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George Henry Tinkham.

History of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres online

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Joaquin River near Mendota (elevation 175 feet) in Fresno County and brought
across Fresno and Merced Counties into Stanislaus.

In the early work of this canal a writer said, July 12, 1871 : "The work on its
construction is going on. Times would be very dull were it not for that work. Many
who would otherwise be idle find a profitable employment on the canal. Men are paid
thirty dollars per month and their board and a man with two horses, receives fifty
dollars and upkeep for himself and team." Times were very hard that year. There
was, as we remember, a failure of crops and that failure sent Isaac Friedlander, the
wheat king, to the wall. This same correspondent in writing about the canal, in
August 1877, said: "It takes its waters from the junction of Fresno slough with the
San Joaquin River and was built six years ago, as far as Los Banos Creek, forty-five
miles. The revenue was not sufficient to pay the cost of the construction of the canal
and completion to Orestimba Creek, five miles below Hill's Ferry, a distance of
twenty-seven miles. The embarrassment of Isaac Friedlander delayed the work. The
canal, thirty feet wide on the bottom, forty-five feet wide ground surface and four
feet deep, will reach Orestimba Creek this fall." Evidently the writer was nearly
correct, for the San Francisco Aha said, December 4, 1878: "The most important
irrigation work completed in 1878 was the San Joaquin and King's River Canal. The
old section finished in 1873 was forty miles long, sixty feet wide at top, four feet
deep and with a grade of one foot to the mile, supplied 50,000 acres. The extension
is thirty miles long, grade six inches to the mile, and will irrigate 40,000 acres. The
entire cost was over $1,000,000. The following year, in September, 1879, we read that
Hill's Ferry also shows the benefit of irrigation, as they adopted this year for the
first time the benefits of the Miller & Lux Canal."

In 1874 "the irrigation question became of absorbing interest to the Grangers
throughout the country and at a meeting of farmers in MacDonald's warehouse (Gray-
son) a committee was appointed to formulate some plan for improvement. The com-
mittee appointed comprised Gilbert Fisher of Crows Landing, W. B. Hay of Ellis,
and J. R. MacDonald of Grayson, and the result was they formulated a plan drawn
up by MacDonald, which is known to this day as the Wright Irrigation Law."

FIRST IRRIGATION BILLS

The following year, in the December session of the Legislature, John J. Scrivner,
an assemblyman from Stanislaus County, introduced a bill for a franchise for an irri-
gation ditch on the "west side" of the San Joaquin, comprising parts of Tulare, Merced,
Fresno, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Scrivner had been honored with a place
on the judiciary committee, one of the most important of all the committees, and he
had also been appointed chairman of the irrigation committee. At that time four irri-
gation bills had been introduced and a correspondent declared: "The question is liable
to cause more trouble and take up more time of the legislature than any other thing.
The legislature in general is favorable but there is such a diversity of opinions regard-
ing the best methods of reaching it, that probably but little will be accomplished."
The writer's opinion was correct. Several other bills were introduced and after
nearly three months delay the bill was passed and signed by the Governor.



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 205

The law declared that within ten days after its passage, the Governor, William
Irwin, should appoint five commissioners, one from each of the irrigation districts.
The Governor named as the commissioners, J. R. White of Fresno, J. L. Crittenden
of Merced, J. R. MacDonald of Stanislaus, M. Lammers of San Joaquin and W. W.
Smith of Contra Costa. They were authorized to issue bonds not to exceed $2,000,000,
payable in twenty years.

THE PRELIMINARY SURVEY

The citizens of Grayson were the first to start the good work, and in June, 1876,
they subscribed $5,000 for a preliminary survey: "If other people show the same
liberality the survey will soon be completed," was the belief. The project was rushed
along. William Hammond Hall, a well-known engineer, was placed in charge of the
work and under him were about thirty men. In September, 1876, the Herald reported
rhat "the surveyors have ascertained that the project is feasible and the lake (Tulare)
contains plenty of water for irrigation purposes. The committee are anticipating great
things from the completion of the canal and one committeeman excitedly exclaimed:
'The Almighty placed that lake there for the purpose of irrigation.' "

