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 3 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 3 of 177)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a truer perspective, I am giving in this initial chapter of the history of Kern
county as clear and comprehensive a picture as I ma_v of what the county
is today and of what the people of the county are looking forward to in the
development of the next few years.

A map of the county shows at a glance its general geographical form
and character, an area of 5,184,000 acres, in form a rectangular parallelo-
gram with the southwest corner hacked off by a jagged line which con-
forms roughly to the crest of the Coast range mountains that separate
Kern from its neighbor, San Luis Obispo, on the west. The north line of the
county, one hundred and thirty-six miles in length, stretches due east and
west nearly half the distance across the state and forms the southern boun-
daries of Kings and Tulare counties and a little more than twenty miles
of the southern boundary of Inyo county. This same line projected to the east
constitutes the boundary between Inyo and San Bernardino counties, and
to the west constitutes the boundary between San Luis Obispo and Mon-
terey. It is practically identical with the sixth standard parallel line south,
and moreover it forms the only straight line of political subdivision across
the map of California. For the latter reason this line marks the place where
the advocates of separate statehood for Southern California would draw
the knife were they given permission to carve the Golden State in twain — an
event of which the small prospects of realization are not likely to be increased
by the sentiment of the present population of Kern county.

The south line of Kern county, lying sixty-six miles south of and parallel
to the north line, is one hundred and two miles in length, and forms the
northern boundaries of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The county's
east line cuts north and south through dry salt lakes, dead, forgotten ranges


of hills, and great wastes of level, barren sands, slicing off from San Ber-
nardino county for the benefit of Kern a great triangle from the western edge
of the Alojave desert with its lonesome wildernesses, its bewildering mirages,
its mocking, brackish waters, its great beds of coarser chemicals, and its
recklessly strewn treasures of gold and tungsten. The base and altitude of
this triangle, which fits into the southeastern corner of the county, are approx-
imately sixty miles each. Its hypothenuse is roughly marked by the eastern
slopes of the Sierras, where the great range near its southern end curves
westward toward the sea. In the history of Kern county this desert triangle
was the last and least tu be appreciated, therefdre we get its description first
out of the way.

A View of the Kern Valley

For our view of the valley portion of the- ci unity — the place where the
oil fields and alfalfa pastures are and where the orchards and vineyards and
groves of oranges and olives are coming to be — let us take ourselves to one
of the round-topped treeless, grass-carpeted mountains that form the eastern
sentinels of the Coast range. From such a point — near the middle of the
western line of the county — spreading out before us we would see a great
sweep of valley, open at the north but closed in by the Coast range on the
west, by the Sierras on the east and on the south by a cross range that meets
and joins the two great ranges and forms a mighty horse shoe of mountains
that walls in the intervening plains and mesas and protects them from
winds and storms and gives them the warm and e(|ual)le climate that the
vegetable kingdom loves.

From the point where the west side mesa begins to slope dcnvn tu the
floor of the valley to the point where the east side mesa melts into the fnot-
hills of the Sierras, the distance is close to fifty miles, and from the upper
edge of the mesa that lies along the northern side of the cross range northwest
through the center of the valley to the north county line it is approximately
sixty miles. From the great area thus enclosed, an area every foot of which
will one day be watered and tilled, or made productive through the extrac-
tion therefrom of oil or other valuable minerals, a new state like Delaware
could be carved out, and of the scraps left over a new Rhndc Island might l)e
pieced together.

In reality the haze of dust and distance covers all this land as one
might see it on a summer day from the summit of the Coast range hills,
and even in the clearer air of winter little of the prospect could be seen except
the nearby mesas, a great sea of light hiding the valley beyond, and far away,
floating in the thinner strata of the upper air. the rugged, snow-capped peaks
of the high Sierras rising, as Mrs. Mary Austin says, "like the very front and
battlements of heaven."

