Copyright
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

. (page 14 of 177)
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 14 of 177)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


letter to the United States district attorney stating that there are 1500
Chinese in Kern county who are not registered under the Geary law. It is
proposed to remove the Chinese, but by peaceable methods only.

September 21, 1893 — Fruit shippers catch seven men stealing fruit from
cars, and haul them out to a quiet place and spank them on the bare skin.
Fresh peaches are bringing $1 for a twenty-pound box in Chicago. The
freight is sixty-five cents per box, leaving the shipper thirty-five cents.



CHAPTER XI

The Great Lux-Haggin Water Suit

While the short but interesting preliminary between Carr & Haggin
and Livermore & Chester was being fought to a finish, Miller and Lux
were getting established in Kern county and gathering about them able
leaders and captains, of whom J. C. Crocker, S. W. Wible and Capt. John
Barker were types. Long before this time Miller & Lux had acquired great
ranches and ranges around Gilroy, along the San Joaquin river and far up
along the northern coast. In 1872, in conjunction with W. S. Chapman,
owner of the Chowchilla ranch, Miller & Lux as owners of the Columbia
ranch had begun a canal, the largest and longest in the state, which took
water from the San Joaquin river at the mouth of Fresno slough and
extended for seventy-five miles across Fresno and Merced and a part of
Stanislaus counties.

Miller's activities in Kern county (Miller was the active member of
the firm) were an extension of the operations along the San Joaquin. It
is not unlikely that Miller at some time had pleasant visions of a great
cattle and sheep ranch extending in an unbroken sweep through the rich,
black tule lands from Stockton to Bakersfield. During his fight with Haggin
& Carr, Miller is commonly reported as assuring them that he would make
them "pack their blankets out of Kern county," and there were not lacking
admirers of the doughty and vigorous old German who full)^ expected to
see him make his threat good.

Jim Crocker had been in Miller's employ on the San Joaquin and was
sent to Kern county to lay the foundations for the Miller occupancy here.
Crocker was the sort of a man Miller would be expected to choose for the
job. A quiet, self-contained man, but a good mixer in spite of his reserve
and a man of native force and personality that made him a natural leader.
He was bred to get up in the morning at 4 o'clock and go out on hard
jaunts with the vaqueros. Chasing down and breaking up organized bands
of horse and cattle thieves appears to have been his favorite pastime. If
a friend or fellow stockman was in trouble, financial or otherwise, Crocker
was ready to go on his bail to the extent of his possessions. Men rallied
to the standard of Crocker because of their friendship and confidence and
because they liked to fight with a fighter. The men who fought under
Carr's colors did so more usually because they believed their personal interest
lay in that direction. It was Carr's strong point of strategi', as we have



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 99

seen, to make the personal interest of many people lie in the same direction
as his own.

S. W. Wible, who figures prominently among the Miller forces in the
Miller-Haggin contest, was a pioneer of 1852, beginning his western experi-
ence as a miner and constructor of miners' canals and sluices and later under-
taking the management of larger water engineering enterprises. He came
to Kern county in 1874 and built a number of the early canals from Kern
river. When the Kern Valley Water Company was formed by Livermore,
Redington and others to undertake the reclamation of swamp land district
No. 121, Wible was placed in charge as engineer. Celsus Brower had charge
of the business affairs of the company. Wible built the great Kern Valley
Water Company's canal which extended north from Buena Vista lake for a
distance of some twenty-six miles, when first constructed, but which has
since been carried much further down the swamp and ultimately is to be
built through to Tulare lake. The canal follows the western edge of the
swamp and overflowed district, and was 125 feet wide on the bottom and cal-
culated to carry a stream seven feet in depth. It was designed to carry all
the waters of Kern river that might flow so far, and also was to serve as
the feeder for irrigation ditches that would cover 100,000 or more acres of
land. When ]\Iiller & Lux acquired the Kern Valley W^ater Company's
interests Wible went to the new management, as most of the men who
were prominent in the operation of Livermore & Redington's Kern Island
projects went over to Haggin & Carr when the latter came into possession of
those properties. Wible afterward became the general superintendent for
Miller & Lux. He was noted as one of the few men who stood in no awe
of Miller when the latter flew into his celebrated fits of passion. It is related
that on an occasion when Miller had made the discovery that one of his
warehouses had leaked and wet a great quantity of wool and was dividing
his time between furiously chopping hole after hole in the wall of the structure
and as furiously jumping on his hat when he found new evidences of de-
struction, Wible followed his employer along the warehouse wall and jumped
on the hat while Miller chopped the holes until the ludicrousness of the per-
formance finally appealed to the cattle king and appeased his wrath. In
his old age Wible lived true to his pioneer instinct. He was one of the
first to respond to the Alaskan mining boom, and summer after summer
he donned the great fur overcoat that identified him for years to strangers and
new comers, and sailed for the north to meet the melting of the snows above
his frozen placers.

