From Desert Land to Fairy Land
1810 - THE CONQUEST OF THE VALLEY OF PLENTY - 1910
By WALTER V.WOEHLKE
pring had passed. The vanguard of summer was sweeping over the floor of the valley, curing the tips of the plentiful grass, imparting a tinge of yellow to the folds of the green velvet spread over the plain by the winter's showers. Like a wall of purple mist, a wall gigantic, colossal, the mountains rose abruptly out of the plain, the towering pines on their crest sharply outlined against the luminous sky, the rosy glow of the setting sun hovering on their snowy peaks. Over green valley, purple wall and glowing peak the massed hosts of the clouds, like legions of angels hurrying to the west, spread its roseate pinions to the glory of the dying day.
Unconscious of the peace that covered hill and vale, unmindful of the changing hues and tints wrought silently by the master hand on sky and heights, a brown maid, daughter of mountain and desert, was standing upon a rock in the purple wall, gazing intently into the valley at her feet. Frowning, her falcon eyes followed the slow progress of a cavalcade led by a white man whose spare frame was enveloped in the ample brown folds of the gown worn by the disciples of Saint Francis. Behind the leader the keen eyes of the silent watcher discerned a troop of brown figures driving cattle and sheep, leading horses loaded high with the equipment of the proselytizing expedition. Unwaveringly the eyes followed the slow moving group until the leader halted at a commanding eminence in the plain, at the foot of a slope out of which poured the crystal water of an undying spring. From her vantage point on high the daughter of the doomed race saw the white man kneel down with bowed head, saw his brown companions follow the leader's example, but she did not hear the fervent prayer of Padre Dumetz to Saint Bernard of Sienna, into whose hands the leader commended the fate of the little band of neophytes and whose name he applied to the silent, mountain-rimmed valley of which he was about to take possession. Only when night crept out of the valley's floor, rising until it had swallowed the highest peak, only when out in the center of the plain the red flow of a fire winked at her like the sinister eye of a giant, only then did the daughter of the doomed race give up her lonely vigil.
On the twentieth day of May, one hundred years ago, the Guachamas, the peace-loving, indolent inhabitants of the "Valley of Plenty", on the day of San Bernardino de Sienna, welcomed the ambassador of the Mission San Gabriel, the first white man to erect a building in the shadow of the Arrowhead, the mighty symbol pointing from the grim mountain side into the smiling paradise. A strategic position did the good padre choose for his chapel. On the slope of a hill he built, close to the place where never failing springs sent their water through moist meadows, "cienegas", into the flashing creek. To the north the site commanded an unrestricted view of El Cajon, the entrance to the pass leading through the mountain wall into the country of the martial desert and mountain Indians, the white dome of Mount San Antonio standing guard over the cleft. To the east, where a meandering strip of brilliant white sand, marking the course of the trout-filled river, slashed the green plain, the site faced the twin peaks of Mounts San Bernardino and San Gorgonio into their wintry, sleepy snow cap. To the south, the chapel looked across the valley to the naked brown hills swelling into the crest of the Coast Range, over the shoulder of which peeked Mount San Jacinto, a white cloud on the way to the turbulent Rio Colorado. Only to the west, whence the disciple of St. Francis had come, no barrier intervened between the peaceful vale and the tempered trade winds of the Peaceful Seas.
For two years the maid of the mountain tribe watched the doings of the valley Indians from her rocky perch. About the chapel she saw her kin learn the use of the cumbrous plow, saw the blade tear into the virgin soil, saw the sowers rejoice at the bountiful crops yielded forth by the "Valley of Plenty".
For two years the bell tolled at sunrise and sunset, calling the dusky believers to prayer and to work in the new fields under the guidance of Hipolito, the devout red pupil of the padres left in charge of the outpost. Two years the idyl in the vale of abundance lasted, then the temblors came, shook the earth and aroused the superstitious fear of the Guachamas who fell upon the mission's branch, massacred the brown missionaries and razed the chapel, as an offering to the enraged gods. But they did not destroy the fields. They had learned that the soil was a storehouse of meals to be had for little work, an unfailing source of grain and fruit, and though they drove out the strangers, the Indians remembered the strangers' art and practiced it.
Valley of San Bernardino, Guarded by Mt. San Antonio
A century has elapsed since Hipolito, the padres' faithful pupil, guided the first plow over the unbroken surface of the San Bernardino Valley, over the smiling plain that supplied the wants of the weak, wandering tribe. Today, at the close of the century, the valley supports more people to the square mile than any other district of the same size in the nation. While the ancient states of Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas, into which settlers had been pouring for nigh onto two centuries, were able to wage a war with Great Britain, in 1812, the San Bernardino Valley was a solitude guarded by towering mountains, untilled, unpeopled, save for the feeble efforts of a handful of Indians. And yet, within a century, this far-away spot surpassed in density of population, in the high character of its people, in wealth and in progress any area on the Atlantic Coast three times its age. Where deer grazed in droves in 1810, there rose in 1910 a city of 15,000, the hub of the valley around which, on the high benches along the foothills, cluster a dozen cities and towns rivaling in beauty and attractiveness the far-famed ancient towns of Italy and Spain. Where, a hundred years ago, tolled the lonely bell of the mission chapel, today rises the chorus of a hundred churches, of scores of schools, academies and seats of learning. No farming or fruit-growing district in the United States supports as many families as does the San Bernardino Valley. Europe only approaches the "Land of Plenty" in this respect, but the standard of living is as far above European standards as the peak of San Gorgonio rises above the valley's floor.
