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The Glory Years, 1865-1899

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The Town That Wouldn’t Give Up

The past had not been forgotten and anyone who could revive hopes for a direct railroad connection to the East was certain of success in politics. William Carlson, the former legislative page boy who helped develop Ocean Beach, was a successful candidate for mayor in 1893 and William E. Smythe wrote in his history of San Diego published in 1908:

“As soon as Billy got into the mayor’s chair there were to be new electric car lines on every street equipped in an impossible manner, hotels fitted up a la Edward Bellamy, lines of steamships to every port on earth, transcontinental railroads galore, the park was to be improved at once, everybody was to have plenty of work at the highest wages, and, in short, the millennium was to come then and there.”

In the election which he won handily, Carlson defeated two opponents, one of whom was a Capt. James E. Friend whose nominating petition was signed by 1100 well-wishers. He received only 98 votes, and in his chagrin, he sat down and wrote a book about the town which he entitled 1000 Liars.

Once in the mayor’s seat Carlson was instrumental in the organization of a company to build a railroad from San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona, in coordination with the Coronado Belt Line of the Babcock and Spreckels interests, and the National City Record sniffed that “this looks like warmed-over porridge.” Franchise difficulties and law suits over rights of ways plagued the line’s advance, and when more money was necessary, Mayor Carlson held a mass meeting in the Fisher Opera House at which $5000 in small contributions was raised. The mayor told his listeners:

“San Diego needs salvation as much as a sinner’s soul needs it. It is a groundhog case. If you don’t help yourself the Lord won’t help you.”

He disappeared with the money and turned up in Mexico City, where he announced he had obtained a franchise from the Mexican government to build a line across the Lower California peninsula, on the old wagon route from San Diego to Yuma, with a branch line to Ensenada.

There were excursions over the tracks already laid as far as a place called Phoenix Park in Otay Valley, and more fund raising events and much excitement, but no more rails were laid and the San Diego and Arizona Railroad disappeared from public attention. There were other schemes, almost too many to mention, including one inspired by working railroad men themselves, with shares in the project selling for as low as 50 cents, though nothing ever came of any of them.

No civic miracles had come to pass under Mayor Carlson, though he did succeed in getting reelected in 1895, whereupon he quickly found himself in political trouble. The flume and its inadequate storage reservoir had never delivered the volume anticipated and over the years the water had become somewhat slimy and odorous. As the champion of the people, Mayor Carlson led a campaign to purchase the flume system. The company refused to sell.

U.S. Grant, Jr., the son of the former President, and his partners in the projected San Luis Rey-Linda Vista development, offered to sell 1000 miners’ inches of water to the city for $1,000,000. Babcock promptly offered to sell the city the Otay system which he was developing. In his political innocence, Grant heeded the suggestions of Babcock that in the interest of the good of the city the Common Council should be allowed to decide between the two offers. Babcock, through his henchman, Charles Hardy, controlled the Council majority. Grant’s project never got off the ground because of the loss of its principal prospective customer, even though E. W. Scripps, the publisher, urged him to repudiate his agreement with Babcock and fight on. But it was a point of honor with Grant.

Meanwhile, Babcock, now further reinforced by Spreckels’ investments, began the building of another dam, Morena, on Cottonwood Creek, at a site fifty miles east of San Diego, with the intention of becoming the principal supplier of water for the city. The Southern California Mountain Water Company also had resumed work on Lower Otay Dam; planned another, Upper Otay, at the lower end of Proctor Valley on the west branch of Otay Creek; and a third, Barrett, ten miles below Morena, all to be part of one system.

The people of San Diego in 1896 voted to issue $1,500,000 worth of water bonds, part of the money to be used in helping to develop the Morena system and the rest for distribution facilities. The drought of 1897-98 emptied the Cuyamaca Reservoir and wells had to be sunk in the gravel beds of the San Diego River above El Cajon, to supply water for the flume system.

