The Town I Live In: a History of Fullerton

by Jesse La Tour


In researching the history of my hometown (Fullerton, California), I have encountered two basic types of history books.

The first is what I would call "nostalgic" books. These books treat the past in a rather idealized way. A good example of this is Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast, which is the history of Fullerton I had to read in third grade. An adult example is Fullerton: A Pictorial History by Bob Ziebell. Books like this, usually written by amateur historians (like me!), tend to gloss over or ignore completely the more unpleasant aspects of history, like racism and discrimination. These books tend to avoid critical thinking, preferring to celebrate local politicians, businesses, and cultural traditions. This is their main flaw, in my opinion.

The second type of history book I've found are "academic" ones. While there are no academic books I've found that focus exclusively on Fullerton, there are a handful of academic books and articles on Orange County, and they sometimes discuss Fullerton. These books usually do not ignore the unpleasant aspects of history, but dive deeply into them. A good example of a book like this is Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange County Since WWII. This book is a collection of articles by university professors on a wide range of social, economic, political, and cultural issues in Orange County over the past 50 years. The problem with books like this, however, is that they are written for a very small (i.e. academic) audience and are quite inaccessible to the average reader. Writers will use terms like "decentralized multinucleated metropolitan region" and expect their readers will know what they're talking about. These books and articles may offer fantastic insights into history, but if only a handful of highly educated readers can understand them, what's the point?

In writing my local history, I have sought a third path. I want to write about the past with honesty and critical thinking, AND I want the average reader to be able to read, understand, and enjoy my book. I take as my inspiration historians like Howard Zinn who, in his People's History of the United States, writes about the past in a way that promotes serious reflection AND is quite accessible to a wide audience. That is my goal.

Prologue: Prehistoric Fullerton
"The lesson in all of this, if there is one, would seem to be that the many changes which have occurred in the 200-plus years since written history of this area began—which we are about to review—are minuscule when considered in the greater perspective of the last one million years on life’s landscape.” 
                                 —Bob Ziebell, Fullerton: a Pictorial History

Inside Ralph Clark Regional Park in Fullerton, there is a hidden gem of a museum.  In addition to trails, a pond, and sports fields, the park is home to an interpretive center which has lots of fossils of creatures that roamed this area millions of years ago, like dinosaurs, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and giant sloths.  Recently I spent an afternoon there with my dad.  Here's what we saw...

Millions of years ago, Orange County was under water.  Sea creatures were probably swimming where your house is right now, like this ancient sea lion:

Or this creature...

As the waters slowly receded and the Ice Age began, large mammals entered the area like saber-toothed cats!

Giant wooly Mammoths and Mastodons roamed these lands.  Imagine running into one of these guys on your morning walk...

Look at those chompers! The interpretive center has lots of skulls and tusks.

Giant sloths are not mythical creatures.  They lived here too.

There were weird looking horse-things here too.

A bit later on, bison roamed these lands.  Now we're talking thousands, not millions of years ago.  If you ever saw that movie Dances With Wolves, you know what happened to American bison.  Stupid yankees!

Paleontology is an important branch of science, involving careful documentation, excavation, and research.

Can you dig it?

Local History at The Bowers Museum

The Bowers is one of the premier local repositories for artifacts of Orange County history, all the way from native Americans, through Spanish colonization and the missions, to Mexican rule, to American conquest.  There are photographs, clothing, and other objects of historical importance.  I began in the room dedicated to the native tribes of southern California, Orange County's original inhabitants.

The tribe which inhabited this area were known as the Kizh.  The tribe is often erroneously called the Tongva, or Gabrielinos.  But I recently met the chief of the tribe, Ernie Salas, and he assured me that they are called the Kizh, so that is what I will call them.  The Kizh were expert basket weavers, and the museum contains some lovely examples of this.  This one was my favorite:

There is an interesting display of "cogs" which are stone carvings.  The exhibit explained that these "cogs" are a mystery, and their purpose remains unknown.  I will be sure to ask the Kizh chief about this next time I see him.

The Kizh lived in this area for thousands of years, quite sustainably.  But then, beginning in the 1700s, waves of conquest would permanently (and tragically) disrupt and alter their lives.  The next exhibit room documents this sad history: From Spanish colonization to American conquest.

Here's a timeline of this history (with pictures and explanations):

1769: Father Junipero Serra (a Spanish Franciscan) arrives and founds the first Mission, San Diego de Alcala.  Serra goes on to found many missions in California, which seek to convert the "heathen savages" and teach them the "superior" ways of European civilization.  

1770: Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish soldier sent by the King of Spain to colonize California, leads a company of troops up California to Monterey, claiming the land for Spain (The land did not, in fact, belong to Spain).  Here's a statue of Portola on the grounds of the Bowers Museum.  He looks to be in a conquering mood.

1771: Mission San Gabriel is founded.  Despite the romanticized portrayal of the missions we learn in fourth grade, the California Missions were basically slavery for native Americans.  They were absolutely awful, and succeeded mainly in decimating the local tribes, like the Kizh, and eradicating a culture and language that had existed for thousands of years.  One result of the missions is that the Kizh language is completely gone.  No one alive today speaks it.

1776: Mission San Juan Capistrano, another institution of slavery and cultural desolation, is established.

1781: Pueblo of Los Angeles is founded as a farming community by a group of settlers from the Sinaloa and Sonora regions of Mexico.

1806: Jose Antonio Yorba, a soldier who served under Gaspar de Portola,  is granted a Spanish land grant which encompasses large portions of present-day Orange County.  The land had been taken from the Kizh people by this point.  His son, Bernardo Yorba (whom Yorba Linda is named after) would continue to manage the large family estate.  Here's a portrait of Bernardo Yorba (Dig those mutton chops!):

1812: The San Juan Capistrano Mission church is destroyed by an earthquake.

1821: Mexico wins its independence from Spain.  Alta California becomes a Mexican province.  Here's a photograph of Governor Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, with some family members.  Pio Pico was half black.  See, California has a pretty progressive history (sort of).

1833: John Forster arrives in California.  Forster was a conniving piece of shit.  He was a Yankee who applied for Mexican citizenship, became catholic, changed his name to Juan, and married governor Pio Pico's sister Ysidora.  Pico gave Forster huge land grants around present day San Juan Capistrano.  And how did Forster repay his brother-in-law? By assisting the Americans in the Mexican-American War, which resulted in Mexico losing California.  Nice.

1834: The California Missions are "secularized" (Meaning they no longer belong to the Catholic church).  Who do they belong to?  Well, "Juan" Forster got Mission San Juan Capistrano and started calling himself Don Juan Capistrano.  What a douche.

1847: General Andres Pico, brother of Pio Pico, surrenders California to the Americans at the Treaty of Cahuenga in Los Angeles, after a bloody two-year armed struggle.  California will soon become part of the United States.

Four Eras of Local History

I. Native American Era (8000 B.C.E. - 1769)

For over 8000 years, the area currently known as Orange County was inhabited by native American tribes known as the Kizh (in the north) and the Acjachemen (in the south).  They lived sustainably and developed their own culture, language, arts, and trade systems.

II. Spanish Era (1769-1821)

In 1769, Spanish conquistador Gaspar de Portola, along with Franciscan missionaries like Junipero Serra, began conquering and colonizing the land for Spain and the Catholic church.  They built missions and forts, enslaved the Kizh and Acjachemen peoples, and began the process of decimating a culture that had existed for millennia.  Having already conquered most of Latin America, the Spanish were very efficient at this.

III. Mexican Era (1821-1848)

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, after a costly war.  At this time, Mexico also included the present-day American states of California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado.  The Missions were “secularized” (i.e. taken from the Catholic church) and largely abandoned, or incorporated into Mexican farming “ranchos.”

Before the Mexican-American War

IV. American Era (1848-present)

The United States saw it as their “Manifest Destiny” to conquer the North American continent from Atlantic to Pacific, and that meant taking mucho land from Mexico.  So, from 1846-1848, under president James K. Polk, the U.S. waged the Mexican-American war, which resulted in Mexico losing half its country to the USA, with the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo.  To assuage our guilty consciences about taking all this land by conquest, the U.S. paid Mexico 15 million dollars.  California became a state of the Union in 1850, and remains so today.

