Dawlytown … Did Bidwell’s Bar almost have another name?

That Dawlytown even existed, and the details about that place, comes first from the pen of Alonzo Delano.[1] Between 1849-1852 this adventurer traveled to the gold fields of California. He sent reports of his experience in a series of letters to the Ottawa (Illinois) Free Trader and the New Orleans True Delta newspapers. The October 10, 1849 narrative described his journey from Marysville to Bidwell’s Bar:

As we proceeded in the morning (from the Marysville area) the hills became higher and more abrupt, yet not difficult, and in the afternoon we reached the hill immediately above Bidwell’s Bar, and descended a mile by a steep and sometimes sliding path to the lower end of the Bar, known as Dawlytown, named after a young merchant who first opened a store on that point, about two months before. It was on the 10th of October (1849) when we reached this place of our destination, and pitching our tent, opened a store, after sending our cattle back to a small valley where there was little grass, trusting to luck for finding them again when we should need them.

The location of Bidwell’s Bar was well established at the time of Delano’s arrival. It is interesting that he identified an area on the lower end of the bar by a separate name. It is unknown if this name was previously used by other miners in the area or was first used by Delano. The Dawlytown namesake Delano used had established a store about two months earlier, in August of 1849. That date was about one year after the initial discovery of gold at the site, which started the development at Bidwell’s Bar. The account by Delano only identifies one store at the site when he arrived and several miners working in the area. However, there were probably several other merchants at the Bidwell’s Bar location; for example, it is known that John Bidwell and his business partner George McKinstry Jr. established a trading post there in 1848-49. It appears that Delano also came prepared for business, explaining that he opened a store within an hour after arriving at the site, his first business was selling a Buffalo skin blanket. At the end of six weeks he had profits of about six hundred dollars. He then made plans to travel to Sacramento to get more supplies. He thought the roads between Sacramento and Dawlytown had dried sufficiently to permit him to return with a load of goods, but Delano soon found he had underestimate the road conditions and the trip took three weeks. Arriving back at Bidwell’s Bar or Dawlytown, Delano found the number of miners remaining there reduced by nearly three-fourth. He soon learned that most of the miners had moved on up the South Fork of the Feather River and were snuggly settled in log cabins. Delano and nine of his mining partners moved upriver from Bidwell’s Bar andestablished a claim on Wood’s Bar.

We know very little about Mr. Dawly, and what is known is not sufficient to do additional research about him. His activities are recorded in three references in Delano’s reports. One, when Delano first arrives and learns that Dawly, a compassionate man, is caring for a sick miner who needed a warm blanket and a dry place to rest. The second reference, in February 1850 records, that Mr. Dawly provided Delano with a much appreciated bundle of newspapers that a Captain Freeland had brought up from the city. Delano needed something to take his mind off the dreary winter conditions that had kept him cabin bound for the past three weeks. The final reference is when Delano and his mining partners returned to Dawly’s location to regain their strength after another mining adventure on the Feather River. After traveling only a couple of miles from Bidwell, the last station on the river, they discovered this was not a good idea.

“it was almost impossible to get along. Supplies, too, on the route were entirely out of the question, and in addition to a pan, pick and shovel, they were compelled to bear upon their shoulders a week's rations, cooking utensils, firearms and ammunition for protection against the savages, and their blankets, which soon being saturated with water, doubled their weight.”

“Another night of suffering, and another day and a half of hard walking, brought them back to Mr. Dawly's, where the inner man was supplied with what their physical condition required.”

The recording of events and timing of Delano’s letters makes it difficult to determine exactly what season of the year or the date when these experiences occurred. However, the main point is that Mr. Dawly’s location was an anchor point for their activities

The only description of the location of Dawlytown, is that after traveling from Marysville to Bidwell’s Bar, it was located by: sliding on a path to the lower end of the Bar, known as Dawlytown. [2] The area that eventually defined the upper and lower limits of Bidwell’s Bar, was between the narrow upriver location where the Suspension Bridge was located in 1856, and a second narrow downriver spot, containing a series of low ripples, where the river-flow once again became constrained by the river bank topography. This downstream location is where a county cement bridge was built in 1947, diverting traffic from the historic suspension bridge. The natural configuration of the landscape, between these two points, formed a small bowl shaped area, where the sands and gravels carried by the river flow slowed down, and deposited the gold in this basin. The photo on the Bidwell town site location page, on this website, provides a visual of the area. The geology that shaped the area constructed a very effective sluice box for the miners, like John Bidwell, who found gold deposited in gravels of this river bar.

This researchers assumption is that the probable location of Dawly’s cabin would have been in the area on the south side of the river just above where the cement bridge was built about a hundreds year later in 1948. That seems to fit Delano’s description and a logical location for the lower end of the Bar. Below that point, for the next one and one-half miles the river is confined to a narrow channel until it reaches the junction of the Middle and North Forks of the Feather River. Nothing is indicated in Delano’s initial description or other references to place the Dawlytown area on the north side of the river.

After mining on the Feather River during 1849-50, Alonzo Delano moved on to other adventures. The details about Mr. Dawly and his store became lost in the multitude of miners and merchants who frequently changed locations between the numerous mining camps.

References were not made to Dawlytown in the Butte Record newspaper that was published at Bidwell’s Bar from 1853 to 1856. It was eight years after Delano’s reference in 1849, before the Dawlytown name once again was mentioned as a location in Butte County. Apparently the place-name had enough significance that it was remembered by some of the early residents of the area. Starting in 1854, there was an ongoing debate about the location of the county supported public road leading eastward into Plumas County. Some interests wanted to continue the route across the Bidwell’s Bar Bridge, while others wanted the road relocated to direct travelers through the county seat that had been moved from the town of Bidwell, at Bidwell’ Bar to the new county seat at Oroville. During this time The North Californian, an Oroville based newspaper, and the County Board of Supervisors referenced the place name of Dawlytown when discussing the road route options.[3] Unfortunately, these 1857 references do not add any information that aids in identifying the specific location of Dawlytown.

[1] Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division “Alonzo Delano's California correspondence: being letters hitherto uncollected from the Ottawa (Illinois) Free trader and the New Orleans True Delta”

Life on the Plains & Mining & Among the Diggin’s, Alonzo Delano. Google books (books.Google.com) 2018. Chapter XVIII, pages 272 to 284. In this chapter Delano makes several references to Dawlytown. Unfortunately, they do not provide any additional information to help specifically determine the location of the town. However, the chapter does provide interesting information about the mining activities on this area of the Feather River. Records sad story of a Mr. Henderson who was apparently murdered in route to California; and his wife and children continued with the wagon party, eventually arriving at Dawlytown. She established a hotel at Dawlytown and later moved to Stringtown where she was housekeeper for Dr. Willoughby. She died, leaving the care of children with Dr. Willoughby.

[2] Three reports by Delano dated 2/16/1850, 3/2/1850 and 6/25/1850, contain the earliest located references to Mr. Dawly, and location of Dawlytown.

[3] Butte County California sources referencing the place name of Dawlytown (Daubytown)

- Board of Supervisors November Term, 1857. Discussions related to Junction bridge permit reference is made to Daubytown.

- The North Californian 4/3/1857.Vol.4, No.21.Page 2, Col 1 &2

- Mansfield’s History of Butte County 1918, on page 70, Daubytown, as a suburb of Bidwell Bar, but does not provide any other information. - It appears the name spelling has been corrupted between 1849 to 1857 from Dawlytown to Daubytown. This two-letter spelling change would appear to be an understandable variant of the same location.