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The Glory Years, 1865-1899

CHAPTER TEN: The Discontented Seventies

Across the land the depression that began with the financial panic of 1873 persisted. There was widespread resentment against the railroads. Growers in California in particular felt they were being overcharged on freight rates. State governments were inefficient and usually corrupt. Writers and pamphleteers were condemning big business or espousing socialism. Fledgling labor unions in California harassed the Chinese who had been imported by the thousands, and various regulatory acts were passed which merely added to the confusion and anger.

The discontented Seventies passed slowly for a town that had expected greater things. The population grew, but a decade would pass before it would equal what it was in the time of the last boom. By 1880 the population of the town was only 2637, though the population in the county had doubled, from 4951 to 8618. But its rival coastal city, Los Angeles, was pulling far ahead in the same period. By 1880 it had 11,183, and the county 33,381.

Even so the water supply system in Pound Canyon proved to be inadequate as early as 1875 and the San Diego Water Company began pumping water from the sands of the San Diego River and lifting it several hundred feet to University Heights. This proved to be very costly so a tunnel was driven through the hills from a point in Mission Valley and the water was piped through it to University Avenue, where it was allowed to flow across the empty mesa to a reservoir at what is now Fifth Avenue and Hawthorn Street.

Horton continued in the real estate business, and though he had lost much of his holdings, he struggled to retain the Horton House despite attachments, the efforts of his enemies to take it away from him, and difficulties with lessees. San Diego was a trading and commercial center for 15,000 square miles, and a Chamber of Commerce directory of 1874 listed six churches, three lodges, two newspapers, two banks, five hotels, and one public and three private schools; eleven real estate agents and eleven attorneys; ten general merchants and ten grocery stores; five blacksmiths and wheelwrights, as well as four drug stores and four barber shops, and many specialty shops and supply yards. The town filled with people once again, but Morse wrote:

“The hotels are all full, the town never was more full of strangers than at present but they are all tourists and invalids and no speculators among them.”

Many turned to new pursuits and new sources of revenue. Most of the mines and mills in the Julian District were idle and even the Golden Chariot mine in Chariot Canyon had closed down by 1876 and the population of Julian had dropped to less than 100 persons. Frank Kimball received a crate of 1000 oysters from San Francisco and planted them in the bay at the mouth of the Sweetwater River. Life was rather serene, though it was not always easy to live with the thoughts of what might have been, and picnics were the favorite pastime. They were held under the great oaks or the pepper trees which were growing everywhere, in town and country, and buckboard buffets dispensed the bounties of good seasons.

The stage to Julian was held up on the Coleman grade and the Wells, Fargo treasure box robbed of $1000. The San Diego Union continued publication without interruption, though its rival of the tidelands battle, the Daily World, did not last long. Jacob M. Julian and N.H. Conklin, new arrivals from Mississippi, acquired ownership in 1874, and it was soon merged with a new publication, the San Diego Daily News started by Julian in 1875.

The Congress appropriated $80,000 in 1875 to channel the San Diego River to prevent the silting up of the bay. This was the second attempt. In 1853 a timber bulkhead had been constructed across the bed of the channel, where it had swung across the flat land between Old Town and Point Loma and toward the bay; and a former channel, which had twisted toward False or Mission Bay, had been deepened. The work was done under the direction of Lieut. George Derby, of the United States Topographical Engineers and a famed humorist, but, because adequate money had not been provided, the dike gave way within two years.

This time the work was thoroughly planned and executed by the Corps of Engineers. The contract was awarded to Capt. George A. Johnson, owner of Los Peñasquitos Rancho, and Howard Schuyler of San Francisco. They set a charge of gunpowder underneath Presidio Hill on the river side and shook down 4000 to 5000 cubic yards of dirt. The explosion flattened most of the remaining adobe walls of the historic presidio. The contractors employed seventy white men and seventy-five Chinese in scooping out a gently curving channel into Mission Bay and throwing up a levee 7735 feet long, which rested on the east on the base of Presidio Hill and on the west on the base of Point Loma. It was twenty-three feet wide at the top and forty-one feet wide at the base, and rested on a bed of stones three feet deep. It was faced and topped with stones.

