Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919
CHAPTER FOUR: The River That Proved It Was Lord of the Desert
The Colorado River had been peaceful enough. That it flowed past them almost 400 feet above the low points of the valley they were farming was considered a blessing of nature by the settlers.
The river drains an area of 250,000 square miles, reaching into seven states and from the southern end of Yellowstone National Park to the Gulf of California. A decade later, when much more was known about the river and its sudden rages, a United States Geological Survey Report of 1916 gave this description:
“When the snows melt in the Rocky and Wind River Mountains, a million cascade brooks unite to form a thousand torrent creeks; a thousand torrent creeks unite to form a half a hundred rivers beset with cataracts; half a hundred roaring rivers unite to form the Colorado, which flows, a mad, turbid stream, into the Gulf of California.”
The Imperial Valley once was part of the Gulf of California when it extended as far as the San Jacinto Mountains and San Gorgonio Pass, 150 miles northwest of Yuma. In time the Colorado River, transporting hundreds of thousands of tons of silt each day on its 1800-mile journey, slowly built a broad delta out from its mouth. As ages wore on the silt was deposited in deep layers for hundreds of miles southerly into the Gulf of California and westerly and northerly through the Mexicali Valley and into the Imperial Valley. The gulf was cut in two. In later years, M.J. Dowd, an engineer in the forefront of the effort to control the river, stated:
“One has but to stand on the brink of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in Arizona and look at that great chasm to get some appreciation of the tremendous quantity of material that has been eroded during the past ages by the river and spread over its delta.”
The dividing ridge of the delta is about fifty feet above sea level. One side slopes toward the Gulf of California and the other toward the interior valleys where, at the point of the present international border, it reaches sea level and then drops off to the bottom of the Salton basin.
An inland salt water sea was left to evaporate or to be expelled by the frequent flooding of the Colorado River as it lashed back and forth across the delta it had built. Then the basin time and again was filled and refilled with fresh water.
This lake, which has been given the name of Lake Cahuilla, was about 150 miles in length and an average of thirty miles in width, and had a maximum depth of more than 300 feet. The old shore line is clearly visible as a great scar along the sides of the dry eastern mountains and can be traced on the western side of the valley floor by deposits of fresh-water shells.
A remnant of the last historic re-creation of the sea is believed to have existed at the time of the first visits by Spaniards to the Pacific Coast. The average settlers in the Imperial Valley had little or no knowledge of that. While they had become aware that the river had periodically overflowed its banks and watered the valley, even as they themselves had caused it to do with their canals, as far as they were concerned the valley had always been just a desert.
They were more concerned with the serious internal and financial problems of the California Development Company, and an unexpected and alarming low flow of water through the canal and into the valley. Chaffey had resigned and been succeeded by Anthony H. Heber, while Charles R. Rockwood, whose imagination fired much of the original work, had returned as chief engineer. As the Reclamation Service was determined to take over the Imperial Valley and add it to a federal project being developed on the other side of the river in Arizona, the government proclaimed the Colorado a navigable river and held that all filings made under state law were invalid. To add to the dissension, William E. Smythe, the unsuccessful candidate for Congress, moved among the farmers and told them water was the natural possession of the people and the California Development Company had no right to appropriate it and charge them for it.
Smythe won considerable support from members of the Valley Water Users’ Association who believed they should own the canal system. He told them that speculation in private irrigation schemes in the arid West had resulted “in the sorriest failures in the annals of American financing,” and the government would be glad to assist them in obtaining control of their own water. Both he and the Reclamation Service contended that despite all the arguments to the contrary, a canal could be dug through the yellow sand hills lying west of the river and water brought to the valley entirely through United States territory. Smythe told the people:
“The first thing our settlers should understand is that Uncle Sam is not trying to find someone to devour…he will only come to private lands when the owners of such lands are in trouble. Another generation may deliver the people from the bondage of private monopoly because private monopoly is wrong.”
Panic again enveloped the valley. Some farmers refused to pay their water bills. Others sued the company for lack of water. Still others were willing to agree to sell out to the government.
