History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART FIVE: CHAPTER 1: Local Annals After the Boom

The collapse of the great boom, while it brought much individual suffering, did not cause a large number of failures. A few merchants and small tradesmen went out of business, owing to stagnation and decrease in population, but the banks weathered the storm, for the time being, and materially improved their condition. The California National Bank was opened in January, 1888, and the California Savings Bank, under the same management, a year later, and both adopted a liberal policy. Money became available for carrying out many improvements contracted for during the boom, which had been dropped at the time of the collapse. By fall it was felt that the worst was over and an era of steady growth was at hand.

D. CHOATE. Who next to Horton, had the distinction of being the largest operator in real estate in early days. He located here in 1869, purchased hundreds of acres of what is now the best outlying residence districts of the city and subdivided them. He laid out no less than ten different additions. Perhaps his most important achievement in San Diego was the founding of the College Hill Land Association. He was postmaster from 1875 to 1882.

Between the end of the boom and the summer of 1891, many of the most important public and private improvements in San Diego were completed. To this period belongs the completion and opening of the Hotel del Coronado, the construction of the Spreckels coal bunkers and wharves, the rebuilding, of the court house, the laying of several miles of street pavement, the extension of the electric railway to University Heights, and the San Diego, Cuyamaca & Eastern Railway to El Cajon. The flume was also completed and began to deliver water for use in the city. Many school houses and churches were built. A compe­tent authority has estimated that over $10,000,000 were invested in permanent improvements in this period. The population rose slowly but steadily, and by the census of 1890 was nearly 17,000.

These high hopes were destined to be again severely checked, however, at a time when trouble was least expected. In October, 1891, the California National Bank failed disastrously, and this failure effectually checked the growth of the city. None of the other banks failed at that time, but in the following summer, during the financial stringency which prevailed all over the country, several of them were obliged to give up the struggle, as related in the chapter on banking. These disasters, the cul­mination of a long series of misfortunes under which the city suffered, caused indescribable gloom and discouragement. Nev­ertheless, as on similar occasions in the past, the good sense and fortitude of the people soon asserted themselves. They set about the task of saving what they could out of the wreck and waited for better times. It is not designed to go minutely into the annals of these quiet years. A few things have been selected which it is hoped will prove of especial interest.

The first theater in San Diego was known as Leach’s Opera House, which stood on D Street between First and Second. The building was erected about 1881 and first used as a gymnasium. Wallace Leach and W. F. McKee purchased it in 1883 and conducted it as a theater about five years. The Louis Opera House (now called the Grand), on Fifth Street between B and C, was opened March 1, 1887, by the Farini Opera Company. The Fisher Opera House (now the Isis) was opened January 12, 1892, by the Carleton Opera Company, in the comic opera, “Indigo.” The house was built by John C. Fisher, who was also largely interested in the old cable railway. The total seat­ing capacity of the theater is 1,400. The drop curtain was painted by Thomas G. Moses, of Chicago, and represents the “Piazzi d’Erbe,” a market place in Verona.


One of the best remembered events was the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the discovery of San Diego by Cabrillo, which was held on the 28th, 29th and 30th days of September, 1892. This celebration was held at the suggestion of Walter Gifford Smith. A large number of visitors came to witness the event. Governor Markham was present with his staff; Admiral Gherardi with the Baltimore and Charleston; General Torres, of Lower California, and staff; and Generals McCook and Johnson of the U. S. Army, with their staffs. The streets and the shipping in the Bay, including the U. S. and foreign men of war, were handsomely decorated.

One of the most interesting features was the presence of a number of Luisanio and Dieguino Indians, both men and women, barbed and decorated in a manner which was practically historically correct. These people came from their homes at San Luis Rey and elsewhere, at the personal request of Father Ubach, and were by him drilled for their part in the ceremonies.

The Luisanio Indian men were naked above the waist, and below the thighs, and their bodies were painted with white and black,, the groundwork being laid on in broad horizontal bands. The Dieguenos wore red, black, and white paint in fantastic designs; the groundwork being red and the decorations black and white. Each wore on his head a dress of eagle feathers and a few had a single, tall, straight eagle plume. Their arms con­sisted of bows and arrows and a wooden weapon resembling a boomerang. The women were also painted and each wore on her head a wreath of tule. The Luisanios were under the com­mand of Chief José Pachito and General Pedro Pablo and the Dieguenos under Chief La Chappa and General Cenon Duro. The latter was the last chief of the Mesa Grande Indians, and died in October, 1906.

At 9:30 on the 28th, the ship representing the San Salvador, flying the orange and red of Arragon and Castile, came up the channel and anchored. Emanuel Cabral, a fisherman of La Playa, chosen for his resemblance to Cabrillo, stood upon the deck dressed in black velvet, gold doublet, full short knee breeches, black silk long hose, and broad Spanish hat with white plume. An hour later he was rowed ashore by a crew similarly attired and received by the Indian chiefs and their 150 follow­ers. He unfurled the flag and took possession of the country in the name of the King of Spain; then, having read his declaration, he planted his sword in the sand before the flag, kissed the cross-hilt, and the Indians, at his request, followed his example.

