Bidwell Cartoon

John Bidwell is struggling to carry the burden of two nominations for governor of California in this cartoon by Charles W. Saalburg from The Wasp, August 23, 1890.

Bidwell camel

Most of the political cartoons that appeared in the Wasp over one hundred years ago require explanation, and this one is no exception.

The caption at the bottom reads:

Pixley: Now you have done it! You have burdened him with too heavy a load!

McDonald: That may be; but yours was the straw which broke the camel’s back!



Daily Alta California, 9 May 1890

On the left we have Dr. R.H. McDonald, a leader in the California Prohibition Party. (Note his jug of water.) At their convention in San Francisco on May 9th, the Prohibitionists had nominated General Bidwell to be their candidate for governor. On the steps of the capitol, departing Gov. Waterman looks on. (I am not sure who the other man is).  Bidwell is faltering under the load of dual nominations.


On the right we have Frank M. Pixley, the colorful editor of the Argonaut, a rival publication to the Wasp. Pixley was an attorney and journalist and in the mid-1860s had been the Attorney General of California. Although a staunch Republican for most of his career, in 1890 he took a fling with a small nativist third party — the American Party.


San Francisco Call, 6 August 1890

Although General Bidwell did not seek the nomination of the American Party, the convention gave it to him anyway and put his name on their ticket. He wasn’t present at the convention in San Francisco.

In his diary for August 5 he writes:
Events: at ll a.m. received telegram from L.W.McGlauflin, delegate in American Convention at S.F. – At 5 p.m. another saying I was nominated.

The election was no sooner over than the American Party faded into obscurity.

And why is Bidwell depicted as a camel?

camelThe Democrats have their donkey, the Republicans have their elephant, and the Prohibitionists chose as their mascot the camel.  After all, a camel is “dry;” he drinks only water and plenty of it, and can survive for a long time in a parched desert.

Don’t you wish we had political cartoons this fun to look at today?



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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