The Transformation of Andres Pico

General  Andres Pico, 1846

Andres Pico, circa 1846

Time can bring many changes. Especially when the time includes wars between neighboring nations.

Andres Pico is probably best known in San Diego history as the commander of the Californios against American troops at the Battle of San Pasqual, the bloodiest battle of the Mexican-American War. The battle is still re-enacted here every year and some controversy still swirls over who really won it and which army had the better leader, although most accounts give the edge to Pico.

The battle may still be disputed but the war of course was won by the USA, bringing California under the American flag in 1848. And how many know what became of Andres Pico after that?

In 1849 Pico was among those selected as a delegate to the California Constitutional Convention. Two years later, in 1851, he won election to the state assembly.

His old adversaries clearly recognized his military prowess, because in 1858 he was appointed a Brigadier General in the California State Militia. But Pico proved as adept at politics as he did on the battlefield.

By 1860 he was serving in the state senate from the San Fernando area of Los Angeles. A rundown of state senate business in the Los Angeles Star on February 4, 1860, included this item: “On motion of Mr. Peachy, Don Andres Pico was added to the Committee on Hospitals.”

In April of 1860, the same newspaper, reporting on a bill to re-organize the city’s government pushed through the state assembly with little opportunity for local input, wrote that “Our citizens are much indebted to their Senator, the Hon. Andres Pico, for his watchful care of their interests and his desire to consult their wishes, manifested by forwarding a copy of the bill to this city, and delaying its passage in the Senate until he could hear from his constituency.”

Pico was elected as a Democrat, and was considered a “Buchanan Democrat” as the national party split over the issue of slavery. But two months after Fort Sumter, when he was asked by federal officials to clearly define his stance in the war, Pico declared that he respected “the Constitution and the Union entire, to maintain which I would cheerfully offer as a soldier, my sword, and as a citizen, my fortune.”

When the federal government moved to recruit a battalion of “Native Cavalry” from California for the Union Army, Pico was offered the command. Ill health forced him to turn it down, but he became an important recruiter and fundraiser for the unit which ultimately helped to prevent Confederate incursions into New Mexico and Arizona.

When Andres Pico died in 1876 his funeral was described in the Los Angeles Herald as “one of the most imposing ever seen in this city,” with “fifty carriages and at least a hundred sincere mourners on foot” following his casket, and pall bearers that included the governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles.

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Sources for this post included historic Los Angeles newspapers, the website of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society,  the essay, “California Soldiers in the Civil War,” by Leo Kibby, from the California Historical Society Quarterly, and the book, The Decline of the Californios, by Leonard Pitt.

 

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“The Back Country”

It seems that in San Diego newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, everything north of Old Town was considered “the back country.”

Here’s some proof from the February 7, 1914 San Diego Union. It reported a planned mass meeting later that month of representatives to create a county farm bureau.

In response to a new law creating a cooperative extension service under the Department of Agriculture, counties who organized farm bureaus would get local advisors, working with agricultural colleges (like the then new UC Davis), to provide advice on up-to-date farming methods.

“Ranchers and fruit growers of Lemon Grove organized last night as a branch of the County Farm Bureau, which will co-operate with the promised farm advisor in the development of the back country,” began the article.

A week later, the Union was reporting that the idea for a farm bureau was “leaping like wildfire from center to center all through the county…”

Individual communities were to elect officers to section clubs which were to gather February 20 at the Spreckels Theater to form a countywide organization. Since the project’s initiation, reported the Union, “club after club, numbering ten or more members and each having a president, secretary and treasurer, has been formed by the ranchers of the back country.”

Then it listed all those new clubs in the “back country:”

“Oceanside, Lemon Grove, Fallbrook, Vista, Escondido, El Cajon, Ramona, Julian, Spring Valley and Alpine have all been organized and last night Nestor and Jamacha were added to the number. Organization meetings have been planned for tonight at Chula Vista and Dehesa, and for Wednesday at Lakeside, through the Chamber of Commerce here. The San Ysidro people have organized by themselves. Each of these will elect representatives to the county farm bureau meeting before Friday.”