But let us suppose the dust and haze arc swept away and mir eyes
can search out the objects in the valley. Then si.mctiiing like this great
panorama of industry and natural wealth would be laid Itefure our view.
The West Side Oil Fields

Down below us in the foreground is the great sweep nf the west side nil
fields, beginning near the San Emidio ranch in the southwestern corner of tiie
county and following northwest with the trend of the hills through Sunset,
Midway, McKittrick, Temblor, the great, problematic reaches of the Lost
Hills and Devils Den districts to the northwestern corner of the county and
on thence to Coalinga. The whole distance prospected with mure or less ])rofit


or promise is not far from seventy miles within the county. Wildcat drilling,
as yet without result, extends eastward of San Emidio fifteen miles farther.
In width the proven or prospected strip varies from two to fifteen miles.

Only the merest fraction of this vast territory is as yet commercially pro-
ductive — a thin line, a mile and a half to three miles in width drawn diagonally
across five congressional townships represents it. Yet out of this small frac-
tion of the county's west side oil territory were taken in the year 1910 not
less than 24,680,000 barrels of oil, equal in fuel value to between eight and
nine million tons of good coal. Two branch railroads and four pipe lines
connecting with tide water have been built to furnish an outlet for this oil,
and a great electric transmission line has been completed to furnish current
for light and other purposes for which it may be needed in the fields. Three
towns, large enough and permanent enough to aspire to incorporations —
Maricopa, Taft and McKittrick — are the fruits of the local business activity
of these oil fields, and three or four other towns are in process of building with
varying reasons to hope for the future.

The Buena Vista Gas Belt

Just beyond the line of the producing oil fields lies the great gas belt of
the Buena Vista hills, where wells estimated to produce from ten to fifty
million cubic feet per twenty-four hours have been brought in within the
past two years. Already this gas is piped to Bakersfield and to the different
parts of the west side oil fields for cooking and lighting and for use in fur-
naces, and a great trunk line is now carrying it over the mountains to Los
Angeles and other Southern California towns. In addition to this use an ex-
tensive plant recently has been installed for extracting gasoline from the
natural gas by means of compression and cooling after a process similar in
many respects to the making of liquid air.

If we search the fields from our hypothetical point of vantage we may see,
perhaps, anywhere trom one to half a dozen great oil wells spouting their inky
fountains of oil and gas from two hundred to four hundred feet in the air.
Great pillars of smoke rise from where waste oil and refuse are burned from
the sump holes, and if it were night and the chance served we might see the
towering torch of some burning gasser lighting the sands and sage brush
on the surrounding dunes.

Recent Activity in the Oil Fields

The past few years have witnessed a tremendous activity on the west
side. The older fields of Sunset and McKittrick have been widened and
extended, the greatest oil gusher in the history of the industry being brought
in in the former field, and Midway, lying between Sunset and McKittrick,
sprang from the least to one of the largest of the oil fields of the valley.
The Buena Vista gas fields were first tapped in 1909. At the present time
prospectors are drilling with tireless energy in the northward extension of
the McKittrick field, and all over the Lost Hills district that extends from
McKhtrick to the north county line, wild-catters are hopefully working, and
occasionally a productive well of light gravity oil is brought in at the marv-
elously shallow depth of 500 to 1000 feet.

In Devils Den, close to the hills in the northwestern corner of the county,
a few drills are dropping, and strung along the foothills from Devils Den
southeast to Temblor are a few prospectors' derricks, miles apart and accom-


plishing little as yet save to demonstrate the faith of their nwncrs tliat the
oil measures lie beneath in an unbroken belt.

For the rest the foreground is filled with low, rcilling hills and gently
sloping mesas, covered in spring with short grass and bright wild flowers,
but dry and brown throughout the summer and fall, with onh'^ the wandering
dust pillars of the whirlwinds, the heat shimmer, the straggling growth of
dwarf sage brush, the lonesome derrick of the wildcatter and the InncsDmer
cabin of the lease herder to vary their desolate monotony.
Reclaimed Swamp Land

These rolling hills and sloping mesas (all of which may some day be
oil- or gas-bearing) fill a strip of country at the base of the Coast range
from ten to twenty miles in width. Then comes the western edge of the
county's agricultural land, its limit clearly defined by the line of the ancient
swamp that filled the trough of the valley with a width of two to a dozen
miles before the waters of Kern river that fed it were diverted into a great
irrigation system, that waters 250,000 acres of land.