But the fiction that the Colorado was navigable was exposed by the introduction of prior federal reports on the precarious experiences of flat-bottom steamboats and the Reclamation Service’s own proposals to construct dams across the river.
Legislation was introduced in Congress to legalize the prior diversion and appropriation of water from the Colorado, but Smythe intervened as a witness to demand government ownership of the Imperial system, as the nucleus of a much more extensive system in the Lower Colorado basin. Heber, however, warned:
“It is my earnest desire to worship at our own altar and to receive the blessing from the shrine of our government, but if such permission is not given, we shall be compelled to worship elsewhere.”
That the company survived, and the Imperial Valley remained a domain of private enterprise, was due to the sagacity and determination of Heber. But in accomplishing this he made a decision which almost destroyed the valley.
The low state of the river had exposed a silting up of the manmade Imperial Canal, from its heading above the border to where it entered the Alamo channel, which was reducing the vital flow on which thousands of farmers were now dependent. As the water through the channel continued to subside, more and more fields began to dry up and crops to wither under the sun, and the harassed company was confronted with a long and costly task of dredging out four miles of channel choked with heavy material.
Congress failed to act on affirming the valley’s water right, though at the same time rejecting federal intervention partly because no one could see how the federal government could take over a canal system in Mexico, and more studies were recommended. Heber, however, thought he saw the solution to the problem of the silted channel as well as to the government claims to control of the water: He would divert the water in Mexico instead of the United States.
This required the permission of the Mexican government, and upon assurances from the company’s representative in Mexico City that it would be forthcoming, Heber ordered Rockwood to make the cut immediately. For Rockwood, to make the cut and allow it to remain open, while waiting official authority to install the necessary controls, was a responsibility difficult to accept. But the growers who were losing their crops also insisted that it be done.
In late September of 1904 a cut sixty feet wide was made in the bank of the river at a point four miles below the border. A new channel 3300 feet long was dredged through soft material to reach the lower end of the original Imperial Canal just above where it joined the Alamo channel.
The work was completed in three weeks and life-giving water again flowed richly into the fields of Imperial Valley. But the anticipated permission from Mexico City for the installation of the head-gate did not arrive. The river was its own master.
There seemed no reason for alarm, however, as Rockwood wrote in his own version of the events of the next few years:
“We had before us at the time the history of the river as shown by the rod-readings kept at Yuma for a period of twenty-seven years. In the twenty-seven years there had been but three winter floods. In no winter of the twenty-seven had there been two winter floods.”
In January Rockwood took a boat down the river on a hunting expedition into the delta where old and dry channels cut everywhere through stunted undergrowth. He left his boat tied to a tree, and when he returned he could see it far out in the river channel. At first he thought it had worked loose, but saw that it was still tied to a tree. Then came a chilling realization: The river was in a flood stage. His boat beyond reach, the apprehensive Rockwood struggled up the lonely delta for three days to reach the cut he had made in the river. Nothing much had happened, as yet. The flood had not enlarged the intake but had caused silting that required dredging to maintain an even flow of water to Imperial Valley. A second flood came soon after, but again did no damage except in silting.
A third flood came in March of 1905 and at last it was realized that they were facing an unprecedented situation. It was decided that as the river was at a high level the old intake above the border could be used again and the new cut closed. A dam of piles, brush and sandbags was thrown across it. Another flood came down the river and washed it away. A second dam met the same fate. By summer the river had widened the intake from sixty to 160 feet and 90,000 cubic feet of water each second was rushing through the Alamo Canal and down the steep incline of the delta and accumulating in the Salton basin. A new sea was being born.
Now the problem was a serious one and the California Development Company had no money and few friends. The federal government was their enemy and the people of San Diego, the county seat, were indifferent even though they hoped to benefit from the valley’s growth. But San Diegans had their own troubles and even their own disasters with which to contend. One of them, while not significant, was to be remembered by San Diegans for the rest of their lives. It occurred on July 21, 1905.
