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Saturday, July 11, 2009


I believe that the reality of our lives becomes what our youthful dreams wish it to be. Consider the friendship between William Mulholland and Frederick Eaton. One man left his name on a lot of Los Angeles real estate. The other is largely forgotten. But 20th century Los Angeles could not have been built without either of them. The problem was they were, both of them, dreaming too big for their own good.Fred Eaton was a force of nature. Historian William Kahrl described him as “Youthful, aggressive, innovative, (and) startlingly handsome…”. He was also well connected. Fred’s father was one of the founders of Pasadena, California, one of the richest cities in America. After college, in 1875, Fred became superintendant for Los Angeles’ private water company.In that job Fred hired a muscular Irish immigrant named William Mulholland, as a well digger. “The two of them made an unlikely pair”, wrote DiLeo & Smith in their book "Two Californias", “Eaton was elegant, well born, refined. Mulholland was gruff, a blunt man who loved games and jokes. While Eaton craved public attention, Mulholland shunned it, preferring to spend his evenings reading for his own edification.” With Eaton’s encouragement, Mulholland taught himself engineering and as he advanced in authority he became a close confidant of Eaton’s. But in 1892, when a drought struck the American southwest, Eaton became convinced the city had to find a more dependable supply of drinking water. Mulholland scoffed at his concerns and told his mentor, “If you don’t get the water, you won’t need it.”Eaton refused to be dissuaded. He traveled to the eastern ramparts of the Sierra Mountains. There he found year round snow capped summits producing streams that fed two saline sink lakes in one of the driest places on earth;......Mono Lake in the north, and in the south, closer to Los Angels, Owens Lake, fed by the Owens River.As an engineer Eaton realized that it might be possible to draw water from the Owens River for Los Angeles by gravity alone because the river had a higher elevation than the city.But separating the two was two hundred fifty miles of lava fields, desert and mountains, wilderness that mostly belonged to the Federal Government. Eaton realized that financially and politically his goal was impossible to achieve. Still, he had come to love the terrain and the people, and after he capped his career in Los Angeles by serving a 2 year term as Mayor in 1898, he retired to spend his summers at a 12,000 acre ranch along the Owens River. And there he might have quietly remained in serene retirement but for two things that changed.The first was that his friend William Mulholland had become the superintendent for the Los Angeles Water Department, now a city agency. Faced with the same problems Eaton had faced in the same job, Mulholland came to the same conclusion; if it was to survive and grow, Los Angeles had to find more water. And the second thing that changed was the weather.As 1892 had been a year of drought, 1905 was a year of floods. In the spring heavy rains and heavier than usual snow melts in the Rockies, forced the lower Colorado River to burst through its banks and pour into the depression that became The Salton Sea.In response to this disaster, and under political pressure to help a number of agricultural development projects around the nation (e.g. “pork”) the Teddy Roosevelt Administration created the Reclamation Department (forerunner of the Interior Department). It was America’s first experiment with “big government”. And one of the first projects under consideration by the Reclamation Department was a plan to improve irrigation along the upper Owens River.The new Department sent Fred Eaton to the Mono County Court House(above) to investigate property records. This meant that when Fred started to buy options on water rights to the lower Owens River, the farmers and ranchers assumed he was buying for the irrigation project, and eagerly sold Fred their rights at bargain basement prices. In August of 1905 Fred admitted as much to the Los Angeles Express. “I knew the government was planning to put in irrigation works… If I had waited until after the government was at work, it would have required $1 million to $2 million more to get the water for the city, and that probably would have killed the project.” Back in Los Angeles Fred met with the city attorney. “The result”, he told the Express, “was an agreement that I would turn over to the city all the water rights I had acquired at the price I had paid for them…”.The cost was a $700,000, for which Fred was fully reimbursed from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power funds. It was a brilliant and glorious gamble for the city and it appeared that Fred Eaton had risked a substantial portion of his wealth out of his love for Los Angeles. And so he had. There was a catch, of course. Fred had not made his own fortune without a catch. As William Mulholland began to build the $24.5 million Los Angeles Aqueduct to carry the Owens River