A Chico Fourth of July — Centennial Version

Weekly Butte Record 1 July 1876

Our celebrations of Independence Day are pretty tame compared to the way they enjoyed the Fourth in Chico in 1876. Here’s the July 4th entry from Bidwell’s diary in 1876:

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. =

The celebration was announced in the newspaper a few days before the event. Citizens were urged to decorate their buildings with “evergreens, flags, and appropriate emblems.”

The Butte Record published a report of the proceedings the following Saturday. Everybody turned out for the “patriotic exercises”. Here is an excerpt about the parade and the speeches:

The Pavilion, where the parade concluded and the speeches were given, stood on Broadway between 4th and 5th.

An oration by a public figure was a must. That would be followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence and a lengthy patriotic poem, which the Record printed in full. 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 frightened by all the noise. He was found a few days later seven miles away at Hog Springs, on the 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:

(I don’t recommend trying this at home, even if you do happen to have an anvil. It’s very 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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