The morning fog had lifted and the white-hulled U.S.S. Bennington lay at anchor in San Diego Bay just to the west of the ferry landing and the Santa Fe wharf at the foot of H Street. The Bennington was classed as a gunboat and was 230 feet in length and thirty-six feet in width. With a crew of sixteen officers and 181 men, she had arrived from Honolulu en route to Port Harford in San Luis Obispo County to tow the monitor Wyoming, disabled with a broken propeller, to the Mare Island navy yard. Steam was up and she was awaiting the return of Capt. Lucien Young, who had gone ashore, before sailing.
At 10:33 two of her four boilers exploded in rapid succession. A citizen was standing on the nearby Commercial wharf when he heard a muffled explosion and saw a large column of black smoke rise high above the masts and then envelop the ship completely. Various objects and debris were driven even higher into the air. The black smoke was succeeded by clouds of steam, through which he could see running figures in various stages of undress, leaping into the water to escape the scalding vapor. There were cries of pain and sharp commands.
The ranking officer on board was Lieut. Alexander Fred Hammon Yates and he was seated in a cabin near the stern when the explosion occurred. He rushed out of the cabin and was almost driven back by clouds of steam. Reaching the deck he called for volunteers to go back below deck, but there were only twelve men left, the rest having succumbed or been badly burned or had gone over the ship’s sides. He managed to halt the flow over the sides and with volunteers quickly flooded the powder magazines to prevent another explosion.
The launch McKinley was at a wharf, the tug Santa Fe at the Commercial pier, the government launch De Russey was on her way across the bay from Fort Rosecrans, and the Coronado ferry Ramona was on her way to the San Diego terminal. All turned and went to the scene and began picking wounded out of the water. Some of their crewmen and passengers went on board the Bennington to assist Lieut. Yates.
On the deck they found Lieut. Newman K. Perry. He had been standing almost directly over the spot on the starboard side where the explosion took place. Eye-witnesses said he was literally cooked alive, and in his frenzy had torn off all of his clothing. Yet, before he died, according to the report in The San Diego Union:
“In face of all this suffering, he dictated a telegram to his wife, telling her to be brave and keep a stiff upper lip; that he would come out all right.”
The San Diego Union’s report continued:
“Everything on board was blackened and begrimed by the smoke and soot of the explosion, and this was particularly true of the portion between decks whence the bodies of the dead and injured had been taken…seven bodies were in the fire room, of which three were pinned under a shattered boiler, and four were behind a steel bulkhead which had to be cut away to get at them.”
Dr. W. L. Kneedler, the army surgeon of Fort Rosecrans, witnessed the rescue work of the surviving crewmen. The San Diego Union reported:
“He found it almost unbearably hot below the main deck, and the water on the floor was almost scalding, nearly burning through his shoes. Furthermore the lower deck was strewn with glass. Yet in this scalding water and on this glass the uninjured sailors walked in their bare feet trying to rescue their more unfortunate comrades.”
Messages were sent through the city to call all physicians together. Mayor Sehon arrived to direct relief work and sixty men responded to his request for volunteers to help remove the dead and wounded from the ship.
Open wagons with drivers whipping their horses raced the burned men to hospitals. Fifty-four were taken to the Agnew sanitarium, where they were treated by the town’s doctors, and eleven to the old military barracks. All who could talk asked that their companions be cared for ahead of them. Large numbers of women offered their services as nurses. Eleven of the less seriously wounded were soon removed from the sanitarium to St. Joseph’s Hospital, but eighteen others died during the afternoon.
The managers of the Isis, Grand, Pickwick and Bijou theaters closed their houses. The City Guard Band postponed its evening concert on the Plaza. President Roosevelt sent a telegram expressing his shock and asking that everything possible be done for the survivors. Acting Secretary of the Navy Charles H. Darling said the accident was the most distressing to befall an American vessel since the blowing up of the Maine in Havana harbor in 1898.
