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 15 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 15 of 177)
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and on the south side of the river Haggin had built the Cole levee farther to
prevent the river from breaking over and flooding his reclaimed lake bottoms.

By far the greater part of Haggin's reclaimed lands lay to the south of the
river, and by far the greater part of Miller & Lux's reclaimed lands lay to the
north. The latter had built levees along the north bank to protect their
lands, and had constructed the great Kern Valley Water Company's canal
to carry any excess waters off to the north of their cultivated fields.

As the snows melted in the mountains and the river lapped higher and
higher against the levees it became a most absorbing question as to whether
the waters would break on Miller's side or on Haggin's. They broke on
Haggin's side on ]\Iay 17, 1884, and in a few hours there was a hole in the
Cole levee forty feet wide and through it a stream of muddy water, twenty
feet deep, was rushing to cover all the lands that Haggin had reclaimed with
so great expense.

There were great forces of men on the Haggin ranches in those days, and
in very short order Billy Carr, Walter James, C. L. Conner, Dave Coffee and
other superintendents and foremen for miles around were dispatching work-
men, teams, scrapers, shovels and sand bags to the break. With the bags
of sand the broken ends of the levee were rip-rapped to prevent further
washing, and a row of piling was driven across the break.

Early in these proceedings Henry Miller arrived with R. E. Houghton.
Having a suit in the supreme court in which their contention was that they
were entitled to have the full flow of the river run over, through and upon
their lands at all times, ]\Iiller and his attorney were hardly in a position to ob-
ject to Haggin's men repairing a break in their levee that would tend to throw
the full force of the stream over on Miller & Lux. But Houghton was fully
equal to the emergency. It happened that Miller owned forty acres of land
in the bed of Buena \^ista lake (surrounded by the Haggin sections) and
Miller set up the claim that he was entitled to have the river flow unhindered
over, through and upon this land, also.

Miller strode up to the break in the levee where Walter James was
superintending the driving of the piles. "\\'hat are you doing here? \\'hat
are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I'm just carrying out my instructions," drawled ^^'alter James in his
imperturbable manner. "We thought we'd put a few piles in here, because
we may want to build a bridge across, or something."

"Well, I don't want you to stop my water. I don't want you to stop my
water. Do you understand? I don't want you to stop my water," shouted
Miller. "Have a cigar, Mr. James."

So soon as the train could take him back to San Francisco, Houghton
went to Judge Hunt of the superior court, and on a petition setting forth that
Miller was the owner of a piece of land, to wit, forty acres, etc., and that
whereas when the waters of Kern river were allowed to flow over it unhin-
dered, etc., large quantities of tules and other plants and grasses valuable for
feed grew thereon, and whereas one Haggin had a force of men at work with
piles, a pile driver, brush, etc., endeavoring to restrain the said water from
flowing over Miller's said land, etc., and whereas Miller would be greatly
damaged, etc., etc., an injunction was duly secured.

By the time the injunction was served the ends of the levee were pretty
well protected with sand bags, and most of the piling had been driven, but
the water was flowing through the break almost as rapidly as ever.


Walter James was out at the levee when a telegram arrived ordering
him to make all speed to San Francisco. He jumped on the horse that brought
the inessenger, galloped to Bellevue, and found there another horse saddled
and waiting. A man thrust into his hand a purse of money. "The gates are
all wide open," they shouted, and James was off for the Southern Pacific
depot. He got there fifteen minutes late, but the train was an hour behind
time, and he walked over to the hotel. The first man he saw was S. W.

"Hello, James," said Wible, "where are you going?"

"I'm just going down to the city for a few days," said James.

"Well, that's funny," said Wible, "I'm just going down to the city myself.
Come in and let's have a drink."

In San Francisco the next morning James assured Louis Haggin that
if he had a free hand and all the resources of the Haggin ranches at his
command he could stop the break in the Cole levee in twenty-four hours.
Haggin told him to take the first train back to Bakersfield, and to look for a
telegram at Lathrop. Meantime the lawyer would undertake to get Judge
Hunt's injunction lifted, and if he succeeded he would send a message to
Lathrop reading, "Make the trip."

