Wallace Melvin Morgan.

History of Kern 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 present; online

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Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern 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 present; → online text (page 11 of 177)
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from the Cerro Gordo mines. The sheep shearing camps that had been
scattered over the country from White river to Poso creek moved up toward
Delano to shorten the haul by wagon. The stage from Los Angeles made
that place its northern terminal, dry wheat farmers on the mesas between
the railroad and the Sierras increased in number, and broke trails to the rail-
road, and generally Delano became a very lively and prosperous place.
The Story of Eph Johnson's Ox Team

Just how new and strange a thing a railroad was in the San Joaquin
valley then is illustrated by the story of Eph Johnson, one of the best known
of the teamsters who broke the trails from the mountains to the new ship-
ping point. On one of his first trips to Delano Johnson got his first near
view of a freight engine. He looked the thing over, and did not think much
of it. Loyalty to the old methods of transportation and instinctive antag-
onism toward this new machine that threatened to put the teams and team-


sters out of business got him into an argument with the trainmen, and finally
Johnson bet his eight good oxen against the locomotive that he could drag the
iron horse backward on the rails that had been laid with so much expense
for it to run upon. Johnson stipulated that he should be allowed to tighten
the chains before the engine was started, and he cracked his long bull whip
and shouted to Baldy, the leader. Baldy stiffened his neck to the yoke,
and all the eight great animals got their hoofs against the ties and sank
their bellies low toward the soft, new roadbed in a perfect exhibition of
bovine team-work. Then the engineer opened the throttle and jerked the
finest eight-ox team in Kern county into a tangled mass of chains and
cattle. The trainmen had no more use for Johnson's oxen than Johnson
would have had for the engine, and so the bet was never paid, but it cost
the teamster the value of at least one yoke of cattle before the thirst of the
other teamsters, the railroad crews and all the population of Delano was

News Notes of 1873-75

A few mc>re news notes of the time will fill out the detail in this picture
of the county in 1873-75 :

June 22, 1873 — At Tehachapi Brite & Bennington are building a steam
saw mill with a capacity of 10,000 feet in twelve hours.

Tehachapi merchants are asking 100 per cent profit on grain sold to
Owens river teamsters.

John Narboe & Co. are gathering salt from the salt lake near Tehachapi.

Green & Henderson clean up $1,438 in their hydraulic mine near

The Kern & Inyo P^orward-ing Company advertises for fifty mule teams
to haul between the end of the railruad and Owens lake, and guarantees a
full load both ways.

Stage fare from Delano to Bakersfield (thirty-two miles) is $7; from
Bakersfield to Los Angeles, $25 ; from San Francisco to Los Angeles, $25.
The "long and short haul" problem is a cause of complaint.

August 2, 1873 — Escalet's new hotel at the corner of Chester avenue and
Third street (now Nineteenth) is completed.

August 23d — The aft'airs of the California Cotton Growers' Association
and Livermore & Chester have been assigned to J. H. Redington.

August 23, 1873 — Tiburcio Vasquez is reported overtaken in Rock caiion
east of Los Angeles.

September 12, 1873 — ^Montgomery and Rurkhalter of Tulare are building
a schooner-rigged boat fifty feet in length and of seventj' tons burden for
Atwell & Goldstein, who have an immense hog ranch on an island in Tulare

November 22, 1873 — J. C. Crocker and Miller & Lux are fencing a great
tract of land between Buena Vista and Goose lakes with redwood posts
and lumber shipped from Oregon. They will plant alfalfa.

Many stage robberies are reported from Visalia.

December 6, 1873 — The Stine Irrigating Canal Company levies an assess-
ment of $25 per share.

Farmers' Irrigating Canal Company is supplying water to a new dis-
trict between Panama and Kern lake, which is fast settling up. A school
is to be opened there in February, with Mrs. S. A. Burnap as teacher.

January 17, 1874 — W. B. Carr, the "world renowned Billy Carr, political


Napoleon of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company," is here looking over
the country. He owns some land in Kern county and is anxious to get more.
He has plans for the complete and thorough irrigation of the valley.

A bill is introduced in the legislature to form a new county out of a
strip of territory cut from the north end of Kern and the south end of
Tulare counties, Porterville to be the county seat and the name of the new
county to be Monache. (The bill, of course, did not pass.)