Three times the silent watcher from the pine-clad rocks saw the buildings of the padres attacked and left in ruins before the white man gained a permanent foothold in the valley. But the irrigation ditch, the first zanja conveying the water of Mill Creek to the fields and orchards, survived all adversities. When the Paiutes swooped down El Cajon into the rich valley, when the Serranos descended from the heights surrounding the plain, when the indolent Guachamas revolted and went on the war path, they might destroy buildings, goods, kill and steal cattle and sheep, steep their hands in red human blood, but the life-giving zanja survived every raid, every misfortune. When the wide-brimmed sombrero and the jangling spurs of the Mexicans succeeded the cassock, cowl and hood of the Franciscans, the zanja was there to prove to them the wealth lying in the soil, to be had for the taking. They saw, with eyes open, but they heeded not. Instead of lifting the treasure, they were content with the easy profits from the hide and tallow of the cattle, with the wool of the sheep eking out a precarious existence from the cured grass on the hillsides. Like the feudal lords on their domains, the hard-riding sons of Old Spain lived on their princely grants, taking toll of the herds produced without efforts, ever watched by the steady eyes of the daughter of the mountain and desert from her eagle's nest under the pines.
A third of a century the idyll of the Franciscan padres lasted in the Valley of San Bernardino. After lingering on for a decade, it came to an end when, in 1843, the Mission Indians had to give up the lands around the first California settlements and were dispersed to the four winds. As they passed away, there was a stirring in the womb of the green valley. Beneath the sod the hidden wealth, weary of waiting, cried for deliverance.
It did not have to wait long. Already the vanguard of the northern race was looking about, measuring the valley's wealth from snow-clad peak to pine-capped crest, from the heavy scented brush of the foothills to the banks of the leaping brooks traversing it, and these forerunners of the
Handsome, Modern Structures Now Adorn the Streets of San Bernardino
mighty human tide were finding the valley exceedingly good to the eye. Slowly they gained a foothold, buying of the grants of the Spanish liege lords here and there, marrying the olive skinned, black-eyed senoritas, digging their clanging spurs into the dry soil and shrewdly estimating the value of the countless herds. But the dam that held back the tide of northern men did not break until the rattlesnake flag came down and the Stars and Strips were thrown to the western breeze by the conquerors, until the dawn of the days of gold broke over the Sierras.
The yellow hues of the dry grass were swallowed by the grey expanse of sagebrush, the brooks, weary of the long summer, were singing in the tired undertone, the snow had retreated to the farthest heights of the craggy summits, the golden sun was filling the valley with a warm, autumnal haze, the pinon nuts were ripe, the squirrel and quail were fat when the Indian maid for the last time took up her tragic vigil on the edge of the abyss. No friar with cassock and cross did she see. Under her sad eyes a group of bearded, dusty men, long rifles over their shoulders, approaching El Cajon, surrounding a heavy wagon that creaked slowly up the sandy wash of the creek, up and up with heart-broken labor, at a snail's pace, but ever up over the broken trail, indomitable, courageous, unafraid of panting desert and human foe lying in wait for them. The remnant of the Mormon battalion sent to aid in the conquest of California never faltered until the pass had been gained, until a route through the mountain fastness' suitable for teams had been laid out. Then they vanished, only to return three years later, in force, after one of the most remarkable marches across the waterless, pitiless desert recorded in the annals of history. In the center of the undulating plain they laid out a town, and they laid it out well, with broad streets and spacious walks, streets at the end of which appeared a picture of towering mountains in a frame of living green, streets flanked by lots of ample dimensions. With the key of the mountain water they unlocked the storehouse of the valley's wealth and began to lift it out of the fertile soil. When they left four years later, in obedience to a summons from Salt Lake City, they left a foundation broad, strong and firm.
Despite the example of the Mormon pioneers, cactus, grass cured on the stem, lean cattle and woolly sheep for many years remained the chief products of the valley, with the grain area increasing from year to year and the orchards lagging far behind. Only with the steel highway reach Colton in 1875, when the first transcontinental train puffed through the valley six years later, the real metamorphosis, the systematic lifting of the treasure began, accelerated by the coming of the California Southern Railway, the forerunner of the Santa Fe in 1883.
