A History of the Kaweah Colony
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
A History of the Kaweah Colony
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
A History of the Kaweah Colony
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
When I began work on this book in 1991, the largest Marxist-inspired society in history was in the midst of collapse. Monuments to that great experiment were being destroyed — statues were toppled and walls were knocked down. Soviet communism, as established by Lenin and ruthlessly enforced by Stalin, was a distant cry from the communist utopia Marx and Engels had envisioned. Nonetheless, to more than one generation of Americans, the name Marx would forever be linked to the powerful and evil Soviet communist regime—our greatest threat and the losers in a long and bitter Cold War.
One monument to an earlier Marxist-inspired utopian endeavor still stands, even though the experimental colony disbanded 100 years prior to the recent dissolution of the great Soviet experiment. There exists an old photograph of this living monument with more than two dozen socialist pioneers standing shoulder-to-shoulder within the width of its massive trunk. The incredibly large redwood tree was christened the Karl Marx Tree by these pioneers, the Kaweah colonists. Being the largest tree in the forest (in fact, it is the largest tree in the entire world), it was given a name representing the greatest honor in their eyes.
Today, that giant sequoia is known as the General Sherman Tree and is a major tourist attraction in Sequoia National Park. Those who know the story of the 19th-century utopian experiment, however, will always partly look upon this awe-inspiring giant as a monument to a colorful and dramatic chapter of California history: the Kaweah Colony.
Having grown up in Three Rivers, the tiny foothills community at the edge of Sequoia National Park, one could say I was figuratively raised in the shadow of that giant tree. And living so near to Kaweah, the Colony’s story had always been a part of my hometown history. This is not to say that I was interested in local history. As a kid, I was only vaguely aware of this colorful chapter of our local lore, which was one part history, one part rumor, and one part myth. Rumors, when they last over 100 years, graduate to the class of myth, and there are several that surround Kaweah. I had always heard that there had been some sort of Socialist utopian commune experiment up the North Fork road back in the old days. But growing up in the 1960s in a town that attracted its fair share of free thinkers and radicals, I didn’t give the story a second thought. I just figured the Kaweah Colony was a bunch of hippies ahead of their time.
FREE LOVE AND THE CAVALRY
One common misconception about the Kaweah Colony is that they were generally hated by the established local communities because of their Socialist politics. Evidence to the contrary can be found in the Visalia Weekly Delta and the Tulare County Times. Both reported extensively on the Colony, generally in a favorable light. George W. Stewart’s Delta, however, ultimately turned against the Colony, but even his hyper-critical expose’ indicted the Colony leaders as scam artists and frauds rather than Socialists. Meanwhile, Ben Maddox’s Tulare County Times continued to support the Colony, printing editorials that complained of rampant persecution against them.
Proof that local businessmen supported the colonists is found in a circular, signed by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, which appeared in both papers and stated: “These colonists as a class have proved themselves to be industrious, law abiding and worthy citizens. This treatment of them by the national administration is inexplicable.”
One other persistent myth about the Kaweah Colony is that the U.S. Cavalry forcibly chased them off their timber claims, thus preventing them from cutting giant sequoias. The Colony suspended logging operations on their disputed claims for a number of reasons: weather, a washed-out road, and the arrest and conviction of Colony leaders for cutting trees on government land. But the Colony’s mill was never even close to Giant Forest — the modern heart of Sequoia National Park — and so they scarcely presented a threat to that spectacular grove of Big Trees. A standoff of sorts did eventually occur between the Colony and Cavalry troops at Atwell’s Mill, an area of leased land where the Colony tried to resurrect a defunct logging operation. As we will later see, the real story is far from the popular notion of Cavalry firepower halting Colony axes, but their plan to cut timber in what is today Sequoia National Park naturally contributed to a perception that they intended to destroy the grand forests of giant sequoias.
Perhaps the most salacious and persistent rumor about the Colony was the stigma of a “Free Love” commune. One historian researching the Colony in 1960 — nearly seventy years after it disbanded — said of the Tulare County old-timers he spoke with that “everyone here is a historian. They still hate the Kaweans, and call them free lovers.”
So read a notice that ran on the back page of the Colony-published newspaper every week for several months, proving the rumors ran rampant even during the Colony’s existence. Many years later, former members of the utopian experiment were still trying to dispel the free love rumor. One local historian recalled a trip to the Colony site in 1948 with Frank Hengst, a former member:
Just where these free love rumors started is hard to say. Perhaps it was due to William and Charles Riddell. It has been said they left the Colony and moved up to a secluded nearby lake where they started their own utopian community of sorts. They built two houses — one for the women and one for the men — as they did not believe in conventional marriage and outlawed intercourse. They apparently did not stay entirely true to their Shaker-like beliefs, as babies were born to the women of the group.
Another possible explanation of the free love stigma was due to an earlier American utopian experiment. The Oneida Community, founded in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes, achieved considerable success and notoriety for several decades. One aspect of Oneida’s communalism that surely raised eyebrows was their practice of “complex marriage.” Under the system, conventional marriage was abolished and Oneida was transformed into one large “family.” Monogamous relationships were forbidden and all adults in the community were considered married to each other and thus could engage in sexual intercourse.
Though the Kaweah Colony did not condone this system, the mere fact that they, too, were an experiment in cooperative (or communal) living invited comparison to Oneida and inevitably contributed to the free love taint. Likewise, Kaweah’s Socialist ideology would logically contribute to comparisons with later experiments in Socialist (or Communist) societies.
This is the rumor-and-myth part of Kaweah’s history, and once I became more familiar with the story, I realized the necessity of peeling these layers back to try to discover the real history.
LAND, LABOR AND CONSERVATION
California, Wallace Stegner once wrote, is like the rest of the United States, only more so. Likewise, the Kaweah Colony’s story is in many ways like that of California. By examining the concentrated details of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony’s history and the establishment of the state’s first national park, a bigger picture of California will ultimately come into frame. What started out as research into local hometown history eventually became a lesson on California and, more importantly, a shining example of the human spirit that dreamed up the Colony and settled the West.
Kaweah involved far more than just a local group of early hippies. In fact, three key issues of 19th-century California history are illustrated by events at Kaweah. Land and its acquisition, labor and the organization of it, and conservation — a seemingly 20th-century concept that was very much a headline grabber in the later 19th century — are at the heart of this story. They are personified in the early chapters of this book by three major characters in the drama of Kaweah. Via Charles Keller’s experiences, we will look at land issues in California. Organized labor will find its voice through Burnette Haskell, who will in turn find his life’s calling. And conservation will be championed by George W. Stewart with an effectiveness that even he will find surprising.
Land, labor, and conservation certainly are not all there is to both the history of California and Kaweah, but during the particular period in question it is impossible to understand what was going on without closely examining the influences these three issues had. (Many will be quick to point out that one can’t even discuss the history of California without considering water. Although water certainly plays a part in the story of Kaweah, the dominance of that issue in California belongs to a slightly later period.) Any and all of these aspects of our history have been studied exhaustively, but it is how they intersect and collide, conspire and conflict leading up to and during the time of the Kaweah Colony, and it is how that conspiracy and conflict effected the outcome of Kaweah that we gain a better understanding of the history of California and indeed the American West.
The study of local history obviously helps us to know the place from which we come. My investigation into the Kaweah Colony began with a curiosity about Kaweah and Three Rivers, a place I will always consider home. It has taken me, however, to entirely new places. I have been exposed to stories and histories, aspects and issues I never would have otherwise considered. Just like great literature, art, or music, it has opened for me a whole new world.
In that world thatwe will visit — the Kaweah Colony and California in the 1880s — land, labor, and conservation all play a part in the story of a cooperative dream. In this particular story, it is a dream actively pursued by only a few hundred people, but there is no telling how many people have at one time or another dared to share the dream. It is for all of us who share that dream of a better world that this story is told.
THE HUMAN DRAMA
This is not, it should be pointed out, merely a story about issues. Nor is it history of the analytical sort, seeking to prove some theory or put forth a new argument. It is not about the dream itself, but rather a story about the dreamers. Granted, they were people who felt strongly about certain issues, and so to understand the people it is necessary to look closely at the issues that steered their actions. But, as a well-respected local historian once wrote of Kaweah, “The fascinating part is not the principle involved, but the people who made it up. They were a fairly delightful microcosm; to know them with their strengths and failings is to love them.”
Joe Doctor, who described himself as a “country journalist,” made that statement. He was long considered one of the experts on the Kaweah Colony. Everyone around knew that if you wanted information on the Colony — or just about anything else that had ever happened in Tulare County — you had better go and look up Joe. I finally did just that, shortly before his death in 1995. I had put it off for several years, out of shyness perhaps. Only after years of researching the Colony on my own did I feel qualified to go knocking on Joe’s door. I came away not only enriched for having known the outspoken, generous individual, but left with a box full of his original notes and manuscripts on Kaweah, including notes from interviews he conducted in the 1940s with surviving Colony members.
Why Joe decided to entrust me with his archive of Colony materials I can only guess. Well into his eighties and fighting cancer, he obviously knew he was close to the end. Perhaps he sensed from our discussions that I would treat the story as he always felt it should be, as a story of human drama.
“If you are half as sincere and enthusiastic as your letter reverberates,” Joe wrote me in answer to my initial request to meet him, “you are an answer to my prayers of many years; that someone would treat the Colony as it should be, a group of idealists who did their thing as human beings, and not as a socialist band of people whose motives should be criticized, rehashed, second-guessed and downgraded.”
Joe complained that some of the writers who had already written about the Colony were “academics and bureaucrats who didn’t really know what the Colony was all about.” I, at least, did not fall into either of those dreaded categories. Joe was also disappointed that a young scholar who had contacted him 35 years earlier never wrote his proposed book about the Kaweah Colony. Joe had befriended Oscar Berland, a young labor historian from San Francisco, back in the early 1960s, but theorized that Oscar got carried away “by his own socialistic-communistic convictions which ended in disillusionment,” and so abandoned the project.
As I departed from what would be our final visit, Joe urged me to follow through with my efforts on a book about the Colony. He didn’t want me to give up and disappear on him like Oscar. He didn’t want the writings of academics and bureaucrats to be the final word on Kaweah. I pledged to write this book and to let the people who dreamed of a utopia at Kaweah tell their story. I write it not as a historian, but rather as a compiler, an editor, and a referee. I have worked to present the available information in as logical, clear, and even-handed a manner as possible and let the reader, as an active partner in the process, provide the analysis and arguments. I have tried to be true to the spirit of those people involved. More than anything, I have aspired to the role of dramatist presenting a narrative, for perhaps only the dramatist can find that ever-elusive truth, if there is such a thing, in history.
SOURCES: In addition to contemporary newspaper reports from the Tulare County Times and Visalia Weekly Delta, and the Colony-published Kaweah Commonwealth, key sources for this foreword include personal papers made available to the author from both Oscar Berland and Joe Doctor, as well as “Why Kaweah Failed” by Joe Doctor in Los Tulares (No. 78, September, 1968), a quarterly publication of the Tulare County Historical Society. Maren L. Carden’s book Oneida: Utopian Community to Modern Corporation (Johns Hopkins Press, 1969) was also consulted for insight on that endeavor’s free love reputation.
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Keller and California Land
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
The story of California can be told in terms of land. So stated historian and former title insurance executive W.W. Robinson in his book Land in California. “Better still,” he continued, “it can be told in terms of men and women claiming the land.” One man who lived that story was Charles F. Keller.
In the spring of 1885, Charles Keller, a resolute looking man with a small beard, neatly trimmed to form a point at the chin, was 39 years of age. Born in Germany in 1846, he had come to America with his parents when he was a boy of nine. They had settled in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River.
In 1864, he ran away from home to enlist in the 7th U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, serving for the remainder of the Civil War. Keller came west to California in 1867, arriving first in San Francisco. The 21-year-old was not much impressed with the town and before long had signed on with a work party that took him down to the southern part of the state, to the San Bernardino Mountains. There Keller worked building a mill and dam for a mining operation. The pay was excellent — five dollars a day in gold plus board — but the job only lasted six months. Keller and California Land
The next stop for Keller was in the valley below, in the town of San Bernardino, where a short stint in the brewery business ended after a flood inundated his adobe brick beer cellar. Keller found himself on the move again, and he would be many times before settling in the booming San Joaquin Valley town of Traver, which is where he was headed on a spring day in 1885.
BOOMTOWN OF TRAVER
If the story of California is to be told in terms of land, then that story is never really complete until water is added. While the politics of water had yet to dominate California as it did after the turn of the 20th century with the eras of the Reclamation Board, William Mulholland, and the Central Valley Project, water was beginning to permeate every aspect of California’s development by the 1880s.
It was water, rather than gold or silver, that fueled the boom in Traver, and Charles Keller had been enthusiastically attracted to the opportunity the blossoming town offered. Situated only 10 miles north of Visalia, the county seat of Tulare, Traver was a product of one of the first large irrigation projects in the Central Valley. The 76 Land & Water Company was formed in 1882, conceived by civil engineer P.Y. Baker. With the aid of several investors, the project set out to develop thousands of acres of land by means of irrigation.
While California’s great Central Valley was mostly arid in terms of rainfall, there was a bountiful water source nearby. The valley is bordered on both the east and west by mountains, and those to the east comprise one of the largest, most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. When the earliest Spanish missionaries first viewed the range from afar, they described it as “una gran sierra nevada” — literally, a great snow-covered range — and the name stuck.
Several major river systems carry the runoff of the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley. Those rivers draining the watersheds of the northern and central Sierra ultimately flow into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, which form a complex delta system and eventually meander into the San Francisco Bay. The southern, and steeper, end of the Sierra is drained on the west by three major streams — the Kings, Kaweah, and Kern rivers — all of which terminate in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The waters of the Kings and Kaweah once drained into the vast Tulare Lake. (The lake is now usually dry, but prior to the advent of extensive agriculture in the valley, it was the largest body of water west of the Mississippi and boasted perhaps the greatest concentration of game and fish anywhere in America.)
