The Buddies of Barracks 1089

In my last post I described San Diego County’s reaction to the announcement of the United States entry into the First World War on April 6, 1917. So the month of April marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into that war.

That anniversary will be commemorated later this month by the Rancho Bernardo History Museum. The museum, in the Bernardo Winery, will be mounting an exhibit on Barracks 1089. Officially it was Barracks 1089, Veterans of World War I of the USA, Inc.

Barracks were the names of the local units of a national group originally founded in 1948 as “War 1 Buddies.” It had been almost 50 years since the war but there were enough surviving veterans to found their own unique organization, and they chose to officially address each other as “Buddy” to mark their particular experience and spirit.

That spirit surfaced on the West Coast a little over a decade and a half later in the then-new community of Rancho Bernardo. Carved out of a former working cattle ranch in the early 1960s, Rancho Bernardo had only a few thousand residents in 1965. But in February of that year, when local veterans of World War I were invited to start their own organization, an overflow crowd showed up.

The first meeting was called at a club room at the Seven Oaks Community Center. But as the community center’s February 1965 newsletter reported: “The number of individuals attending the first meeting was so large that future meetings will be held in the auditorium, rather than in one of the clubrooms.”

Barracks 1089 would count 140 members at its peak. The stories of some of those members and their organization will be on display at the museum in a few weeks. I would urge all my readers to check it out. It’s an excellent example of the preservation of a community’s history by the volunteers of our local museums and historical societies.

Source for this post was the archives of the Rancho Bernardo History Museum.

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San Diego Goes to War

On April 6, 1917, the U. S, Congress voted to affirm President Woodrow Wilson’s request for a declaration of war against Germany. This brought the United States into the First World War, which had been raging in Europe since June 1914.

When news of the vote reached San Diego, Mayor Edwin Capps issued a proclamation calling on all citizens to gather in “a great patriotic rally and demonstration” on the afternoon of Monday, April 9, “in the exposition grounds at the organ pavilion.”

According to the proclamation, printed in the April 6 San Diego Evening Tribune, the event was to be arranged “under the auspices of the United Spanish war veterans, that organization now being established by congressional recognition as the nation’s ranking civilian patriotic body since the retirement of the G.A.R. from active official participation in patriotic work.”

At that point in time, the Spanish-American War had been fought just 19 years previously. The initials G.A.R. stood for Grand Army of the Republic, which was the organization of Civil War veterans. So that reference in the proclamation tells us something about the state of those two veterans organizations.

It would be the first of many rallies. In just the first week after the declaration of war local papers reported rallies in San Diego, Coronado, Escondido and Chula Vista. Some 6,000 people participated in a mass meeting April 12 outside the U. S. Grant Hotel, where many signed up to volunteer at a naval recruiting office.

“Not since the early days of the Spanish-American war has this city witnessed such an outburst of patriotism,” stated an article in the April 12 San Diego Union. “Recruiting offices were crowded all day, bands played, flags fluttered, automobiles filled with sailors or soldiers wheeled through the streets exhorting the sons of the Southland to rally to the defense of their country…”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and chronologies of World War I from the CNN Library and Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

The Real Mule Hill

Many readers of this blog may know Mule Hill if for no other reason than that it serves as my cover page. I use it because of its historical significance as the scene of the final engagement in the Battle of San Pasqual, bloodiest battle in the U.S.-Mexican War. There U.S. troops under General Kearny were besieged by Mexican forces under General Pico until they were rescued by reinforcements from the coast.

I also use the image because it presents a snapshot of what most of San Diego County looked like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before urbanization transformed the land. Mule Hill remains in its natural state, preserved today as part of the San Dieguito River Park.

A plaque just off Highway 15, erected in 1950, gives a brief description of Mule Hill’s historical significance. A reference to the Americans occupying “this hill” implies that it refers to the immediately surrounding landscape. But it turned out that for a while a lot of researchers and visitors were climbing the wrong hill, so to speak.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that the actual site of Mule Hill was established. It took a survey led by archaeologists, historians, and U. S. Marine engineers under the direction of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The survey employed aerial mapping and metal detectors among other methods. These methods led to the discovery of artifacts including military clothing items and swords matching materials used by Kearny’s men. They just didn’t find them in the area then designated as Mule Hill, but on a larger hill further west. As survey leader Konrad Schreier stated in a 1975 article written for The Journal of San Diego History; “The evidence demonstrates that the site now designated as Mule Hill is not the correct hill, and that the large hill with the two prominent rock outcrops on its western end is the true Mule Hill.”

Today a plaque and other signage stand in front of the actual site. So what you’re looking at up above, and what you’ll see if you visit there, is truly historic Mule Hill.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Los Angeles newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History, and the archives of the San Diego Archaeological Center.

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Post-Election: 1916

“Hughes Jumps In Lead”

That was the headline at the top of the San Diego Union’s front page on November 9, 1916. The Hughes in question was Charles Evans Hughes, Republican candidate for president, running against incumbent President Woodrow Wilson.

The vote had taken place two days before on November 7, but the results were still not complete at that point. The Union’s banner headline derived from the fact that Hughes had taken a slight lead over Wilson in the national electoral vote total, 239 to 232, as reported on the left column on that page. But the right-hand column on the same page noted that Wilson had pulled ahead of Hughes in the popular vote in California, with totals from western states still coming in.

The Union’s preference in the race may have been given away by another headline on a short article further down on that page: “Hughes Confident; Election Assured.”

Two days later, on Saturday November 11, the race still hadn’t been decided, and the Union ran this curious little item on page 4: “Pay no election bets until after the inauguration, is the advice that is freely given by our office boy.” Keep in mind that in those days, presidential inaugurations didn’t take place until March!