A few days before a city election in 1897, in which the operators of the flume property and the Babcock and Spreckels interests supported rival candidates for mayor and the City Council over the issue of which company should be allowed to serve the city’s water users, Babcock accused the mayor of running out on his promise to support the Southern California water company. The San Diego Union could not restrain itself in its contempt for Mayor Carlson, and labeled him “a relic of the boom,” a charlatan, faker, traitor to the people, a cigar-and-smile trickster, political quack, pretender, clown, cheap gambler, bamboozler and a liar. Carlson was defeated and Republican D. C. Reed was elected mayor, but the civic fight over the water issue ran into the next century.

Though not all things had come to pass as so many had wished, the decade from 1890 to 1900 always was recalled with nostalgia. There were experiments with raising tobacco and pineapples, and a farm for ostriches, valued for their feathers, was a tourist attraction near Hotel del Coronado. Cuba was engaged in a revolution against Spanish rule and the supply of tobacco to the United States had been curtailed. Tobacco was grown at Nestor, Otay, Campo, El Cajon Valley, Poway, Escondido and Pacific Beach, and a factory began producing cigars under the label of “Hotel Brewsters.” The San Diego County Tobacco Growers Association proposed that the city park be diverted to raising tobacco.

With local financing Louis Fisher had built the new opera house on Fourth between B and C Streets, and it was the pride of San Diego. Fisher later went to New York, and with the help of six girls from San Diego, he put the famous Floradora extravaganzas on the road. There were leisurely sight-seeing rides on new double-deck streetcars. There were carnivals and the appearances of Buffalo Bill Cody, the actress Anna Held and John Philip Sousa’s Band. Gentleman Jim Corbett, the one-time boxer, performed at the Fisher Opera House and shared the social light at Hotel del Coronado with Prince Albert of Belgium. As for the society of Coronado, it enjoyed a form of “fox hunting” by riding to the hounds after rabbits over the flat lands of North Island. Two more newspapers made their appearance. The Evening Tribune was founded on December 2, 1895, by T. D. Beasley and F. E. A. Kimball. The San Diego Vidette was established on August 6, 1892, by D. O. McCarthy, though it was leased in 1894, for a time, to Harr Wagner who published The Golden Era. Babcock opened a new spa, Los Baños Bathhouse, at the foot of D Street, with 2000 guests. Women’s suffrage was the burning issue of the day, but ladies’ large “picture” hats were prohibited in theaters by city ordinance. The Klondike gold fever swept San Diego and there was a rush to secure passage to Alaska. One company tried to buy the Coronado ferry, the Silvergate, to use in the Yukon. The last of the chiefs of the marauding border bandit and cattle rustling gangs, “Borada,” was killed near Tecate.

Though the “Stingaree” district was not what it once was, as in days of the boom, the stagnation along the waterfront resulted in a “squatter town” that contrasted sharply with the stately Victorian residences of uptown areas. Squatter-town included some fifteen blocks around the foot of Market Street, and the area from there to Gumbo Slough at the mouth of Switzer Creek, near the foot of Eleventh Street, was always referred to as Pirate’s Cove. According to reports in The San Diego Union, Pirate’s Cove was a strip of crowded, rickety shacks. Those on the bayshore line stood on rotting stilts over the tideflats, “their backyards fenced by the horizon,” and the others stared from the landward side from a sea of hundreds of thousands of rusting tin cans under a latticework of crisscrossed clotheslines. Here, “dwarfed geraniums gasped for breath in the dust” and the people lived on “bread and barracuda.” Its inhabitants were largely guano pirates who pursued a popular trade of the day, of poaching small boatloads of valuable fertilizer from Mexican-owned islands without the benefit of a costly government license. Poachers could make $65 to $100 for a two to four weeks’ trip in a small schooner, most of which they drank up in Monongahela whiskey in the “Tub O’ Blood Saloon” in Stingaree town, two blocks northward across “Wildcat Alley,” the Cove’s dusty thoroughfare.

Citizenry of the Cove included “Portuguese Itata Bill;” “Scowegian;” “Chow” the Chinese skipper of the junk Hong Kong; “Fan” and “Con” Murphy; “Mizzentop, the Dane;” “Tildy MacCready of Gumbo Slough;” “Sam Mallory of Needles;” and “Lola Osuna, the Tamale Man’s Woman,” who, when on speaking terms with her husband, could be seen boiling a tubful of tamales every day amid the tin cans and goats.