When irrigation projects moved this bountiful water to otherwise arid land, large districts that had afforded nothing more than sheep ranges would be converted into lush gardens, vineyards, orchards, and alfalfa pastures, the irrigation promoters promised.
Irrigation certainly was not a new idea to the San Joaquin Valley in the 1880s, although there were still those opponents who claimed irrigation on such a large scale would be disastrous. Skeptics and naysayers feared that the action of the water under the influence of the sun would destroy the substance of the soil, or believed that when the water was put upon the land it would produce chills and fever in such amount that irrigated districts would be uninhabitable.
But by the mid-1880s, local farmers were familiar enough with small-scale irrigation, and investors so motivated by the economic potential, they paid little if any heed to such dire predictions. With water assured for the district, promotion was started on a grand scale early in 1884.
The final step for the 76 Land & Water Company called for the establishment of a town, which was named for one of its directors, Charles Traver. Within one month, Traver could boast of three mercantile stores, two lumber yards, two livery stables, a post office, two hotels, barber shops, and a new railway station in the process of being built. Schools and churches soon followed, and the town, situated on the main Southern Pacific line, quickly became the principal shipping point for grain in the area.
While nearby Visalia was a fairly sizable and well-established town, having been around for several decades rather than a few short months, Traver had become the rising star in the Central Valley. Charles Keller undoubtedly felt like finally, for once in his life, he was at the right place at the right time. He would finally obtain a piece of the golden opportunity the California dream had always promised, but which so few had realized.
BONANZA WHEAT FARMS
As Charles Keller rode the train through the Central Valley that spring day in 1885, the landscape outside his window was dominated by endless acres of wheat — it was the era of the bonanza wheat farms. Grain farming was one of the first agricultural enterprises in the Central Valley. It could be successfully dry-farmed most seasons, and the coming of the railroad in 1872 provided a boon, opening up vast markets. Additionally, California wheat was able to withstand long shipment by boat, thus opening up the European market.
Not really farming at all, but more like a variety of mining — exploitative farmers would decimate the soil, planting the fields year after year without variation of crops, giving the land neither rest nor manure. Once a section was exhausted they would simply move onto virgin soil elsewhere on their vast landholdings. The same feverish frenzy that characterized mining in Gold Rush California also characterized wheat farming.
In 1885, wheat farming had still to reach its statistical peak in Central California. But the proliferation of irrigation projects, developments in horticulture and viticulture, and the completion of additional rail lines were bringing about a change to more of an orchard economy.
Still, in 1886, Tulare County would produce nearly six million bushels of wheat, roughly one-third of the state’s entire production. And, in 1888, Traver would ship more wheat than any town in the world ever had. It wasn’t until 1891 that the Traver Advocate would proclaim that “the reign of King Wheat is nearly over; the orchard, vineyard, apiary and poultry farm is usurping his domain.”
Monopolization of the land by a relative few had made bonanza farming possible. As Charles Keller traveled through the heart of the great Central Valley, he could look out and see many of these vast holdings. In 1871, 516 men in California owned 8,685,439 acres. In Fresno County, there were 48 landowners with holdings of 79,000 acres or more each. Partners Henry Miller and Charles Lux had managed to acquire 450,000 acres by the early 1870s, and that figure would eventually double.
How had so much land come to be acquired by so few in California? In 1871, an insightful pamphlet, Our Land and Land Policy, by San Francisco journalist Henry George, traced the problem back to the Mexican land grants. With them, George lamented, began California’s history of “greed, perjury, of corruption, of spoliation and high-handed robbery, for which it will be difficult to find a parallel.” Strong words, but Carey McWilliams would later call even that a conservative statement.
In his classic work, Factories in the Fields, McWilliams wrote of speculators emerging from “dusty archives with amazing documents,” and explained how men who came to be owners of these grants had acquired them from Mexican settlers “who had sold an empire for little or nothing.” The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had guaranteed property rights to Mexicans in proceedings, rested on these native Californians. With few assets beyond the tenuous title to their land, it is easy to imagine how unscrupulous speculators could acquire what were already questionable claims.
Many times, these holdings became vastly enlarged through liberal and unregulated resurveying. The point, McWilliams emphasized, was not that settlers were swindled and huge profits made, but that the grants, many known to be fraudulent, were not broken up. The monopolistic character of land ownership in California was established.
Keller, himself, had experience attempting to settle on a disputed land grant. In 1869, after his unsuccessful stint as a San Bernardino brewer, he headed to Mission San Buena Ventura, where he learned there was government land to be had.
Keller continued his northward migration, this time into Sonoma County, where he met Caroline Woodard, a teacher at the district school. The two were married in Healdsburg in 1871, where they remained for two years. They were soon able to buy a cattle ranch near Eureka and operated a dairy business for three years. Then Keller decided to take on a local monopolist. Looking back in a brief autobiographical manuscript, Keller recalled the episode:
Just how accurate Keller’s account of his triumph against the millionaire is hard to say. But we do get a prime example of an attitude that Keller undoubtedly shared with many Californians of the 1870s. After a decade dominated by severe economic depression, the state had been polarized into tight sectors of poverty and wealth. This polarization was caused, according to Henry George, in great part by land monopolization. Charles Keller was one of many who shared that realization, and any business success Keller might realize represented a great victory against the wealth and corrupt barony of California.
RAILROAD LAND AND MUSSEL SLOUGH
Wealthy individuals were not the only entities to control vast areas of land in 19th-century California. The railroads, most notably the Central Pacific, which eventually merged with the Southern Pacific, owned millions of acres by the 1870s. This land had been granted to them by the government in alternate sections along various rights-of-way of proposed rail lines that in addition to cash subsidies provided the capital to build and begin operations of the railroads. As Keller, in 1885, was traveling south by the giant locomotive of progress, belching steam and smoke over twin bands of iron, he had to be aware of the railroad’s role in shaping the state. And thanks to one particularly painful episode, still a fresh wound in the minds of most residents, Keller’s awareness and opinion of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s contributions would have been decidedly one-sided.
Frustrated farmers, merchants, and land seekers had long blamed their troubles — high transportation rates, a slumping economy, and frustratingly slow agricultural development — on the highly visible railroad monopoly. In the Mussel Slough area, near Hanford in the west of what was then still Tulare County (now Kings County), groups of settlers began moving onto railroad-reserved sections of land in the early 1870s. The reserved land had yet to be patented to the railroads, and much as Keller had done on the Mission claim in Buena Ventura, these settlers were betting the claims would be voided by the courts.
The settlers tried in vain to file claims on the land. They sent petitions to Congress with no result. In 1878, some Mussel Slough farmers formed the Settlers’ Grand League to publicize their position and create solidarity. Seeking to allay growing alarm, the railroad sent out prospectuses, which assured that when the railroad won title, the farmers occupying the land would be offered the right to purchase land at $2.50 per acre “without regard to improvements.”
The railroad received legal title to their grants and began to send land appraisers to evaluate their holdings as a step toward sale. The land was first offered, as promised, to those in possession, but at exorbitant prices of $17 to $40 and even $80 per acre, a value that reflected the improvements made by the settlers. League members refused to pay. The courts, in 1879, upheld the railroad’s right to evict the settlers, who were by this time squatters in the eyes of the law.
The situation deteriorated. In May 1880, U.S. Marshall Alonzo Poole, along with a Southern Pacific land grader and two recent purchasers of railroad land, set out to take possession. While settlers had congregated in Hanford for a picnic, unaware of Poole’s mission, two ranches had the furniture removed. After emptying the second ranch house, Poole and his men were met by a contingent of settlers on horseback, who “arrested” Marshall Poole and demanded that the other men surrender their guns. Suddenly a horse reared, knocking Poole into the road. Shooting broke out and five of the settlers and one of Poole’s men were killed. Another man from the Marshall’s party was later found dead in a field with a gunshot in his back.
The tragedy at Mussel Slough was an immediate cause celebre. Settlers, frustrated at their inability to acquire land, cast the railroad as pure villain. Nearly 20 years later, Frank Norris summed up their attitude in his historical novel, The Octopus. In the fictional account loosely based on the Mussel Slough affair, he called the railroad:
EXPOSING DUMMY FILERS
Large corporations, such as the railroad, were easy targets for the disgruntled poor. Their ability to exploit land laws and swindle the government out of countless acres of land was a major cause of the widening gap between poverty and wealth. Charles Keller became well acquainted with just that sort of swindle.
After his triumph against the millionaire competitor in the meat business in Eureka, Keller apparently enjoyed several years as a successful merchant. It was while running that market that he “became acquainted with the fraudulent entries that were being made in government land in Humboldt and Trinity Counties.” He described learning of a scheme by lumber companies of using dummy buyers to file claims on government land:
Again, Charles Keller found himself on the move, this time ending up back in San Francisco where he saw an advertisement for business opportunities in the brand-new town of Traver. He quickly jumped at the chance, and it was on a train trip between San Francisco and his new home in the Central Valley that another golden opportunity came his way.
Keller had learned a valuable lesson from his whistleblowing in Eureka, beyond the obvious one about angering powerful men in the town where one does business. He had become “conversant with the essentials necessary to secure” government land as set forth by the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. Designed to provide for the sale of 160-acre tracts of surveyed land, the value of which was chiefly in the timber and stone upon it. Such land could be purchased for $2.50 per acre. But, as Keller had also learned in Humboldt, this lent itself to fraud. The Timber and Stone Act was not the first land legislation to avail itself of widespread fraud in California. The Swamp and Overflow Act of 1850 was designed to provide the state with money for reclamation of land deemed more than a certain percentage swamp or overflow, which the state offered for $1.25 per acre. But as this process depended upon locating and determining swamp land, government surveyors found themselves in an easily corruptible position. Some very valuable land was returned to the State of California as swamp and quickly bought up at the bargain price by well-connected and influential men.
One example of such abuse lay just to the east of Traver in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Tulare County. In 1883 and 1884, W.H. Norway and P.M. Norboe surveyed the area in and around Giant Forest, where some of the most impressive groves of giant sequoias in the world were located. They returned to the state the meadows, which during spring did contain a fair portion of swamped land, along with the dry forest land, deeming it all swamp and overflow. Norway reportedly wrote up his field notes in camp without doing any actual surveying, and for a consideration of 25 cents per acre would declare any land as swamp or overflow. In this way, the land became state property and then passed into private hands, allowing the lush meadows of Giant Forest to become summer pasture for Tulare County stockmen.
One of these surveyors, P.M. Norboe, happened to be on the same train with Charles Keller in the spring of 1885. Also on the train that day was P.Y. Baker, the civil engineer behind the 76 Land & Water Company. Keller’s own accounts of their encounter are somewhat contradictory, but in one version Keller claims to have overheard a conversation between Baker and Norboe, wherein “Baker informed his companion that east of Visalia was the most magnificent Forest of giant redwoods… opened for sale by order of the Interior Department.” The element of serendipitous eavesdropping was probably played up by Keller for dramatic effect. In another account, he admits he simply “introduced myself and asked if I might take part in their conversation,” and then learned of the “virgin forest of giant redwoods, practically within sight of Visalia, wholly unknown to the average citizen” that belonged to the government and was “actually open to purchase as timber land.”
What would this knowledge mean to Charles Keller, a merchant who now owned a market in the thriving valley town of Traver? His future certainly seemed promising without speculating on timber land in the mountains. Keller’s only experience with lumbermen involved being run out of town by them in Eureka. But Keller was interested in this discovery of available timber land, not just for himself, but for a far greater purpose.
Keller belonged, at that time, to the Co-Operative Land Purchase and Colonization Association of San Francisco. The association was an outgrowth of various labor and social reform organizations, most significantly the International Workingmen’s Association, to which Keller also belonged. It is likely Keller had even attended a meeting of this association during this last visit to the Bay Area — meetings at which the membership was reminded of its primary duty, which according to Keller was “for each to consider himself a committee of one to seek out opportunities to purchase” land with resources sufficient to sustain a cooperative colony.
It was almost as if this opportunity had sought out Charles Keller. As the train pulled into the Traver depot, still under construction, Keller couldn’t wait to further investigate his findings and inform his associates in San Francisco. He became increasingly excited about the prospects for the future. It was now a future he envisioned set in the lush forests of the mighty Sierra Nevada.
SOURCES: The Charles F. Keller papers, housed in the Sequoia National Park historical archives, was a valuable source for this chapter. Some of the books consulted for the chapter include: Land in California: The Story of Mission Lands, Ranchos, Squattters… by W.W. Robinson (UC Press, Berkeley, CA 1948); Empire Out of the Tules, by Brooks D. Gist (Tulare, CA 1976); Railroad Crossing: Californian and the Railroad, 1850-1910, by William Deverell (UC Press, Berkeley, CA 1994); Factories in the Field, by Carey McWilliams (1939); and Frank Norris’ novel The Octopus (Signet Books, 1964, originally published in 1901). Douglas Hillman Strong’s unpublished dissertation “History of Sequoia National Park,” was also valuable, as was Lary M. Dilsaver and William C. Tweed’s Challenge of the Big Trees (SNHA, Three Rivers, CA 1990) and The Sierra Nevada, A Sierra Club Naturalists’ Guide (San Francisco, 1979) by Stephen Whitney.
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Haskell and the Labor Movement
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
The Co-Operative Land Purchase and Colonization Association in San Francisco to which Charles Keller belonged was spearheaded by Burnette Haskell. He was an intense man of slight build with a high, prominent forehead and a strikingly penetrating gaze. He was prone to nervously consuming cigarettes and dominating a conversation with a flood of words. Although not yet 30 years of age in 1885, he already had made considerable impact on organized labor and seemed destined for even greater notoriety.
Born in 1857 near Downieville in Sierra County, his parents had both come to California during the Gold Rush. The family was rather well-to-do. Haskell’s father, Edward Wilder Haskell, was a Forty-Niner who had achieved considerable success and moved his family into a fine two-story house in Marysville shortly after Haskell was born. A daughter and two more sons followed in the next 10 years.