Just to the east of the Midway oil fields is Buena Vista lake reservoir, a
body of water covering thirty-six square miles, formerly a natural depression
in the swamp and now enlarged by means of levees on the east and north
for the purpose of storing the waters of the river for irrigating the reclaimed
swamp lands to the north. From this lake extending northwest along the
western edge of the former swamp is a canal, one hundred and fifty feet in
width, built for the combined purpose of distributing irrigation water and
carrying away any excess of water that may come down the river in time of
flood. This great ditch, known as the Kern Valley Water Company's canal,
runs through lands now belonging to Miller & Lux, and that corporation
is now extending it northward, by means of the largest steam dredger ever
brought to the interior of the state, with the ultimate purpose of completing
an artificial water way from Buena Vista to Tulare lake. The canal will be
of a size to serve as a means of transportation, but whether it is used for
such a purpose remains to be determined by the demand, the disposition of
the owners and the availability of the water at all times to fill it.

Lying along this canal to the east, in the bed of the ancient swamp, fed
by the deep, black tule lands, are the fat alfalfa pastures of Miller & Lux,
the first expanse of perennial green that greets the eye as we look eastward
from our perch on the Coast range mountain. The Miller & Lux alfalfa and
grain fields reach to the northward from Buena Vista lake for something more
than twenty-five miles. Beyond that the old swamp, dry except in unusually
wet years, extends to the northern limit of the county untilled and unpeopled.
Irrigation Canals Radiate From Bakersfield

Twenty miles northeast of Buena Vista lake is Bakersfield, at the eastern
edge of a great, nearly level plain that extends from the old swamp to the
point where the land begins to rise again in an upward slope to meet the
foothills of the Sierras. Just northeast of Bakersfield Kern river leaves a
deep furrow of a mile and a half in width which it has plowed for itself
through the hills and mesas to the eastward, and enters the flat, alluvial
lands of the valley. From Bakersfield the channel of the river runs in an
approximately direct line to Buena \'ista lake, but the river waters are taken
out in a series of canals, heading above and below Bakersfield and spreading
fanwise to the northwest, west, south and southeast.


This system of ditches covers roughly a territory twenty miles wide
and forty miles long, beginning at the southern end of the valley where the
mesas slope up to Tejon and San Emidio, and extending northwest within
twelve or fifteen miles of the north county line. Only the circumstance
that the water is all used on nearer lands prevents the irrigation system
reaching the northern boundary of the county, but the shortcoming of the
canal system is supplemented by the presence of an artesian belt in the
north part of the county, bordering on the eastern edge of the swamp, where
flowing wells are obtained at a depth of 500 to 1000 feet, and by the existence
of abundant water strata at depths varying from twelve to forty feet in
depth from which water may be pumped for irrigation.

These facilities for irrigation make of the middle distance of this vast
panorama spread out before us, a belt of country twenty miles in width
(exclusive of the swamp land heretofore described) and fifty-five miles or
so in length, every foot of which -can be irrigated, either from canals, from
artesian wells or from shallow pumping wells. Close to Bakersfield this land
is tilled to fruit, alfalfa and dairy pastures. Farther south and northwest
it is utilized for great grain fields or pastures for beef cattle. All of it is
suitable for similar purposes.

Beyond this belt of cheaply irrigated land lies the great mesa that skirts
the western foothills of the Sierras. In width and length it is only a little
less than the great belt of land just described, and along its lower edge the
cost of pump irrigation is but a little greater than on the lower valley lands.
This mesa forms the county's citrus belt — as yet, for the main part, potential.
But while the county's orange and lemon production is yet in the future,
so far as any great commercial results are concerned, the capacity of the
soil, the abundance of the water and the perfect adaptability of the climate
have been demonstrated past all doubt. Oranges grown on the San Emidio
ranch, already referred to in the description of the west side oil fields, have
made a name and fame for themselves in the most critical markets of the
state. At Tejon, in the hills some twenty miles east of San Emidio, oranges
of equal size and flavor are grown, and scattered all along the mesa north-
westward to the north county line are smaller groves that prove the whole
of the great thermal belt.

