Life in Chico, Butte County, California, Circa 1870
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In researching our McDonald family, a request for information about our family was made. Tim Bousquet, then the Editor of "Chico Examiner" in 2000. Replied he would be happy to help out and would write an article for the paper. At one time this was online but has disappeared.

A Snapshot of Chico, Circa 1870
By: Tim Bousquet
Editor of the Chico Examiner in 2000

Chico, circa 1870 – With its wooden sidewalks, general and drug stores, multiple saloons and fighting miners and ranch hands, Chico could have been lifted right off the set from a western movie.

The town was predominately male; the survivors of the gold rush mixed with later-day adventures. The easy pickings of the gold fields had played out many years before, but it was still possible to get work as a hand at one of the massive hydraulic operations; the miners would head up into the mountains for the summer work season then, when the winter rains and snows made mining impossible, head down to the valley floor and Chico to enjoy themselves in the stereotypical rowdy ways. But let's get beyond the stereotypes and take a tour of the place.

Chico had a population of about 5,000 people, mostly clustered in a small grid about a mile square wedged between Big and Little Chico Creeks.

To the north, across Big Chico Creek, sat Rancho Chico, John Bidwell's sprawling ranch. Bidwell arrived in California in 1841, when this state was more properly known as Mexico, and through industry, saving, and diplomacy acquired the Rancho del Arroyo de Chico, a Mexican land grant of several leagues, for the proverbial song. He made a quick peace with the local Indians, a band of about 100 called the Mechoopda: they could move their small village onto Rancho Chico and receive Bidwell's protection against the incoming 49er swam, which had proven itself to be not especially concerned for the welfare of the original inhabitants. In return, the Mechoopda would work Bidwell's ranch.

By the 1870's the Bidwell ranch had become an elaborate and productive affair, and was possibly the largest such farming operation in the United States, with a few dozen fruit and nut orchards, a cannery, a flour mill, and the assorted operations associated with the same. Bidwell's mansion sat on the bank of the creek, immediately opposite the town he had laid out in 1860.

That north end of town hosted the more established businesses; Bidwell's General Store at Front (or First) Street and Broadway; the post office facing the creek on Front, between Main and Broadway; Noonan's Drug Store on Main between First and Second; Graves Drug Store, a sturdy two-story brick structure, at Second and Main (now Zucchini and Vine). The City Hall, with its small jail behind, sat on Main between Second and Third, and the fire station was around the corner on Second, between Main and Wall (now Panama's Bar). Any number of smaller operations --men and women's clothing stores, saddleries and leather shops, the ubiquitous saloons and liquor stores, doctors offices and barbers, a few Chinese laundries – were interspersed with the larger establishments.

We will discuss in a general nature the prevalence of drinking in Chico. Through advertisement and news reports in the Chico newspaper of 1875 to 1876, I've compiled the following list of saloons and drinking establishments in about a ten-square block area of Chico: