By Laurence M. Klauber
Campo was a frontier town with some individuality, and I spent three months there in the summer of 1899. My brother Hugo had gone out there to run the store for Klauber Wangenheim Company soon after graduation from Stanford in the spring of 1898. The country was in one of its usual slumps at that time, and no other jobs were available to him. As Hugo wanted company next summer, it was decided I should go out and stay with him. I wasn’t expected to work in the store (I was fifteen at the time), but was just supposed to hang around and make a nuisance of myself.
The Campo stage was not one of those glorified four-horse affairs such as the one running from Lakeside to the Stonewall Mine and the nearby lodge at Cuyamaca. It was a two-horse two-seater holding three or four passengers besides the driver. It also carried the mail. It started from the Ferris & Ferris Drug Store at Fifth and H (now Market Street) at six in the morning and arrived at Campo twelve hours later. The road was paved as far out as 16th and H. From there you picked up a cloud of dust that traveled with you all the way, getting thicker by the mile. Horses were changed twice, and lunch was eaten at Jamul. The stage made three trips each way per week — out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and in on the other days.
The town was comprised of a store, a hotel with an annex where people slept, the one-room Custom House, a home that served as a post office, and the blacksmith shop, where I naturally spent much of my time, watching Charlie Cameron, the blacksmith, work.
Klauber Wangenheim bought the store from Ed Aiken in 1898. It was a stone building, with walls four feet thick at the ground level, and two feet at the second story. It had been built as a sort of fort by the Gaskill brothers some years before, after the famous raid by Mexican bandits.
On the east side of the store there was a wooden lean-to; and on the west were steps leading up to the second story. the north wall was built against the side of the hill, and an archway opened through it into a cave that had been excavated in the hillside. There were heavy iron shutters on all the windows of the building, and heavy doors at the single entrance.
Today the building is a county monument, but the old wooden lean-to has been removed.
Hugo and a clerk named Johnny Evans ran the store. Evans spoke fluent Spanish and Hugo could get by. We are at the hotel and slept in the annex. The food was terrible. I think Hugo’s health was permanently impaired by it.
As I remember our stock, I don’t see how it could have been crowded into the Marston and Walker-Scott buildings combined. We had everything – groceries, hardware, men’s and women’s wearing apparel, boots and shoes, drugs, crockery, musical supplies, stationery, grain everything for man and beast.
At the left of the door, as one entered, there hung an olla of water. The olla was filled by carrying a bucket in from a nearby spring, in which resided the biggest goldfish you ever saw. Everyone entering the store paused for a drink from a dipper hanging by the olla, as a sort of greeting to those already within.
On three sides of the room there were counters. In front there were empty nail kegs intended for use as stools for the customers, but actually they were appropriated by philosophical cowboys resting from arguments with cows. At the right there was a wall rack containing rifles and shotguns, mostly museum pieces even for that day, although there were a few modern items, including an 1886 Winchester .38-55 that was Hugo’s pet.
There was no cash register, but under the counters, at four locations, there were cash drawers of the kind then used. Each of these had four or five finger hooks out of sight on the under side. If you knew the combination, and pulled the right hooks, the drawer came open, otherwise a bell rang. Beside each cash drawer, on a small shelf hidden under the counter and open to the back, there was a loaded six-shooter. I may say in passing, that although every cowboy wore a .44, I never saw any shooting during the three months I was there.
Now a word as to the stock of goods, especially the groceries. Everything was in bulk and had to be weighed out. I remember only Arbuckle’s and Lion coffee as being packaged. The smallest flour sack weighed fifty pounds, so a clerk in those days was a real clerk, weighing, tying up packages, measuring cloth, kerosene, and black powder.
The women wore calico dresses. I thought the patterns were beautiful as we selected them from the drummers’ samples. And I liked especially the red bandana handkerchiefs. The men wore overalls, and always with legs four to six inches too long, so as to produce huge cuffs where they were turned up. They weren’t called levis in those days, but we well knew the poem that all store owners recited to the drummers from any competing outfit:
I like you and I like your house,
But I buy my goods from Levi Strauss.
Because of our limited stock, the fitting of boots, overalls, and hats (invariably Stetsons) was quite a gamble, and some real salesmanship was exercised in convincing people that wearing an article obviously too large or too small always improved the fit. Maybe this explained why every cowboy always mounted his horse to go to the post office, though it was only a hundred yards away.
Most of the medicines we carried were the patent nostrums of that pre-Pure-Foods-and-Drugs-Act day. They were notable for their high alcoholic content. We never hesitated to prescribe them, using the claims on the labels as our guides. But most of the addicts knew what they wanted. How they did like to recite their symptoms to us to excuse their purchases of Peruna or Dr. Miles’ Golden Medical Discovery.
Of course we bought our groceries from Klauber Wangenheim. Other goods were purchased from drummers representing either San Francisco or Chicago houses. They worked the back country, driving two-horse buckboards or surreys rented from San Diego livery stables. Deliveries were made in about three months. Goods from San Diego were shipped out every two or three weeks. The horse-drawn freight wagons, usually four horse affairs, were three days on the road from San Diego to Campo.
There was no electricity, no ice, no refrigeration. Hams and bacon were kept in the cave. Occasionally we had apples, but no other fresh fruit or vegetables. There was no fresh milk – the usual situation in a cattle country. Meat, when available, was always freshly killed. Sometimes, when there was a guest at the hotel, I was required to shoot a pig or a chicken, which would be cooked for the next meal. Cowboys in the store at noon generally dined on sardines, or salmon, with soda crackers. That way they didn’t have to move from their nail kegs.
As I have said, this was a cattle country, with a cattle economy. Most of the ranchers paid their bills annually. They had pass books on which the goods were charged. The cowboys wore guns, high-heeled boots, and hairless chaps, and the saddles were always single-cinch. Anyone with a double cinch was thought to have ridden in direct from Texas, and there were hints that such a device was an evidence of mental weakness.
Almost everybody chewed tobacco, either Star or Battle-Ax. Those that smoked rolled their own — Bull Durham or Duke’s Mixture. In this they were highly skilled and would make a hit today on TV. Most of the cattle raisers had originally come from Texas. They were all interrelated, and their families were usually sore at each other, but fights were infrequent. A few were fugitives from justice, but you didn’t inquire into personal histories.
Among the more interesting customers were the Mexican smugglers. By some mysterious grapevine they were able to learn when the rurales — the Mexican border patrol — would be at their duties elsewhere along the Line, and then they would get word to our store that their burro trains would be in that night. So we would stay open, waiting for them, long after dark. Smuggling was not as unscrupulous as it sounds. There were no wagon roads eastward from Ensenada or Tijuana in those days, and the poor people below the Line, and far down the Sierra Juarez, would have starved, except for the activities of the smugglers.
They paid either in Mexican money — silver pesos, which were then real cartwheels, the exchange value of which was about 48 1/2 cents (we allowed them half a dollar on them) — or in commodities. The commodities were hides, beeswax, or gold dust. The hides were smelly and we disliked having to store them. The beeswax came in big round cakes, having been cast in milk pans. It came mostly from wild bees that had been smoked out of their hives in hollow trees.