The Glory Years, 1865-1899

CHAPTER THREE: The Train That Never Came

A visitor returned to San Diego after the absence of a year and couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a city, as the Poet of the Sierra, Joaquin Miller, wrote, “as suddenly born as if shot from a gun.” Horton had his salesmen everywhere, even as far as Fort Yuma at the crossing of the Colorado River, where they told the weary immigrants looking out over the bleak wastes of the desert basin, all about “the land of the sundown sea” that lay just over the horizon of the mountains.

The visitor in a letter to The San Diego Union, wrote:

“It is true that when I was here Horton had a town on paper—that everybody was ready to make an affidavit that Horton was insane and should be sent to Stockton—but today that paper town is a live city, full of active, energetic householders, who have built good houses and are now busy in the development of and beautifying of their homes. The same men who were then ready to swear that Horton was crazy, are now scratching their heads anxiously, inquiring of their nearest relatives if anyone accuses them of belonging to the “dam phule family.” “

In the spring The San Diego Union was able to report that 120 houses had been erected and completed in New Town since July 4, and that “the music of plane and hammer can be heard in every direction,” and that the streets were filled with teams carrying freight from San Diego to Fort Yuma. Horton was selling $600 to $1000 worth of lots every day. On one occasion they rose to $6000 and settlers and speculators had to stand in line to hand over their money.

The personal success of Horton and the rapid rise of New Town aroused the animosity of many residents of Old Town and a number of law suits were instituted seeking to set aside the deeds by which Horton had obtained his lands. Charles DeWolf filed suit against Horton, Morse and Bush in September, 1869, and charged that the City Trustees had illegally disposed of the pueblo lands, because the city had not been in debt as stipulated by law, that there had been collusion between them and Horton, that Morse profited as a trustee and as a purchaser with Horton.

The suits touched off a wave of land jumping. Newcomers rushed onto Horton’s lands and began fencing them off and claiming squatter’s rights. But the owners fought back, and as in one case cited by The San Diego Union of December 16:

“A would-be smart alec by the name of Stapleton, hailing from San Francisco, took it into his head on Thursday last to appropriate a block of land in Horton’s Addition by fencing the same without leave or license of the owner, Mr. Frank M. Pixley, of San Francisco. He dug the post holes, put in the posts, and was in the act of putting on the boards when about 200 of the best people in New Town turned out in mass, took up the posts, piled up the lumber on top of the posts, sprinkled a little kerosene oil on the whole and applied a match and then, Ye Gods, there was a bonfire that would have done credit to all the politicians in the United States. It was huge. It was fine. It was glorious, and we hope the light that went up from that fire will open the eyes of the rest of the would-be smarties that come here filled with unholy desire to gobble up other people’s property. Jumping property that you have no claim to won’t pay in this locality, gentlemen…”

In time Horton won in court. His title was upheld. The sale of more pueblo lands followed and the foundations were beginning to be laid for the city that was to come and the agriculture that was to turn a semi-arid land into an empire.

The lower Otay and Tia Juana River Valleys were opened as public lands, under the laws of the United States, and settlers rushed onto the fertile bottom country that had been enriched by a winter of heavy rains. The descendants of Don Santiago Arguello fought them off, as squatters. The Arguellos contended that all the land from La Punta, their home at the foot of the bay, to the border, was included in Rancho Milíjo, a Mexican grant. But the United States Land Commission had rejected the Arguello claim and now rejected it for the second time.

By May, Gatewood, who had dedicated The San Diego Union to a lifelong fight for civic morality and progress, sold his interest to Charles P. Taggart. Gatewood had been elected president of the reorganized San Diego & Gila Railroad, which held public lands for rights of way and the terminal for any line that might come in, and was sent to Memphis to represent San Diego at a national railroad convention. When he returned, he resumed the practice of law.