It was no small task to get the injunction set aside for the reason that
after he had issued it Judge Hunt had gone on a fishing trip back into the
mountains, leaving orders for nobody to interfere with any matter in his
court. during his absence. Louis Haggin, however, prevailed on another
judge to set aside Judge Hunt's order, and James got his telegraphic instruc-
tion to "Make the trip."

On the journey home James laid out his campaign, and on his arrival
at Bellevue orders were dispatched in all directions. Florence Gleason with
a gang of men was already at the gap in the levee filling sand bags. Word
was sent to C. L. Connor to report at once at the levee with all his men. J. E.
Yancey and Frank Collins with the crews under them were to follow a little
later, and still later were to come C. W. Jackson and the men from the Poso
ranch. There were enough men, altogether, to keep* fresh shifts at work at
the gap all day and all night.

The camp previously established en the levee was enlarged to accommo-
date no less than five hundred men. Lender the direction of Dave Cofifee the
hoisting engine used in driving piles was rigged to haul wagons loaded with
sand along the levee. Heavy cables were laced back and forth among the piles,
and the work of building in a wall of sand bags to stop the rushing flood
proceeded with system and dispatch.

"But R. E. Houghton never overlooked anything," said Walter James
in telling the story. While Louis Haggin was getting rid of Judge Hunt's
injunction in San Francisco, Houghton was getting another, injunction out of
the superior court of Napa county. This was issued at the request of George
Cornwell, who owned a small piece of land on the south side of the river
and many thousands on the north side and who made the same representation
as Miller had made before Judge Hunt.

Wible was less than a da}- behind James, but when he had reached
Bakersfield, and came dashing down the road along the Cole levee with his
Napa county injunction and Sherifif Coons, James and his great crew of men
were swarming over the levee like human ants, working in a frenzy of haste
to place the last sand bags that would stop the torrent of water.


Every superintendent from the Haggin ranches in Kern county was there,
with Billy Carr in personal command. The sheriff waved the injunction and
ordered the work stopped, but everyone was too busy to hear. It was an
intense moment, for many months of work, tens of thousands of dollars, and
(what was almost more than either for the men of fighting blood who were
ranged on either side) victory or defeat in the contest depended on a few
more minutes of time.

Sheriff Coons handed the injunction to Carr and explained its purport,
but Carr had to read the document, and his glasses were over in the tent.
He went to the tent, got his glasses, sat down and read the injunction and
the complaint which accompanied it. All the while Wible was enjoining haste.
When Carr finished studying the order of the court he desired James to read it,
and James read it, quite as slowly and carefully as Carr had done. Wible
stormed over to where Dave Coffee was rushing in the sand bags with
redoubled haste and energy, and commanded him to desist in the name of
the law. But Coft'ee knew nothing of law or injunctions and he kept right
on shoving the sand bags down to the men who were building them, now,
just above the surface of the yellow water. Finally Carr sauntered back from
the tent, saw that the gap in the levee was closed and the bags of sand rose
clear and dry above the surface, and held up his hand as a signal uf submission
to the court's decree.

But one thing had not been done. James had buried logs, or "dead men"
on the upper side of the levee and had attached to them loops of cable ready
to slip over the tops of the piling to help them carry the great weight of the
water pressing on the narrow dam. But these loops of cable had not been
adjusted, and the upper ends of the piling were without support. For a little
while the piles and the wall of sand bags stood, and then, as the water low-
ered on the outer side, they leaned and swayed ; the sand-bag wall splashed
out of sight, the broken piles bobbed merrily to the surface, and the yellow
flood leaped through the breech once more to spread over section after section
of Haggin's reclaimed swamp land, and "undiminished in quantity and unim-
paired in quality," flowed over, through and upon Miller's forty acres of
Buena Vista lake bottom until it was covered a dozen or fifteen feet in depth,
and it remained covered until the wild geese came and went and went and
came again.