After this there was a great procession in which the Indians and many other interesting features appeared. There were floats representing Cortés and other historic characters; a large band of Spanish vaqueros, led by Don Tomás Alvarado, Don Pancho Pico, Señor Argüello, and Don Manuel A. Ferrer; a company of Mexican rurales in buckskin and broad-brimmed hats; a com­pany of American cowboys, etc. At the Plaza, Governor Mark­ham presided and addresses were made by the Governor, by Hon. R. F. Del Valle, of Los Angeles, and by the Very Reverend Father J. Adam. Hon. R. M. Daggett read an original poem entitled Cabrillo.

On the 29th there was an Indian fiesta, at which they exhib­ited their native dances, and a vaquero tournament, which lasted two days. There was also a ball at the Hotel del Coronado, a reception on board the Baltimore, yacht races, and other amuse­ments. A similar celebration was held the following year.

The case of the Chilean insurgent vessel Itata is a somewhat celebrated one. In the spring of 1891 there was an insurrection in progress in Chile, against the government of President Bal­maceda. The revolutionary party finally triumphed, but at the time of the Itata incident, the revolution had not made much headway. The insurgents were in need of arms and ammuni­tion and sent an agent to the United States to secure them. This agent, a man named Burke, had been in the employ of the Pan­ama Railway Company and was familiar with conditions in South America. He went to New York and consulted attorneys who advised him that he might lawfully purchase and ship the supplies, but that the United States could not permit a vessel to outfit and clear from its ports with them on board—that this would be an act of unfriendliness to the Chilean government. His problem then was, how to get his purchases out of the coun­try without getting into trouble.

Burke purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition and had them shipped to San Francisco, where they were put on board the schooner Robert and Minnie without molestation. The schooner sailed south, expecting to meet an insurgent vessel and transfer the cargo, at some island. Meanwhile, the steamer Itata, guarded by the insurgent man-of-war Esmeralda, was dis­patched from Iquique to meet the Robert and Minnie. The Itata was obliged to put into the port of San Diego for coal and other supplies, before meeting the Robert and Minnie. Had it not been for this necessity, no such complications as arose would have ensued. The Itata had papers from Iquique which appeared regular, and she passed for a peaceful merchantman. She was an English-built steamer which had been in the South American trade. Her commander was Captain Manzden, a German. The crew was not unusually large, and no suspicion was excited by her visit.


Mr. Burke, however, proved somewhat, indiscreet; in fact, he felt so sure of himself that he soon took the public into his con­fidence. At Port San Pedro he took the United States Customs Inspector on board the schooner, showed him his cargo, and told him what he expected to do with it. The inspector reported this to his superiors and asked for instructions, and the revenue offi­cers there and at San Diego were thereupon instructed to watch the Robert and Minnie and the Itata. United States Marshal Gard, of Los Angeles, was also sent to San Diego to investigate, with power to seize the Itata; with him came also Harry Morse, of the Morse Detective Agency, San Francisco, who represented the Balmaceda government.

Upon his arrival, Marshal Gard seems to have acted on his own account and failed to take the San Diego collector, Colonel John R. Berry, into his confidence. Colonel Berry had started on a business trip to Corona and first heard of the trouble at Santa Ana. He immediately returned to San Diego, and relates that he came down on the same train with Gard and Morse and sat in the same seat with the former, who had not a word to say about the Itata. While they were in the act of leaving the train, Colonel Berry says, he remarked to Gard: “I suppose you are here on the Itata business?” and Gard denied it, point blank. After trying in vain to get the captain drunk, in the hope that he would betray himself, Gard seized the steamer and placed one man on board of her as a guard. He did not, however, dis­able her machinery. It was soon ascertained that the Robert and Minnie was off the harbor and holding communication, through a pilot boat, with the Itata. The collector intercepted a letter which showed that a rendezvous had been appointed off San Clemente Island. On May 13th, while both the marshal and the collector were absent on separate expeditions in search of the Robert and Minnie, the Itata got up steam and boldly left the harbor. Captain Manzden had applied for clearance papers and been refused. He soon put the guard and the pilot on shore and disappeared, met the Robert and Minnie at San Clemente Island, took the muni­tions of war on board, and started for Iquique.