Climb to the rocky eminence whence a century ago the daughter of the mountains watched the hooded friar lead his dusky band into the Vale of Abundance, through the green plain broken only by the silver threads of sparkling brooks, a plain empty save for the occasional huts of the natives, filled with the solitude of the wilderness. Let your eye sweep over the same valley today, after a hundred years have passed over it, into the void of time. Even the odor that rolls up to the heights borne on the wings of the warm wind has changed. Instead of the spicy, penetrating scent of the sage, heavy waves of languid, powerfully sweet perfume, the breath of the golden apples of the Hesperides, break against the foothills, fill the valley from end to end in blossom time, surge to and fro as the breezes of the night shift from point to point, powerful, sweet, languid. The "candle of the Lord", the tall, waxy-white yucca, still lifts its pointed mass of blossoms high above the gray bush cover of the hot hillsides, but in the valley the dark green masses of orange trees, with golden globes and white stars gleaming out of the foliage, have filled the benches and slopes, crawled into the foothills and covered the floor with a tapestry slashed and cross-crossed by the yellow roads. Along the trail up El Cajon where sixty years ago the vanguard of the Mormons fought its weary, footsore way, heavy trains in endless procession thunder past; where the coyote once lifted up his mournful voice, the whistle of the locomotive reverberates from the hills.
The silver threads of the mountain brooks no longer traverse the valley's floor. Tamed and subdued in the mountains, the water pours upon the thirsty soil in a thousand rills, through innumerable ditches and flumes, the daughters of the padres' first zanja.
From the rocky eminence of the Indian maid, the cities and towns, the farm and ranch houses are invisible. Dark masses of trees mark the site of cities, masses of trees pierced here and there by tower or spire, surrounded by smaller patches of tall, ragged, blue-black eucalyptus, avenues of light green pepper trees radiating out from them, somber cypresses guarding the approach to the houses, white roses climbing to their very tip to tone down the solemn dignity of the staid conifers.
Only upon the mountains the soft, silent wings of the century have left no mark, wrought no changes. Today as of yore their ethereal blue mass stands coldly outlined against the sky before the sun rises behind the twin peaks to the east; as of yore, so today the same daily
miracle is wrought as the sun swings to the west and throws the golden stream of its radiance against the glowing, rosy summits, as the purple haze of the evening mist blots out all details of canyon and slope, transforming the mighty masses into towering, gigantic, luminous walls of lavender and blue that rise abrupt, sheer, out of the black velvet of the orange groves.
San Bernardino County Court House
Stand upon the rocky eminence at night. No longer the lonely campfire of the wanderer in the wilderness blinks red through the darkness. Myriads of stars twinkle eternally in the deep, blue firmament above, and myriads of stars twinkle on the black floor of the valley, twinkle from bench to bench, from foothill to foothill, in massed heaps like the Milky Way, in clusters like the constellations above, twinkle singly and in long straight lines, stars born of the leaping brooks in the mountains.
Seventy-five years the Valley of Plenty lay fallow save for the roaming herds and the struggling patches of green produced by the pioneers. Responding to the magic touch of the steel rail it changed its aspect overnight. Today no spot on the wide earth can boast of greater opulence, of greater wealth more evenly divided among multitudes of contented homes and small farms, or more healthful, milder climate and more fertile soil, of greater beauty of surroundings, of better prospects, of more progressive inhabitants than the San Bernardino Valley. No swollen fortunes have sprung from its soil in a day, but each acre has richly rewarded the work of body and brain bestowed upon it by the owner. The Valley of Plenty jealously guards its treasure, giving it forth only when the seeker travels the road of earnest endeavor at the hand of intelligent, well-directed effort. Yea, even today as of yore it is the Vale of Abundance, but only to him who has forgotten the word manana, who has left behind the spirit of siesta, who is not afraid of moving his muscles and stirring his gray matter. To him the San Bernardino Valley offers opportunities as great as those found by the pioneers.
Gone are the days of the indolent, gentle Indians; no longer the bells of Politana ring out the Angelus; only in history do the hooded cassocked padres still have being: the vaquero with his clanging spurs and panting mount has ridden out of the valley; the Spanish grandees, the olive-skinned senoritas in black and red velvet are but a memory; the bearded Mormons, the argonauts and their ox teams, the hordes of the reckless seekers after the yellow metal, they all have traveled to the Great Beyond. Each one in turn left his impress upon the Valley of San Bernardino, each one helped to lay the foundation of the commonwealth. They builded well. Today the San Bernardino Valley marches at the head of the nation's procession of tillers of the soil. On its cultivated area it supports more people and more prosperous homes than any other area of equal size, and this cultivated area exports more products of the soil than any other district of similar size in the country. Nowhere else in the nation are the methods of cultivation, of handling, shipping and selling the product of the soil as advanced as they are in the San Bernardino Valley. Nowhere else is the average intelligence of the producers as high as it is in the heart of the Golden State's orange belt.
These accomplishments of a hundred years are results to be proud of, results that should spur the present generation to still greater efforts to keep the lead and increase it. A great future lies before the valley and its communities, but the promises the future holds out cannot be changed into accomplished results without hard work, both physical and mental. To judge from the performance of the past, these efforts will not be lacking, and the future looks as rosy as the glowing snow peaks in the rays of the setting sun.
Carved and colored by one great Master Hand,
The famed Sierras of Nevada grandly stand
Near old Mojave desert, barren sands,
And rose-clad California's fertile lands;
Snow-crowned, yet ever sun-kissed lift they high
Their hoary summits 'gainst the azure sky.
For untold aeons, since the world was new, they slept,
Yet silent vigils in an untrod realm have kept.
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