Beginning of Orange Culture

At the present time near Edison, eight miles east of Bakersfield, the
Edison Land & ^^'ater Company is beginning the cultivation of orange
groves on a considerable scale, and is making all its improvements in the
thorough-going fashion that promises the fullest success. Smaller ventures
in citrus culture have been launched in the wide stretch of mesa land that
reaches south from Edison and other centers of development have been
established at Delano, McFarland and Jasmine, in the northern part of the
county. The development around the latter places is really the southern
extension of the orange districts of Tulare county. The great success of
citrus culture around Porterville has tempted the ]5lanting of similar lands
farther and farther tci the south, and the result is expected to be the
gradual closing of the gaps between Ducor and Jasmine and Edison and
between Edison and Tejon.

Under all this mesa land water for pump irrigation is found at depths
that vary almost directly as the height of the surface above sea level. Along
the lower parts of the thermal lielt water may he found at a depth of forty


feet or less, while near the hills the depth may run above twn hundred feet.
There is an immense body of land, however, on which water is to be had in
abundant quantities with a lift of less than one hundred feet.

In addition to the possibilities of the mesa lands for the growing of
oranges and lemons, they are famous for their early fruits of the deciduous
kinds and for vegetables. The mesa soil for the most part is an admixture of
sand, gravel and clay that is easily tilled, very fertile and sufficiently porous
to insure the best results from irrigation. In places tJie thermal belt is
almost frostless, and tomato plants live the year round. This means that
it is possible to have strawberries and a great range of vegetables at Christ-
mas time, and grapes, apricots, melons and other delicacies that capture the
high prices of the early markets may be supplied in great quantitv and
perfect (|uality.

Cheap Power Available

For tlie further development of the mesa lands great tilings are expected
because of the abundance of cheap fuel for the generation of power. In
addition to the power that may be develojjed from steam plants run by
crude oil or from gas and gasoline used direct in engines, the San Joaquin
Light & Power Company, which has recently entered the field with electric
power and which has now completed a transmission line circling the valley
portion of the county, announces that it will encourage the use of electricity
in pumping water by extending its service lines where there is any hope
for a market. The Lerdo Land & Water Company, which is a kindred cor-
poration to the San Joaquin Light & Power Company, is preparing to
lead the way in the use of water pumped by electricity by sinking wells and
installing pumps on a tract of several thousand acres which it has purchased
recently and which lies along the Southern Pacific railroad beginning about
seven miles northwest of Bakersfield.

At \\'asco is established another center of pumping plant irrigation, and
the practicability of raising deciduous fruits and raisins 1n- this means is
being fully demonstrated. At Rio Bravo, south and west of Wasco and
nearly due west of Bakersfield, farmers are proving that it pays to pump
water on the lower land for alfalfa and grain. At Semitropic, due west of
Wasco and thirty-five miles northwest of Bakersfield, a combination of
pumping plants and artesian wells is solving the problem of irrigation for
general farming and dairying. Just at the eastern edge of the swamp land
in what is known as the Goose Lake slough country is a thriving settlement
that depends wholly on artesian wells to mature its crops.

Beside the ventures in orange culture around Delano. Jasmine and
McFarland. many pumping plants have been installed in the northern part
of the county for the growing of deciduous trees and vines, and for gnjwing
alfalfa for dairy cows. North of Delano, along the county line, pump irri-
gators have been especially active. At McFarland within the past three years
a rose nursery of one hundred and sixty acres has been established for
the growing of rose bushes for the New York market.