A few days after he had left for the railroad conference, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts were linked by rail for the first time. The Central and Union Pacific lines came together at Promontory Point, fifty-three miles west of Ogden, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

What this meant to the people of the United States is best described by Frederick B. Goddard in the book, Where to Emigrate, and Why, which was published in that same year. Goddard wrote:

“The people of the Pacific Coast experience a just feeling of pride in the Central Pacific Road, and have rejoiced in its completion as the dawn of a brilliant future for that entire region. Already every branch of commercial industry on the coast has begun to glow with new life, in anticipation of the impulse which a finished railway communication across the continent will give to trade and enterprise. Eastern Asia and Japan, the innumerable islands of the Pacific, and farther India, will all contribute to the wonderful traffic which will mingle in a common current and float to the western terminus of the Pacific Railroad…

“During the last two years more than six hundred thousand sturdy immigrants have landed upon our shores, and there is no ebb to the flowing tide. Our land is ringing with the din of her internal improvements; cottages are springing up far away to the west upon sunny acres where, but yesterday, roamed the Indian and the buffalo. Grand lines of railroad are stretching out across the continent—iron monsters resting upon either ocean, swallowing the values of one hemisphere to void them upon the other—revealing what our first Great Emigrant, Columbus, vainly sought to manifest in the gloom of earlier ages—that the shortest way to the Indies was via America.”

Though he had visited San Diego in July, Gen. Morton C. Hunter, representing Gen. Frémont and the Memphis and El Paso railroad, returned in September with an official party which included Thomas S. Sedgwick, the chief engineer; Gen. Rosecrans; William H. Seward, who as Secretary of State in 1867 had negotiated the purchase of Alaska; and several congressmen. They arrived from San Francisco on the Orizaba at 7:30 on the morning of September 22, and landed at Horton’s wharf. Several hundred persons were on hand, the Town Band played, and The San Diego Union commented that “those who had just arrived rushed ashore to invest in real estate, so as to have a good excuse for being enthusiastic.”

Champagne corks popped at a reception in the Franklin House in Old Town and that evening, to be impartial, the proceedings were moved to New Town, in Gregg’s Hall, with 500 persons crowded inside and 1000 outside. Engineer Sedgwick said he was there to begin building the railroad to San Diego and to break the monopoly of the Central Pacific. San Diego promptly offered $500,000 in land and rights that had been held by the San Diego & Gila in exchange for railroad stock. The next month some survey work was undertaken between the town and the mountain crossing.

However, Frank Kimball had secretly visited Gen. Hunter and offered him 500 acres if he would see that the railroad terminated on the bay in National City, and 500 blocks additional if the terminal, shops and depot were also located on his lands. The offer was accepted, and the Kimball brothers had stolen the proposed terminal from New Town and Old Town without the knowledge of Horton or the rest of San Diego. That San Diego had a future as a great trading center, with a transcontinental railroad terminating somewhere along its splendid harbor opening to the commerce of the Pacific, seemed more assured than ever when word was received that Congress had passed the bill designating San Diego as a port of entry.

A survey party for the Memphis and El Paso gave assurance that the railroad could be built, that the descent to the desert through Carrizo Gorge could be accomplished by a grade of less than eighty feet per mile. The route chosen was from the bay up a branch of Otay Valley and by way of Jamul to Milquatay Valley, thence to Summit Pass in Walker Canyon and into Carrizo Gorge at the northern end of Jacumba Valley. The highest elevation was 3850 feet.

A second newspaper made its appearance, Republican in policy and apparently encouraged and financed by Horton and Morse, in New or South San Diego, in opposition to The San Diego Union whose loyalty was attached to Old Town. The San Diego Weekly Bulletin began publishing on August 21, 1869, with William H. Gould as editor and publisher. It wasn’t long before the two publications were battling for subscribers, and The San Diego Union was forced to take formal public notice of its competitor, though not perhaps in the spirit expressed in Gatewood’s original editorial dedication. The San Diego Union stated:

“From the date of its first appearance, it has been the special organ of Mr. A. E. Horton, and has been noteworthy only for the publication of some two columns per week of the most remarkable ungrammatical sentences under which typers have ever writhed…its circulation is trifling at home, and fortunately for the reputation of the place, but few copies have ever gone abroad.”

