A History of the Kaweah Colony: Two Rising Movements

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

Evolution is the rock upon which Nationalism is founded.(Denver Labor Enquirer)

The movement looking toward the reservation of a tract of timber land near the summit of the Sierra has at last taken definite shape.(Visalia Weekly Delta)

As the final decade of the 19th century began and a springtime optimism prevailed at Advance, hopes for the future of the Kaweah Colony were dependent upon two completely unrelated movements of thought and action.

These movements were kindled by the influential writings of two notable figures. The first was John Muir, a Scottish-born sheepherder, explorer, journalist and essayist, self-taught naturalist, and self-described tramp. He was a man whose name would become synonymous with the Sierra Nevada, the mountains he called the “Range of Light.” The other was Edward Bellamy, a Massachusetts-born son of a Baptist clergyman, a lawyer-turned-journalist who had achieved a modest literary reputation when the publication of his fifth novel brought him sudden and worldwide acclaim.

Muir and Bellamy were two of the most influential writers of the late-19th century, and perhaps nowhere would that influence be as greatly felt or celebrated, realized, and lamented as at the Kaweah Colony. To examine how these writers and the concurrent movements they launched would effect the Colony that summer of 1890 and afterward, it is necessary to double-back in time and bring each up to speed.


John Muir first came to the Sierra Nevada in 1869. While Muir spent much of the early 1870s exploring the Yosemite area — his name will forever be associated with Yosemite — his curiosity regarding the Sierra was boundless. By the end of the decade he had explored much of the spectacular mountain range, including Mount Whitney, Kings Canyon, and the vast sequoia groves of Grant Grove and the Giant Forest.

The Big Tree is nature’s forest masterpiece [Muir once wrote] and so far as I know, the greatest of living things. It belongs to an ancient stock, as its remains in old rocks show, and has a strange air of other days about it, a thoroughbred look inherited from the long ago — the auld lang syne of trees.

As pointed out in Lary Dilsaver and William Tweed’s Challenge of the Big Trees, Muir’s newspaper accounts brought about a greater appreciation of the features of the Sierra, and his writings about the sequoias added to the understanding of the Big Trees. “The primary significance of Muir’s visits,” the book proclaims, “would not become apparent for a number of years.”

By 1878, others began writing about the sequoias and lamenting their potential destruction. On October 11, 1878, the new and rather young 21-year-old editor of the Visalia Delta wrote an editorial attacking the cutting of a giant sequoia for exhibition Back East, a destructive practice first exposed and decried by Muir himself. George W. Stewart called for enforcement of state laws to prohibit the cutting of the giant trees. Little came of these pleas.

As the 1870s drew to a close, however, other prominent men had been drawn into what was definitely becoming a popular cause. Prompted by a growing presence of lumbermen in the readily accessible Grant Grove area (then known as the Fresno-Tulare Grove) in January 1880, Tipton Lindsay, receiver at the U.S. Land Office in Visalia, and J.D. Hyde, the land office registrar, were able to convince the land commissioner to withdraw from sale the sections that contained the stately grove. Stewart’s Delta was also recommending some sort of permanent preservation of the grove, and later that year George Stewart was finally able to bend the ear of someone who might really be in a position to effect a permanent solution.

During his 1880 campaign for the U.S. Senate, General John F. Miller came to Visalia and met with the editors of the local newspapers. Stewart was able to brief the senatorial candidate on a broad spectrum of local conservation issues, including the Kings and Kern canyons, Mt. Whitney, and the preservation of the “grand old redwoods.” Miller not only won appointment to the U.S. Senate, but he apparently well-remembered all that Stewart had told him.

On December 31, 1881, Senator Miller introduced a bill in the Senate to set apart a certain tract of land “as a public park and forest reservation for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The bill was given no serious consideration in the committee on public lands, to which it was referred, simply because of the vast territory it sought to set aside. The proposed park encompassed all of the upper Kern, Kaweah, and Kings rivers’ watersheds — an area covering all of modern-day Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks along with substantial timber belts to the west. It was so extensive that even Stewart stated that “opposition was universal.”

The idea of scenic preservation, which was the original impetus for the earliest national parks, was nothing new. Alfred Runte, in his 1979 book, National Parks: The American Experience, explains that a sense of national pride and monumentalism — a search for cultural identity in a relatively infant culture — as one motivation for preservation. He also notes that there evolved in Congress “a firm (if unwritten) policy that only ‘worthless’ lands might be set aside.” Worthless, that is, in terms of lacking accessible, available natural resources or potential as agricultural land — a criteria many scenic mountain lands easily met. Cultural nationalism could not compete with a national obsession with productivity and the exploitation of any available natural resource.

Even a later awareness about a growing need for wilderness, wildlife, and biological conservation did not change the primary criterion of preservation, Runte noted. National parks must begin and remain worthless to survive. While the forested land outlined in Miller’s bill was far from worthless, compared to agricultural land it was certainly low worth, and the difficulty in accessing its natural resources further kept its relative value in check. Nonetheless, no tract of land as expansive as the one Miller proposed to reserve could be perceived as anything but potentially valuable.

Sequoia National Park historian Douglas Strong, in his 1964 doctoral thesis for Syracuse University, pointed out an ironic source of opposition to Miller’s proposal, which strongly supports the argument for the preservation only of “worthless” lands.

The earliest park proposals attracted little comment [Strong wrote], however, one unusual source of opposition appeared in a San Francisco anti-monopoly weekly periodical entitled Truth. Although not opposing government reservation in principle, Truth condemned the Miller bill for playing into the hands of lumber, railroad and other monopolies. It insisted that the park reservation would withdraw from the people vast supplies of timber and extensive mining districts in Tulare and Fresno counties. Truth could only approve the park if it were restricted to the highest mountain districts where no lumber or mining interest existed.

Truth’s editor, Burnette G. Haskell, could not have known when he wrote that in 1882 just how prescient his opinion would prove. Miller’s bill quickly died, but by the end of the 1880s, Haskell would be keeping a very close eye on the proposals made by men such as John Muir, George Stewart, and the growing forest preservation movement in Tulare County.


In 1888, with the publication of a work of fiction by Edward Bellamy, Haskell’s attention was drawn to a considerably different kind of movement that sprang up almost overnight. Few books in the history of American literature have had a more stimulating influence on the social thought of the time as Bellamy’s Looking Backward.

In what Bellamy described as a “romance of future happiness posed against present sorrow,” the book tells of a young man, Julian West, who wakes up from a mesmerized sleep and finds himself in the Boston of 2000 A.D. Leaving behind a 19th-century world dominated by the waste, greed, cruelty, and madness of the competitive system, the inadvertent time traveler finds an unrecognizable America in the future. The country operates under a system of state socialism; private property has been abolished, all share equally in the wealth of the country, and all contribute equally — to the best of their capacities — in their service to the industrial army that produces the wealth. Cooperation has replaced competition; acquisitiveness and aggression have disappeared in the tide of plenty for all, and no man seeks to dominate another. The transition, Julian West learns, from the tortured old society to this new utopia was effected painlessly; and the new conditions provide an answer to an ancient question — human nature is essentially good. Society has arrived, in short, at a rational and humane order devoted to the noblest ends of man.

The book had immediate political impact. That same year, 1888, the first Bellamy Club was founded in Boston to propagate the principles of nationalism, as the system of social organization Bellamy’s depiction of the future outlined was quickly labeled. A wave of clubs, more than 150 in less than two years, swept across the nation and gave meteoric rise to the Nationalist movement. To Burnette Haskell, working fervently to publicize, promote, and fund the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony, the Nationalist movement couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Although the Kaweah Colony’s political and social structure was based on another book, Laurence Gronlund’s Co-Operative Commonwealth, Bellamy’s utopian look at the future proved more accessible to the general reading public. Gronlund had provided a blueprint of socialist cooperation, but Bellamy came up with a full-color model, complete with action figures and moving parts. It wasn’t long before Haskell was claiming that the Kaweah Colony was Bellamy’s model realized.

Three early clubs were formed on the West Coast — in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — before the movement took hold under Haskell’s leadership. These were non-agitating groups that rose spontaneously and, like the club in Boston, were basically reading circles and discussion groups. Although it might be surprising that Haskell, a notorious San Francisco radical, would be drawn to the decidedly milder nationalism, the transition was not merely a sudden opportunistic switch. As Haskell biographer Caroline Medan points out, “He had been evolving toward more moderate types of reform since [his] anarchist period in 1883.” Medan also points out his economic motive. “Haskell already had a cooperative colony of his own,” she reminds us, “and probably saw nationalism as a lucky coincidence which would popularize his project.”

Haskell entered the Nationalist movement via the Oakland Nationalist Club, which met bi-monthly at Hamilton Hall. He brought an appealing oratory style, along with other abilities, which he freely gave to the movement. Medan pointed out that, according to his wife Annie’s diary:

He could gather fifty seamen from the wharf at a half hour’s notice in order to boost a lagging attendance and so keep up the appearance of success; he could frame a resolution or write a stinging letter of protest, circulate a petition, and if necessary sing a duet with his wife.

Working untiringly, he organized the First Nationalist Club of San Francisco, creatively named to compete with the Pacific Nationalist Club, which was actually first and still operating. The club’s objective, as stated in a meeting program, was “Nationalization of land and industry, thereby the promotion of Brotherhood of humanity.” Reformers of all kinds flocked to the meetings — suffragists, grangers, free silver and free tax men — and formed a more practical program of reform than had really been proposed in Looking Backward. At various times the organization advocated for the eight-hour work day, abolition of poll taxes, the direct election of United States senators and presidents, initiative, referendum, recall, free vocational schools, and women’s rights.

In the summer of 1889, as Haskell was forming his own circuit of Nationalist clubs throughout California and the West, he was still busy promoting and administering the Kaweah Colony, which he maintained represented “Bellamy’s plan in action.” The Commonwealth was still, at this time, a monthly journal published from San Francisco, where he maintained his residence with his wife, Annie, and young son Astaroth. He was also still active in various trade unions and organizations, and this period of incredible energy and productivity is testimony to the obsessive nature of his personality.

Haskell brought not only this energy, but showmanship and promotion to the movement. An account of the 3rd Public Reception of the Nationalist Club of San Francisco, held at the Palace Hotel, was printed in The Commonwealth. It was the beginning of the link between Kaweah and nationalism. As the account described:

B.G. Haskell spoke and after explaining the ideas of the club, declared they were so simple that even a child could understand them. Astaroth Haskell, age 3½, demonstrated the truth of this assertion by then delivering from the President’s [Haskell] table the following address:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll tell ‘oo why I’m are socialist. I’m ain’ta ‘Publican, nor a Democrat nor an Anarchist. ‘Lem are hood’ums. Socialists are gentlemen and Nationalists are Socialists.”

Great applause greeted the pretty, earnest baby and when, in response to the repeated calls, he gave an encore in all earnestness, it arose to almost a storm. After this, Mr. Haskell resumed his talk leading up to the question of Millionaires and Tramps when an interruption occurred by the entrance of a perfectly revolting specimen of the later product of the competitive system. A natty millionaire rose up to put him out when the piano, Mrs. Haskell at the keys, struck a chord and “Tramp and Millionaire” began a duet set to the air of “The Gypsy Countess.” This was the climax piece of the evening and was realistic, artistic, and fetching.


Just as the change in administration and attendant shift in policy prompted the long delayed investigation of the Colony timber claims, it also served to accelerate the conservation movement (the more likely term at the time would be preservation) taking hold in the adjacent Central Valley. By 1889, rumors of withdrawn forest land, particularly in accessible sequoia groves such as the Grant Grove and Converse Basin, being returned to the market was causing great concern. This concern involved more than just Big Trees.

Irrigation had changed the Central Valley from grazing and bonanza wheat farms to an orchard and irrigated crop economy. Now Valley farmers feared that excessive logging in the adjacent Sierra would adversely effect their much-coveted watershed. Deforestation, they predicted, would accelerate spring thaws, leaving little, if any, runoff for the later summer months. The rate of snowmelt had great impact on water supply as there were no dams and reservoirs on the rivers to control runoff. What was bad for the crops was bad for the entire county, particularly for those with vested interests in land values.

In May1889, the worried farmers petitioned the Land Commissioner urging him not to reverse the withdrawal from entry of the Grant Grove area. Not only did many farmers sign the petition, but also, among others, George Stewart, F.J. Walker, and business partners J.D. Hyde and Daniel K. Zumwalt. Hyde and Zumwalt were engaged in various irrigation projects, and Zumwalt was a land agent and attorney for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was said to have sold more land in the area during his career than anyone. The reply they received was less than satisfactory. While assuring them that the withdrawal was still in force, Commissioner Stocksledge added ominously that “it must be apparent, however, that a reservation by order of the Commissioner of the Land Office is only temporary.”

In October 1889, a meeting of agriculturists and other interested parties motioned to appoint a Forest Committee to petition the government to create a permanent forest preserve in the area. A petition was prepared and sent to Congress in November, but there was no response. Stewart, a member of the Forest Committee, concluded that the petition had never reached Congress after learning that Representative General William Vandever had introduced a bill in March 1890 to create a national park protecting Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Grove, a considerable distance to the north. Vandever’s bill (H.R. 8350) did not even mention the groves of Big Trees Stewart’s petition had outlined for preservation “which [made them] think he never received much information regarding the Southern Sierra.”

Also discouraging to Stewart were rumors that the Garfield Grove, one of the last groves of Big Trees with absolutely no claims against it, and other areas were soon to be put back on the market. As spring gave way to summer, Stewart’s Visalia Delta was calling attention to the efforts of lumbermen to obtain the few remaining sequoia groves. According to Stewart, it was then that he and F.J. Walker decided that the only way to save the Big Trees was to create a “National Park” similar to Yellowstone, created in 1872. Walker, who also worked at the Delta, informed Stewart that “he had ample free time and asked how much space could be occupied in the Delta agitating the question.” All the space necessary, for as long as necessary, Stewart replied. Thus began the campaign to create Sequoia National Park.


“Save the Big Trees!” read the headline of an editorial in Stewart’s Visalia Delta on July 10, 1890. Bringing attention to efforts to restore withdrawn timber land to the market that would “result in forever removing from public control the finest body of grand sequoia that exists in the world,” the Delta pointed out that there remained a grove of giant trees “over which the government has an undisputed right of control.” That grove, Stewart explained, lay in Township 18 South, Range 30 East, Mt. Diablo Meridian. Translated, he was describing the Garfield Grove area, located a considerable distance south of the timber claims of the Kaweah Colony.

Stewart and colleague Frank Walker’s campaign to create a national park concentrated on reserving the Garfield Grove area because, as the Delta had stated on July 3, 1890, “nearly all the [other] groves have already passed into private ownership. Certain tracts, like the Giant Forest, that were once on the market and filed on by applicants in good faith, should be restored to the market.” The applicants referred to were, of course, the Kaweah Colonists. As efforts to create a national park intensified, Burnette Haskell certainly took notice and was especially interested and undoubtedly relieved to note the location of the proposed preserve. In fact, The Kaweah Commonwealth reprinted portions of a Delta article that came out on August 21, 1890, addressing that issue with the following:

While it is not claimed that the unbroken area clothed with sequoias is as large on the south fork of the Kaweah as that found in certain other localities, it is nevertheless true that this is by far the finest sequoia forest still under the undisputed control of the government. If it be claimed that the so-called Giant Forest… is still in the hands of the government, the reply is that this vast tract is already claimed by a colony of Socialists who seem to be entitled to their land under existing laws.

In addition to editorializing in the Delta, Stewart and Walker wrote letters to anyone they thought could help. As a result, the Secretary of the Interior John Noble began receiving correspondence from influential people all over the country urging the reservation of sequoia forest land. Many of these, such as New York Tribune editor W.A. Stiles, were undoubtedly writing at the behest of Stewart and Walker. Stiles, in a letter to his former college classmate who had become Secretary of the Interior, stated, “I have received in my capacity as editor… several communications from California relating to a grove of Big Trees in Tulare County.”

On July 28, 1890, as a result of a vigorous letter writing campaign, numerous newspaper editorials, and various petitions (some of which were once thought lost or ignored), General William Vandever, member of Congress for the 6th District of California, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to reserve a certain tract of land, encompassing two townships containing the Garfield Grove and backcountry to its immediate east. It was virtually just as George Stewart had suggested and outlined.

While an earlier bill introduced by Vandever to reserve the Yosemite Valley and its watershed was languishing, this later Sequoia bill fairly raced through Congress. It was passed by the House on August 23, 1890. The Senate approved the bill on September 8, 1890, and it was promptly sent on to the President for final enactment into law.


While the conservation movement was steadily building in California, urged on by men such as John Muir and George Stewart, nationalism had taken the country by storm. Nationalist clubs had sprung up all over the country, in large cities and small towns, and Kaweah was no exception. Of course, it was natural that Kaweah would support an active Nationalist Club. The philosophies behind both were similar. In fact, the socialist endeavor was actually being referred to in the press as a “Bellamy Colony.”

The Colony’s own newspaper quickly became one part Colony booming sheet and one part Nationalist organ. It ran advertisements for other Nationalist publications in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston and published reprints of Nationalist essays and articles. Throughout the spring of 1890, it printed accounts of the local Nationalist meetings. A typical example ran in the March 1, 1890, issue:

The Kaweah Colony Nationalist Club meeting opened with singing—minutes of last meeting read and approved—Solo by Mrs. Ting—Reading from Bellamy—Singing “The Old Arm Chair” by Mrs. Martin—Remarks upon the matter read by Mr. Hubbard, Dr. Hunter, Mr. Braddock, Mr. Herschede and Mr. Nuckey.

Debate then followed upon the following question: “Resolved that it would be for the general benefit of the public for the United States Government to assume control of the [rail]roads.” Mr. Hubbard and Mrs. Martin on the affirmative; Mr. Christie and Miss Kate Redstone on the negative. No vote was taken, the subject being left open for discussion.

It was voted that Mr. Redstone and Mr. Plaisted represent the Club as delegates at the Nationalists Convention in San Francisco.

Adjourned to meet next Saturday.

The growth of Nationalism and the network of clubs and newspapers across the country was an obvious source for publicizing the Kaweah Colony. Burnette Haskell took advantage of this, but in his zeal to control the movement he brought on disharmony that was reminiscent of early Kaweah Colony struggles. It showed a pattern Haskell seemed destined to repeat again and again.

A talented motivator and stump-speaker, Haskell organized Nationalist clubs in Ocean View, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Fresno. He eventually saw the movement as a viable political party, announcing at one reception that the Nationalists would enter the municipal elections of 1890. That spring, the California Nationalist Convention was held. Its purpose was to unify the clubs by means of a central committee, broaden the clubs’ influence and plan for upcoming elections.

At a meeting of his First Nationalist Club of San Francisco prior to the convention, Haskell failed to gain control of the delegation. Charges of fraud and mismanagement had begun to surface against Haskell, who desired decisive control of the delegation and thus, he hoped, control of the upcoming convention. He instead found the club divided, making a final fight for power inevitable.

When the convention convened in Metropolitan Hall in San Francisco on April 8, 1890, Haskell quickly met opposition on the issue of proxy votes. Several smaller clubs were unable to send delegates, and Haskell presented their proxy votes, backing them up with written permission for each proxy and strong arguments that to deny these proxies was to discriminate against the poor, who could not afford to vote in person.

With Haskell proxies allowed, a subsequent battle ensued over election of a committee chairman, which became deadlocked between Haskell’s choice, W.C. Owen, and a rival’s, T.V. Cator. Again rose the issue of proxy votes. Caroline Medan described the scene in her 1950 biographical thesis on Haskell.

Then [Medan wrote], just before another vote was to be taken, Judge Wheeler, a Cator supporter, stepped out of the hall for a few moments, appointing a proxy to cast his vote. This proxy was not recognized, however, and Owen’s victory resulted. Non-recognition of Wheeler’s proxy in the balloting caused T.V. Cator and almost half of the delegates to walk out of the convention.

That night, Annie [Haskell] wrote in her diary “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” However, Annie was wrong. T.V. Cator was not defeated. He had gone directly from the convention to the Palace Hotel and there had organized a “true” nationalist convention, adopting a set of principles and drawing up fifteen reasons why he and his followers had left the convention. The reasons were all Haskell in fifteen different forms.


This was one more example of Haskell’s peculiar talent for influencing (read “fixing”) elections. Charles Keller had seen that talent in action and, like Cator, was prompted to leave with his followers. Dr. Hubbard had seen it, resulting in his tearful resignation as editor and ultimate sacrifice of his valuable printing press.

The convention’s split and the subsequent press attack was devastating. The San Francisco Star noted that the San Francisco Nationalist movement had early been “seized upon” by Haskell and was from that moment on divided. It went on to call Haskell “one of the most thoroughly untrustworthy persons who ever fooled the unwary public, or made simple-hearted folks believe him a little tin god on wheels.”

Haskell’s First Nationalist Club in San Francisco quickly faced failing attendance. Resignations and disagreement were increasing daily until an especially bitter May 21 meeting. The disintegration was nearly completed. Bellamy nationalism was founded on the precept that human nature, being essentially good, would arrive at a rational and humane order devoted to the noblest ends of man, but Haskell’s ego and incredible drive to dominate insisted on utter control of that process. His impatience served only to hasten the movement’s decline.

Yet despite the decline of the movement in California, on a broader horizon Bellamy’s brand of nationalism continued to influence and incite enthusiasm worldwide and even helped recruit members to Kaweah from as far away as England. Philip Winser’s memoir, which he penned in the 1930s, provides an excellent example of how Nationalism attracted members to Kaweah from so far away.

The eldest son of a dissenting Unitarian family, Philip Winser was struggling to keep the family farm solvent in Kent, England, when, with an ailing father, he came up with a plan to “wind things up, realize everything and pay off.” He made “preparations for the sale [of the farm] and arrangements for migrating” were put into effect. After setting up his mother and remaining family in a house by the sea where they could take in boarders for income, Winser’s personal plans “began to formulate.”

About this time [Winser wrote] Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward was being talked of a lot and I read it. The word, socialism, was not mentioned, but it sketched an idealized society on that order. I had been pondering the anomalies of society and how it was that the hardest workers seemed to get the worst of it, and couldn’t solve the riddle. The answer seemed to come to me in this book, and I made up my mind if ever there should be a community who would try and work things out on those lines, I would endeavor to join them.

Winser stumbled upon his utopia after a Boston cousin sent him literature as to a Bellamy Nationalist club and movement. Included in that literature was an article describing the Kaweah Colony. It was “Bellamy’s dream realized” in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, Winser remembered thinking. Writing to the secretary of the Colony, Winser soon received notice of his acceptance. He promptly remitted the initial $100 and made plans to cross the Atlantic.