Along the foothills and out on the mesa as far as Delano dry wheat
farming has been the main industry from the time of the settlement of the
country until the present time, but it is considered now but a matter of
a few years before the pumping plant will make the land too valuable to
be longer farmed to grain.


Great Land Holdings

As for the great area of country under the irrigation system already
referred to, the bulk of it is held by the Kern County Land Company, a
corporation that figures largely in the story of the county. Scattered among
the company's holdings are many small farms, where all kinds of fruits,
alfalfa, corn, vegetables and the usual agricultural crops are raised and where
dairying is carried on with handsome profit. The Land Company's great
fields are devoted to wheat and barley or are fenced into huge alfalfa pastures
for the fattening of beef cattle raised in the mountains or shipped in from
other parts of California or from other states. Whole townships of the finest
garden soil are farmed in immense wheat fields or form rough pastures for
Arizona steers. The almost equal Miller & Lux holdings, equally desirable,
are farmed in about the same manner.

If we were sitting on the top of the Coast range in reality instead of
metaphorically we could see that the county's agricultural possibilities have
not yet approached the stage of realization. But a thorough knowledge of
the facts and the possibilities is necessary to gain any conception of how
far short of realization the present falls. There is no finer body of land
in the state than this great valley, and there are few so well watered. With
the breaking up of the large holdings of land and the coming of small farmers
in numbers adequate to till the soil in thorough fashion, Kern county will
become one of the chief sources of food supply in the west. At the present
time agriculture is so far overshadowed by the oil industry that a greater
number of farm products are shipped into the county than are shipped out.
The Kern River Oil Field

Before we leave the valley for a brief survey of the mountains we must
take note of the Kern river oil field, averaging throughout its history the
greatest single producing field of the state, although Coalinga, Midway and
Sunset have each, at different times forged past it. Thirty miles from the
nearest of the other oil fields, on the other side of the valley and with no
apparent connection with the west side oil measures, Kern river holds a
place alone and needs a wholly separate description. The field lies across
Kern river to the north of Bakersfield, sloping from the water's edge up
to the top of the mesa. It covers approximately eleven sections of land,
under all of which the drill has found a great pool of oil. First drilled in
1899 and pumped ever since to the limit of the market demand, in 1910 the
field produced 13,700,000 barrels of oil, and a large part of the proven territory
is yet untouched.

It was the Kern river field that gave the county its first oil boom, and
made the people of the county forget for the time their long demand for
agricultural expansion. The field has been the best dividend-payer in the
state, despite the fact that none of the spectacular gushers which have given
fame to the Midway and Sunset fields have had a parallel in Kern river.
The drilling has been easy and certain, the percentage of loss has been small,
and even the limits of the field were established so early that little money
has been spent in fruitless prospecting about its borders. That the field
may not be extended in the future is not assumed. In fact, recent drilling
to the north and northwest has met encouraging indications, and many people
believe that some day oil derricks will be scattered along the east side
mesas as they now are scattered along the Coast range. Prospect holes
are now being drilled due south of the Kern river field about twenty-four


miles, and due north of the field almost an equal distance. Roth these new
prospective districts are near the Sierra foothills, but the results of their
exploration must remain for a later writing.

The Mountain Sections

The description of the mountains is quickly written, although one might
live there many years and wonder at the freshness of their charm and interest.
It is because of the impossible task of a full description that little can be
said. The Sierras fill in between the desert and the valley a great barrier,
thirty to fifty miles in width, built out of lofty peaks, rugged, pine-clad ridges
and shoulders of earth, timbered slopes, fertile valleys, streams that tumble
down rocky cascades and flow gently along level reaches, great ledges that
carry treasures of gold, silver, copper, and lesser minerals of many sorts.

Suppose we desert our Coast range mountain top for an airship, pre-
ferably a dirigible, and sail slowly over the tops of the Sierras from the north
county line southward. On the western slope of the range in the northern
tier of townships is Woody, named for one of the county pioneers and not
for the big oak trees that cover the hills and fill the little valleys. A little
farther east and a little higher up is Glennville, in the fertile Linn's valley,

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 3 of 177)