On February 19 the Union reported that “in order to accommodate the throng of farmers coming in from the back country to attend” the meeting “a special train will be run on the San Diego and Southeastern Railroad.”

On February 20 over 1,500 farmers, many with their families, showed up for morning and afternoon sessions to elect bureau officers and hear speakers such as two deans from the University of California’s Agriculture Program, Thomas Hunt and H.E. Van Norman (the latter also a president of the National Dairy Association), and B. H. Crocheron, state leader of the new agricultural extension program.

“This is beyond comparison the biggest piece of agricultural business that has ever been put through in San Diego County,” reported the Union on February 21. “It means that the farmers scattered over miles of territory have at last united under one banner, that the farming industry has taken unto itself a backbone, and that from now on the progress of one will in a large measure mean the progress of all.”

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Rocks and Flocks on the Poway Grade

“A large band of sheep passed over Poway grade last week, and in consequence the road bed is liberally ballasted with loose stone, to the discomfort of wheelmen and other travelers.”

Poway Progress, August 3, 1895 (Note:”wheelmen” refers to bicyclists.)

Yes, there was a time when traffic jams on the Poway Grade consisted of livestock rather than cars.

In an earlier entry I wrote about Andy Kirkham, a hard working farmer who was also an amateur historian and chronicler of his community, Poway Valley from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. He kept journals throughout his life which he later compiled into manuscripts donated to the archives of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society.

One of those journals described the time in 1898 when 14-year-old Andy joined his father and brother clearing the Poway Grade’s road bed of loose rocks in the wake of a large flock of sheep.

“Whenever a flock of sheep drove down the Poway grade, there would be a lot of rocks rolled down onto the road,” wrote Kirkham. “These flocks would be driven to the northern part of the county in the springtime and return in the fall.”

“It was a full day’s work for father and two of us kids to rake the rocks off the road bed for which the county road department paid three dollars.”

The flocks consisted of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 head, according to Kirkham. And it wasn’t just sheep. There were horse and cattle drives of similar size as well, and Sylvester Mendenhall, who ranched on Palomar Mountain, “would drive hogs on foot to the slaughter yard at Old Town,” wrote Andy.

Kirkham also participated in some of those drives. He described an annual cattle drive from the Poway Valley “to the slaughter yard on the mud flats between old San Diego and the San Diego Bay.” A butcher would come from the city, “spending three or four days, going from one ranch to the other picking out the animals he wanted delivered” down to the yard.

“This was one of the biggest events of the year,” wrote Andy. “Everyone, old and young, men and women, helped to round up the herd.”

It took two days to get all the cattle in one corral. Then, starting out just before dawn, the ranchers would begin driving the cows toward the city.

“It would be afternoon before we’d reach the top of the Poway Grade,” wrote Andy. “From there on, all had to herd them down the road. We had fresh horses from this point and by sundown we had them in the slaughter yard. By the time we had a couple hours rest, we were on our way home.”

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The Blitz Boom

The biggest construction job in San Diego’s history–the Kearny Mesa housing project for defense workers and their families–was contracted for yesterday when the federal works administration awarded a $9,070,000 contract for 3,000 residential units.

San Diego Union, December 13, 1940

They called it the “Blitz Boom,” a term coined by the Saturday Evening Post to describe the surge in defense production in San Diego in 1940. War was raging in Europe. While the United States wasn’t officially involved, Washington had declared a “limited national emergency” in September 1939, calling for “strengthening our national defense within the limits of peacetime authorizations.” At the same time, U.S. defense companies were getting big orders for material from nations fighting the Axis powers, like Great Britain.

How much business were they getting? The September 24, 1940 San Diego Union reported that the total backlog of orders for Ryan Aeronautical and Consolidated Aircraft exceeded the total assessed real estate value for the whole county of San Diego ($231.5 million vs. $221.4 million)!

