A Poem for All Seasons

The following unattributed poem appeared in the Butte Record on November 12, 1853.

Month NOVEMBER Issue Date NOVEMBER 12 1853 page 4


I would not die in Springtime,
When worms begin to crawl;
When cabbage plants are shooting up,
And frogs begin to squall;
‘Tis then the girls are full of charms,
And smile upon the men;
When lamb and peas are in their prime.
I would not perish then.

I would not die in Summer,
When trees are filled with fruit –
And every sportsman has a gun,
The little birds to shoot.
The girls then wear the Bloomer dress,
And half distract the men;
It is the time to swear it out –
I would not perish then.

I would not die in autumn,
When new-mown hay smells sweet,
And little pigs are rooting round
For something nice to eat.


The Bloomer Costume, by Nathaniel Currier

‘Tis then the huntsman’s wild halloo
Is heard along the glen,
And oysters ‘gin to fatten up –
I would not perish then.

I would not die in winter –
For one might freeze to death
When blustering Boreas sweeps around,
And takes away one’s breath;
When sleigh-bells jingle, horses snort,
And buckwheat cakes are tall;
In fact, this is a right good world,
I would not die at all.

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A Sunday in Oroville


According to the editor of the Butte Record, Sundays in Oroville were wild and raucous. Other cities in the state had progressed in civilization, but not Oroville. No quiet, peaceful Sabbath in this city — the streets were crowded, the bars and theaters full, and the entertainments abundant. The spirit of ’49 still thrived, even after seven years.

month october issue date october 11 1856 page 1

Butte Record, October 11, 1856

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Marketing Techniques — Forty-Niner style

How do you catch the reader’s eye in an old-time newspaper?

If you were a miner reading the Butte Record at Bidwell Bar in 1855, there’s one advertisement that would stand out, especially if you were hungry or thirsty. (Especially if you were thirsty.)

month june issue date june 16 1855 page 3In the Butte Record you would see advertisements for a variety of businesses.


There were drug stores and hotels:


Tobacco stores:

month june issue date june 23 1855 page 2b

month june issue date june 23 1855 page 3c  Every town had at least one livery stable, where you could rent a horse or a carriage for any occasion.




But– “Look at this!” — here is the one that would surely catch your attention. Ale, porter, and wines of all kinds, whiskey, chewing tobacco and cigars, and food of some sort — “coarse fodder” — which looks like it was mostly beans. “Oh, what Beans!”

month june issue date june 23 1855 page 3

Just one question: Where was “Mother Cooper’s side hill”?


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From the Butte Record

Last Saturday I went to the Chico Museum to hear David Little, recently retired editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, speak on the history of our hometown newspaper.

month april issue date april 28 1855 page 1

The Butte Record, published at Bidwell Bar, was the first newspaper in Butte County. C.W. Stiles saw the need for a local newspaper, gathered financial support, and purchased a printing press. Stiles, however, had no experience editing or printing a paper. He hired Harry De Courcey, previously of the Calaveras Chronicle, to edit the paper, and L.P. Hall to run the press.

Their tenure was short-lived. In the very first issue of the Butte Record, the following item appeared:

month november issue date november 12 1853 page 2

Butte Record, November 12, 1853

De Courcey was forced to give up the editor’s chair. His resignation notice appeared in the same issue.

month november issue date november 12 1853 page 2(1)

So it was an argument over politics that brought out the Bowie knife. Lively times in frontier journalism!

The Sacramento Daily Union reported the incident and said

Mr. Stiles has been compelled to take up the pen editorial, which he acknowledges to be foreign to his vocation. His first efforts, however, are highly creditable to his abilities.

But Stiles soon found a more lasting editor. George Crosette, who was managing a hotel in Oroville, had grown up in the printing business and took over as editor. He bought the paper from Stiles and continued as editor for many years. In 1864 the paper moved to Oroville and in 1873 Crosette moved it to Chico, where it became the Chico Record.


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Like a Hole in the Head — part 3


John Bidwell in 1865.


John Bidwell was proud of what he called his “self-possession.” He prided himself on keeping calm and cool during a crisis. Decades after the wreck of the steamboat Belle he recollected the incident as an example of this trait.

The following quote comes from Dictation From General John Bidwell, collected by Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1891.

I think it is presence of mind that helps people out of emergencies. When I see men in a flurry, I am generally able to keep cool. For instance: I was going up the river on a steamer; was very tired when I went on board and secured my berth and went to bed. Suddenly there was a collision* and our steamer sunk five minutes afterwards. It was crowded with men at the time, so crowded that they had to make beds on the deck. I went out to see what was the matter, returned to my stateroom, gathered my things together, and got out on the hurricane deck. Put my clothes there and commenced helping others up as fast as I could.