to the city limits it was obvious that the system would require a reservoir at the head end. Such an artificial lake would provide a dependable flow regardless of drought years or downpours. And Fred Eaton owned just the spot for that reservoir; his ranch above Lone Pine in what was called Long Valley.In the original paperwork in which Fred had been reimbursed, he also granted permission to build a dam there. But hidden in the details was a height limit on the proposed Long Valley dam of 100 feet. Being an engineer, Fred knew that because of the topography of the site, that was not high enough. And Fred had already decided that a variance which would allow a 106 or 107 foot high dam would cost the city $1 million more. And once he got into the nitty-gritty details of planning the dam Mulholland realized he had been backed into a corner. The problem was that he realized it at a most inconvenient moment. Just as Fred sprang his trap, the bankers back east, who had financed the aqueduct, sprang theirs. In late 1910, with the aquedeuct construction just past the half way mark, they lowered the cities’ credit rating. The bankers were hoping that a cash shortage would force the city to sell to them its most valuable asset, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Instead the Board of Public Works which had oversight of the DWP, cut expenses to the bone, eliminating the million dolalrs for Fred Eaton’s higher Long Valley dam. Mulholland tried to reason with Fred, but Eaton decided that Mulholland was merely being a tough negotiator and refused to compromise. The friends argued. Heated words were exchanged. And Mulholland walked out of the meeting with Fred, saying angerly and prophetically, “I’ll buy the Long Valley three years after Eaton is dead.”How could either man have known that decision would inspire an open and violent rebellion in the Owens Valley, and kill 1,000 innocent people in Los Angeles county and cause the greatest man made disaster in California history?
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Monday, July 06, 2009


I don’t know why they call it the “Pig War”. The pig wasn’t mad at anybody. From the sketchy description we have it seems likely he was a Large Black, a breed “…known for its very docile nature, and …unaggressive temperament…”, according to Wikipedia. It would seem more logical then to call it “Lyman Cutlar’s War”, since he was the one with the musket, and he was pretty worked up on the morning of June 15, 1859, when he said he discovered the "scrofa domesticus" rooting in his potato patch. An unidentified male human was, according to Lyman, leaning on Lyman’s fence and laughing at the pig’s efforts. So outraged was Lyman that he immediately fetched his musket and dispatched the offending porker to Hog-Heaven, whereupon the human ran into the woods.Okay, it wasn’t charging Cossacks, and the pig wasn’t Napoleon from Animal Farm. But Lyman was an American and the two-toed ungulant was the property of the English owned Hudson’s Bay Company - and you get the feeling that somebody was looking for an excuse to start a shooting war.In 1846 the United States and Great Britain thought they had avoided just this kind of trouble by agreeing to a Canadian border along the 49th parallel westward from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The border line on the map then made a jog to the south to allow the already settled Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island to remain on the British side of the border.The problem was that right in the middle of the strait were the San Juan Islands, the largest of which was the 54 square miles of the island of San Juan. When the original border was drawn nobody in London or Washington knew the islands were there. But as soon as London realized the truth, The Hudson Bay Company opened a sheep ranch, Belle Vue Farm, on the south coast of San Juan island, and notified the Americans that they now considered all of the San Juan islands to be English property. The Americans countered, in 1853, by creating Washington Territory, and incorporating the islands into its Whatcom County. Washington Territory even dispatched a sheriff to San Juan to collect taxes, and arrest the scofflaws, i.e. English citizens. But Charles Griffin, the Belle Vue Farm manager, (and owner of the aforementioned pig) treated the warrent as if it were a joke. The sheriff returned home, dragging 30 kidnapped and bleating sheep as compensation.And there the situation probably would have remained, except that in March of 1858 gold was discovered in British Columbia. This drew an instant wave of American prospectors, the vast majority of whom did not find any gold. But, over the winter of 1858/59, about 30 of the ambitious, restless but thin-blooded Americans, including one Lyman Cutlar, escaped the brutal Canadian winter along the Fraser River by moving to the more temperate coastal climate. Once aboard San Juan island, and being belivers in "Manifest Destiny", they immediately started behaving as if they were the landlords, including executing English pigs for eating