Capt. John Barker got into the Miller-Haggin fight partly l^ecause he
was a riparian owner, although his lands were higher up on the river than
the intake of any of the irrigation canals, and partly because, like an old
war horse, he could not remain inactive when his nostrils caught the scent
of battle. Born in England and bred to the sea, he came to California on
the news of the first gold excitement, explored the upper San Joaquin valley
on horseback in 1854, fought in the Indian wars of Tulare county in 1856,
served in a troop of volunteer cavalry during war times, and came to Kern
county in the early 70s. He was a bluff, out-spoken man, a vitriolic writer
when his righteous wrath was stirred, and an ofT-hand orator, the sarcasm
of whose phrases was dulled only by the sledge-hammer method of their de-
livery. Captain Barker would roast his victim alive, pour carbolic acid over
his withered remains and end by quoting a few pages of Shakespeare, Byron



100 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

or Bobby Burns to give a classic flavor to his philippic. He entered no less
fervently into his friendships, and between his battles and his benefactions
Captain Barker left his record deeply drawn across the history of the county.
In his old age, crippled by infirmities, he used to ride about Bakersfield
and between the town and the mouth of Kern river canon, driving an old
white horse and a roomy phaeton, planning over old plans for the im-
provement of the Pierce and Barker ranches and the utilization of resources
and opportunities that still lie fallow, waiting till the time is ripe for the
fulfillment of the prophecies of the pioneer.

Leaders of the Carr & Haggin Forces

Incidental references in preceding pages have given some insight into
the character of W. B. Carr, the generalissimo of the Haggin forces. Fat,
aggressive, determined, absolutely unabashed, with bull-dog courage and
endurance, he was a typical political boss of the larger and more perfect type.
Frequently and fervently cursed and hated, he could walk into a saloon
in a hostile ward and in ten minutes have enough sworn allies to insure the
victory of his candidates. If a delegation of angry farmers in the days of
the bitter water troubles came after Carr with the intention of puncturing
him with bullets or stringing him up to a high-branching cottonwood, he met
them with an outstretched hand and slaps on their backs and sent them away
wreathed in smiles of hope and assurance. Moreover, Carr had the valuable
instinct that showed him to a nicety when it was necessary to dispense good
coin and valuable favors and when mere promises would suffice. Carr was
a finished performer and a skillful tutor, and later actors on the Kern county
stage sat at his feet and learned to do politics in the scientific, metropolitan
style.

Walter James figured in the water disputes, in court and out, mainly
as an expert witness. His long and intimate association with everything
that had to do with the appropriation and use of Kern river's waters from
1870 down, aided by a retentive memory and a logical, consecutive manner
of stating the salient facts concerning a subject made him invaluable as an
authority, and no investigation of water or water rights was complete until
Walter James had been examined and cross-examined and with a little nasal
drawl and imperturbable deliberation had told just how and why it all
happened and came to pass. It is difficult to say whether Walter James
in his long record in Kern county shines more as an engineer or as a
diplomat, but he is hard to out-class in either capacity.
Heads of the Rival Literary Bureaus

Dozens of portraits of interesting actors in the great drama of the Kern
river water contest might be added to this little gallery of character sketches,
but I shall attempt but two more — those of the chiefs of the rival literary
bureaus that flooded the state with syndicated editorials and syndicated sup-
plements setting forth the rival arguments of appropriators and riparian
owners and the history, law, custom and usage touching the utilization of
water for any and all purposes since Noah launched the ark on the diluvian
seas.