Haskell’s mother, Marie Briggs Haskell, once described her oldest son as extremely curious, getting into everything. “Where ever his mind was,” she once wrote, “there is where he went.” She noted he was “not a sleepy child, never slept but little” and even claimed he “could write before he was two.” If this hints at a penchant for exaggeration, it was a trait she certainly handed down to her son.
In 1867, at Marie Haskell’s suggestion, the family moved to San Francisco so that they could avail themselves of the cultural and social benefits of city life. Haskell’s father sold off several hundred acres of orchard property to make this possible. The family moved to a fashionable residence on Rincon Hill, and the elder Haskell began large-scale real estate and mining investments.
EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE
When Burnette was 17 years old, his ever-curious mind investigated mysticism, and with the help of a book on magic he conjured up a spirit, Astaroth, from the netherworld who told him that he had been chosen for great deeds. But throughout his late teens and early twenties, Burnette Gregor Haskell seemed more destined to become a hopeless underachiever.
Haskell attended San Francisco Public High School but dropped out to take a job as a proofreader in a publishing house, where he learned the printing trade. He returned to high school and eventually went east to attend Oberlin College, but did not register or attend classes. He then moved to Illinois and began studying civil engineering at Illinois University. He left there after a semester and returned to California where he dropped out of the University of California after two months. In her 1950 thesis study on Haskell, Caroline Medan summed up his college career by stating he had been “unduly handicapped by his not registering, not attending class, and not studying.”
Haskell set out to make it on his own and spent two years in Chicago driving a streetcar and clerking, but he evidently squandered what little money he earned and found himself more and more in a world of “poverty and pawn shops.” In 1877, he accepted his father’s suggestion that he return home.
Finally showing signs of settling down, Haskell found a job as a clerk in the law offices of Latimer and Morrow and began studying law on his own. He passed the bar exam in 1879 and eventually established his own law practice. He also became interested in politics and served as assistant secretary for the Republican County Convention and later, in 1881, was appointed deputy tax collector. He resigned the post after only one month. He also served a short stint in the California National Guard, earning a commission of captain but shortly after resigned in part because of an incident involving missing money and records.
During this rather unfocused period of his life, Haskell’s parents went through a considerable change. The effects of a nationwide depression — exacerbated by a severe drought and the arrival of cheap eastern goods on the new transcontinental railroad — brought severe financial hardship to California during the “terrible seventies.” It was no time to be in the investment business, and under the stress of financial difficulties, Edward and Marie Haskell’s marriage ended. She moved to Southern California, and Edward and the rest of the family weathered an extremely difficult period together, moving six times between 1879 and 1882. Each move took them to less fashionable quarters. On Thanksgiving Day 1882, the fractured family moved to working-class Howard Street in San Francisco and were forced to take in boarders.
‘TRUTH’ IS FOUNDED
Haskell’s instability and early career faltering certainly wasn’t from lack of energy, imagination, or enthusiasm but from a definite lack of focus. The 25-year-old had been influenced by law, politics, and the military. He displayed a love for the secret and unusual. His capacity for planning and scheming were strikingly apparent and constantly in operation. He had yet, however, to find the great dedication that would be his life’s work. It was through the newspaper business that he would ultimately make that discovery.
Haskell’s work with the Republican party led to a position as editor of the Political Record, a weekly newspaper in which Haskell hoped to exhort against corruption in politics, which he editorialized was a ““danger greater than rebellion and stronger than sectional hatred.” But Haskell quickly became disillusioned when he discovered that the publisher had accepted $50 for printing an article favorable to a local candidate for public office. Haskell did the one thing at which he was an expert: he quit. His newspaper career was resurrected, however, when a wealthy uncle on his mother’s side set Haskell up with a paper of his own.
While his uncle perhaps hoped the weekly four-sheet paper, called Truth, might help promote his own political career, it wasn’t long before Haskell had other ideas about the publication’s mission. The turning point came one evening in 1882 when, in search of news, Haskell attended a meeting of the Trades Assembly, a Socialist labor organization. Charles F. Burgman spoke at the meeting. It was a speech that opened Haskell’s eyes, and he quickly offered to make his weekly paper an organ of the Assembly. In his enthusiasm, he spoke passionately of the corruption he had seen and in which he had taken part.
Trades Assembly president Frank Roney described the situation in his autobiography:
Bitter opposition to Haskell’s offer to make the paper the voice of the Assembly was at first expressed by its delegates. However, Roney eventually prevailed upon the members to accept Haskell’s proposal, and Truth became the official organ of the Trades Assembly:
THE CAUSE OF LABOR
It is hard to believe that Haskell had never heard of trade unions or of the movement before attending the Trades Assembly meeting, but making such a claim was well within his character. During the 1870s, San Francisco was a town rife with sandlot rallies by torchlight as tensions arose from the extremes of poverty and wealth so evident. Denis Kearney’s incendiary speeches and anti-Chinese agitation defined the time. Radical political parties, such as the Workingmen’s Party of California, sprang up. Rallies erupted in violence, and a railroad strike in the East ignited widespread riots in San Francisco. This tradition of radicalism prompted California historian Kevin Starr to aptly coin the term “Left Side of the Continent” when describing the state.
Starr traced the roots of California’s unique labor history in the opening chapter of Endangered Dreams back to the Gold Rush, explaining how it had created a great need for labor. Labor early on had the advantage and commanded extremely high wages. The Gold Rush also restored dignity to labor, for no matter what a man had done before, he performed hard physical labor in the gold fields. “For a few short years, everyone had been a worker,” Starr noted, “and by and through physical work California had been established.”
Trade unions gained strength in San Francisco, which due to geographic boundaries and further isolation from the East during the Civil War developed its own manufacturing need and capacity. A heightened influx of immigrants after the completion of the transcontinental railroad created a burgeoning surplus labor force. This situation forced down wages in the state and stoked anti-Chinese sentiment. A severe depression in the mid-1870s — the third and fiercest to hit San Francisco since 1869 — further radicalized the labor movement as the search for solutions became more desperate.
Haskell was undoubtedly searching for solutions himself when, in the early 1880s, he devoted himself with a singular fervor to the cause. Haskell had always displayed an impatience and “lack of stability” that biographer Caroline Medan called “the defect of his personality.” But with his conversion to the cause of labor, Haskell finally found his great dedication.
“As editor, lawyer, union organizer, internationalist and cooperationist,” Medan wrote, “Haskell tried to realize a dream of radical reform through socialism.”
ANARCHY, REVOLUTION AND COOPERATION
When Truth became the official organ of the socialist League of Deliverance, which had evolved from the Trades Assembly, Burgman began the task of converting Truth’s young editor. Labor historian Ira Cross once noted that the intellectually insatiable Haskell “within a short time mastered all the available labor and radical literature and became without a doubt the best read man in the local labor movement.” By the early 1880s, there was a considerable wealth of material to read. Much of this writing was in response to the social consequences brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the new problems between capital and labor that ensued.
Haskell would have familiarized himself with the French socialists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including the influential thinker Count Henri de Saint-Simon; Charles Fourier, a lonely, saintly man with a tenuous hold on reality who described a socialist utopia in lavish mathematical detail; the more practical Louis Blanc; and Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who wrote the 1840 pamphlet What is Property? (The short answer, according to Proudhon, was that all property was profit stolen from the worker.) Haskell very well may have studied social reformers in Britain such as Robert Owen, whose experiments in cooperative and socialist communities included one at New Harmony, Indiana.
Undoubtedly the most influential writer Haskell would have read during this period was Karl Marx. Marx, along with Friedrich Engels, published in 1848 what has been called the Bible of Socialism — The Communist Manifesto (originally the Manifesto of the Communist Party). Marxism united sociology, economics, and all human history in a vast and imposing edifice. By 1880, Haskell also had available to him Marx’s 1859 Critique of Political Economy and his great 1867 theoretical work, Capital. Marx synthesized in his socialism not only French utopian schemes but English classical economics and German philosophy. Haskell was an eager student, enthused no doubt by The Communist Manifesto, which ended with the summons: “Working men of all countries, UNITE!”
Haskell organized a clandestine association — the Invisible Republic — in the summer of 1882 that was basically an elaborate Socialist study group. Steeped in elaborate Roman ritual and a “sense of secret power” that his supposed inside knowledge of state politics made seem meaningful, the Invisible Republic was mostly concerned with, as one observer put it, “talk, talk, talk, and some little swearing too.”
Meanwhile, the pages of Haskell’s Truth were filled with articles by or in praise of such notable figures as John Swinton, Henry George, Victor Hugo, Kropotkin, Marx, and Bakunin. Readers were implored to organize themselves into groups of seven, and each in turn organize into another group of seven, and so on until the whole Pacific Coast was organized. Haskell showed an obsession for organizational schemes based on pyramids and geometric progression. Haskell’s Truth also contained science fiction articles, many penned by Haskell himself. With titles like “Invisible Men Amongst Us” and “How to Grow Tall at Will,” one can imagine that even these fanciful stories carried a pointed political subtext.
Leagues and associations came and went, were organized or dissolved or merged with confusing frequency. There existed a mish-mash of groups in San Francisco such as the Assembly of the Knights of Labor or the Revolutionary Socialistic Party. Haskell’s Invisible Republic soon “weeded out the men who could not go as far as we went in radicalism” and was re-christened the Illuminati. Truth became more revolutionary in tone, advocating class struggle and anarchy.
By 1883, Haskell became convinced that a complete overhaul of the economic and political structure of America was necessary and that limited educational organizations like his Invisible Republic and Illuminati had insufficient means with which to bring about radical social revolution. Haskell established the International Workingmen’s Association based on, but with no connection to, Marx’s International, which was founded in 1864.
The bookish Marx excelled as a practical organizer and following the founding of the First International, he fought successfully to control the organization, using its annual meetings to spread his realistic “scientific” doctrines of inevitable Socialist revolution. This no doubt contributed greatly to the phenomenal growth of Socialist political parties worldwide in the 1870s. Various Socialist parties emerged in France, the German Social Democratic party was founded and gained considerable strength and, in 1883, Russian exiles in Switzerland founded the Russian Social Democratic party.
Like Marx, Haskell displayed a talent for practical organization. The purpose of his IWA was, he maintained, to hasten the arrival of a socialist government to “give each man the full product of his labor and his fair share of earthly benefits.” Organization was patterned on many secret revolutionary societies, with cells of members, divisions of rank, and encoded membership cards. The secrecy and Haskell’s tendency toward exaggeration makes the size of the membership difficult to ascertain, but Ira Cross felt confident that the IWA had at least 19 groups in San Francisco, 10 in Eureka and vicinity, two in Oakland, and one each in San Rafael, Berkeley, Healdsburg, Stockton, Sacramento, and Tulare County.
Truth, which naturally became the official organ of Haskell’s IWA, became now even more revolutionary and extreme, at times advocating the use of violence. On November 17, 1883, it declared:
In another issue it announced, “Truth is five cents a copy, and dynamite forty cents a pound,” and once published an article entitled “Street Fighting Military Tactics for the Lower Classes” that printed a recipe for dynamite.
These sensational incitements were probably more to attract attention than to really motivate action. Ira Cross had opportunity to interview Haskell shortly before he died and “he told of having manufactured bombs, of secreting valises filled with them, and of plans to blow up the County Hall of Records,” but history cannot trace a single act of violence resulting from Haskell’s incendiary writings and extravagant statements.
Haskell’s Pacific Coast Division of the IWA did, however, prove to be an important factor in building up the labor movement in California. Haskell’s greatest union-organizing effort was the Coast Seamen’s Union, which began with Haskell speaking to a couple hundred sailors from a pile of wet lumber on a pier one rainy night and grew to a union over 1,200 members strong. For all his organizing and propagandizing success, Haskell realized that approaching socialism by means of educational groups, revolutionary secret societies, or labor unionism was not the way to achieve his dream of a fair and just society.
One summer day in 1884, at a Knights of Labor picnic, Haskell fell into a discussion with some friends: James J. Martin, an Englishman who was active in helping him organize the Coast Seamen’s Union, and John Hooper Redstone, a patriarchal figure among Haskell’s associates with a long history of labor and radical activity. An original member of the IWA, Redstone may well have given Haskell the idea for that organization, for he had been at least tangentially involved in the formation of Marx’s old International. Haskell felt that a small group or colony operating under the tenets of socialism would provide the most effective argument for his cause. He envisioned a living example of harmonious cooperation in contrast to the misery and want of the “competitive system,” which was the phrase then commonly used as a pejorative term for capitalism.
As well-read as Haskell was, it is no surprise he found the blueprint for such an endeavor in Laurence Gronlund’s Co-operative Commonwealth, a small volume that had only recently been published and was said to be the “first comprehensive work in English on socialism.” Using the terms “socialism” and “social cooperation” interchangeably, Haskell was naturally attracted to Gronlund’s suggestion of organization, which included a hierarchical scheme of divisions, departments, bureaus, and sections. Haskell and his friends undoubtedly discussed Gronlund’s book at the picnic that day, for it would become for them part handbook and part bible.
The very forests surrounding the picnic area where Haskell, Martin, and Redstone discussed their plans and dreams provided further inspiration. If a group could settle on land that offered industrial possibilities or natural resources — a forest, for example — the financial potential would greatly add to a colony’s appeal. The trio decided to move forward, to act on their plans and dreams, and a new organization was thus born.
To finance the early phases of their project and to begin implementation of the plan, Haskell and his associates organized a land purchase company. The first meeting of the Co-Operative Land Purchase and Colonization Association was held in October 1884. Each member agreed to pay a monthly sum, although many were poor and had to “pawn their jewelry or mortgage their homes” to take part, and this money was “devoted to employing searchers for government and other cheap land.” Many of these members were also members of the IWA, which drew from groups throughout California, including Traver, California. Charles Keller was one such member.
It is hard to imagine with all of Haskell’s activities during the early 1880s that he would have time for anything else. But in 1881, shortly before his conversion to the causes of labor and socialism, Burnette Haskell was spending a considerable amount of time with a young woman who was a friend of his sister Helen.