It didn’t take quite that long. In the end, Hughes lost California by just 4,000 votes. Nationwide, Wilson beat Hughes 9.1 million to 8.5 million.

Hughes did win San Diego County, but by just 163 votes out of almost 37,000 votes cast. Here are the 1916 county totals as a snapshot of the county’s population and political sentiments then:

Hughes (Republican):16, 978

Wilson (Democrat) : 16, 815

Benson (Socialist): 1, 612

Hanley (Prohibition): 1, 132

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, the U. S. National Archives and Dave Leip’s U. S. Election Atlas.

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What’s in a name? A hard working farm family named Nordahl.

If you ever happen to be driving over Highway 78 and see the Nordahl Road exit and Nordahl shopping center in San Marcos, know that it was named for the Nordahl family.

Andrew Nicholas Nordahl was born in Sweden in 1835 and went to sea at the age of 18, serving on sailing ships until he decided in 1870 to settle down on land in New York. But he wasn’t through wandering. After two years he headed for Nebraska, where he married another Swedish immigrant, Anna Maria Levin. Six children were born to them in the 21 years they homesteaded there.

In 1893 the Nordahls headed for California, settling in an area of San Diego County then known as Richland. When Andrew Nicholas Nordahl died in 1899, his oldest son, Andrew William, continued running the family farming operation. A 1913 county history book described Andrew’s operation as “general farming, specializing in raising grain,” and also “dairying on a small scale.”

Andrew also played a role in getting other farmers crops produced as well by operating a steam tractor and threshing rig. Threshing machines separated the grain from its cob or husk, cleaned the grain, then gathered or stacked it. The threshing machines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were powered by steam tractors, which were large and often too expensive for the average farmer. So owners of such tractors, in addition to using them on their own farms, rented out their services to other farmers. The archives of the San Marcos Historical Society include photos of the “Nordahl steam engine and threshing rig” at work on various area farms.

Sources for this post included the archives of the San Marcos Historical Society and the 1913 book, San Diego County, California: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress, and Achievement, by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company.

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San Diego in 1860: A Whale of an Economy

industrial-census-1860

The image above is from the 1860 United States Census for San Diego Township, what we would today call downtown San Diego.

In addition to the population tallies the general public is more familiar with, decennial censuses from early times also included separate schedules for agriculture and industry. These schedules are invaluable for researchers. They also provide snapshots of local life at a certain time and place.

This “Products of Industry” schedule, which covers the one-year period from June 1, 1859 to June 1, 1860, is only one page, and lists a total of 5 businesses. Keep in mind that the city’s total population in the 1860 census was, officially, 731 people. And this industrial schedule was measuring those businesses with annual sales of $500 or more. (Note: $500 in 1860 would be roughly $14,000 today.)

Still, we can be forgiven for thinking there might have been some business owners who chose not to respond to the census takers, especially if it might involve divulging information that would make one subject to paying more taxes. But this data is still worth looking at for what it does show about this small city’s economy at that time.

For example, this enumeration sheet reveals that the most lucrative business in the city of San Diego in 1860 was the sale of whale oil. Two businesses, Johnson & Company, and Tilton & Company, whose businesses are described in column 2 as “Whalemen,” produced 1,800 barrels of oil for the year, which they sold for $18,000. That amount (roughly half a million dollars today), is 62 percent of the value of all the products listed. That says something for the value of whale oil, which was an important lighting fuel for homes and businesses in those pre-electricity days.

The next highest total for a business, $7,500, was the year’s take for Kriss & Rose, butchers who sold $6,400 worth of beef, $700 worth of tallow, and $400 worth of hides to their customers. (Note: the “Rose” in that partnership was Louis Rose, from whom Rose Canyon got its name.)

Then came John Compton, harnessmaker, who sold $2,000 worth of items, followed by Van Alst & Brown, carriage makers and blacksmiths, at $1,750.

While harnessmaker Compton was self-employed, all of the other businessnesses employed wage workers, and the sheet gives their total pay for the year as well. But that’s a story for another time.

Sources for this post included the United States Census Bureau and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the book: Louis Rose: San Diego’s First Jewish Settler and Entrepreneur, by Donald H. Harrison.

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A Social Issue in 1904

In California in 1904 liquor licenses were issued at the county level based on the advice and consent of the voters in a particular district. In November of that year the license of the Nuevo Saloon in Ramona was up for renewal.

Just before the election, D. N. Dodson, the editor of the Ramona Sentinel newspaper, expressed this opinion: “With license, a man gets a drink and goes home satisfied. With prohibition, he gets a jug and gets drunk. There is many a dollar that has stopped in Ramona that would have gone on, but for our saloon. Kill it and the dollar will roll out of our reach. Save the boys by voting for a license.”

The “drys,” as prohibition advocates were known then, won the election by 14 votes. In the next edition after the election, Dodson wrote an editorial in which he proposed putting his newspaper up for sale, saying he wished to “retire to a chicken ranch. We like this town and many of its people. We expect to remain here, but we don’t want to wear out trying to build up a town on the dry plan. The only two enterprises that bring in a cent of transient or foreign money to Ramona, outside the hotel, is [sic] the saloon and the Sentinel, but a majority of 14 ‘Roundheads’ show that neither are appreciated. The tyranny of majorities ‘makes the countless thousands mourn.’”

Dodson subsequently calmed down about selling the paper, although he did resign as Ramona’s justice of the peace soon after the election. Eventually the Ramona voters changed their perspective as well.

Sources for this post included the book: Ramona and Round About, by Charles LeMenager and two 1904 San Diego Union articles.

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