In addition to his numerous other activities Julius Chester, in the days
of his ascendency in Kern county, founded the Southern Californian and was
its editor for a number of years. Like the other weeklies of the pioneer days,
the Southern Californian was stronger as an organ of personal opinion than



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 101

it vyas as a purveyor of news, and Uncle Julius, as he was called by rival
editors, was as handy as the best of them in the use of the king's English.
He was almost as diplomatic and persuasive in his writing as he was in
his speech, and how effective he was in the latter may be gathered from an
incident that is related as the truth by a veracious citizen of the time. Uncle
Julius had used some of his best literary art in writing up a certain very
undesirable citizen, and the day following the appearance of the paper on
the street he was sitting comfortably in his ofifice with his feet on the desk
when the undesirable citizen appeared. His eye was wild, his breath was
laden with liquor and he waved a big six-shooter before the editor's stomach
in a very promiscuous manner while he talked.

"Get your feet down from there because I'm going to kill \-ou," the bad
citizen commanded.

Uncle Julius recognized that if the bad citizen had really intended to
kill him a little matter of his feet being on the desk need not have interfered,
and he asked what the trouble was all about as coolly and pleasantly as
though it were only an advertiser wanting to know why his announcement
did not appear to the top of the page next to pure reading matter as per
contract.

"You know blanked well what the matter is," said the bad citizen, "that
there thing you wrote about me in your paper."

Chester took his feet down deliberately, deliberately found a copy of
the paper, sat down, put his feet on the desk again, adjusted his glasses and
began to read the offending article aloud.

He stopped at the end of the first paragraph. "I don't see anything the
matter with that, Tom," he said. "That's all so, aint it?"

"Yes," said Tom, "that's all so, but you read on farther."

Chester read another paragraph, and repeated his question as to the
accuracy of the narrative.

Tom indicated with his gun that the most offensive portion of the story
was to be found still farther down, and Chester read on. When he got to the
bottom of the last paragraph Tom had admitted that every assertion in the
red hot arraignment — and it was red hot — was true, and the two men went
out and had a drink together.

Chester in these days had descended from his former position of prin-
cipal factor in the county's industry and commerce, his property was slip-
ping out of his hands or had previously escaped, and he was constantly being
sued for debt. His fighting instinct never forsook him, and during the
latter part of his journalistic career he was engaged, a very large share of
his time in putting the county officials on the spit and turning them slowly
and scientifically over the coals of incandescent journalism. The county
officials winced in patience at first, but after Chester was known to be on the
financial toboggan they joined gleefully in pelting him on his way to the
bottom. Everything Chester had was attached over and over. Once he
was arrested on a charge of stealing corn from a Chinaman, but that prob-
ably was only a fair offset to the defamatory charges which Chester heaped
upon them. The corn theft case was dismissed. But finally Chester's presses
and type were attached and sold to A. C. Maude, and Chester was able
to retain possession of them only by showing that they had been leased to
George ^^'■ear, another of the picturesque and notable newspaper men of the
county, who figures more prominently at a little later date, ^^'ear held down



102 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

the outfit, and Chester continued to publish the Southern Californian and to
berate the county officials. Maude, who claimed that he had bought not
only the outfit but the name of Chester's paper, began publication of the
Kern County Californian, with Richard Hudnut as editorial writer and news-
gatherer in chief. Finally Wear sold his lease to a printer by name of Warren
and a school teacher by name of Vrooman. For a time the latter kept a guard
over the shop by night as well as by day, but one evening Maude's forces
inveigled the guard away and captured the shop.

With nothing left but the name of his paper, Chester took himself to
San Francisco and issued the Southern Californian from there until the close
of the political campaign that ended with the defeat of what he was pleased
to call the Reed ring, and the election of B. Brundage, the opponent of
Judge Reed, to be the first judge of the superior court of Kern county. Judge
Reed had been judge of the county court, but that office was abolished by
the change in the constitution.