Photos of Anna Fader show a woman that by modern standards would not be considered a conventional beauty. This is perhaps partly the fault of the camera, which failed to flatter her thin, long, slightly-pinched face, and crooked smile. But Haskell didn’t miss any opportunity to flatter the 23-year-old woman who had come to live with his family. From the start, he was obviously attracted to her. Her independent spirit — she had come alone to San Francisco seeking her own fortune — and intellectual prowess, along with her physical appearance, had caught his eye. Between Burnette and Annie, as she was called, there was an immediate, definite attraction. She wrote in her diary shortly after taking a room with the Haskells:
Sometime in 1882, Burnette and Annie entered into a home-drawn marriage contract. Presiding over this ceremony was Haskell’s favorite conjured spirit: Astaroth (the origin of which was probably Ashtoreth or Astart, the Phoenician goddess of fertility and sexual love). By June 1883, the marriage was formalized in a legal ceremony. Annie Haskell described her new husband as a regular socialist, nihilist, communist, red republican. “He makes me smile,” she added.
By 1885, Burnette Haskell had begun to talk a great deal about cooperation and a proposed Colony.
SOURCES: The Haskell Family Papers, housed at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California, were vital as a source in this chapter. Also consulted was Caroline Medan’s M.A. thesis paper “Burnette Gregor Haskell: California Radical” at the University of California. Another thesis, Oscar Berland’s “Aborted Revolution: A Study in the Formative Years of the American Labor Movement” proved valuable as well. In addition to those key sources, books such as Kevin Starr’s Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California (Oxford University Press, NY, 1996); Irish Rebel and California Labor Leader: An Autobiography (edited by Ira Cross, UC Press, 1935) by Frank Roney, and especially Ira Cross’s History of the Labor Movement in California (UC Publications in Economics, 1935) were consulted. Newspaper sources include various issues of Truth (via microfilm at the Bancroft Library) and The Commonwealth (monthly journal of the Kaweah Colony, which predated the later Kaweah Commonwealth). One especially noteworthy source was the diaries, part of the Bancroft’s Haskell Family Papers, of Anna F. Haskell
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Stewart and the Land Office
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
When Charles Keller, on his train trip back through the San Joaquin Valley, learned of available timber land, he immediately set out to investigate the matter further. To find out more, he even enlisted the help of the first Euro-American man to ever see the giant sequoias of what was already being called the Giant Forest. But first Keller headed to the Land Office in Visalia to confirm what he had heard and acquire maps and surveys of the available forest land. Having checked his information, Keller set out to see for himself all he had heard about the Giant Forest.
Rockwell’s wife is credited with having named the tiny village of Three Rivers, so christened in the 1870s because it was situated at the convergence of three forks of the Kaweah River, in the hills on the edge of the mighty Sierra. The Kaweah River actually consists of five forks that drain one of the steepest watersheds in all the Sierra. Those forks are the North, Middle, Marble, East, and South. In the 30 or so miles from its headwaters to the floor of the San Joaquin Valley, the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River drops an impressive 12,000 feet, passing through several biological zones and through a wide variation in topography and vegetation on its swift downward journey.
At a broad widening of the Kaweah canyon just below Three Rivers (on land that is today under the Lake Kaweah reservoir) was the homestead and ranch of Hale Tharp, one of the area’s earliest settlers. Tharp’s knowledge of the forest that Keller was setting out to explore was unsurpassed by any local settlers as he had visited the forest before any other Euro-American.
THARP AND THE GIANT FOREST
Hale Tharp had come to Tulare County in 1856, settling on the Kaweah River at the edge of the Southern Sierra foothills some 20 miles east of Visalia. Tharp had befriended the local Native American chief, Chappo, who in turn showed Tharp the magnificent giant sequoia forests and lush meadows of the adjacent mountains.
Since 1861, Tharp had used the area known as the Giant Forest for summer pastures and had even secured patents on some of the land that had been entered as swamp and overflow land — lush meadows that provided ample summer grazing for his stock. On the edge of one meadow, Tharp built a cabin from a single fallen sequoia tree that fire had hollowed.
When famed naturalist John Muir visited the spectacular forest in 1876, his exploration included a chance meeting with Hale Tharp, who extended his hospitality to the wandering student of nature. Muir explained to the stockman that he had come south from Yosemite and was only looking at the Big Trees. At Tharp’s spacious single log cabin, Muir enjoyed a fine rest and nourishment while he listened to the “observations on trees, animals, adventures, etc.” of the “good Samaritan” Tharp.
Muir later took credit for giving the forest its name when he wrote that “after a general exploration of the Kaweah basin, this part of the sequoia belt seemed to me the finest.” He decided to call it “the Giant Forest” and described it as “a magnificent growth of giants grouped in pure temple groves, ranged in colonnades along the sides of meadow, or scattered among the other trees, [extending] from the granite headlands overlooking the hot foothills and plains of the San Joaquin back to within a few miles of the old glacier fountains at an elevation of 5,000 to 8,400 feet above the sea.”
Charles Keller obtained permission to use Tharp’s fallen-log cabin as a base of operation and was told he could count on Tharp’s son, Nort, as a guide once he reached the mountain forest. The forest was everything Keller had heard and more. During the summer of 1885, Keller was able to make his own surveys of the area and familiarize himself with the lay of the land.
With his own plats and surveys of the available and heavily timbered land, he sent a report to James Martin in San Francisco, who was secretary of the Land Purchase and Colonization Association. It was the duty of every member to consider themselves “a committee of one to seek out opportunities to purchase, and to notify the Secretary of such finds.” Keller, with a sense of urgency, suggested Martin call a meeting, read his report to the members, and ask as many as possible to come to Visalia to view the land and each enter claims for a quarter section of prime forest land. Martin later recalled that “the association thought Mr. Keller’s vision excellent.” With the Kaweah canyon as an available colony site and the timber as an abundant resource, along with ample water power at hand from the river, Martin realized that “with an eye for the practical,” they were indeed “visionaries.”
A BUSY LAND OFFICE
Keller’s report to the association in San Francisco “received immediate acceptance,” and he was notified to expect “upon a certain day, 40 of our members” to meet him at his home in Traver.
In October 1885, the General Land Office in Visalia became a busy place. Visalia was far from being a sleepy little farm town. The county seat of Tulare — a county that had tripled in population during the 1880s — Visalia was also the oldest town between Stockton and Los Angeles. A certain amount of activity and 19th-century hustle and bustle was to be expected, but the activities in the Land Office that October were well beyond the range of normal.
On October 5 of that year, 37 men, including Land Purchase Association founder Burnette Haskell, showed up at the Land Office. Each made an entry to purchase 160 acres of timber land at $2.50 per acre, available under the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. It must have been quite a sight as these men, dusty and ragged from their journey down from San Francisco, descended on the Land Office, crowding into the room and filling it with the noise and excitement of their enthusiasm. The registrar must have felt like a harried sales clerk at a candy store, besieged by dozens of clamoring children. (Another group filed on October 30, 1885, bringing the total number of filers to 53.) Keller, of course, had become “uniquely conversant with the necessary endeavoring” (as he once phrased it) to legally secure government land and so made sure all the rules were carefully followed.
The first rule stated that filers of government land were required to have examined the land they sought to purchase. Keller claimed, in his memoirs, that he organized a “trip of inspection” with each man “sleeping upon the quarter [section] he intended to file on.” This may have been an exaggeration — and although written 35 years after the fact, an exaggeration first uttered in the Land Office in 1885 — as it is hard to imagine being able to lead over 50 filers, most of whom were city-dwellers, into the Sierra forest without benefit of roads or even well-established trails.
Indeed, Keller’s memoirs describe one such trip of inspection, which provides some idea of the difficulties in believing that every single filer slept on his applied-for quarter section of land. After a laboriously slow journey “on a very rough trail under Moro Rock into the forest,” the party arrived at the plateau situated between the Marble and Middle forks of the Kaweah. At the western edge juts Moro Rock, a majestic mass of granite rising hundreds of feet from the forest (and dropping off thousands of feet on the valley side). Keller describes them as being “pretty much spent” by the time they reached the forest with its unsurpassed stands of sequoias covering some 2,500 acres and containing 20,000 mature sequoias.
While the forest also contains various firs, cedars, and pines, it is the concentration of giant sequoias that make the region unique. Native only to the western slope of the Sierra, the massive sequoia’s foliage somewhat resembles the incense cedar. But there the similarity ends. Mature sequoias average 15 feet thick at the base and about 250 feet in height. Exceptional trees exceed 300 feet in height and 30 feet in diameter. In age and stature, the Sequoiadendron giganteum is the unrivaled monarch of the Sierra forest.
Across the canyon of the Marble Fork, with its succession of cascades over marble cliffs, the sequoias thin out and disappear, but there are still vast tracts of pine and fir trees. White fir is dominant here, but also plentiful are incense cedar, ponderosa, Jeffrey pine, Douglas fir, red fir, and the majestic sugar pine. These forested slopes and ridges west of the Marble Fork also comprised the land on which Keller and his associates filed claims, and Keller’s trip of inspection therefore headed in this direction.
Dropping west over the saddle ridge that divided the Marble canyon from that of another of the Kaweah’s five forks, the group made it down the adjoining canyon to the Kaweah’s North Fork. They had to overcome steep descents, shortages of water, thick underbrush, poison oak, pack horses falling off ledges, individuals becoming separated and lost, and a host of other difficulties. They eventually worked their way down to the convergence of the North Fork and a large creek feeding it from the east (today called Yucca Creek, they would name it East Branch), and finally through the narrow foothills canyon of chaparral, oak woodland, and grassland.
Keller noted that “the city people were very much the worse for wear,” but all was well as it ended well. Keller, in later correspondence, reiterated the claim that he “led three different parties to the land, constituting 57 in number,” and so fulfilled the law demanding that all applicants have been on the land they desired to purchase, to which they all had to swear.
That requirement met, each filer had only to pay a $10 filing fee, arrange to publish notices of their claims in a local newspaper, and then return after 60 days and pay $400 for their individual quarter-sections, at which time they would receive legal title to the land.
STEWART AND SHARED SUSPICIONS
George W. Stewart was editor of the Visalia Weekly Delta when, as he later recalled, he was “reading the proofsheets of the notices, [and] detected the fraudulent nature of the applications and called the attention of the Register of the Land Office to the matter.” Looking at the information on those notices today, the only apparent clue that Stewart could have construed as indicating potential fraud was the fact that several of the applicants listed the same San Francisco address — a boarding house on Broadway. More likely, it was the mere circumstances of the mass filing itself, as well as the physical appearance of the filers themselves, that aroused suspicion.
First of all, San Joaquin Valley residents assumed that this land and its timber were inaccessible except through the expenditure of large sums of money, only possible by some giant corporation. There was, thus, a natural tendency to suspect that these were dummy filers, much like the fraudulent claims Keller had helped to uncover in Northern California years earlier. Suspicion was furthered by the fact that the group, on the very day of the filing, met at the courthouse in Visalia and formed the Tulare Valley and Giant Forest Railroad Company, which might have led suspicious Visalians to believe they were part of a scheme by the despised Southern Pacific Railroad to obtain and exploit the forest land.
George Stewart, like many Tulare County men, had long been concerned with land matters. Born in Placerville, California, in 1857, Stewart had come to Tulare County with his family in 1866. They were farmers, but young Stewart eventually learned the printing trade and at 19 years of age found a job working for one of the local newspapers, the Visalia Delta. Within a few years he became a city editor, and his promising journalism career soon took him to San Francisco and Hawaii before he returned to Visalia to run the Delta. Stewart had begun writing editorials urging preservation of mountain watersheds not long after the passage of the Timber and Stone Act of 1878, and many Central Valley citizens shared his concern for what might happen with so much forest land open for sale. As editor of the Visalia Delta and a prominent businessman, Stewart was acutely aware of the issues that concerned his readers, and land — its uses, its value, its legitimate or fraudulent acquisition — was a very big concern.
Stewart also mentioned other reasons he and J.D. Hyde, the Register of the Visalia Land Office, became suspicious:
If someone looks like a dummy entryman, sounds like a dummy entryman, and acts like a dummy entryman, they must be a dummy entryman. It was common knowledge that big corporations often employed this tactic. Foreign sailors arriving in San Francisco might be offered a few dollars, a jug of whisky, and even a night in a whorehouse in exchange for filing a land claim under the Timber and Stone Act on a corporation’s behalf. Before shipping back out, these sailors would abdicate title to the corporation — there were no restrictions on transfer of ownership — and in such a manner whole forests had been acquired. The appearance of Keller and his associates, many of whom were in fact sailors, would have easily suggested just such a scheme. Nonetheless, George Stewart published their notices in his newspaper and J.D. Hyde took their applications and filing fees, but the Land Commissioner in Washington, D.C., was contacted and alerted.
After 60 days, with notices of the claims printed in the paper, the members of the Land Purchase and Colonization Association could return to the Land Office and pay for their land, which would then be legally deeded to them.
In the interim [according to Keller’s recollection], certain influential citizens of Visalia took it upon themselves to report to the Interior Department that the people who had filed on these lands were poor and the money they had offered at the land office was not their own, that they were irresponsible, and that the claims should not be allowed.
J.D. Hyde had indeed contacted William Sparks, the Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, D.C., at the urging of Stewart and possibly other local citizens. As it turned out, Commissioner Sparks believed that large land and timber baronies were essentially “un-American” and so was more than receptive to suspicions of land fraud. Sparks strongly felt that fraudulent acquisition of land could result in a dangerous situation of “permanent monopoly.” Sparks’s somewhat radical warning would undoubtedly have found a sympathetic audience in Charles Keller and Burnette Haskell had they read of his fears of monopolists “creating the un-American system of tenant-farming, or dominating the timber supply of states and territories, or establishing conditions of feudalism in baronial possessions and comparative serfdom of employees.” While Keller and Haskell shared this contempt for powerful land monopolists, it is ironic that they themselves were suspected of being the puppets of such villains.
