“The Farmer of Chico” in Politics

Back in the day when political campaign songs were numerous and popular, the following song appeared in the Sacramento Bee on August 4, 1875. It is not complimentary to John Bidwell. In 1875 Bidwell was the candidate for governor of the People’s Independent Party, also known as the Anti-Monopoly Party, which stood against the Big Four railroad barons and their control of politics in California. Both the Democrats and Republicans hit back against Bidwell. They portrayed him as a greedy land baron ruling over an agrarian empire, exploiting his workers and keeping the small farmer at bay.

You can find the tune for “Joe Bowers” at https://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/songinformation.aspx?ID=54  Here is the entire newspaper article:

The Farmer of Chi-co

Tune : “Joe Bowers”

The following was sung at the meeting of the Republicans of the Tenth Ward of the Twelfth Senatorial District, San Francisco, last week:

It’s of an ancient farmer, who had a ranch in Butte

He raised a heap of wheat and corn and garden-sass* and fruit,

His cattle ranged a thousand hills and filled the plain below,

And he lived in regal splendor, this farmer of Chico.


This antiquated farmer was a gallant pioneer,

He boldly came the plains across and early landed here;

He roughed it with the Indians and Mexicans also,

And then they called him General John, the farmer of Chico.


In forty-five, or thereabouts, the land was very low,

And farmer John obtained a grant of forty miles or so,

But how he got the title, I don’t pretend to know,

But the finest farm in Butte is the Ranch of El Chico.


Some twenty thousand acres he still retains today,

And joins the Independent cry of “No Monopoly!”

A little farm may do for men with little means to show,

But leagues alone will satisfy the farmer of Chico.


And now this ancient farmer is making quite a stir,

He wants to get the people to make him Governor—

But when the votes are counted, the answer will be “No

Sir!” we do not want for Governor the farmer of Chico.

* garden-sass: vegetables

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Amethyst and Adobe

Sutter's Fort

Sutter’s Fort

What do amethysts and adobe bricks have in common? A tale told by John Bidwell about Sutter’s Fort and a treasure thrown in the dust.

In January 1892 John and Annie Bidwell visited old Sutter’s Fort, which by then was falling down and melting away. A move was on to restore the fort, and contributions had been solicited from the public by the Native Sons to buy the land and begin restoring the fort to its former glory.

According to the Sacramento Bee, in an article reprinted in the Chico Enterprise, General Bidwell and his wife toured the site of the old fort and inspected the progress of the restoration. The General pointed out his office in the central adobe building.

The sight of the restored fort brought back vivid recollections of the days when the fort was in its prime.

“Over in the corner of the garret,” said the General . . . “I had stored away a box of valuable stones which General Sutter had received as gifts in the Sandwich Islands and given to me. A magnificent amethyst was among them. When the first gold came down to be assayed, everything was turned upside down, and somebody threw the box of stones out of the window that you see there into the corral below. Most of them became lost, but when I discovered they were gone I made a search and recovered the amethyst and brought it to New York, where it was mounted and pronounced to be one of the finest stones of the kind ever seen.”

My thanks to John Rudderow, who found this article in the Chico Enterprise for January 22, 1892.


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A Valentine for Annie

To: Miss Annie Kennedy               February 14, 1866

A  Annie is a charming girl, an editress, a writer

N  Nor could you find in all the world a better nor a brighter

N  Now if fair Annie would be mine, take me for her intended

I   I would not wish for greater bliss

E  Ere life’s bright dream were ended.    sc17333 Annie Ellicott Kennedy Bidwell

This little valentine acrostic is printed in What Makes a Man: The Annie Kennedy-John Bidwell Letters 1866-1868, edited by Chad L. Hoopes. But it almost certainly is not by John Bidwell. He arrived in Washington, D.C. in December 1865 to take his place in the U.S. Congress. He met Annie sometime in the winter or spring of 1866, but they did not begin corresponding until December 1866. The poem does not appear in Dear General, edited by Linda Rawlings, which is a more complete version of their letters.

John Rudderow has seen this poem in the State Library and thinks it was from someone at the Presbyterian Church that Annie attended. I’d like to go looking for it and see if I can pin down the author. In the meantime, enjoy the valentine and maybe try your hand at an acrostic on your own sweetheart’s name.

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Annie’s Diamond Ring–The End

What happened to Annie’s ring, with its California diamond? Was it buried with her? Did she leave it to a relative in her will? Where did it go?

I’ve been wondering about that, and thought I would check the Bidwell diaries to see if there was any clue. Nothing in Annie’s diary–she didn’t keep a regular diary, like her husband. But in John’s diary on June 20, 1876 there is this:

Windy, cool, pleasant day a light sprinkle. = R. F. Parks was here to inspect the wool – dined with us. = Made agreement with Yee Kee to dig all trees on Eighth street = Wife gave Mr Parks a drive = Wife lost her California diamond.

Mr. Parks was from Marysville and was in Chico for a few days. Evidently Annie entertained him by taking his for a carriage ride, perhaps through Vallombrosa, and on the way the diamond fell out of the ring. Was it ever found?