The financial distress in the country had not run its course, however, and another bank, the Savings Bank of San Diego County, failed in the middle 1890’s. In the thirty years between 1870 and 1900 there were fifteen banks established in the city of San Diego, but with the four failures and numerous mergers and closings, only five survived into the Twentieth Century. Within two days, two of the most prominent structures of the old boom days, the Oceanside Hotel and La Jolla Park Hotel, both of which had fallen on bad times, caught fire in June of 1896. The La Jolla Hotel had been closed for some time but the Oceanside Hotel still had guests who threw furniture out of the windows until they were forced to flee. Both hotels were burned to the ground but were reported to have been heavily insured.

Adversity had turned the Kimball brothers against each other. Warren Kimball lost a law suit and his own empire began to collapse. A court decision in 1896 ordered foreclosure on his interests in Rancho de la Nación, part of Chula Vista, and all of Encinitas, except for Olivenhain, which he had acquired. The bank which he controlled in National City was pronounced “insolvent.” Within a year his brother Frank Kimball was almost destitute. He wrote in his diaries that from “absolute owner of $1,384,000” he had been reduced to poverty and that he was living in an empty restaurant building without home, money or friends. He said he had been robbed by companies in which he had invested “as well as by some persons nearer home.”

In the East, Katherine Tingley, the “Purple Mother,” emerged as the undisputed leader of the Theosophical Society of America and she proposed the establishment of a School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity, which also would serve as a “White City,” or ideal community, and as a center for a new worldwide crusade for theosophy. A number of religious sects already had found a haven in Southern California, as would many others in the next half century. The theosophy movement as practiced in the United States had its origin with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian seeress who died in 1891, and for a time attracted many persons prominent in national life.

Miss Tingley was searching for the “Golden Land” for her “White City” when she encountered Gen. Frémont, who had figured so prominently but indirectly in the fortunes of San Diego for decades. In her own words, as published in Theosophical Path in 1914, she wrote:

“I told him this story, this fairy story; that in the golden land, far away, by the blue Pacific, I thought as a child that I could fashion a city and bring the people of all countries together and have the youth taught how to live, and how to become true and strong and noble, and forceful royal warriors for humanity. “But,” I said “all that has passed; it is a closed book, and I question if it will ever be realized.”

“He said, “There are some parts of your story that attract me very much. It is your description of this place where you are going to build your city. Have you ever been in California?”

“ “No,” I answered.

“ “Well,” he said, “the city you have described is a place that I know exists.” And he then told of Point Loma. He was the first to name the place to me.”

While Madame Tingley and her “crusaders” were on a world tour, a site committee purchased 130 acres on Point Loma and obtained an option on forty additional acres. The crusaders reached San Diego in February of 1897, and an elaborate ceremony was arranged to lay the cornerstone of the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity. Hundreds of San Diegans in buggies and on bicycles rode to Point Loma. While in Ireland, Madame Tingley had located a greenish stone in Killarney which was to be the cornerstone for the new school, but as it had not arrived, a local stone was substituted and Madame Tingley, using a silver trowel, sealed up a metal box containing a history of the movement and unidentified parchments, and remarked, according to The San Diego Union:

“I dedicate this stone; a perfect square, a fitting emblem of the perfect work that will be done in the temple for the benefit of humanity and glory of the ancient sages.”

Some of her supporters, however, in walking along the ridge of Point Loma, treeless and windswept and far from the centers of learning and influence, referred to it as a Godforsaken spot. But she persisted and within two years structures that were to become known around the world began to rise on a point of land projecting seaward from the most southwesterly corner of the United States.

Early in 1896 the Cuban revolution for independence from Spain had already become front page news in San Diego newspapers, with the Spanish Monarchy shown as the oppressor. Congress nodded approval to War Department thoughts on strengthening United States coastal defenses and the die was finally cast for San Diego’s future as a major military base.

