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Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919

CHAPTER TWO: Here Come the Cultists and the Health Seekers

The Theosophists on Point Loma had no more lighted their lamps for the misguided, and the settlers of Imperial Valley had barely produced their first crops, when adversity struck, and from unexpected directions.

The federal government had not looked with pleasure upon the private development of Imperial Valley. The Reclamation Act creating a Reclamation Service was on its way through Congress with the support of President Roosevelt, who believed that irrigation works to reclaim and settle the vast arid public domain of the West should be built by the government.

In October of 1901 the Agricultural Department sent a soil expert, J. Garnett Holmes, to the Imperial Valley to examine and report upon the alkaline conditions of the soils, and a little later he was joined by Thomas H. Means. Both of them were young in years and experience. The early seed already was producing crops more abundant than farmers ever before had seen. Thousands of acres were lush with sorghum, maize, wheat, barley, alfalfa and even fresh vegetables. They completed their work and reported to Washington.

After many rumors had spread, their report was made public by Milton Whitney, Chief of the Bureau of Soils, on January 10, 1902. It held that sixty-two percent of the land was heavily impregnated with alkali. It concluded:

“One hundred and twenty-five thousand acres of this land have already been taken up by prospective settlers, many of whom talk of planting crops which it will be absolutely impossible to grow. They must early find that it is useless to attempt their growth…

“No doubt the best thing to do is to raise crops like the sugar beet, sorghum, and the date palm (if the climate will permit), that are suited to such alkaline conditions, and abandon as worthless that which contains too much alkali to grow those crops.”

No man knew for sure whether his land was included. Credit was withdrawn from the valley and business came to a standstill. The Southern Pacific halted work on the laying of its branch line to valley towns. Several thousand farmers were on the verge of ruin.

The panic subsided somewhat when some of the prominent developers of the valley took other government officials and business men into the fields where they had to grope their way through heavy crops of barley to find the stakes marking the very areas where the soil experts once had made tests proving such crops could not be grown.

In San Diego, where so much faith had been placed in the future of Imperial Valley, W.W. Bowers, who formerly had represented the area in the Congress, wrote a letter to the San Diego Sun commenting:

“As I looked upon the great luxuriant fields that challenge all California to equal, I was reminded of the government agricultural experts (God save the mark, experts?) who, after private individuals had risked their all and demonstrated to the government and an equally great and uninformed people that the “desert could be made to blossom as the rose” — these experts reported that their tests of the soil showed that it was “so heavily impregnated with alkali as to unfit the most of it for growing crops.” In all my ride I did not see any alkali land, nor one foot that would not grow crops if watered and planted. Indeed I have not seen any fertile section of land in California so entirely free from alkali. So much for government experts.”

In time, the Department of Agriculture reconsidered and modified its report, and confidence was restored, but the valley learned it had an opponent whose power would be a greater threat to their private domain than the river which they so confidently thought they could easily keep under control.

But the experts were not entirely wrong. For millions of years the Colorado River had carried salts of sodium and calcium into the basin and covered them with silt. The experts only miscalculated in the time they estimated it would take for salts to rise to the surface and whiten the earth.

The restoration of confidence in the valley attracted the interest of Los Angeles merchants. A warning that San Diego had better look to its future relations with the people of Imperial was given by the county surveyor S.L. Ward upon his return from a trip to the New River country, as it was often referred to. He said that unless a better wagon road was constructed the trade of the prospering valley would go to Los Angeles.

A Chamber of Commerce committee which included George White Marston, M.F. Heller and Col. S. W. Fergusson, general manager of the Imperial Land Company, appeared before the County Board of Supervisors and urged improvement of the Mountain Springs road, and Marston said that “now after these men have spent so much money and done so much work, San Diego sits by without doing a thing.”

The Supervisors suggested that as money from one road district could not be spent in another, and the cost of the project would be considerable, the financial help of the business community would be necessary. Cheered by the news that the county seat at last was paying some attention to its distant stepchild, Henry C. Reed, the valley’s first editor, published an editorial in the Imperial Press which stated:

“The business man of San Diego…is coming to realize that rich rewards lie hidden in the wonderfully fertile soil of this mis-called desert region…which he heretofore…thought of only as a place where men lost their lives for want of water and are buried in the stomachs of hungered coyotes.”