A fire engine was placed on a lighter and taken alongside the stricken Bennington in the hope its pumps could keep up with the inflow of water through ruptured boiler intake pipes. This failed and as her listing became more pronounced the tug Santa Fe put a line on board and towed her onto the mud flats. A centrifugal pump used to pump sand for ships’ ballast was brought alongside on a Spreckels barge and the water removed. More bodies were found.
An investigation indicated that one boiler gave way and was blown against another, setting off a second blast. A final report listed sixty killed and forty-six injured. After an official Navy investigation into the accident, and the reports of prior trouble with the boilers, the Secretary of the Navy wrote a letter of reprimand to Capt. Young, and while it was not made public, it was not considered too damaging to his career. The Bennington was towed to the Mare Island navy yard for repairs and put back in service.
Funeral services and a mass burial for forty-seven of the dead were conducted on Sunday, July 23, in the post cemetery at Fort Rosecrans high on the hill overlooking the bay and the town. Here also was the last resting place of eighteen members of the First Dragoons who had given their lives at the Battle of San Pasqual in the American conquest of California in 1846. Their bodies had been removed from their temporary graves in the Protestant cemetery in Old Town, to another temporary cemetery behind Ballast Point, and then removed once again about 1888 and reinterred on the hill.
A procession of wagons began loading up the coffins from the various funeral homes at 11 o’clock in the morning. Some carried as many as six or eight coffins. In each of them was a bottle containing a slip of paper on which the name had been written. The San Diego Union reported:
“Along the dusty road toward Old Town the procession moved, then skirting the bay the hill on Point Loma side was ascended. All along the way carriages fell into line and by the time the promontory was reached, the procession was over a mile long. Slowly it wound its way along the crest of the point, with the breakers of the ocean pounding against the cliffs on one side and the placid waters of the bay on the other. Some of the wagons were so heavily laden with their human freight that it was necessary to make frequent stops. It was 3 o’clock before the desolate cemetery, surrounded by a rude picket fence, was reached.”
A large crowd had gathered, every craft available having been used to bring people across the bay. A trench sixty feet long and fourteen feet wide had been finished minutes before the arrival of the first wagon. Around its sides were seventy-five artillery men from Fort Rosecrans, on the west; the Naval Reserves, bearing flowers, on the north; the Bennington survivors, on the east; and the Universal Brotherhood, on the northeast. Just outside the picket fence the public was gathered. It took about an hour to arrange the coffins in the trench, a task performed by Bennington survivors. The last rites were conducted by the Rev. J.A.M. Richey, rector of St. Paul’s, and by Father A.D. Ubach, of St. Joseph’s. Three sharp volleys rang out over the bay. Out of the ranks stepped a bugler and taps were sounded. The crowd turned and walked away. Such is the memory of man and the obligation of government that not all of the graves in either the Bennington or the San Pasqual burial were ever individually marked.
The potential disaster building up in the Imperial Valley did not have an impact on San Diego such as that of the explosion on the Bennington. In their time of need the people of the valley turned to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was beginning to benefit from the shipment of valley products. In the latter part of the year it was decided to ask for a loan of $200,000, of which $20,000 was to be used in closing the break and the rest in improving the canal system. Harriman agreed but stipulated that the Southern Pacific be given temporary control of the company. This was accepted but Harriman’s engineers soon discovered that restoring control of the river would cost more than $200,000; just how much it was impossible to tell.
Though the floods subsided the intake kept widening and further attempts to close it failed. In August, the Southern Pacific took over and constructed a dam of piling, brush-mattresses and sandbags 600 feet long. In November the floods began again. The Gila River which empties into the Colorado above Yuma rose ten feet in ten hours. The dam simply disappeared. The banks of the river crumbled, the crevasse opened up 600 feet and nearly the whole of the river poured down the canal and into the Salton Sink. The sea spread over an area of 150 square miles.
Water also was accumulating in the heart of the lower delta in Volcano Lake, and was slowly moving northward and pushing its surplus into the New River channel that also led to the Salton Sink.