The production boom of course meant a jobs boom, triggering an enormous migration from across the country to the city of San Diego. Plans for the housing project on Kearney Mesa, whose builders promised “3000 houses in 300 days,” was one of the results. Today we know this community as Linda Vista.

The city didn’t have enough housing even for the people it needed to build the housing. So “defense dormitories” and trailer parks sprouted up in places like the formally rural Mission Valley.

Here’s a photo of a trailer camp for the Linda Vista project workers:

Trailers, FSA defense workers camp, May 1941

FSA photo.

And here’s a photo of the interior of a trailer, with a construction worker and his family:

Family at home at FSA defense workers camp

FSA photo.

By May, 1941, it was reported that there were 1,500 people moving into San Diego each day. And this was seven months before Pearl Harbor.

It was the beginning of a profound change for San Diego City and County.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the Journal of San Diego History and the photo archive of the Library of Congress.

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Threshing Season

It may be hard to imagine San Diego County awash in fields of grain, but from the 1860s to the early 1900s, wheat and barley were big crops.

“The first wheat of the season reached W. W. Stewart’s warehouse Thursday morning from Scott’s ranch in the Rincon district,” began an article in the July 17, 1890 San Diego Union, about the arrival of a mule-train bearing six tons of wheat.

That same article noted that “Threshing is now in progress all over the county, a very large number of men being afforded employment.”

Threshing—separating the grain from its cob or husk, then cleaning it and gathering or stacking it, was already a mechanized process by that time, done by machines powered by steam tractors.

Even with the help of a machine, it was a very labor-intensive process. Threshing crews averaged 18-20 men, and one job could take over a week.

Here’s a photo of a threshing crew in the San Pasqual Valley circa 1888:

Threshing crew 1888

Courtesy Rancho Bernardo Historical Society archives

The threshing rigs were large and too expensive for many smaller farmers. So the owners of such equipment, in addition to using it on their own farms, rented out their services to other farmers as well.

An article in the Poway Progress of August 10, 1895, datelined Encinitas, reported that “the Abel Bros. thresher is reported to be just wading through the numerous hay stacks on the surrounding ranches.”

“Nick Anderson began threshing at home last Monday,” announced the same paper’s “Alpine Affairs” column in July 1896, “finished that job and Tuesday morning pulled out for El Cajon where he has a job for Uri Hill. John Collins and Wilfred Nichols are assisting him.”

Some farmers joined threshing crews moving around the county after their crops were in to earn some extra money. It was hard work, and it could be risky work with sharp edges and sometimes unpredictable steam boilers.

In a not untypical item about one Poway farmer, the Poway Progress reported that “W. S. Flint, who left last week to take a position on a threshing machine, is obliged to lay off for a few days on account of an injury to his hand.”

He was lucky. Reports of more serious injuries from fires or explosions, as well as destruction of crops and equipment, often show up in the press of the day.

“The threshing outfit of Gus Eliason narrowly escaped total destruction by fire on Thursday at Bernardo,” read an article in the August 5, 1906 San Diego Union. “While the crew were at dinner a spark from the engine ignited the grain stack.”

Before the flames were brought under control, ninety sacks of barley were lost, as well as some of Eliason’s equipment. The engine operator, a Mr. Sheets, dragged the machine out of danger “just as the flames were about to lick it up.”

Separating the wheat from the chaff could sure get complicated.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Poway newspapers, the archives of the San Marcos and Rancho Bernardo Historical Societies, and websites for the Library of Congress and History 101.

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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

A replica of the original creamery building at the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead in Escondido will be dedicated on Wednesday, June 4 at 4 p.m. Free to the public. Events include ribbon-cutting, refreshments, tours and a sample of freshly churned butter. For further details email anne@sdrp.org or call 760-432-8318.

 

SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organization) historic home tour of San Diego’s North Park neighborhood Sunday, June 8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For ticket info visit www.SOHOsandiego.org or call 619-297-9327,