Richard Hudnut was a highly educated and very dignified man. His
writing was silkier than Chester's, and he had such an easy, refined and
polished way of flaying his victim that after the victim was flayed he knew
that he had lost his hide, but had in his mind only a vague, circumstantial
suspicion that it was Hudnut who had skinned him. When Chester was
charged with stealing the Chinaman's corn Hudnut mourned over him in
paragraph after paragraph as one might mourn over the grave of misled
innocence.

It will be appreciated readily that in a fight like the one which the great
water contest occasioned, where it was necessary to depict everyone on the
other side as a red-handed pirate, a dark-alley thug and a horse thief, the
peculiar accomplishments of Hudnut and Chester were invaluable. More-
over, both Hudnut and Chester had all the history of Kern county water
rights at their fingers' ends, and when they were established at Sacramento
with the money of the two rival corporations behind them, respectively, they
poured out a class and quantity of militant, journalistic literature that marks
a milestone in the newspaper history of the state.

Still another journalistic factor was injected into the great fight. When
the issue was fairly joined between the riparianists and the appropriators, in
1886, the Kern County Echo was founded by a company of farmers and
business men, who gathered one day at the old Burnap drug store and
decided that there was still a third side to the great question and that a
new organ should be established to advocate it. Capt. John Barker was sent
to San Francisco to buy the plant, and S. C. Smith, then a young lawyer of
Bakersfield, afterward state senator and still later congressman from the
eighth district, was elected managing editor. Through the controversy the
Echo urged that neither appropriators nor riparian owners be given a mon-
opoly of the water of the river, but that the state retain the ownership in
trust for the people and that the use of the water be permitted for irrigation
and other purposes under state regulation and control. Water is one of the
elements and is no more a proper object of monopoly than is the air, was
the gist of the Echo's persistent argument during those days.
The Great Water Suit

The great water suit, known by the title "Lux versus Haggin," not
only marks an epoch in the history of Kern county, but marks an epoch, also,
in the history of irrigation in the state of California. It began with little



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 103

more notice from the public than any of the other hundred or more suits
that had been filed by rival claimants to the waters of Kern river, but before
it had gone far local people realized that this was the battle royal, and
before it was finally dismissed it had focussed the attention of the state,
ranged practically every California newspaper of general circulation on one
side or the other, resulted in the calling of two state irrigation conventions
and a special session of the legislature, and started a movement to amend
the state constitution so that the supreme court, which rendered an unpopular
decision in connection with the suit, might be reorganized. The latter
movement did not succeed.

In brief, the contention of the plaintiffs was tliat the}- were the owners
of riparian lands along the lower reaches of Kern river, that Kern river was
a natural stream flowing in an established and continuous channel through
their lands, and that under the common law of England they were entitled
to have the waters of the river flow over, through and upon their lands,
undiminished in quantity and unimpaired in quality.

The defendants claimed that they were entitled by right of appropriation
to divert the waters from the river for purposes of irrigation, to develop
water power, and for domestic and other purposes. It was a contest, in short,
between riparian rights and the right of appropriation. In addition to set-
ting forth the rights of the plaintilifs the complaint alleged that the defend-
ants, by diverting the water in their canals had rendered the lands of the
plaintiffs dry and barren to such an extent that their cattle had neither
grass to eat nor water to drink.

The papers in the suit were drawn in San Francisco and sent here to
be filed in the superior court on September 2, 1880. On the morning of
April 15, 1881, the trial began with Judge B. Brundage on the bench and a
formidable array of counsel for both parties before the bar. Louis Haggin
was in charge of the case for the defendant, and was assisted by John Garber
and George Flournoy, Sr., father of the present justice of the peace of the
sixth township of Kern county. Hall McAllister was nominally the chief
counsel for Lux, but R. E. Houghton, then a comparatively young attorney,
was the active man and really the one who outlined and carried on the
campaign.