An inspector of the General Land Office, in the course of his duties, looked into the matter and filed a report from Visalia on December 1, 1885. In the report, Inspector G.C. Wharton echoed local concerns, pointing out that the land was considered inaccessible and that no access could ever be had except through the expenditure of large sums of money by some giant corporation. Wharton also wrote in his report that he “could not learn that these parties had ever visited or examined the land upon which they had filed” and surmised that “these men are what are usually called ‘dummies,’ engaged by some corporation, thus evading and violating the law.”
Later that month, just before the first group of applicants was due to present final proofs and tender, the Visalia Land Office received a letter notifying Hyde that Sparks had suspended the claims until a regular investigation could be conducted. Four large tracts (called “townships” in the nomenclature of land management) containing the land in question, along with several additional townships, were withdrawn from entry. Sparks gave as his reasons “supposed irregularities in the surveys, and alleged fraudulent entries,” and promised “an examination in the field… as soon as possible.” In a state with a legacy of questionable land grabbing and bureaucrats who either looked the other way or winked while handing out claims to speculators and sharpers, the suspension of the colonists’ claims was a surprising action. Such a preemptive strike against suspected land fraud was a rarity. When Keller and the rest returned to find the applications suspended and the registrar refusing to accept payment for the claims, they had to be in a state of utter disbelief.
Upon this action by the Land Office, a meeting was held wherein the members of the association, who had all filed legal legitimate claims to the forest land, debated what had best be done in the face of such extraordinary circumstances. Confident that any investigation of them would clear them of all fraudulent intent, the would-be colonists decided to proceed with plans.
SOURCE NOTES: The Charles Keller papers and a number of books, including The Way It Was (Tulare, California, 1976) and Land of the Tules (Valley Publishers, Fresno, California, 1972) by Annie Mitchell; Our National Parks, by John Muir (Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, 1901); and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (Penguin Books, 1993) contributed to this chapter. An unpublished thesis by Milton Greenbaum, “History of the Kaweah Colony” (Sequoia National Park library) and his citing of the Report of Inspector G.C. Wharton to the Commissioner of the General Land Office contributed to the understanding of what happened, as did letters from George W. Stewart to Colonel John R. White found in the George Stewart Papers (Visalia Public Library).
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Road Work Begins
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
When members of the Land Purchase and Colonization Association, immediately after filing claims on timber land in the Sierra Nevada of Tulare County, met at the courthouse in Visalia and organized the Tulare Valley and Giant Forest Railroad Company, their plans were still in the formative stages. Little did they suspect there would be any problem with their applications as they set about refining their plans and investigating their options.
Considering the immediacy in which the articles of incorporation for their proposed railroad were filed — it was done in the evening of the very day that timber land applications had been made — it was apparent that original plans had always involved building a railroad at least part way to the forest and the valuable timber. By late November 1885, newspapers were reporting on the proposed railway, which would “run from Tulare City to the Giant Forest, through a belt of the best land that ever laid out of doors.” Reports even went so far as to claim that “work on the road is being pushed rapidly forward and grading will be commenced the coming week.” This was a generously optimistic prediction.
THE TIMBER POOL
Before any work could begin, the members of the association had to come up with some sort of plan for how to proceed now that they had located their land. In other words, the “Association” was passing from its “Land Purchase” phase to the considerably more complicated “Colonization” phase. Charles Keller’s memoirs recount the first important step:
The “road” by which this timber would be accessed had yet to be defined, and it is interesting to note how Keller avoids any mention of deeding individual claims to the “association,” which is exactly what was in effect done.
Charles Keller was elected General Manager of the Timber Pool and James J. Martin its Secretary. Legal Advisor for the new organization was Burnette Haskell, and at their initial meeting it was decided that the first order of business was to determine “the most feasible plan to be adopted to reach the source of the Association’s wealth [timber] with the least outlay of expense.”
FLUME VS. RAILROAD
Two possible plans were discussed. One involved the construction of a flume from a mill site in the forest to the mouth of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. The other proposal was to build a railroad all the way into the forest via the North Fork of the Kaweah. Charles Keller was given carte blanc, in his own words, to investigate the feasibility of both plans and report back to his associates.
He visited the facilities at the Madera Flume and Lumber Company farther north, interviewing station men and repair crews and obtaining estimates of construction costs from the management. Knowing a little something about flumes, he returned to the Marble Fork to determine the practicality of such a flume in its steep canyon. Keller quickly “discarded all ideas regarding the construction of a flume” where the “natural difficulty would be almost impossible to overcome.”
Securing the service of an engineer formerly in the employ of the Southern Pacific, Keller then set about investigating the possibility of a railroad into the Giant Forest. Keller’s idea was to secure rights-of-way and obtain bonds from landowners to a five-mile depth on each side of their railroad “for the payment of $5,000 for every running mile of our road; the money to be paid as soon as our road reached Lime Kiln hill on the Kaweah River” [site of present-day Terminus Dam]. The Association, according to Keller himself, was enthusiastic about his plans for a railroad and instructed him to proceed and “follow his own bend.”
Burnette Haskell later recalled that the next year was “spent in raising money to survey the route of the railroad, procure rights of way, etc., etc. Some $25,000 to $30,000 was spent in this direction. Routes were surveyed to three different stations on the S.P.R.R. [main line], many rights of way were secured, and subsidiary bonds were obtained.” Newspaper editor George Stewart later claimed only $10,000 was raised to pay for the survey, which was done but “still is unpaid for.”
One unexpected turn of events, before any surveying of the proposed railroad commenced, actually created a cash windfall. In December 1885, when the Land Office suspended the claims and withdrew the land from entry, the filers could almost look upon the misfortune as an interest-free loan. That was certainly the spin Haskell put on it. With the claims suspended, the members did not have to immediately pay the $400 for each quarter section upon which they had filed claims.
It is also interesting to read Haskell’s version of why the applications were suspended. In putting the situation in a positive light, Haskell went so far as to state that it was a “capitalist pool,” which had designs on the land themselves, who had influenced the Land Office to suspend their claims. Therefore, when Haskell and his associates returned to offer necessary proofs and tender money, the Land Officer Receiver…
Thus Haskell saw, and convinced his associates, that they not only legally owned the land for which they had yet to receive title; but that because of the suspensions, payment would be at the very least deferred and perhaps waived entirely. The members must have concurred to some extent for they unanimously decided to forge ahead.
Keller continued his work on the proposed railroad. He ran surveys from both Traver and Tulare, hoping to play the citizens of both towns along the main Southern Pacific line off one another. Keller’s memoirs suggest he was successful in getting a group of people from Tulare to secure a bonus of $5,000 per mile, and that the city greeted him at the depot with “a grand bonfire in progress” and “the Tulare city band in evidence to give me welcome; it was in fact an acceptance and ratification of my proposal.”
But no matter how successful Keller had been in securing rights-of-way and funds for the railroad, he eventually realized that the timber would have to be accessed by wagon road before the railroad could be built. The reason, Keller explained, was “to secure ties and timbers for [rail]road construction from our holdings.” His decision was again backed by the membership.
A WAGON ROAD TO THE FOREST
Haskell recalled the decision a bit differently. Although he concedes that much was accomplished toward realizing their railroad, he recalled the idea of the wagon road as more out of necessity because “the railroad idea [had] been shelved on account of scarcity of means.” Haskell also noted that since “large bodies of agricultural and grazing land were discovered on the North Fork and adjacent canyons and were homesteaded, pre-empted or bought by various members of the Pool… the determination was arrived at to found a co-operative colony on the agricultural lands and build a wagon road to the timber.”
One has to wonder what Haskell and Keller both left unsaid. Without legal title to the timber lands, it seems highly unlikely they would have been able to raise the necessary capital to build a railroad or get the support of prominent Tulare County businessmen who undoubtedly knew the status of their applications. But with their positive spin on the suspended claims and a confidence that once investigated the claims would be honored, the members — who had begun thinking of themselves as colonists for they were beginning to settle the area — proceeded with the construction of a wagon road to the forest.
Haskell’s account may have contributed to a later belief that the road was constructed without dynamite, but this was a typical exaggeration on the part of the relentless propagandizer. James Martin, in a letter to the editors of The Fresno Bee decades later, corrects the misconception that no blasting powder was used in building the road.
“Several hundred pounds, if not tons, of dynamite and black powder were consumed in construction,” Martin explained.
Road construction began at the north end of Samuel Halstead’s ranch, about three miles up from the North Fork’s confluence with the Middle Fork. The road was begun on the west side of the river, as Halstead’s property was on this side and one must assume there was already some pre-existing wagon trail up that far. The first road camp was established on a bluff overlooking the river and Andrew Larsen, a tall, muscular sailor from Sweden, built a small cabin there. This would eventually become Burnette Haskell’s homestead and be known variously as Haskell’s Bluff or Arcady. At the foot of this bluff, the road crossed the river and continued up along the east side of the canyon.
Early progress of the road was outlined in the 1st Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Kaweah Colony Association from October 1, 1887:
After the establishment of a permanent camp at Advance, members of the Colony Association and their families began to move to the foothills settlement in the summer of 1887. It was slightly less than a year since road work had begun. The settlement housed families in canvas homes, and grew slowly but steadily in its first 18 months. By the spring of 1889, it was reported that Advance had 32 inhabitants “counting old and young” and that on “moonlit nights the voices of the young folks and children fill the air, as they play their outdoor games or join in singing merry chorus songs.”
MEN OF BACKBONE, BRAIN AND BRAWN
Still, even with the growing, idyllic settlement of young and old, all efforts were necessarily focused on building the road, which was excruciatingly hard work for the crew that averaged 20 or so men. Many of the road crew, like Larsen, had been members of the Coast Seamen’s Union. Frank Roney once suggested out-of-work sailors were profitably used, even exploited, by Haskell’s “scheme.” Roney, a San Francisco labor leader who had once been instrumental in Haskell’s conversion to the cause but ended up a bitter enemy, once wrote:
Roney’s accusation of exploitation was obviously a subjective assessment, and the relationship between Haskell and the out-of-work sailors involved more than just labor for sustenance. Many of these men must have believed they were laboring for a stake in utopia. While many of these sailors came to share Haskell’s vision of a social revolution, for others the primary motivation was the promise of some land on which to build a cabin — their own private utopia, perhaps. One sailor whose relationship to Haskell and the cause went far deeper was the big Swede: Andrew Larsen.
One colonist, who had carried water to the road workers as a teenager, remembered Larsen as a big man, strong and stout. (He was not as big as another worker named Lybeck. In fact, there was a tool at the road camp known as the “Lybeck crowbar” because it was so big no other could wield it.) Nonetheless, when Haskell called the road crew the men of “backbone, brain and brawn,” Larsen had to have been foremost in his mind.
Back in San Francisco, during Haskell’s revolutionary period a couple years prior, Larsen had served as a bodyguard while living with the Haskell family. Haskell related an amusing incident in his journal in 1885. He described the household that year as comprised of his father, his 19-year-old brother Benjie, his wife Annie, a roomer named Rose Caffrey, and “Andrew Larsen, a sailor, friend and employee who runs the press when he is not engaged in shooting himself to pieces.”
The shooting he referred to involved Larsen nearly shooting off his little finger while handling a gun he had obtained for protecting Haskell, who apparently became woozy at the sight of so much blood. According to Haskell’s journal, the mishap prompted some teasing remarks from his father:
A few days later Larsen got back at the senior Haskell with a good-natured jibe. One evening, a visiting friend commented that Larsen should try some Sure Cure — the health elixir Haskell’s father sold — on the wounded hand. “Oh, Edward says it is no good to put that on till the sore is healed,” Larsen retorted to general laughter all around.
A NEW FOREMAN
As the roadwork began, the men were supervised on site by the man who had done so much in formulating the plan for the association. Charles Keller, general manager of the Timber Pool — a voluntary association with no real legal status was now being referred to as the Kaweah Co-Operative Commonwealth Company — served as engineer and foreman of the road project. Under his superintendence, the first four or five miles of road were constructed. In March 1887, articles of incorporation were filed for the Giant Forest Wagon and Toll Road, with Keller, Martin, and John Redstone listed among its directors and, in addition, Haskell among others as subscribers of 50 shares valued at $100 each.
But somewhere along the way a rift began. Haskell later described Keller’s portion of the road as “not built to grade and runs up hill and down hill in a very annoying and unnecessary way.” If continued according to Keller’s plan, Haskell claimed, “It would have landed us at the foot of Rommel’s hill down in the gully with 2,000 feet elevation to climb by balloon.”
Journalist George Stewart recounted the growing rift as symptomatic of Keller’s poor treatment of the men and his “attempts to get sole control.” Stewart claims the crews’ provisions were “reduced finally to bread and beans only” and that the workers passed a resolution “demanding the right to select their own foreman.” That man was Horace T. Taylor. It was once said that he and his German wife were the kind of hardworking, practical individuals who could “make a living on a desert island.” Taylor proved to be a manager of rare ability, as one associate observed:
Taylor became the new superintendent of road construction and roadwork proceeded. George Stewart later observed, with an irony he undoubtedly recognized, that the leaders of the association “were much incensed by the assertion of their rights by the laborers” and noted quite accurately that “troubles continued to arise from this time forward.”
As the road progressed toward the forest, other matters were headed toward a crisis.
SOURCE NOTES: In addition to contemporary newspaper articles in the San Francisco Examiner, the Visalia Weekly Delta, and the colony-published The Commonwealth, this chapter relied on first-person accounts via The Keller Papers, Burnette Haskell’s journals, and an up-published memoir by Philip Winser entitled “Memories” (1931, The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA). The Frank Roney quote is from his autobiography Irish Rebel and California Labor Leader, and Oscar Berland’s notes on an interview he conducted with Albert E. Redstone in 1960 were also consulted.