After the Mexican-American War

Chapter 1: First Inhabitants

In 1939, the United States Works Progress Administration (WPA) sponsored an archeological dig in Fullerton on what was then the Sunny Hills Ranch (a vast orange grove owned by the Bastanchury family).   The excavation, one of several throughout Southern California in the 1930s, happened near the intersection of what is now Commonwealth and Brookhurst Avenues on an area called Sunny Hills Site No. 1. 

Participants in the dig included School Superintendent Louis Plummer, two archeologists, and a few hired hands.   During the dig, they uncovered many Native American artifacts belonging to the local tribe.  Louis Plummer compiled the findings of the study into a small book, which is available for view in the Launer Local History room of the Fullerton Public Library.   

Some of the artifacts uncovered included: stone grinding bowls, hand hammers, shell knives and other objects of everyday life.  Somewhat disturbingly, the archeologists also uncovered a single object of Spanish origin--a metal spear point.

After reading about this village site, I went on an Indiana Jones-style hunt for its location with my dad, using the hand-drawn 1939 map I’d photocopied from Plummer’s report.  Instead of finding any kind of plaque or museum, however, we only found a housing development.  Sadly, I suspect that this is the story with most Native American village sites in Orange County.

Anticlimactic as it was, this little archeological adventure further piqued an interest I’ve had for the past several years, as I’ve been researching the history of Fullerton. Who were Fullerton’s first inhabitants? Who were the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years before any European or American arrived? 

It’s interesting that, for many Californians, Native Americans are almost absent from our imaginations. Growing up, when I thought of native people, I thought of distant, faraway places like the Great Plains or the Black Hills or New Mexico.  But the truth is that California was the most populous area in North America for Native Americans.  Prior to European contact, it’s estimated that the place we now call California was home to over 300,000 native peoples and over 100 distinct tribes and languages.

The tribe that occupied North Orange County and Los Angeles has been called different names over the years. Historians often refer to them as Gabrielenos or Gabrielinos, because that’s what the Spanish missionaries (like Father Junipero Serra) called them, after Mission San Gabriel.  The Spanish adopeted a policy of re-naming California Indian tribes after nearby missions.  According to Wikipedia, the local tribe is called the Tongva.  But is Wikipedia always correct? 

Growing up in Fullerton, I was required to read a book in 3rd grade called Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast, which is a history of the town, written for children.  I recently re-read this book, and was somewhat disturbed by this passage:  “Sometimes people ask, ‘What happened to the Indians?’ As far as anyone knows, there are no Gabrielenos Indians left in Fullerton.” 

While this may be technically true, it implies a great lie: there are no more local native people left anywhere--no more Gabrielenos.  I know this is a lie because I’ve actually met the chief of the local tribe. His name is Ernie.

A few years back, I attended a fascinating event at the little Paleontology Museum located inside Ralph Clark Park in Fullerton. The event was about Orange County's "prehistory," and (to my astonishment) actual, living Gabrieleno Indians were there, including their chief, Ernie Salas, and tribal historian, Timothy Poyrena-Miguel.

Ernie Salas, Chief of the Kizh

I sat down with the tribal historian, Timothy.  I didn't have any agenda or prepared questions.

"Tell me about your people," I said and, man, did he have a story to tell.

The history of the Kizh people goes back thousands of years.  For millennia, they had developed a complex and beautiful culture, which included religion, astronomy, rich and varied cuisine, economy, and social structure.  They developed ingenious ways to live sustainably off the land and its natural resources.  The name of the tribe, Kizh, comes from the dome-like dwellings they lived in.  They had tools, technology, clothing, handicrafts, dances.  They were one of two California tribes who mastered boat-building, and traveled along the coast of Southern California.

Ernie blows the concha, to gather the tribe together.

In the 1700s, Spain began to colonize California, and thus began the long journey of suffering for the Kizh people.  Contrary to what we learn in school and on field trips to California Missions, the Spanish were not a benevolent presence in California.  The missions they established were like concentration camps, where Indians were forced to live as slaves, and abandon their three thousand-year tradition of sustainable living.  Violence and disease decimated the local native populations.  Many Kizh women were raped by Spanish soldiers and died of syphilis.  Timothy compared Spanish figures like Father Junipero Serra to Nazis, in the way they systematically destroyed native cultures and lives.

Both Timothy and I expressed our frustration that the California Missions are taught to children in public schools as benevolent, even quaint examples of California history.  The California Missions were west coast slavery for Native Americans.  Why don't we tell our children the truth?

Things did not improve for Native Americans when Mexico won its independence, nor when the United States conquered California.  Under American rule in the 1800s, Indian scalps would fetch a nice reward.  Timothy told me the story of a whole Kizh village rounded up into a valley near where the Rose Bowl is today, and blasted with guns and cannons.  Some children managed to escape, and found shelter among Mexican-American families in the San Gabriel area.  Children of slain parents were adopted by Mexican-American families, and this is why Many Kizh people today have Spanish/Mexican surnames.

Due to widespread racism, these children feared to identify themselves as Indian, stopped speaking their native language, and learned Spanish or English.

One result of all this suffering and bloodshed was the eradication of the Kizh language.  Timothy told me they have some words and songs that were passed down orally, but no one alive today speaks their native language.

As I listened to Timothy tell the story of his people, I felt a heaviness in my chest, a complex mixture of sadness, outrage, and compassion.  It is this last bit, compassion, that I hope to evoke with my writings.  If we don't know their history (and most people don't know Kizh history), we do not feel compassion.  But, in listening to their stories, harrowing and horrific as they are, we develop a strong sense of compassion.  We pay for the crimes of our ancestors, but we do not have to repeat those crimes.  The act of storytelling can be a powerful, healing force.  It is my hope that, in listening and sharing stories like this, a new chapter in the Kizh story may open, one of understanding, healing, and reconciliation.


I would like to talk about origins, both mythical and historical.  I begin with a version of the Kizh creation story, as told to Father Geronimo Boscana, who lived with Kizh people in the days of Spanish California.

The Kizh Creation Story

Before this world was, there existed one above, and another below. These two were brother and sister. The one above was the heavens, and the one below was the earth. All below was dark, without sun, moon, or stars. The brother went to the sister, and brought the light, and they were married.

Their first offspring was earth and sand, followed by rocks and stones, then trees and shrubbery, herbs and grass. Then came the animals. Finally was born a special being called Wewyoot. He became king, or grand captain, of the first family, who were a species of talking animals. Wewyoot had many children, both male and female, and they spread all over the earth.
When Wewyoot became old, his subjects formed a conspiracy to destroy him, believing that he was too old to govern. They poisoned his drink, and he immediately became sick, and left the mountains where he had lived, and went to the sea shore.

His mother (the Earth), hearing of the danger to her son, mixed for him a remedy, which she prepared in a large shell. Unfortunately, the trickster Coyote, attracted to the spot by its fragrance, overturned it, and thus doomed Wewyoot, the world’s first chief, to die.

After Wewyoot’s death, there appeared among his followers a ghost-like figure, appearing and disappearing, sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another. Finally, they asked this mysterious figure if he was their Captain Wewyoot.

"I am not Wewyoot," he said, "but a captain of greater power; and my name is Chengiichngech. My habitation is above.” As it turned out, this Chengiichngech was the ultimate creator-god of the universe.

Chengiichngech gave power to Wewyoot’s desdendents to be shamans, and endowed them with the ability to cause it to rain, to influence the dews, to produce acorns, to create rabbits, ducks, geese, deer—so they would have food to eat.  The descendents of these first shamans still exist, and are crucial to ensuring a steady food supply.

Then Chengiichngech created man and woman, forming them of clay found upon the borders of a lake. Humans of the present day are descendants of these first ones. Chengiichngech also gave the humans a moral code to live by—how to treat each other properly, how to care for the earth. If people didn’t do good, then Chengiichngech would send “Avengers” in the form of serpents, bears, and other creatures to chastise mankind.  He also taught them rituals to maintain proper connection to the spiritual world.

Chengiichngech’s first commandment was to build a temple, called a yovaar, which existed in every Kizh village. It was a sort of “intermediary zone” between this world and other worlds, where there dwelled gods and demons. The yovaar was important during all special events and rituals of the tribe, involving puberty, marriage, the harvest, and the seasons.

The name Chengiichngech means "all-powerful" or "almighty.” He was actually known by different names, which related to his ability to dance. When he could not dance, he was called Saor. When he first learned to dance, he was called Quaguar. And finally, when he could dance really well, enrobed in a dress composed of feathers, with a crown upon his head, and his face painted black and red, he was called Tobet. Once, while dancing in this costume, he was taken up into heaven, to the stars. His final order was that, during their grand feasts, people should dress and dance like him.