By mid-year the Army had dusted off its long-forgotten plans to fortify the entrance to San Diego Harbor, where partially finished revetments lay eroded and weed-grown after years of neglect. By fall, Maj. Charles E. G. B. Davis, U.S. Army, was directing active work on the expanded new plans. They called for six ten-inch Buffington-Crozier disappearing rifles in concrete emplacements at Ballast Point, covering the main channel entrance. Atop Point Loma, 2000 feet north of the Old Lighthouse, were to be sixteen twelve-inch mortars, and on the beach at the extreme tip, two swivel station rifles. Sixteen more twelve-inch mortars were to be installed on a fifty-acre site the Army purchased 6000 feet south of Hotel del Coronado. In addition, there was to be a torpedo casemate on the seaward side of Ballast Point for firing wire-controlled torpedoes, and a remote-controlled system of electrically-detonated mines.

The entire system was to cost $1,500,000. The work went on for two years under continually increasing pressure from the War Department for more haste. Secrecy measures increased and only Army officers were allowed to see the blueprints. San Diego’s civic pride swelled with the knowledge that it was important enough to need such elaborate defenses. On the road to Roseville heavy freight wagons hauling steel and cement to the armaments at the foot of the hill ran nose-to-tailgate with equally heavy wagons hauling lumber and materials.

The United States Navy’s first real interest in San Diego as a potential base resulted from a celebration of Washington’s Birthday on February 22, 1897. A mid-winter carnival had been planned with the usual fancy dress ball, parades, horse races, a water parade on the bay and band concerts, and Rear Admiral Charles Beardsley, U.S. Navy, retiring commander of a Pacific squadron, was invited to be guest of honor. The admiral accepted, and so did a large portion of the Pacific Fleet. When he arrived in his flagship, the heavy cruiser Philadelphia, he was greeted by the coast defense monitors Monterey and Monadnock; the gunboats Marion, Adams and Corwin; the steamer Albatross; and a British heavy cruiser, H.M.S. Camus.

Carlson was still in office as mayor and he wired Washington for permission for British marines and sailors to march under arms in the parade in celebration of George Washington’s Birthday. The United States and British ministries were nonplussed but permission finally was granted. Two hours before the parade, the British Admiralty signaled that it would not be in “keeping with tradition.” But the Camus did join in firing a full salute with all the other vessels at high noon. Admiral Beardsley reviewed a military parade in front of the Horton House and a sham battle was fought from Mission Hills down to Old Town. An estimated 10,000 tourists, 190 of whom had come from Boston, were in the audience, along with John Philip Sousa’s Band, which played two concerts.

At 7:30 o’clock that night there was not a light to be seen on the water or along the shore. Then at a signal from the U.S.S. Philadelphia’s salute gun, every electric light in the fleet was turned on and hundreds of colored torches were lighted. Aboard the H.M.S. Camus lighted Japanese lanterns were passed from hand to hand to the top of her rigging. As they reached the m astheads a bugle sounded and the Camus fired a barrage of colored rockets. Other men-of-war followed suit. The crowds on the beach gasped in wonder as the thousands of electric lights against a black velvet sky revealed the fleet anchored close in, bow on stern. More than fifty small boats rowed by Navy seamen led a procession of yachts and civilian craft lighted by electric lights and 6000 colored torches. Then with fireworks rocketing overhead and star shells bursting, a band and a hundred-voice chorus on barges rendered The Star Spangled Banner.

A year later as crews were preparing to install the third of the big disappearing guns at Point Loma, word was flashed on February 16, 1898, that the U.S. battleship Maine had been blown up and sunk in Havana Harbor. A national military buildup began at once. The Navy assigned San Diego its own warship for use in training its seventy reservists. It was the U.S.S. Pinta, a thirty-two year old iron-hulled 550-ton gunboat armed with two cannon and one gatling gun. It was overhauled and sent down from San Francisco. The San Diego Union commented: “War fever is running high.”