SOURCES: In addition to the books cited in the body of the chapter, including John Muir’s Our National Parks; Dilsaver and Tweed’s Challenge of the Big Trees; Alfred Runte’s National Parks: The American Experience (University of Nebraska Press, 1997); and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000-1887 (including the introduction to the edition published by R.C. Elliott, 1966), this chapter also relied heavily on several primary sources such as the Haskell Papers (Bancroft Library) and the George Stewart Papers (Visalia Public Library). An article from the Pacific Historical Review, 1948, by Ruth R. Lewis entitled “Kaweah An Experiment in Co-Operative Colonization” was consulted, as well as Caroline Medan’s “Burnette Gregor Haskell: A California Radical” thesis; Douglas Strong’s “History of Sequoia National Park” manuscript, and Phil Winser’s unpublished “Memories.” Contemporary newspaper reports from the Visalia Weekly Delta, San Francisco Examiner, and San Francisco Star were additional sources.

A History of the Kaweah Colony: The Annie Haskell Diaries

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

I defy any man in this room to read Annie Fader Haskell’s diary without falling in love with her.(Joseph E. Doctor, Southern California Historical Symposium, 1968)

While the Kaweah Colony and its primary settlement of Advance flourished during the summer of 1890, its founder and leading proponent had yet to establish a residence at the Colony. Burnette Haskell somehow managed to take active part in its administration and to even serve as editor of the weekly publication produced at the Colony from his San Francisco base, where he recruited membership, continued his labor agitation, and tried to coalesce the Nationalist movement for his own agenda. As the summer wore on, it became more and more apparent that the time was coming for Haskell to make a final and focused commitment to the Colony — a commitment that would involve relocating his family to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Haskell’s move to Kaweah marked a watershed event in his personal life. It was a defining moment in his marriage, and his commitment to that marriage stood trial in the pages of his wife’s most remarkable diary. To understand their marriage and her feelings on the eve of their big move to Kaweah, it is necessary to double back in time once more and, in the process, get to know one of Kaweah’s most remarkable personalities: Annie Haskell.


Anna Fader, like many young women of her time and ever since, had early on fallen in love with the romantic notion of love. As a teenager, she wrote the following poem:

It is hard in the Summer of Girlhood
Ere the days begin to grow old
To have one’s heart once so joyous
Grow hard and heartless and cold
It is hard in the days when freedom
Is ours, for a time, to keep
To be chained with a nameless longing
To a sorrow intense and deep.

The daughter of a sailor who had joined the Gold Rush, Anna was born in California’s Trinity County in 1858. After completing school in Salinas, she continued to live with her family in Sonoma County. In 1876, the 18-year-old Annie (as she was called) started what would prove to be a lifelong discipline. A dedicated diarist, she filled exactly one page — no more and no less — of small, leather-bound diaries every day for 65 years.

In 1881, she wrote of a romance, an “Arthur, my Arthur, for whom my heart has called.” And while Arthur evidently hinted at a future together (“He thinks by next fall he can get bread and butter enough for two. Oh! If it is not too late!”), by the spring of that year Annie was again lamenting a nameless longing:

I get so weary trying to live without love. Perhaps some time my day shall dawn. I suppose it ought to be a consolation to me that if it don’t dawn in this world, it will in the next. But it ain’t. I want my happiness now. I have waited long and am tired.

In the autumn of 1881, Annie moved out on her own and headed for the big city of San Francisco. In the early 1880s, San Francisco was the largest, most cosmopolitan, most exciting city west of the Mississippi. She initially had a hard time finding room and board, becoming “more disgusted than discouraged” at the sorry condition of various boardinghouses and homes for girls. She did manage to find work, however, at a workingmen’s restaurant “slinging hash,” and more importantly, accepted an invitation from a friend, Helen Haskell, to stay with her and her family for awhile.

The attraction between Annie Fader and Helen Haskell’s brother was almost immediate. After only a couple days staying with the relatively well-to-do Haskells, Annie wrote:

I have commenced [work at the restaurant]. I am tired. I rather Burnette might despise a girl who slings hash. But this evening he came down and insisted on my going there to sleep, as did Helen, and so though I had engaged a room I went. Oh, it will be so much nicer… Burnette was exceedingly enthusiastic on the subject of my conduct. He said I was a “queen among women.” It is foolish for me to report it, but somehow it warms my heart how he honored me.

Burnette Haskell was smitten with Annie. At a time in his life when he was finally discovering for himself his life’s cause in the labor movement, he also found the time to stay up until the wee hours “discussing the theory of evolution until we were wild” with Annie or to praise her “exquisite shoulders.”

“The idea!” Annie blushed onto the pages of her diary. “I have always disliked them so much, and I don’t care, I hate such wide shoulders on a woman.” Burnette, she was proud to report, insisted they were “classic.”


Burnette Haskell proved to be less than the ideal husband to Annie. While she was probably guilty of idealizing love and marriage, she certainly hadn’t bargained for the lifestyle into which she was thrust. The pattern of their married life was quickly set by the mid-1880s. Annie was either busy working for Burnette’s various labor causes or left alone at home while he was. Neither of these two basic situations made her very happy, although the 1886 birth of their son, Astaroth (Roth), seemed to alleviate some of her chronic loneliness.

By the late 1880s, Haskell was occupied with his labor organizations, the Kaweah Colony, and the Nationalist movement. While Annie actively participated in the Nationalist Clubs — helping to organize meetings and programs and often performing at them — a diary entry from that period was especially telling. In it, Annie summed up feelings countless wives (and, indeed, any person married to an ambitious and inattentive spouse) have felt when she wrote:

I feel as if I were at a turning point in my life and I don’t know what to do. I have no friends, not even in the world. If a man says to his wife “no woman, not even my wife, shall come between me and my ambition,” what then?  Dear me, I waited and waited this evening for Burnette to come to dinner. He did not come home till near 12 and then did not offer a word of explanation. I really don’t know what to do. Nothing I can do pleases him.

Haskell was not, in the words of one Kaweah historian, a very good husband. Annie complained he spent more time with “the Cause” than with her, and she felt he was rather too attentive to a woman who later became his “traveling secretary.” But, as Joe Doctor — a good storyteller fond of the human-interest side of history — once hinted, Annie too may have been guilty of extra-marital involvements. She was obviously quite fond of Andrew Larsen, whom she referred to in her diary as her “dear Larloo.”

During the spring of 1890, an ill Larsen lived at the Haskell home in San Francisco where Annie spent a great deal of time trying to nurse him back to health. She described him once, sitting disconsolately by the fire, as a weary shadow of his former big, strong healthy self. Another day she noted:

Larloo is in bed. Poor old fellow. I am doing everything I can for him. I hope and pray it will do some good.

By June, he was feeling better and was sent to Kaweah, where it was hoped the drier climate might help his consumption.

Larsen went away this morning [Annie wrote]. He looked pretty well, but I kissed him good-bye, as I don’t know what might happen.

While Joe Doctor went so far as to call Annie and Larsen “lovers,” there is also the possibility that it was strictly an innocent, warm relationship. An argument can be made either way.

Annie worked at keeping her marriage sound. She made efforts to become involved with her husband’s projects, but found it tiring. In addition to her work for the Nationalist movement, Annie tried to keep involved with Haskell’s most consuming ambition at the time — the Kaweah Colony. The Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Co. maintained a large non-resident membership in San Francisco (as they did in other cities such as Los Angeles, Denver, and New York), which met regularly. Haskell continued to head Colony operations from San Francisco. Amazingly enough, in the days before instant communication, Haskell even managed to oversee publication of The Kaweah Commonwealth at Advance, acting as Corresponding Editor. Later, after Dr. Hunter resigned as Editor, the journal’s masthead noted that it was published “under the supervision of Burnette G. Haskell, Superintendent of Education.” It is hard to imagine how much “direct supervision” he could offer from over 200 miles away; but nonetheless, as long as Haskell remained in San Francisco, much of the Colony business and promotion was also centered in the City by the Bay.

The young couple, meanwhile, was having financial difficulties. On July 29, 1890, Annie wrote in her diary:

Burnette and I have been talking over our situation. It looks mighty bad—and you bet, if we ever get out of this hole we are in, we will never get into a similar one. Everything goes wrong and there seems to be no way to get money and we are so deeply in debt on every side.

The next day, via a telegram from James Martin at the Colony, they got the news that Andrew Larsen had died. A shock, Annie admitted, although it was hardly unexpected. “It’s so sad,” she wrote. “Poor dear Larloo. I’m so glad I kissed him good-bye.”

Back in San Francisco, life went on. In September 1890, Annie shared with her diary her feelings about Colony activities there in San Francisco:

I went to the Colony meeting this evening. Took the trolley. I did not want to go and talk foolishness which I don’t feel like doing. I abominate it. I loath it. I feel that way about everything and I am getting worse and worse every day. I suppose I think too much of myself. Sat up until after 1:00 a.m. last evening, or rather this morning, waiting for Burnette to come home, but the cars had stopped so I went to bed. He came in at 4:00 a.m.

Reading the diary pages, one gets the idea that there may have been more than Nationalist clubs, labor meetings, or Colony business keeping Haskell out so late and so often in a city so filled with temptation. The solution to their troubles, both personal and financial, they could put off no longer. The time had come for them to move to the Kaweah Colony. Their very survival would depend on the success of the Colony and Haskell’s dream of a cooperative world.


In September 1890, a turning point had truly come in Annie Haskell’s life, as she readied for the move with her husband to the Kaweah Colony. It was a turning point she dreaded, and she wrote:

Off for Visalia, off for the Colony. I never hated to start for any place as badly as I did today.

While Annie certainly lacked the eager optimism that most new resident-members brought with them to the Colony grounds, shortly after her arrival her attitude exhibited a change for the positive. It is hard to know if this was really inspired by finally seeing the Colony first-hand or simply prompted by her husband’s badgering and cajoling. After first seeing the area, however, she was duly impressed with its natural beauty, noting in her diary that “it is a beautiful place, and I am satisfied with it.” High praise from a woman who only days before loathed and abominated everything.

Just one week later, Annie’s first impressions of Advance appeared in The Kaweah Commonwealth:

Now I have come to stay; and I am very glad that I got here before this unique town, this wonderful tent town, has spread its white wings and settled down the canyon, for it is wonderful.

The “white wings” referred to the canvas of the tent homes. The Colony still consisted of these temporary structures, but by the fall of 1890, when Annie had arrived, plans were already underway to relocate the primary Colony settlement down-canyon four miles to some land the Colony had leased.

The optimism Annie exhibited in the pages of the Commonwealth may have been forced to some degree — anything appearing in the promotionally-obsessed “booming sheet” had to be somewhat rose-tinted — but there was also significant cause for such optimism. The Colony had finished their road to the timber. A sawmill had been set up and logging operations had begun. They had found a site for their permanent settlement farther down canyon with plenty of level land and available water, which was being referred to as Kaweah Townsite.

The Haskell family also had cause to feel optimistic. Annie, Burnette, and Roth would soon move into their own house on homesteaded land not far from Kaweah Townsite. Annie had to expect that at Kaweah, Burnette would not be so subject to the distractions of the big city. The small family would be able to spend time together and be part of a true community. Annie described in glowing terms some of the inhabitants of that community in an article entitled “My First Impressions”:

There are ladies here whom it is a misfortune not to know, sweet aunt Margery who is, I am sure, one of the sweetest ladies upon the face of the earth. Mrs. Martin, who fairly decorates a room, she is so handsome, and Daisy who has grown like some beautiful flower, Mrs. Christie with her brilliant face. Mrs. Elford who looks so motherly and kind, Mrs. Essner always smiling, Mrs. Purdy who has a face like that of Evangeline, Mrs. Theophilus whose smiles are like the sunshine in a room and illumined the mist that hung over the road-camp. Last but not least is Mrs. Carpenter, a nice little woman.

Annie also had an opportunity, during her first few weeks at Kaweah, to visit the Colony’s mill and venture even farther into the forest to see the awe-inspiring giant sequoias. She wrote about many of the sites visitors to Sequoia National Park visit today, although some were known to Annie by different names. She saw the Karl Marx Tree, the B.G. Haskell Tree, Moro Rock, and Round Meadow. But the thing that moved her the most was visiting the grave of Andrew Larsen. In a circle of cedar trees not far from the mill and the end of the road, Annie searched and searched until she found just one little flower, which she put on “poor Larloo’s grave.”

Annie’s diary continued to plot the course of her new community and track the ebb and flow of personal and collective optimism. Her entries during her first year at the Colony, from October 1890 through the latter part of 1891, are perhaps the best eyewitness account of what would prove to be a pivotal year in the Colony’s history. It was also an uncommonly frank account of a pivotal year in Burnette and Annie’s marriage.

At the outset of that first year at Kaweah, having had a chance to visit the various camps and meet many of the other Colony families — her new friends and neighbors — Annie felt compelled to wax prophetic in her diary:

Oh, we will make a success of this Colony yet—but it will take time and we must have patience everyone.

SOURCES: Annie Haskell’s diaries are a remarkable source. The Bancroft Library, in addition to housing all 65 years of her original diaries as part of their Haskell Family Papers collection, have several years available on microfilm. Many of the entries used for this chapter were transcribed  by the author (a difficult task given the tight, barely-legible nature of her handwriting on delicate pages of small, leather-bound journals). Additional transcriptions were made by Oscar Berland, who generously made his research files and papers available to the author. Another key source for this chapter were various research notes and drafts of articles found in Joe Doctor’s files (including notes on his interview with Roth Haskell, Burnette and Annie’s son), which were also graciously given to the author. The Kaweah Commonwealth also provided several examples of Annie Haskell’s writings.

A History of the Kaweah Colony: The Milling Begins

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

The original Sequoia National Park, created on September 25, 1890; and the enlarged boundaries after the park more than tripled in size through the bill passed to create Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890. (Map courtesy the Sierra Club)

Our First Lumber
Tis but a chip of pine
Picked from a rough sawn board,
Yet many a chip of pine
A story may afford
(The Kaweah Commonwealth, July 26, 1890)

Early in the summer of 1890, the Colony road had reached the pines after nearly four years of grueling work. The heavily timbered land that had long been considered inaccessible was now reachable on an impressive wagon road nearly 20 miles in length that climbed over 5,000 vertical feet. It had been made possible not by huge expenditures of capital, but by the cooperative sweat and labor of Colony members who toiled not for mere wages, but for the common good of the community they had joined. Of course, many had paid dearly to join that community, and continued to pay if not with cold hard cash then with the sweat of their brow. Still, those who joined had nearly all done so believing their cooperative resources would pay dividends to them all.

With the road complete into the timber belt, their most valuable resource was finally accessible. However, there was still much work to be done. A workable mill had to be established, which required equipment and still more labor. Only then could the felling, milling, and transporting of lumber begin, which called for more equipment and some fairly specialized and skilled labor. The Kaweah Colony was fortunate, however, that certain members happened along when they did. Irvin Barnard was one such member.


Irvin Barnard had been a farmer in the coastal town of Ventura, California, before joining the Kaweah Colony. With his arrival as a resident member in 1890, the Colony gained some important assets. For one thing Barnard had considerable capital at hand, for it was he who acquired the lease on a sizable tract of land in the lower North Fork canyon that would eventually become Kaweah Townsite.

He also brought to the Colony a much needed Ajax steam traction engine, which was just the thing needed to power the sawmill they were establishing at the end of the road. Ajax traction engines were sold by A.B. Farquhar of York, Pennsylvania, a manufacturer of farm and sawmill equipment. According to the 1887-1888 catalogue, there were four sizes of Ajax engines — from 8 to 14 horsepower — costing in the range of $1,175 up to $1,625. The number two engine, for instance, was a 10 h.p. unit that would use about 400 pounds of coal and 10 to 12 barrels of water in a day’s operation. It had a 6½-inch diameter cylinder with a 9-inch stroke and operated at 275 rpm. Although these traction engines were equipped with steering gear and could be driven under their own power, they were also supplied with a removable tongue so that when used on a road a team could be used for steering. In this way these portable engines could be pulled by team from job to job.

Getting Barnard’s Ajax to the job site at the end of the Colony’s road to the pines proved to be a considerable and eventful task. It is unclear how Barnard transported the engine the 200 miles from Ventura to Visalia. Freightage via the railroads would have been costly and driving it or pulling by team all that distance an ambitious and time-consuming trip, but Barnard was apparently a man of both means and ambition. In any event, the journey was without mishap until reaching the foothills and a bridge across the South Fork of the Kaweah in the village of Three Rivers, a few miles from the Colony grounds.

Crossing on an old and infirm wooden bridge, the eight-ton Ajax, along with its driver, crashed through into the rushing stream below. The South Fork is not a large tributary — it is the smallest of all of the Kaweah’s forks — so this bridge was low and the fall neither great nor fatal. Barnard suffered only a few bruises, but his vest and a gold watch were swept away in the current and never recovered. The Ajax, fortunately, was recovered. With a great deal of labor and a bit of ingenuity, the huge tractor was pulled out of the stream bed and tangled rubble from the collapsed bridge. Soon, however, Barnard faced the even greater task of crossing the much larger Middle Fork.

Getting an Ajax steam traction engine across the various forks of the Kaweah River presented a stiff challenge for the colonists. (Photo courtesy Bancroft Library)

Swollen from a heavy spring runoff, the main Middle Fork of the Kaweah had recently taken its toll on a ferry built by the Colony, destroying it against the rocks. When Barnard arrived at the crossing, there was no way to cross, and he suddenly found himself not only stuck on the wrong side of the river, but in the middle of a Colony debate over building either another ferry or a bridge. The ensuing dispute was a prime example of the frustration Colony leaders often faced.

Barnard returned to Visalia, where he brought news of the ferry’s demise and the current situation to Colony Secretary James Martin. In addition to needing to get the Ajax across, the Colony faced a much more urgent need of getting supplies across to a suddenly isolated settlement. With the deep snows in the Sierra that year, the swift-running torrent would likely continue for some time. It would be several weeks before the main fork could safely be forded. A way across was of paramount importance. Martin later recalled that “a short talk with Mr. Barnard convinced me that he was the very man needed to meet the situation.”

Barnard had experience with ferries; he told Martin it was the most practical, least expensive and quickest way of re-establishing connections to the cut-off Colony. He outlined exactly what materials were needed. It was obvious to Martin, a trustee of the Colony, that an immediate decision was needed and in less than two days the materials arrived at the spot on the river where the new ferry would be built. Martin’s unpublished history of the Colony continues the story as he remembered it. He wrote:

In the meantime at the Colony there had been, naturally, much talk with regard to the situation and what was to be done. When the material for a new ferry arrived it appeared to be a shock to a few ardent democrats that a matter of such importance had not been discussed at a special meeting. One member, who assumed to be more or less of an engineer, had induced a few to believe that a suspension bridge could be built of the worn-out wire cables discarded by the street cars in San Francisco, which he thought could be obtained for the proverbial song. It was rather a wild suggestion, but it took with a few because of the idea of economy. They failed to recognize that the hauling and freight on the amount to build a suspension bridge that would stand the strain of four horses and a loaded wagon would amount to much more than the cost of a new ferry. Nor did it occur to them that a bridge built of worn-out cable did not commend itself on the score of safety. And besides, a ferry would have to be built to bring across the river the material necessary for the construction of the tower to carry the cable across, and for supplies to the Colony while the bridge was being built.

There were, perhaps, twenty advocates of the suspension bridge idea who would have liked to take a day or two off to thrash the matter out in a meeting, but when the material arrived on the opposite bank for the ferry the question was settled. Argument was then changed to criticism. It was contended that a ferry was unsafe, and besides, what did Barnard know about ferry construction anyway? Barnard’s reply to this was that he had quite recently fallen through a county bridge with his tractor and that fact had not tended to increase his affection for bridges, especially suspension bridges of amateur construction. “But,” he said, “if it will afford comfort and relief to the timid, my tractor and myself shall be the first to cross on the new ferry; I will drive onto the ferry with a full head of steam and toot the whistle vigorously while crossing.” This was regarded as fool-hardiness by the bridge advocates. The time was set for the crossing, and a small crowd assembled, some of whom rather expected to witness a tragedy. Barnard, however, made the crossing in safety while the echoes rang with a multiplicity of toots.

On June 21, 1890, the Colony newspaper, which had been following the progress of the Ajax, proclaimed, “All engine difficulties are past. The whistle of the engine has been heard at Advance.” The report added that it would remain there “until the return of Comrade Barnard, who will take his son up to the mill site with him and probably leave him in charge of the mill.”


When Special Land Agent Andrew Cauldwell filed his investigative report on the Colony in July 1890, his involvement with the case was seemingly over. While the report was generally favorable toward the colonists, he had questioned the legality of the individual claimant’s quitclaim deeds to the Colony. While satisfied that the original intent of the entrymen was to “place their claims in a common pool after they had proved up and paid for their claims, to be worked co-operatively for their joint benefit,” the withdrawal of the land and suspension of the claims changed matters.

Cauldwell’s report explained how Colony leaders nonetheless “instituted and partially carried out the plan of getting quit claim deeds from filers.”

I am satisfied [Cauldwell wrote] that nearly all of those timber entrymen who made these quit claims did so through a misinterpretation of the law, their attorney [Haskell] having advised them that having once tendered their final proof and money in payment they could subsequently deed their equity in the claims to the Colony Company, notwithstanding the fact that the Land Office had refused to receive their proof and money.

His ultimate recommendation was to cancel all the timber claims in the suspended townships without prejudice to any individual claimant “to the end that such as honestly intended to enter said timber lands for their own use and benefit can have an opportunity to make new filings thereon whenever the suspension is removed,” thus opening the door for anyone, be they Colony member or otherwise, to make brand new claims.

This recommendation was never heeded, and a growing conservation movement undoubtedly influenced the decision. In fact, with bills already introduced in Congress to preserve California forest land, Secretary of the Interior John Noble, who was in favor of the movement, ordered the commissioner of the Government Land Office to renew suspensions on the townships containing sequoia trees until a complete report could be rendered concerning the location of the Big Trees. Cauldwell, a temporary employee of the Interior Department, was already familiar with the area and drew the assignment. It probably helped that the congressman for the district and author of two bills to set aside forest reserves, William Vandever, had personally written the Secretary of the Interior asking that Cauldwell be given a permanent appointment, citing the character of his work as evidence of his efficiency and fidelity. Cauldwell returned in August to make a comprehensive report on the location, number, and size of giant sequoias in and around the Giant Forest. This new assignment also marked a dramatic shift in Cauldwell’s attitude toward, and relationship with, the Kaweah Colony.

