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
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.
by Colonel Herbert
M. Hart, USMC (retired)
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.
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
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
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.
1964, the schoolhouse was an Indian residence, but stands at
same location shown on map Trees hide television antenna.
COMM SGT Q
MARRIED ENL Q
Married Enlisted Quarters
QM SGT Q
was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Northwest,
published in 1965