The reporters of the day declared that the testimony, the taking of
which consumed forty-nine days, was tedious and uninteresting, but it is
suspected that they were too close to the scene to realize in full its dramatic
interest or even its numerous comedy features. The witnesses included
everybody in the county who was supposed to know anything about the his-
tory and habits of Kern river, the locations of its various courses and the
dates when these courses were changed, or anything concerning the appro-
priation of water from the river, and in addition to these, sundry expert wit-
nesses who had read in books what happened in Calcutta or what the river
Nile did in the days of the Pharaohs and whose testimony was duly objected
to because they had not been present at the times and places mentioned nor
seen with their own eyes the things they pretended to describe.

Walter James, chief engineer for Haggin. and S. W. Wible, superin-
tendent and engineer for Miller & Lux, were the star performers and spent
day after day on the witness stand, mainly under cross-examination. Mean-
time all the attorneys whittled redwood shingles, and it was a part of the
unofficial duties of the sheriff to see that the supply of timber never ran low.



104 HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY

John Garber carried a potato in his pocket for luck, and developed a habit of
taking it out and shaking it at the witness when he asked a question of
especial moment. R. E. Houghton, on a like occasion would stand up, reach
across the table and dip his pen in the ink as though he intended forthwith
to write the answer down in plain black and white so that it could never
be denied, altered or evaded evermore. The witnesses were even more eccen-
tric and picturesque. An old man by name of Stevens, who came from the
head of the South Fork valley, made a speech in response to every question
that was put to him, and finally as he was leaving the stand he swept his
long arm out over the big assemblage of pioneers who crowded the space
behind the attorneys and remarked : "I'm gettin' to be an old man, and I don't
know if I'll ever see you all here together again; and I want to say to you
now, while I've got you all together, that I'm the oldest settler in Kern
county." Of course one of the attorneys took an exception to the statement
and asked that it be stricken from the records.

Each evening when court was adjourned for the day the attorneys and
many of the witnesses for Haggin were driven to headquarters at Bellevue
where the walls beneath the spacious porches were lined with maps and
diagrams. Here the net results of the day's testimony were reviewed, and
engineers, zanjeros and scouts of all descriptions were sent out to get what-
ever evidence was needed to fill in the gaps.

In the meantime, if the local papers were not doing much in the way
of reporting the trial they were sparing no effort to prove what the judgment
of the court should be. Despite all efforts to put him out of business, Julius
Chester was still editing the Southern Californian, and was presenting through
its columns the contentions of the riparianists as represented by Miller &
Lux. The Californian, owned by A. C. Maude and edited by Richard Hudnut,
was doing no less valiant service for Haggin. But the choicest language of
which these masters were possessed they saved for rhetorically pummelling
each other.

The last witness was heard on June 2, 1881, and all the testimony, when
it was written up, made a stack of paper four feet high. For the convenience
of the lawyers the court consented to hear the arguments in San Francisco.
The speech-making began on June 20th, and on November 3d, Judge Brun-
dage rendered his decision in favor of Haggin, which was to the effect that
the appropriators were entitled to the water of the river as against the riparian-
owners, represented by Lux. Of course Miller & Lux appealed to the supreme
court, and forthwith in Kern county there began a fierce political campaign
to re-elect Judge Brundage on the one hand and to defeat him on the other.

Kern River Plays Another Prank

We have seen heretofore in the course of this narrative that Kern river
seemed possessed of a certain titanic sense of humor, and none will be sur-
prised to read that while the supreme court took its time in considering a
mass of evidence, a gist of which was that neither party to the suit was
willing to let the other have any water, the river began to increase its flow,
and in the early part of 1884 the two chief parties to the suit were engaged
in a fiercer fight than ever to keep the swollen river from flooding their lands,
even though it involved turning the excess waters over on the other.

As indicated in his statement referred to in the previous chapter, Haggin
had reclaimed the beds of Kern and Buena Vista lakes and had built the
Goose lake canal to carry off any excess water that the Calloway and other



HISTORY OF KERN COUNTY 105

irrigation canals could not handle. The Goose lake canal led off to the nurth,



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 14 of 177)