THE IRRIGATION PROSPECTUS

The commissioners, as authorized by the law, prepared to receive bids for $50,000
of 7% bonds, the bids to be opened in January, 1879, and December 8, 1878, they
published the following prospectus, probably one of the first irrigation notices ever
published :

"The board of commissioners of the West Side Irrigation district would respect-
fully submit to your attention the scheme for the building of a canal from Tulare
Lake to Old River near Mohr's land or Bonsell's Creek for the purpose of irrigating
the land on the west side of the San Joaquin River. The question of irrigating has
for many years past been seriously discussed by the farmers of the West Side district
but no practical plan was inaugurated until the winter of 1 876, when the state legisla-
ture passed a bill creating the West Side Irrigation district and empowering the people
living within said district to issue bonds in an amount sufficient to cover the expense
of constructing a navigable canal, to tax the property by the payment of the interest
on these bonds and to create a sinking fund for their ultimate redemption. The bill
also provided for the survey and location of the canal under the supervision of a board
of commissioners appointed by the government of the state, which board should, before
March 1, 1877, report their labors and observations to the government and to the
people of the West Side Irrigation District, after which an election would be called
for the election of a permanent board of commissioners for the district and enable
those interested to vote yes or no on the proposition of issuing bonds and taxing the
property benefited to sustain and redeem them."

Under this bill the district embraced all the territory from Tulare Lake to
Antioch, below the line of the proposed canal and above the line of the swampy over-
flow lands along the San Joaquin River and Fresno swamps, containing about 500,000
acres. The survey was made at the cost of about $25,000. The commissioners made
their report and an election was duly held. A large majority voted, "tax — yes."

The preliminary steps having been taken, it was then found that it would cost
over $4,000,000 to construct a canal, that the finishing of twenty-six miles from
Bonsell's Creek to Antioch, being through a rough and hilly country, would cost one-
third of that amount. It was therefore deemed advisable to postpone further action
until the legislature again met.

The legislature of 1878 amended the law by striking out "navigable" and cutting
.off that exceedingly expensive portion of the district at Bonsell's Creek, leaving out
all the lands below the boundaries of the San Joaquin and King's River Canal Com-
pany, and the law authorized the board of commissioners to issue bonds of the district
to the amount of $2,000,000.

The district now contains about 325,000 acres of land, the greater portion of
which is the finest land in the state. The management of the district is vested in a
board of five commissioners elected every two years That the construction of a canal



206 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

between Tulare Lake and Bonsell's Creek is feasible and practical has been demon-
strated by two further surveys, one for the San Joaquin and King's River Canal
Company and one under the direction of this board. The cost of the construction
will not exceed $2,000,000. W. H. Hall, state engineer, and Mr. Brearton, at one
time consulting engineer of the San Joaquin and King's River Canal Company, and
General Alexander, all concur in the opinion that the water supply is amply sufficient.

FARMERS PETITION FOR WATER
The Grayson Canal project so enthusiastically boomed, was a complete failure, as
sufficient stock could not be sold. There were perhaps two reasons for this failure,
one, that many of the farmers were supplied with water from the Miller & Lux Canal,
the other, that the crops had been a complete failure, many farmers moved away and
others were actually suffering for food. Nearly twenty years passed, and Grayson
was still "dry." In May, 1899, however, a proposal was made by certain parties to
raise water from the San Joaquin River by means of big pumps. The projectors wanted
ten dollars for water rights and two dollars and fifty cents per acre for the use of the
water. But the farmers would not stand for it. They declared the price too high,
and they petitioned Miller & Lux "to continue their canal now completed from Los
Banos to Grayson." Miller & Lux were favorably inclined to carry out the project.

