A Chico Fourth of July

Issue Date JUNE 30 1876 page 3

From the Chico Enterprise Weekly, here is what you could expect on July 4, 1877:

The patriotic citizens of Chico, always ready to do homage to the birthday of a great and glorious Republic, made this the one hundred and first anniversary no exception. The weather was most favorable, with the sweet south wind coming in refreshing zephers to temper the sultry Summer sun. The joyous occasion was ushered in at midnight by the ringing of a merry peal from the city bells. At sunrise a salute was fired from the old cannon which has hone good service in this city for sixteen years, on many similar occasions, and the bells again took up the chorus, waking the unconscious sleeper to the fact that the day’s rejoicing had opened, and that loyal hearts were even now astir to welcome in the day and throw “old glory” to the breeze.

The 4th of July celebration was an all-day affair. A large crowd, including many from surrounding communities, assembled at the Armory and the Engine house to watch the mustering of the militia and the firemen. At 9:30 a.m. the festivities began with a parade through the streets, ending at “the grove near the Sierra flume.” The program that followed consisted of music by the Chico Brass Band, an invocation by the Rev. J.W. Ellis, a song from the Chico Glee Club, and the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

This was followed by a poem written for the occasion and read by George F. Nourse. The poem, The People’s Pioneer Line, was quite a lengthy one and was printed in the newspaper. It likened the nation to a railway line:

‘Tis just one hundred years and one ago,
With thirteen cars we pulled from Station One,
And under orders steamed along quite slow,
Making by day and night our wondrous run.
From time to time we lengthened out our train,
By adding on new freshly peopled cars,
Til now our line does thirty-eight maintain,
And on our flag there’s just as many stars.

The poem was followed by an oration, given by J.F. Hutton, “full of eloquence and original thought”and also printed in full. According to the newspaper report:

There was a breathless silence prevailed during the delivery of the oration, and at its close the audience broke forth in rapturous applause.  The benediction was then given and a rush was made for the tables.

The tables were laden with barbecued meat, several oxen having been cut into quarters and roasted for 12 hours. 1800 pounds of beef were served, along with a dozen hams, plenty of bread, and a variety of pickles.

Next came the “Comicalities” or the “Parade of Horribles,” described by the reporter as the “most ludicrous, comical and laughable exhibition we have seen in many a day.” After a solemn morning assembly and a good meal, it was time for some entertainment.

The Parade of Antiques and Horribles was an old New England custom in which folks dressed up in grotesque costumes and rode old nags to make fun of local dignitaries and current events. The morning parade was a stirring procession of soldiers, bands, and notable citizens in carriages. The afternoon parade was a parody to lighten the day’s mood.

The Chico parade featured a “burlesque on the City Police force and the City Fathers,” and a depiction of “Brother Jonathan and his family going West in an old cart.” “About half a dozen lengths of stovepipes on wheels burlesqued the artillery representation in the forenoon’s procession.”

I haven’t seen any photos of Chico’s Parade of Horribles, and I don’t know how long the custom lasted. Here’s a photo from a New England parade in the same period.


Photo of a Parade of Horribles from Wethersfield, Connecticut.

The Chico Independence Day celebration went on into the evening with more music, fireworks, and a grand ball. Our ancestors knew how to celebrate the 4th in style!



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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