The Rising Tide, 1920-1941


Flying across the country at great height unfolds in a few hours the westward movement of a century and a half.

This story of unparalleled migration, and of Spanish discovery and exploration which preceded it, has been told in a series of books of which this is the sixth, from the perspective of one area and one city.

Eight years have gone into research, and all that has been written comes to mind as the plane follows the sun across the continent.

In view below is the Missouri River. To the Mountain Men who first opened the West, God held no man accountable after he crossed the Missouri.

Over Oklahoma, to the right, is the Cimarron River where the great trail blazer Jedediah Smith, who walked into the Spanish-Mexican settlement of San Diego in the 1820’s, finally was lanced to death by the Comanches.

Over New Mexico you can see the town of Santa Fe. The story of the Southwest begins here. It was from Santa Fe that the furtrapping Patties, father and son, left on a journey that led down the Gila River in Arizona and into Lower California, and thence up to San Diego. The father lies buried under the grass somewhere on Presidio Hill.

Not long after a caravan trade route was opened from New Mexico to Southern California. This was the Old Spanish Trail. From the sky the eye can follow it only dimly across the American Desert.

After the traders came the Army of the West and the Mormon Battalion. They made a wagon road of sections of the Gila Trail first followed by the Patties. California became part of the United States, and the tide of migration began to flow.

Coming into view now is the Colorado River. To the south is the site of Fort Yuma where the Butterfield Overland stages made the crossing and linked the East and the West with a transportation system.

On the horizon are the mountains and the railroad passes which decided whether one city in Southern California was to be greater than another.

It was the Colorado River, though, that decided whether many of these cities were to live. The lifting of its water over the mountains to the coastal plain is an epic of the conquest of nature.

Beyond the Coastal Mountains the towns of the West Coast begin to appear in the haze of the late California afternoon. They lived because of water from the Colorado River, or from other sources equally distant.

The rush of settlers to Southern California in the 1920’s quickly exhausted many local sources of water; the approach of World War II made it a race to bring the supply of water in balance with the continuing rise in the tide of population.

This book, then, primarily must be a story of water, and of a city that almost didn’t live. It did survive. How it surmounted its own indecisions to become a metropolitan center is a chapter in a story, however, that must be left suspended in time, as Southern California’s change is constant and dramatic.

Richard F. Pourade