March 7, 1874— Julius Chester, E. Tibbet, P. Tibbet and R. Trewin are
raising funds to build a Methodist Episcopal church. The building is to
be open for the use of all evangelical denominations.

The Pioneer canal is finished for a distance of eight miles.

W. G. Souther, who is building the Kern Island canal, is having con-
structed at Hollister a big plow with a mould board eleven feet long by
nearly three feet deep which will cut a furrow five feet wide and two feet
deep. The naked plow will weigh 1800 pounds, and eighty horses or forty
yoke of oxen will be required to pull it.

The Kern Valley Bank, incorporated on February 24, 1874, with a
capital of $50,000, will open for business in the Wells Fargo office about
April 20th. Solomon Jewett is president; S. J. Lansing, secretary; F. A. Tracy,
P. T. Colby and P. D. Jewett, directors.

April 6, 1874 — Work on the extension of the Southern Pacific railroad
south from Delano is resumed with 100 men and thirty-five teams.

Local option is the subject of agitation all over the state.

Rev. Thomas Fraser, Presbyterian missionary, preaches in the court

Citizens discuss a plan to build a water tank thirty or forty feet high near
the flour mill to afford a gravity pressure for fire protection.

The two business streets of the town are sprinkled.

Mexicans are preparing for a bull and bear fight in the southern outskirts
of the town.

Local option loses in Tulare township because the returns from a pre-
cinct giving an anti-license majority of twenty-seven votes were sealed up
in the envelope marked "ballots" and so were not counted in the official
canvass. The unofficial count gave a majority of one against the saloons.

August 1, 1874 — Trains reach the north side of Kern river.

August 29, 1874 — The Southern Pacific is grading for the depot (at the
present site in East Bakersfield.) A large body of land in the vicinity has
been covered with indemnity scrip, and the railroad probably will lay out a

October 10, 1874 — The Bakersfield Fire Company meets to adopt a con-
stitution. N. R. Wilkinson is foreman; W. McFarland, assistant foreman;
A. T. Whitman, secretary; W. E. Houghton, treasurer. A fireman's ball is
planned for November 6th.

December 19, 1874 — Judge Brundage plants out eucalyptus trees about
his residence (at the northwest corner of H and Eighteenth streets).

Mining excitement at Panamint.

January, 1875 — The river is in flood and the only way to cross is by the
railroad bridge. No damage.

February, 1875 — Seven or eight Mexicans, supposed to have been led by
Chavez, one of Vasquez' lieutenants, rob the store of William Scodie about


five miles above Weldon on the South Fork. They tied Scodie, stole about
$800, a new outfit of clothing and a horse apiece and left toward Indian Wells.

\V. B. Carr expects to sow about 1500 acres of alfalfa this season. The
Southern Pacific engineers are struggling with the grade up Tehachapi. The
roadbed is built about fourteen miles east of Bakersfield.

February 27, 1875 — The Bakersfield brass band holds its third anniversary
ball. A revival is in progress at the Methodist church. The Good Templars
organize Kern Island lodge. Murders and robberies are constantly reported
throughout the county.

March, 1875 — Much building is going on in Bakersfield. Lumber is $40
per thousand, and brick are $10. The great Kernville gold ledge has been
traced for twenty-five miles. A thousand men are working on the railroad
grade to Tehachapi.

Bakersfield Tires of Being a City and Disincorporates

On February 27, 1875, the Kern County Courier announced that the
town government was a miserable failure. A large amount of money had
been collected in the form of licenses, the editor declared, but there was
little or nothing to show for it. If a beginning had been made toward build-
ing a sewer system or a municipal water works or if some other substantial
public improvement were in evidence, the incorporation of the city might be
justified, but there were none of these. This was the line of argument that
appeared in the press. Pioneers who were active in public affairs at the time,
however, say that the town was disincorporated to get rid of the marshal —
Alex Mills.