Action was slow in coming, and there were other distractions. The national government as well as the state government began to take an interest in what was happening on Point Loma, with the importation of children from Cuba and a series of sensational articles in the Los Angeles Times which accused the Theosophists of many irregularities of conduct.

Though the Theosophists had received a friendly welcome in San Diego, their teaching of reincarnation finally aroused the ministry, and a dozen pastors from San Diego and five from neighboring towns signed a document with appeared in The San Diego Union of August 21, 1901. It stated in part:

“We, whose names are undersigned, are impelled to state publicly our convictions as regards Theosophy and the teaching emanating from the Point Loma Homestead…the circumstances attending the modern revival of Theosophy…are not such as commend themselves to our reason or moral sense; while its ancient sway in the Orient has blighted countless lives and has left India a moral and spiritual desert.

“The teachings of Theosophy are diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Christ as it is presented in the New Testament and taught by the Christian Church.”

An answer in the same newspaper was followed by a personal defense by Madame Tingley in the Fisher Opera House, which she purchased and renamed the Isis Theater to foreclose its use by her opponents.

The attack by the Los Angeles Times in October of 1901 was based on a report that a woman had been rescued from what was described as the “spookery” on Point Loma, and that she had been forced to labor in the fields, and was locked up in a cell at night; that another woman had been forcibly separated from her husband; that children were forbidden to speak to anyone and were kept on the verge of starvation; that midnight pilgrimages were made by both sexes “in their night robes.” This was vivid reading, for San Diego as well as most of California.

Madame Tingley’s troubles mounted when a leader of the cult in San Francisco, Dr. Jerome Anderson, cried out in protest at the ceremonial trend Theosophy had taken at Point Loma. In the San Francisco Chronicle of March 25, 1902, he stated, in part:

“I have seen men and women of wealth, education and high social position humble themselves before her in a way that sensible people can hardly conceive of. I stood it myself for a while. I wore long gowns and ridiculous hats in her presence and tried to take part in the foolish ceremonies, with some belief that they might have a meaning. But I knew it meant that pretty soon we should have to crawl into Mrs. Tingley’s presence on all fours…”

New York was next to be heard. Mrs. Tingley had been interested in Cuba as a fertile ground for her evangelism, and she imported children from there to be educated and indoctrinated at Point Loma. In October of 1902 eleven children, nine boys and two girls between the ages of five and ten, were detained at Ellis Island by the United States Immigration Service after it was reported there had been a demonstration in Cuba against their being sent to San Diego. It soon became apparent that other forces were at work. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children intervened on the grounds that the atmosphere at the Theosophical center was not suitable for children.

Mrs. Tingley, however, had powerful supporters in her behalf, including among her influential believers Albert G. Spalding, the sporting goods manufacturer, whose children had been placed in the school at Point Loma. Mr. and Mrs. Spalding were drawn to San Diego and became active in all its affairs.

Two official investigations were begun. Gov. Henry T. Gage of California sent representatives of the State Board of Health and Board of Examiners to Point Loma, and they were followed by Frank P. Sargent, U.S. Commissioner General of Immigration, who was accompanied by the district’s congressman, M.J. Daniels of Riverside.

Mayor Emilio Bacardi of Santiago de Cuba had notified United States authorities in New York that he had not been aware of any demonstrations against the removal of the children, but as a result of the furor he suddenly turned up in San Diego to conduct an investigation of his own. A member of a famous family, Bacardi had befriended Madame Tingley on her visit to Cuba and had aided in the selection of a site for a Theosophical temple and in the selection of children to be sent to San Diego for education.

Even though they had been entranced by the developments, and ministers had denied the teachings of Theosophy, San Diegans were well acquainted with many of the leading personages at the White City and could not believe the reports of the abuse of children and the suggestion of immorality.

San Diegans organized their own investigation by forming a chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Two members of the investigating committee were Hugh J. Baldwin, superintendent of county schools, and D.C. Reed, a former mayor of the city.

