A History of the Kaweah Colony: The Annie Haskell Diaries
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
I defy any man in this room to read Annie Fader Haskell’s diary without falling in love with her.(Joseph E. Doctor, Southern California Historical Symposium, 1968)
While the Kaweah Colony and its primary settlement of Advance flourished during the summer of 1890, its founder and leading proponent had yet to establish a residence at the Colony. Burnette Haskell somehow managed to take active part in its administration and to even serve as editor of the weekly publication produced at the Colony from his San Francisco base, where he recruited membership, continued his labor agitation, and tried to coalesce the Nationalist movement for his own agenda. As the summer wore on, it became more and more apparent that the time was coming for Haskell to make a final and focused commitment to the Colony — a commitment that would involve relocating his family to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Haskell’s move to Kaweah marked a watershed event in his personal life. It was a defining moment in his marriage, and his commitment to that marriage stood trial in the pages of his wife’s most remarkable diary. To understand their marriage and her feelings on the eve of their big move to Kaweah, it is necessary to double back in time once more and, in the process, get to know one of Kaweah’s most remarkable personalities: Annie Haskell.
A NEW DAY DAWNS
Anna Fader, like many young women of her time and ever since, had early on fallen in love with the romantic notion of love. As a teenager, she wrote the following poem:
It is hard in the Summer of Girlhood
Ere the days begin to grow old
To have one’s heart once so joyous
Grow hard and heartless and cold
It is hard in the days when freedom
Is ours, for a time, to keep
To be chained with a nameless longing
To a sorrow intense and deep.
The daughter of a sailor who had joined the Gold Rush, Anna was born in California’s Trinity County in 1858. After completing school in Salinas, she continued to live with her family in Sonoma County. In 1876, the 18-year-old Annie (as she was called) started what would prove to be a lifelong discipline. A dedicated diarist, she filled exactly one page — no more and no less — of small, leather-bound diaries every day for 65 years.
In 1881, she wrote of a romance, an “Arthur, my Arthur, for whom my heart has called.” And while Arthur evidently hinted at a future together (“He thinks by next fall he can get bread and butter enough for two. Oh! If it is not too late!”), by the spring of that year Annie was again lamenting a nameless longing:
I get so weary trying to live without love. Perhaps some time my day shall dawn. I suppose it ought to be a consolation to me that if it don’t dawn in this world, it will in the next. But it ain’t. I want my happiness now. I have waited long and am tired.
In the autumn of 1881, Annie moved out on her own and headed for the big city of San Francisco. In the early 1880s, San Francisco was the largest, most cosmopolitan, most exciting city west of the Mississippi. She initially had a hard time finding room and board, becoming “more disgusted than discouraged” at the sorry condition of various boardinghouses and homes for girls. She did manage to find work, however, at a workingmen’s restaurant “slinging hash,” and more importantly, accepted an invitation from a friend, Helen Haskell, to stay with her and her family for awhile.
The attraction between Annie Fader and Helen Haskell’s brother was almost immediate. After only a couple days staying with the relatively well-to-do Haskells, Annie wrote:
I have commenced [work at the restaurant]. I am tired. I rather Burnette might despise a girl who slings hash. But this evening he came down and insisted on my going there to sleep, as did Helen, and so though I had engaged a room I went. Oh, it will be so much nicer… Burnette was exceedingly enthusiastic on the subject of my conduct. He said I was a “queen among women.” It is foolish for me to report it, but somehow it warms my heart how he honored me.
Burnette Haskell was smitten with Annie. At a time in his life when he was finally discovering for himself his life’s cause in the labor movement, he also found the time to stay up until the wee hours “discussing the theory of evolution until we were wild” with Annie or to praise her “exquisite shoulders.”
“The idea!” Annie blushed onto the pages of her diary. “I have always disliked them so much, and I don’t care, I hate such wide shoulders on a woman.” Burnette, she was proud to report, insisted they were “classic.”
Burnette Haskell proved to be less than the ideal husband to Annie. While she was probably guilty of idealizing love and marriage, she certainly hadn’t bargained for the lifestyle into which she was thrust. The pattern of their married life was quickly set by the mid-1880s. Annie was either busy working for Burnette’s various labor causes or left alone at home while he was. Neither of these two basic situations made her very happy, although the 1886 birth of their son, Astaroth (Roth), seemed to alleviate some of her chronic loneliness.