Archeological Origins

The Kizh are the descendents of the first peoples to migrate to North America across the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age.  Archeologists still debate the exact dates of this migration, but the largest wave is believed to have occurred between 16,000 and 13,000 years ago.

The oldest archeological data from Southern California comes from the Channel Islands, and shows that human culture existed there at least 10,000 years ago. Additionally, San Clemente Island was occupied by 7,785 B.C. and San Nicolas Island by 6,210 B.C.

Evidence suggests that the Kizh were not the original inhabitants of the Los Angeles/Orange County basin, but in fact were part of waves of migration of Uto-Aztecan peoples from the Great Basin region of Utah, Nevada, California.  Archeologists disagree about the time of this arrival, placing in between 2,000 B.C. and 500 A.D.

During this period, archeologists have discovered increased use of bows and arrows, larger settlements/communities, and regional subcultures. The Kizh/Gabrieleno were one of the largest of these Uto-Aztecan groups.

In his book The First Angelinos, historian William McCawley describes the Kizh as “a people of material wealth and cultural sophistication.”

As for their territory and population, McCawley writes, “They inhabited a vast tract of some of the most fertile and productive land in California, and prior to contact with Europeans their population may have grown to more than 5,000 people living in 50 to 100 towns and settlements on the mainland and on the southern Channel Islands. Their territory stretched from Topanga Canyon in the northwest, to the base of Mount Wilson in the north, to the San Bernadino vicinity in the east, and to the Aliso Creek vicinity near El Toro Road in the southeast, encompassing in all more than 2,500 square miles…the prestige and political strength of the Gabrielino were enhanced by impressive achievements in pre-industrial technology and economics, as well as religion and oral literature.”

Tribal Leadership (The Tomyaar)

The following is part of a series of articles on the native American tribe who were the original inhabitants of Los Angeles and North Orange County, including Fullerton. They are called the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians Kizh Nation (or just “Kizh”). The source for the following information is an excellent book called The First Angelinos by William McCawley.

Prior to European contact, the total Kizh population is estimated at around 5,000. These were organized into communities/villages which were usually between 50 and 100 people.

The chief of each village was called a tomyaar, and he was also the head of a family lineage. Tomyaars formed alliances with other villages and tribes (sometimes through marriage) for purpose of trade and peaceful co-existence (shown through ritual exchange of gifts and large inter-tribal celebrations).

According to McCawley, “The tomyaar was the focus of the religious and secular life of the lineage and community, serving as chief administrator, fiscal officer, religious leader, legal arbitrator, and commander-in-chief. Tomyaars were usually 30-35 years in age when elevated to office.”

The tomyaar’s position was hereditary, passing from father to eldest son, though there were sometimes female tomyaars.

Duties of the Tomyaar

One of the most important duties of the tomyaar was to manage the economic affairs of the village, particularly collecting and distributing food. Those who hunted animals and gathered plants and seeds would give part of their bounty to the tomyaar for food reserves. These food stores would be used to feed the poor, and the community in times of shortage. Mismanagement of food stores was a serious offense that could be punished by death.

Another of the tomyaar’s primary duties was to be a leader of trade and relations with other tribes. Good relations were maintained through the ritual exchange of shell beads, which were like currency. There was a vast network of inter-tribal relations with neighbors like the Cahuilla, Serrano, Chumash, Salinans, and others. These ritual exchanges were a way to prevent conflict and war, and provided avenues for obtaining food in times of shortage (through trade).

In addition to being the political leader of his community, the tomyaar was also a religious leader, managing “the ritual interaction between his lineage or community and the supernatural world.” For example, he would “preserve and maintain the ritual implements stored in the ‘sacred bundle’ (a length of reed matting in which ceremonial objects were wrapped) and to schedule the dates for religious celebrations.”

The Source of the Tomyaar’s Authority

McCawley explains that “the tomyaar’s prestige and authority derived in large measure from his knowledge of, and access to, supernatural power…As he was descended from a line of leaders, some ability to handle power was inborn.”

He was spiritually connected to the legendary “First Chief” Wewyoot and the supernatural being Eagle: “In ritual performances the tomyaar often served as an intermediary with the supernatural world by assuming the identity of Eagle. In such performances the tomyaar wore a ceremonial skirt sewn from the feathers of an eagle and performed dances which symbolized a soul’s magical flight into the afterworld” (McCawley).

To show his sacred authority, the the tomyaar’s house was built right next to the yovaar (sort of like a temple), which was “the most sacred and powerful location within the community.” He was one of a few people who was allowed to enter the yovaar.

The Installation Ritual

Much of Kizh life involved sacred rituals, and the installation of a new tomyaar was no different. When a new tomyaar was to be installed, there was a large festival in which inhabitants of neighboring tribes and communities were invited.

During the installation ceremony, the new chief’s body was painted black with ash from a charred feather. He was enrobed in a feather skirt and a crown of feathers. He entered the sacred yovaar and began a ceremonial dance, accompanied by singers who chanted to music of turtle shell rattles.

Visiting tribal leaders also joined the dance, and the new tomyaar continued until fatigue overcame him. After the ceremony, the new tomyaar was acknowledged by all, and everyone celebrated with a massive feast/party that lasted three or four days.

The Council of Elders

Like all good leaders, the tomyaar was not alone.  He was assisted in his duties by a Council of Elders, which was composed of other leaders in the community, each of whom had his own important role.

Members of the Council of Elders included:

Paxaa: The announcer, treasurer, and general assistant, who also sometimes delivered moral lectures.

Maanet: Who was responsible for preparing Maanet, the hallucinogenic Datura drink used by shamans and taken during certain rituals.

Firetender: Tended the fire during ritual gatherings and feasts.

Rabbit Drive Official: Involved in communal hunts.

Messengers: Who were trained to carry messages from one chief to another—required a retentive memory.

Storytellers: “It was the duty of the storyteller to memorize the oral literature of the community and be able to repeat it word-for-word, thus preserving the historical, traditional, and sacred knowledge of the community” (McCawley).

Taakwa: Who managed elaborate mourning ceremonies (including those following the death of a tomyaar), and distributed food after communal hunts.

The Shaman

The following is part of a series about the original inhabitants of Los Angeles and north Orange County (including Fullerton), called the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians Kizh Nation (or just Kizh). In my last article, I discussed the role of the tribal leader, called the tomyaar. In this article, I’ll discuss the role of shamans, or spiritual leaders, in Kizh society. This information is taken from William McCawley’s excellent book The First Angelinos.

Shamans existed in many ancient and indigenous cultures around the world. According to McCawley, “shamans were an integral part of the political, economic, legal, moral, and religious affairs of the community.” They served as doctor, psychotherapist, philosopher, intellectual, and mediator with the spirit world.”

In Kizh society, shamans could be men or women. An important female shaman was Toypurina who famously attempted a revolt against the Spanish at Mission San Gabriel in 1785.

The most powerful shamans, it was believed, could transform themselves in to animals, especially bears.

There existed, among southern California tribes, shamanic associations which provided “a regional framework of religious and political authority.” The Kizh shamanic association was called the yovaarekem.

Before becoming a shaman, a person received a “Divine Call” in the form of a dream. They then went through a difficult apprenticeship. McCawley explains, “In cultures throughout the world, the shamanic initiation typically involves a series of trances, during which the candidate undergoes ordeals of suffering, death, and rebirth at the hands of supernatural beings.”

Each shaman had a “guardian spirit” which resided in his/her body (usually the heart). A guardian spirit could be an animal, a natural force (like thunder or lightning), a supernatural creature, or a plant.

One of the powers of shamans was “magical flight” in which a shaman would leave their body and commune with other realms for various purposes such as obtaining supernatural help for the community, learning about the universe, leading the souls of the dead to the afterworld, and curing disease.

This magical flight was accomplished through the ingestion of the hallucinogenic plant datura (also called jimson weed), which was also ritualistically used in Asia, Africa, and medieval Europe.

It was common for shamans to carry “power objects” imbued with supernatural force, such as wands, animal skins, plants, minerals (like quartz crystals), charmstones, pipes, and effigies (stones carved in the form of whales, fish, birds, mammals, canoes, and abstract shapes). A large collection of effigies was discovered in 1962 in Santa Monica canyon.