Alex Mills was one of the thousand or more picturesque characters that
have graced the history of Kern county and given it the pungent, preservative
spice of human interest. He was an old man, by the time he became marshal
of Bakersfield, and walked with a cane. But he was a Kentuckian, a handy
man with a gun and not lacking in initiative and resource when the mood
moved him. For example, once when he was given papers to serve in an
attachment suit against the Southern Pacific railroad, Alex chained a log
to the rails, sat down on it with his rifle in his hands and announced that he
had attached the track, the roadbed, and the right of way and there would
be nothing stirring over them until the judgment was satisfied. It was
promptly satisfied.

But these exhibitions of energy on the part of the town's historic marshal
seem not to have happened very often. Urged to relate what Alex did that
the town should want to get rid of his services, pioneers, one after another
declare, "Nothing. He just stumped around from one saloon to another and
at the end of the month he drew his seventy-six dollars." But diligent re-
search reveals the fact that Alex had a habit of telling the truth on unfelicitous
occasions. Perhaps he would stump into the office or store of a prominent
citizen and something like this conversation would ensue :

"Mr. Blank, suh, good morning."

"Good morning, Mr. Mills."

"Mr. Blank, suh, you're the pop-eyed progeny of a race of runts. Nature
never marks her critters wrong, suh. A pop-eyed man will steal, a pop-eyed
pup will suck eggs, and a pop-eyed woman will flirt with the hired help.

"Good morning, suh."

And the marshal would stump out.

Of course this is not what IMarshal Mills really said. His language was


apt to be too lurid and literal for the genteel purposes of print. But the
paraphrase furnishes some faint idea of the historic marshal's frank and
freehand ofifensiveness. Such means of recall as were then available were dis-
cussed by the good citizens, but they were assured by the undaunted Alex
that "you may remove me from my office, suh, but my constituents will
triumphantly elect me again," which everyone knew to be a fact.

And so the good citizens disguised the issue. They pleaded economy
and everything else that might suggest itself as an argument for disincor-
poration. A petition was duly circulated, duly signed by more than three-
fourths of the legal voters of the city, and the county supervisors, acting
under the law as it then existed, on January 4, 1876, declared that Bakers-
field was disincorporated. Samuel J. Lansing was appointed to close the
municipality's financial afifairs. On April 3, 1876, Lansing filed his report with
the county board, and Bakersfield was free from all restraint, expense and
contumely incident to city marshals until January 11, 1898, a respite of
twenty-two years, during which period Bakersfield and Kern county passed
through many experiences and were the scene of many stirring events, the
story of which must now be recounted.

The Contests Over Water Rights Begin

Referring back to the news items reproduced in the previous chapter it
will be noted that on August 23, 1873, appeared a legal notice to the effect
that the afifairs of the California Cotton Growers' Association, and Livermore
& Chester had been transferred to J. H. Redington ; that in November of the
same year J. C. Crocker and Miller & Lux were fencing in a great tract of
land between Buena Vista and Goose lakes and preparing to sow alfalfa ; that
in January, 1874, "the world-renowned Billy Carr, political Napoleon for the
Southern Pacific Railroad Company," was in Kern county looking over his
possessions here and planning how to increase them.

About 1874 Dr. George F. Thornton was getting the Bellvue and
McClung ranches established for J. B. Haggin. In the same year W. G.
Souther was having the big plow built at HoUister for use in completing
the reclamation of swamp land district No. Ill, a task which had been taken
over by the Kern Island Irrigation Canal Company, which was a Livermore
& Chester enterprise, now assigned to J. H. Redington. In March, 1876, Liver-
more mortgaged to William Houston 5736 acres of land for $60,000. On
October 1, 1877, Livermore mortgaged 9792.72 acres of Kern county land to
Redington for $97,000. On the same date another mortgage was executed
between the same parties involving 12,800 acres of land and $128,000. In
the same year, which was one of exceptional drought, Livermore & Chester
(as the concern continued to be known despite the transfers noted) are
credited by newspaper report with having spent $20,000 in the construction
of a dam of brush and gravel thrown across Kern river for the purpose of
turning the water into the Kern Island canal. On July 2, 1877, the Kern
Valley Water Company, of which J. H. Redington was president and H. P.
Livermore was secretary, made an agreement with the trustees of swamp land
district No. 116 or 121 (lying north of Buena Vista lake) to complete the



work of reclamation which the trustees of the district had begun. In March,
1877, Congress passed the desert land act, and work was begun on the
Calloway canal. In January, 1878, Livermore made another mortgage to
Redington covering 4480 acres for a consideration of $44,800. In 1878 the
Kern Valley Colony issued a prospectus offering seventeen sections of land
under the Kern Island canal for sale at $25 per acre in tracts of forty to
eighty acres at terms of one-fifth cash, with the balance in four annual pay-
ments; interest at nine per cent. For information apply to H. P. Livermore,
San Francisco, or Celsus Brower, Bakersfield.

In June, 1879, Livermore and Redington sold to J. B. Haggin the Cot-
ton ranch, comprising 729.03 acres in what is now the northwestern part of
the city of Bakersfield. The consideration was nothing. A previous deed
had conveyed all the other Livermore and Redington holdings in Kern
county to Haggin, and after the deal had been completed Redington threw
in this remaining body of land — now selling in town lots at $20 to $200 per
front foot — for good measure, and also, as there is good reason to suppose,
because he did not care to keep any souvenir of his Kern county investments.

Add to the foregoing the record of suit after suit filed against Livermore
& Chester, Livermore & Redington and the diiiferent parties individually by
Haggin & Carr, all dismissed or compromised, and you will have a fairly com-
plete syllabus of the complicated chapter in the history of Kern county
which bridges over the period during which Haggin & Carr and Miller &
Lux came to be the overshadowing factors in Kern county's development ;
during which Bakersfield's first hope of colonization came to naught, and
most of the remaining sections of valuable farming land in the valley portion
of the ciiunty were thoughtfully gathered up. The chapter includes, also, the
first bitter contests over the control of the waters of Kern river, and the
placing of the troops and batteries for the great battle that was to come
later on between the appropriators represented by Haggin and the riparianists
represented by Miller & Lux.

The Decline of Livermore & Chester

Livermore & Redington were wholesale druggists of San Francisco,
men of large wealth outside of their drug business, and are referred to by their
Kern county acquaintances as of most estimable character. From the start
their Kern county land investments were a side venture, and commanded
little of their personal attention. Livermore came to Bakersfield but seldom,
and Redington almost never. Taking them on their face, nothing could
have been more promising than the Kern county swamp land projects. The
early reclamation contracts, as we have seen, were taken on the basis of an
acre of land in return for moving two cubic yards of earth in the construction
of canals and levees. Ten or a dozen years later E. M. Roberts and H. W.
Broad took a contract to finish the Calloway canal at seven cents for moving
ordinary earth and nine cents for hardpan, and they made big money. The
haul is longer and heavier in building a big canal like the Calloway than in a
smaller canal like the Kern Island, and the earth moved in the former
averaged much heavier and harder to handle than was that in the latter. It
would seem that under normal circumstances and management the men \^ho
participated with Colonel Baker in the original contract for the reclamation
of district No. Ill should have secured their land at an outlay of ten or
fifteen cents per acre.

But many things combined to overturn what seemed to be perfectly laid


plans. Before the arrival of the railroad, materials of all kinds that had to be
shipped in were exceedingly high in price, and after the railroad came the
expected reductions in transportation charges were only partially realized.
Labor was scarce and inefficient. Drinking water from shallovv wells or
irrigation ditches resulted in a liberal infection of workmen with the microbe
of weariness, and eiTorts to drown the microbes in the bad liquors that
unlimited saloons dispensed were not wholly successful from all points of

Then it was an era of large ideas. The big plow that Souther had built
at Hollister was not his first nor largest invention of the kind. He built in
the Livermore & Chester shops at Bakersfield a plow designed to cut a furrow
five feet in width and three feet deep, whereas the Hollister plow cut a furrow
three feet wide and two feet deep. The top of the mould board of the first
plow was even with the head of a man on horseback. The depth of the
cut was controlled by a screw operated from a platform high over the shear,
and a long lever extending to the rear was used in keeping the furrow
straight. With forty yoke of oxen hitched to it the plow would cut through
4 Cottonwood root as thick as a fat man's arm and the shear and coulter
shaved a clean path through the thickets of button willows that grew along
the sloughs. The plow was perfectly designed and constructed, according to
men who saw its try-out, but the oxen walked so slowly that the earth
which the shear picked up was not carried out on the mould board but fell
back in the furrow as in the case of a plow that does not "scour." When the
bull whackers beat the cattle into a faster gait the plow made a clean furrow,
but the faster gait could not be maintained, and at the end of a twelve-mile
furrow it was evident that the big plow was almost as unsuited for ditch-
building as it would be for a watch charm.