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Crisis and Settlement
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
The growing rift in the Kaweah Colony had to do with more than just the progression of the wagon road or the manner in which the work crews were treated. It involved a basic fundamental question vital to the future of the endeavor. If the Kaweah experiment was indeed to serve as a shining example of a Socialist society — a revolution through example — it would first have to establish a form of organization compliant with the existing laws of the land. It is interesting to note how even a self-professed anarchist became utterly concerned with such compliance. This was self-preservation taking precedence over idealism, and it also became a battle of wills between two men: Burnette Haskell and Charles Keller. The ensuing controversy over defining the legal form of organization of the Kaweah Colony more than anything defined Burnette Haskell as the Colony’s guiding force from that point forward.
HASKELL GOES TO DENVER
In January 1887, just a few months after road construction began, Haskell went to Denver to take over a struggling newspaper, the Denver Labor Enquirer. He was serving as its West Coast correspondent when the publisher asked him to come and oversee the paper in Denver. Haskell’s own labor paper, Truth, had folded a couple years before, and he was still feeling the financial hardships Truth had handed him. Haskell had completely exhausted his personal savings and credit trying to keep the journal afloat, and as biographer Caroline Medan suggested, he was “very willing to escape his creditors” and arrived in Denver “in a borrowed overcoat and a new plug hat.”
On his way to Denver, Haskell made a detour to visit Kaweah. The Kaweah Co-Operative Colony was still, legally speaking, an informal organization. Their “avowed intention,” in Haskell’s words, “was to formulate a scheme of organization which should be based upon the doctrines taught in Gronlund’s Co-Operative Commonwealth, a scheme of pure cooperation based upon purely democratic principles,” but when Haskell visited in January, no legal plan of organization had yet been drafted.
The Executive Board, consisting of Keller, P.N. Kuss, J.G. Wright, W.J. Cuthbertson, and James Martin, set a March 1, 1887, deadline for themselves to draft something for the membership’s approval, but the deadline passed with nothing submitted. It then fell on Haskell, as legal advisor of the organization, to prepare a brief outlining his suggestions for a legal plan of organization, but by that time he had his hands full with matters in Colorado.
When Haskell arrived in Denver and saw the Enquirer’s small subscription list and the pitiful state of its finances, he sat down and cried. To save money, he lived at the newspaper office and, according to his wife, did all the work himself. He nonetheless managed to find time to examine the law and drafted his suggested plan of organization for the Executive Board back in Kaweah. He claimed his plan was then printed in the Enquirer and “sent off to the whole membership for their vote.” Whatever the outcome of that vote, if indeed any really occurred, is moot. The Executive Board failed to act upon Haskell’s plan, and while Haskell struggled in Denver to keep the failing newspaper solvent and promote the Socialist labor cause, discontent was on the rise in Kaweah.
Haskell received no word in Denver on his proposed plan of organization, which called for something along the lines of a limited partnership rather than a corporation offering public sale of stock. He did receive “certain documents accompanied by letters of protest and dissent” and learned that the Executive Board had found his “Special Partnership” plan, as he called it, impractical. They had instead, in his absence, decided on incorporation and Haskell found himself in receipt of a set of bylaws for the proposed corporation along with a ballot for members to vote for board directors. He immediately whipped off a letter of protest, and before he heard back received a telegram from dissatisfied members, requesting he return to California. This, along with a nasty case of mountain fever contracted in the unfamiliar climate, was incentive enough to leave Denver less than 10 months after arriving.
INCORPORATION AND CRISIS
In October 1887, Haskell arrived in San Francisco and attended a meeting of that city’s members of the Kaweah Colony. As Charles Keller and James Martin were expected in San Francisco soon, they agreed a general meeting should be held to discuss “the stories and charges of imperialism and bossism against the Executive Committee.”
In November 1887, a number of meetings were held, which boiled down to a debate on whether the Kaweah Colony should organize as a corporation, where capital would be raised through the issuance of shares to be sold publicly, or a limited partnership, where selected and screened candidates would purchase non-transferable memberships in the association. Debate is a polite and perhaps not strong enough term for what transpired. A committee headed by Burnette Haskell issued a circular to the membership entitled “The Crisis,” and although it should be read for what it was — one side’s version of the story designed to influence membership — it nonetheless offers a detailed and even entertaining summary of the meetings.
At the first meeting, held in San Francisco, Haskell presented his criticisms of the corporation form and its proposed bylaws. His primary complaint with the corporation, as defined by California law, lay in the ownership of transferable shares of stock. Haskell pointed out that anyone could become members merely by purchasing a share and they could not expel them. As an example, he used Leland Stanford, one of the owners of Southern Pacific Railroad and a man who was symbolic to them of capitalist greed and political corruption.
Keller, on the other hand, strongly favored a corporation, as he felt that only through an open sale of shares could the Colony raise enough capital for their proposed operations. (There were accusations later on that Keller had actually approached none other than Leland Stanford about investing in the operation, and that Stanford had told Keller, “Go back to your Colony, and if you can change your organization into a corporation and come to me as its legal Board of Directors, authorized to sell your timber, then I will deal with you.” The accusation was far-fetched and unsubstantiated.)
Haskell then moved onto the bylaws, pointing out numerous ambiguities and contradictions, which rendered them problematic at best. Finally, after a lengthy haranguing by Haskell, a member of the Executive Board spoke:
Thus a Law Committee, consisting of Keller, Kuss, Cuthbertson, Redstone, and Haskell was elected and the meeting was adjourned for one week. In that next meeting, Haskell complained he had received no assistance from the rest of the Law Committee and needed a few more days in which to prepare a report that “in whole plain words” would allow the membership to “see plainly all the difficulties in the way of every form of organization, and decide which they will have.” This meeting was then adjourned with no resolution made nor any progress to report, except that now another committee was formed, this one to formulate amendments to the bylaws.
By early 1888, the opposing sides had accomplished little, but did agree on engaging the services of two judges to draw up a brief showing whether incorporation or a limited partnership would best be suited to the needs of the Kaweah Colony. The judges opined that “of the four forms of organization recognized in this state, the corporate form is alone available for the purpose in view.”
The membership heeded this advice and voted 67 to 63 in favor of the corporation, but as one newspaper described, “a small coterie of leaders in the Kaweah movement seemed ambitious to secure absolute control and took exception to [the judge’s] opinions.” Haskell organized a meeting in San Francisco that declared the corporation illegal and substituted a limited partnership company.
Another vote was held May 18, and a committee, of which there was never any shortage, met to count the votes. According to another newspaper, “all or part of the ballots for incorporation were kept back” by the committee and the limited partnership favored by Haskell won approval.
The limited objectiveness of all who recounted this episode in the development of the Kaweah Colony hampers the historian’s efforts to determine exactly what happened, but at the same time clearly illustrates the emotions and passions aroused. Of course, actions speak louder than words and when Haskell finally succeeded in establishing the limited partnership, or “Joint Stock Company,” Keller and nearly 50 other members withdrew from the Kaweah Colony. Twenty-seven of them formally entered a protest and denounced the undertaking. Many of these, such as Keller, who had done so much in establishing the Colony, were original members of the Timber Pool who had filed land claims that were still in a forced state of limbo, awaiting investigation by the government.
Regardless, the Kaweah Colony now had a legal form of organization, albeit one born in crisis. And although membership had been cut by nearly one-third, the Colony, which was ostensibly ruled by a democracy rife with committees, now had one man undeniably at the helm. As legal adviser and trustee of the newly formed company, Burnette Haskell undoubtedly reveled in the role of founding father. The enterprise, however, was crippled by the Keller exodus. While it seems to have made sense for Haskell to push for the limited partnership, the forfeiture of such strong opposition as Keller provided would be a hard loss to overcome. Think of American democracy with its system of checks and balances.
DEED OF SETTLEMENT
Largely the work of Haskell, the Deed of Settlement and By-Laws of Kaweah Colony was adopted March 9, 1888. It was a combination membership contract, Colony constitution, and mission statement. University of California professor William Carey Jones, who would eventually become the dean of the School of Jurisprudence at UC Berkeley, wrote a report on the Colony in 1891, which noted that the Deed of Settlement had “a number of ambiguities, resulting from a faulty construction of the sentences,” but added that its bylaws were “in general, lucid and exact.”
Simply stated, the Kaweah Colony was organized as a limited partnership, with the number of members fixed at 500. Full membership constituted a contribution of $500, thus proposed capitalization of the company was $250,000. Membership commenced upon payment of the first $10 and acceptance by the Colony trustees. Upon payment of $100 in money, a member was entitled to residence and employment on the Colony grounds. The remainder of the membership could be paid off in labor, goods, or money.
No person could hold more than one membership, but a married shareholder was entitled to two votes, one of which could be cast by the husband and one by the wife. Applicants were required to fill out a questionnaire, which set forth name, place of birth, residence, age, marital status, information on children, if any, occupation, capacity for employment, physical condition, and religious affiliation. In addition, applicants were asked if they belonged to any trade, labor, or economic organization, whether they subscribed to any labor or economic journal and, most significantly, if they had read Gronlund’s Co-Operative Commonwealth and if they believed in “cooperative spirit.” The Board of Trustees would provisionally accept or reject all applicants for membership, and those rejected would be refunded any amount of money deposited toward membership.
The “purely democratic” administration was a complicated structure of departments with their appointed superintendents reporting to a duly elected Board of Trustees, who acted as the executive body of the company. Provisions were made for referendums, imperative mandates, and initiative, and a general secretary presided over the monthly general meetings.
In addition to granting women an equal vote, other progressive provisions were outlined in the bylaws. Much of this progressive political thought was the result of the Colony leaders’ backgrounds in labor and social reform, as well as their adherence to the writings of Laurence Gronlund. These included the declaration that “eight hours shall constitute a day’s work in the Colony.” All labor paid at an exchange rate of 30 cents an hour, and time checks were issued in denominations of 10 to 20,000 minutes. The bylaws dictated that the Colony would keep a store “for the convenience of members, at which all articles of necessity can be purchased by them with the labor time checks provided by the colony.” Indeed, no member or other person was even allowed to open a store at the Colony for the sale or exchange of goods, nor could any one colonist employ another.
Historian Robert V. Hine, in his book California’s Utopian Colonies, described the projected organization as “complex, ponderous, and naïve,” and George Stewart once called it a “locomotive’s machinery on a bicycle.” But, by 1888, families had started to arrive and settle at the road camp known as Advance, and by spring of the following year the little village of Advance boasted several dozen full-time residents. The locomotive was chugging along, ignoring or simply unaware that it rode on thin, spindly tires, and infused with an “I think I can” brand of optimism feverishly whipped up by Haskell and other loyal believers in the spirit of cooperation.
SOURCE NOTES: A circular issued by a committee headed by Burnette Haskell entitled “The Crisis” (Sequoia National Park archives) was a key source of this chapter. Caroline Medan’s thesis on Haskell was also valuable, as were Oscar Berland’s research notes and contemporary news reports in the Visalia Weekly Delta and San Francisco Chronicle. A manuscript by William Carey Jones, “The Kaweah Experiment in Co-Operation” (Visalia Public Library), which later served as basis of an article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, (October 1891) was consulted as was Robert V. Hine’s seminal work on Kaweah and utopian experiments through the state, California’s Utopian Colonies (UC Press, Berkeley, California, 1983).
A History of the Kaweah Colony: Pioneers of Kaweah
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga christened it Rio San Gabriel in the early 1880s, but by the middle of the 19th century, the river had come to be called Kaweah. Tulare County historians have explained the name as being derived from the Gawia Indians, a band of Yokuts who once lived on its banks. It has also been suggested that the name means “raven,” or perhaps more accurately a combination of the Yokuts words for “raven’s call” and “water,” making the Kaweah the “river of the calling raven.”
Burnette Haskell, a brilliant propagandist, once offered his own origin of the name:
In 1887 and 1888, a number of people began to settle along those clear, cold waters and sylvan shades, attracted no doubt by Haskell’s description of the place. With the arrival of families at Advance, the Kaweah Colony began a new phase wherein its “Prime Mission,” as stated in a pamphlet, to “insure its members against want, or fear of want, by providing comfortable homes, ample sustenance, educational and recreative facilities and to promote and maintain harmonious social relations, on the solid and grand bases of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,” would finally be put to the very practical test of day-to-day living.
In a tent community, situated in an otherwise lightly settled foothill canyon many miles from the nearest town or village, this experiment was also a test of the pioneer spirit. Would families, many of whom had come from large cities such as San Francisco, be able to adapt to the rugged setting? Did they really expect the Colony to provide all it promised in such glowing terms? Who were these people who would stake everything just to find out if a better life might really await them in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada? They were true pioneers.
Over 500 people were ultimately attracted to, and became members of, the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony. Less than half that number were resident members, with the population at Kaweah hovering around 150 or so at its greatest. They were a varied and diversified lot. “A curious study,” Haskell once called the membership, which he claimed represented the United States in microcosm.
“Among the members,” Haskell wrote, “are old and young, rich and poor, wise and foolish, educated and ignorant, worker and professional man, united only by the common interest in Kaweah.”
A brief look at some of the families who lived at Kaweah will help illustrate the diversity of the Colony. Two of these were the families of Colony leaders and organizers: the Martins and the Redstones. The other three families — the Tings, the Hengsts, and the Purdys — are examples of the different kinds of people attracted to the promise and potential at Kaweah.
MARTINS AND REDSTONES
James J. Martin, born in Long Milford, England, came to America around 1869 at the age of 25. He became a newspaper reporter in Galveston, Texas, where he met and married Marie Louise, a beautiful Creole woman from Louisiana. They moved to New Orleans where Martin ran a successful coffee and tea wholesale business. After their daughter Daisy was born, the family moved to California, hoping the climate would improve the baby’s frail health. They eventually ended up in San Francisco where Martin became interested in labor unions and began his association with Burnette Haskell.
Martin was involved with the Kaweah Colony from its very inception, serving as secretary for nearly every associated organization that evolved along the way: The Land Purchase and Colonization Association, the Timber Pool, the Tulare Valley and Giant Forest Railroad, the Giant Forest Wagon and Toll Road, the short-lived Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Corporation and, finally, the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Company, Joint Stock, Limited. Throughout much of this early period he kept a home and office in Traver, which Charles Keller had let to him. With the organizational crisis and Keller’s exodus from the Colony, Martin established a residence at Advance and before long his family came to join him.