On July 5th, more than a month after the wall of sand bags washed out,
the water was still pouring thruugh the Cole levee upon Haggin's land
at the rate of 3000 cubic feet per second.

But R. E. Houghton never overlooked anything. On July 26th he had
W. B. Carr and Walter James haled before the court of Napa county to
show cause why they should not be punished for contempt of court for
consuming a quarter of an hour in reading the court's injunction.

"Did you have any thought in your mind, 'Sir. Carr." said the Napa
lawyer who appeared for Houghton, "that you might profit by the delay you
were causing?"

"Not in the least," said Carr.

"Of course not." said the Napa lawyer with fine sarcasm.

The Napa judge let Carr and James off with a mild admonition, but
Judge Hunt was more obdurate. He declared that no court had any authority
to set aside his injunction, and that all the time the five hundred men were


rushing sand bags into the break they were in contempt. "The defendants
are fined $1000 each."

Supreme Court Decides for Riparianists

Another victory was coming to the Miller forces. The same issue of the
Haggin & Carr paper that contained the short paragraph about the Cole
break and the San Francisco injunction carried an equally short paragraph
stating that the great water suit had been resubmitted. It took until October
27, 1884, for the supreme court to reach a final decision, and the remittitur
was not filed in this county until May 28, 1886, but not to make the story long,
the supreme justices, or a majority of them, found that Judge Brundage had
committed an error in not allowing certain testimony on the part of the
defense that would have made but little diiiference, probably, in the main
issue. But accompanying their order was a most important expression of
opinion to the effect that the English common law respecting riparian rights
governed the use of water in the state of California. In other words, as the
Chester and Hudnut literary bureaus soon after made the whole state aware,
the owner of land on the banks of a natural water course was entitled to
have all the waters of the stream flow over and through his land, undiminished
in quantity and unimpaired in quality. That meant that nobody could take
water out of a stream in an irrigating ditch and spread it over his land, for
if he did so, certainly he could not restore it again to its natural channel, un-
diminished and unimpaired, or either.

Of course every irrigator in the state sat up and howled, and it was not
very long before an active and able politician like Billy Carr had them
organized and holding big irrigation conventions, first at Riverside and then
at Fresno, and drafting laws for submission to the state legislature that were
calculated to send the doctrine of riparian rights back to England on the
first tramp steamer that left the Golden Gate.

Carr did more. He went to work quietly among the members of the
state legislature and before Miller's men knew what was going on he had
the signatures of about two-thirds of them appended to a petition asking the
governor to call a special sess'ion of the legislature and virtually pledging
themselves to enact into law the measures framed at the two irrigation con-

Governor Calls Legislature Together

Armed with this petition and reinforced by a stalwart bunch of his
friends from Kern county and elsewhere, Carr met Governor Stoneman at a
hotel in San Francisco. Everybody had a good time, and the governor, who
was a veteran of the Union army, distinguished and endeared himself in the
eyes of Carr's southern followers by consuming without a quiver more mint
julips than any man in the crowd from below the Mason and Dixon line
could carry off. Before the evening was over the call for the special session
of the legislature was signed.

This was in July, 1886, but meantime Kern county had gone through
another political campaign (the hottest and most vindictive, perhaps, which
was ever waged in the valley) in which the issue turned on the election of
the superior judge before whom the great water suit should come for re-trial.
Brundage, of course, was supported by the Haggin & Carr forces, and all of
Miller's strength was thrown behind Judge Arick. The latter was victorious
by the scant majority of four votes.

Meantime, too, the whole state was being flooded with the fruits of the


labors of Chester and Hudnut and other writers of the Miller & Lux and
Carr & Haggin literary bureaus. Supplements treating the water question
from Miller's side were furnished free to every paper of importance in the
state that would handle them. The next week an equally copious flood of
Haggin supplements descended on the readers. Plain print was seconded by
whole page, colored cartoons, and these in addition to being sent to the
papers were posted on the dead walls about the towns like circus announce-

The extra session of the legislature convened in August, 1886, and with
the din of a state-wide battle in their ears, the members of the assembly
passed the irrigation bills as per schedule. But the senate balked. It would
not defeat the bills nor would it pass them, and on September 11, 1886, the
legislature adjourned with the question of water legislation immersed a
thousand fathoms deep in statu quo.