Approval of plans for the installation of the controlling gate finally came from Mexico City, but it was much too late now. Imperial Valley was threatened by rising water from two directions, and another winter and another spring were coming.
That same winter in the early weeks of 1906, John D. Spreckels fell seriously ill in his home in San Francisco. His biographer, H. Austin Adams, wrote in his book, The Man John D. Spreckels that a digestive disorder dropped his weight from 175 pounds to 100 pounds and it was feared that he would not live. His death would have had an immediate and most serious effect on San Diego and would have drastically altered its future. It was three months before he began to show some signs of improvement.
On April 18, 1906, at 5:16 o’clock in the morning, San Francisco was rocked by a massive earthquake. Fires rapidly swept through the city threatening all that the Spreckels family had built or accumulated.
The original quake was not felt in San Diego but wild rumors swept the coast that both San Diego and Coronado, where John D. Spreckels had invested so much of his fortune, had been engulfed by a tidal wave and had disappeared beneath the sea.
San Diegans learned of the disaster through their newspapers and though a sharp quake was felt at 4:29 that same afternoon, there was no serious damage and Mayor Sehon denounced as “mischievous lies” the stories which had been circulated in Los Angeles about San Diego’s total destruction.
As they had to the accident to the U.S.S. Bennington, San Diegans responded to the needs of San Francisco. Sehon sent a telegram to the mayor offering to care for 3000 women and children; William Clayton, the Spreckels companies representative in San Diego, wired that Coronado Tent City canvas would be sent to set up refugee centers; the Ramona Tent City offered 100 tents; public subscriptions exceeded $20,000 in cash, and large amounts of supplies were sent in railroad boxcars provided by the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific.
San Francisco dampened its fires and cleaned up its ruins. The Spreckels’ properties in most part survived the shock, but John D. Spreckels, still in a weakened condition, and his wife left for San Diego to make their home in Coronado.
The railroad magnate, Harriman, already feeling the lash of the “Trust Busters” and hard-pressed to repair the damage to Southern Pacific facilities in the San Francisco area, received another request for emergency funds to control the Colorado River. The original $200,000 had vanished and the water in the Salton Sink was still rising and threatening to inundate the Southern Pacific’s main line from New Orleans. He agreed to another loan of $250,000 but his own engineers moved in to assume complete charge. Rockwood resigned.
Between Spreckels in the south and Harriman in the north a series of messages began to move. The Southern Pacific had large investments in San Diego County and the Imperial Valley and there were reports from Boston that Eastern financiers were unexpectedly and unexplainably looking with new interest at the proposed San Diego-Eastern Railway to Yuma. The messages resulted in several conferences between Harriman and Clayton, the San Diego representative for the Spreckels interests. Everything was done in secret. “Teddy” Roosevelt was not a President to further antagonize at this time.
By the beginning of summer at the height of the seasonal floods, the whole of the Colorado River was pouring out onto the delta through the cut which had widened to more than a half mile and was collecting into the New River channel and racing down the slope to the Salton Sea. The sea rose seven inches a day over an area of 400 square miles. The New Liverpool Salt Company disappeared under sixty feet of water. The main lines of the Southern Pacific were moved and moved again and again. Irrigation works were destroyed and canals silted. Lands returned to desert. The situation was becoming desperate and the entire nation began to focus attention on Imperial Valley.
The river had not yet displayed all its power and its cunning. The bulk of the water was running down the New River when suddenly it created its own waterfall at the entrance to the Salton Sea and then occurred one of the phenomena of nature –the “cut-back.”
The water tumbling over the edge became a cascade and its force cut back the bank. Soon the bank was receding faster and faster, moving upstream into the valley at a pace of 4000 feet a day and widening the New River channel to a gorge of more than 1000 feet. The roar of the waterfall could be heard for miles as it surged backward, consuming its own bed, toward the towns of Calexico and Mexicali. Farms and homes disappeared in its path.