James Martin was described in Will Purdy’s poem “Kaweah: The Sage of the Old Colony” as:
A man of genial presence, kindly smile;
A noble head set firm on shoulders square
And crowned with wavy mats of graying hair;
Stern of purpose he, a man to trust,
Whose judgments would be kind as well as just
High faith, and temper firm in word and deed,
He was the type of man e’er born to lead.
Soon after Martin moved his family to the tent “city” of Advance, Mrs. Martin’s tent became a kind of social center in the community. She was a fine cook and had a knack with plants and flowers. Her garden even boasted a fountain, which she had constructed of rock surrounding a pipe to supply water. Daisy, now a healthy, rambunctious, and pretty girl of 12 years, and Martin’s adult son, Albion (Albie), were also active members of the community. Unfortunately, they didn’t see much of their father as before long he set up a Colony office in Visalia and spent most of his time living and working there.
John Redstone, considered the patriarch of the entire Kaweah Colony, was, along with Haskell and Martin, one of the primary driving forces behind its organization and management. If Haskell was the great motivator and propagandist and Martin was the business genius of the operation, then Redstone filled the niche of spiritual philosopher and wise old man of the utopian cult. Perhaps nowhere is there a better (albeit overtly glowing) description of Redstone and his remarkable family than that found in the 1932 memoir of Phil Winser, who came to the Colony from England late in its existence.
Little is known of Redstone’s wife, Sarah Ann Griffith, except that she was of Welsh descent and apparently not politically minded. Her metier was, in Winser’s words, the care of husband, children, and grandchildren. When the Redstones came to Advance, one of their daughters was already married to Frank Brann. The young couple, along with their two sons, also became pioneer residents at Advance.
During the early days at the Colony settlement, Redstone still spent much of his time in San Francisco while the family helped establish the community at Advance. The Colony kept offices in San Francisco, where Redstone did much of its recruitment of membership. It is also likely he needed to remain in the city to continue earning a living, for he must have well realized that the Colony was not yet in a position to furnish the family with all the “ample sustenance” it pledged to provide. An outside source of income was still needed for that.
MORE PIONEER FAMILIES
In 1979, Italia Ting Crooks published a small volume of family history that offers a glimpse into what brought one family, not involved in the establishment of the Colony like the Martins and Redstones, to Kaweah.
In 1887, Peter Ting, a German immigrant who ran a bakery in Pomona, California, married Bessie Miles, the daughter of liberal Unitarian minister Elum Miles. The early days of Bessie and Peter’s marriage were happy and full of pleasure. They shared a love and talent for music. Peter got along famously with Bessie’s father; he was a “willing student sitting before the learned man, drinking in the ideals of Unitarian faith and liberal politics.”
It was during this period of his life that Peter became “interested in reforms of all kinds religious and political.” But Peter’s health was failing. “Long hours of work at the bakery were taking a toll,” Italia wrote. Peter had found his “so-called nervous disability improved” when he made a visit to Kaweah with his father-in-law. Later, after the death of their first baby and “at the insistence of doctors” Peter turned over the business to a friend. He and Bessie would “try a new life in the mountain colony, Kaweah.”
So the couple, along with Elum Miles (“who was waiting for a reason to live there himself”) and Bessie’s brothers and sisters, George, Waldo, Clara and Kate, moved to the Colony. They had evidently been accepted as members and had paid at least $100 towards their membership, which would make them eligible for residency and employment at the Colony.
“These eager, talented young people were soon integrated into the colony life,” their descendant, Italia, boasted. Peter joined the road crew and became a prolific game hunter for the Colony. Along with his musically inclined wife, they were soon taking their places in the social life, and the Ting tent-house became the center of evening social events centered around music. They had the only piano at Advance, and as the Colony newspaper once reported, “If you walk into the Ting tent, you may find Mrs. Ting and Mrs. Frost playing music of the highest class, upon a piano of great excellence.”
On October 12, 1889, Peter and Bessie were blessed with a daughter, Italia. Scanning the list of resident children in April 1890, one learns that little Italia was one of five babies at the Colony that spring.
Another child listed was 11-month-old Burnette Kaweah Hengst. Perhaps no other Colony family produced as many descendants that remained in the area as the Hengsts. Several Hengst brothers settled in the area, but two were involved with the Colony. Dedo Hengst was the first to come, followed by his brother Frank Guido Hengst. Frank was duly confirmed for membership on April 2, 1889, and came to Advance, but ultimately settled with his wife at the Colony camp of East Branch, or Avalon, several miles up canyon from Advance. (Avalon was located at the confluence of the North Fork and Yucca Creek, a tributary known to the Colony simply as East Branch.)
Hengst, who was born in Saxony, Germany, in 1863, was one of several German immigrants at the Colony. He worked on the road crew and later at the Colony hayfield. His enthusiasm for the Colony was reflected in the name he chose for his son born there. Little Burnette Kaweah Hengst eventually became known, however, as George.
Another family attracted to the promise of reform the Colony offered were the Purdys. Phil Winser described them in his memoirs:
George A. Purdy was a veteran of the Union Army, and both he and his wife had been members of the fabled “Underground Railroad,” which assisted runaway slaves in escaping to Canada. After the Civil War, they joined the westward movement in a covered wagon and settled in Greenwood, Colorado. It was while living there that they learned of the Kaweah Colony. Its idealistic program appealed to the couple with a strong pioneering spirit and grand sense of justice. In 1889, they came to Kaweah with their teenage daughter and 11-year-old son. Winser also wrote of the younger generation of Purdys:
Will Purdy later described, in poetic verse, the intangible force that brought all these families to the mountains of Kaweah:
Ideals, like beauty, are eternal joys;
Their images our vision never cloys;
Fair progeny of the aspiring mind,
Round all her projects are their arms entwined.
Haskell noted that among those attracted by these ideals were “temperance men and their opposites, churchmen and agnostics, free-thinkers, Darwinists, and spiritualists, bad poets and good, musicians, artists, prophets and priests.” The one trait they all shared — a trait often shared by people willing to give up their old life for a chance at something better — was an enthusiasm for new ideas. It was the enthusiasm of the reformer. That was, after all, what made temperance men, churchmen, Darwinists, and spiritualists of them all. And it was that enthusiasm that brought them all to Kaweah where they hoped to find, as Haskell believed he had found, a “road to human happiness.”
SOURCES: Information about the origin of the Kaweah name was found in William Tweed’s “The Kaweah Rivers—How Many Forks?” in Kaweah Quarterly (The Kaweah Land Trust Newsletter, Fall 1995) and via the writings of Burnette Haskell in The Commonwealth (October 1889) and his booklet A Pen Picture of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony (San Francisco, 1889). Other sources for this chapter include Haskell’s Out West article “How and Why the Colony Died (August 1920, the James J. Martin Family papers housed at Bancroft Library), Phil Winser’s “Memories,” and The Story of the Life of Bessie Humbolt Miles, by Italia Crooks (published by Eleanor Ester Howell and David Weaver, 1979, Three Rivers Public Library.) Two other published remembrances were also consulted: “John Hooper Redstone: My Most Unforgettable Character,” by Phillip Redstone Hopping (Los Tulares, No. 94, June 1974) and “Remembrances of my Early Life,” by Peter Ting (Tulare County Historical Society Newsletter, date unknown, Visalia Public Library.) Many of Joe Doctor’s notes on interviews, a letter to the author from Wilma Hengst Kauling, and contemporary articles in the 20th-century The Kaweah Commonwealth were also valuable sources. Will Purdy’s poem describing the Colony was published, circa 1930, by the Tulare County Historical Society with the title “An Epic of the Old Colony.” The poem was also found at both the Bancroft Library and the Visalia Public Library under the title “The Saga of the Old Colony.”
A History of the Kaweah Colony: On the Road to Success
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
What life was like for the workers building the Colony’s road to the timber can only be imagined. The “men of backbone, brawn and brain,” as Haskell once praised them, were not as prone to written communication as some of the Colony leaders. Nonetheless, much can be gleaned from progress reports issued in the spring of 1889 by colonist George Speed:
Another report related “having finished a good half mile using some 200 pounds of Giant Powder” and recounted how two large gulches were filled and a wall built “some 300 feet long over a large face of granite, in part of which we drilled holes and put in iron pins in order to hold the rock up, and then filled it in with dirt to the grade.” Perhaps this was the section known as “The Elephant,” named for an old Gold Rush term. For the argonauts who flocked to the mountains of California, to “see the Elephant” meant to come across a new and foreign sight and particularly to encounter insurmountable hardships in their exotic adventures.
A progress report, dated April 3, 1889, was offered by George Speed, a member of the roadwork crew, in the Commonwealth. He wrote:
As the Colony road wound its way upwards toward the timber belt and neared completion, many “elephants” of varying shape and size were conquered as cliff after cliff was cut out of solid granite. But for the Kaweah Colony, one other hurdle loomed larger than any elephant, standing squarely between them and the success of their endeavor. This particular beast was the United States government.
While the Kaweah Colony concentrated its efforts on road building and membership recruitment, and had survived an internal crisis that defined its legal and governing structure, the leadership was unable to address one key hurdle in the way of their ultimate success. The applications for the timber land their road approached had been suspended pending investigation. This was an issue that both the Colony leaders and the Government Land Office dealt with similarly. It was actively ignored.
In 1887, Government Land Office Commissioner William Sparks, who had suspended the Colony applications and withdrew the land from the market, was replaced by S.N. Stockslager. There was, however, little change in policy and Stockslager maintained the suspensions and withdrawals of his predecessor. With the presidential election in November,1888, and Republican Benjamin Harrison’s defeat of the incumbent President Grover Cleveland, a change in policy finally stirred some action from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Harrison’s appointment to head that department helped undo the excessive and narrow reading of the land laws that had occurred during Cleveland’s Democratic administration. In 1889, his new Secretary of the Interior, John Noble, made it clear that he disagreed with the policies of his predecessors and promised that he would work to return as much withdrawn land as possible to the market.
In March,1889, a Special Land Agent was finally directed to visit and investigate the Kaweah Colony for “the purpose of ascertaining the facts regarding the character of the land embraced in the applications and the good faith of the parties making the same.”
On October 22, 1889, Land Agent B.F. Allen sent a 29-page, handwritten report to the commissioner of the Land Office in Washington, D.C. It began by stating that “in order that you may fully understand the situation both of the land and the parties making the applications to enter, I have found it necessary to make an unusually long report.” Long and thorough, the report described the forest land and the Colony settlements. He recounted their history and ideology. He explained the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the application and the local political climate. But more than anything, he paid tribute to the industriousness and honesty of the colonists.
He dispelled any local myths that they were “dummy entrymen” and made a point of stating that “a large majority of them are of American birth and continence and of more than mere ordinary intelligence.” He emphasized their plans of permanent settlement and pointed out that “they do not care to build permanent houses of the Shanty kind, preferring to wait until they can use the lumber and put up first class residences.” He praised their road, calling it a “work of skill and judgment and sense” and pronounced it “the best mountain road in the state.”
Allen did not limit his discussion of the situation to the colonists. After pointing out the improvement the Colony had made, he made mention of damage inflicted upon the land by local stockmen using the high country as summer range for sheep and cattle. “These men are absolutely irresponsible and reckless,” Allen wrote, adding that “they delight in forest fires as they clear the country and bring good grass the next season.”
And of the damage the Colony-proposed logging would cause, Allen explained their plans in a positive light:
Indeed, a more glowing account of the Kaweah Colony exists nowhere else (with the possible exception of Colony-published promotional literature, of which Allen apparently read a great deal.) He certainly didn’t look too closely at other sides of the story, such as the stockmen’s point of view who were supposedly “destroying the forest.” Instead, he seemed to have a naïve faith in all the Colony showed and told him; not unlike the “absolute faith and dependence that all the Colonists have that the government will protect their rights as actual Settlers and improvers,” which Allen called “remarkable.”
Allen concluded that the colonists should be given patents to the land. The report closed with the following comments:
LARSEN AT ROAD’S END
In the months following Allen’s investigation and positive report, things certainly seemed promising for the Colony. By the spring of 1890, the road had reached the timber belt and work could begin on the mill, although some roadwork was needed that spring to repair what they had already built due to the damaging winter storms. Spirits were high and optimism flavored the air at Kaweah. Not even the obviously impending death of one of the Colony’s own could extinguish the high hopes.
Andrew Larsen returned to Kaweah in June 1890, the Colony newspaper reporting that he was “just recovering from a severe illness and will stay until his health is recovered.” An original pioneer of Kaweah and one of the first of the road workers, Larsen had gone back to the coast to continue his career as a seaman, captaining for a time the schooner Mary Andersen. But illness ultimately interfered. Larsen looked the part of a rugged man of the sea, tall and muscular with a big droopy mustache, but poor health made him an increasingly delicate invalid. He had to give up his vessel in October 1889 and spent the next eight months convalescing at the Haskell home in San Francisco. A doctor advised a change of climate, and as his heart longed for Kaweah, he was sent there. A month after his return to Kaweah, it was reported that though he was “suffering from consumption…he is steadily gaining under Dr. S. Guy’s treatment.” No one would admit the obvious. Andrew Larsen had returned to Kaweah to die.
Decades later, the story would still be told how Larsen refused to die until the road, which he had begun, was complete. An elderly Al Redstone, who was a young man that summer of 1890, remembered Larsen’s words as he started out in a wagon one day for the pines on the newly completed road: “All aboard for the graveyard.”
In early August 1890, Andrew Larsen, at 28 years of age, died of tuberculosis. Burnette Haskell eulogizing him in print, wrote:
Larsen the man had become Larsen the legend. He lived just long enough to see the completion of the road that would no doubt lead to the Colony’s good fortune. Even the government, in the person of Agent B.F. Allen, was convinced of the Colony’s success, and his recommendation that they receive patents on their land claims was the best news they could hope to hear.