Forty thousand pounds of powder and 38,000 pounds of shells arrived for the big guns. The torpedo casemate was finished and mines were being shipped when the House of Representatives passed the Spanish Intervention Resolution on April 14. The news was received in San Diego with a celebration. The City Guard Band led a procession through the downtown streets playing The Star Spangled Banner, Dixie, Marching Through Georgia, Yankee Doodle and The Red, White and Blue. There was great cheering for the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic who carried flags at the head of the line. Young and old alike joined in, even some on canes and crutches. The procession stopped long enough to burn a Spanish flag in front of The San Diego Union office and give cheers for President McKinley, Robert E. Lee and for Americans in general. The news of the actual declaration of war was received ten days later, and another parade followed.

Five hundred men volunteered for a “Minute Man” brigade that would defend the city in the event of the appearance of the Spanish fleet. E. E. Capps, city engineer, was named chairman of preparations for defense of the city. Company B of the National Guard immediately went up to full strength of 103 men, and sixty auxiliaries were enlisted. The last one walked in from Ensenada. A Lieut. Meylers, of the Army Engineers, asked for civilian volunteers to assist in laying twenty-one mines in the harbor channel. A hundred volunteered.

The local chapter of the National Wheelmen’s Association, recently reinstated after having been suspended from the national organization for racing bicycles on Sunday, formed the “Wheelmen’s Rifle Corps,” to act as scouts and messengers for the “Minute Men” in defense of the city. T. J. Storey, deputy county clerk, formed a Signal Corps Auxiliary from the City Guard Band. Reserves drilled daily in the streets though they had no guns. On the Point Loma hillside above the torpedo casemate and overlooking the mine fields, the Army mounted two old obsolete brass Napoleon field pieces whose sole duty was to warn wayward craft away from the mine fields. With frequent regularity the guns boomed, sending round shots splashing off the bow of large and small craft alike, one round usually being sufficient.

On April 30, Admiral Dewey’s fleet arrived at Manila, and the “Minute Men” marched from the Plaza to the Armory on Second Street where they heard patriotic speeches and pledged themselves to defend the city. Company B of the National Guard closed its muster roll at ninety-seven men and prepared to go on active duty. The U.S. gunboat Corwin patrolled the San Diego coast, while cattlemen and ranchers formed a troop of cavalry and offered their services to the government, volunteering to bring their own horses.

Hotel del Coronado was jammed with tourists and guests, and in San Diego business picked up to a brisk trot.

The Spanish-American War was over quickly. Commodore Dewey’s victory at Manila on May 1, forty-eight hours after he had arrived, was the first major action. The charge of Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders up San Juan Hill on July 1 and the destruction of the Spanish fleet at Santiago Bay on July 3 were observed at San Diego’s Fourth of July celebration on the Plaza. San Diego was safe from the Spanish fleet. When hostilities ceased on August 12 and the treaty was signed in Paris on December 10, San Diego already had turned back to worrying about water, transportation and real estate sales.

As the Nineteenth Century drew to a close, the conquest of the Colorado Desert was at hand. Many San Diegans, one of them, Ephraim Morse, had been aware of its possibilities, once the waters of the Colorado River could be diverted under control onto the vast basin of silt. The valley was the bed of a long-dead lake and its below-sea level depressions were crusted with salt. From time to time in subsequent centuries the low areas would be watered by the overflow of the Colorado. The dry years would expose salt in what became known as the Salton Sink and it was mined by the early settlers of the 1890’s. One man virtually died in the cause of the irrigation of the desert. He was Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft, a United States Indian agent. In 1859 he had obtained from the State Legislature the right to 1600 square miles of the Salton Basin, and then, through the Civil War and afterward, he struggled unsuccessfully to win the cooperation of an indifferent Congress. He died in 1887, having lost his fortune and his home in a seemingly hopeless cause.

The railroads had proved that the desert could be crossed regularly and safely, and the struggle was taken up by C . R. Rockwood, in 1892. Rockwood, who had been both a government and railroad engineer, crisscrossed the United States in search of help and money, until at last he was almost deserted by friends and backers. It was at this point in 1899, when Rockwood had about given up hope, that George Chaffey entered the scene. He had known Wozencraft but had refused to participate in the reclamation of the Colorado Desert as he believed that no white men could ever be induced to live and work in such heat below sea level. He went to Australia as an engineer and saw white men working in a climate as hot as that of the Colorado basin. He returned to this country, and after wandering over the desert wastes with an Indian guide, and losing his hearing because of it, he became convinced that the project was feasible. The California Development Company was organized, and the task of diverting part of the flow of the river into the desert to make one of the world’s garden spots, was begun.