Frank Kimball was selling land at $17 an acre for which he paid a little more than $1, and though wells were providing an adequate supply for residential purposes, farming depended on a variable weather with an average rainfall of ten inches a year, and the Kimball brothers were among the first to realize that irrigation would prove to be necessary. They formed a water company to obtain and hold the water rights to the Sweetwater River. San Bernardo Rancho which had been purchased by Sheriff McCoy for $4000 was sold for $35,000 to a group of northern California investors. These sales, and the crops being raised, refuted the contention that San Diego had little agricultural potential. The J. W. Gale & Company reported it had sold 2500 pounds of seed corn for planting and had ordered 2000 pounds more. It sold 2000 orange trees and 400 walnut trees to be planted in the Sweetwater Valley, and also had sold several hundred dollars worth of apple, lime and lemon trees, “all of which goes in the virgin soil of San Diego County.” Lee Utt, of San Luis Rey, and Charles P. Taggart, the new co-owner of The San Diego Union, were planting 2000 orange trees on land adjoining Horton’s. Grain and barley crops crept across El Cajon, San Luis Rey and Tia Juana Valleys. Cattle were still the mainstay of the ranchos remaining in private hands, and Cave J. Couts of Rancho Guajome started 600 head toward the northern markets and large herds were being assembled at Rancho Santa Margarita for other drives, as had been done since the days of the Gold Rush.

The editor of The San Diego Union paid a first visit to La Jolla, or La Joya, as it was then spelled, and was entranced:

“We had the pleasure of a ride to this noted place on Sunday last. Every person having any poetry in his soul, or an eye for the beautiful and the grand in nature, should take a pilgrimage to La Joya. The deep caverns in the rocks and the roar of the wild waves, the sea mosses to be gathered, all go to make this one of the most desirable places to visit about San Diego. There is a beautiful valley leading back from the beach that is being settled by Mr. Butler and Mr. Fredley, each having eighty acres of land. The soil is very rich and the vegetation rank. The mustard is from 10 to 15 feet high. Mr. B. is sinking a well. He is down forty-five feet, but no water yet. Mr. F. has just commenced his well…. The Sizer brothers are east of La Joya, about two miles and have a very promising place. They have good fresh water at a depth of 14 feet and plenty of it. Their vineyard of 5,000 vines is doing well. The vegetable garden is doing fine. We expect to eat watermelon at this place on the Fourth of July. Vegetables will not grow in San Diego! “Oh, no?” “

These were the first settlers in La Jolla, as far as is known. The Sizer brothers, Samuel and Daniel, in 1869 bought two pueblo lots of eighty acres each for $1.25 an acre. The land lay between La Jolla Boulevard and Fay Street and Palomar and Marine Streets. John Butler purchased another pueblo lot for the same price in the little valley through which winds the Torrey Pines road. F. Fredley followed him by purchasing the pueblo lands lying just behind the present La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

The incoming tide of people pushed against others, and the law struggled to bring about protection of life and property. Chinese were coming into California in swiftly increasing numbers, most of them unmarried and bent to labor by which they hoped some day to return to their homeland, either to be with their families or to be at last buried. The railroad over the High Sierra could not have been built without them. Others found a livelihood in menial work spurned by white men in an era of exploitation and speculation. In San Diego the Chinese began to erect small shacks along the waterfront, between the Horton and Culverwell wharves, and with their odd junks were bringing fish to local markets and beginning an industry that was still an important one a century later. But with unemployment appearing in the north, the first pangs of racial trouble were being experienced. One night a fire was set underneath a Chinese laundry at the foot of K Street, where a number of people were asleep, though the reports of the incident failed to state whether anyone was burned.