San Diegans, knowing the history of the river and its occasional bursts of fury, were skeptical of its ability to hold. Lieut. John Weede, of the Corps of Engineers in charge of the work, refuted the critics in a letter to The San Diego Union:

“…the plan for the improvement was, after careful study, decided upon by a Board of Engineers who deemed themselves justified in believing that a levee, stronger by far than those which have for years guided the mighty waters of the Mississippi, the Rhine, the Po and the Adige, might possibly control the waters of the San Diego.”

The work was completed in 1877. The bay was saved, but each winter heavy silt from the San Diego mountains oozed down and choked up Mission Bay, a bay that nobody seemed to want. A chronicler from the Los Angeles Express described his visit to old San Diego “with its crumbling relics of the past” and told how the levee would confine the “river to the new channel and send it into False Bay, which has no commercial value and can be filled up with impunity.”

The Colorado River still held its mighty promise of agricultural wealth. From 1873 to 1875 Commander George Dewey, U.S.N., and later Admiral Dewey, surveyed the Gulf of California on the U.S.S. Narragansett and visited the mouth of the river. A year later Lieut. Eric Bergland was detailed to determine the feasibility of diverting the flow of the river onto the Colorado Desert, as Ephraim Morse and others thought could be done, and whether a channel could be built entirely on American soil.

In 1876 the city was reincorporated by the Legislature and its boundaries described as in the Hays survey, except for the waterfront on the bay, “and this shall be the ship’s channel of the bay,” and the municipal jurisdiction was extended over the waters of the bay and to one mile at sea. Through another oversight, False or Mission Bay was not included within the municipal jurisdiction.

The winter of 1876-77 was a dry one and by May the areas north of San Diego County were feeling the bite of the droughts that had proved so terrifying in the 1860’s. Sheep men from northern counties moved their flocks into San Diego County, which still had some grass on the mountains, and the sheep stripped every growing thing before them. In June there was a heat wave and it was 104 in the shade at Poway and 122 in the sun in Spring Valley. Mud springs erupted in the Imperial Valley. As June drew to a close the honey crop was reported as a total loss. The heat wave had killed the blossoms and artificial feeding was begun to keep the bees alive until the Fall. This was a severe blow to the economy of San Diego, as the honey crop in 1876 had been 1,277,155 pounds, and 800,000 pounds had been exported to the East.

As had the Silver Dons and the Spanish and Mexican ranch owners before them, many Americans were losing the ranches they had acquired in previous years of distress. Joseph S. Mannasse and Marcus Schiller saw two of their ranches, San Dieguito and adjoining Las Encinitas, foreclosed for debts. The Fall brought heavy rains and extreme cold and the loss of 300 to 400 sheep a night from exposure. Upon petition of citizens the payment of city taxes was postponed.

The illustrated book, History of San Diego County, published in 1883, stated:

“The year 1877 will long be remembered as exceptionally rainless and distressing. Scarce a flower bloomed on the dry valleys away from the stream-sides, and not a single grain-field, depending upon rain, was reaped. The seed only sprouted and came up a little way, and withered; and horses, cattle and sheep grew thinner day by day, nibbling at bushes and weeds along the shallowing edges of streams, many of which were dried up altogether for the first time since the settlement of the country.”

A letter to The San Diego Union from a visitor from Los Angeles in 1877 chided the town for its despondency:

“Of what has San Diego really to complain more than other towns? There are none suffering among you — in the East thousands are wanting bread. There are no tramps among you and few are out of employment. Your streets are quiet; they are not filled with idle men asking for work or food. You have hard times, but where can good times be found? The whole country is depressed. A wail of hard times goes up even from this favored locality, and in San Francisco it is much worse. The times are out of joint. The tide is out. We must wait patiently for the flood.”