Shamans also had “extensive knowledge of astronomy and cosmology that they used to predict the future and schedule religious festivals” (such as the summer solstice). Kizh society developed solar and lunar calendars as well as star charts.

Shamans were also “responsible for preserving sacred and historical knowledge contained in the oral literature. This knowledge was passed on by word of mouth and memorized by each generation. Certain males were trained from youth as bards, or storytellers, with the ability to memorize long stories and orations and repeat them word-for-word.”

Shamans were also powerful healers. Kizh herbalists used a wide variety of natural resouces for curing disease such as yerba de pasmo, chilicote, wild tobacco, chuchupate, saltgrass plant, elder pitch, wild rose, coastal sagebrush, oak bark, datura, and the meat of the mud turtle. Other treatment methods included massage, sweating, rest, hypnosis, surgery, and ritual singing.

For many diseases, an ordinary herbalist was sufficient; however in cases of serious maladies such as “soul loss” a shaman was required to undergo magical flight “to retrieve the lost soul and return it to the owner’s body.”

Because shamans possessed such power, “society had a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward them. Supernatural power could be used for evil as well as good…the abuse of supernatural power could result in severe punishment and even death.”

There exists in Kizh oral literature the story of two brothers who were powerful shamans. A tomyaar at San Gabriel paid them to curse/destroy his enemines. Consequently, an epidemic of disease struck the area and people started dying. When the community learned of the cause, they sent a war party to Catalina Island, where the shamans were hiding. A great battle ensued and the shaman brothers were killed because they had used their power for evil.

Environment and Economy

The Kizh homeland, McCawley explains, “offered an environment rich in natural resources. This wealth of resources, coupled with an effective technology and a sophisticated system of trade and ritual exchange, resulted in a society that was among the most materially wealthy and culturally sophisticated of the California Indian groups.”

Because the Kizh inhabited such a large area, natural resources varied widely among settlements. There were at least nine distinct habitats, stretching from the mountains to the ocean, each with their own unique natural resources.

The Kizh territory was also at the center of an extensive network of trade with other tribes that stretched eastward to the Colorado River and westward as far as San Nicolas Island. These trading partners included the Cahuilla, Serrano, Luiseno, Chumash, and Mojave tribes.

To facilitate this trade, there would be large inter-tribal gatherings that included feasts, dances, and ritual exchange of shell bead currency. Various tribes and lineages would join together in ceremonial; political; economic alliances.

Animal Resources

The main natural resources of the Kizh may be divided into three types: animal, plant, and mineral. Animal resources included deer, antelope (a kind of mountain goat), coyote, wolves, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, birds, snakes, and wildcats.

Animal meat was prepared in a variety of ways, including jerking, roasting, boiling, and baking. Skins and pelts were used for clothing, containers, and blankets.

Other useful tools made from animals including needles, fishhooks, awls, bows, whistles, flutes, and rattles.

According to McCawley, the Kizh were expert hunters, “and their weapons and technology reflected a versatile set of strategies for utilizing animal resources to the best advantage. Large animals were hunted with bow and arrow, while small animals were taken with traps, snares, nets, slings, and throwing sticks.”

Kizh hunters also used ingenious decoy headdresses made from deer heads—to mimic deer and allow them to get close.

Insects often served as a kind of “fast food” and included grasshoppers, larvae of bees, wasps, ants, and beetles.

Among the coastal communities, fish and sea mammals (whales, seals, sea otters) provided excellent sources of food. Shellfish like abalone, oysters, and clams were also eaten.

In addition to being expert hunters, the Kizh (like their Chumash neighbors to the north) were expert seafarers and fishermen. They built sturdy plank canoes (called a te’aat) which could hold 8-10 people on fishing and sea voyages.

Seafaring was still a risky activity, however, so Kizh mariners “sought aid from the supernatural world to help them in their efforts.” They would carry stone carvings which “may have served as talismans that were used to channel supernatural power from a guardian spirit or dream helper to an individual.”

“These carvings represent sensitive works of art,” McCawley explains, “as well as testaments to the religious beliefs and faith of Gabrielino seafarers.”

Plant Resources

Trees supplied the wood used for building Kizh homes and for manufacturing bows and arrows, spears, harpoons, bowls, platters, dishes, and canoes.

Tule reeds (or bulshrues) were used to make houses, reed canoes, baskets, and various containers.

Acorns provided a staple food with a high nutritional value. The Kizh developed techniques to leech out tannic acid and make acorns palatable, allowing them to be ground into a mush or made into cakes. Acorns were usually collected in the fall in “an intense, cooperative communal effort.”

Other plant foods included: chia seeds, roots, bulbs, wild hyacinth, clover, wild sunflower seeds, cholla cactus seeds, and wild tobacco.

The Kizh were known as expert basket-weavers, making baskets that were both useful and artistic. Baskets would be woven with both geometric and realistic designs in three colors: red, green, and black—made from natural pigments.

Mineral Resources

The Kizh homeland also included “a variety of useful minerals…and these played a large role in the development of trade and manufacturing.”

Soapstone was used to make cooking vessels and religious effigies (small statues). Flint was used to make arrowpoints, small drills, and knives. Slate was used in soapstone quarries to make picks, saws, and choppers. Granite was used to make mortars and bowls for grinding.

Crystals were used for religious or ritual implements. Asphaltum (tar) was used as an adhesive, and for waterproofing containers.

“Much of the asphaltum,” McCawley explains, “was collected as it floated ashore from marine seepages, although an alternative source was the tar pools at La Brea.”

Clays were also used to make ceramics, body paint, and soaps.

With so many natural resources and such an advanced system of trade and manufacturing, it’s no wonder that early ethnographer Alfred Kroeber called the Kizh “the wealthiest and most thoughtful of all the Shoshoneans of the State.”

Rituals and Ceremonies

As with every culture, the Kizh celebrated and honored significant personal and community events (the birth of a child, the onset of puberty, marriage, death, the change of seasons) with specific rituals and ceremonies that were rich with meaning.

Rites of Passage at Birth

 “Immediately following delivery,” McCawley writes, “newborn babies were given a ritual drink of urine [as part of a purification rite] and were displayed to the community.” The umbilical cord was then cut, removed, and secretly buried, sometimes in the child’s home.

If a baby was born to a tomyaar (tribal leader), it was bathed by several elderly midwives who then drank the rinse water, and danced around the father.

Boys were named by their grandfathers, and girls were named by their grandmothers.

Rites of Passage at Puberty

Both boys and girls underwent special rites of passage at puberty. These rites prepared them “to accept the responsibilities of adulthood and membership in the community.” It also provided an occasion for passing along traditions to a new generation.

Boys and girls’ puberty ceremonies differed. Boys underwent “a ritual death” to be reborn as a new man possessing sacred knowledge.” The rite of passage also established “a special relationship with a spiritual protector or guardian spirit.”

The boys’ rite of passage lasted three days, during which initiates ingested datura, a powerful hallucinogenic plant usually taken by shamans. The boys would sing and dance around a fire, inducing a ‘trance’ state until they were too tired to stand.

“During this hallucinogenic trance,” McCawley explains, “the boys were watched over by a number of older initiates who admonished them to stay awake and observe their visions carefully, and to remember the instructions given to them by their guardian spirits.”

Initiates received instructions on ritual practices, and listened to lectures describing the standards of behavior imposed by the creator-god Chengiighngech.

Other rituals associated with the boys’ rite of passage involved leaping from stone to stone along a dug-out trench, being branded on the right arm, and being whipped with nettle branches and stung by ants to strengthen courage and fortitude.

“The girls’ puberty ceremony,” McCawley explains, “not only prepared the participants for their future roles as wives and mothers, but also announced their approaching eligibility for marriage.”

While the boys’ rites of passage focused on courage and fortitude, the girls’ rites of passage emphasized ritual seclusion and purification.

During the girls’ purification ceremony, initiates sat in a dug-out hole, on a heated bed of fragrant brush for two or three days, and were permitted to eat very little. The hole was adorned with feathers, beads, and other items.

Older women would sing songs around the hole while younger women danced.

After this, each girl’s face was painted and she was adorned with necklaces, bracelets and anklets. The girls’ rite of passage ended with a foot race to a large rock, where pictographs were painted.

The final part of the ritual, for both boys and girls, involved the creation of a sand-painting which was a representation of the universe.

Courtship and Marriage Rituals

Marriages created alliances between families, lineages, and communities. Ordinary men took one wife, but a tomyaar might take multiple wives.