By August, Barnard’s Ajax had made its way up the Colony road to the timber, and a sawmill had been erected. Production that first summer did not, however, live up to expectations. Burnette Haskell later vented his frustrations concerning the mill’s output when he wrote:

A total of 20,000 feet (at $10 per thousand) was cut during a three month’s run with a mill whose capacity was 3,000 feet a day; the actual cut average 193 feet per day; less than a tenth of what ought to be done, and this mill was not run short-handed. It is true that most of the time it did not run; that loggers were inexpert; that the mill was small and old; that picnics had to be organized; that the men had to come down for “General Meetings,” that this foreman was bad and that foreman was worse; that the timber was small; that the oxen were lame, and a hundred other reasons, but the fact remains that results were not attained.

Haskell was obviously bitter when he wrote this, but even the ceaselessly optimistic Commonwealth hinted at problems at the mill that summer. “Work at the sawmill is progressing fairly this week, considering the lack of help,” they reported, exhibiting a rare instance of qualified negativity. “Comrades Barnard and Shaw have worked like Trojans to prepare the new edger for service. A fine new belt has also been put up, and several other improvements made which will add materially to the capacity of the mill.”

The Commonwealth later tried to put a positive spin on another unforeseen setback. “The oxen recently purchased,” the paper noted, “are recovering strength and flesh in the pines. The exception is one of the weakest, whose neck was broken while grazing too close to a rocky bank.” Nonetheless, logging had begun and the Colony was finally producing lumber — the valuable and vast resource that would sustain their cooperative dream.

Cauldwell was well aware that the land upon which the colonists logged had not been patented nor deeded to them. It was still technically public land, and he was compelled to warn them against cutting timber upon it, insisting they desist at once. He had personally caught them in the act of “timber trespass” — cutting trees on public land — and at once reported the infraction to the Department of the Interior on August 15, 1890. This, however, was one fact that had no detrimental effect on production at the mill, for the warning was patently ignored. One can easily imagine the negative effect this had on Cauldwell’s relationship with the Colony. Tensions between them grew.


Meanwhile, it should be remembered that Vandever had introduced his bill calling for the reservation of the Garfield Grove area and that it was successfully speeding through Congress. On September 11, 1890, the Visalia Delta, in reporting the rapid progression of Vandever’s Sequoia bill, commented that:

In these days of tardy legislation, it seems wonderful that this bill should be introduced in Congress and passed without opposition, and then taken to the Senate where it is favorably reported by the committee on public lands, then presented to the assembly and passed without debate. The bill will be presented to President Harrison to sign and there is not the least doubt but that our chief magistrate will affix the seal of his approval to the measure. Those who have taken an interest in the successful passage of the bill can well congratulate themselves with their splendid work.

Even The Kaweah Commonwealth saw the rapid passage of the bill, which it must be remembered reserved the Garfield Grove area many miles south of all the Colony claims, as good news. With its passage imminent, they proclaimed that “never were the prospects of Kaweah more bright than today!” and went on to explain that “this news assures the retention of our rights to the Giant Forest, as one National Park is all that is likely to be created for some time to come in this vicinity.” In other words, the Colony cheered the creation of a park reserve as outlined in Vandever’s bill because it didn’t encompass their land. They had dodged the bullet of legislated conservation.


Introduced months before the Sequoia bill, the proposed legislation to create a federal reserve around the state-controlled Yosemite had come about in great part due to the agitation of John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine. Envisioned by Muir to protect the vast watersheds surrounding the Yosemite Valley, which was already protected by the State of California, the bill was introduced in March 1890 by Representative Vandever.

Johnson had a great deal of influence in Washington, and even after the bill had been introduced he worked hard to convince the House Committee on Public Lands that it did not go far enough. Armed with a statement and a map from John Muir, who urged that the Yosemite Reservation ought to include the Tuolumne River watershed and the Ritter Range to the east, Johnson lobbied for extension of the boundaries of the proposed reservation. He appeared before the Committee on Public Lands on June 2, 1890, and finally by late September achieved positive results. A second Yosemite bill was substituted and passed through both houses of Congress on September 30, the last day of the session, without the customary bill printing. This new bill provided for a park that was almost township for township like the one Muir had sketched for Johnson. The substitute bill, which became law on October 1, 1890, created a park more than five times the size of the one originally proposed by Vandever. Yosemite became the second national park created in California in less than one week.

The substitute Yosemite bill, introduced in the eleventh hour and rushed into law, created not only a vastly enlarged Yosemite National Park, but with its added sections of text created General Grant National Park and added four townships to the newly created Sequoia National Park.

Section Three of the Yosemite bill, which added to Sequoia National Park an area more than twice that which had so recently been reserved, described the addition only by township, section, and range numbers, so it was unlikely that any of the politicians who passed this bill realized that the area added included the famed Giant Forest and all of the Kaweah Colony timber claims. Nowhere in the text was there any mention of the Sequoia bill passed only a week earlier, nor of the famed Giant Forest, Tulare County, and the Kaweah watershed. With a road newly completed to the timber belt and claims filed on much of the land in question, it would have been hard to label this added land as worthless, which had historically been (and would continue to be) a key factor for consideration of reserving public lands.

Assured by the Committee that it was not “proposed in any manner to interfere with the rights of settlers or claimants,” the bill was read and passed through the House without any debate. In the Senate, the bill was read, and Senator George Edmunds of Vermont complained that it could not be understood and should be printed. Then someone spoke quietly to Edmunds, and he withdrew his objections. The bill passed the Senate without further debate. The one thing these congressmen did understand was that forest preservation had become a popular stance, so with the session nearly over, it is hardly surprising that they took the opportunity to cast their votes to save the Sierra forests.

The establishment of two national parks (and the mysterious enlargement of one) marked the end of the summer of 1890, a time of incredible activity and optimism for the Kaweah Colony. Several elements of Kaweah’s story progressed at once during that exciting spring and summer: the road was finished and a sawmill erected; a community began to flourish at Advance; a Nationalist movement gained momentum and helped attract members to the utopian endeavor; a growing conservation movement took root and began to realize legislative success; a government Land Agent investigated, supported, and ultimately antagonized the Colony; and the driving force behind Kaweah — Burnette Haskell — finally focused his commitment solely on the Colony, moving his family to the Sierra settlement. As summer gave way to fall, all these divergent aspects converged at one place and time. In fact, Haskell and his wife, Annie, arrived at the Colony on the very day the Yosemite bill was signed into law.

It was several weeks before news of the bill’s passage and the enlargement of Sequoia National Park reached California. It would be decades before the mystery surrounding this development came to light.

SOURCES: In addition to contemporary newspaper reports in The Kaweah Commonwealth and the Visalia Weekly Delta, and books such as Dilsaver and Tweed’s Challenge of the Big Trees and John Muir and the Sierra Club Battle for Yosemite by Holway R. Jones (Berkeley, Calif., 1965), other sources for this chapter include “Kaweah Colony Traction Engine” in Los Tulares (No. 31, June 1957), Haskell’s article on Kaweah from Out West magazine, and James J. Martin’s unpublished manuscript “History of the Kaweah Colony” (including drafts and notes, circa 1930, Martin Family papers, Bancroft Library).

A History of the Kaweah Colony: A Challenge to Optimism

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

After completing their road and getting the Ajax traction engine to the pine belt, the colonists started cutting trees and milling timber. (Photo courtesy Bancroft Library)

We hear today that our whole forest and Avalon are made by Congress into a park. Most of the colonists are sick. (Annie Haskell’s diary, October 21, 1890)

It took three full weeks before news of Sequoia’s sudden enlargement reached those who had done so much toward realizing its establishment. George Stewart’s Visalia Delta reported on October 23, 1890, that it was a “surprise to many to know that the park comprises seven townships instead of two townships and four sections as at first supposed,” although the paper noted it had always been the intention of the originators of the bill, of whom Stewart was certainly one, to secure reservation of a greater area.

The Visalia newspaper undoubtedly spoke for Stewart personally when it explained:

Those who have expressed dissatisfaction at the limited scope of the original Vandever park bill, in that it did not take in enough sequoia forests, cannot attribute it to narrowness in the conception of the originators of the movement. There was little sequoia timber remaining in the possession of the government, and there was no desire to interfere with vested rights or with those who had made application for timber land containing sequoias under the laws of the United States.


As news was so slow in making its way west from the nation’s capital, one might surmise that Andrew Cauldwell’s September 26 report recommending inclusion of Giant Forest and the surrounding townships into the park could hardly have made it all the way from Visalia to Washington in sufficient time to have had a causal effect on the park’s enlargement. Obviously, there were others of influence in the capital who evidently shared Cauldwell’s views, regardless of ever having read his report. But most people in Tulare County were little concerned with just who was responsible for the last-minute expansion of Sequoia — few people except those who were most dramatically effected by the news.

Burnette Haskell certainly had his theories. He claimed the purpose of the bill was “part of a plot to destroy Kaweah.” In the November 1, 1890, issue of the Commonwealth, Haskell explained:

The whole great San Joaquin Valley as a lumber market is in the hands of a gigantic lumber trust who have long watched us with a jealous eye. They well knew that as soon as we began producing lumber it would be sold at reasonable prices to the farmers of the valley and that their own prices would come down. Knowing also that our legal title to our lands was unassailable and seeing that we had at last got to the timber they did what monopoly always does under similar circumstances.

Haskell maintained that said monopolies had “flooded the colony with rumors that this bill takes away our lands.” Of course, Haskell set the picture straight for Commonwealth readers. Aspects of his theory he couldn’t explain — such as how the hated lumber trust had been behind the legislation expanding the park — he ignored. And aspects he disagreed with — such as his assertion that their legal title to the land was “unassailable” — he simply changed. (Title was only unassailable in that there was no title.)

Haskell was able to maintain his optimism and, in fact, presented a good argument for continued optimism. When on October 25, 1890, the Commonwealth finally reported on the California parks bill and Sequoia’s sudden enlargement, Haskell noted that while it “takes a portion of the Colony lands,” it also “reserves the private rights and interests of the settler.” Even the Delta agreed with this when it noted the provision in the bill honoring “any bona fide entry of land made within the limits.” “This is as it should be,” the Delta editorialized, adding that the “rights of all applicants who made their filings in good faith should be respected and protected by the government.” It is obvious the Delta was specifically speaking of the colonists.

Haskell wrote in the Commonwealth, steeling the resolve of the Colony:

Very well, then we propose to stay. Our colonists can rest easy. Our legal rights will be protected. Our homes preserved inviolate. The home of the American citizen is a sacred precinct, not to be invaded by the vandals of capitalism at their pleasure.


The autumn of 1890 was a pivotal time for the Kaweah Colony. In addition to the creation and enlargement of Sequoia National Park and the arrival of the Haskells as permanent residents, the entire settlement was relocated down canyon to Kaweah Townsite.

Until that busy fall, the primary settlement of the Colony had been Advance, originally a road camp about four miles upriver from where road construction began. Perched on a bluff with limited level land available, it was never really thought of as a site of the permanent Colony town. Indeed, most of the time the colonists lived there as mere squatters, although eventually some of the members actually filed homestead claims at and near Advance.

Before mid-1890, the Colony planned on eventually moving to a proposed town site at East Branch (as they called what is now known as Yucca Creek). This area, also known as Avalon by the Colony, was already the center of their agricultural endeavors. They dry-farmed and harvested hay there, had planted several small orchards and had begun work on a ditch and flumes for irrigation. After completing the road to the timber, they even built a spur road down to the confluence of East Branch (Yucca Creek) and the North Fork of the Kaweah River, but just as that road was being completed a change in plans was prompted by the arrival of Comrade Irvin Barnard.

Barnard’s financial assets have already been considered in telling of his Ajax steam engine, and further evidence of his means can be shown in a purchase he made of a 240-acre tract of land at the lower end of the North Fork canyon for $2,000.

The canyon broadens here—with calm incline

The hills up-billow from the oak clad plain;

The river ripples blithely over stones

Or rolls thru pools with soothing undertows.

This was how poetically inclined colonist Will Purdy described the area of the new settlement.

By late September, the big move had begun. The Colony newspaper noted that about 35 persons were already living at Kaweah Townsite. “As a place of residence,” they proclaimed, “it seems to be a favorite.”

In November, the Commonwealth gave some idea of the layout of the Kaweah Townsite:

The post office will be located in one third of the annex to the printing office and residents will have to call for their mail. The store building will contain the store, the treasurer’s office and reading room, with shelves for the colony library and files for papers. School will open in the school-tent on the hill south of the printing office. The blacksmith shop was moved to Kaweah where Vulcan Dudley will be nearer the river water that he loves so much.

By late November, the move was mostly complete. The Commonwealth reported that “the new town is growing in rapidity and now looks on both sides of the river somewhat like a country city.” Advance, by that time, had become almost entirely deserted and had “quite a desolate air.”


After the Colony claims became a part of the new national park, Special Land Agent Cauldwell remained involved in the case and, in fact, matters heated up considerably between this agent of the government and the Kaweah Colony.

On October 25, 1890, Cauldwell reported to the Department of the Interior that the colonists were continuing to cut timber on land now embraced in the forest reserve. In letters dated October 30 and November 10, the honorable William Vandever, according to Cauldwell’s account, directed the Land Office to thoroughly investigate allegations that the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Company was cutting within the reserve. Vandever allegedly instructed Cauldwell to “warn the trespassers to desist from further cutting and if they fail to do so lay the facts before the U.S. Attorney.” By this time, Cauldwell had already gone to Los Angeles to consult with the U.S. Attorney, W. Cole, and “received from him the necessary instruction on how to proceed should I be ordered to stop the depredations.”

On November 12, Cauldwell received his official orders and paid a visit to James J. Martin. Martin maintained a Colony office in Visalia in the same building, ironically, as the local Land Office. It was there that Cauldwell paid the Colony secretary and trustee a visit, asking if his company intended to continue sawing timber in the park reserve. Martin, a man with an air of distinguished sophistication, didn’t hesitate in answering in the affirmative.

I then and there [Cauldwell wrote] officially notified said James J. Martin, a manager of the Kaweah Colony Company, to desist from cutting of timber on said forest reservation. In reply he said he didn’t think they would, as they were cutting the timber under legal advise.

Martin, in his proper English accent, went on to inform Cauldwell that he could only give a definitive answer after calling a meeting of the trustees.

On November 24, Martin delivered that definitive answer. He informed Agent Cauldwell, in no uncertain terms, that the Colony was cutting timber on one of their own claims, and that they would continue to cut timber upon their claims in the forest reservation until restrained from doing so by force.


On December 4, 1890, the Tulare County Times reported that “B.G. Haskell, H.T. Taylor and William Christie were arrested in Kaweah for illegal lumber cutting.” A fourth trustee, James J. Martin, was “picked up” in Visalia. Annie Haskell’s diary provides this firsthand account:

Well, there has been quite a sensation. There were two deputies—and they were very nice. They have all gone to Los Angeles and will have to find bail. Mrs. Taylor felt awfully badly—she was crying and so Lizzie and I tried to comfort [her].  Burnette sent word for me to teach the school in his absence.

After Martin had informed Cauldwell that they would continue to cut until restrained by force, the government agent at once “proceeded to lay the facts before the U.S. Attorney.” Cauldwell’s report for November 26, 1890, shows the vehemence with which he now opposed the Colony:

In my judgment said trustees are the proper ones to proceed against, as the rank and file of the colonists simply obey their orders. It is a socialist organization, in my opinion, under semi-military rule. The majority of its members are un-naturalized foreigners.

These comments were quite in contrast to Cauldwell’s first report filed in July, wherein he claimed the colonists appeared to be “a wonderfully ‘happy family’ of enthusiasts” and that so far as he could observe they were “above the average in intelligence.” Cauldwell also claimed he could not but help “testifying to their industry and perseverance in overcoming almost insurmountable difficulties in building their road.” There is no readily apparent explanation for his drastic change of heart.

In any event, Cauldwell’s new opinion of the Colony and his recommendations to the U.S. Attorney resulted in the arrest of the Colony trustees. After posting bail, they still faced the expense of returning from Los Angeles, 200 miles away, as well as the cost of another future trip south to stand trial. While the other trustees were back in Kaweah well before Christmas, Haskell remained in Los Angeles and, as the holiday season approached, prepared for their impending trial.

In response to her suddenly absent husband’s request, Annie Haskell took charge of the school at Kaweah. The Colony had long been boastful of its school. Although Comrade Vest, who held a certificate in the California Department of Public Schools, failed to have Advance and its neighborhood declared a School District by the state early in 1890, he continued to maintain a school that was “conducted in accordance with the educational system of the state of California.” Vest had demanded legitimacy even if he couldn’t obtain county funds.

Colony schoolchildren. (Photo courtesy Bancroft Library)

When school resumed in September 1890, Vest was pleased to announce that “he now had fifty-two pupils enrolled.” One of those pupils, Will Purdy, remembered fondly a supportive environment maintained at the school:

The wise preceptor, ardent as the rest

Bore the unpoetic name of Vest

His youthful charges openly exprest

For buoyant spirits never were suppressed

But their energies were skillfully directed

Into channels safe that were connected

With useful projects, the constructive kind

that develop both the body and the mind.

But that autumn Vest left Kaweah to take a job in Visalia as a school principal. Superintendent of Education Burnette Haskell had a difficult time keeping the post of Colony teacher filled.

The teachers [Haskell once wrote] found it impossible to enforce discipline when a child, who deemed himself aggrieved, would in the class openly threaten that he would go home and get his father to call a meeting and remove the instructor. The boys and girls alike called the teachers by their first names and came to school or not as they pleased. Complaints made to the parents were of no avail whatever, corporeal punishment of children being a “relic of barbarism.

Annie, who later would become a career teacher, wasn’t particularly thrilled with teaching at the Colony school that December. In fact, she hated it. She wrote in her diary that the children “behave most abominably and the accommodations are so bad and books so scarce that on the whole I am liable to have a very miserable two weeks of it.” She described the school tent as “cold” although they finally “got a nice stove put in there.” She herself sounded like a schoolgirl when she wrote “oh how glad, glad, glad I was that it is Friday night.” And just before the holiday vacation, her diary exclaimed “Thank Heaven!  School is to end. I do hope I shant have to teach after the holidays.”


Annie Haskell wrote in her diary on December 24, 1890:

Christmas Eve. If Burnette were here I should be satisfied. I have just put some candy in the baby’s stocking. I sent down one box for the tree tomorrow eve, and there will be a knife for him. He will fare slimly compared with other Christmases, but he will probably be just as happy.

It was her first Christmas at Kaweah. With her husband away, Annie lamented that for her it would “not be a very merry Christmas.” She had only been at Kaweah for a few months and was finding it difficult to adjust. Still, she admitted in her diary that next day, “Mr. Martin did all in his power to make this a delightful day.”

The Kaweah Commonwealth offered a description of the holiday celebration shared by the community:

Committees were appointed on arrangements and decorations, a fund was made up, someone was sent to Visalia to buy necessary presents, candies, nuts, etc. and a large fir tree was brought down from the Mill Camp for a Christmas tree. The hall was decorated with evergreens—pines and cedar brought down from the Mill Camp. A stage had been made for the event, upon which the Christmas tree was placed and decorated. The piano was brought over from the restaurant, and Miss Abbie Purdy and Mr. Clark, our violinist, were the musicians of the evening.

The program consisted of recitation and songs by the children, a juggling exhibition by Al Redstone, and a dialogue between Frank and Harry Jackson representing an interesting conversation between father and son. After “Santa Claus” had made all the children happy with a bestowal of useful as well as ornamental presents, and after everybody in the room had been abundantly provided with cakes and candies, nuts and raisins, the room was cleared once more and those remaining tripped the “light fantastic” until the “wee small hours of the morning.”

Annie hardly felt like tripping the light fantastic, as the saying went, but she did note in her diary how “Roth enjoyed himself to say the least.” Her entry for Christmas Day continued with an account of their first Kaweah Christmas and the wonderful time her five-year-old son enjoyed:

First, he had some candy in his stocking, and he kept exclaiming “ain’t Santa Claus good!” Then Hambly brought up a great package from Uncle Benjie which contained a box of three pies, a fine food basket, and a trumpet and candy cane.

Then this p.m. we went down to the restaurant where we enjoyed a nice turkey dinner, then we waited for the Christmas tree. Before the presents were distributed the children sang three songs and then this wonderful Santa Claus appeared. I watched Roth. He was awe-stricken and when presented with his presents said “Thank you, Santa Claus.”

Annie closed her Christmas entry with a reminder of why the holiday season can be so sad for so many. “If Burnette had only been there,” she wrote. “Poor old dear.” For Annie, these feelings of loneliness were an increasingly common refrain. While life went on for her at Kaweah alone, her husband remained in Los Angeles preparing for a trial that could very well determine the fate of the Colony.

SOURCES:  Colony documents used as source material for this chapter include a circular issued by the Board of Trustees on January 24, 1891, entitled “To Whom It May Concern” (Visalia Public Library) and various issues of The Kaweah Commonwealth. Annie Haskell’s diaries, Will Purdy’s “Kaweah: The Saga of the Old Colony,” and Agent Cauldwell’s Report to Commission, General Land Office were also consulted. Other sources were contemporary reports in the Visalia Weekly Delta and Haskell’s 1902 Out West article “Kaweah: How and Why the Colony Died.”

A History of the Kaweah Colony: Decisions, Decisions

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

I am not in a good mood. I feel like a powder magazine — awaiting the match. (Annie Haskell’s diary, January 1891)

On April 16, 1891, after deliberating for only 15 minutes, a jury delivered its verdict to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in the case against the trustees of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony. Charged with illegally cutting timber on government land, the Colony leaders nervously awaited the jury’s decision.

This was the second important decision for the Colony that month. A few days earlier the Secretary of the Interior ruled regarding their timber claims. Secretary Noble’s decision addressed a provision to the bill that enlarged Sequoia National Park to include the Colony claims. It was a provision on which Burnette Haskell and the colonists pinned their hopes. As they saw it, they were still entitled to their timber claims — existing rights, the provision stated, would be respected. Of course, the claims had been suspended back in 1885 and they never actually received patents on the land, but that was viewed as a mere technicality. The Kaweah Commonwealth assured members that they could rest easy. “Right and Justice will triumph in the end.” But as 1890 came to a close and the colonists could only await decisions out of their control, a sense of impending doom began to infiltrate the Colony. For some, it became a winter of discontent.


Annie Haskell was prone to periods of depression, and this tendency was certainly heightened during her first turbulent months at Kaweah. Following her dread of moving there and a brief period of satisfaction at getting to know the community, Annie slipped into a rather deep melancholy that one can certainly sympathize with given her circumstances. First, she had to make the adjustment of living in the spartan pioneer setting of Kaweah after years of life in cosmopolitan San Francisco. Next were the difficulties the Colony faced as a whole, and as always she faced the frustrations of being married to a husband who was, at best, inconsistent in his attentiveness.