For the Indians, the spirit that brought freedom to the Cubans held no assurances for their survival. In their swift decline under the pressures of a White civilization they also carried to their graves the evidence which might have established some proof of their natural longevity. On Warner’s Ranch, or Rancho José del Valle, the survivors of the Cupeño Indians, originally only a small band of about 500, were under orders of eviction from the Supreme Court of the United States. The heirs of the former governor, John G. Downey, were refusing to sell land to the government for the Indians who lived around the hot springs. The report of the commission related the following conversation with their captain, Cecilio Blacktooth:

“We thank you for coming here to talk to us in a way we can understand. It is the first time anyone has done so.

“You ask us to think what place we like next best to this place where we always live. You see that graveyard over there? There are our fathers and our grandfathers. You see that Eagle-Nest Mountain and that Rabbit-Hole Mountain? When God made them He gave us this place. It may be good, but it is not ours. We have always lived here. We would rather die here. Our fathers did. We cannot leave them. Our children born here–how can we go away? If you give us the best place in the world, it is not so good for us as this. My people cannot go anywhere else; they cannot live anywhere else. Here they always live; their people always live here. There is no other place. This is our home. We ask you to get it for us. If Harvey Downey say he own this place, that is wrong. The Indians always here. We do not go on his land. These hot springs always Indian. We cannot live anywhere else. We were born here, and our fathers are buried here. We do not think of any place after this. We want this place, and not any other place.”

He was asked that if the government was unable to buy the Warner’s ranch land, then where would they prefer to go? Captain Blacktooth replied:

“There is no other place for us. We do not want you to buy any other place. If you will not buy this place, we will go into the mountains like quail and die there, the old people and the women and the children. Let the Government be glad and proud. It can kill us. We do not fight. We do what it says. If we cannot live here, we want to go into those mountains and die. We do not want any other home.”

That was in 1902. The Cupeño Indians were moved onto 3400 acres purchased at Pala. Altogether about 300 were moved, about 200 of them from Warner’s Ranch, seventy-eight from San Felipe Valley and eighteen from another nearby area. In less than 150 years the Luiseño, Diegueño, Cahuilla, Cupeño and Yuma Indians of Southern California declined from about 12,000 to about 3000.

In the decade from 1890 to 1900 the population of San Diego County increased hardly at all, from 34,987 to 35,090, in a period when the expansion of the West in general was both persistent and exciting. It was as if nobody had arrived or left, or had been born or died. Many persons abandoned the small boom towns and the marginal farms and drifted into the town. The population of San Diego City increased about 1500, from 16,159 to 17,700.

Under the leadership of President McKinley, the years after the Spanish-American War were prosperous ones, with full production and employment, a gold dollar, high wages and stable prices. There was pride in the nation’s new status as a Great Power. The Monroe Doctrine had been reasserted, the Caribbean was an American lake and the United States Navy dominated the Pacific Ocean all the way to Asia. It was called the Age of Confidence.

The Twentieth Century would bring a rebirth to a town that had been left off the path of progress. Alonzo Horton was a symbol of a generation that had expected so much from the spanning of the continent by the railroads. Though in his late eighties, he liked to don his black frock coat and high silk hat and go down to the waterfront and meet the steamers, just as he had done in the days when the railroad barons were arriving and departing and promising so much, and welcome the passengers to “our beautiful San Diego.”

Across the bay, a Coronado resident installed a one-cylinder gasoline engine in a buckboard wagon and the first horseless carriage in San Diego County began putting through the streets. Though the struggle for a direct railroad connection with the East would continue, a revolution in transportation was beginning, and roads over the deserts and mountains again would be the foremost challenges, as they had been in the days of the immigrant wagon, to the future of a town that never gave up.