When a man wanted to marry a woman, he might approach her and say, ‘I wish to wed you’ or ‘We are to be married.’ If the girl was interested, she might reply, ‘It is well’ or ‘I will inform my parents and you shall know.’

Sometimes, the girl’s parents were approached first, either by the suitor, or a professional matchmaker. There were also arranged marriages, and occasionally marriage by kidnapping.

Courtship involved a ritual exchange of gifts (such as fur, beads, and seeds).

The actual marriage ceremony would last three to four days. “As the ceremony commenced,” McCawley writes, “the bride, adorned in beads, furs, feathers, and paint, travelled to her spouse’s home accompanied by several shamans and older women sent by the groom. Everyone joined in a joyous dance. The groom’s family met the bride’s halfway and led them the rest of the way.

At the groom’s home, the bride was undressed and she remained naked throughout the ceremony. Baskets of seeds were emptied over the heads of the bride and groom to denote blessing and plenty.

After the ceremony, as with most weddings today, there was dancing.

Death and Mourning Ceremonies

The Kizh believed that the soul of a dead person lingered around his/her former home until released by the performance of the proper ceremonies. Thus, the death of an individual “initiated a series of rituals intended to free the spirit of the deceased from this world and aid it in its journey to the land of the dead.”

The land of the dead differed depending on one’s social status. For tomyaars and shamans, it was Tokuupar (the heavens, where they became planets and stars).

For others, who were not of noble rank, it might be the borders of the sea, or the hills, mountains, valleys, or forests. Other accounts describe the land of the dead as Shiishonga, which lay either below the earth or on an island in the west. There was a belief that the first Indian settlers came here from the north and were led by a chief who they believe now lives on an island and who lives forever.

“To reach the land of the dead,” McCawley explains, “a soul underwent a series of trials that tested its courage and moral strength.”

Funeral ceremonies generally lasted three days. The corpse was carried to a cemetery or place of cremation (the Kizh practiced both cremation and burial) as the community followed in procession, playing instruments and singing mournful songs.

In the case of burial, grave offerings such as seeds, pots, otter skins, baskets, wood, bone, and shell beads might be buried with the body. In the case of cremation, all the articles owned or used by the deceased were burned with the body.

After the burial or cremation, shamans sang songs recounting the course and outcome of the disease, and mourners covered their face and hands with ash as a sign of grief. Hair was cut depending on one's relation to the deceased. A mourning period of one year was observed.

In addition to the funeral ceremonies, the Kizh also observed an Annual Mourning Ceremony to honor the souls of the dead, which was held in conjunction with the Harvest Festival.

The ceremony, which usually lasted eight days, was characterized by elaborate rituals involving singing, dancing, and telling the story of the death of Wewyoot, the mythical first chief.

As part of the Mourning Ceremony, an elaborately-dressed young man (who may have been a representation of the creator-god  carried Chengiichngech) would dance and undertake a “magical flight” to lead the souls of the dead into the afterworld.

Seasonal Rituals and Ceremonies

The changing of the seasons was often the occasion for celebrations, rituals, and ceremonies.

At midsummer, in celebration of the summer solstice, shamans would dig a hole, and insert something called a “sun stick” (a wooden shaft about 15 inches long, topped with a sandstone disc). The shaft was a physical representation of the earth’s axis, and the disc represented the sun. Shamans would pray and put valuables in a big basket as offerings to the sun for crop increase.

The Kizh Harvest Celebration honored the female earth deity and gave thanks to her for the harvest of wild fruits and seeds. It lasted four days and was a big fiesta attended by delegations from neighboring tribes.

 “The members of the Portola Expedition may have witnessed a…Harvest Celebration in July of 1769,” McCawley writes, “While travelling through Brea Canyon the explorers came upon a community of ‘more than seventy souls’ who were ‘having a feast and dance to which they had invited their neighbors of the river called Jesus de los Temblores [the Santa Ana River].'”

The celebration involved songs, dances, and “showering the spectators with corn, beans, chia, and islay seeds.”

The Winter Solstice Fiesta happened in late December. The main ceremony of this celebration took place on the afternoon of December 24th. A religious figure called a paxaa erected the sun stick “to ritually ‘pull’ the sun back from its declining winter course and thereby return the earth to fruitfulness…the paxaa addressed the spectators, exhorting them to heed the wonder of the sun’s power and making predictions regarding crops and weather for the upcoming year…On this night the sun was born anew.”

Oral Literature and Song

The Kizh had a culture based on oral (as opposed to written) literature, and thus “their narratives and songs were memorized and passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation (McCawley).”

Through their oral literature, the tribe preserved important cultural knowledge such as genealogies, lineage histories, religious and medical practices, and laws. Much of this was lost in the 19th century due to the devastating impacts of the mission system and various waves of conquest, but some has been preserved.

Kizh oral literature included moral teachings and ethical/philosophical concepts. It explored the origins of life and death, inequality among men, and proper use of supernatural and shamanic power.

“A talented storyteller was a great asset to the community during long winter evenings,” writes McCawley. Kizh oral literatute and song also included star lore, creation stories, supernatural, and coyote stories, and shared many features with their neighbors to the north, the Chumash tribe.

Astronomical Themes

The Kizh, like many cultures around the world, had stories associated with the star constellation Pleiades, which often portrayed six or seven sisters who escaped their treacherous husbands, or great beasts, by fleeing into the sky, to become the Pleiades constellation.

In one story, seven sisters were married to seven brothers. Every day, the sisters went out to gather plant foods, while their husbands went to hunt rabbits. When the sisters learned that the men were hoarding and eating all the rabbits they caught, they decided to flee their husbands, making a new home in the sky. This story illustrates the social taboo against greed and food hoarding.

Coyote Stories

As with other Native American cultures, stories about the misadventures of Coyote were very popular.

“He was often portrayed as a vain, foolish, and gullible fellow,” writes McCawley. Here are some popular coyote stories:

Coyote challenged a flowing stream to a race. Although Coyote was faster, he eventually grew tired and lost to the steadily flowing stream (much like Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare).

There were various stories of the adventures of Rabbit and Coyote. These Rabbit vs. Coyote stories have a similar feel to the adventures of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner from Looney Tunes.

In one, Coyote came upon Rabbit by the shore of a lake and said, “I’m going to eat you!” Rabbit, being cleverer than Coyote, said that the reflection of the moon in the lake was actually a big piece of cheese. Rabbit then devised a complex contest to determine who would get the cheese, which resulted in Coyote falling into the lake and Rabbit getting away.

In another story, Coyote came upon rabbit, who pretended to be holding up a large boulder. Coyote said, “I’m going to eat you!” Rabbit replied that he was holding up the world, and asked if Coyote would mind holding the boulder while he got a drink of water. Coyote agreed, and Rabbit ran away.

The Kizh Orpheus

Another category of Kizh folktales were extended epics of the lives of shamans and tomyaars (chiefs), some of which bear striking resemblance to the folklore of other cultures.

One particular story shows a similarity with the Greek myth of Orpheus, the musician who followed his deceased wife to the underworld in order to bring her back.

After his wife died and was burning on her funeral pyre, a tomyaar named Sparrow Hawk “noticed a small whirlwind of ashes swirl and move away. Sparrow Hawk knew that this was the spirit of his departed wife, and so he followed it to the edge of the sea.” As the spirit moved out over the water, the tomyaar cried out in grief. The spirit of his wife pulled a hair from her head and stretched it across the water so her husband could follow her.

After a series of tests and adventures among the land of the dead across the sea, Sparrow Hawk managed to bring his wife back and held a great fiesta. Unfortunately, he broke an oath and slept with her before the festivities concluded, and thus she disappeared forever.

Stories with Christian Elements

Following the arrival of the Spanish during the late 1700s, the Kizh began to incorporate Christian and other European elements into their oral literature.

According to McCawley, “Some of these later stories reflect a clear identification of the Indian with a wrongfully abused hero or heroine.”

There was the story of a sick young girl abandoned by her family because they thought she had a venereal disease (though she really was innocent). She was taken to heaven by St. Peter with other young native children who’d presumably also been mistreated.

In another story, St. Lazarus, protector of dogs, intervened to protect a dog whose Spanish master was mistreating it.


These oral narratives “were often recited to the accompaniment of songs to create a more pleasing and emotionally satisfying performance,” writes McCawley.

Kizh musical instruments included: whistles, flutes, rattles, and bull-roarers.

