A few years ago, my family participated in the environmental living program at Sutter’s Fort. We all played historical figures from the time of the Bear Flag Revolt, when California declared independence from Mexico. My character was Elias Barnett, a guy listed as one of the land trekkers who came to California with the Bartleson-Bidwell Party in 1841.

We’ve all heard of the ’49 Gold Rush and some gruesome details of the Donna Party. But the first overland trip by European settlers in 1841 was something I didn’t know a thing about. When I first heard the name “Bidwell”, I figured he must be what they named a major street in Folsom after.

So I started reading about John Bidwell and his amazing life. He’s one of the lesser known California pioneers, I’ll admit. Yet, his influence was critical in the founding of the state of California.

So what does Bidwell have to do with business?

You might be thinking, “Great, Aaron. I’m glad you know your California history, but what does this have to do with me?” In reading about a pioneer that’s been dead for over a century, I learned some some valuable lessons I’d like to share with you.

Lessons I learned from the life of John Bidwell

Don’t let failures bring you down

John Bidwell in his youth.

In Bidwell’s autobiography Echos of the Past, he recalled his first attempt to get some land near the current state of Iowa, but lost it after squatters took it over. But rather than become bitter and give up, he set his eyes on a new goal: California. Within two years, he’d be leading the first European settlers to travel overland from the east all the way into California.


Think about the biggest disappointment that’s happened to you in 2016. Will you let your disappointments form roots of bitterness, or will they plant seeds that you can take learned lessons from?

Keep the destination in mind

The Bartleson-Bidwell party set out with a destination in mind: California. They ran into all sorts of obstacles and dangers but kept moving westward. No maps, no experience – only a destination in mind.

There were plenty of places they could have given up and settled down. But they didn’t. They wouldn’t stop until they reached their goal.


Do you have a clear destination in mind for your business this year?

Influence is about more than titles

While John Bartleson was the party’s “captain”, it was Bidwell who inspired, organized and lead the expedition to California. His youth of being only a little over 20-years-old didn’t keep him from trying something that hadn’t been done before.


Are you waiting around for a degree or title before you become a thought leader? There’s nothing keeping you from investing 45 minutes a day to start a weekly blog with content that influences people.

You can do a lot with dirt

Guess what was awaiting John Bidwell once he arrived in California? Dirt!

Yep, that was it. Dirt. But with some dirt, you can grow an empire, and that’s exactly what Bidwell and others like him did. One of the most fascinating parts of his biography, Echos of the Past, were the reports of how many crops he grew year by year. By the time he died, his orchard had over 100,000 planted trees.


What seeds are you planting today that will grow into the crops of tomorrow?

Next week, we’ll look at the successes and failures of a more popular California founder: John Sutter.

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