Sometimes it seemed like nothing was going her way. She wrote of one day unpacking some boxes she hadn’t realized were there, left out in the rain for some time in which were “some of my treasured possessions — ruined in a thousand pieces… I told baby [Roth, about five years old] I felt as if I could cry — he said ‘well cry then. It don’t annoy me.’”

As winter approached, Annie was disgusted and resigned: “I guess there is no use my trying to care for anything. Nothing cares for me. I am like all women,” she wrote, “always whining.” For a while, when she and Burnette moved into their own house on land he homesteaded just a mile upstream from the new Kaweah Townsite, her depression lifted somewhat. Haskell called their homestead Arcady, and their little house of wood and canvas was complete with a piano, “tho I am sure it is awfully out of tune,” Annie commented. Nonetheless, depression and general ill-health quickly returned.

Haskell’s extended absence exacerbated this depression. He spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles preparing for the impending trial. As legal counsel for the Kaweah Colony he also had to deal with other legal difficulties, which took him to San Francisco to answer a charge of embezzlement by a disgruntled former colonist. Haskell managed to win acquittal of this charge in January 1891.

That same month, Annie’s diary reflected her emotional state with a wonderful literary quality and attention to detail reminiscent of a great Victorian novel:

(p>I was very disappointed at not hearing from Burnette today—it seems as if everyone has forgotten me. To think that we creatures who have evolved from moisture & warmth like bugs under a stone should develop the capacity to endure such maddening misery as we do.

Roth & I took a beautiful walk this morning on the side hill. Ah, the lovely grasses & ferns and the wonderful little plants & mosses growing on barren (but for them) rock. I wish I could grow such beautiful things on the barren rocks in my life.


While the colonists pinned their hopes on Secretary Noble’s upcoming decision regarding their claims, many had to wonder that winter how Congress even came to include that land as part of the new national park. While the bill enlarging Sequoia did provide that the permanent reservation of forest land would in no way affect any bona fide entry of land already made within its limits, it can be argued that Congress had no clear idea that there even were any existing claims. While the supplementary bill was neither debated nor printed, it should be noted that prior to passage of the bills creating national parks in California, Public Land Committee chairman Albert J. Payson had inquired of the Secretary of the Interior whether there were any adverse claims to the land. In an August 18, 1890, letter, Secretary Noble informed the senator that there were none. Had Noble already struck a blow against the Colony?

Milton Greenbaum, in his 1942 M.A. thesis, maintained that Noble’s answer was based on his belief that “an application to purchase under the Timber and Stone Act of 1878 does not effect a segregation of the land covered thereby.” Greenbaum faults the Secretary for never having informed Congress of the existence of Kaweah, its status or accomplishments, basing this assertion on a careful perusal of the Secretary’s outgoing correspondence. But, in defense of the Secretary, one has to ask why he would have informed Congress of the Colony claims when the land on which they had filed was not slated as part of the original Sequoia Park reserve, and the supplementary Yosemite bill, which eventually set aside that land, was not introduced until very late in the session. Therefore, when Noble responded in mid-August that there were no adverse claims on proposed park land, he was telling the truth as things then stood.

This, however, is not to say that he wasn’t keenly aware of the Kaweah colonists. Of course, in the months leading up to the passage of the park bills, Noble’s knowledge of the colonists would have been based primarily on Cauldwell’s first report, as well as that of the first land agent who investigated the Colony, B.F. Allen. Both Allen and Cauldwell had originally commented, in their official reports, that the colonists had made many improvements on the land. Farmland had been cultivated and a newspaper was being published and they both reported the existence of stores and shops and numerous other improvements, not the least of which was 18 miles of first-rate mountain road. But in the months immediately following the park’s establishment, Noble’s perception of the colonists via subsequent reports by Cauldwell would have been shaded considerably darker.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of Cauldwell’s sudden shift in attitude toward the Colony. Perhaps Martin’s challenging response to Cauldwell’s cease-and-desist order contributed to the strained relations. It could have been personal, for there certainly were some abrasive personalities involved. And maybe, as the colonists themselves believed, it was purely political. For whatever reason, by late November, Cauldwell had denounced the colonists bitterly. His contemptuous actions had already contributed to the arrest of the Colony trustees, and in the intervening months before the trial, Cauldwell’s remarks would help to further influence public opinion as well as that of Secretary Noble.


Cauldwell’s comments seemed designed to arouse prejudice against the Colony. He stated that the trustees were operating a “bunco game par excellence,” which was netting them huge returns. They worked the resident Colony members hard and in return furnished the “poor fools” meager rations and promises. Outside sources contributed “between three thousand and five thousand dollars per month” whereas only two or three hundred was spent on beans, oatmeal, flour, coffee, and tea — the only food they fed their “victims and workers.” The surplus “evidently went into the pockets of the trustees.” Was it any wonder, Cauldwell rhetorically asked, that “they resort to every dishonest means in their power to keep up the delusion?”

The trustees, Cauldwell claimed, also poisoned the minds of newspaper editors throughout the country by means of “bogus letters from imaginary individuals lauding the Colony and condemning the government for attempting to deprive the honest colonists of their timber lands upon which they have made valuable improvements.” The land agent who owed his job to the current Republican administration railed at “all the local Democratic, as well as Farmers’ Alliance, Labor Union and other kindred papers” that helped the Colony leaders “spread abuse and lies” about the government.

Ironically enough, Haskell was at the same time accusing the lumber trusts of using the press to “further influence the public against Kaweah.” An editorial in Haskell’s Commonwealth in December, 1890, noted that:

There have been published all over the land during the past month vicious attacks upon Kaweah Colony and its managers. These have been instigated by capitalistic Herods who seek the young child’s (Kaweah’s) life. These attacks, coming simultaneously from all sides, show a concerted and well laid plan to crush the cooperative movement inaugurated so successfully in our beautiful mountain home.

Several of the large San Francisco dailies, including the Daily Times, the Examiner, and the Chronicle, printed accounts that were less than favorable toward the Colony, but no paper attacked the Kaweah Colony as vehemently as the San Francisco Star, which had once said of Burnette Haskell that he was a “systematic teacher of arson and assassination and this if there can be any excuse for his conduct, it must be that he is mad.” James Martin claimed that the Star was an open enemy of Mr. Haskell and that the editor was “well known in San Francisco as being reckless in his statements.” Whether this was true or not, it is readily apparent that the Star and its editor were certainly ready to do battle with Haskell via the press.

On December 27, 1890, the Star explained to its readers, under the headline “They Fooled The Papers,” that the “almost unequaled capacities for lying, characteristic of one (perhaps more) of the trustees of the Kaweah Joint Stock Colony, continue unimpaired.” The paper pointed out that a recent dispatch in the Examiner to the effect that the government didn’t have a very strong case against the Colony in the Los Angeles trial was the result of lies and bribes. “The purpose evidently was to inspire confidence,” the Star surmised, “so that the remittances would continue to come in, to be appropriated by the sharpers and liars who ran the concern.” The Star proudly pointed out that they published the Examiner’s dispatch with “but one line of comment, as we want to be fair, even in dealing with scoundrels.”


There were, it should be pointed out, individuals in the government who did not favor the way the case against the colonists was being conducted. In December 1890, then acting commissioner of the General Land Office, W.M. Stone, felt hearings should be held on the reasons for the original suspension of the Colony’s filings.

His successor in office, Lewis A. Groff, felt even more strongly about it, viewing the current charges against the Colony as “mere allegations or ex-parte evidence.” In looking at their original filings, Groff felt the colonists had fully complied with all the requirements of the law. The default in carrying the claims to patent, he declared, was due to the failure of the government to fulfill its obligations early enough, noting the suspensions had been in effect for over five years and no proof of fraud had ever been offered.

In a letter dated February 25, 1891, to Secretary Noble, Groff advocated that the colonists be granted a hearing, and if they could establish the legitimacy of their original filings, they should receive a patent to the land or be indemnified by Congress for labor and money expended. When news of Groff’s recommendations reached the Colony, a tangible sense of hope returned. The Kaweah Commonwealth ran headlines proclaiming the “Important Document from Land Commissioner Goff [sic].” “The Commissioner believes,” they reported, “that the Colonists have protected the giant trees, and that they should be allowed to retain the lands they now hold on the reservation [national park].”

The arrival of this news made possible a legitimate recovery of optimism in the Colony just as spring was making its triumphant return to Kaweah. March is the most beautiful month in the Sierra foothills, as spring arrives in a flood of water, sunshine, and wildflowers. And everywhere green! This was just the thing that might bring many of the colonists out of an almost unbearable winter funk due to various community and personal difficulties that had nearly extinguished any glimmer of hopefulness.

Meanwhile, optimism itself was embodied in the person of one new arrival to the Colony. Phil Winser recalled in his memoirs, after becoming a Kaweah Colony member from England, booking passage on the Cunarder Cephalonia from Liverpool to Boston in early 1891:

We had an average run [Winser wrote], not so rough as was prophesied for the time of year, with only slight qualms from me after leaving the Irish coast. Boston at last and the long gang plank led down to the dock. It was no simple matter of walking down, however, for questions were in order and I had hardly opened my mouth before I put my foot in it.

Where was I going?Kaweah, Tulare County, California. What to do? Ah! There was that rub, a cooperative colony was something out of the ken of an immigration officer; explanation and floundering called for more interrogation, until in my ignorance I demanded to know the reason at being held up, when the others were fast passing down.

“Well, if you don’t like it, we can send you back” had a cooling effect and we finally arrived at some sort of mutual understanding.

Winser’s memoir tells how he was met in Boston by his cousin, Harry Talbot, who “was kindness itself.” Talbot invited the newly arrived immigrant to stay and see the sights and they attended a Nationalist club meeting, which led to an interview with Edward Bellamy himself. Winser noted that Bellamy was quite interested in his adventure, but “shook his head at such an experiment being made a success except on a national scale.” This weakened Winser’s faith not one whit. He took a train cross-country, traveling “tourist sleeper and fell easily into its ways, hearing odds and ends of information from fellow occupants.” One fellow urged him to change his destination and get off to join the imminent Oklahoma land rushes. Winser’s memoir continued the account:

Finally, at dusk on a spring day, we rolled into Goshen, the land of alkali plain and the only reason for whose existence would seem to be that it was a junction. A local branch line ran to Visalia, the county seat of Tulare County, some seven miles away. I took a room at the Palace Hotel.  When I took my walk next morning, curiosity at my garb became apparent. The streets of the day were deep in mud even in the middle of town; winter rains had been apparently.

I hied me to J.J. Martin’s residence near the outskirts. I learned many details about the colony and found the biweekly state, carrying mail, passengers and supplies left the next morning.

This would be February 23, 1891, if one mistakes not.


During the spring, both Annie Haskell and her child fought severe illness. In March, she wrote that the “baby is sick… I have consulted my medical book until I am crazy.” A few days later she reported he was “pretty sick again today” and that it “distresses me more than I can tell. Poor little darling, he takes medicine like a little man.” When Roth finally got better, a relieved Annie wrote “I think he has no more fever… he can walk some now… It is a great strain off my mind.” A few weeks after that she herself became so ill that several entries in her diary read only “sick.” Later on, she was able to elaborate: “I was attacked with that awful, horrible disease — dysentery.” With typical understatement, she simply called it “very unpleasant,” but later the pages of her diary seemed to moan “oh, the misery of it. Some of these days in bed I thought I would never be able to get up again and I didn’t care much.”

Though Annie often complained of various ailments, it would be a mistake to assume that she overplayed her illness or depression, or that she was by nature weak and frail. Her resilient, tough, and amazing strength of character, as well as the rudimentary state of health care in the Colony, are best illustrated in the following passage:

I awoke this morning with a bad tooth ache. Harry [a family friend living at Haskell’s Arcady homestead] tried to cut it out but the pain was too severe. Then I let him knock it out with a nail and hammer, so thank Heaven, this evening I have no toothache!

While Commissioner Groff’s recommendation provided hope for the Colony, Secretary Noble’s decision quickly deflated it. On April 9, 1891, the Tulare County Times reported the bad news. “Secretary of the Interior Noble rejected about forty-three entries of the Kaweah colonists, land embraced in the Sequoia National Park.”

Noble apparently disagreed with the view of his commissioners. He declared that the General Land Office had the right to withdraw the land in question from entry. The Secretary maintained that applications to purchase are not entries of lands, and parties making the same acquire no vested right thereby. Congress still had the power to dispose of the land until the settler had made his final entry. In this case, Congress disposed of the land by establishing a forest reservation before the claimants made final entry. It was an unfortunate situation, Noble admitted, but the colonists had “no vestige of right to the land, and their entries are canceled.”

As Greenbaum pointed out in his “History of the Kaweah Colony,” Noble preferred to take refuge in a technicality in canceling the entries of the colonists. By taking the stand he did, not only were the colonists denied an administrative hearing on the original question of whether their entries were bona fide, but they were unable to take the case to court. They couldn’t appeal Noble’s decision because no hearing had been held. If the colonists sought redress, they would have to get it from Congress.

A few months later, The Kaweah Commonwealth finally admitted the dismal situation into which Noble’s ruling had thrust them:

The adverse decision of Secretary Noble has had a disheartening effect on many of our members, so that just at a time when funds are most necessary, the Trustees are again crippled for lack of funds.


A few days after Noble’s ruling, the trustees stood trial in Los Angeles for illegally cutting timber on government land. The proceedings were widely reported, detailed accounts appearing in newspapers throughout the state, including the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Herald.

A star witness for the prosecution was none other than Land Agent Andrew Cauldwell. According to the Times, Cauldwell testified “that he had seen trees cut and that defendant Martin had told him that they had a legal right to cut them. [Cauldwell] admitted that defendant Taylor told him they were cutting on the Zobrist claim.” The defense maintained that the trees cut were on Colony-member Zobrist’s homestead claim and were used solely for improvements thereon.

The following day the defense called its first witness, John Zobrist. He testified that in 1888 he homesteaded his claim, laid the foundation for his cabin, and in the following month went to the Land Office in Visalia and attempted to file on the land, but that the registrar refused to allow him to do so, claiming it had been suspended by the commissioner in 1882. The Herald noted that “this is the vital law point of the case; as to whether the commissioner had any legal power to abrogate an act of Congress [the Timber and Stone Act of 1878] and close the land to entry.”

On the final day of the trial, the attorney for the Colony, Henry Dillon, argued at length the points of the Colony’s case, maintaining that the commissioner had no power to suspend; that they were entitled to their homes and had a right to ask the court to interfere in the protections; and finally that they were entitled to take the lumber to support their improvements. The courts refused to consider the issue of whether the colonists had any right to the land — and considering Noble’s recent decision on these grounds, it was obvious the Colony had a slim case in that respect — but were instead trying them on the assumption that the land was government domain, indisputably a part of Sequoia National Park. According to the Herald, “Haskell then addressed the jury, asking them if they could acquit his four confreres, and convict him alone, as he had been their unfortunate legal adviser and they had innocently relied upon his advice.” The court commented on his generous plea and the jury retired to deliberate.

The Visalia Delta was one of many papers that reported “a verdict of guilty was returned.” The four trustees were each fined $301 — Haskell’s plea was ignored, and probably seen by the jury as simply a ploy to save the Colony company money — and they all returned to Kaweah to figure out what to do next.


Commenting on the Secretary of the Interior’s devastating decision concerning the Colony land claims, the Commonwealth reported that “as foreshadowed and expected, Secretary Noble declined to interfere on our behalf and leave our titles to be settled by the courts.” The paper was putting what modern commentators would call a “positive spin” on a truly dismal situation. “All of us understanding the situation,” the paper continued, “feel still more determined than ever to fight to a finish and we have no doubt of final victory. We propose to stay by the ship! What do you say?”

It was already evident, however, that many were choosing not to stay by the ship. Even before Colony timber claims were canceled, a negative population flow was taking place at Kaweah. The Commonwealth reported on the loss of one prominent Kaweah family:

Monday last witnessed quite an exodus, the departure of Mrs. E.C. Miles and family and Mrs. Ting, with their effects. Two four-horse teams were loaded with goods and people, the latter comprising Mrs. Miles, Clara, George, Waldo, Kate, Mable and Benny Miles, Mrs. Peter Ting and baby, and Eliza Williams. Comrade Miles has already been away some weeks, preparing for the reception of his family, who will join the new co-operative colony to be established near Santa Monica.

Even though some comrades had apparently given up on Kaweah, they still held hope for the dream of cooperation.

The establishment of Sequoia and Secretary Noble’s decision undoubtedly hastened this exodus. This was particularly frustrating to Colony leaders, as they now needed membership dues more than ever. With logging operations suspended, no income was generated and expenses, particularly legal fees, were piling up.

To encourage new members, their propaganda tool — The Kaweah Commonwealth — had to paint a positive, hopeful picture. They quit printing notices of members leaving. They were, however, quick to mention new members arriving:

Quite a contingent of the Eastern group arrived in our midst during the week, namely: The Hopping Brothers, F.E. Westervelt, his wife and two children, and Mr. Gowan, his wife and grand-daughter. We were all pleased to see them and bid them welcome to their new home in the hills.

When the Commonwealth did later mention some members who had left, they were not shy about pointing out the failure that consequently beset them:

Some members became dissatisfied and sloughed off to form the Port Angeles colony where interest and profit were allowed; that colony is now dead. Later on, others left Kaweah to start “Esperanza colony,” our institution being too democratic. Esperanza is now no more. Still later, because Kaweah was too “despotic,” others left to form the Santa Monica colony; that enterprise has also departed this life.

After news of the convictions in Los Angeles, Haskell again urged a call to arms via the Commonwealth. After a telegraphic dispatch proclaimed the verdict being “guilty as charged,” the paper urged on readers with typical Haskell prose:

But be brave and stand by the ship! Let those who are loyal to our great purpose quietly but firmly resolve never to give up the fight. After we are convicted, we shall give bonds, appeal and come home. Then wait until the trial of the title in the Equity cases, which alone are the ones that affect our status as settlers.

A Defense Fund had by that time been established to help defer the mounting legal costs. This call was answered in places far and wide, as evidence in the following letter, which appeared in the Commonwealth that spring:

J.J. Martin, Esq. Visalia Cal., Dear Sir:

Herewith I send you note for $10, which please place to my credit on account of membership fee.

A few days ago I went to hear a lecture on “Bellamy’s Gospel” by a very popular minister. He gave a glowing description of Kaweah—showed how it had been formed a few years ago, before Bellamy’s book was written. It seems as though the time is now ripe for the unfolding of that better condition of mankind, which so many thousands of weary ones have been longing for.

With regard to the troubles as to Kaweah Lands; If justice be the gauge of our expectations, then we know that Kaweah will stand firm; but at the best it is a hard battle. I send $5 to the Defense Fund which is, unfortunately, all I can spare at present.

There are now, including myself, two members of Kaweah in Liverpool, and several who are in sympathy with the movement.

Kindly acknowledge receipt of $15 ($10 and $5 respectively).

Yours Fraternally, F.S. Savage.

Not more than a year later, Fred Savage began his long journey “around the Horn” to Kaweah. Like his countryman, Phil Winser, Savage seemed to have little doubt that the great experiment would still be flourishing when he arrived.

SOURCES: Numerous contemporary newspaper articles provided source material for this chapter, including The Kaweah Commonwealth; San Francisco Star; Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles Herald and the Visalia Weekly Delta. Phil Winser’s “Memories” manuscript, Annie Haskell’s diaries, and Milton Greenbaum’s “History of the Kaweah Colony” thesis paper (Sequoia National Park library) were also consulted. Information on Fred Savage was provided via an author interview with Kenneth Milton Savage (grandson) in June 1995 in Three Rivers, Calif.

A History of the Kaweah Colony: Incident at Atwell’s Mill

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

Mixed Conifer Forest Plant Community, 1/2 mile E of Atwell Mill. 6600′ (Park Serivice photo)

The reign of the Cossack they thought was in Russia, not America; but they had yet much to learn about our capitalist-owned land of the free and the home of the brave. (James J. Martin, ‘History of the Kaweah Colony’)

Even with Secretary Noble’s adverse decision and the conviction of the trustees for illegally cutting timber, the leaders of the Kaweah Colony refused to give up. By late spring they had, however, decided not to continue cutting at the mill site at the end of their road. As the Commonwealth noted on May 28, 1891, the trustees had decided that “it was best not to cut any more lumber on our claims until the civil cases are decided; and this decision cannot be had until September.” The paper went on to explain that to continue cutting would surely provoke “more arrests and persecutions from the Trust using the machinery of the Government.” But that course of inaction left the Colony without any source of income except payments of outside members, which Haskell realized were being adversely affected by what he called “the Associated Press slanders telegraphed throughout the country.”

With nearly 200 people living at the Colony that needed basic supplies and an urgent need for lumber to build homes at the new Kaweah Townsite, the Colony had a pressing need to investigate all their options. They learned that there were 320 acres of fine timber land — also located within the boundaries of the newly created Sequoia National Park, but which had been patented years before to Judge A.J. Atwell — on which a fully equipped mill had been operated in the past. For two years it had not been run on account of the death of the owner, and the estate was currently in probate. As the Commonwealth reported under the headline “Joyful News,” Irvin Barnard managed to obtain a lease “on exceptionally favorable terms the land, mill machinery, etc., complete!”

The inhabitants of this county [the reporter continued] will have their cheap lumber after all; we shall have work and food; and money to fight our cases in Court for our own lands and print and publish a million copies of the history of the outrages we have been subjected to.

Atwell’s Mill was located over 20 miles from Kaweah, on the already existing road to the high alpine valley of Mineral King, which had experienced a brief mining boom in the 1870s. By 1891, the area was beginning to flourish as a summer mountain resort destination. While Mineral King itself was not within the park boundaries, its proximity to national park lands and the already established road and resort status made it a natural choice as the site for the temporary headquarters for the first administrators of Sequoia National Park. When the Kaweah colonists made the decision and arrangements to relocate their lumbering operations to Atwell’s Mill — privately owned land that was within the park boundaries — they were well aware of whose path they would inevitably cross.


In January 1891, newspapers reported that Secretary of Interior Noble had “requested the Secretary of War to station a company of cavalry in the Sequoia National Park and in Yosemite to prevent depredations on the mammoth tree groves.” The Visalia Delta, in an editorial, admitted that “just what their duties will be is not yet known, but they will be required to prevent the destruction of the forest, killing of game, etc.”

Earlier reports had pinpointed one specific threat, “the so-called Bellamy colonists, who have in part perfected a title to the lands on which these trees stand, and have expressed their purpose to hold their claims in spite of all opposition. Another threat were the “hoofed locusts,” as grazing sheep herds were sometimes called. The newly created parks encompassed many summer grazing lands of valley ranchers, much of which were on patented and privately owned land.