A collection of Kizh song recordings were made at Pala Indian Reservation in 1926 by pioneering ethnomusicologist Helen Roberts. They are housed in the Archive of Folk Song in the Library or Congress. 

First Contact

For thousands of years, the native Americans who inhabited the Los Angeles basin and North Orange County (called the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians Kizh Nation, or just Kizh) had no documented interactions with Europeans. Beginning in the 1500s, waves of explorers, conquistadors, settlers, and missionaries would forever alter their way of life. Here are some of the first recorded contacts between the local tribe and Europeans.

The Cabrillo Expedition (1542)

The first recorded contact between the Kizh and Europeans is the 1542 expedition of Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who led a crew of sailors up the California coast, perhaps searching for a waterway across North America. 

First contact happened at Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island. According to one account:

"As the boat was nearing land a great number of Indians came out of the bushes and grass, shouting, dancing, and making signs to come ashore. As from the boats they saw the women fleeing, they made signs to them not to fear; so shortly they became assured and put their bows and arrows on the ground. Launching into the water a fine canoe containing eight or ten Indians, they came out to the ships. These were given some beads and presents with which they were well pleased, and shortly went back. The Spaniards afterwards went ashore and both the Indian men and women and everybody felt very secure. Here an old Indian made signs to them that men like Spaniards, wearing clothes and having beards, were going around on the mainland. They remained at this island only until midday." (Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo: Discoverer of the Coast of California by Henry R. Wagner, 1941)

The next day, they landed at a place they called the “Bay of Smokes” (likely present day San Pedro harbor). They called it this because of smoke coming form Kizh fires.

The Spaniards took some natives aboard their ship and tried to communicate with them. Then they headed north to Monterey. Cabrillo died during this expedition.

The Vizcaino Expedition (1602)

The next recorded contact between Spaniards and the Kizh happened 50 years later in 1602, with an expedition led by Sebastian Vizcaino, who was seeking a northern harbor for Spanish galleons returning from Manila.

The expedition stopped at Catalina Island. The Kizh welcomed them warmly and “began to raise smokes on the beach, and when they saw they had anchored, the women, children, and old men began to shout and make demonstrations of joy in proof of their happiness. They came running to the beach to receive the guests who were arriving.” (Wagner)

Accounts of this expedition were written by both Vizcaino and Father Antonio de la Ascension, who admired the natives’ plank canoes, fishing tools, baskets, and pitchers.

Father Antonio records an interesting interaction between the Spanish and the Kizh, which demonstrates a certain degree of religious intolerance, which would come to characterize Spanish-Native relations. Near a cove on Catalina, the Spanish found a Kizh place of worship. He describes the following scene:

“They had what we would call an altar, there was a great circle all surrounded with feathers of various colors and shapes, which must come from the birds they sacrifice. Inside the circle there was a figure like a devil painted in various colors, in the way the Indians of New Spain are accustomed to paint them. At the sides of this were the sun and the moon. When the [Spanish] soldiers reached this place, inside the circle there were two large crows larger than ordinary ones, which flew away when they saw strangers, and alighted on some nearby rocks. One of the soldiers, seeing their size, aimed at them with his harquebus [matchlock rifle], and discharging it, killed them both. When the Indians saw this, they began to weep and display great emotion. In my opinion, the Devil talked to them through these crows, because all the men and women held them in great respect and fear.” (printed in Spanish Voyages to the Northwest Coast of America in the Sixteenth Century by Henry R. Wagner, 1929).

Basically, these Spanish soldiers shot two birds which the natives considered sacred.

The Portola Expedition (1769)

150 years would elapse between the Vizcaino expedition and the next one, which occurred in 1769, led by Gaspar de Portola. 

The impetus for the expedition was concern by the Spanish crown that English and Russian explorers would encroach on “their” territory (Alta, or upper, California). 

The Portola expedition was the first attempt at actual colonization, not just exploration. Portola was accompanied by soldiers and Franciscan missionaries, including Father Junipero Serra.

This was also the first land expedition into California, during which the settlers established two outposts at San Diego and Monterey. This was also the beginning of the establishment of California missions by Serra.

Three members of the expedition kept journals: Portola, Miguel Constanso, and Father Juan Crespi.

Crespi often commented on the friendliness of the Kizh. On one occasion, he wrote, “the Indians from a village in the valley came to visit us. They came without arms, and with a friendliness unparalleled; they made us presents of their poor seeds.

On another occasion, he wrote that the Spanish made camp near “a populous village of Indians, who received us with great friendliness. Fifty-two of them came to the camp, and their chief told us by signs which we understood very well that we must come to live with them; and that they would make houses for us, and provide us with food.”

The arrival of the Spanish onto native California land coincided with heightened ritual activity and earthquakes. In his book The First Angelenos, William McCawley writes, “The expedition coincided with a period of extraordinarily frequent earthquakes, which undoubtedly increased the awe, and perhaps the apprehension, felt by the Indians.”

With the Portola expedition of colonization came the beginning of the Mission Era, which would ultimately prove disastrous for the Kizh and many tribes of California. 

Stay tuned for my next installment, in which I discuss how the Kizh fared under the California missions, specifically Mission San Gabriel and San Fernando.

Controlling the "Naked Savages"

In attempting to understand the early history of Orange County, I have begun reading the book Orange County Through Four Centuries by Leo J. Friis. Once you get past the overt racism, Friis' book turns out to be quite informative. Friis begins with a quote from Father Geronimo Boscana, one of the Spanish missionaries who accompanied the early conquistadors on their conquest of California:

“The Indians of California may be compared to a species of monkey for in naught do they express interest except in imitating the actions of others and particularly in copying the ways of the white men, but in doing so they are careful to select vice in preference to virtue.”

Friis’ account of the native population echoes the racism of the earliest missionaries and conquistadors: “Orange County’s first residents were Indians who dwelt without privacy in rude, brushwood shelters swarming with fleas and vermin.”

In his account of the establishment of the first missions and Spanish military outposts, Friis refers to the native inhabitants as “naked savages” and “the red man.” He again quotes Boscana to illustrate the way Europeans viewed the Kizh and Acjachemen peoples, Orange County’s first inhabitants: “I consider these Indians in their endowments like the soul of an infant, which is merely a will accompanied with passions.” Guided by a feeling of cultural and racial superiority, the Spanish forced the Native Californians into missions in San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, and San Diego, where they tried to teach them the “superior” ways of agriculture, commerce, and Christianity.

The European enslavement of the Native Americans was not without resistance. Friis writes, “On the morning of November sixth [1775], distressing news arrived that San Diego Mission had been burned by the Indians and one of the padres slain. At San Juan Capistrano the Indians mysteriously vanished.” One wonders what was so “mysterious” about people not wanting to be subjugated.

Following this uprising, Governor Rivera ordered a “punitive expedition” against the Indians, which was fairly successful. On November 1, 1776, just four months after Washington, Jefferson and the “’founding fathers” of America were writing that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” the Spanish Californians succeeded in forcing hundreds of Indians back into Mission San Juan Capistrano, and putting them back to work.

What was life like for the Indians in the missions? Friis paints a rather disturbing picture: “When an Indian was baptized into the Christian faith he assumed the status of a neophyte. As such he was assured a definite supply of food, but in return he was expected to perform his share of the labor necessary to support the settlement. If he ran away to avoid his responsibilities he was pursued and brought back. If he committed a crime, he was punished by being placed in stocks or chained to a log or flogged.”

It is shocking how Friis sympathizes more with the Spanish oppressors than the oppressed Indians. “Through patience and kindness,” he writes, “they converted savages to a life disciplined to a reasonable amount of labor.”

There is an account of one Indian at San Juan Capistrano refusing his last rites from the priest. When asked why, he said, laying on his deathbed, “Because I do not want to; having lived deceived, I do not want to die deceived.”

What Happened to the Indians?

I walk down to the newly-remodeled Fullerton Public Library and browse the local history section. I find a book I was required to read in the 3rd grade called Ostrich Eggs For Breakfast. It’s a history of Fullerton that every 3rd grader in the district is required to read. I begin reading, and I am shocked by this passage:

“Sometimes people ask, ‘What happened to the Indians?’ As far as anyone knows, there are no Gabrielenos Indians (they are actually called the Kizh, and are a living tribe) left in Fullerton. One person who has studied about these Indians thinks perhaps this is what may have happened to them.

The mission padres tried to teach the Indians to live like the Spanish people. It was very hard for the Indians to change their old ways of living.

