada and Oregon intersect isn't usually publicized as a resort area, but it was once considered choice to be stationed near here at Fort Bidwell.
 
Appropriately enough, Bidwell was located in Surprise Valley, a 60-mile stretch of greenery broken only by three alkaline lakes. The emigrants of the nineteenth century named it after leaving the sun and sagebrush of Nevada.
 
What with Indians and other bushwackers, this wasn't the most peaceful place around. For the same reason, it wasn't the most popular for settlers. It wasn't until 1865 that 140 citizens could be gathered to petition for troops. They reasoned that someone had to go, either themselves or the marauders. The presence of the Army might even up the odds a little.
 
The first Fort Bidwell wasn't but a few months old when its troops joined with a citizen detachment to fight Indians in Guano Valley, Nevada. They attacked the Indian camp, killing 81 braves and 15 women and children: "it being impossible to distinguish one sex from the other."
 
This first fort, called "Camp Bidwell" from 1866 to 1879, was just north of the final location. It consisted of pine log single story buildings with high ceilings that complicated the winter heating problems.
 
By 1870, it became obvious that the place was going to be around for awhile, so plans were made for a more permanent post. Through the location of its corrals, theatre and other buildings, it had begun to spread to the south, so that was the area to which the rest of the post went.
 
A town grew beside the fort and took to itself the name of the fort. The two Fort Bidwells challenged each other on many matters, from target practice to, it can be deduced, occasional more realistic marksmanship endeavors.
 
Bidwell was an active combat post throughout most of its existence. Half of its horses were stolen before the camp was built. Its troops fought in the Battle of Infernal Caverns in 1867 with General George Crook, the Modoc War of 1872-73 and the Bannock and Nez Perce campaigns.
 
As time passed, more of Bidwell's efforts were expended on noncombatant activities when no one seemed to want a fight. Major Andrew S. Burt was the post commandant from 1892 to 1886, bringing with him a fine combat record, and credits as the author of two professional stage plays and miscellaneous other works.
 
This influenced the life of both the post and the town. Amateur theatricals vied with rifle marksmanship to pass the time . . . and the records show Major Burt was the leading sharpshooter of the U.S. Army in 1885.
 
TO GET THERE: Town of Fort Bidwell in Surprise Valley, California, can be reached by U.S. 299 from the west. U.S. 395 is the northsouth junction with U.S. 299 west of the valley 24 miles. In center of Fort Bidwell town, turn left at Lowell's store, go west 300 yards to fort site, now part of Indian agency.Or, CLICK HERE
 
 
 
Fort Bidwell, 1885, looked like this from northeastern edge of parade ground. Officers' row is in background. One item was pride of Fort Bidwell: water piped into houses from hot springs in valley.
 
Enlisted barracks, circa 1890
 
 
In 1964, the schoolhouse was an Indian residence, but stands at same location shown on map Trees hide television antenna.
 
 
 
 B  Barracks
 COMM SGT Q  Commissary Sergeant's Quarters
 CAV ST  Cavalry Stables
 H  Hospital
 MAG  Magazine
 MARRIED ENL Q  Married Enlisted Quarters
 OIL H  Oil House
 OQ  Officer's Quarters
 QM SGT Q  Quartermaster Sergeant's Quarters
 QM ST  Quartermaster Stable


This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Northwest, published in 1965


Posted 18 May 2008

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