Bidwell as Land Monopolist


The San Francisco Wasp published this two-page cartoon on June 18, 1892. (Look below for larger versions of the pages.) On the left are farmers in Kansas, desperately fleeing tornadoes and floods. On the right, entrance to sunny, fertile California is blocked by the large landowners, building a wall to keep the small farmer out. Prominent among these land hogs is John Bidwell.


One name you might recognize on a building block is “Glenn Estate 42,000 [acres].” Dr. Hugh Glenn, for whom Glenn County is named, had the largest wheat farm in the state, but had died in 1883.


And here is California, the most desirable farmland in the world. Lined up to build the wall are Cox, Bidwell, B. Murphy, and J.S. Cone. It’s a very good likeness of John Bidwell. I don’t know Murphy or Cox. Cone had extensive holdings in Tehama County and he and Bidwell served on the Board of Trustees for the Chico Normal School.

Bidwell was often accused of being a land monopolist, especially since he was anti-monopoly when it came to rail and steam transportation, a position shared by other farmers. He ran for governor of California in 1875 on a third-party, anti-monopolist ticket, and the two major parties maligned him as a fraud and a land-grabber.


Sacramento Daily Union, 12 July 1875

It was almost the only thing that Bidwell could be accused of, since he was well-known for his honesty and upright principles. But in political fights you have to have mud of some sort that you can fling at your opponent, and his extensive land holdings were almost the only dirt around (as it were).

The Wasp deplored the greed of the large landowners, saying that they drained the wealth from the rich valley lands and lived in luxury in San Francisco, while depriving poor-but-honest workingmen from acquiring a living on the land. This doesn’t really apply to Bidwell, who ran his ranch himself, gave employment to hundreds, and had already begun selling parts of the ranch. In 1888 lots in Chico Vecino had gone on sale, and even more land would go up for sale as time went on.

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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