When the Mexican government ordered the missions to be closed, the Indians were left with no one to tell them what to do. They were used to the padres and the soldiers telling them exactly what to do each day. When the padres closed the missions and went away, the Indians did not know how to take care of themselves.

Some of the Indians had died from hard work at the missions and on the ranchos. Many of them died from diseases caught from the white men such as measles and chicken pox. The number of Indians grew smaller and smaller each year.

Many of the Indians could not find enough food to eat after the missions were closed. Many became sick and died. Some of them may have moved away and joined other tribes, perhaps to the south towards San Diego.”

If, when I was in 3rd grade, I knew what I know now, I would ask some questions of my teacher. I would question this account of the disappearance of the Indians. I would raise my hand and say:

“So, correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems like this passage is suggesting that the Indians dying off was their own fault. When their oppressors left, they were like babies who, despite centuries of living in harmony with nature, suddenly forgot how to live off the land. This is bullshit, Mrs. G,” I would say in my 9-year old voice, “Just because we are children doesn’t mean we should be lied to. If you smooth over the unpleasant parts of American history, you are doing us a disservice. For it is only in understanding the mistakes of the past that we can hope to not repeat them.”

If I was to revise Ostrich Eggs For Breakfast I would write something like this:

“When native Americans lived in Fullerton, they lived in relative harmony with their natural habitat. They were free and shared things and did not try to exploit each other or the land.

But the king of Spain, like the other European kings of that time, was hungry for land and gold and power. He, like many before and after him, thought that the highest goal for humans was the accumulation of wealth and power. This idea is, of course, morally empty. But it didn’t stop those kings and soldiers from hurting and killing lots of people all over the world, in their empty quest for wealth and power.

One of the places that people got hurt and killed was in the land now known as Fullerton. The king of Spain sent soldiers to present-day California to grab as much land and gold as they could. The king also sent priests, so the soldiers wouldn’t feel so bad about killing whatever people lived on that land. The priests were there to make the soldiers think they were doing ‘God’s work’ by exploiting and killing people.

So, wherever the soldiers built a fort, the priests built a mission, so they could explain to the native Americans how they were inferior and how their spirituality, which mainly had to to with living in harmony with nature, was actually incorrect. They priests explained how nature was not something to be revered, but rather exploited, and how, if the native Americans didn’t accept an invisible white man-god into their hearts as their lord and savior, they could expect to burn forever in a place called hell.

Then the soldiers and priests proceeded to make life a living hell for the native Americans, and eventually wiped them out completely or drove them off the land.

Today, the artificial road that the Spanish soliders and priests constructed is called “El Camino Real” or “The King’s Highway.” That’s what that sign on Harbor Blvd means. But, from a native American perspective, The King’s Highway would more accurately be called The Devil's Highway.”

Chapter 2: The California Mission Era

West Coast Slavery

"With the best theological intentions in the world, the Franciscan padres eliminated Indians with the effectiveness of Nazis operating concentration camps.  From 1776 to 1834 they baptized 4,404 Indians in the Mission San Juan Capistrano and buried 3,227."

The Dark Legacy of the California Missions

In fourth grade I, like every other kid who attends public school in California, had to build a model of a mission. The state-sponsored curriculum taught me that these were sites where kindly Spanish padres and California Indians lived together peacefully and happily.

This was also the impression I got when, as an adult, I visited Mission San Juan Capistrano. There, a nice lady dressed as an “old Californian” told pretty much the same story.

In school, I was also taught that no one knows what happened to the native Californians of Southern California. They, like the wooly mammoths who used to roam these lands, were gone, extinct.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a few years ago, I happened to meet actual, living members of the local tribe (which has historically been called the Gabrieleno, but they prefer the name Kizh). I met the chief (Ernie Salas) and others at a special event at the little paleontology museum at Ralph Clark Park in Fullerton. Speaking to these native Californians, I learned a completely different version of the California mission story.

They described the missions as sites of slavery, disease, brutality, and death. The missions, according to the local natives, were places of horror and trauma.

After meeting and befriending these living native Californians, I became fascinated with this other side of the California mission story. Based upon my research, I made some startling discoveries.  While there are plenty of books written about the missions, they seem to be pretty well divided into two categories: “nostalgic” books (which perpetuate the “happy” mission story), and academic books (which tell a darker and more complex story).

At present, there seem to be more books available to the general public of the nostalgic type than the academic type.

Thankfully, this appears to be changing. Quite recently, a new batch of scholarship (and even popular histories) have come out which dive deeply into California history from the native point of view.

Such a book is Elias Castillo’s A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions, which came out in 2015.

His book, based upon a bedrock of research and primary sources, strives to shine a light on the real story of the missions, and the tragedy they wrought upon the native peoples of California.

In the interest of sharing knowledge and ideas, and to hopefully correct some widespread historical misconceptions, I have decided to present some of the historical evidence Castillo provides.

Some may ask: “Why does this matter? The past is the past. Get over it.” To that, I would respond that it matters very much to living descendants of those who were killed, enslaved, and mistreated. Understanding their stories helps us to better grapple with ourselves as a State and as a society.

It’s also important for people to better understand this because many California tribes (like the Gabrieleno) are still striving for official federal recognition, which will afford them certain benefits and a proper place in our historical understanding. 

To that end, I here present some documentary evidence for the tragedy that was the California mission system. These are all primary sources, with a bit of context given for each.

Whipping and Death as “Spiritual Benefit”

On July 31st, 1775, Father Junipero Serra sent a letter to Spanish military commander Fernando Rivera y Moncada, requesting that four Indians who had tried to flee from Mission Carmel be whipped. He also offered to send shackles, in case the commander didn’t have any:

“Two or three whippings which your Lordship may order applied to them on different days may serve, for them and for the rest, for a warning, may be of spiritual benefit to all; and this last is the prime motive of our work. If your Lordship does not have shackles, with your permission they may be sent from here. I think that the punishment should last one month.” 

On January 7th, 1780, Serra wrote a letter to then-governor of California Felipe de Neve, defending his practice of whipping the natives:

“That the spiritual fathers [friars] should punish their sons, the Indians, by blows appears to be as old as the conquest of these kingdoms.”

Governor Felipe de Neve envisioned a secular future for the missions, where the Indians would be freed and granted basic human rights. He wrote that the Indians fate was “worse than that of slaves.” 

Due to mistreatment, confinement, and widespread diseases for which the natives had no immunity, the mission Indians began to die in huge numbers. Rather than mourn them, however, Serra was happy to see so many newly-baptized souls go to heaven. In a report dated July 24, 1775 to Friar Francisco Pangua, his superior, Serra wrote:

“In the midst of our little troubles, the spiritual side of the missions is developing most happily. In [Mission] San Antonio [de Padua, about 60 miles south of Mission Carmel] there are simultaneously two harvests, at one time, one for wheat, and of a plague among the children, who are dying.” 

“A Species of Monkey”

The Franciscan padres generally considered themselves to be culturally, intellectually, and spiritually superior to the native peoples, which tended to provide a justification for mistreatment.  Friar Geromino Boscana (stationed at Mission San Juan Capistrano) writes:

“The Indians of California may be compared to a species of monkey; for in naught do they express interest, except in imitating the actions of others, and, particularly in copying the ways of the razon [men of reason] or white men.”

Father Serra’s successor, Friar Fermin, also considered the Indians to be akin to “lower animals.”  In 1786, Fermin wrote:

“They satiate themselves today and give little thought to tomorrow…a people without education, without government, religion or respect for authority, and they shamelessly pursue without restraint whatever their brutal appetites suggest to them.” 

An Enlightened Point of View 

Sometimes, travelers and explorers visited the missions, and their writings provide a unique, first-hand account of the actual conditions. Such was the case with French Navy Captain Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de Laperouse, who was the leader of a major scientific expedition. His ships sailed into Monterey Bay on September 14, 1786, and Laperouse describes his shock at seeing the conditions under which the Indians were forced to live. He compares the mission to slave plantations he’d seen in the Caribbean:

“Everything…brought to our recollection a plantation at Santo Domingo or any other West Indian island…We observed with concern that the resemblance is so perfect that we have seen both men and women in irons, and others in stocks. Lastly, the noise of the whip might have struck our ears.”

Laperouse continues, “Women are never whipped in public, but in an enclosed and somewhat distant place that their cries might not excite too lively a compassion, which might cause the men to revolt.”

