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Did Auburn Have Bull and Bear Fights? Ask a Curator

In the 19th century, the Gold Rush brought more than 300,000 people to California and they found many ways to entertain themselves– some more bloody than others. One pastime that found some popularity in the mining camps were the bull and bear fights.

Bull and bear fights are thought to have originated from the Spanish settlers, and evolved from bullfighting. Just like the name suggests, a bull and a bear would be placed together in a pit or arena. Sometimes the bear would be chained so that it could not escape or pitted against other animals like dogs or panthers. These events were typically held on Sundays, after church, and were described as gruesome entertainment that only ended when one animal, or both animals, had been killed.

Some of these fights occurred in Placer County. In 1854 John R. Gwynn wrote in to the Placer Herald to object to an upcoming bull and bear fight to be held in Auburn. He wrote, “If the officers of Auburn will permit a thing of this kind to take place, God help their morality.”

Placer Herald December 2, 1854

The fight did take place but was deemed a failure due to poor turn out and the fact that those who did attend, kept their distance from the exhibition.

Placer Herald December 18, 1854

The same year a bull and bear fight was advertised as being in Iowa Hill, and featured the famous “Nevada” bear against the bull “Chihuahua.”

In 1854 the California State Legislature introduced “An Act to provide for the better observance of the Sabbath” which banned certain activities on Sundays such as gambling, ten pins, and bull and bear fighting. The bill was eventually passed in 1858, and when more ordinances passed against the fights, bull and bear fights fell out of fashion.

The bull and bear fights would later live on as symbols of the stock market and Wall Street. The bull would thrust its horns up into the air, symbolizing a rising market, and the bear would swipe its paws downward, symbolizing a falling one.