It was sometime during the events recorded in this chapter that Henry
Miller made the important discovery and confided it to a friend that "plenty
of money makes a good politician."

How much money it took to make the very high grade politicians that
fought each other to a stand still in the legislature of 1886, the author has
not been able, even approximately, to ascertain, but battles like the one over
the judgeship and battles like that at Cole's levee were evidently so immensely
expensive that both Haggin & Carr and Miller & Lux wished for peace. The
big suit fell to Judge Arick to try, but he granted a petition for a change of
venue to Tulare county, which the supreme court sustained, and there the
case lay until all the points involved in the contest were settled to the satis-
faction of both parties by the celebrated Miller-Haggin agreement.
Miller-Haggin Agreement Ends Litigation

This agreement, which was signed on July 28, 1888, and which bears the
signatures of thirty-one corporations and fifty-eight individuals owning water
rights at the time on Kern river, practically divided the waters of the stream
between Miller & Lux and Haggin and the diiTerent canal companies that
were represented by them. The length of the document is fully commensurate
with its importance and the number of parties interested, but as it was later
incorporated into the findings of the Shaw decree, issued by Judge Lucien
Shaw of Los Angeles sitting in the superior court of Kern county in 1895,
and has been made a part of every deed executed by either of the two great
land owners of the county since then, a scant summary of its provisions here
is justifiable.

The agreement begins by recognizing that certain of the parties
have riparian rights, and that certain other of the parties have
-vested rights by appropriation against all the world except the aforesaid
riparian owners. This point settled, the agreement provides that the parties
of the first part, represented by Miller, shall have one-third of all the waters
of the river during the months of March, April, May, June, July, and August
of each year, and that the parties of the second part, represented by Haggin.
shall have all the remainder.

It provides for the measurement and delivery of the water, and for the
construction of the Buena Vista Lake reservoir, covering approximately
thirty-six sections of land. The two parties join in this undertaking, sharing
equally the expense of construction, repair and maintenance. The two parties
also share equally the expense of building the levees necessary to carry the


water of the river from the second point of measurement to the reservoir, and
of building an outlet canal from Buena Vista lake to the Kern Valley Water
Company's canal. Both parties agree to join in suit against any person or
persons who attempt to divert any water from the river above the second
point of measurement, and each is to bear half the expense of such litigation.
All pending suits between the two parties were to be dismissed. The agree-
ment is made a perpetual covenant, running with all the land owned or claimed
by any of the parties within the territory described in the contract.


First Attempt at Colonization

The first effects of the settlement of the contests over water rights by
means of the Miller-Haggin agreement were to stiffen land values in all the
irrigated portion of the county, and to bring to a head the plans of Haggin
and his associates for subdividing their lands and placing them on the market.
The inevitable great expense of developing water rights, building canals and
improving large ranches had been increased enormously by the outlays con-
nected with the water contests with Livermore and Chester and then with
Miller & Lux and by the expensive political campaigns incident thereto, and
by the summer of 1888 the expenditures of Haggin and Tevis in their Kern
county ventures had reached a huge aggregate. Meantime the growing of
cotton and hops had not proven remunerative on account of the large labor
cost and the failure of the attempts to secure low-priced workmen, and the
same difficulty seemed to place a bar across other avenues to profit through
agricultural activities on a vast scale. Lloyd Tevis, it is remembered, was
a banker, and from the viewpoint of a banker who keeps tab on the amount
of money invested and the amount of interest which it should bring in at
current rates, the Kern county property of Haggin & Carr certainly did not
look very hopeful.

