A Chico Fourth of July


How did 19th century Chicoans celebrate Independence Day? Here’s an entry from John Bidwell’s diary for 1876 that will give you a glimpse:

Tues. July 4
Warm, very – no wind. = Bells rang & cannon & anvils roared all last night – Celebration went off well – good oration by Rev. Mr Dickerman – Fireworks & ball in evening. = Lost our greyhound, Roamer = Haynes had watermelons ripe in town. =

An oration by a public figure was a must. That would be followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence and at least one patriotic poem. There would have been a parade too, and the town was decked out in red, white, and blue bunting. It was a day-long event, and as Bidwell notes, it started the night before, and went on well into the evening of the 4th with fireworks and dancing.

Watermelons were a feature, then as now. Roamer the greyhound was probably frightened off by all the noise from the cannons and fireworks. He was found a few days later seven miles away at Hog Springs, a place you can still see on the old Humboldt Road.

Bells ringing and cannon firing were a popular way to mark Independence Day.  But what’s this about “anvils roared?” How do they do that?

If you didn’t have a cannon (or even if you did), “firing the anvil” was a great way to generate noise and excitement in the 19th century. All you needed were two anvils and some black powder, which you could get from your friendly neighborhood blacksmith. Here’s what you do:anvil

(I don’t recommend trying this at home, even if you do happen to have an anvil. Could be dangerous.)

Take one anvil and turn it upside down. On the underside is a hollow about the size of a brick. Pour in some gunpowder and place a fuse or a trail of gunpowder. Then place the other anvil right side up on top. When you light off the gunpowder, you will get a terrific explosion and the top anvil will fly at least a hundred feet in the air. It will come down too, so clear the deck.

You can find some examples of anvil firing on YouTube, like this one.



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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1 Response to A Chico Fourth of July

  1. Dianne Donoho says:

    Thanks for the great Fourth of July Bidwell post. I love your stories!!! Happy Fourth!🎉🍉🌭🇺🇸

    Sent from my iPhone


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