The state’s investigators departed without formal comment but indicated they also did not believe the charges of cruelty and immorality. On November 23, Sargent returned to San Diego from the Point and told The San Diego Union:

“I have seen many institutions of the kind, carried on by all sorts of sects and all sorts of religions, but I have never seen a place as cleanly and as well appointed as the institution at Point Loma.”

The report to San Diego by Baldwin on behalf of the trustees of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was even more enthusiastic:

“The rooms of every building were found well lighted and ventilated and were neatly furnished…intense patriotism exists among these children, and all the children show great devotion to our country and its flag which flies above their heads in the breeze…In conclusion, we the trustees of the San Diego Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, after a close and thorough examination of the buildings and surroundings of the corporation known as the Point Loma Homestead…find it in excellent condition, of the highest morals.”

The Cuban children were released from Ellis Island. To avoid their being taken into custody at the insistence of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Reed, the former mayor, who had been sent to New York, took possession of the children as an agent of the mayor of Santiago de Cuba. Spalding chartered a boat and picked them up at Ellis Island. During a fog the boat changed the announced course and landed them at Jersey City, where each of the children was given an escort of a burly athlete from Spalding’s Athletic Club, and spirited aboard a train.

A few days later the weary and bewildered children were taken off a train at Old Town and transported by carriages to Point Loma. The following day, a Sunday, there was a civic welcome, with the City Guard Band leading a parade up D Street, or Broadway, from the Santa Fe depot, to Fourth Street and the Isis Theater, between B and C Streets, which was completely filled for the occasion. Judge E. W. Hendrick expressed the hope that the children’s education at Point Loma would help toward the end of stabilizing Latin America politically and that they would become patriots to world mankind.

Mrs. Tingley sued the Los Angeles Times for libel, asking $50,000 in damages, and when the case came to trial the newspaper’s manager, Harrison Gray Otis, complained that he could not receive a fair trial in San Diego because of the existence of strong feelings against his newspaper. The bearded, tobacco-chewing Superior Court judge, E. S. Torrance, denied the motion for a change of venue, on the grounds that the ill feeling against the defendant was not on account of the libelous article written against Mrs. Tingley but simply because the defendant had consistently belittled San Diego.

Chief counsel for Otis was Samuel Shortridge, who was to become a United States senator. They were unable to produce any evidence supporting the charges in the articles in the TIMES, or, in fact, to produce the persons with whom the information was supposed to have originated, and they knew the case was lost when Mrs. Tingley, who had been injured in a fall, entered the courtroom with the aid of a crutch. She was dressed in black, spoke softly and told of the mental suffering she had experienced at the hands of the Times.

The judge held that libel had been committed and that the jury’s sole duty was to determine the amount of damages. The jurors awarded her $7500. Otis appealed to the Supreme Court and lost. Mrs. Tingley had been completely vindicated. The institution on Point Loma, which expanded to cover more than 500 acres and had the first Greek Theater in America, became a part of the life of the community.

The Theosophical headquarters as well as the climate were attracting visitors and settlers and the population of the town had risen gently by several thousand by 1902.

With its two bays, rolling hills and the sea, San Diego more than most towns of the West had seen the advantages of open spaces and had protected from land speculators the 1400 acres of former pueblo lands that had been laid aside for a public park, and some tree planting had been done along its edges.

But as a result of the general awakening of interest in city planning that arose with the advent of the Twentieth Century, and the interest in attracting tourists that went back to the advice of former Mayor Capps, a park improvement committee was organized by the Chamber of Commerce at the suggestion of the merchant and banker Julius Wangenheim. In his memoirs, Wangenheim wrote:

“It happened that on a spring Sunday morning in…1902, I was walking with my daughter Alice through a portion of the undeveloped park…In the course of the walk I met a good friend, Chauncey Hammond, and an English acquaintance of his. The Englishman expressed surprise that with such lovely scenic and horticultural opportunities, we had done nothing in the way of park development. The remark got under my skin, and I resolved to do something about it.”

A sum of $11,000 was soon publicly subscribed, and it was decided to follow the procedure of the development of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and to start work in one corner and proceed progressively during subsequent years. The work was begun at the corner of the park at Date Street, and then, when Marston donated $10,000 for roads through the park, a decision was reached to hire and bring to San Diego a nationally-known landscape architect to outline a comprehensive plan. The man selected was Samuel Parsons Jr., president of the American Society of Landscape Architects and consulting architect for the park system of greater New York, and Marston induced him to come to San Diego.