Stage service was irregular, with many new lines springing up from time to time. It was an era of free but rough competition, and, though the records are few, a network linking the areas of San Diego County, and San Diego to other communities, was gradually formed. Two stage companies competed for business between Old and New San Diego, the C. North Stage Line and A. C. Tedford’s Pioneer Stage, early in 1869. Late in 1869 the Carpenter Line of Los Angeles installed a Concord coach running from Old Town to New Town several times daily, but it wasn’t until December that William Tweed put on a daily stage from New Town to Kimball’s development, or National City.

In Old Town, Alfred L. Seeley operated the 130-mile San Diego-Los Angeles Stage Line, using his remodeled Franklin Hotel as a depot. Passenger and mail stages bound for Los Angeles left San Diego at 5 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The trip required twenty-four hours with an overnight stop at San Juan Capistrano. Way stations for changing horses were generally eighteen to twenty miles apart, but the main depot stations on the Los Angeles route were San Dieguito, Encinitas, San Luis Rey, Las Flores, San Juan Capistrano, Anaheim, Los Nietos and Los Angeles, in that order.

In October of 1868 a published schedule showed at that time that mail arrived at San Diego from Fort Yuma on Monday and Thursday and departed on Sunday and Wednesday, but the evidence indicates that J. J. Tomlinson had given up and the mail was being carried over the Jacumba Pass to Fort Yuma and Tucson in local buckboards. Dunnells’ New San Diego Hotel served as the depot in New Town.

In November of 1868 Seeley announced that he would begin operation of the San Diego and Fort Yuma Stage Company, using Concord coaches. However, on December 19 The San Diego Union complained that there was no stage service to Yuma, and that at least one stage should run on a weekly service.

A new route again was taken up and money raised among local citizens under the leadership of stageman John Capron. As a result, the first San Diego-Yuma route to run all within United States territory was laid out by the county surveyor, James Pascoe, early in 1869. It was twenty-five miles shorter than the old wagon trail through Warner’s Pass to Yuma, and it had fifty-five miles less of desert travel. Pascoe’s route turned up the Otay River course at La Punta, thirteen miles south of San Diego. It followed the river to the Otay Lake basin, passing through Otay, Janal and Jamul Ranchos, then traced the course of Dulzura Creek easterly through the valleys, climbing into the summit country of San Diego’s eastern mountain barrier along the course followed by the present State Route 94 through Potrero and Campo. It crossed the high rolling country by way of Milquatay Valley, twelve miles from Campo to Jacumba, then passed ten miles from Jacumba eastward and down the steep grade at Mountain Springs. It was eighty-six miles from San Diego to the head of the desert. From there it was 110 miles across the desert to Yuma.

The long hoped-for commercial connections with the inland area of San Bernardino were beginning to materialize, and Miller and Schaffer Company stages to San Bernardino were running over the 165-mile route so heavily loaded that on one trip one of them carried twenty-five passengers. Settlements were growing up at Ballena, fifty miles into the backcountry, and at Warner’s, seventy-five miles away by wagon, and Samuel Warnock, a rancher who had carried the first military mail from San Diego to Fort Yuma in 1854, announced on March 17, 1869, that he and three partners were starting the Ballena to San Diego Stage Company. Marre & Company started a regular San Diego-Santo Tomas, Lower California, line in mid-November of 1869.

With an expanding passenger business, Seeley required a larger hotel as a depot and on May 1, 1869, he purchased the crumbling casa of the late Don Juan Bandini, once the finest residence in Old Town and host to all the famed personalities of the conquest, and added a second story and converted it into a hotel and stage terminal. New Town got its first Post Office on April 8, 1869, in the drug store of Dr. Jacob Allen on Fifth below F Street. It was designated “South San Diego” and Old Town was listed as “San Diego.” The conversion of the Bandini House into a large hotel and depot posed a problem for Horton and his plans for New San Diego. He offered Seeley a block of land between Fourth and Fifth Avenues and E and F Streets if he would desert Old Town. Seeley replied, according to the memoirs of Daniel Cleveland, a lawyer:

“Old Town is the town, the real San Diego; your mushroom town…will soon peter out, and all the people who want to travel will have to come to Old Town to take the stage.”