The Delta noted that “the Secretary of the Interior has a knotty problem on his hands. He cannot prevent people from occupying their own lands, nor is it reasonable to suppose that they will be prevented from passing to and from the same. What is to be done with these isolated fragments remains to be determined.” One such isolated fragment was Atwell’s Mill, which the Kaweah Colony had leased. This dilemma of dealing with privately owned land within the park boundaries has been a recurring and ever-present one and is still being debated today.

The first person who had to deal with this knotty problem in Sequoia National Park was Captain J.H. Dorst. The Visalia Delta reported that Captain Dorst, “commanding Troop K of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, who has been selected to take charge of the Sequoia National Park, arrived in Visalia and the following day departed for the mountains to select a temporary camping place for his command.”  The April 16, 1891, issue of the Delta continued, “Different places were examined but the spot that appeared to be most suitable is on the Mineral King road,” at a place known as Red Hill.

As pointed out in Lary M. Dilsaver and William Tweed’s book, Challenge of the Big Trees, Dorst’s first task was “to locate the new Sequoia National Park, and the tiny General Grant National Park as well, and develop plans for policing the tracts.” As the first military superintendent of the state’s first national park, Captain Dorst found himself blazing new procedural trails. “He soon discovered,” Dilsaver and Tweed wrote, “that two roads entered Sequoia — the 1879 wagon road to Mineral King and the recently built Colony Mill road… ending at the now closed mill.” Dorst decided to base his operation in Mineral King, even though the new park did not include the Mineral King valley, because most people entering the park would probably do so via that route. From their temporary camp at Red Hill on the lower stretches of the road, “Dorst sent troops to assist the county in repairing winter damage to the roadway. On June 7, he entered Mineral King valley, although the melting snowpack prevented establishment of a permanent camp there until June 29.

As the Commonwealth reported on May 23, 1891, Dorst’s troops “passed up the canyon on the other side of the main river Sunday. They did not stop at Kaweah.” The paper also noted that even though the Cavalry “has not yet entered the canyon of the North Fork, nor made its appearance at the Colony pinery,” the trustees had already made their decision not to cut any more lumber at the Colony Mill.

This did not mean, however, that the Cavalry and the Colony would not meet. “As the Cavalry did not come to us,” the Commonwealth pointed out, “we have gone to them!”


As everyone knows, there is always more than one side to any story. Several sources can be used in trying to reconstruct what happened at Atwell’s Mill when the Colony began lumbering operations and the United States Cavalry tried to stop them. These include “The Atwell Mill Outrage,” from James J. Martin’s unpublished “History of the Kaweah Colony”; personal letters of Burnette G. Haskell; “Memories,” the unpublished memoirs of  Phil Winser, who worked at Atwell’s Mill; and “Cutting Timber at Atwell’s Mill,” a special report to the Secretary of the Interior by Captain J.H. Dorst.

Remembering back to the incident some 40 years later, James Martin’s ire was easily raised. He recalled that he thought “the reign of the Cossack was in Russia, not America; but [we] had yet much to learn about our capitalist-owned land of the free.” Explaining how Irvin Barnard had leased the land and that George Purdy was foreman, Martin pointed out:

They were both veterans, and had fought to preserve the Union. Their patriotic blood boiled when the troops came and ordered them to stop cutting where there was no shadow of doubt as to their rights. Foreman Purdy is reported as saying: “And so this is the Union I fought to preserve; troops are now used to harass law-abiding settlers. No, by the Eternal, I’ll not stop!  I am in my rights here and doing my duty. The country is not at war, and if I am to be stopped it shall be through civil process, not military.”

Irvin Barnard had acquired the lease on Atwell’s Mill on May 20, 1891, which, unlike the Colony Mill, was in close proximity to giant sequoia trees. First owned by Isham Mullenix during the end of the Mineral King mining rush, it was sold to A.J. Atwell in 1885. Because of its remote location, the mill was never profitable. When the Colony acquired it, the county road accessing it was in bad condition and the mill had long lain idle, “but the need for lumber was urgent, and this was the best the situation offered.”

Mineral King, which had become headquarters of Captain Dorst and his Cavalry Troop K, was only a few miles farther up the road from Atwell’s Mill. The Colony and the Cavalry were now neighbors, and Dorst was well aware of the Colony’s presence at, and plans for, Atwell’s Mill.

As early as May 25, Dorst had written to one official asking for specific instructions in connection with his duty in charge of the park. He well anticipated difficulties and mentioned the Atwell sawmill, saying that “arrangements are now being made to commence works at that mill. I shall warn the owners that I cannot allow any timber, big or little, to be cut down, and that I have written for information about the matter.”

Dorst then received further instruction from Special Land Agent Andrew Cauldwell, who had already become quite a thorn in the collective side of the colonists. He told Dorst there was no objection letting the old logs lying about the mill be sawed up, “as they had been cut down some time before the park was established, and were an eyesore anyhow, but pending definite instructions he thought that no timber should be cut.” 

On June 19, 1891, Dorst was riding by the sawmill and noticed that two or three pine or fir trees had been felled. “I inquired for the man in charge,” Dorst recounted, “and was referred to Mr. Purdy. He declined to stop the timber cutting without being restrained by the order of a civil court, and [stated] that he was not under military government.”


Captain Dorst’s first difficulty concerning the cutting of lumber at Atwell’s Mill was determining just what the official government policy was. Agent Cauldwell, it has been noted, had told Dorst that he should allow no lumber to be cut. A few days later, Dorst learned that Cauldwell had received a telegram, dated June 16, from the acting Secretary of the Interior, directing him to suspend action in the case of Atwell’s Mill until the Secretary, who was on summer vacation, could be contacted.

With this knowledge, obtained at Cauldwell’s Visalia office while the Land Agent was away in Yosemite, Dorst headed back to his camp via the Visalia to Three Rivers stage. “Mr. Barnard was one of the passengers,” Dorst recalled. “He spoke to me of my visit to the mill and asked me about it. I told him of the telegram to Mr. Cauldwell and that there would probably be no interference with his cutting timber.” Though both men were probably hopeful that the issue would somehow blow over and resolve itself, they undoubtedly knew better.

Finally, in early July 1891, Dorst received the long-delayed response to his initial request for clarification on the issue. From the Acting Secretary came this reply:

I approve of your action in regard to the saw-mill, but you will communicate with [Land Agent] Cauldwell, now near you, and report if you have any difficulty in the premises. You will prevent, by all means, the destruction of any of these great trees within the lines of your reservation.

As this mentioned only the Big Trees — giant sequoias — Dorst felt that “the claim might be made that it should be construed to mean them only.” None had been cut as yet, and so on July 6, he sent the following telegram to the Secretary:

Letter received. On June 19 found several pines or firs cut down at Atwell’s mill. Parties refused to stop without orders of civil court. Afterwards was telegram to Mr. Cauldwell, dated 16th, directing suspension of action, case of Atwell’s mill, pending your decision, and have done nothing since. Pines and firs still being cut, but no redwoods. Is this permitted; letter mentions redwoods only?

On July 13, Dorst received the following reply at his camp:

Washington, D.C. July 9, 1891— You will not permit the cutting of any timber within the park until further orders. Chandler, Acting Secretary.

That afternoon, Dorst sent a copy of this telegram to Irvin Barnard, along with a letter stating, “I have the honor to request, therefore, that you will cause the cutting of timber to be discontinued on the tract of land… which you have leased, or claim to control, for I am informed that all that land lies within the limits of the park.” The letter was directed back to Kaweah and into the hands of the Colony legal counsel, Burnette Haskell.

Haskell promptly sent his directions to Barnard. “Do not stop cutting except upon the actual threatening of armed force and the presence of troops sufficient to carry out the threat. Be dignified, cool, respectful, but determined.”

A confrontation was inevitable. Phil Winser, remembering back some 40 years later, recalled the confrontation with “a troop commander with little judgment.” As Winser remembered:

[Dorst’s] instructions were to stop all timber cutting in the Park and he interpreted that to mean us. A small detachment was sent up our road and made camp two or three miles further on; soldiers would be sent out on foot to run down predatory sheep men and a cavalry man on foot in such unknown mountains with the light air of those elevations certainly had a tough time.

I remember coming in from work one evening and seeing two of them stagger into camp at the last limit of endurance. Of course, we fed and rested them and the boys at the bunk house, knowing we might be interfered with, would fill them up with wild stories of what a terrible lot we were and our local reputation as reds and a bunch of “anarchists” helped the effect.

So one morning as Jim and I were putting in an undercut, who should ride up but a lieutenant and three or four troopers. He halted and said “You will stop cutting this timber.” We said nothing and kept chopping; then he got off his horse, came up to me and repeated the order, laying his hand on me, with the same result, so he remounted, hesitated a bit and said, “Well, I’ll go and get men enough so you will stop.”


Captain Dorst continued the story from his point of view. “A corporal reported that one or two more trees had been cut at the mill, and I ordered Lieutenant Nolan with ten or eleven men to go up and stop any further cutting.”

By this time, Dorst well knew with whom he was dealing and had concluded that the leaders were looking for an opportunity to claim persecution “and to use the sympathy it would excite to make the public blind to any defects in their claim to the Giant Forest, as well as gain recruits.”

Dorst’s keen assessment was confirmed by James Martin himself, who later wrote that “the attorneys for the colony were hoping the act of restraint by force would actually take place, so that a basis for bringing the case before the Court could be established.”

Lieutenant Nolan was dispatched to execute, if necessary, this restraint by force. He and Dorst had “talked a good deal about what should be done in case the people at the mill compelled us to act against them.” Dorst advised against the exercise of absolute force “except in the last extremity.”  When Nolan arrived at the mill, about 30 men appeared and he was told he would be resisted. Phil Winser’s account details this encounter from the colonists’ point of view:

Pretty soon [the] lieutenant and about ten troopers jingled up and ordered the cutting to cease, the only result being the crash of a nearby tree or two; no reply being made at any time. He must have been an amiable man, reluctant to push things to extremes, a hot-headed one could have made trouble. Ours was straight bluff and the reputed Winchesters hidden in the brush were sheer figments of imagination.

Dorst’s side of the story noted that one of the colonists, “a deputy sheriff by the name of Bellah, told [Lt. Nolan] that he would consider an interference with work as a breach of the peace, and would arrest anyone who attempted it.” Dorst also mentioned that “none of the mill force had arms, at least in sight, but most had axes.”

After Nolan’s encounter, Dorst made the trip up from Red Hill camp. Along the road he met Barnard, who was headed to Visalia to have warrants issued for Nolan’s arrest. They discussed just what would constitute an act of restraint by force. Barnard replied that “laying hands on his men while cutting trees and taking them away would be his idea of force.” Barnard was hopeful that any application of force would be done in a manner as to leave no doubt, in a legal sense, of being defined as such. Dorst was simply eager to resolve the situation.

I reached Nolan’s camp [Dorst wrote], about a half mile from the mill, shortly before midnight. I had been ailing for several days, and had a fever then, and did not feel competent to engage in any business where tact, good judgment, and clearness of mind were necessary. I sent a note to Mr. Purdy, intending to go to the mill after the fever subsided. It kept up and, unwilling to delay any longer, sent Lieutenant Nolan to the mill with two men to find out just how much force they wanted me to use.

The Lieutenant agreed to carry out this plan without further delay. Deputy Sheriff Bellah, whose official sense of duty seems to have been whatever Mr. Barnard dictated, stated that he would not interfere. Accordingly, several men took axes and commenced cutting. By order of the lieutenant, one soldier advanced to one of the men who was cutting, placed his hand on him and ordered him to stop. The man replied “I won’t” and kept on cutting.

After a number of like responses, Nolan decided not to press the matter any further and returned to camp and reported to Dorst. Shortly afterward, Purdy came to Dorst’s camp and stated that “all work had been stopped until Mr. Barnard’s return.” Perhaps the rather histrionic show of physical restraint had some effect after all, although the colonists would never admit as much. Purdy had explained that it was not because of the army’s orders, but that the “events of the past two or three days had caused a good deal of excitement, so much so that [the men] would not work steadily but at every opportunity break up into groups and commence talking.” They were simply too agitated to get any work done.

The next day Dorst received a copy of a telegram recently sent to Cauldwell:

Washington, July 24, 1891— It appears that Atwell’s mill is on patented land. If this is correct instruct Captain Dorst to defer action on all patented land until I can communicate with Secretary. George Chandler, Acting Secretary.

Dorst sent a copy of this telegram to Barnard along with a note stating “In compliance with the foregoing, you are respectfully notified that you will not be interfered with by me in your work at the mill.”

SOURCES: Supplementing the contemporary news reports from The Kaweah Commonwealth, Tulare County Times, and the Visalia Weekly Delta, books such as John Muir’s Our National Parks; Challenge of the Big Trees by Dilsaver and Tweed; and John F. Elliott’s Mineral King Historic District: Contextual History and Description (Mineral King Preservation Society, 1993) served as valuable source material. Firsthand accounts of the incident at Atwell’s Mill were found in Captain J.H. Dorst’s Special Report to the Secretary of the Interior Relative to Cutting Timber at Atwell’s Mill, September 8, 1891 (Sequoia National Park archives); Phil Winser’s “Memories” manuscript; a letter from Burnette Haskell to J.J. Martin, Irvin Barnard, H. Dillon, July 15, 1891 (Haskell Family Papers, Bancroft Library); and James Martin’s unpublished “History of the Kaweah Colony.”

A History of the Kaweah Colony: Resignation, Suicide, and Dispute

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

Burnette Haskell, seen here at a small cabin on his Arcady homestead, had his “belly full of co-operation” by the summer of 1891, when he resigned as attorney and trustee of the Kaweah Colony and editor of the Commonwealth.v(Photo courtesy Bancroft Library)

I have my belly full of “co-operation” and the “labor movement” at last, you bet. (Burnette G. Haskell, November 1891)

The summer of 1891 was vastly different for the Kaweah Colony than the summer only one year before. The previous year, with their road complete and real hope that their land claims would be resolved favorably, it looked as if the Kaweah Colony would join that short list of successful American cooperative communities.  Even during a troubled winter, hope remained alive. Annie Haskell opened 1891 with the following entry in her diary:

Another year has dawned. How they do roll away—one after the other, and yet it seems a long time since last New Year. Last New Year I caroused, this one I did not. I returned in time from “the hall” to welcome it in my own house, under my own roof. There is something in that. If Burnette had only been here. When I woke I found a little bird fluttering about. How it got in I don’t know, but it surely came to bring us a message of good luck and happiness.

But soon she was complaining about the increasing bickering and tensions within a community struggling to survive. “This whole colony is full of people who can’t mind their own business,” Annie wrote in her diary. She was tired of people sticking their noses into “something that doesn’t concern them,” and lamented that her husband, Burnette, got “nothing but kicks for his pains and it makes me crazy.”

After it became increasingly apparent that the Colony’s efforts at Atwell’s Mill were a dismal failure, Haskell had taken about as many kicks as he could stand.


It should be pointed out that while Captain Dorst’s interference certainly had a debilitating effect on Colony logging, their Atwell’s Mill operation was probably doomed from the start. The equipment, some of which was included in the lease from Atwell’s heirs, was in poor shape. And the leased land surrounding the mill was already nearly logged out. Most of the useable pines and firs were gone, and the colonists had to resort to cutting giant sequoias, a labor-intensive undertaking that produced much wasted lumber. And finally there was the condition of the road, which always has rendered any large-scale operation in the Mineral King area economically impractical.

Burnette Haskell summed up why he felt Atwell’s Mill failed in his article, “How Kaweah Fell,” written in November 1891:

The Trustees issued to the resident members an imploring circular, urging the workers to more active and persistent effort at the mill. But this appeal had no permanent effect except to arouse antagonism. Work still continued in the same desultory fashion until the last of July, when Taylor was sent up to the mill. While there he discovered that the force had, with the carelessness of children, cut over their line on to government land, thus again exposing the Trustees to arrest and prison.

The strength of any organization lies in the people involved, and through cooperation, many hoped the whole (the Kaweah Colony) would exceed the sum total of the parts (the members). No one had preached this more fervently than Burnette Haskell, who had always possessed great talent to motivate. In the circular urging members to work harder, Haskell wrote, “Individual selfishness now means inevitably the ruin of Kaweah. Do you want to live or die?”

Haskell claimed that after five months, the operation at Atwell’s Mill cut only one-tenth of the 2.5 million feet they had expected, and “instead of being produced for $10 [per thousand feet] or less, it had cost from $18 to $20, and it was sold for $10.” Haskell added that “comment is superfluous, and whatever excuses may be made, the business failure is flat.”


The run of bad luck and the failure of the sum total to live up to expectations had, by the summer of 1891, left Haskell disillusioned. On July 25, Haskell, along with trustees Horace T. Taylor and William Christie, tendered their resignations from the Board of Directors. Notice was published in The Kaweah Commonwealth. The departing trustees, with forced graciousness, proclaimed:

In our time of trial and trouble, the new blood and brain and energy of Barnard and Purdy and others have sprung to the front, able to lead us out. We salute and retire to the ranks. There let us stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight and give them loyal support.

As the year progressed, there was much fighting but it certainly wasn’t “shoulder to shoulder.” Early in August, Annie noted in her diary:

Burnette has resigned… and I was very glad of it. I wish he had never seen, heard, nor dreamed of this colony—but then we would never know what a mistake cooperation is.

The Kaweah Commonwealth naturally did its best to put as positive a slant as possible on the news of the resignations, stating that it should not be looked upon by anybody as “being an evidence of any dissatisfaction with Kaweah.” The paper claimed that Haskell, along with Taylor and Christie, had given up their office “solely and simply because they know they can do better work in the ranks.”

But why did Burnette Haskell, who had worked so hard and tirelessly on behalf of his cooperative dream, finally resign his position?  One clue can be found in Haskell’s resignation letter to the Board as legal counsel for the Colony:

I herewith tender my resignation as the Attorney of this company. This resignation is made because I am firmly and finally convinced that my services are not appreciated.

Of course, it was more than a lack of appreciation that prompted Haskell’s actions. We have already seen that he felt operations at Atwell’s Mill were grossly mismanaged and that workers had carelessly exposed the trustees to possible arrest by cutting trees beyond the lease boundaries. On closer examination of his resignation letter, we see another root of Haskell’s anger, and perhaps the root of much of the growing Colony discord.

In June, 1886, the Colony was formed [Haskell wrote] and I have transacted its legal business ever since without ever having received a single cent of cash or single credit on the books for such services. I have never charged you a fee although I have never volunteered my services gratuitously. But I esteem it equitable that you should pay me for my time at the same rate at least that you paid for pick and shovel work on the grounds; and that such payment should be in cash as I received no subsistence from Kaweah Colony. I enclosed you therefore my bill to date.

It may seem ironic that money had become such a motivating factor for Haskell. But the socialist agitator had never preached against the evils of money per se, but against the “competitive system” and “Capitalist scheme where Justice and Fraternity are sacrificed to the spirit of selfish greed.” Justice and Fraternity were now being pushed aside by self-preservation throughout the Kaweah Colony.

Haskell, the idealist, had also become frustrated by what he perceived as sloppy bookkeeping. He had become a realist, sensing that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. In his resignation letter he offered the following warning:

In resigning, I desire to again call your attention to the absolute necessity of observing your by-laws exactly, and especially of entering every financial transaction of the Company on the books. As your Attorney, I know that half of your most important affairs are not upon your books and I again warn you that in case a suit for dissolution should be brought, and this is liable to happen at any time, your Secretary [James Martin] and indeed the whole Board, would be placed in a difficult and dangerous position. The folly of continually postponing and neglecting the accounts of the Company is an invitation to criminal process in the hands of any disgruntled member and an actual ever-present danger which has no excuse whatever for being.

It doesn’t take a lawyer to see that this warning also contains a thinly veiled threat by Haskell, perhaps the most disgruntled of any member at the time.

One other factor that undoubtedly raised Haskell’s ire that summer was once described by Tulare County historian Joe Doctor:

Old man [Elphick] came to the Colony at the age of 80 after years of selling newspapers at Lotta Fountain in San Francisco. He invested his little savings in the colony with the assurance that he would be well taken care of to his dying day. It wasn’t long coming. He reached the colony after a long hot ride by train and stage from San Francisco. It was July, and the day after his arrival the temperature soared to plus 100 degrees. Eager to be of assistance, the old man went out to work in the field of string beans and about noon he fell dead between the rows. There was an inquest but no cause of death established. Haskell told in his journal that he had suffered the most ignominious insult of all—that of being accused of doing the old man in for his money.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported, with headlines reading “Elphick’s Death—Rumors of Foul Play Freely Circulated,” that the frugal old man had gone to Kaweah to see about recovering $800 he had allegedly loaned the Colony and had died mysteriously. Members of the Colony, disturbed by the rumors, signed and sent a petition to Haskell requesting that he clear up several questions raised by the old man’s untimely death, including what happened to Elphick’s money. Even though charges were never formally made, and the San Francisco Examiner later reported that Elphick was clearly not the victim of foul play, the implications had to have been crystal clear to Haskell.

Frustrated at the disorganization of the Colony, feeling unappreciated and uncompensated, and finally accused — even if only an implied accusation — of murder, Haskell resigned one other post that summer. From The Kaweah Commonwealth, August 8, 1891:

Mr. Haskell, with this issue of the paper, resigns as Superintendent of Education, and, under the by-laws, places the paper in Mr. Martin’s hands as Secretary. He thanks all friends and comrades for the kind support given in the past and entreats its continuance for the future.


In October 1891, exactly one year and a day after moving to Kaweah, Annie Haskell wrote the following account in her diary:

Such a horrible thing. Frank Wigginton was found this morning in bed, with a bullet hole through his brain and a pistol in his hand. The shot was heard at 6:00 a.m. Everyone is horrified. It seems impossible to believe that it is a case of suicide and yet he must have done it himself somehow. Poor boy, he was the best of all the young fellows down there [Kaweah]. Everyone liked him. The news has made me sick.

The Kaweah Commonwealth reported that the deceased was a “native of Ohio, about 27 years of age, and a resident of Kaweah for about one year.” The newspaper also noted his “cheerful, kindly disposition with not a trace of moroseness in his nature.” The Commonwealth further explained:

The coroner of Tulare County was summoned and upon his arrival an inquest was held.  Not the slightest part of the testimony showed that he had deliberately contemplated suicide, on the contrary, all the testimony went to show that he was happy and contented and satisfied with life, and that he had made arrangements to build himself a permanent home here.