A second though smaller cut-back formed in the Alamo and another waterfall raced backward across the desert, like a prairie fire, toward a bridge on the Southern Pacific line east of Brawley, which, if destroyed, would paralyze rail shipments and cause more heavy losses to the farmers. The bridge was hurriedly strengthened while farmers worked night and day to harvest and move their crops. The bridge survived.
In the vicinity of El Centro, waters jumped the banks of the main irrigation canal, erased levees and flooded the town of Imperial. At the border, rising water ate away the desert to the edge of Calexico while across the line in Mexicali, homes and buildings already were disappearing.
As the cut-back in the New River sliced its way backward toward the border, with no way of stopping it, it occurred to engineers that if it could be speeded up it might reach the flooded towns soon enough to leave a channel wide and deep enough to draw off the threatening flood waters. They decided to dynamite the ledge, to speed the progress of the cut-back, though it had to be done under martial law and against the angry reactions of frightened farmers.
The speed of the cut-back doubled. As it cut its way past Calexico a corner of the town disappeared. Almost half of Mexicali vanished. But the flood waters drew off into the 100-foot deep gorge which it had left behind and the immediate flood danger passed.
But it was feared if the cut-back were not stopped at the new sea forming in the bed of Volcano Lake in Baja California, it would continue racing backward to the Colorado and then up the bed of the river itself, attacking the town of Yuma and wiping out the government irrigation works at the Laguna site. How far up the river it might eventually go nobody could even guess.
The cut-back was conquered when engineers succeeded in turning it in a circle by placing brush in the shallow Volcano Lake. It broke up into a series of little cut-backs and they soon died away.
The valley was deeply scarred forever. A great chasm still divides the Baja California capital of Mexicali. H.T. Cory, who had succeeded Rockwood in command of the effort to control the river, wrote:
“In nine months the runaway waters of the Colorado…eroded from the New and Alamo River channels and carried down into the Salton Sea a yardage almost four times as great as that of the entire Panama Canal…The combined length of the channels cut out was almost forty-three miles, the average width being 1000 feet and the depth fifty feet…Very rarely, if ever before, has it been possible to see a geological agency effect in a few months a change which usually requires centuries.”
Engineers then turned to the task of trying to drive the river back into its bed. They built a spur railroad to the site of the crevasse, marshaled special Southern Pacific trains and 300 mammoth side dump cars from the Union Pacific, gathered rock from all quarries within a range of 400 miles, and mobilized Indian desert tribes and laborers from Mexico.
When the flow began to recede a temporary dam was thrown across the channel and much of the water diverted through a by-pass and head-gate, and work begun on a permanent barrier across the intake. But masses of debris carried by the river pounded out the gate in the by-pass and the river burst through and cut a new opening which became the main river.
The engineers began another attempt almost immediately on a round-the-clock schedule. New rail trestles were laid over the water on pilings and 3000 carloads of rock, gravel and clay were dumped into the breach. On November 4, almost two years after it had broken its banks, the river was at last forced back into its original bed and the long struggle seemed to be over.
A little more than a month later a flood came down the Gila, swelling the Colorado once again. The rock-fill dam held, but just below it a levee weakened and gave away, and within three days the entire river was again flowing into the Salton Sea.
The fear arose that the river would forever empty into the valley and in time would drown the entire countryside. It was not a question now of closing a gap but of building a series of dams and levees and it was estimated the cost might run to $1,500,000 or even more.
For Harriman it also was a personal crisis. Only a short time before he had been described by his one-time friend President Roosevelt as an “undesirable citizen” and he was under prosecution by the Interstate Commerce Commission, but to him it seemed that the task of saving the valley had gone beyond the responsibility of the Southern Pacific.
He sent a telegram to President Roosevelt explaining the situation. As far as the government was concerned, the California Development Company had made the cut that let the river loose and the Southern Pacific controlled the company. Harriman received the following reply:
“Referring to your telegram of December 13, I assume you are planning to continue work immediately in closing break in Colorado River. I should be fully informed as to how far you intend to proceed in this manner.”