CAULDWELL, CRANKS, AND THE COMMONWEALTH
Agent Allen’s report was promptly ignored, and considering the less-than-impartial tone, it is possible to understand why. The following year, a second Special Land Agent was dispatched to investigate the Colony and their applications.
Agent Andrew Cauldwell visited the Colony and did a thorough job of investigating, filing his initial report to the General Land Office in July,1890. Like Allen, he reported favorably on the Colony and was especially impressed with their road, calling it the “best mountain road I ever traveled over.” Cauldwell, however, was somewhat more subdued in his praise of the Colony than his predecessor, as evidenced in the tone of the following passage:
Cauldwell’s report also offers a look at life at the Colony, and by the time he arrived there the settlement of Advance was a flourishing town (although Cauldwell seems to exaggerate the population, evidence that he, too, was caught up in the heady enthusiasm of the Colony at the time):
Cauldwell also described one very important aspect of Colony life that was first described in Allen’s report the year before. Cauldwell mentions the “well-equipped printing office from which a weekly paper is issued,” and enclosed four copies in his report. Allen had mentioned in his earlier report that the Colony had just purchased “a cylinder printing press steam engine and a large lot of type and will soon have it in Advance under canvass cover but with wood floor and sides.”
By the time of Cauldwell’s visit, The Kaweah Commonwealth had been publishing weekly for several months at Advance. A continuation of the monthly journal entitled simply The Commonwealth, which Burnette Haskell had printed in San Francisco, The Kaweah Commonwealth was obviously a propaganda tool for the Colony. It was their sales brochure with which they “sold” memberships. But it was also, in many respects, a typical small-town newspaper. And while reports by Agents Allen and Cauldwell offer some description of day-to-day life at the Colony, The Kaweah Commonwealth provides a deluge of detail, from the trivial to the vital, on what life was like for enthusiastic pioneers of above-average intelligence who were cranky on the subject of cooperation.
SOURCES: Two primary sources for this chapter were B.F. Allen’s Report to Commissioner, General Land Office, dated October 22, 1889 (National Archives, RG 49, via Bancroft Library) and Andrew Cauldwell’s July 16, 1890, Report to Commissioner, General Land Office (National Archives, RG 49, via Bancroft Library). Contemporary reporting in both The Commonwealth and The Kaweah Commonwealth was also a key source, as were Joe Doctor’s notes on interviews he conducted with Frank Hengst and his resulting article in Los Tulares (No. 63, December 1964) entitled “The Old Kaweah Colony Road.” Dilsaver and Tweed’s book, Challenge of the Big Trees, was also consulted. It should be noted the author has hiked the old Colony Mill Road several times, once as part of a group seminar led by Bill Tweed.
A History of the Kaweah Colony: From the Pages of the Commonwealh
By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.
Scanning the pages of the Kaweah Commonwealth, can one really get an accurate account of what life was like for the colonists? It has been argued that as a reliable historical source, the Colony-published newspaper is terribly lacking — even misleading. The paper was a blatant promotional tool by which the Colony organizers sold memberships to fund their utopian endeavor. In this respect, the Commonwealth was pure propaganda. Contemporaries labeled it a “booming sheet.”
While it is true that nearly all negative copy concerning life at Kaweah was filtered out, the resulting rose-tinted view presented by the Commonwealth does offer an interesting, albeit slanted, glimpse of Colony life. Any one of the 96 issues published at Kaweah contain a wealth of historical detail. And the Arcadian picture painted of the spring and summer of 1890 had at least some basis in truth. This is not to say that all the Commonwealth ever reported on were picnics, concerts, and ball games. The newspaper itself was part of an internal dispute that played out in the pages of the weekly journal.
DELIVERY OF ISSUE HALTED
Weekly publication of The Kaweah Commonwealth at Advance had been made possible by acquisition of what was billed as the first steam-operated press in all of Tulare County. Dr. M.A. Hunter had turned the press over to the Colony in exchange for membership, time checks, and cash when he joined. For the first few months, Hunter served as editor of the Colony-published journal, and the paper generally carried editorials — sermons might be the better term — of a high moral nature by Hunter.
In the March 8, 1890, issue, Hunter wrote one such editorial advocating “true democratic principles” in ruling the Colony and called for “preliminary steps calling for a general election of officers.” His primary complaint centered on the “indefinite continuance in office by incumbent [trustees], limited only by a demand for a removal.” It was not removal anyone sought, but simply a regular general election making such a choice available. This set off a controversy resulting in some political maneuvering by Martin and Haskell. A battle between the so-called Power Element (Haskell et al.) and the Democratic Element was reminiscent of the schism between the Haskell and Keller factions two years before.
Colony Secretary James Martin, with an office in Visalia, held up distribution and mailing of the issue containing Hunter’s bold editorial, and Burnette Haskell, based in San Francisco, took control of the situation. Haskell focused the ensuing debate on the manner in which the general membership could nominate and vote on officers; but as most members were non-residents of the Colony, the real issue was to whom and how information would be disseminated to these members. Haskell and Martin realized that whoever controlled the Commonwealth in effect controlled the Colony.
Before all was said and done, further controversy erupted over the publishing and releasing of members’ names and addresses, which Haskell warned should be kept secret. One account even claimed that “Mr. Haskell stated that someone had given the list of members to the San Francisco Star, and that he had one George Moore secure employment in the Star office and steal the list.”
Nonetheless, by summer the Colony had weathered the storm of internal schism one more time. By publishing weekly from the Colony itself, the local editorship of the Commonwealth represented a growing position of power and influence. Haskell recognized this and, by the sheer force of his bullying personality, took back complete control of the Commonwealth, Hunter having been “severely abused” at a meeting that he was said to have “left in tears and resigned” as editor. The Democratic Element continued to battle Haskell, producing their own propaganda and trying to appeal to the non-resident membership, but by the time elections were finally held in July, Haskell and Martin were returned as Trustees.
The Commonwealth, which the Democratic Element maintained was “not a truthful informer of events,” printed the following account of Hunter’s reaction to the election results:
MAY DAY PICNIC
The Commonwealth, even while the dispute over its control simmered, took every opportunity to depict life at Kaweah as a picnic. In May 1890, the paper reported on May Day festivities in the neighboring village of Three Rivers, which were attended by several dozen Kaweah colonists. After reading the account, it is easy to imagine “everyone happy.” Music, baseball, and fellowship filled the day, and neighbors became friends. Reporter Laurence Frost painted an idyllic picture when he described how the group of members, including the Colony band “traveled together to the ford of the North Fork, then past Halstead’s till we reached the ford of the main river, where we were joined by Mr. Braddock.”
The report then went on to give an account of the game — Lime Kiln beat Kaweah 6 to 0, and the paper made a point of noting the “conspicuous and pleasant absence of all bickering or disputing over the decisions of the umpire.”
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
Will Purdy, in his poem “Kaweah: The Saga of the Old Colony,” described how at the Colony “[t]he river ripples blithely over stones, or roils thru pools with soothing undertones.”
Not always so blithely rippling — Purdy also described the river as “that brawling stream down plunging e’er with zest” — in any event, it played a major role in the everyday lives of the Kaweah colonists.
First there was the problem of crossing the river. When the Colony was established there were no substantial bridges across either the Middle Fork or the North Fork of the Kaweah River. Small suspension bridges, on which a single person could cross, were prominent during the Colony days and before, built by the local ranchers, but horse teams with wagons or buckboards had to cross the river by fording. This was easily accomplished during much of the year, but considerably more difficult during winter storms and the heavy spring runoff.
Construction of a ferry by the Colony solved the problem. Before its existence, “during the rainy season, goods hauled from beyond had to be trans-shipped and carried by hand over a very primitive suspension bridge, so frail that…more than a single person is forbidden to be on the structure at one time.” Crossing on the ferry, which was a wooden barge attached to cables and which utilized the current to propel it across the river, was described in the Commonwealth as “exceedingly refreshing. The river runs very swift and breaks and surges against the punt, making it appear as though it were traveling at great speed.”
The first attempt at building the ferry, however, wasn’t successful. An account in the Commonwealth in May 1890 reported:
The rebuilt ferry was far more successful. It was reported that a “four horse leaded team can drive on and cross easily.”
In addition to providing a continuing obstacle, the river was also a vital resource and much used recreation site. As summer arrived in earnest, the Commonwealth noted that “bathing is a pleasure much indulged in at present, the water just getting warm enough to be enjoyable; during the early part of the season when the snow is melting, the water is too cold to be comfortable, but now it is delightful.”
The Colony newspaper also reported that “trout fishing is fashionable now. Nearly every day we see someone en route for the river with the usual outfit used on such occasions.” The promotional-minded journal admitted, however, that “the trout is a hard fish to capture and it takes an expert angler to supply the family basket.” Perhaps colonist Philip Winser provided a more accurate fishing report when he wrote in his memoirs that as a source of fish, the North Fork “was not much; trout lived in the cold higher reaches — suckers and steelhead constituted the fish stock [near Kaweah] and were not much sought after.”
MEASLES, BROKEN BATS, AND A POST OFFICE
One regular section of The Kaweah Commonwealth, called “Colony Notes,” featured newsy blurbs and social tidbits, some as brief as the “Everybody happy” declaration quoted at the beginning of this chapter. Subsequent notes in that same issue included such messages as “Several strangers are among us” and “Twenty-four horses were accommodated at Advance last week” and “There is a large number of visiting Comrades sojourning at Advance; the unanimity and harmony prevailing must be very inspiring.” Some blurbs provided a little more detail:
There was even one item that dared to report on something less than happy, inspiring, or attractive:
Under the headline “Fourth of July Base Ball” ran an account of “a little ball game worth mentioning.” It seems that nearly “all the comrades” were at Advance, down from road or mill work because of the holiday and a General Meeting scheduled the following day. At Comrade O’Farrell’s flat about a mile down canyon from Advance the big game was played. Teams were chosen with Howard Plaisted pitching for one team and Al Redstone for the other. The Commonwealth described some of the game’s highlights:
Then, as now, sports reporters could be trusted to provide colorful accounts of the action.
One other item in that same issue of the Colony newspaper did offer a straight news event, announcing the establishment of a U.S. Post Office at Advance. Reporting that “a petition numerously signed asking for a post office” had been sent to Washington some three months prior, the paper noted that “as a result a post office was regularly opened on Monday, July 8th,” with H.S. Hubbard, who had been serving as local carrier, in charge. The article then went on to urge all colonists to “send their letters through the office as far as possible, both for safety of delivery and in order that the quarterly report may make as good a showing as possible.” The future of their mail facilities, the report maintained, depended on such cooperation. “This is Post Official!”
THE WOMEN OF KAWEAH
It is also possible, via the pages of the Commonwealth, to get some idea of how Colony society presented itself to the outside world versus how it really operated. Take, for example, their attitude toward women.
Women were, in theory, on a completely equal footing with men in the Kaweah Colony. They could become members, had an “equal voice and vote in the affairs” of the Colony, and were entitled to an equal wage for their labor. In practice, however, it appears women were subjected to many of the conventional discriminations of the time. On the Board of Trustees for the Colony, no women ever served. Of the 10 or so department superintendents, the name of a woman was a rarity. Among the few examples were Mrs. Christie’s service as Domestic Superintendent or Miss Kate Redstone and Miss Mate Hildebrandt as Bureau Chiefs in the Department of Education — kindergarten teacher and music instructor, respectively.
The Kaweah Colony was in reality a man’s world. The women were generally seen as wives or daughters who served as homemakers and, in their leisure time, purveyors of culture. It was at the many cultural events — musical entertainments, concerts and literary evenings — that the women made a name for themselves at Kaweah. The pages of the Commonwealth would often praise the musical talents of Mrs. Ting, Miss Hildebrandt, Mrs. Frost, or Jennie Evans. Social gatherings often featured dramatic recitations by such culturally active women as Kate Redstone and Mrs. Brann. And poetry written by Marie Sandberg, Jennie Sturtevant, or Jeannie Peet often graced the pages of the weekly journal.
What these women did accomplish was to bring culture — a sense of finer society — to what was basically a pioneer camp. The tent homes maintained by women such as Mrs. Redstone or Mrs. Ting belied the coarse, temporary nature of the canvas. They were carpeted with homemade rugs, walls lined with tapestry, and decorated with pictures, baskets, and “all those things which make up a home.” These women made sure the finer arts complemented the natural beauty of where they now lived.
Colony founder Burnette Haskell, in an otherwise bitter article he penned after the demise of the endeavor, wrote:
The episode of which Haskell made note was reported in the Commonwealth as well. Explaining that most of the men working the mill were down below at Advance for a General Meeting, the paper reported that only Mrs. Theophilus, Mrs. Bishop along with her daughter, and Comrade Saint-Dizier were up at the Mill camp. A fire started and “in this emergency all the afternoon and night of Saturday Mr. Saint-Dizier, Mrs. Theophilus and Mrs. Bishop, the latter with her baby most of the time on her arm, fought the flames with water in buckets and wet blankets until finally its course was turned down the gully and the mill was saved.”
The nature of the praise these women received, together with the fact that they were not in attendance at the General Meeting and thus apolitical citizens in the Colony, speaks volumes on their true place in Colony society. This was perhaps unfortunate, for Haskell believed, in the end, that the women possessed a greater sense of cooperative responsibility than many men, citing that he had “seen a woman getting in firewood with an ax and bucksaw in plain sight of thirteen men gathered for six solid hours around a stump excitedly discussing a rule of order improperly construed at the last meeting.”
SOURCES: While numerous reports and articles from both The Commonwealth (the monthly journal published from San Francisco) and The Kaweah Commonwealth (the weekly newspaper published at Kaweah) are the principle sources for much of this chapter, other sources include the Visalia Weekly Delta; Phil Winser’s unpublished manuscript, “Memories;” Burnette Haskell’s Out West article, “How Kaweah Failed”; and a circular by Alfred Cridge entitled “Korrekt Kritique on the Kaweah Ko-Operative Kolony” issued to the non-resident members of the K.C.C. from the Democratic Element (Kaweah Collection, Visalia Public Library).