Public Reaction to the Lemm Ranch Murders

The murders of four Chinese men at the Lemm Ranch near Chico in March 1877, plus several cases of arson against the Chinese and their employers, put Chico on the map as a locus of anti-Chinese agitation. Even though most Californians thought that there were too many Chinese in the state, they stopped short of endorsing murder and arson as a solution. And in Chico, businessmen and civic leaders feared that this lawlessness was making Chico look bad.

Justice was swift. By April 1877 men who had set fires on Bidwell’s property, and that of other farmers, were on trial. The trial of the Lemm Ranch murderers followed. Both arsonists and murderers were convicted and sentenced.

John Bidwell, on a trip to San Francisco, wrote to Annie about what people were saying:

It is astonishing how deep and general the sentiment is against the Chico murderers and incendiaries, and the swift justice that was meted out to the latter receives warm and unanimous commendation. I had no idea how earnestly the people were watching our movements. Am now satisfied we have not only the moral power of the State with us — as well as the law on our side — but a vast majority of the people. In other words, the “Caucasian” element is really an insignificant minority.

Bidwell was relieved that he was not standing alone against public opinion. Anti-Chinese agitation was not over, not in Chico or the rest of the state, but at least the worst actions were condemned and rejected.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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