He arrived in December of 1902, and after making a preliminary study, told the Chamber of Commerce that the park was unique among American city parks, both in terrain and flora, and every effort should be made to preserve the panorama, from the mountains in the east and the south to the seascape of Point Loma and the Coronado Islands. He said:

“My strongest impression as to the treatment of the park itself, after this first examination, is to preserve the beauty that now exists…the broad free, natural lines of the San Diego park call for simplicity of treatment…Considering the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, that this park has this wonderful mesa and canyon effect, it seems to me that I have never seen…a park where so little change of surface is necessary…Cuts and fills, which constitute one of the chief causes of the great cost of most parks, seem necessarily almost eliminated from the scheme of the San Diego park.”

He suggested that the first development be in the southwest section and that different kinds of trees should be planted at each of the entrances; that roads should run along the rims of the canyons, so as to leave as many broad mesas as possible; that plantings be done primarily with a view of harmony with existing flora, and that high trees such as eucalyptus should not be scattered over the high mesas, but that “many portions of hillsides, where the land is tolerably flat and elevated, can be beautified by broad plantations of pepper, acacia, and even some varieties of eucalyptus where the outlook toward the mountains and the sea would not be injured.”

In July, Parsons’ partner, George Cooke, arrived to begin the work. Beauty, however, already had taken root. He found two sections of the park set out with cypress, pine and oak trees, and with rare plants from Africa and Australia which were thriving in the kind but semi-arid climate. These were the results of the endeavors of Kate Sessions, a school teacher with a degree in the science of agriculture from the University of California who had been granted the right to establish a nursery in the park in return for planting trees and making others available for use throughout the town. Her nursery was near Sixth and Upas Streets, in the northwest section, though she also set out trees near Sixth and Date Streets.

In 1903 she accompanied a botanist to Cape San Lucas at the tip of Baja California where she obtained the seed of an unusual palm tree distinguished for its long and slender trunk, sometimes rising to a height of eighty feet, and topped with a beautiful head of fan-shaped leaves, and planted them in a canyon in the park. Though continuing a close association with Parsons and Cooke and the park, Miss Sessions moved her nursery to the area that became Mission Hills, and again began planting there, particularly palm trees, as she had done in the park.

New life was stirring through the town that had been laid out only thirty-five years before by Alonzo Horton. But not all San Diegans agreed that the town’s future lay with its climate and scenery, and the many empty buildings left from the population boom of the Eighties were silent reminders of a lack of sources of income. National City and much of the South Bay area in particular had been hard hit by the withdrawal of the shops of the Santa Fe railroad when it abandoned San Diego as its proposed major tidewater terminal.

In his memoirs, Oscar W. Cotton, who arrived as a young man, to engage in the realty business, wrote:

“When I arrived in San Diego, the consensus…in Los Angeles was that San Diego was a “City of Blighted Hopes.” It was just a little dried-up town on the Mexican border, with no capital assets but “Bay and Climate”–a town that took itself seriously but could never amount to anything because it was too far from Los Angeles–five hours by either of the two…half-empty trains per day.”

Cotton invested his savings in land in Pacific Beach, where lots could be purchased for $7.50 each. To sell them, he believed more persons would have to be urged to come to San Diego to make their homes. Los Angeles was becoming the best-advertised city in the country. Its Chamber of Commerce had sent an exhibition train called “California on Wheels” to every important city in the South and Midwest and by 1903 winter tourists in Southern California had risen to more than 45,000. The Spreckels companies in turn, before the opening of each summer season, began sending the Tent City Band on a tour of the Southern California and Arizona “hot belts” and were successful in attracting many temporary visitors.

But in the view of Cotton, as well as of Capps, there were a great many in the United States who could afford to live where they chose, and would come to San Diego and build a city, if they only knew about it, and the problem was how to let them know. M.F. Heller, a merchant, disagreed. According to Cotton, he argued:

“Cotton, it’s not a good idea to advertise for more people to come to San Diego until we have factories here. There is nothing for them to do. No way they can make a living. The town right now has all the people it can support.”