THE MODESTO IRRIGATION LAW

In the same year that the Grayson commissioners were appointed, the legislature
passed an act to create the Modesto Irrigation District, the act being approved May 30,
1878. The act declared in general term "all that certain territory situated in the
county of Stanislaus and bounded as follows: On the south by the Tuolumne River,
commencing at the junction of said river with the San Joaquin, up and along the said
river to the point where the county lines of Stanislaus and Tuolumne intersect the
Tuolumne River, then along the county line to the Stanislaus River, and down said
river to its junction with the San Joaquin, then up said San Joaquin to the point of
beginning, is hereby created as Modesto district." This was later divided, as we know,
into three districts, Turlock, Modesto and Oakdale. The Turlock Irrigation District,
says Cowell, "comprises 176,000 acres, being the greater portion of the irrigable lands
between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The southwestern part of this district
lies in Merced County. The Modesto district of 82,000 acres comprises nearly all
of the land between the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers and extending from near the
San Joaquin River to an irregularly eastern boundary, running generally east and west
and crossing the Santa. Fe Railroad near Claus."

THE WRIGHT-BRIDGEFORD IRRIGATION LAWS

In the legislature of 1887, C. C. Wright, a lawyer of Modesto then an assembly-
man from that county, introduced what was later known as the Wright Irrigation
Law. It authorized the organization of irrigation districts, allowing the people of the
district to form a public district for the purpose of bringing water from the Sierras,
by means of canals, ditches, dams and other means to irrigate their lands. The district
was organized and operated in much the same manner as a school district. A corre-
spondent in writing of this bill said: "The irrigation bill introduced by Wright is
favorably commented on. It is a very carefully prepared measure and presents the
peculiar feature of local option which takes from that question all of the sectional
irrigation which made other measures objectionable." "The measure," as Granger of
Butte, said, "covered the ground completely and gave offense to no section of the
state." It was highly recommended by both the senate and assembly irrigation com-
mittees and they asked that it "do pass" with the amendment "to permit the forma-
tion of a district by a majority vote, instead of a two-thirds vote, as in the bill." It so
passed. Although the law was highly satisfactory to the entire state, at home it
found its enemies. And the Herald said in 1889: "As it becomes more certain that
the enemies of the Wright Irrigation Bill will have active workers in the legislature,
the necessity of united action on the part of its friends becomes more urgent. The



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 207

committee on irrigation should be friends of the measure, and the chairmanship should
be given to Vital E. Bangs, assemblyman from this county."

Again quoting Cowell, "After a long and stormy period of litigation, the constitu-
tionality of this law was upheld by both the state and federal courts and in 1897 the
law was revised and re-enacted and is now called the Wright-Bridgeford Law. Under
its provisions a petition is presented to the supervisors containing the names of a ma-
jority of the highest assessed taxpayers of the district or 500 electors owning twenty
per cent of the land. If it has been advertised and is in proper form, the supervisors
submit the petition to the state engineer for his approval. If he approves, the super-
visors fix the irrigation boundaries and call an election for the officers of the district.
If carried by a two-thirds vote, then the board of directors proceed to organize and
prepare plans for an irrigation system. Under the law, incorporated cities could be
included in the irrigation district, but under the law of 1915 incorporated cities could
not be included. Under the 1915 law a State Irrigation Board was created."

THE LA GRANGE DAM

In the early irrigation of the county, the irrigators depended entirely upon the
natural flow of the water, and for a time this was sufficient to provide adequate irriga-
tion. But now it is known that for the proper development of irrigation, and to hold
back the waters for use late in the season, large reservoirs and dams are an actual
necessity. So high was the cost of the work that the directors of Modesto and Turlock
met together and, after several conferences, an agreement was made whereby the two
districts were to construct a weir or diverting dam in the Tuolumne River in com-
mon, the cost to be apportioned to two districts in equal shares. In their meeting of
August 11, 1890, the directors decided to build a dam about 1,800 feet above the
Wheaton dam, ninety feet in height. The engineers of each district were to submit
plans from which they would select the best plan. The amount of water used by each
district depended upon the district's acreage and each district was to have equal privi-
leges in any future acquired water rights. The dam, one of the largest overflow dams
in the world, according to the figures of S. T. Weber of the Turlock Board of Trade,
was 301 feet long, 127 feet high, eighty-three feet at the bottom, eleven feet at the
top and cost $543,164. C. P. McDonald in the "Sunny Stanislaus" prospectus, says
that the dam completed in 1893 was 336 feet long, 127 feet high and cost $550,000.
"Water for the Modesto district," says the same author, "is diverted on the north
side (through a concrete bulkhead at the end of the dam) the filings being 4,500 second
feet and for the Turlock district on the south side (the water diverts through a short
tunnel) the filings being 5,000 second feet. The head gates are about fifty feet above
the dam."