By the late 1880s, Haskell was occupied with his labor organizations, the Kaweah Colony, and the Nationalist movement. While Annie actively participated in the Nationalist Clubs — helping to organize meetings and programs and often performing at them — a diary entry from that period was especially telling. In it, Annie summed up feelings countless wives (and, indeed, any person married to an ambitious and inattentive spouse) have felt when she wrote:
I feel as if I were at a turning point in my life and I don’t know what to do. I have no friends, not even in the world. If a man says to his wife “no woman, not even my wife, shall come between me and my ambition,” what then? Dear me, I waited and waited this evening for Burnette to come to dinner. He did not come home till near 12 and then did not offer a word of explanation. I really don’t know what to do. Nothing I can do pleases him.
Haskell was not, in the words of one Kaweah historian, a very good husband. Annie complained he spent more time with “the Cause” than with her, and she felt he was rather too attentive to a woman who later became his “traveling secretary.” But, as Joe Doctor — a good storyteller fond of the human-interest side of history — once hinted, Annie too may have been guilty of extra-marital involvements. She was obviously quite fond of Andrew Larsen, whom she referred to in her diary as her “dear Larloo.”
During the spring of 1890, an ill Larsen lived at the Haskell home in San Francisco where Annie spent a great deal of time trying to nurse him back to health. She described him once, sitting disconsolately by the fire, as a weary shadow of his former big, strong healthy self. Another day she noted:
Larloo is in bed. Poor old fellow. I am doing everything I can for him. I hope and pray it will do some good.
By June, he was feeling better and was sent to Kaweah, where it was hoped the drier climate might help his consumption.
Larsen went away this morning [Annie wrote]. He looked pretty well, but I kissed him good-bye, as I don’t know what might happen.
While Joe Doctor went so far as to call Annie and Larsen “lovers,” there is also the possibility that it was strictly an innocent, warm relationship. An argument can be made either way.
Annie worked at keeping her marriage sound. She made efforts to become involved with her husband’s projects, but found it tiring. In addition to her work for the Nationalist movement, Annie tried to keep involved with Haskell’s most consuming ambition at the time — the Kaweah Colony. The Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Co. maintained a large non-resident membership in San Francisco (as they did in other cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, and New York), which met regularly. Haskell continued to head Colony operations from San Francisco. Amazingly enough, in the days before instant communication, Haskell even managed to oversee publication of The Kaweah Commonwealth at Advance, acting as Corresponding Editor. Later, after Dr. Hunter resigned as Editor, the journal’s masthead noted that it was published “under the supervision of Burnette G. Haskell, Superintendent of Education.” It is hard to imagine how much “direct supervision” he could offer from over 200 miles away; but nonetheless, as long as Haskell remained in San Francisco, much of the Colony business and promotion was also centered in the City by the Bay.
The young couple, meanwhile, was having financial difficulties. On July 29, 1890, Annie wrote in her diary:
Burnette and I have been talking over our situation. It looks mighty bad—and you bet, if we ever get out of this hole we are in, we will never get into a similar one. Everything goes wrong and there seems to be no way to get money and we are so deeply in debt on every side.
The next day, via a telegram from James Martin at the Colony, they got the news that Andrew Larsen had died. A shock, Annie admitted, although it was hardly unexpected. “It’s so sad,” she wrote. “Poor dear Larloo. I’m so glad I kissed him good-bye.”
Back in San Francisco, life went on. In September 1890, Annie shared with her diary her feelings about Colony activities there in San Francisco:
I went to the Colony meeting this evening. Took the trolley. I did not want to go and talk foolishness which I don’t feel like doing. I abominate it. I loath it. I feel that way about everything and I am getting worse and worse every day. I suppose I think too much of myself. Sat up until after 1:00 a.m. last evening, or rather this morning, waiting for Burnette to come home, but the cars had stopped so I went to bed. He came in at 4:00 a.m.
Reading the diary pages, one gets the idea that there may have been more than Nationalist clubs, labor meetings, or Colony business keeping Haskell out so late and so often in a city so filled with temptation. The solution to their troubles, both personal and financial, they could put off no longer. The time had come for them to move to the Kaweah Colony. Their very survival would depend on the success of the Colony and Haskell’s dream of a cooperative world.