But Cotton and his partners were not to be deterred and finding themselves in possession of several thousand lots in Pacific Beach and Morena, and 900 acres in what later became the southern portion of Clairemont, began proclaiming the advantages of San Diego’s “Bay and Climate” in Los Angeles and placing expensive advertisements in eastern newspapers and magazines. In his memoirs Cotton wrote:

“After the first thirty days I could see we were sunk financially, but then it took another thirty days to stop the advertising campaign. By that time, $10,000 in advertising space had been contracted for…fortunately, our Los Angeles office was producing a steady flow of business.”

By the end of 1904 the population of the town had risen to 21,000, or 3000 more than at the turn of the century.

It did seem that industrial and commercial development was as far away as ever. Though Congress had passed the Spooner Act authorizing President Roosevelt to proceed with the Panama Canal, progress in getting started seemed agonizingly slow due to physical and diplomatic problems. The projected railroad to the east had been stalled. The Spreckels interests were biding their time and while San Diegans were interested they were not particularly excited by the news that the Wright Brothers had made the first powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk way off in North Carolina. The Wright Brothers had drawn on the experiments of Octave Chanute, who had studied the flights of pelicans over San Diego Bay.

In his little book on the climate of San Diego published by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce in 1913, Ford A. Carpenter, United States weather forecaster at San Diego, wrote:

“During the now historic experiments of Orville Wright…it was very gratifying to be able to renew acquaintance with Octave Chanute, and to hear him quickly revert to his early experiments on San Diego Bay. With characteristic impulsiveness he pointed to the soaring Wright biplane as resembling his old friend, the San Diego pelican.”

But the significance of the flight for San Diego was not a matter of speculation.

The same climatic conditions that attracted tourists, the Theosophists and other religious groups to Southern California, also drew social idealists, and reformers of one kind or another, as well as Socialists and anarchists, and San Diego felt their influence very early in the century.

Many Socialist meetings were conducted in San Diego and Socialist candidates were seeking public office, though the town was firmly in the control of the Republican organization. Frank P. Frary, the stage coach line operator, had succeeded Capps as Republican mayor, on a platform of parks, beautification and roads. The congressman representing the Eighth District, of which San Diego County was a part, also was a Republican. He was M.J. Daniels, a banker of Riverside County.

Throughout the state the dominant Republican Party was considered the creature of the Southern Pacific Railroad, with E.H. Harriman as powerful as Huntington ever was, and in San Diego party influence was exerted through Spreckels and the local-level political “boss,” Charles S. Hardy, a meat processor and distributor.

Though as yet he was the only one to have made substantial investments in San Diego in more than a decade, there was resentment against John D. Spreckels and it appeared in the campaign for Congress in 1902. One of the candidates was William E. Smythe, a Democrat.

The son of a wealthy shoe manufacturer of Worcester, Massachusetts, Smythe had failed as a book publisher in Boston and eventually became editor of the Omaha Bee, where in the great plains drought of 1890 he witnessed the terrible suffering of the farmers. He became interested in irrigation, founded the magazine IRRIGATION AGE, and wrote a book, The Conquest of Arid America, which ran to several editions. He arrived in San Diego in 1902 and sought to enter public life.

He campaigned against the Spreckels interests and claimed that San Diego was monopoly-ridden, with a water monopoly, a land monopoly and a railroad monopoly, but made the mistake in other agricultural counties of coming out in favor of placing all water development under state control, although he tried vainly to convince his hearers that he didn’t really mean to disturb any individual riparian rights to water.

To The San Diego Union, owned by Spreckels, Smythe was “Windy Willie.” To the Riverside Enterprise, Smythe’s ideas on water were socialistic theories offered as substitutes for “the law of riparian rights which is as eternal as time itself and as immutable as the snow-capped mountains that furnish our bountiful water supply.”

As for Smythe’s charges of monopoly, W.W. Bowers, the former congressman, answered:

“I know that all of us were very glad to get the railroad, and with all its extortions we had rather do with it than without. I had rather have water with monopoly than no water and no monopoly.”

In the election returns of the Eighth District, which comprised nine southern counties, Daniels won by a majority of 2250. In San Diego County, however, Smythe led by 250 votes.