The Visalia papers offered slightly different accounts of the tragedy and even hinted at a possible motive for the young man’s suicide. The Tulare County Times described the event in rather graphic detail, noting that Wigginton was found “still in bed, the pistol grasped firmly in his right hand lying on his breast, while immediately between and a little above the eyes a gaping bleeding wound showed where the leaden messenger had sped on its deadly work.” The paper also noted that Wigginton was universally liked by associates and of a cheerful disposition “although of late he has complained of what he believed the unjust treatment of himself and his associates by the government.” It is interesting to note that the Tulare County Times was still very supportive of the Colony at this time, while the Visalia Delta, which had become vituperative in its attacks on the Colony, offered a significantly different account of Wigginton’s state of mind:

A few days ago [Wigginton] was hauling some wood, and he made the remark that that was the last load he would ever haul. Wigginton had spoken frequently of going away from the colony to earn enough money to build a house for the winter.

It is perhaps reading too much between the lines to claim that the Delta infers Wigginton’s suicide was motivated by financial duress brought upon by a failing Colony, but when reporting an earlier suicide connected with Kaweah, blame is very clearly assigned to the Colony. On July 30, 1891, the Visalia Delta printed the following:

Last Saturday’s [San Francisco] Chronicle contained a lengthy article relating how Gus Hodeck, a member of the Kaweah Colony, committed suicide owing to the persecution he had endured while at Kaweah. He joined the colony about two years ago, and because he had an opinion of his own regarding the management of the colony, and dared express it, he incurred the enmity of the so-called board of trustees. A mock trial was held and Hodeck was expelled from the colony, losing all the money he had paid in as membership fees. Thoroughly disheartened with his treatment, Hodeck returned to San Francisco, hoping to find work as a machinist in the Union iron works. Not meeting with success, he hired a room last Thursday, turned on a gas jet and suffered the death of asphyxiation. The Chronicle, in its opening paragraph, said “Driven to death by the Kaweah Colony” ought to have been the verdict of the Coroner’s jury upon the remains of Gus Hodeck.

While the Delta could rationalize the obvious slanted bias of this report by labeling it the Chronicle’s account, it does mark a turning point in their reporting of the Colony, and foreshadows George Stewart’s devastating series of exposés that appeared later that year.


The Delta had, since the inception of the Kaweah Colony, reported with a remarkable restraint of judgment. It was particularly noteworthy that during its agitation to create a national park reserve, Stewart and the Delta were supportive of the Colony’s claim to land in and around Giant Forest. But as 1891 progressed, the paper became decidedly less positive in its comments concerning the Colony, and in November published a four-part history and scathing exposé on the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony.

The vehemence with which Stewart now attacked the Colony might seem an abrupt about-face, but Stewart had been exposed to definite and mounting motivations. In October, he received a letter from former colonist Peter Ting, which may have prompted, or at least confirmed, Stewart’s negative feelings for the Colony. Having heard that the Delta was willing to publish “true statements regarding the Kaweah Colony,” Ting was pleased to offer a “few facts.”

He prefaced his remarks by stating that he thought the best thing a local county newspaper could do would be to “expose such fraud and save families from being ruined by such vile creatures as the old Trustees of the Kaweah Colony.” Ting called the last two years of Colony existence “nothing more than a confidence game” and criticized Haskell’s despotic control of the so-called democratic process.

Ting put the question of the land claims into perspective when he wrote:

In order to shield themselves from being blamed for deceiving the people at first in regard to the title of the land, they now make the plea that the Government is persecuting them and trying to take the Colony’s land away, when in fact the Colony has never had any land and would have had but very few claims even if the individuals had got their land, for who would want to turn their claims over to the Colony when it is run by such men as Haskell, Redstone and Martin?

One major theme of Stewart’s series was that bickering and in-fighting had crippled the utopian enterprise. It had become a prevalent and apt criticism. By the time of Wigginton’s death in October 1891, members of the Colony were arguing and fighting over just about everything. Annie Haskell offered one particularly disturbing example in her diary the day after Wigginton’s death:

We all went down to attend the funeral. It is very sad. After Burnette made all the arrangements and appointed the time for the funeral, then the Redstone outfit came over and took charge of things and hurried the funeral away two hours before the time.


One episode that illustrates the depths to which the Colony had sunk — the bickering and fighting, the hardship and desperation — involved nothing more than a few sweet potatoes. Annie Haskell’s diary offers a version of the incident:

A gang of fourteen men came up to Green’s place and began to dig, sack and haul away his sweet potatoes. They knocked him down, choked and mistreated the old man very badly. Owen and Burnette were there and interfered somewhat. They said they were coming here this p.m. to get the cow but they did not. Burnette has been guarding the place all p.m. with a rifle.

In an affidavit he prepared with Haskell’s help, Albert W. Green, age 58 years, explained that in the event of his death, the affidavit could be used posthumously. Even though his injuries were, as stated, severe, he thought however that he would survive. Annie Haskell, commenting on his injuries in her diary, noted that Green seemed “to be hurt internally and is considerably bruised and can’t sit up in bed without being lifted.”

In his affidavit, Green explained his membership in the Colony and the agreement he had made with the trustees to exchange produce for lumber and help in improving his land. He claimed the land was “waste ground that he worked hard—10 to 18 hours a day—to produce corn, squash, pumpkins and potatoes that he turned over to the Colony. They ate it up but did no improvement on my place in return.”19

The Visalia Delta reported on the incident:

On November 5th a number of the colonists repaired to the potato field and commenced to dig the spuds. Old man Green was incensed with the proceeding and made a feeble resistance. He stood on the potato sacks and he testified that he was thrown to the ground, hit on the body, choked and generally ill-treated.

An explanation as to why these sweet potatoes came into dispute was offered by the Tulare County Times:

There are two factions now in Kaweah, the minority headed by Burnette G. Haskell; the majority adhering to J.J. Martin. Among other property of the colony is a garden, which has been under the care of Mr. Green, one of the Haskell faction. In this garden was a patch of sweet potatoes, claimed as colony property, but to which Green set up an individual claim.

In Green’s account, it was Haskell’s intervention that kept the mob, led by John Redstone, J.C. Weybright, Phil Winser, and Irvin Barnard, from beating him to death. He claims Haskell exchanged words, keeping his hand in a pocket in which “presumably he had a gun.”

If we are unclear at this point as to what really happened, an account by Phil Winser from the December 5, 1891, Commonwealth (which was now under James Martin’s control) should only add to the confusion. After stating the reasons why the potatoes were actually Colony property, the issue of the physical assault was addressed. Winser wrote:

We found Mr. Green, Mr. Haskell and Mr. Owen standing there, and the former became very excited and tried to stop us from digging by standing over the tools. He did this to Mr. Redstone and was quietly and gently pushed away by him. This was the extent of “Uncle John’s” assault on Mr. Green, although one or two others removed him with rather more force, though doing him no bodily injury.

As also is another story that Mr. Green would have been murdered had it not been for Mr. Haskell and his revolver. It is true Mr. Haskell called us to witness that Mr. Green was being murdered, but the revolver did not appear, and everyone was too well aware of the harmless nature of our intention on Mr. Green’s person to witness anything of the kind.

History certainly teaches us that there is always more than one side to any story. The Tulare County Times, one of the few outside newspapers that still supported the failing Colony and the Martin faction, addressed what they called a “trumped up” assault charge, writing:

Behind this was an ulterior motive. Saturday a general meeting of the colony was held. The Haskell faction desired to control the meeting and run everything their own way; to do this it was necessary to get a large number of the other side out of the way and so reduce the majority. If enough of these could be arrested and removed upon some charge, however flimsy, then Haskell would have control. The potato episode seemed to furnish the means to this end.

What really happened? We can only speculate. Except for Annie Haskell’s testimony in her diary about Green’s injuries, one could easily suspect Haskell of just such a ruse. A Visalia court, however, found Weybright guilty of assault and fined him $25. It seems most likely this dispute was symptomatic of a growing sense of panic in Kaweah. When things were running smoothly, cooperation had seemed to work. But as the end drew near and even food was scarce, cooperation disintegrated under the strain of tough times — when cooperation was needed the most.


By the end of 1891, Haskell had become desperate for money and sold an article to the San Francisco Examiner entitled “How Kaweah Failed.” The brilliant propagandist, once so tireless in his efforts to promote the Colony, was now driving the final nails into the coffin. Haskell, of course, was not the only one disillusioned with the Colony, nor was he the only one writing critically of the endeavor.

George Stewart’s series of articles in the Visalia Delta came out about the same time as Haskell’s Examiner piece. Both focused on the internal squabbles as one source of the Colony’s downfall, but whereas Stewart pointed the finger of blame at the founders and leaders of the Colony, Haskell blamed the weakness of human nature. Stewart harshly criticized the misleading nature of Colony propaganda while Haskell railed against a capitalist conspiracy. Stewart noted the comparative luxury in which Colony Secretary James Martin lived while other colonists were reportedly near starvation; Haskell bemoaned the existence of “too many average men.”

Shortly after Stewart’s scathing series appeared, Haskell, Martin, and H.T. Taylor were arrested for “using the mails for fraudulent purposes in sending out literature to people stating that the Colony owned thousands of acres of timber land.” So dispersed was the Colony by this time that only three of the five trustees named in the indictment could be arrested, as the other two had already left the Colony.

Indeed, by this time — January 1892 — the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony Company, having failed to “weather the storms of internal disintegration,” had been dissolved. In its place had sprung the short-lived Industrial Co-Operative Union of Kaweah, with James Martin as president. But it was too late for any phoenix to rise from the Colony’s ashes. Split into irreparable schism and denied their only resource (timber), the Colony’s reformation was in fact nothing more than its final death rattle.

The March/April 1892 issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth printed the official minutes of the Kaweah Colony for 1892, stating that on April 9, the 50th General Meeting of the K.C.C.Co was “adjourned sine die, there being no quorum present.” This was the last issue of The Kaweah Commonwealth published by the Colony — a Colony which, in any form, had ceased operation. A bitter Haskell later wrote:

A few more than half of the resident members at the November meeting, 1891, abolished the time checks, took possession of the machinery and land of the colony, repudiated the credits of the old workers, and decided to continue the struggle as a small enterprise under the absolute power of one man. It is needless to say now that this attempt was as well a failure. They hoped to make a living here as small farmers thus cooperating. Whether this plan would have succeeded cuts no figure whatever with this history. We can leave them quarreling over the little property left, as we leave coyotes quarreling over a carcass.

SOURCES:  A handwritten draft of a circular, “A Serious Word to the Members,” signed by B.G. Haskell and H.T. Taylor, dated July 7, 1891 (Haskell Family Papers, Bancroft Library) provided primary source information for this chapter, as did many of the already oft-cited contemporary news reports; diaries of Annie Haskell; and Haskell’s Out West account. A few other interesting sources include an undated petition to Haskell and A.W. Green to “furnish an explanation of the actions and conduct in relation to the late Father Elphick,” signed by, among others, James Martin, Irvin Barnard, Phil Winser, and George Purdy (Bancroft Library); a handwritten note from Albert Green to the Tulare County District Attorney dated November 11, 1891, found included in a letter Haskell wrote to his father (Haskell Family Papers, Bancroft Library); and a letter to the editor by Peter Ting to the Visalia Delta, dated October 25, 1891 (handwritten copy, Kaweah Colony collection, Visalia Public Library).

A History of the Kaweah Colony: Those Who Remained

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

Kaweah Colony has failed. Those who had believed that they would be burglars of paradise, that they would reach upon this earth to the kingdom of heaven, have abandoned their purpose and are routed and disorganized, babbling many tongues. (Burnette G. Haskell, November 1891)

Recognizing in you a humanitarian of the highest order, I am submitting herewith a national matter for your personal consideration, which, while it remains unrequited remains also a discredit and disgrace to the honor and dignity of our great nation. (James J. Martin, letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, 1935)

Various families and individuals remained in and around Kaweah after the disintegration of the Colony. Perhaps the best account of those who stayed in the area comes from James Martin.

His granddaughter, Olive Redstone Klaucke, well remembers her grandfather. Late in his life he lived with Olive and her parents, Al and Daisy Redstone, at the Daisy Dell ranch in See Canyon near San Luis Obispo, California. Olive described how “Grandpa Martin” would spend countless hours up in his loft apartment over the barn, busily writing memoirs and letters, many concerning the Kaweah Colony — a lifelong cause.
In the mid-1930s, at nearly 90 years of age, James Martin wrote a history of the Kaweah Colony. The following is taken from a draft of that unpublished manuscript, now part of the J.J. Martin Papers at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California:

The members who remained at Kaweah after the dissolution of the Colony were: H.T. Taylor, the Purdys, the Redstone and Brann families, the Winsers, the Hoppings, and the Bellahs. The Haskells, with the Hildebrands and H.D. Cartwright, lived for a time at the nearby Haskell homestead at Arcady. Mr. C.F. Keller [founding member who left in anger in 1888] subsequently acquired the Halstead property, and for a few years was a Postmaster at Kaweah. Later he removed with his family to Santa Cruz.

Philip Winser acquired some land at Kaweah, planted an apple orchard, worked at odd jobs between times, and did very well with his crops. Later he removed with his family to Bakersfield, and there engaged in the wholesale fruit business.

Mr. Fred Savage, an absentee member, came from Liverpool, England, after the Colony was broken up, bought some land at Kaweah, planted an orchard, married, raised a family and made good. His two sturdy sons, born at Kaweah, both of whom are married, now run the farm. They each have families and comfortable homes.


In addition to writing his history of Kaweah, James Martin carried out a campaign seeking recompense for perceived government wrongs against the Colony right up to his final days, including written communications with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the politically influential First Lady Eleanor.

Shortly after the Colony folded in 1892, Martin’s political agitation helped to get a bill introduced in Congress for financial compensation to the Colony for the road they had built to the newly established national park. But the bill was quickly killed in committee, and what was left of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony never received any money for the road they had labored four years to build. The road, which was extended to Giant Forest by the government in 1903, served as the only road into the heart of the national park until the mid-1920s.

To Martin, this was the final of many injustices by the United States government against the Kaweah Colony. The English-born Martin eventually left Kaweah, and despite his disheartening experience there, became involved in another cooperative colonization scheme in 1914, this time in Tasmania. The Tasmania Colonizing Association hoped to attract settlers to their cooperative colony, but financial problems, land difficulties, and a World War all conspired to dash these hopes. James Martin eventually ended up living with his daughter and son-in-law at their See Canyon apple ranch.

In his autumn years, Martin was a distinguished man with a head of snow-white hair and fine English manners. Even as an old man working in the apple orchards, he insisted on wearing a necktie. His agitation regarding Kaweah and endless letter writing campaign never ceased, and in a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt he claimed:

This is not an appeal to you for money but a request that you will use your womanly influence in securing justice to a number of loyal and worthy American citizens who were, and still are, the victims of a most unwarrantable outrage at the hands of a former capitalistic administration of our national government.

His granddaughter, Olive, still recalls that Martin never had much money. He was more interested in bettering society as a whole than in personal gain, although certain embittered Kaweah colonists might argue the point. What he sought from the government 43 years after the Kaweah Colony disbanded is clearly set forth in his letter to President Roosevelt.

The letter, dated March 3, 1935, is quite lengthy at nearly 20 typed pages. Martin includes a history of the Kaweah Colony and explains how in his view the Southern Pacific Railroad and the government conspired to ruin the Colony. Martin notes how shortly after he had an interview with Charles Crocker of the SPRR about a spur road to the Colony, their trouble commenced. He explained:

The Colony had no idea at the time that freightage of lumber from points north to the valley was an exceedingly profitable feature of the SPRR and it was to its profiteering interest to stop the development of lumber in the mountains adjacent to the extensive lumber consuming area in the San Joaquin valley.

Martin did, however, note that the “rabid persecution” of the Colony did not commence until “after the Harrison (Republican-Capitalistic) Administration came into power.” All had been fair and square, Martin pointed out, during the preceding Cleveland Administration. Martin then explained to FDR how, as Secretary of the Colony, he had:

[M]ade contact with an institution figuratively known as the “octopus.” To this institution our government several years before had given an empire in territory—the best on Earth—for the construction of a railroad which, en pasant, was built practically upon the credit of the nation. This monster, as is well known, bled the struggling farmers and fruit growers of California white in exorbitant transportation charges. The settlers of Mussel Slough district were also made to feel the blistering sting of its avaricious tentacles.

Martin finally got to the point in his letter. As recompense for past injustices, he asked for “sole right, in perpetuity, to cut and remove timber from what is now Sequoia National Park.” He granted that such cutting should be “subject to supervision and direction of the Department of Forestry,” but asked that the government appropriate “$250,000 to be expended in the complete rehabilitation of the Colony to its former state of earning capacity.”

Martin closed by stating that he expected fair treatment from the “New Deal,” which he believed to be a “Square Deal.” An investigation was launched, which resulted in a Senate committee’s recommendation to reimburse the Colony for the road, but the Senate refused to act.

Of course, by that time, few Kaweah colonists were still even alive. James Martin was 90 years old. He died three years later at See Canyon, and one imagines him writing letters up in his loft over the barn right up until the very end.


The Hoppings, even though they didn’t arrive at the Colony until near the end, were nonetheless an important family in Kaweah’s history. George W. Hopping was an active member of the New York group. A Civil War veteran, Hopping had a “brain for mathematics” and eventually became the chief accountant for the Seabury Johnson Co. of New York, wholesale druggists and chemical manufacturers (later to become Johnson & Johnson). Hopping’s grandson, Dr. Forest Grunigen, remembers that George was paid the handsome salary of $500 per month.

One colonist remembers that as George Hopping had such a good position at the prominent firm, he “did not feel justified in throwing it up for the uncertainties of our endeavor. However, his heart was with us and he sent his sons and daughter in advance, by installments.”

Ralph and Burt arrived at the Colony sometime in 1891. Both worked at the Colony logging operation at Atwell’s Mill, and Burt was a valuable mechanic. The Colony paper once reported that “the neat presswork of the Commonwealth latterly is owing to a good overhauling given the press by Burt Hopping.”

The Hopping brothers were popular, well-liked residents of what came to be known as the Redstone Park area of Kaweah, and it was not long before they made a committed alliance with the Redstone clan. Ralph Hopping married Kate Redstone and soon thereafter Burt married Kate’s sister, Dove.

Eventually other Hoppings arrived, including Guy, daughter Jesse, and finally the father, George. Colonist Phil Winser remembers the elder Hopping’s arrival:

By paying off Kaweah’s mortgage, he acquired title to that 240 acres and thus insured greater permanency for the Redstone-Hopping section of Redstone Park and a choice of home sites for himself, Mrs. Hopping and two maiden sisters when they finally came West. Mrs. Hopping had French Louisiana blood, and carried a darkness of eye, good looks and vivacity of disposition. Ralph, the oldest son, was as dark as a Spaniard, while Burt was blonde, very good of profile and had an amiable disposition.

The Hopping brothers left behind a considerable legacy in the local history of the Sequoia and Kaweah area. Guy Hopping served many years as a national park ranger, eventually becoming Superintendent of General Grant National Park in 1936. Ralph, in partnership with John Broder, operated the first pack-touring business for visitors to Sequoia National Park. At Redstone Park, they established a hotel to serve as a way station, initiated a stage line from Visalia, opened a tent hotel in Giant Forest, and began bringing tourists up to visit the famous Big Trees. Ralph was also an enthusiastic student of entomology, and later when serving as a ranger in General Grant Park, he discovered a species of theretofore unknown insect. This brought him great notice in the scientific world and launched his career as an entomologist.


Phil Winser had come to the Kaweah Colony during its last year of existence, but stuck around the area for quite some time. Horace Taylor, a colonist from its very inception, also stayed in the area long after the Colony ceased to exist. Shortly after the demise of the cooperative endeavor, Winser and Taylor labored together to build an irrigation ditch that to this day still supplies water to a number of properties in Kaweah.

Sometime in 1892, Taylor approached Winser, his nearest neighbor, and proposed they “take a ditch out of the North Fork above Arcady” down to his place, which would give them both all the water they’d need. They got Sam Halstead to pitch in $100 for supplies, as the ditch would pass through his land and thus be an improvement. After many months hard work, the ditch was complete and water flowed freely.

With the coming of irrigation water, the urge for owning land became strong for Winser. He wrote in his memoirs:

We always wanted to become independent of working for others for wages and thought growing apples about as likely a way as any, for there were two or three rather good lots in the canyon. Mr. Purdy had just bought a little land from Halstead and we followed suit. Of course, we had to pay more now that it was irrigable, but the price was very moderate and I tried to forget the fact I had enhanced the price by my free work [building the ditch].

Having a start in land and water, we wrangled yearling apple trees from another neighbour I had worked for and set them out. Blanche’s [Winser’s wife] brother Bert came out about this time and would care for them in our absence.

Winser himself was absent because, although now a landowner and fledgling apple rancher in Kaweah, he needed to obtain work for wages. He was able to do so in Lemon Cove, a small citrus town about halfway between Kaweah and Visalia. Working long days during the particularly hot summer, Phil Winser “craved ice and hit on a plan.” He and Blanche would have the stage bring ice from Visalia and they would make ice cream and lemonade, and “putting out a sale sign, supply the patrons traveling the hot, dusty road.”

Meanwhile, a fellow Englishman and former absentee-member of the defunct Kaweah Colony had made his way “around the Horn” to the Pacific coast. Fred Savage, son of a cabinet maker from Liverpool, England, took a great interest in social experiments and cooperative ventures. He was the same F.S. Savage who had sent money to Kaweah toward membership and the Defense Fund early in 1891. He had later spent a disastrous year at Topolobampo, Mexico, which was a “large scale attempt to clear, irrigate and cultivate a vast concession in Sinola cooperatively,” on a similar line to the Kaweah Colony. As hi grandson, Milton Savage, recounts, Fred got “ashore there and about starved.” He was able to find passage to San Diego and from there walked to Kaweah.

Fred Savage was undoubtedly very hot and thirsty when his journey on foot to Kaweah, nearly complete, brought him to Lemon Cove, where he noticed Winser’s sign advertising lemonade.

It was this sign [Winser wrote in his memoirs] which lured in Fred Savage one hot day. A little conversation convinced Blanche that here was a man I must meet, so she induced him to stop that night and we talked.

Then we sent him on up to Bert and when he returned, it was to get a job in Lemon Cove and we planned to pool our resources and extend our orchard enterprise together. And so it went, through the summer and autumn. Fred would come over some Sundays and we talked everything over; he sent to England for some savings and with my pay we were able to negotiate a further purchase of [some of Halstead’s] land on which there was a clearing to be done by Bert.

As soon as we returned to Kaweah we arranged a form of partnership to fit conditions; Blanche and I by virtue of holdings already established took two-fifths interest and Fred and Bert divided the remaining three-fifths equally; all outside earnings were to be pooled and the common fund to supply housekeeping and ranch outlays.