SALE AND VALIDITY OF IRRIGATION BONDS
I am recording, as you quickly notice, scraps of history only, and one of the pre-
liminary and most important of these events was the issuing and sale of bonds. Bonds,
irrigation bonds especially, may be compared to a ship upon the water. They may
float at high tide or gradually depreciate in value until they are wrecked upon the
shore. At the very outset of the Modesto bonds they were sold at a depreciated value.
For we read, January 28, 1890: "The directors today sold $400,000 worth of bonds
to I. R. Wilbur of San Francisco at ninety-one cents on the dollar." They were
pleased, however, for "it insures the building of the canal under the Wright Irrigation
Law." Then a little later, July, 1893, we learn that A. S. Fulkerth and W. H.
Finley, a committee appointed from the Board of Directors of the Modesto District
"have succeeded in disposing of forty-five bonds at a par value of $500, for the pur-
pose of purchasing cement." As to the validity of the bonds, Judge W. W. Morrow of
the U. S. district court, settled that question in July, 1899. Up to that time, as J. J.
Rhea said, "Irrigation in Stanislaus is another term for lawsuits, from the earliest
inception to the time when water coursed through the laterals and ditches of the
impoverished grain lands like life-giving blood into the arteries of an anaemic body."
To test the validity of the bonds, the Modesto District brought a suit against itself.
It was entitled "George Hanning vs. the Modesto Irrigation Disrict." The defend-



208 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

ants claimed that the organization of the district was illegal on many grounds. They
claimed that the original petition was not signed by fifty freeholders owning agricultural
lands, that a part of the original district had been eliminated and this rendered the
whole invalid. All of these defences, said the judge, may not be set up by a district on
its own bonds. He held that the corporation cannot set up its own illegality and
assert after its bonds have been issued that it never was a district and therefore should
not be called upon to pay its bonds.

Hardships, Taunts and Jeers
Upon this point, J. J. Rhea wrote: "The forefathers of this irrigation scheme
realized the greatest economic loss. They made heroic sacrifices in many cases, to bring
what was destined to be the millenium in agriculture in Stanislaus. Many bought
large blocks of bonds which had no negotiable value either with bankers or bond buyers.
Others labored with their hands and their teams without recompense, save bonds that
were at the time worthless. The development (the project) in Turlock is identical
with that of the Modesto District, for both bore the struggle to introduce irrigation,
underwent the hardships interposed on a poor bond market and the gibes and jeers
of wheat farmers on heavier lands who taunted the sand farmers in their discouraging
efforts to make the soil yield a fair interest upon a value of twenty dollars an acre."

THE TURLOCK CANAL

The Turlock District was the pioneer in completing an irrigation system under
the Wright act, putting the proprietorship of the water on the land. In the beginning
they ran up against difficulties in land valuations. M. A. Wheaton was the promoter
of the first water ditch, years before, building a dam and conveying water into La
Grange. With the foresight of a prophet he knew that some day the land and water
rights would become valuable. This proved to be the case in 1890. The irrigation
directors in the beginning of their work found it- necessary to obtain the right of way
over M. A. Wheaton's land, which included about five acres. Mr. Wheaton wanted
for that land $30,000. It was a prohibitive price — a price that would prevent any
development of the irrigation system. The directors had recourse at law and they
began condemnation proceedings in Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties. In Stanislaus
County the case was tried in Modesto and after a trial lasting eight days, June 3, 1890,
the jury brought in a verdict giving Mr. Wheaton ninety-five dollars damages.
In the following month the same case was on trial in Sonora. After a thirteen days
trial, on July 16 the jury awarded Wheaton $50,000 damages. In the following
month the suit was compromised, the directors paying the owner $35,000. The Tur-
lock District paid $32,500 of the amount and the Modesto District $2,500. Trouble
seems to have been in the wake during the entire canal work, for in 1899, at the
September meeting of the board, R. L. Bullard put in a claim for $800 for the dam
at Dawson Lake, claiming ownership. The board refused to pay it, as they declared
it Government land.