The Chinese held many of the jobs that white men now found more attractive. There was no place for the Indians, who had been replaced as laborers and servants by the Chinese. In 1876 President Grant had set aside nine reservations in San Diego County, and the remnants of the 5000 Indians who once had owned all of the land were being rounded up and driven into the hills and unwanted valleys. The nine Indian reservations embraced ninety-seven and a half square miles of land in fifteen locations in a rough fifty-mile belt from San Diego’s present El Capitán Reservoir to the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains in what is now Riverside County. The Cahuilla Reservations included six square miles near El Capitán Reservoir in San Diego County and two areas totaling twenty-four square miles north of Mt. Palomar in Riverside County. The Potrero covered nineteen square miles of Mt. Palomar and the area northeast of it; Santa Ysabel covered twenty-five and a half square miles in two areas near the south end of Lake Henshaw; and Capitán Grande covered two ten-square mile areas on the northwest and southeast sides of El Capitán Reservoir. The Pala Reservation was one square mile, lying east of Oak Grove; Maja and Lycuan Reservations, a quarter section each, were three miles west of Cuyamaca Peak and two miles east of Dehesa; Agua Caliente, one and a half square miles, was five miles east of Lake Henshaw; and Cosmit, the smallest, ninety acres, was two miles northwest of Cuyamaca Peak.

The Indians, however, found a defender who stirred the nation’s conscience. It was Helen Hunt Jackson, with her book, A Century of Dishonor, and her novel, Ramona. Though the tragic story of Ramona and Allesandro was laid in the Hemet country of Riverside County, Mrs. Jackson gathered material at Guajome Rancho in San Diego County and the padre of her story was created in the likeness of Fr. Antonio Ubach.

In midsummer of the unhappy year of 1877 a wave of rioting swept the state and many Chinese lost their lives. Chinese fishing villages dotted the coast and their strangely rigged junks were a familiar sight at San Diego. Charles Nordhoff in his book on Travellers and Settlers in California had described how the Chinese sailed from San Diego as far south as the Cedros Island, 300 miles down the peninsula of Baja California, in search of abalone. The meat was prized as a delicacy and the shell for ornamentation, and by 1870 the Chinese fishermen in California were exporting $1,000,000 worth of abalone annually to their homeland, as well as dried shrimp valued at $3,000,000. Legislative acts were passed to tax or restrict their fishing. In San Diego, it became evident in 1877 that outbreaks against the Chinese were only a matter of time, and The San Diego Union reported:

“It was ascertained that an agreement in writing had been in circulation for two days past, pledging the signers to join in ridding the city of Chinese, and persons refusing to sign were threatened…in one instance, we are informed, a man who declined to sign was assaulted.”

An attempt was made to burn down the Chinese quarter along the waterfront. Several buildings were saturated with gasoline and set afire, but the flames were quickly extinguished by volunteer fire fighters. Sheriff Joseph Coyne appointed a number of special deputies and a meeting of citizens was called to organize a Committee on Public Safety, and D.O. McCarthy, president of the Board of Trustees, telegraphed the commanding general of the Army’s Pacific Division requesting that arms at the barracks be issued to the committee’s 200 members. A. H. Gilbert was chosen chairman and officers were appointed for each ward. The San Diego Union said:

“The Chinese may not be, in any considerable number, a desirable element of the population. But those that are here are under the protection of the laws and must not be molested…here in San Diego we do not mean to permit hoodlumism and rioting…”

The distribution of Army weapons was approved and the full committee marched to the barracks to receive their breech-loading rifles and cavalry revolvers. Its members took up assigned posts and apparently remained on the alert until the threats of rioting had subsided.

In a time of labor unrest the Workingmen’s Party brought about rioting in northern cities, and it attempted to dominate the constitutional convention elected to write a new state constitution. One was adopted in 1878, but it met opposition from business and financial interests. When it was placed before the people in 1879, however, the rural vote was enough to assure its ratification. Though a victim of many compromises, it did establish more controls over the Legislature, and provide steps toward equalization of tax burdens and a means of independent assessments of railroad properties.

In San Diego, it was a clean sweep for Republican candidates, and the new constitution was approved by a vote of 1004 for it and 159 against it. An expression on the Chinese question resulted in a vote of eleven for further immigration of Chinese and 1325 against it. As the results of the balloting on the constitution became known, The San Diego Union reported:

“Captain Ferris was on the plaza last night with the “Centennial gun” and fired a salute in honor of the triumph of the new constitution. While the salute was being fired, the bells were rung and cheers given for the people’s victory.”

Though Horton had worked vigorously to move business uptown to the vicinity of the Horton House, trade tended to concentrate on lower Fifth Street, as it had from the beginning of New San Diego. George W. Marston long since had moved his store from Fifth Street and Broadway and in 1882 was doing business at Fifth and F Streets. In that same year, in June, the San Diego Telephone Company began service with thirteen subscribers.