Thus began their profitable and successful partnership — a cooperative on a small scale that, unlike the Kaweah Colony, bore ample fruit for generations to come.


One colonist who did not stick around very long after the Colony’s demise was the man who more than anyone had been responsible for its very existence. By 1892, with the Colony in a shambles, Burnette Haskell was barely eking out an existence at his Kaweah homestead. In April 1892, he wrote in his journal:

The motto on my mantlepiece reads “I owe much, I have nothing, I give the rest to the poor.” That about states my case. Oh, if only I ever get a chance to get on top again, I’ll not play the fool.

Letters to both his parents, who were divorced, included pleas for a few dollars to buy supplies and proposals for them to come homestead at Kaweah, where valuable land was still available. Haskell had talked up the potential of the land as an orchard farm, even as Annie struggled just to keep a few scraggly plum trees alive by hand-carrying water up from the river.

His once-successful father lived in San Francisco, selling a medicinal concoction called Gumptill’s Sure Cure. The elder Haskell finally sold off his interest in Sure Cure and joined Burnette and Annie at Kaweah to try to make a go of the homestead.

The Kaweah Colony had been Haskell’s dream of “a solution to the problem of poverty and wealth, the inequalities of destiny and fortune, and a road to human happiness.” But that dream had tragically failed. California, because of its peculiar history, had always been a state filled with dreamers. And unfortunately, like Haskell, many had failed to find their “mother lode.”

Haskell was still a dreamer. In April 1892, he noted in his personal journals that he had discovered several what he called “specimens with free gold and silver” in and about the Kaweah canyon. Apparently his dream of bettering mankind through social reform still smoldered, for the idea of discovering mineral wealth prompted a plan.

After careful consideration [Haskell wrote] I have solemnly determined if any mine is discovered and I make a fortune, I will use that fortune in order to make human beings better. This can be done by education, by assisting state control; by the establishment of prize funds for valor, perseverance, fidelity; by building up a labor farm and especially by checking corruption through making attorneys paid officers of the state. There are now 3,000 attorneys in San Francisco in a population of 300,000. This is one per cent. One-half of that ought to be enough. I will so use my fortune if I get it.

But alas, again Haskell’s dreams — noble though they were to better mankind by thinning the number of lawyers — were dashed. A few days later he wrote that he discovered “brass nails in shoes make gold stains on rock.” He was “hugely disgusted” when he came home and re-examined all his ore-bearing specimens, being in doubt about every one of them.

There was little left for Haskell to do. For the next couple of months he concentrated on trying to gain possession of as many Colony assets as possible. A considerable feud had ensued over who owned the printing press — private ownership had suddenly become quite a popular concept at Kaweah.

It quickly became obvious that Haskell simply wasn’t cut out for the physical work of making his homestead profitable. While his wife and others labored to build ditches and plant orchards, Haskell decided he needed to return to the city. On June 20, 1892, his journal noted that “on Sunday I put an ad in the [San Francisco] papers saying I had returned to [legal] practice.” Burnette Haskell, the famous labor agitator, newspaper editor, and former attorney for the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony had returned to San Francisco and increased the number of lawyers in that city to 3,000 plus one.


In the summer of 1892, with Haskell now in San Francisco, letters between Burnette and Annie showed a strained relationship. Annie struggled just to survive at Kaweah. Food and supplies were scarce. In one letter, Haskell claimed that he was “astonished, pained and surprised” at the situation. “I had no idea whatever but that you had ample supplies of everything you wished,” he wrote. He shipped a box of supplies to nearby Exeter for Annie, and promised to send more “as soon as I get some money to spare.”

It was the beginning of the end for Burnette and Annie’s marriage. Surviving letters and diaries allow them to tell us about the faltering relationship in their own words:

June 23, 1892 — My Dearest Wife: I am awful lonely here without you and Roth and if I could see any way in which I might be at Kaweah with you I would be there if I had to walk; but I don’t. I am satisfied that if I stick to business and could only hold on for two months or so that I can make it go. I am neither drinking nor running around but am hard at work all the time. You ought to write. Good-bye dear.

By stating what he isn’t doing, Haskell gives us a pretty clear indication of his past habits.

From Annie’s diary, June 28, 1892 — Had two letters from Burnette this evening. He was quite put out as he had not received letters from anyone here. Very strange, I should think.

June 30, 1892 — Dearest Annie: Your letter received. Also that of Roth and three from Dad. I was beginning to feel seriously alarmed and was glad to find everything OK. Don’t you think your epistle was rather icy? Yours in the hope that your next letter will have imbibed some of the warmth that you are probably having at Arcady.

Evidently Annie’s next letter was not perceived by Burnette to be warm enough and certainly wasn’t of a comparable length to his. On July 20, Burnette wrote to Annie:

Your decidedly unsatisfactory letter of one page posted on Monday reached me this morning. I don’t understand how you can have any complaint about my not writing. My letters have been long and frequent, yours have not. I wrote you on June 20th, 23rd, 26th, 27th, July 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th, 10th, 13th, 18th — a total of 22 typewritten pages, 500 words a page — for a total of nearly 11,000 words. It is best to be exact in this world. Perhaps it is not a question of letters that has aroused the emotion you feel? May not the propinquity of a person non gratia have influenced you to search for something wherefore to take the absent to task?

At this point, the modern reader has to be questioning the mental health of Burnette Haskell. Annie, however, seemed somehow used to it. By reading a letter Haskell wrote to Annie a few days later, we see how he was desperately trying to charm his way back into her good graces.

My Dearest Annie: The peculiar secret of my character is that I respond to things of like character… a chill or a rebuff seems to throw up an immediate barrier, despite my wishes. You know perfectly well that my love for you is sure, constant and steady. That outside of you and my child I don’t care a rap for anything; you know too that for a long time I was, well, passionately in love with you, that around your every action clustered flowers of romance. I do not say those flowers are withered now; I do not believe they are; I feel them in my heart as much as I ever did; but they are closed up like buds that close at night time—it takes a warm sun to unclose them, not a chill wind. I have no doubt whatever but that your feelings are identical with mine; we both ought to make a continuous effort to show them and not the frosty ones. Let’s get in a habit of having the sun shine. Perhaps then—when we get together again—it will always shine.

They did indeed get together soon after that, for Annie returned to San Francisco before the year was over. There was little sunshine, however. A few years later, the marriage was all but over. Annie’s diary tells the story:

January 1, 1897— I look forward to nothing but bitterness—as in the past year. So will it be in this—drunkenness, poverty, abuse, neglect. My child and myself crowded in a little closer, if possible, to the wall. Unless there is hope for me in me, myself, then there is nothing for me.

January 2, 1897— I have been accused of trying to poison the old man [Haskell’s father] when he was down at Kaweah. Burnette was raving as usual this evening and said his father told him so—I did not believe his father told him any such thing—but called him upstairs and the old man said he did believe that I attempted to poison him shortly before I left Kaweah. I told the old man that I never heard of anything so abominable—two rotten men—with hearts of wolves to attack one helpless woman. Shame, shame. I asked Burnette if he believed such a thing—I begged him to have the decency to say he did not and he answered “I don’t put it past you.”

August 1897— Burnette came over this evening in a raging fury. He had been drinking—said he would get a divorce from me and marry Mrs. O. and a lot more. Well, it was not a very pleasant thing. Burnette said he was glad I was going and hoped I would never come back.


Annie eventually walked out on her husband and never did come back to him. The marriage was over. Ten years later, she learned that her ex-husband was seriously ill.

November 1907— Roth says his father is very ill. Cannot walk nor hardly talk and he thinks it will be his last illness. It is very sad, I wish I knew that he is well taken care of and comfortable, but I do not see what I can do. Poor Burnette, his promise was so great, his gifts so brilliant. But that is all between himself and God.

There exists one rather interesting account of Haskell’s final days, which comes to us via a letter scholar Rodney Ellsworth wrote to George Stewart in the 1920s. Ellsworth was doing historical research on Sequoia National Park and the Kaweah Colony. He wrote:

One evening while I was telling a friend of my mother’s about my work, I mentioned the Kaweah Colony and to my utter amazement found that the woman I was talking to was an old friend of the Haskells. It seems that Mrs. Haskell accompanied her husband to Kaweah and lived there some time, but on her return to Oakland remained as silent as a sphinx. She left her husband and supported herself teaching. Burdette [sic] Haskell, broken and apparently unable to find comfort nor rest from the nemesis that pursued, sought solace in strong drink. For several years he lived in squalor in a mean hut of driftwood amid the lonely wastes of the San Francisco sand dunes. He died in poverty and wretchedness within the sound of the sea moaning on the tortured sands. Such is the sad destiny of those who would cure the disorder of society by ignoble methods.

Perhaps Ellsworth, or the woman who provided him with the account of Haskell’s final days, was guilty of some exaggeration and embellishment. But Haskell himself would easily have understood — indeed, the description of the “sea moaning on the tortured sands” sounds as if it could have come from Haskell’s own pen.

On November 20, 1907, Burnette Gregor Haskell died. That night, Annie wept bitterly over “spoiled lives and unfulfilled hopes and unspeakable loneliness.” She wrote in her diary:

Burnette is gone. It seems when I write that, that there is no more to be said, but I think many thoughts. I feel so downhearted and dreary and think of a thousand things about Burnette, when he was young and full of enthusiasm.

James Martin, who had worked so closely with Haskell to establish Kaweah and ultimately became his enemy when the Colony struggled and failed, wrote 40 years after their bitter falling out:

It is hard to say a word in dispraise of Burnette G. Haskell, knowing how earnestly and unselfishly he worked in the interest of humanity. Haskell has since passed away, and though in the end we differed, I feel that no real animosity ever existed between us. I honor him for the good and noble work he did before he succumbed to the devilish obsession of the drug. Any of us might have fallen had we been by nature similarly constituted and situated. Peace be to him.

SOURCES: Letters (including a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt and unsent draft to FDR) and documents found in the J.J. Martin Papers (Bancroft Library) were valuable sources for this chapter, as was Winser’s “Memories” manuscript. Additionally, secondary sources such as Challenge of the Big Trees, Greenbaum’s “History of the Kaweah Colony” and Ruth Lewis’s “Kaweah: An Experiment in Cooperative Colonization” published in the Pacific Historical Review, 1948, were also consulted. Letters from Burnette Haskell to Annie were consulted (Haskell Family Papers, Bancroft Library) as was a letter from Rodney Ellsworth to George Stewart, dated August 27, 1930 (Stewart Papers, California State Library, Sacramento, Calif.); The author is grateful for the opportunity to interview Milton Savage and Dr. Forest Grunigen in Three Rivers in July 1995, and Olive Redstone Klaucke in See Canyon, San Luis Obispo, Calif., in September 1995. Their memories and handed-down family stories added greatly to this chapter.


A History of the Kaweah Colony: Let History Judge

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

Members of the colony, into whose hands this book may fall, will be amused at the following incident: Two old colony members, after an absence of nearly forty years, visited the Giant Forest, now known as the Sequoia National Park. Upon arriving at the Park they joined a bunch of sight-seers who were being escorted around by an official whose duty, apparently, was to show visitors the various places of interest. In their peregrinations they came upon the old Colony saw-mill, a feature, naturally, of considerable interest to these two old colonists. The mill is, or was at that time—it has since burned down—properly designated on the map and guide book issued by the park authorities as the “Colony Mill,” but it seems this erring guide had formed a concept of his own in regard to history. He told this bunch of sight-seers: “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a structure that was erected some forty or more years ago, by a man named Connelly, who used it as a saw-mill, hence it is called “The Connelly Mill.” There were two, at least, in that group who knew differently. They smiled, and let it pass as a sample of the stuff histories in general are made of. (James J. Martin, History of the Kaweah Colony)

The Kaweah Colony provided fodder for a great deal of copy, both during its existence and after, but until the latter half of the 20th century very little of what was written about the Colony came close to maintaining objectivity. This is an understandable failing from writers directly involved, but less forgivable from those who simply sacrificed their objectivity in order to make a point. Because of the lack of objectivity in all that was written about Kaweah during its existence and for many years following, it is — in the words of one Tulare County historian — “a perplexing subject.” In his 1968 article for the Tulare County Historical Society’s quarterly bulletin, Joe Doctor pointed out that Kaweah’s history “is almost too well documented for the historian to tackle objectively.” It seems a ludicrous statement until one considers the overwhelming quantity and extreme bias of that documentation.


Kaweah garnered a great amount of press coverage from its very beginnings, and most of it was slanted. We have already seen how certain newspapers, such as the San Francisco Star, were especially nasty in their attacks on the Colony. But conversely there were also many positive reports, which were often the work of non-resident members, which appeared in papers from New York, Boston, Denver, and as far away as England and Ireland. For instance, a glowing account of Kaweah’s successful Colony was once printed in the Belfast Weekly Star by a writer who had visited Kaweah late in 1890.

The press coverage literally exploded for a number of reasons. For one thing, there was the controversy surrounding the establishment of Sequoia National Park and the legal question of the Colony’s timber claims. There was the arrest of the trustees, the subsequent trials, and much that was legitimately newsworthy. It should also be noted that the leaders of the Colony were no strangers to the press. Burnette Haskell, a colorful labor agitator in San Francisco before founding the Colony, was able to fill scrapbooks with news clippings on himself before the Colony even existed.

For example, famed satirist Ambrose Bierce once wrote in his San Francisco Wasp column, “Prattle,” that:

B.G. Haskell is a gentleman who lives without work by preaching the dignity of labor. Under protection of the laws, he urges the abolition of law. He accumulates wealth by attacking the rights of property. He aspires to be, and to some extent is, a leader of industrial discontent, which is well enough; but as all who lead it must do, he leads it toward anarchy, which is not so well.

As 1890 came to a close, the Star and Bierce were no longer in the minority in attacking Haskell and the Colony, and by the end of 1891 when George Stewart published his hyper-critical series on the Colony in the Delta, even Haskell was contributing to the negative press on Kaweah. By reading his bitter and obviously subjective account of the Kaweah Colony in the November 29, 1891, issue of the San Francisco Examiner entitled “How Kaweah Fell,” we see that history is always, by necessity, somewhat subjective simply because those who lived history were themselves subjective, being mere humans.

Newspapers, it has been said, are history’s first drafts. Noting the bias with which so many reported on the Kaweah Colony, how can one ever get an accurate picture of what really happened via such first drafts? Even an account that was ostensibly an objective study by an outside observer invariably expressed a certain slant. In the summer of 1891, while the Colony still clung to a stubborn hope for success, William Carey Jones of the University of California visited the Colony and wrote a 30-page report, which was eventually published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. When the respected scholar, who eventually became dean of the School of Jurisprudence at the University of California, visited the Kaweah Colony, he undoubtedly relied on the colonists themselves for much of his information. It is also possible that his own political and social beliefs made him predisposed to forming a positive opinion of the Colony’s ideals, a Colony that Jones concluded held “the brightest possible material prospects,” which were obscured, if not destroyed, Jones maintained, by the action of the government.

In the matter of the controversy with the government [Jones wrote], I can come to no other conclusion than that a great injustice has been done to those persons who in good faith made filings for timber claims in October, 1885. The law of the case is not so clear to my mind. It is difficult to find consistency in the decision of the Land Office… But even the law seems to me to incline in favor of the timberland claimants.

Forty years after the demise of the Kaweah Colony — after the news coverage had long since died — other drafts of the Colony’s history began to be written, but many of what were now historians rather than journalists blindly relied on biased reports or were themselves trying to make a point.


Carey McWilliams, in his well-known history of California farm labor, Factories in the Field, published in 1939, certainly set out to make a point. Using Kaweah as an example, he wrote:

The Kaweah Colony forms an important chapter in the neglected history of early cooperative experiments in America. Into the story of cruel butchering of this genuinely progressive idea it is possible to read a phase of the social history, not only of California, but of the nation. If the Kaweah experiment had been permitted to succeed—the success of the colony was demonstrated at the time—the subsequent history of California might have been entirely different.

McWilliams’s brief account of Kaweah was far from in-depth and written from an obviously sympathetic point of view. He referred to Haskell as “one of the most idealistic and socially enlightened men of his generation in California.” It noted that “the Kaweah experiment was not forgotten immediately; it was kept alive for demonstrative purposes. With fetid hypocrisy, the newspapers of California continued to use the Kaweah experiment as a stock illustration of the ‘inevitable failure’ of Socialism.” It was the fault of the press, McWilliams maintained, that “the word Kaweah, if it has any meaning in the State today, has become associated with the notion of a cockeyed and irrational Socialism.” McWilliams pointed out that The Fresno Bee, as late as 1928, ran a series of articles on the Kaweah Colony to illustrate “the follies of socialism.”

McWilliams, on the other hand, used his version of the Kaweah story, with its slant leaning heavily to the left, for “demonstrative purposes,” showing how an “unpardonably harsh and cruel” government squashed a potentially successful bid at workable socialism. This gave Kaweah, he maintained, “a tragic significance.”

McWilliams was, in historian Kevin Starr’s words, “a skilled writer possessed of style, rhetorical force, moral vision, and socio-historical imagination,” and caused considerable furor with Factories in the Field, which concluded with a ringing call for the collectivization of California agriculture. His portrayal of the Colony as victims of capitalistic greed and rampant land monopolization was, if not central to the argument set forth in his book, at least a colorful and rousing example that helped support his theory. Anytime history is purposely used as an example to support a point of view, objectivity and accuracy will take a back seat to the larger issues of supposed right and wrong. Burnette Haskell would have been proud to see historical objectivity concerning his Kaweah sacrificed just to be a part of McWilliams’s landmark study on farm labor and grateful that McWilliams kept the name Kaweah alive, motivating students for generations to come to investigate the story on their own.


Finally, 50 years after the Kaweah Colony’s brief existence, scholarly histories began to be written. The story attracted numerous studies by historians from various walks of academic life. There is perhaps no knowing how many thesis papers and doctoral dissertations have been written on Kaweah and Sequoia National Park’s establishment. Half a dozen, beginning with Ben Rothblat’s 1936 master’s thesis through Dan Kennedy’s 1973 thesis were consulted in the writing of this book. Many more undoubtedly exist, as Kaweah was radical and offbeat enough to attract young students of history, eager to raise eyebrows with their efforts. Before long some of these scholarly works began to be published, such as Ruth Lewis’s “Kaweah: An Experiment in Co-Operative Colonization,” which appeared in the Pacific Historical Review in 1948. It was perhaps the first objective account of the Kaweah Colony to appear in print anywhere.

That same year an article on Kaweah entitled “A California Utopia: 1885-1890” appeared in the Huntington Library Quarterly. It was written by a young historian named Robert V. Hine and became the basis for a chapter in his seminal work in utopian community studies, California’s Utopian Colonies. The book, which was originally published in 1953 and reissued by Yale University Press in 1966, quickly became the standard in its field. Not only was Hine able to provide an objective, thorough study of Kaweah, but he was able to put the story in the larger context of a whole movement of utopian community endeavors that sprang up in California between 1850 and 1950, linked only by the eventual failure of nearly all of them.

Hine, the historian, writes with such a genuine concern for the people of Kaweah and other colonies that he deserves to be called a true humanitarian. And while writing about the many failures these characters suffer in the name of utopia, Robert Hine manages to maintain a genuine sense of hope. It is an optimism that, like many of the colonies discussed, is quintessentially Californian in nature.

The psychological temper of the utopian [Hine wrote] constantly beckons to an unseen but nevertheless real goal; from one more experiment in community life may yet emerge—like a phoenix, momentarily dusted with the disappointments of the past—a resplendent, reformed mankind gathered in the ideal society.


By the early 1960s, one writer finally attempted to answer the central riddle behind the demise of the Kaweah Colony. He wrote:

That the Giant Forest is part of Sequoia National Park seems hardly a matter for discussion; it is its heart. Yet Sequoia Park was born without it. As established by Act of Congress on September 25, 1890, the park consisted of little more than the two townships that today form its rarely visited southern toe. Less than a week later, on the last day of the same session of Congress, the now famous forest and surrounding land [was] added.

This somewhat erratic procedure has never been explained.

With all that had been written about the Kaweah Colony in the first seven decades following its ill-fated existence, it is surprising that no one attempted to thoroughly investigate and explain the motivations for Sequoia’s establishment and enlargement that drove the Colony into extinction. Certain writers, with a view from the left, accepted that the government acted unfairly toward the Colony without offering evidence of proof. Still others ignored the government’s actions and simply pronounced the Colony doomed from the start because of its socialist politics or objectionable leadership — a flawed entity from the beginning that naturally would fall victim to internal dissolution and just plain bickering. But no one really addressed the nagging questions surrounding the controversial actions of Congress toward the Colony and the mysterious circumstances involved in Sequoia’s early history.

Oscar Berland, with his landmark article entitled “Giant Forest’s Reservation: The Legend and the Mystery,” finally set out to explain that erratic procedure and solve the mystery behind the sudden, last-minute enlargement of Sequoia National Park. The influences behind that sudden turn of events, which hastened the Colony’s demise, is the great irony of Kaweah’s history. Berland’s work exposing that irony has greatly influenced students of Kaweah’s history ever since.

Who was really responsible for the bill enlarging Sequoia, which was virtually railroaded through Congress? Those who felt its effect most had their theories. Both Burnette Haskell and James Martin, able to agree on little else during the last days of the Colony, felt they had been done in by the “invisible arm” of big business.

Haskell went so far as to maintain that “at least one man had been acting as the paid agent” seeking to foster dissension within the Colony. Martin, a little less dramatic, indicted a popular villain when, some 40 years later, he explained to a Sequoia National Park naturalist that the Southern Pacific Railroad was evidently “the one that started the machinery of Government against us.” Martin pointed out, just as he had to President Roosevelt, that their trouble commenced immediately after he had interviewed Southern Pacific president Crocker in regards to the location of a proposed spur line to connect with the SP main line.

Martin also believed that Visalia Delta editor George Stewart was working with the railroad, whose interest was to “prevent the development of timber in the mountains adjacent to the big valley of lumber consumers.” He concluded that Stewart had been a “snake in the grass” rather than the “innocent little lamb whose bleating saved the Big Trees from destruction.” But Martin and Haskell lacked hard evidence for their personal theories of conspiracy.

Finally, in the early 1960s, such evidence would be uncovered. When Oscar Berland, a young student of labor history from San Francisco, visited Sequoia he became intrigued with the park’s history — a history involving a Socialist colony started by radical labor leaders. His interest piqued, Berland started researching the Kaweah Colony and found himself on a path that would eventually take him to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although his original interest had been California labor history, he became obsessed with the story of the Kaweah Colony and had every intention of writing a book on the subject. Although that book has yet to be realized, his article for the Sierra Club Bulletin, which was published in 1962, remains a landmark study for both students of the Kaweah Colony and Sequoia National Park. It was an article both Haskell and Martin, with their invisible arm theories, would have loved.