The next year, on May 21, 1877, Bidwell records: Callers: Mr. Shand – about Diamond. Was this the diamond? I don’t know. He doesn’t say anything else about it.

So there we are. Annie had her California diamond set in a ring, she lost it in 1876, and possibly it was recovered in 1877. Or maybe it is still lying out there somewhere, under the dirt in Bidwell Park. Keep an eye out for it if you are in Bidwell Park!

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Annie’s Diamond Ring, Part Four

During his Washington years John Bidwell felt like he was navigating a minefield of social missteps and blunders. In his letters he often refers to his fear of giving offense. He had spent the last 25 years on the Western frontier, where ladies of Annie’s social standing were rarely met. Now he was head-over-heels in love with her, and very fearful of saying the words or making the gesture that would lose her good opinion of him forever.

Still, there was that diamond. And if he could get her to accept it, that would be proof of her regard. More than regard, surely. It would be proof of her love, even if she was not ready to admit it.

The trick was to get her to accept a gift that looked exactly like an engagement ring, before there was any engagement to be married. How did he manage it?

Annie Bidwell in 1875. There is a ring on her left hand, but it is impossible to see what it looks like.

Annie Bidwell in 1875. There is a ring on her left hand, but it is impossible to see what it looks like.

The clue comes in a letter from Annie to John in October 1867. At this point she had decided to accept his proposal of marriage, but had not actually told him so yet. She writes:

Sallie [her sister] concluded I ought not to wear the ring, that however we might regard it, you must, could not avoid, associating it at least, with an engagement ring. The assertion to the contrary was unavailing.

Sallie was more perceptive than Annie, it seems.

I told her you would never offer a ring, in part a gift to you [the diamond had been given to him], as an engagement ring, and gave her your words–written from New York. Papa and Mamma agreed with me, assuring me I never would have accepted, even on my terms, any other than this ring; that had you purchased one for me, or had not the diamond been a “rough one” shown me in its rough state, and an American diamond,–etc.–with other attending circumstances–which you know, that I would not have worn it.

So if he had simply gone to Tiffany’s and bought a ring, she would have turned it down. But the fact that it was an American diamond, which she had seen it before it was cut and polished, combined with the understanding that it could be returned at any time, and so on and so forth, gave her the excuses she needed to keep it and wear it. And once it was on her finger, even if he was far away in California, how could she forget him? Clever John Bidwell!

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Annie’s Diamond Ring, Part Three

John writes from Chico on June 18, 1867:

And now another thing, the ring. I send it by this steamer. It may be a little too large for you. If so, have it made smaller. It will cost but little. I will pay the expense. I fear you will not like the style of the ring. It is so plain, but fix it to suit you. Herewith I will enclose $10 for any changes you may see proper to make, and if they cost more please let me know.

One thing I would like to have you do. Have your name engraved on the ring somewhere. Then if you ever return it–I hope you never will–it will be to me a more precious memento. You remember the conditions.

The conditions were that the ring was a pledge of friendship, and if circumstances were to ever alter (that is, if she were to marry someone else) then she would return the ring.

Annie received the ring about a month later, and on August 7th she wrote:

Now I must thank you for the beautiful ring which I saw for the first time yesterday. It is a little too large, so I will comply with your request and have it made a little smaller.

Which she did, at a cost of 50 cents.

The setting is perfect I think, and not too plain as you suggest. We sit a great deal on balconies, and by moonlight the diamond is beautiful and reflects credit on American diamonds! Pardon the pun, both for its poverty and boldness.

John must have been highly gratified to know that she was wearing the diamond ring and watching it sparkle in the moonlight. Now if he could just get her to come to California . . . .

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That Diamond, or How Much Was $125 Worth in 1867?

John Bidwell was told by a New York jeweler that his diamond from Butte County, California was worth $125. What would that be in today’s money?

According to the website Measuring Worth,

A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $2,030.00. This answer is obtained by multiplying $125 by the percentage increase in the CPI from 1867 to 2013.

So it would take around $2000 to buy today what $125 would buy in 1867. That probably is about right if we are talking about groceries, clothing, or rent. But we are talking about a diamond, and that is an entirely different matter. We don’t know the size of John Cherokee diamond, but a good quality 1 karat diamond on today’s market costs more than $2000.

Measuring Worth goes on to explain:

If you want to compare the value of a $125.00 Commodity in 1867 there are three choices. In 2013 the relative:
real price of that commodity is $2,030.00
labor value of that commodity is $15,400.00(using the unskilled wage) or $31,200.00(using production worker compensation)
income value of that commodity is $29,100.00

Maybe the diamond was worth a lot more than a $2000 diamond today. It’s really impossible to tell what Bidwell’s diamond would be worth today, since he doesn’t say how big it was, or how it measured in karats. But I’ll bet it was a very pretty little sparkler.

I only wish I knew what happened to it.

More about the diamond ring next time.

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