Then Souther had the "little" plow built at Hollister. This could be
handled with forty head of mules, and the faster animals made the new plow
a success. Many of the smaller ditches about the delta were made with the
Hollister plow, but its use benefited chiefly the assigns of Livermore &

Fertile Causes of Litigation

In the early days of irrigation in Kern county it was the custom to
build wing dams of sand or of sand and brush in times when the river was
low to force the water into the canals. These wing dams would start just
below the head of the canal and extend at an angle upward and across the
river nearly to the farther bank. A freshet sufficient to raise the water above
the top of these dams would speedily melt them away, scattering the brush to
form impeding islands in the river bed, and the work would have to be re-
peated so soon as the river fell again. Before the Kern valley canal was finished
the cost of these wing dams had reached so great an aggregate that the
managers of the enterprise decided to move the intake higher up on the river.
This was done, the new intake being finished in 1874. The old south fork
channel, however, was still used in lieu of a canal, the water being turned
into the old channel from the new intake. Still later the head of the Kern
Island canal was moved still farther up the river, and an artificial canal sub-
stituted for the old natural channel south as far as the present mill. All
these changes were made the excuse for a number of law suits over water
rights, the questions involved turning on use, priority and the right of
riparian owners to have a natural water course maintained. The suits and the


questions involved were technical and of little interest to the average reader
except to suggest the numberless good opportunities for litigation that arose
while the waters of Kern river were being apportioned. Few such oppor-
tunities, it may be added, were allowed to pass unseized.

The agreement between the Kern Island Canal Company and the trustees
of the irrigation district was that the company should construct the canal
and necessary levees for $16,240, the company to own the canal and retain the
right to the use of the water, provided that the owner of swamp land should
be given one share of stock in the canal company for every fifty dollars which
his land paid into the reclamation fund, and provided that the owners of
swamp land in the district should have the preference right — or the exclusive
right in case they demanded it — to purchase the water in the canal at
rates which would net the canal comiiany a return not to exceed ten per cent
of its capital stock annually.

First Great Fight Over Water Rights

When the very dry year of 1877 came the former expedients to which
the Kern Island Canal Company had resorted to draw the water into its
ditch did not suffice, and the dam, which is alleged to have cost $20,000 was
built across the river. Not only were brush and sand used, but wooden
chutes were built against the shoulder of Panorama heights and gravel and
boulders were chuted down to the river edge to serve as more enduring bal-
last. Heavy timbers also were used to stay the waters, and the dam took
on so much the character of a permanent work that settlers and water users
over the entire delta from Bakersfield to Buena Vista lake were up in vigor-
ous protest against this alleged effort to monopolize the entire flow of the

It is profitless now, as well as difficult, to decide just where the right
and justice lay. Those who were close to Livermore say that the dam was
never intended to take all the water of the river and never did so. It was to
act merely as the present weirs do, and it was only for the purpose of
diverting into the Kern Island canal the ajnount of water which was due it
by right of prior appropriation. This right, they point out, was later estab-
lished and affirmed by the Miller-Haggin agreement and the Shaw decree,
and to this day the canal is entitled to its quota of water whenever there is
that much in the river and whether there is anything left for other canals
or not.

Partisans of Livermore go on to say that much of the outcry against the
Kern Island was raised by Carr, who had begun a systematic campaign to
oust Livermore and Redington from their commanding position on the river
and (like the astute and experienced politician that he was) sought to enlist
popular sentiment as one of the chief means for carrying out his ends.

■At any rate, it appears that about this time Carr was a prince of good
fellows. He was suffering as much as any of the smaller water users, but
he was willing to divide with everyone the little trickles that the monopolistic
Kern Island people permitted to come down past their works. In fact Carr
was the leader and ally of the anti-monopolists, and he was efficient and

The men who relate the story from the other side say that no objection

Online LibraryWallace Melvin MorganHistory of Kern 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 present; → online text (page 11 of 177)