Water, even more than tourists or a railroad, or for that matter the gold mines and the gem deposits in the mountains, concerned San Diegans. In the coastal area, where most of the people lived, the rainfall averaged only ten inches a year; in the upper mountains, forty inches a year. Bringing the rain of the mountains to the fields of the lower areas, and into the water mains of the towns and settlements was a matter of existence.

The Spreckels interests in partnership with Babcock owned the Otay River system, with its Lower and Upper Otay dams, by which part of the South Bay area and Coronado received water, but their Southern California Mountain Water Company was encountering difficulties in constructing Morena Dam and in developing the Cottonwood Creek system by which they hoped to supply the town of San Diego.

In 1901 the people had voted bonds to purchase their water distribution system. For $500,000 the city obtained the water rights and San Diego River wells of the San Diego Water Company and purchased for $100,000 the distribution system owned by the Southern California Mountain Water Company.

The town was largely dependent on the privately-owned thirty-mile long flume which reached into the mountains for the water stored behind the Cuyamaca reservoir. But the drought that began in 1895-96 persisted. The wells were considered inadequate and the supply from the flume was undependable and often slimy with algae.

There were many to see that who controlled the water controlled San Diego. Ed Fletcher, a young produce merchant, while quail hunting with a friend, Frank Salmons, in the upper San Luis Rey Valley on the old Spanish grant known as the Pauma Ranch, about fifty miles north of San Diego, heard the rush of water. He wrote in his autobiography:

“I found myself looking from a slight rise down into a stream possibly a foot deep and ten feet wide. Never was I more surprised. How welcome that water was–cool and refreshing, coming as it did from a narrow gorge nearby and soon to sink in the gravels below.”

Salmons told him the stream was Pauma Creek and came from springs in Doane Valley on Palomar Mountain, nine miles above where they were standing. It was a normal flow though there had been no rain for six months. Fletcher wrote:

“I there saw the immediate possibilities of water development both for power and irrigation. Doane Valley is over 5000 feet in elevation. Where we were then standing the elevation could not have exceeded 1500 feet. The water could easily be diverted at that point on the Pauma Ranch by gravity for irrigation of 6000 acres of splendid land, practically frostless, after power had been developed.”

The watersheds of the county were to become properties beyond value in a semi-arid land whose people in time would have to span the mountains for water to save their cities and towns. In the early 1900’s, water still too often belonged to those who seized it.

Mayor Frary successfully ran for re-election in 1903 on a platform supporting the national policies of President Roosevelt and the state program of Gov. George C. Pardee, but was accused by the Democrats of having done nothing to solve pressing local problems, particularly the water supply.

Hopes for Eastern financial support for the railroad project were slowly dying with the passing years, and it was becoming abundantly clear that Harriman had no intention of running a line from Salt Lake City to San Diego as part of the Union Pacific system, but would instead connect with the line being built out of Los Angeles, to provide a third transcontinental terminal for San Diego’s one-time rival for the supremacy of Southern California.

But as the automobile had not fully captured the imagination of the people, transportation generally was still thought of in terms of railroads and roads for wagons. In October of 1904 a mass meeting of interested citizens was called for the Isis Theater and pledges were asked for a fund to begin some construction work on their own. Those attending were informed that farmers in the Imperial Valley, who were objecting to the rates set by the Southern Pacific, were willing to sign pledges of $100 or more and were offering to furnish horses and fodder. Will Holcomb, who presided, told the packed house:

“If you are not convinced of the need for a railroad, read a bit about the Imperial Valley, a portion of our own county, to reach which we have to travel 150 miles out of our way through three other counties in order to get into our own again.”

F.M. Elliott recalled a statement popularly attributed to Collis P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific that grass would grow in the streets of San Diego, and while he said this had not come to pass San Diegans still continued as “hewers of wood and drawers of water for the Santa Fe.”

It was decided to organize a People’s Railroad Committee, to succeed the San Diego-Eastern, and to sell stock and bonds. After considerable effort had been spent, the Master Builders Committee had produced pledges of $1500. The People’s Railroad faded from the news. The San Diego-Eastern Company continued in existence. Though Spreckels had aided the campaign financially he was curiously unresponsive to appeals to intervene more directly.