Judge W. A. Waymire

Just before the completion of the canal, there -were several workmen strikes
because of a long delay in the payment of wages. To increase the directors' troubles,
in March, 1900, the carpenters refused to continue work unless given their last two
months' pay. The men were informed that they could not put a lien on the canal but
must look to Judge Waymire for their money, as he was in charge of the work. I now
quote from the Visalia Times which declared, July 10, 1900: "The Turlock irriga-
tion system was organized in 1887 and there was hope that the work would be done in
1889 and some 175,000 acres be under irrigation. The people at first were universally
for irrigation but disagreements arose, litigations were begun, the bonds could not be
disposed of, and a stubborn fight was waged between the irrigationists who wanted to
go ahead and those who liked to stand still. After a great deal of work had been
done, failure seemed imminent, but Judge Waymire of Oakland became interested and
he took a contract to complete the system. Just how he managed to keep the work
going and keep off strikes is a mystery, but he finally succeeded and within the past




MODESTO-TURLOCK IRRIGATION DAM




SCENE ON STANISLAUS RIVER



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 209

two months, something like thirteen years after it was commenced, the greatest irriga-
tion system in California was completed and for the first time water irrigated the sandy
soil between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The Modesto Irrigation District be-
tween the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers is now at a standstill, but suits are pend-
ing to oust the directors, and if it be successful, officers will be elected who will com-
plete the system. This will bring a total of nearly a quarter of a million of good
irrigation land to the support of Modesto."

THE OAKDALE IRRIGATION SYSTEM
The Oakdale Irrigation District, organized in 1909, was the outgrowth and en-
largement of the old Knights Ferry ditch. There was formed in 1888 a corporation
known as the San Joaquin Land & Water Company. They purchased the old Knights
Ferry ditch, then used as an irrigation ditch by the ferry people, and announced that
they would build it down into the San Joaquin Valley. It failed to materialize because
of law suits and many other causes which beset those early day irrigation enterprises.
Time passed on and July 7, 1899, a company was incorporated as the Stanislaus Water
Company, with a capitalization of $450,000. Its incorporators were Alvinza Hayward,
a capitalist of Alameda County : Mrs. Anna G. Lane, the wife of Charles D. Lane,
the mining man; Charles Tulloch, the mill owner; R. R. Bigelow and H. G. Steven-
son. They proposed to supply water for irrigation in Stanislaus and San Joaquin
counties and electric power for Oakdale, Modesto and Stockton. Their canal, they
stated, "was one of the oldest in the state. It starts at Six Mile Bar on the Stanislaus
and parallels the river until it reaches Oakdale. It then turns toward Stockton and
traverse one of the most fertile sections in the state." There were no results from this
company, as Hayward and Lane, two of the largest stockholders, became very much
embarrassed financially because of their extensive speculations in mining stock.

There was in existence in 1890 an organization called the Oakdale Irrigation
Company. They were struggling for existence and at a stockholders meeting, January
18, the president stated that there were funds sufficient to carry the canal work along
until April. What happened after that is to me unknown. They must have done
considerable work, for one of the party attending the Stockton business men's excursion
to Oakdale in January, 1890, wrote: "Returning from Schell's vineyard the party
stopped at the Oakdale irrigation canal and a number of the party went through the
800-foot canal. It heads in the river about one mile above Knights Ferry and, com-
pleted, will be eleven miles long, ten feet at the bottom and carrying four feet of
water. It will be completed in October and Oakdale will have a great celebration."
The canal was not completed, for "after the death of Louis Kahn, the Oakdale
banker and principal owner of the stock, it was discovered that the company was in a
bad shape financially. The few stockholders were at the mercy of outside interests,"
and they made proposals to the Stanislaus Power & Water Company to take over the
irrigation company. At a meeting March 5, 1905, with Charles Tulloch, manager of
the power company, they came to an agreement. Mr. Tulloch told them he could not
furnish water at the former rates, ten dollars for water rights and one dollar and fifty
cents per acre, but his rate would be three dollars per acre, and no water rights charge.
This they had to accept. The company was always known as the Tulloch system.

THE OAKDALE IRRIGATION DISTRICT



Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 32 of 177)