Capron apparently failed to carry the mail to Yuma and Tucson over the new route on the promised schedule of three times a week and the contract was shifted to Seeley who already was running the mail to San Diego from Los Angeles. He took a partner, Charles Wright, and while their Concord coaches were leaving for Los Angeles from his new Cosmopolitan Hotel they evidently used only buckboards on the run to Yuma. Service was no better than that of their predecessors.

The citizens were enraged at the indifference to schedules and the continuing reluctance of contractors to deliver the Tucson mail by way of San Diego, despite all promises to the contrary. Seeley was accused of “coming to the first drinking place out of the city of the Angels and then hurrying back the next day.” Before the end of the year Capron was back on the Yuma run, but was avoiding the difficult Mountain Springs grade by driving his buckboards through Mexican territory.

The roads were difficult enough just to negotiate by coach or wagon without the added hazard of armed robbery. The stage from Los Angeles was held up and robbed and then the same four bandits, stripped to the buff, or waist, held up the Yuma stage sixteen miles out from the fort. They were after the Wells, Fargo & Company treasure box. As far as San Diego was concerned, Wells, Fargo & Company was a forwarding company which used local stages for shipments of valuables. When the command to halt was ignored, they shot one of the horses, the off-wheeler, but the six passengers were in possession of a shotgun and three revolvers and fired back. One of the bandits received a charge of buckshot in the stomach and the others fled under fire. The three survivors were later captured with the aid of Indian trackers and sentenced to prison.

The stage was here and the railroad, despite the surveys that had been made, and they were casual at best, still seemed as far away as ever. Only three miles of track had been laid in Texas and only six locomotives purchased. Then came disquieting reports out of France. The agents of Gen. Frémont had gone to the financial center of Paris to sell their railroad bonds, and though there had been an initial rush to buy them, it soon became known that the representations made by his agents, that the United States government had offered huge land grant subsidies and had guaranteed the bonds and the interest, were false. Buyers rushed to unload the bonds and a panic developed.

San Diegans also began to realize that the Southern Pacific Railroad was merely a creature of the Central Pacific and the “Big Four,” Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, and they intended to monopolize the rail business in California, and that its line was not coming down the coast to San Diego. The Southern Pacific had shifted inland and was going down the Central Valleys, and at the Tehachapi it intended to run a branch eastward to block any line seeking to enter California.

Investors in the financial centers of California became wary of the situation in San Diego and the boom began to wear a bit thin. Joseph Nash, his shelves stocked to overflowing, cut his prices twenty-five percent below cost. In Old Town Thomas Whaley and Philip Crosthwaite, partners in a general store, were selling cheap for cash, as was Joseph Mannasse.

For weeks fires had raged across the mesas and the mountain slopes. They evidently had been started by squatters burning off grass and brush, and once out of control had ringed San Diego with flames and spread a haze of apprehension. It had been trying enough to learn that the planting seasons in Southern California were the reverse of what they had experienced elsewhere, and that summer meant no or little rain, and now came a dry winter and some of the newcomers’ enthusiasm for Southern California turned to fright. The grass was gone and crops failed to sprout on the hard waterless mesas. Cattlemen sent their stock into the higher mountain pastures.

In this period of doubt and distress The San Diego Union reported there were several gentlemen prospecting in the mountains and they had sent samples of rock to San Francisco for assaying. Placer gold was washed out of sands in Peñasquitos Canyon and along the San Bernardo, or San Dieguito River, and near San Ysidro. Six silver strikes were located by a man named Walker in the Jacumba Mountains. By the first of the year the town was thrown into an uproar when a Mexican came into the McDonald and Gale lumber and building supply establishment near Horton’s wharf and deposited 100 pounds of gold and silver amalgam which he had dug up about sixty miles south of the border. The San Diego Union cautioned people not to get excited.