Hence the decision to colonize the Haggin lands. But from the start
differences arose between the parties interested as to the exact methods of
procedure. According to seemingly reliable statements, it appears that Carr
was skeptical about the wisdom of beginning the land sales at all just at
that time, and he interposed strenuous objections to parting with any of the
lands which had been planted to alfalfa or otherwise brought into a revenue
producing condition. He objected, also, it is said, to selling the most desir-
able of the lands, which generally were those south of Bakersfield under the
Kern Island canal. L. C. McAfee and C. Brower, managers of the sales de-
partment under the name of the Land Department of J. B. Haggin, proposed
making certain improvements on the lands before offering them for sale,
and employing a superintendent to advise and instruct the colonists in the
management of their farms and orchards so that fewer mistakes would be
made through inexperience. But all this involved more expenditures, and the
plan did not meet with favor from those who had to sign the checks.

Still other points of difference arose. S. W. Fergusson, who had estab-
lished a reputation as a boomer of real estate subdivisions, was sent to take
charge of the Haggin colonization, and clashes of authority arose between
him and Carr. For example, Carr and Fergusson differed as to the proper size
for the irrigation ditches that were built through the colonies. Gradually


Fergusson superseded Carr in the control of different departments of the
Haggin activities, and it was not in Carr's nature to like a second place. In
the end Carr sold out his interest, and the Kern County Land Company
succeeded to Haggin & Carr. But these initial elements of failure in the
colonization project were under the surface, and the people of Bakersfield
rejoiced over the prospect that at last the great land holdings that had
hedged the town about and impeded its growth and development were to be
broken up. It was like opening the throttle to the pent up energies of the
community, and new enterprises began to spring into life as the restraint was
removed. There were other incentives to hope and progress. At a banquet
tendered him by the citizens of Bakersfield. General Beale announced that
he had plans for the colonization of the Tejon ranch; the Southern Pacific
was grading the Porterville branch railroad; the railroad shops were being
moved to Sumner, and more and more confidence was being placed in the
constant report that the \'alley railroad was soon to be built.

Many Plans for Progress

Under the influence of all these better prospects the Southern Hotel
.Association began the construction of its first building at the corner of
Nineteenth street and Chester avenue ; L. P. St. Clair and O. O. Mattson
undertook the construction of a gas and electric lighting system ; H. H.
Fish, H. A. Blodget and T. J. Packard launched their plans for building a
street railway system, and citizens of the town and land owners of the sur-
rounding country subscribed a fund of $3000 for advertising the county at
Los Angeles, then as now the distributing point for the Eastern home-seekers.
In the spring of 1899 the Postal Telegraph Company completed its line to
Bakersfield, the people of the county voted by 852 to 381 to bond the county
for $250,000 for public improvements including an addition to the court house,
a new jail, a county hospital and the grading and improving of many roads
in different parts of the county.

Fire Wipes Out Business Section

In the midst of all these evidences of progress and while Bakersfield
was looking forward with greater hope and expectancy than ever before in
its history, came the fire of July 7, 1889, and wiped the business part of the
little city clean. The business section of Bakersfield was confined in those
days to the area bounded on the west by I street, on the south by Seven-
teenth, on the east by M, and on the north by Twentieth. Practically every-
thing within these limits was destroyed.

The fire started in or near N. E. Kelsey's residence on Twentieth street
about midway between Chester and I street, just back of where the Bank of
Bakersfield now stands, or about on the spot where the rear quarter of the
bank building is located. J\lrs. Kelsey was getting the Sunday dinner on a
gasoline stove, but as to further details of how the building caught fire
reports differ widely. The volunteer fire department responded to the alarm
with ordinary promptness, and hitched the suction hose of the Silsby steam
fire engine to the old cast iron hydrant that still stands in front of the Southern
Hotel at Nineteenth and Chester. This' hydrant connected with the old Scrib-
ner water system, which was supplied by pumps and wells located at the
southeast corner of Seventeenth street and Chester avenue. The small mains
and the light engine, however, were insufficient to provide a stream that would
check the flames. There was no wind, and the smoke and flames for a time


mounted straight upward. In a very little time the fire spread to the Kelsey
furniture and undertaking establishment on the corner where the Bank of

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 15 of 177)