History, Department of


Date of this Version

December 1997


Published in Writing the Range: Race, Class, and Culture in the Women’s West, edited by Elizabeth Jameson and Susan Armitage (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), pp. 230–251. Copyright © 1997 University of Oklahoma Press. Used by permission. http://www.oupress.com/


Annie Bidwell, whose story is told here, was an exemplar of the nineteenth-century Euro-American female humanitarian reform impulse. She worked diligently to introduce Christianity and domesticity to the Maidu and Bahapki Indians who lived and worked for her husband at Rancho Chico, paying special attention to the women and children. Bidwell had no doubt that her insistence on acculturation was in their best interests. But from the perspective of the Indians, she was a destroyer. Insofar as they could, they resisted her efforts to change their religion, their child-rearing practices, and their family relationships. Margaret Jacobs successfully “reads through” Bidwell’s own writings to document the ways in which the Indians Bidwell was trying to “rescue” instead subverted and quietly resisted her efforts. Jacobs’s success in showing us both sides of this interaction changes our understanding of Annie Bidwell. Jacobs does not dispute or disparage Bidwell’s humanitarian concern, but by looking at the Indian side of the story, she does clearly show that Bidwell was less effective than she thought. Because Margaret Jacobs begins without assumptions of cultural superiority, she is able to show us how very complex Bidwell’s humanitarian “rescue effort” really was.

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