In San Diego, every kind of wild rumor filled the air. It was said that the Itata‘s decks had suddenly swarmed with men who had been lying concealed in her hold, that heavy guns were brought up and preparations made for a fight. In fact, the government’s special agent reported that she left the harbor “a fully armed man-of-war.” It was established on the trial in the United States court that these reports were much exaggerated. The steamer only carried a small armament of light rifles, which were old and greasy. She had no heavy guns, and was incapa­ble of being transformed into a fighting craft. Another rumor was that “a long, low rakish craft” had been seen several times off the harbor. This report had reference to the Esmeralda, which soon after met the Itata off the Mexican coast near Acapulco. The two vessels had no sooner met and begun prep­arations for transferring the munitions, however, when the United States cruiser Charleston, which had been sent in pur­suit, appeared in the distance. The Itata immediately steamed westward as fast as possible, while the Esmeralda cleared her decks for action. There was no fight, although there was con­siderable tension, and the officers and crew of the Esmeralda were able to derive considerable satisfaction subsequently from telling what they would have done to the Yankee ship, had they been given a chance. The Charleston soon passed onward to the south, leaving the Esmeralda struggling with the problem of securing a supply of coal at Acapulco, the Mexican officials hav­ing refused to allow her to take on a supply. She finally solved it by taking the coal by force. The Charleston met the Itata at Iquique, captured her without resistance, and brought her back to San Diego. In the suit which was brought against her and tried in the United States district court, in March, 1892, the government was beaten on every point and the vessel ordered released. The insurgents had, in the meantime,, succeeded in overturning the Balmaceda administration and taking possession of the Chilean government. They hotly resented the seizure of the Itata, and this incident, with other alleged irregularities on the part of our navy, led to the assault on the sailors of the Baltimore, in the harbor of Valparaiso, which came so near involving the United States in war with Chile.


To pass from these exciting events to the story of a dog may seem a long step, but both belong to the annals of these peace­ful years, and no careful historian can afford to ignore “Bum,” San Diego’s first and only town dog. He was a large, handsome, St. Bernard dog, born in San Francisco on July 3, 1886, and came to San Diego while young as a steamer stowaway. He was adopted by a kind-hearted Chinese named Ah Wo Sue, who pro­vided a home and took good care of him, whenever Bum would allow him to do so. The dog had one peculiarity, however, which unfitted him for domestic life: he seemed to lack the gift of per­sonal attachment which is supposed to belong to all dogs. He was, however, devoted to the larger life of the city and formed an important, even though humble, part of it all his life. It may be said of him that, if he was nobody’s dog, he was so much the more everybody’s dog.

On August 3, 1887, while engaged in a disgraceful fight with a bulldog near the Santa Fé depot, the two were run over by an engine. The bulldog was killed, and Bum lost his right fore-paw and part of his tail, and was otherwise severely bruised and cut. His neglected Chinese friend promptly came to the rescue, had his wounds dressed and treated by the best surgical skill, and carried him home and nursed him back to health. It is sad to have to add that Bum left his benefactor as soon as he was able to do so, and resumed his Bohemian life. He was a public character and his habitation was the street. He slept or rested on the sidewalks, usually where traffic was thickest, and the good-natured people carefully walked around him. Restaurant keepers and butchers gladly fed him and he made a regular round of daily calls to supply his wants. He was a welcome visitor in every store and public place. He would go to the court house and mount the judge’s chair, ride in the omnibuses to and from the depots, and march at the head of pro­cessions and funerals, but his especial delight was to run with the fire engines. As soon as the bell announced an alarm, he would start for the engine house, barking joyously. “Clear the track—Bum’s coming!” would be the cry, and all stepped aside to let him pass. One year the dog licenses were headed by his picture, but the city fathers exempted him by a special order from the payment of taxes. A favorite diversion was to go on excursions, either alone or with a crowd. He visited all the near­by towns and went once to Los Angeles, returning voluntarily after two or three days.

When he was about four years old, some mischievous men forced him to drink liquor, and he became an habitual drunkard. He sank to the lowest depths of degradation, became dirty and mangy, and in every sense of the word, a “bum.” Ah Wo Sue now came to the rescue once more, took him home and kept him shut up several weeks on a temperance diet, until he was cured and went forth a true dog once more. Did he show gratitude? Not he; his affections were entirely impersonal; he immediately resumed his free life and became once more the city’s favorite.

It is of record that Bum once saved the life of a small dog by carrying him by the nape of his neck off the street car track. He had his weaknesses, one of which was a disposition to fight with other dogs now and then. His manner of fighting was to get his antagonist down and hammer him with his crippled leg. But as a rule he treated all other dogs with lofty contempt, look­ing through them as though he did not see them, and compelling respect by his dignified bearing. The pupils of the Sherman Heights School prepared a neat booklet telling the story of Bum’s life and setting forth his good qualities. This pamphlet was dedicated to “Ah Wo Sue, who so kindly cared for and nursed our ‘city dog,'” and several thousand copies of it were sold.

This noble citizen ended his life, as he had chosen to live it, at the public charge. Becoming crippled with rheumatism, he was given a home at the County Hospital, by order of the Board of Supervisors, and died there a few months after. It was surely a happy fate, and worthy the ambition of any dog, to be held in affectionate remembrance by so large a number of people as is San Diego’s “Bum.”

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Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County