OFF FOR THE COLONY
In September 1890, a turning point had truly come in Annie Haskell’s life, as she readied for the move with her husband to the Kaweah Colony. It was a turning point she dreaded, and she wrote:
Off for Visalia, off for the Colony. I never hated to start for any place as badly as I did today.
While Annie certainly lacked the eager optimism that most new resident-members brought with them to the Colony grounds, shortly after her arrival her attitude exhibited a change for the positive. It is hard to know if this was really inspired by finally seeing the Colony first-hand or simply prompted by her husband’s badgering and cajoling. After first seeing the area, however, she was duly impressed with its natural beauty, noting in her diary that “it is a beautiful place, and I am satisfied with it.” High praise from a woman who only days before loathed and abominated everything.
Just one week later, Annie’s first impressions of Advance appeared in The Kaweah Commonwealth:
Now I have come to stay; and I am very glad that I got here before this unique town, this wonderful tent town, has spread its white wings and settled down the canyon, for it is wonderful.
The “white wings” referred to the canvas of the tent homes. The Colony still consisted of these temporary structures, but by the fall of 1890, when Annie had arrived, plans were already underway to relocate the primary Colony settlement down-canyon four miles to some land the Colony had leased.
The optimism Annie exhibited in the pages of the Commonwealth may have been forced to some degree — anything appearing in the promotionally-obsessed “booming sheet” had to be somewhat rose-tinted — but there was also significant cause for such optimism. The Colony had finished their road to the timber. A sawmill had been set up and logging operations had begun. They had found a site for their permanent settlement farther down canyon with plenty of level land and available water, which was being referred to as Kaweah Townsite.
The Haskell family also had cause to feel optimistic. Annie, Burnette, and Roth would soon move into their own house on homesteaded land not far from Kaweah Townsite. Annie had to expect that at Kaweah, Burnette would not be so subject to the distractions of the big city. The small family would be able to spend time together and be part of a true community. Annie described in glowing terms some of the inhabitants of that community in an article entitled “My First Impressions”:
There are ladies here whom it is a misfortune not to know, sweet aunt Margery who is, I am sure, one of the sweetest ladies upon the face of the earth. Mrs. Martin, who fairly decorates a room, she is so handsome, and Daisy who has grown like some beautiful flower, Mrs. Christie with her brilliant face. Mrs. Elford who looks so motherly and kind, Mrs. Essner always smiling, Mrs. Purdy who has a face like that of Evangeline, Mrs. Theophilus whose smiles are like the sunshine in a room and illumined the mist that hung over the road-camp. Last but not least is Mrs. Carpenter, a nice little woman.
Annie also had an opportunity, during her first few weeks at Kaweah, to visit the Colony’s mill and venture even farther into the forest to see the awe-inspiring giant sequoias. She wrote about many of the sites visitors to Sequoia National Park visit today, although some were known to Annie by different names. She saw the Karl Marx Tree, the B.G. Haskell Tree, Moro Rock, and Round Meadow. But the thing that moved her the most was visiting the grave of Andrew Larsen. In a circle of cedar trees not far from the mill and the end of the road, Annie searched and searched until she found just one little flower, which she put on “poor Larloo’s grave.”
Annie’s diary continued to plot the course of her new community and track the ebb and flow of personal and collective optimism. Her entries during her first year at the Colony, from October 1890 through the latter part of 1891, are perhaps the best eyewitness account of what would prove to be a pivotal year in the Colony’s history. It was also an uncommonly frank account of a pivotal year in Burnette and Annie’s marriage.
At the outset of that first year at Kaweah, having had a chance to visit the various camps and meet many of the other Colony families — her new friends and neighbors — Annie felt compelled to wax prophetic in her diary:
Oh, we will make a success of this Colony yet—but it will take time and we must have patience everyone.
SOURCES: Annie Haskell’s diaries are a remarkable source. The Bancroft Library, in addition to housing all 65 years of her original diaries as part of their Haskell Family Papers collection, have several years available on microfilm. Many of the entries used for this chapter were transcribed by the author (a difficult task given the tight, barely-legible nature of her handwriting on delicate pages of small, leather-bound journals). Additional transcriptions were made by Oscar Berland, who generously made his research files and papers available to the author. Another key source for this chapter were various research notes and drafts of articles found in Joe Doctor’s files (including notes on his interview with Roth Haskell, Burnette and Annie’s son), which were also graciously given to the author. The Kaweah Commonwealth also provided several examples of Annie Haskell’s writings.