William Brown Ide was born in Rutland, Massachusetts in 1796. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Vermont. His father, Lemuel, was a carpenter. Lemuel had to move around a lot to find work and William was brought up by Reverend Issac Beals until he was nine years old. In 1805 Lemuel purchased a small farm in Vermont and the family was reunited. In 1809 Lemuel was elected to the Vermont State Legislature. William learned the carpentry trade at an early age and also obtained a better than average general education.
In 1820 William married Susan G. Haskell and they settled for a time in Massachusetts, but they soon began moving west; first to Kentucky, then Ohio, and then Illinois. He and Susan worked their small farm near Springfield, Illinois, and William taught school. They were making a living but little more and in the Spring of 1845 they sold the farm and joined a wagon train in Independence, Missouri headed for Oregon.
The wagon boss was named John Grigsby and the guide was Joe Meek. Ide was appointed chief herdsman for the wagon train. William proved to be a competent leader and after being on the trail for a short while the wagon train was referred to as the Grigsby-Ide Party. At Fort Hall a number of the party decided to go on to California while the rest continued on to Oregon. After Fort Hall, Caleb Greenwood acted as guide for the Grigsby-Ide Party. Their route took them over the Sierras in the vicinity of Truckee. It was an arduous trip during which they had to haul their wagons over granite cliffs. They made it to Sutter's Fort on November 1, 1845.
At Sutter's Fort Peter Lassen asked Ide to build a sawmill on his Rancho Bosquejo in present day Tehama County, 125 miles to the north. Ide agreed and he and his family took up residence in a house on the Lassen property, but a disagreement/misunderstanding with Lassen resulted in the Ides departing shortly thereafter. It was winter and Ide built a small log cabin to shelter his family (William, Susan, and six children). In April 1846, Josiah Belden invited Ide to partner with him in operating the 21,000 acre Rancho Barranca Colorado (Red Bluff). Ide accepted and moved his family to the rancho.
Shortly after Ide took up residence on the Rancho Barranca Colorado, rumors began to circulate to the effect that General Jose Castro was planning to drive all foreign settlers who were not Mexican citizens out of California. All of the foreign settlers in Northern California (including Ide) were alarmed and events quickly began moving toward open hostilities. On June 14, 1846 a group of about thirty settlers occupied Sonoma, raised the Bear Flag, and declared California to be an independent republic. Ide was part of that group and was chosen by them to be the President of California.
U.S. Army Captain John Charles Fremont took control of the settlers shortly after their occupation of Sonoma and formed them into the "California Battalion". Fremont did not get along with Ide and refused to give him a leadership position in the organization. Ide was mustered in as a common soldier. (Even though he was insulted by the slight, Ide served honorably with the unit until it was disbanded after the conquest of California was complete.) On July 9 the Bear Flag was replaced by the Stars and Stripes.
Following the end of hostilities Ide was mustered out of the army and appointed a government surveyor by then Military Governor Richard Mason in 1847. In 1848 Ide joined in the Gold Rush and accumulated enough money to purchase more land in Northern California. Ide's wife, Susan, died in the late 1840s. Ide held several local government positions in Colusa County following statehood in 1850. He is also said to have operated a ferry on the Sacramento River, but this claim is questioned by some historians. William Ide died of smallpox in December 1852 at the age of 56.