American potatoes.This might be the place to point out that I think Layman Cutlar’s story is too convenient. He claims the pig invaded his potato patch on the very anniversary of the signing of the 1846 treaty, June 15th. Secondly, he mentions a human witness and a fence, both important proof of ownership under American homesteader law. And then there was his behavior post his pork-a-cide.Lyman offer to pay ten dollars for the deceased little ham hock, a fair price back east. But this being the wilds of British Columbia Mr. Griffin (above) demanded one hundred dollars, a more accurate if slightly inflated quotation. When Lyman refused to even counter that offer, an arrest warrant was issued for Lyman Cutlar.And even though the warrant was never executed the Americans appealed to their local governor for a redress of grievances. That request eventually went to Brigadier General William Selby Harney (above), a native Tennesaen who had inherited Andrew Jacksons hatred of the British and the command of Washington Territory. Harney immediately dispatched 66 soldiers to San Juan, under the command of the mecurial Captain George Picket.Being a hopeless romantic George Picket arrived on San Juan and announced, “We’ll make a Bunker Hill of it”, even though his orders were to avoid shooting (and evidently not remembering that Bunker Hill was a defeat). Picket encouraged his men to taunt the British sailors and marines dispatched to keep an eye on the Americans. It seems he was hoping they would shoot first. Pickett's provocative behavior led to British and then American and then to British reinforcements, until there were five British warships with 2,000 men and 70 cannons anchored off San Juan island, facing less than 500 Americans with 14 cannons. The island was a powder keg guarded by children playing with matches.It was at this point that President of the United States James Buchanan first learned about the dead pig on San Juan…from the newspapers. He ordered 77 year old General-in-chief Winfield Scott to get out there and get things under control. The President would probably have agreed with the British Admiral who said the players on the scene seemed determined to “…involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig”.It took the ancient Scott (above) eight months to travel from Washington, D.C. across the Isthmus of Panama and then up the coast to Washington Territory. But once there he quickly negotiated a truce. Both sides agreed to reduce their forces to 100 men each, and, at British insistance, Picket was replaced. Immediately a sensible calm was restored.Tourists boated out from Vancouver to observe the dueling artillery practices and stare at the soldiers , while officers from both sides shared whiskey and cigars in manager Charles Griffin’s home. I'm willing to bet that they also shared an occasional ham. Certain that an eventual compromise would be reached, and having the distraction of a civil war looming back on the East Coast, Scott wasted no time in returning.But almost the minute General Scott left Washington Territory, General Harney ordered Picket back to San Juan Island to resume his command. Clearly Harney’s intent was to stir up more trouble. But when word of Pickett’s reinstatement reached Washington, D.C., Harney was immediately relieved of his command. And that was pretty much the end of General Harney’s career. He was allowed to quietly retire in 1863, just about the time that his former junior officer, George Pickett, was directing a charge of 15,000 rebels across the battlefield at Gettysburg.If Pickett had succeeded in starting a war with England over San Juan Island in 1860, I have to wonder if he would have still resigned his commission that year and joined the Confederacy. Or perhaps his and Harney’s plan had been all along to distract Washington with a war against England, making it easier for the South to seccede. There were plenty of Americans in 1860, including Abraham Lincoln’s new Secretary of State, William Seward, who thought a war with England would rally the south back to defense of the American Union. All such ideas were pipe dreams.It is not an accident that Lyman Cutlar disappeared from history when no war was fought in defense of his potato patch. He also disappeared from San Juan island. The border dispute was finally settled in 1871, when America and England submitted to “binding arbitration”, overseen by Kaiser William I of Germany. And in 1872 The Kaiser awarded the San Juan Islands to America. So America won the islands without anybody else being killed, not even another pig.Every morning on San Juan Island, Washington state, U.S. Park Service Rangers raise the stars and stripes over the "American Camp" on the south coast of the island, and the Union Jack over the north coast; this is the only spot on American soil where the U.S. government affords honors to a foriegn flag, in memory of two nations too sensible to fight a war, and of a pig who gave his life that others might live.http://www.nps.gov/sajh/historyculture/the-pig-war.htm
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