Though Harriman informed the President that the Southern Pacific had no vested interest in the California Development Company, and already had spent more than $2,000,000, and was more than willing to cooperate in any government project, Roosevelt replied that as Congress had adjourned for the holidays he had no authority to act and “it is incumbent upon you to close the break again.”
Harriman gave in and ordered that the river be brought under control regardless of cost. Roosevelt promised to recommend legislation to prevent a repetition of the disaster and to provide for an equitable sharing of the burden.
The final struggle began. More than 1200 miles of Southern Pacific lines were tied up and commerce in the port of San Pedro came to a virtual standstill for three weeks. The opening to be closed was 1100 feet wide and forty feet deep. Poles ninety feet long were pounded into the river bed to build two railroad trestles and three times they were swept away. Finally it was accomplished and 3000 flat cars and “battleship” dump cars poured rock into the torrent. The scene was described by F.H. Newell, director of the Reclamation Service, as follows:
“The stones used were as large as could be handled or pushed from the flat cars by a gang of men, or by as many men as could get around a stone. In some cases the pieces were so large that it was necessary to break them by what are called “pop-shots” of dynamite laid upon the stone while it rested on the cars. In this way the stones were broken and then could be readily thrown overboard by hand. The scene at the closure of the break was exciting. Train after train with heavy locomotives came to the place and the stones, large and small, were pushed off by hundreds of workmen as rapidly as the cars could be placed. While waiting to get out upon the trestle the larger stones were broken by “pop-shots,” and the noise sounded like artillery in action. Added to the roar of the waters were the whistle signals, the orders to the men, and the bustle of an army working day and night to keep ahead of the rapid cutting of the stream.”
The river was checked and its level raised eleven feet and soon it began to flow gradually back into its old channel. The end came on February 10, 1907. As precautionary measures the branch railway was extended and old levees reinforced and new ones built all up and down the river. The upper part of the original Imperial Canal, which had been choked up and temporarily abandoned in favor of the Mexican site, had been dredged and a new steel and concrete gate installed, and water again was being diverted within the United States. An inland sea, forty-five miles long, twelve to seventeen miles wide and eighty-three feet deep remained.
Even before the battle had been won, President Roosevelt went before Congress and castigated the California Development Company. He accused it of criminal negligence in having made the Mexican cut and said that there were between 6000 and 10,000 persons in the valley, that towns had been capriciously laid out, that extravagant claims had been made as to profits to be derived from taking up desert land, and that money from the settlers had been diverted to personal profits rather than to the construction of necessary and permanent irrigation works.
He recommended to Congress that the government acquire the California Development Company and that during the next ten years there should be developed a comprehensive program for the irrigation of the lands of the Colorado River, with adequate storage and control, so that none of the water would go to waste. He as well as his successor, President Taft, recommended reimbursement of the Southern Pacific, but twenty years were to pass before even a token payment was made. In all it had cost the Southern Pacific $3,100,000.
The people of the valley, however, were not to be subdued, either by nature or government. They intended to be their own masters. And they were finished with San Diego as well. Their long trial had received but scant attention in San Diego.
Return to Books.
GOLD IN THE SUN
Ch. 1 The Town That Wanted to Grow Up and Be Something
Ch. 2 Here Come the Cultists and the Health Seekers
Ch. 3 Who Could Have Guessed These Stones Were Gems
Ch. 4 The River That Proved It Was Lord of the Desert
Ch. 5 The Auto Challenges the Train and Shapes the City
Ch. 6 It Was Not Yet Too Late to Design a City – Or Was It?
Ch. 7 Beauty Wins A Round in Parks and the Exposition
Ch. 8 The Wobblies and A Story No One Likes to Remember
Ch. 9 San Francisco Shows How Politics Should Be Played
Ch. 10 A ‘Magic City’ Surprises Even Those Who Built It
Ch. 11 The Rainmaker – And Who Caused the Big Flood?
Ch. 12 The Military Appreciated What the Natives Did Not
Ch.13 Southern California and the Gold Nobody Noticed