In the article, Berland presents a clear and succinct history of the Colony as well as an overview of the concurrent agitation in Tulare County to save the Big Trees. He then focuses on the two bills that created, then enlarged, Sequoia National Park. The story then jumps ahead to a time when the Colony was long since dead:

A beautiful park, belonging to the entire nation, stood as a strangely appropriate conclusion to Kaweah’s unhappy story, with many ex-colonists among its most dedicated rangers and protectors. That was [when] George Stewart began to investigate the manner in which Sequoia Park had been enlarged. More than a quarter of a century had passed; it was time for histories to be written.


As Berland explains, George Stewart went to his grave claiming he never understood exactly who was responsible for the mysterious bill that doomed the Colony. Berland follows a long trail of correspondence and recounts Stewart’s fascinating but unsuccessful attempt to discover the source of the legislation.

“I did not learn at the time why or at whose suggestion the park was enlarged,” Stewart confessed in a letter to Century magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson in 1930. “I inquired later of John Muir and others… but no one could throw any light on the matter.”

While examining Stewart’s search for suspects, Berland carefully recounts the steps that led to the reservation of the Giant Forest. He notes how the Sequoia bill (H.R. 11570) had passed through the House of Representatives less than a month after its introduction and that the land claimed by the Kaweah colonists was not included.

Quoting Frank Walker, Berland points out that in his comments to the California Academy of Sciences, Walker said, “It is generally thought [that the colonists] will substantiate their claims and acquire the land.” Walker added the observation that “public sentiment seemed to favor” this acquisition of the land by the Kaweah Colony.

But as we have already seen, this bill, which was signed into law on September 25, 1890, was not the only preservation legislation pending in Congress. It was the second act — H.R. 12187, the substitute bill primarily concerned with reserving land around Yosemite — that enlarged Sequoia and so deeply impacted the Kaweah Colony. And it was there that the mystery began.

[That] legislation [Berland concluded], unlike the measure that first established the park, was never discussed publicly, and hence its proponents could not be identified. The western press seemed unaware of its passage. Reference to the measure cannot be found even in the Minutes Book of the House Committee on Public Lands, which ostensibly authored the bill.

Who would have had the motive to introduce that bill in Congress? Who had the contacts to gather support? And who had the absolute power to push it through at the eleventh hour?

In attempting to discover who that might have been, Berland himself posed those questions and turned to the “Father of Sequoia Park” for some answers. George Stewart was never comfortable with the laudatory nickname his part in the establishment of Sequoia earned him. Perhaps this was because he knew there was much behind the course of events that even he himself did not understand. Berland’s examination of Stewart’s correspondence showed that the mystery of the second bill, adding Giant Forest to the national park he had supposedly “fathered,” troubled Stewart late in his life, and when he died he still had not solved the disturbing puzzle concerning Sequoia’s establishment. Yet Oscar Berland was able to glean several clues in Stewart’s letters, and in his article offered a possible solution which Stewart never seemed to have imagined.

As earlier noted, the tacked-on section of the Yosemite bill that enlarged Sequoia was written in a language only understandable to land surveyors and agents, describing the land only in numbered townships, ranges, and sections. Where were recognizable descriptions such as “Kaweah watershed” or the “Giant Forest”? It is hard to imagine politicians back in Washington having any idea what this section of the bill encompassed, if indeed they actually read the entire bill. Someone, however, had to know exactly what this addition to the brand new national park entailed and must have brought this suggestion to Congressman Vandever, who introduced both park bills. It is also worthy to note that Vandever, while representative for the large Sixth Congressional District, which included Tulare County and Sequoia, did not represent the Yosemite area to the north, nor was he a member of the Committee on Public Lands. Why then his concern with Yosemite?

Berland reminds us that Andrew Cauldwell had made recommendations to set aside Giant Forest and the surrounding land in a permanent reservation. This was, Berland pointed out, “The only proposal for the reservation of the Giant Forest of which any record appears.”

Yet it is difficult [Berland explained] to attribute the congressional action that followed to a temporary land agent’s inexplicable change of mind. For one thing, the time interval between the report, written in Visalia and dated September 26, and the legislation introduced in Washington four days later seems too short for a causative relationship. For another, except on the one matter of the four townships around the Giant Forest, the legislation bears no resemblance to the proposals made in Cauldwell’s Big Tree survey.

So if it wasn’t Cauldwell, who was it? Berland discovered one very strong possibility. His article states:

In his reply to Stewart’s last communication on this problem, Robert Underwood Johnson had recalled “a Californian” who spoke off the record at a meeting of the House Committee on Public Lands which Johnson attended. This man, according to Johnson, “took up the matter of the text of the bill with General Vandever” and “may even have drawn the bill.” But he couldn’t remember his name.


During the period when this park legislation was being submitted, there was in fact a Californian from Tulare County in Washington, D.C. He was a guest of Representative Vandever and was well acquainted with land matters in the area. Ironically, his identity may have even been revealed in Stewart’s Visalia Delta. An innocuous notice printed on September 18, 1890, amongst several other items of local news — comings and goings and social items — noted that “D.K. Zumwalt and wife returned last night from their eastern trip.”

If Daniel K. Zumwalt is the suspect, what then was his motive? And why would it have been so well hidden — or at the very least unpublicized — that he was responsible for such heroic conservationist gains?

(Zumwalt later took credit for being involved in General Grant Park’s establishment, which was created in the very same congressional bill as Sequoia’s enlargement. This is further evidence of Zumwalt’s involvement in the Sequoia mystery.)

As Oscar Berland pointed out, “It is reasonable to assume that in a matter of this magnitude, Zumwalt was not acting for himself.” It is by no means a huge leap to a theory of conspiracy. Daniel Zumwalt was the local attorney and a land agent of the most “generously hated” railroad in the nation, the Southern Pacific. One biographer even credits him for having personally directed the railroad’s activities during the Mussel Slough affair. For this very reason, Berland claimed it would have been “foolhardy for him to have associated his name with Giant Forest’s reservation.”

This still does not address the question of motive, but the Southern Pacific Railroad had plenty. As pointed out before, even Colony leaders Haskell and Martin knew the railroad had motive to “prevent the development of timber… adjacent to the big valley of lumber consumers.” For one thing, the railroad made huge profits transporting Northern California lumber to the booming Central Valley. The railroad also had vast landholdings in the Valley, so would have been “as much concerned with the preservation of the surrounding watershed as any farmer,” knowing that available water added much value to their land. (Conservationists, it should be reiterated, argued that logging the Sierra would drastically alter the snowmelt, adversely affecting their water supply in the summer months.) Berland even suggests that the railroad may have had an interest in the large logging operations in nearby Converse Basin, on the southern slopes of the Kings River canyon.

With Zumwalt and the railroad as suspects and a huge financial interest their motive, we turn to the matter of evidence. The railroad’s name appears with impressive frequency among documents dealing with Sequoia National Park. The most striking example is one Oscar Berland found in the National Archives. It is a map of the full seven-township Sequoia (the original park established on September 25 comprised only the two southern-most townships), printed on Southern Pacific stationery and dated October 10, 1890. This map is the “smoking gun,” for as Berland explained:

On that date neither the colonists, the local conservationists, nor the California press were yet aware of the park’s enlargement. Congressional documents not excepted, this is the earliest reference to Sequoia Park’s boundaries extant.


No single work has had a greater impact on the subsequent study of the Kaweah Colony than Oscar Berland’s 1962 Sierra Club Bulletin article. He blazed a trail, and armed with his theory of railroad involvement — supported by the now-famous Southern Pacific map — Berland and others since have been able to bring to light the mystery, drama  and irony of the Kaweah-Sequoia story.

In 1964, Douglas Hillman Strong wrote a dissertation for Syracuse University entitled “A History of Sequoia National Park.” He relied heavily on Oscar Berland’s work when discussing the Kaweah Colony and the park’s establishment. Strong interviewed Berland a number of times and in his book, Trees — or Timber?, based on that dissertation, Strong reiterates Berland’s central theory when he writes:

The Southern Pacific could not come out in open support of the Park or its enlargement since to do so would have brought immediate suspicion and hostility. No corporation was more disliked or mistrusted in Tulare County. But a map of the enlarged Park on the Railroad’s stationery, dated October 10, 1890, is evidence that the Southern Pacific initiated the park enlargement, for on that date no one else in California knew about it.

How many visitors to today’s Sequoia National Park, awed by the majestic beauty of a forest unequaled anywhere, appreciate that it was through the machinations of a powerful, self-serving monopoly that these trees were saved for posterity? Pondering this central irony brings up one last question. Did the establishment and enlargement of Sequoia, and the demise of the Kaweah Colony, really save the giant sequoias of Giant Forest from destruction? Were they ever really in danger? In other words, what might have happened had Congress not set aside Giant Forest and its singular groves of giant sequoias?


In Burnette Haskell’s Pen Picture of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony, written in 1889, the Colony’s attitude toward the Big Trees was addressed. Haskell wrote:

It would be nothing short of vandalism to indiscriminately destroy these sentinels of past centuries, as has been done in several parts of California, by ruthless ravagers of the Competitive system and care will be taken to preserve them in their primitive glory. It is gratifying to know that it is not the intention of this company to sweep from off the face of the earth these grand relics of past centuries. Portions of the forest will be cleared and cultivated, but the “Monarchs” will be left to reign supreme in their grandeur, to excite the awe and admiration of generations yet to come.

Regardless of what Burnette Haskell may have written in 1889, if the Colony had survived — a survival made possible only by gaining title to their land claims and thus legal ownership of Giant Forest — the Big Trees of that famed forest would very likely have been felled sooner or later.

There are two possible scenarios that would have endangered the spectacular groves of Big Trees at Giant Forest. First, let us suppose Sequoia National Park had not been enlarged to include Giant Forest. It is easy to imagine big lumber interests such as Smith and Moore’s Sanger Lumber Company acquiring title to that land and expanding their operations. In 1891, the company produced nearly 20 million board feet of lumber from the forests along the Kings River drainage just north of the Kaweah watershed. Still, this was not enough volume to make profitable their already enormous investments, and the company eventually expanded its operations into a natural bowl known as Converse Basin, “where the really big trees are located.” Converse Basin contained over 5,000 acres of some of the largest trees in the world.

Even though the first year was a complete disaster, operations there continued for nearly ten years. Today, stump after giant stump dramatically litter the Converse Basin, and walking among the decimated giants, the stumps jutting up like gargantuan grave markers, one can’t help but shudder at the possibility of a similar fate for Giant Forest only 20 miles away. With the Colony’s road only a few miles shy of its groves, accessibility wouldn’t have been a limiting factor for an aggressive outfit that, at nearby Converse Basin, demonstrated their willingness and ability to fell mammoth specimens despite the difficulty, danger, and high percentage of waste.

And what if the Kaweah Colony had acquired title to Giant Forest along with their other timber claims? Even if we accept the theory that the Colony would never have logged the Big Trees, there remains a frightening scenario that would have spelled disaster for the grand forest.

Title to their timber claims would undoubtedly have contributed to a greater chance of success for the Kaweah Colony. There is no denying that when their claims were canceled and all hope of acquiring title extinguished, the Kaweah Colony lost any viable chance for success. But we have also seen that there were other factors contributing to the endeavor’s demise, including mismanagement, internal disputes, and a tenuous capital base. Although gaining title to the timber land would have been beneficial, would it have guaranteed lasting prosperity and harmony?

One can easily imagine that even had the Kaweah Colony been granted title and established successful logging operations at Colony Mill, financial difficulties would have arisen (or simply continued.) With title to Giant Forest, and a lumber company 20 miles away possessed with the capital and propensity to expand, sale of land by the Colony would be one viable solution to many problems. Had the Colony owned Giant Forest, they may indeed never have cut down a single Big Tree, but they could very well have been forced into selling Giant Forest to someone who would. Fortunately, this is all pure speculation.

It is naïve to imagine the Big Trees of Giant Forest, left unprotected, not being destroyed. Giant sequoias by the thousands were destroyed at numerous locations: near Grant Grove, at Converse Basin, in the Tule River drainage to the south, and even at Atwell’s Mill, by the hand of the Kaweah Colony on patented private land within a newly created national park. Looking back, with our 100 year vantage point, for Giant Forest it ended up being a choice between survival of the Big Trees or the Kaweah Colony.

Granted, it did not have to be that way. Park boundaries could have been drawn to allow the Colony a chance at obtaining all the timber land they really needed — the pine and fir forests where they established their mill — but this wasn’t the case. As we have seen, powerful forces had the motive and means to make sure the Kaweah Colony was denied any opportunity to produce lumber. As things turned out, the Big Trees of Giant Forest were the incidental beneficiary of a giant corporation’s less than benevolent actions.

Does this, then, make the Kaweah colonists sacrificial lambs? Can we assume their motives were purely noble and their leaders innocent and uncorrupted? Of course not. Nothing is ever that simple. Human beings are not that simple, and history is lived and written by human beings and the future imagined by the dreamer.

SOURCES: Many of the books consulted for this chapter are cited within the text, but here is that list: Factories in the Field, by Carey McWilliams; Endangered Dreams: The Great Depression in California, by Kevin Starr; California’s Utopian Colonies, by Robert V. Hine; Trees — or Timber? The Story of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, by Douglas Hillman Strong; They Felled the Redwoods, by Hank Johnston; Men of the Mammoth Forest, by Floyd Otter; and A Pen Picture of the Kaweah Co-Operative Colony, by Burnette Haskell. Enough can’t be said for the value of Oscar Berland’s Sierra Club Bulletin article “Giant Forest’s Reservation: The Legend and the Mystery,” published in 1962. As a source, it was handsomely augmented by the author’s memorable interview with Oscar at his El Cerrito home in May 1995, and Oscar’s generous sharing of all his previous research materials with the author. Thank you, Oscar.


A History of the Kaweah Colony: The Spirit of the Dreamer

By Jay O’Connell. This 3RNews version as published August 2020.

One duty only remains to those whose hearts were with Kaweah as a cooperative experiment; it is to let the truth be known. And is there no remedy, then, for the evils that oppress the poor?  And is there no surety that the day is coming when justice and right shall reign on earth? I do not know; but I believe, and I hope, and I trust. (Burnette Haskell, Kaweah, November 1891)

This narrative grew out of an interest in local history. It has grown far beyond that. It is a story that epitomizes California and even America. This is not simply because of the prominence of such issues as land, labor, and conservation. Kaweah’s story is California’s in the utterance of a single word — dream. The California Dream. Co-Operative Dreams.

Historian Kevin Starr used the word in the title of his several volumes of California history. The first volume, Americans and the California Dream, 1850-1915, ends with a variation on Wallace Stegner’s observation that California is like the rest of the United States, only more so.

In a very real sense [Starr wrote], the California dream was the American dream undergoing one of its most significant variations. The hope raised by promotional writers… was the simple yet subtle hope for a better life animating America since its foundation. California provided a special context for the working-out of this aspiration, intensified it, indeed, gave it a probing, prophetic edge in which the good and evil of the American dream was sorted out and dramatized. In 1915, after sixty-five years of statehood, as, north and south, great expositions opened their gates, California, like America itself, remained an intriguing, unanswered question.

How apt this is to Kaweah, where the California dream underwent significant variation. Where hope was raised by promotional writers. Where a special context was provided for the working-out of aspirations. Where intriguing, unanswered questions certainly remain. And isn’t the story of California filled with individuals who failed to achieve their dream? They include the countless seekers who came up short in the diggings of the Gold Rush; the settlers seeking land enough to raise food and family who were unable to compete with the wealthy land barons; the immigrants and economic refugees who envisioned eating the plentiful grapes right off the vine but instead became a rootless migrant workforce; even the starstruck youths coming to Hollywood to achieve fame and fortune only to end up desperate souls on a boulevard of broken dreams.

Starr reminds us that a culture that fails to internalize some understanding of its past tragedies and past ideal has no focus upon the promise of the future nor the dangers of the present. In that way, he maintains, the elusiveness or failure of the California dream can prove a blessing. Only by remembering those who struggled but failed can we further today’s struggle for value and corrective action. “Old in error,” Starr wrote, “California remains an American hope.”

From the very beginning, the story of Kaweah was a human story of flesh and blood and passion and hope. And while it centered on the dream of cooperation, it was a story of individuals.

There has long been a popular perception that the Kaweah Colony was destroyed by the bickering within. While we have seen that this was certainly a contributing factor to its demise, it is hoped that this book has shown there was much more at the heart of the problem. One reason for this perception, however, was the writings of Burnette Haskell. Even though he blamed governmental persecution and the long arm of capitalist monopolies for the demise of the Colony, in the end (and more than once in print), he assigned blame to the failings of “too many average men.” Disgusted with everyone’s actions but his own, Haskell wrote that “men are not yet civilized enough to do right for right’s sake alone and to labor for the love of production itself.” Never once did he concede that legal or management mistakes he, himself, may have made were a factor in the Colony’s demise. With our knowledge of Haskell, this is hardly surprising.

Thus we can say that Haskell became disillusioned with cooperation because of the weakness of the individual. In his mind, the plan for cooperation did not fail; the individuals who took part did. Haskell once commented on the sheer variety of those individuals involved.

The list of membership [Haskell wrote] itself is a curious study. It is the United States in microcosm; among the members 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. There were temperance men and their opposites, churchmen and agnostics, free-thinkers, Darwinists and spiritualists, bad poets and good, musicians, artists, prophets, and priests. There were dress-reform cranks and phonetic spelling fanatics, word-purists and vegetarians. It was a mad, mad world, and being so small its madness was the more visible.

While Haskell noted that the cross section of individuals was reflective of America itself, he also felt that so varied a group was perhaps not the best of situations in such tight quarters, for while this “mad, mad world” may have been united in a common interest — Kaweah — they certainly were not united in how best to achieve its goal: cooperative utopia.

Little has been said in this book of other cooperative utopian experiments, which preceded and followed Kaweah, or of Kaweah’s place amongst them. The consideration of other colonies shall be left to other studies, for it is far too encompassing a subject to adequately deal with here. But a cursory look at some of the better known American community experiments — from Brook Farm to the Oneida Community, from the Mormons to the Shakers — reveals that those with the greatest longevity were those that relied on devotion to religious or spiritual doctrine. Those that were structured around political doctrine did not fare as well. Perhaps this is due to the almost impossible task of reconciling a society based on cooperation with a strong spirit of individualism. Strong-minded individuals are needed to achieve productivity, but that same spirit can be anathema to a system of enforced cooperation, which is what any political cooperative is by definition. Oftentimes these systems of enforced cooperation become corrupted of their original intent — the good of the community — and the spirit of the individual becomes suppressed.

Such was the case some 25 years after the failure of the Kaweah experiment when, through a revolution Haskell probably would have at first cheered, a Bolshevik faction of Russian Marxists created Communist rule in Russia. Confronted with the formidable task of transforming the large, backward country into a leading industrial nation of the twentieth century, the great Soviet experiment eventually evolved and was controlled by Stalin’s brand of totalitarianism.

Perhaps the ultimate example of enforced cooperation (and nationalist zeal) followed during a time of worldwide economic turmoil. The National Socialist German Worker’s Party became the Nazi party, and its Fuhrer will forever be considered the embodiment of evil fascism.

John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community, once wrote that “a vast spiritual and intellectual excitement is one thing; and the institutions that rise out of it are another. We must not judge the excitement by the institutions.” We will not, then, judge the individuals of Kaweah and the excitement they felt for their ideals by the failure of Kaweah as an institution. Nor will we, as Haskell has done, blame these individuals for that failing, although it is tempting to assign some individual blame to Haskell himself. Instead, let us admire the effort — the spiritual and intellectual excitement they displayed — and learn from the shortcomings so visible from our vantage point of 100 years of hindsight.

Haskell called Kaweah a microcosm for the United States, and in so much that Kaweah’s membership represented a sort of melting pot of individuals, that analogy holds true. America has always celebrated the spirit of the individual. America was founded on the liberties of the individual. The remarkable success of America, then, is that the spirit and liberty of the individual has somehow been integrated with the good of society. It is a precarious balance (where sometimes the good of society must be sacrificed to the rights of the individual), and one that was never achieved at Kaweah. This does not mean that we should not admire the effort these individuals who comprised Kaweah made toward that unachieved goal. Society, as well as individuals, can learn from the mistakes of the past. As Robert Hine observed, “from one more experiment in community life may yet emerge — like a phoenix, momentarily dusted with the disappointments of the past — a resplendent, reformed mankind gathered in the ideal society.”

Some never recovered from the disappointments of Kaweah. Haskell died a bitter, lonely, and broken man at the relatively young age of 50, only 16 years after the failure of the Colony. With his “belly full of cooperation, you bet,” he lost hope that any phoenix might rise from the ashes of his failed dreams.

Nearly 50 years after her days at Kaweah, Annie Haskell looked back. At 79 years of age, she wrote:

No use thinking of that day so long past—when Burnette and I were married; my life, emotionally seemed to be like a troubled sea—the waves raged and the salt was bitter. I learned a little, I suffered much, and laughed a lot. If I had it all to relive—I wonder if I shouldn’t do exactly the same, even with knowledge added. I wonder.

Annie, following the end of her marriage and the death of Burnette Haskell, lived a long and full life. She found fulfillment in her son, Roth; her career as a school teacher; and ultimately in religion. Perhaps she learned, better than anyone from the difficulties surrounding Kaweah and her tumultuous life with its founder. It was only a few years after Kaweah, as her marriage was disintegrating and the dawning of a new year brought with it only the promise of “drunkenness, poverty, abuse, and neglect,” that Annie came to a realization:

Unless there is hope for me in me, myself—then there is nothing for me.

Only through the strength of individuals able to learn from failure and maintain hope in themselves can the dream of cooperation stay alive. And will that dream ever be fully realized? To echo Burnette Haskell’s words, I do not know; but I believe, and I hope, and I trust.

SOURCES: As noted in text, Kevin Starr’s Americans and the California Dream; 1850-1915 provided a launching pad for these final thoughts. Haskell’s Out West magazine article obviously furthered the discussion, and input was even garnered from John Humphrey Noyes’s History of American Socialisms (Hillary House Publisher, NY, 1961, originally published in 1870). Robert V. Hine’s California’s Utopian Colonies contributed a note of optimism. I thank Bob for that (and for a memorable lunch we shared at UCI’s University Club). And it is fitting that the final word comes (via a transcription by Oscar Berland) from Annie Haskell. Her diaries are one of the most brilliant primary sources any historian could dream to find.