The growth of population in the county reflected the development of agriculture and the homesteading and settling of the smaller and upland valleys in the manner of the Gaskill brothers at Campo. Cattle, once the prime source of revenue of both the Spanish and Mexican periods, had given way to sheep. In 1882 the county produced 954,354 pounds of wool from 151,000 sheep. Cattle numbered 10,114 and cows, 1459.

By the middle of the seventies the new settlers had found most of the 2,000,000 acres remaining unclaimed in what was called the “agricultural belt” in reality were in scattered valleys or canyons or along rocky mountain masses. Good lands had to be searched out. Even as late as 1880 there wasn’t a single irrigation ditch in the entire county despite a meager average rainfall which at that time was estimated at only four inches a year.

By 1882, besides the Spanish and Mexican land grants as yet undivided, there were, according to assessment records, 3052 farms ranging in size from less than ten to more than 600 acres. There were 921,604 acres in all subject to assessment. Of the total, 5162 acres were enclosed, or fenced, and 22,997 acres under cultivation. There were 11,209 acres in wheat, with an annual yield of 142,499 bushels and 3206 acres in barley, with a yield of 58,024 bushels.

The more successful farming was being done in the wet belt which ran through the higher country, from Viejas Valley through Cuyamaca Rancho, the Julian Hills, Warner’s, Guejito, Bear Valley, Pauma, and Smith’s Mountain, or Palomar. The Bernardo Rancho, northeast of San Diego, and Rincón del Diablo Rancho, the site of Escondido, as well as Santa Maria Valley were on the edge of this belt.

S.G. Blaisdell, a native of Vermont, located in Poway Valley, and though he planted a fine orchard, the roots of his giant grove of eucalyptus trees killed all of his fruit trees. F. R. Sawday produced good crops at Ballena even during the drought of 1877. The inland settlers were from many lands, even as those who had arrived during the mission-hide days and remained to marry the daughters of the Dons.

Bernardo Etcheverry, a native of France, was running 12,000 sheep on some of the finest agriculture land, Santa Maria Valley, once the rancho of Edward Stokes, the English sea captain who had married the daughter of José Joaquin Ortega. Herbert Crouch, a native of England, had a ranch in the San Luis Rey Valley where he grazed 4000 sheep. William Thompson, a native of Nova Scotia, settled in San Pasqual Valley.

Juan Forster, the Englishman who had married the sister of Don Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, and acquired the largest rancho in San Diego County, Santa Margarita, fell upon bad days and harassed by debts, litigation and taxes, sold out to Richard O’Neill and James Flood for $250,000 in 1882. He died two years later. Warner’s Ranch, the historic stopping place for immigrants who arrived over the Gila Trail, and for the Butterfield stages, passed into possession of a former governor of California, John G. Downey.

The growing of fruit, the enticement of the many advertisements of the wonders and delights of California, was being extensively developed. There were 7359 apple trees and San Diego boasted that the apples grown in the Julian Hills were as fine as any produced in New York State. There were 3309 orange and 1257 lemon trees, but it was generally conceded that their fruit for some reason was not as good as that grown in the Los Angeles area. Olives, a staple of the mission days, continued in production, with 2807 trees. There also were 7833 peach, 2064 apricot, 1820 fig and 648 plum-bearing trees. The National Ranch had strawberries and grapes as well as peach, almond and walnut trees, and 20,000 young orange trees had been set out. E1 Cajon Valley had 2000 muscat grapevines and 600 orchard and walnut trees. The county in one year shipped eighteen tons of raisins and dried fruits and produced 13,000 gallons of wine. Honey was one of the most valued products and there were at least 20,000 hives in 1880. The shipments in 1878 were 1071 barrels and 15,544 cases, and nearly ninety tons. J.S. Harbison, the pioneer in honey production, had 2000 hives and for himself and others shipped twenty carloads in one season.

Droughts and storms were only occasional hazards in a mild land. The country was young and the settlers ambitious. Wealth was not always measured by the standards of those who so often had seen their investments vanish in the speculation over railroads. Agriculture and climate were the assets on which it seemed the future would have to turn. Success once tasted, however, is not easily laid aside, and for the Morses, the Kimballs and the Hortons, defeat was not acceptable.