The other steamer came up to help us, and the men commenced jumping off while the boat was ten or fifteen feet below us, one on top of the other. The sailors were catching and throwing them aside just like pieces of wood. I did not like the looks of the thing, and waited until our steamer had almost gone down before I jumped making one easy step over. It is not bravery, it is something that is forced upon you as a necessity. I generally manage to keep perfectly cool in case of fire and such things.

*It was a boiler explosion and not a collision

The hurricane deck is the uppermost deck on a steamboat, where you could catch a breeze in the evenings.

In this version of the story, Bidwell doesn’t mention the blow he received from the piece of flying iron. This tale is all about him calmly assessing the situation, then stepping from the hurricane deck, valise in hand, to the deck of the rescuing boat.

If you are picturing a large and fancy Delta Queen-style steamboat, you will want to moderate your imagination. We don’t have a picture of the Belle, but it probably looked more like this:


Steamboat San Joaquin, circa 1890.  Meriam Library Special Collections

or maybe this:


Steamboat Dover on the Sacramento River, 1910. Meriam Library Special Collections

rather than this:


The Great Mississippi Steamboat Race, by Currier and Ives

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Like a Hole in the Head — part 2


Sacramento Daily Union 8 March 1856

Luckily for Major Bidwell, the Sacramento Daily Union was in error.

After the explsion of the steamboat Belle, John Bidwell was taken back to Sacramento and to a doctor.  Evidently (if the newspaper notice can be trusted that far) he eventually went back to Chico. He either had a relapse, or needed further care, because by March 10  he was back in Sacramento.


Sacramento Daily Union 10 March 1856

Bidwell, as one of the oldest American residents in California, the owner of a vast rancho, and a former state senator, was one of the best known men in California. He was certainly the most prominent passenger on the Belle when the accident occurred. So his name was newsworthy.


Republican Congressman John Bidwell of California, 1865.

He would go on to serve in Congress in 1865-66. Even though nearly ten years had past since his encounter with a piece of flying iron from the exploded boiler, the scar he received was still easy to discern on his forehead.

This photograph of John Bidwell as a newly arrived representative to Congress can be found in the National Archives.

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Like a Hole in the Head



Republican Congressman John Bidwell of California, 1865.

Have you ever seen a photograph of John Bidwell that so clearly showed him with a hole in his head?

This photograph, taken at the Mathew Brady studio in Washington, D.C. in 1865, shows the injury he suffered in a steamboat accident in 1856. It’s a photo that we do not often see.

Annie, I have heard, did not care for pictures that showed her husband’s scar. In the following two photos, one from 1867 and one from 1885, the scar is visible but very faint, and I suspect the photographs have been touched up.


Bidwell sustained his injury when the boiler of the steamboat Belle exploded on the Sacramento River, as he was traveling upriver from Sacramento City to Chico Landing. The accident occured on the morning of February 5, about ten miles from the city.

Bidwell told the story of the accident to his biographer, Rockwell D. Hunt. In John Bidwell, Prince of California Pioneers, Hunt writes that Bidwell was sitting by the stove, reading the morning newspaper when:

At that instant an explosion in the engine took place. He immediately grasped the side of the berth with both hands, holding his breath to avoid the hot steam. He was virtually paralyzed, and was unable to break the cabin window for a moment; but his strength soon returned, and he stuck his head out of the window. The wound inflicted on his head by flying iron — he never knew just what hit him — was a severe fracture of the external skull about the size of a twenty-five cent piece; but his recovery was complete.Of the few passengers on the boat he said nearly all were killed, also the captain and the clerk, and the pilot was seriously injured.

The story of the explosion and loss of the Belle was widely reported in the newspapers. Here is the beginning of an article from the Sacramento Daily Union. 


Sacramento Daily Union, 6 February 1856.

The article goes on to say that there were about forty passengers on the boat and at least twenty of those were dead, wounded, or missing. Survivors were picked up by a steamboat coming downriver. The fate of pets on board did not go unreported.

A canary bird belonging to Mr. Mix was in a cage placed on a table in the cabin, at the time of the explosion. Although the table was almost entirely demolished by being cleared by portions of the boiler, the bird and cage escaped uninjured, with the exception of the latter being slightly bent. The bird is now singing as sweetly as ever at the Orleans, the accident having merely disturbed its plumage.

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