The men were whipped “exposed to the view of all of their fellow citizens, that their punishment might serve as an example.”

It’s interesting to contrast the worldviews of a French explorer like Laperouse, imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment and the rights of man, with a Spanish missionary like Serra, still imbued with the ideas of the Middle Ages. Serra was actually a part of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. Laperouse laments the ideas and methods of the Spanish missionaries, writing, “I could wish that the minds of the austere charitable, and religious individuals I have met with in these missions were a little more tinctured with the spirit of philosophy.”

Laperouse and other writers of the time show that violence and brutality toward native peoples wasn’t “just the way things were” or “just how everyone thought back then.” There were people living at the time who believed in the notion of human rights

De Facto Slavery

Writings from the time demonstrate that the California Missions were basically west cost slavery.

Laperouse writes: “The moment an Indian is baptized, the effect is the same as if he had pronounced a vow for life. If he escape to reside with his relations in the independent villages, he is summoned three times to return; if he refuses, the Missionaries apply to the governor, who sends soldiers to seize him in the midst of his family and conduct him to the mission, where he is condemned to receive a certain number of lashes with the whip.”

Overseers called alcaldes were also tasked with capturing, returning, and punishing runaways. Indians were not allowed to leave mission grounds without permission.

American Sherbourne F. Cook, who visited the missions, described women being locked up at night in unsanitary, cramped quarters: “There can be no doubt that the women were packed in tightly, and that the accumulation of filth was unavoidable…it is unbelievable that they (Indians) should not have resented years of being confined and locked in every night in a manner which was so alien to their tradition and nature.”

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

American farmer Hugo Reid, who was sympathetic to the Indians, describes the strange barbarism of a Friar Jose Maria Zalvidea at Mission San Gabriel:

“He was not only severe, but he was, in his chastisements, most cruel. So as not to make a revolting picture, I shall bury acts of barbarity known to me through good authority, by merely saying that he must assuredly have considered whipping as meat and drink to them, for they had it morning, noon, and night.” 

Friar Ramon Olbes of Mission Santa Cruz, in an incident recounted by former neophyte (baptized Indian) Lorenzo Asisara, attempted to force a childless Indian couple to have sex in his presence to prove that they had potential to conceive [probably because Indians were dying at alarming rates]. The husband “refused, but they forced him to show them his penis in order to show that he had it in good order.”

Olbes sent the husband to a guard house in shackles. He made the wife enter another room in order to examine her private parts. She resisted him and there was a struggle between the two. Olbes ordered the guards to give her fifty lashes and lock her in the nunnery. He then ordered that a wooden doll be made like a newborn child, and ordered her to present herself in front of the church for nine days. Olbes had the husband shackled and made him wear cattle horns affixed with leather. 

Taking Mass at Gunpoint

Ludovik Choris, an artist traveling with a Russian expedition, visited Mission San Francisco in 1816, and described how attendance at church services was compulsory: “All the Indians of both sexes without regard to age, are obliged to go to church and worship…Armed soldiers are stationed at each corner of the church.”

Captain Frederick William Beachey of England’s Royal Navy visited Mission San Jose in 1826, and described how Indians there were rounded up and forced to go to church twice a day: 

“Morning and evening Mass are daily performed in the Missions…at which all the converted Indians are obliged to attend…After the bell had done tolling, several [Indian overseers] went round to the huts, to see if all the Indians were at church, and if they found any loitering within them, they exercised with tolerable freedom a long lash with a broad thong at the end of it; a discipline which appeared the more tyrannical as the church was not sufficiently capacious for all the attendants and several sat upon the steps.”

Thus, Indians who chose not to attend church were whipped. Beachley continues, describing a similarly grisly scene inside the church:

“The congregation was arranged on both sides of the building, separated by a wide aisle passing along the centre, in which were stationed several [overseers] with whips, canes, and goads, to preserve silence and maintain order, and…to keep the congregation in the kneeling posture. The goads were better adapted to this purpose than the whips, as they would reach a long way, and inflict a sharp puncture without making any noise. The end of the church was occupied by a guard of soldiers under arms, with fixed bayonets.”

Church services were given in Latin (which the Indians could not understand), and (against the goal of educating them), the official mission policy was, as with slaves, not to teach the Indians to read or write. 

In a letter written in 1769 to Father Serra’s close friend Friar Francisco Palou, Spanish Visitor-General Jose de Galvez writes, “I stress my request to your most reverend person that you do not teach the Indians how to write; for I have enough experiences that such major instruction perverts and hastens their ruination.”

Followers of St. Francis Living Like Kings

The friars who founded the California missions were of the Franciscan order, which was founded by St. Francis of Asisi, the famous saint who took a vow of poverty. Like their founder, Franciscans were obliged to take a vow of poverty. However, accounts exist of Franciscans living luxuriously in the missions, while the Indians did not share in the great wealth the vast mission lands amassed.

Pablo Tac, a Luiseno Indian who grew up at Mission San Luis Rey, wrote an account of his experiences and described how the “Father is like a king. He has his pages, alcaldes, majordomos, musicians, soldiers, gardens, ranchos, livestock, horses by he thousands, cows, bulls by the thousand, oxen, mules, asses, twelve thousand lambs, two hundred goats, etc.”

In addition to being religious institutions, the missions also grew to be large commercial enterprises, with hundreds of thousands of acres for crops and livestock, where the fathers amassed great wealth, and often traded with the English and Americans.

Meanwhile, according to Indian Lorenzo Asisara, the friars “were very cruel toward the Indians. They abused them very much. They had bad food, bad clothing. And they made them work like slaves. I was also subject to that cruel life. The Fathers did not practice what they preached.”

Death and Despair

Due to mistreatment, disease, and deplorable conditions, nearly half of the missions’ populations died each year. From 1779 to 1833, the year the missions were effectively dissolved, there were 29,100 births and a staggering 62,600 deaths.

Russian explorer Otto von Kotzebue, who visited mission San Francisco in 1816, wrote that “the uncleanliness in these barracks baffles description, and this is perhaps the cause of great mortality: for of 1,000 Indians at St. Francisco, 300 die every year.”

Because of all this death, combined with the tragedy of being cut off from their culture and traditions, depression and despair took its toll on the mission Indians, as evidenced by accounts from visitors.

British Navy Captain George Vancouver visited Mission San Francisco while exploring the California coast in 1792, and described the demeanor of the Indians: “All the operations and functions both of body and mind appeared to be carried out with a mechanical, lifeless, careless indifference.”

The Russian artist Choris wrote that he never saw an Indian laugh: “They look as though they were interested in nothing.”

Spanish Accounts of Abuses

Some may argue that these outsiders descriptions were motivated by opposition to Catholicism or Spain, but there are ample records in the mission archives themselves which corroborate the picture.

Friar Antonio de la Concepcion Horra, assigned to lead Mission San Miguel in 1798, wrote a letter to the Viceroy of Mexico expressing his dismay at mission life:

“Your Excellency, I would like to inform you of the many abuses the are commonplace in that country. The manner in which the Indians are treated is by far more cruel than anything I have ever read about. For any reason, however insignificant it may be, they are severely and cruelly whipped, placed in shackles, or put in stocks for days one end without receiving even a drop of water.”

The governor of California, Diego de Borica looked into Horra’s complaints and wrote: “Generally, the treatment given the Indians is very harsh. At San Francisco, it even reached the point of cruelty…I also know why they have fled. It is due to the terrible suffering they experienced from punishments and work.”

Fleeing For Their Lives

Due to the misery of mission life, Indians sometimes attempted to escape. For example, between 1769 and 1817, there were 473 documented cases of Indian fugitives from Mission San Gabriel alone. 

A group of Saclan and Huichin Indians who had fled Mission San Francisco in 1797 were asked by Spanish officials why they had run away. Here are some of their answers, dutifully recorded by Lieutenant Jose Arguello:

Tiburcio: He testified that after his wife and daughter died, on five separate occasions Father Danti ordered him whipped because he was crying. For these reasons he fled.

Magin: He testified that he left due to his hunger and because they had put him in the stocks when he was sick, on orders from the alcalde.

Malquiedes: He declared that he had no more reason for fleeing that that he went to visit his mother, who was on the other shore.

Liborato: He testified that he left because his mother, two brothers, and three nephews died, all of hunger. So that he would not also die of hunger, he fled.

Timoteo: He declares that the alcalde Luis came to get him while he was feeling ill and whipped him. After that, Father Antonio hit him with a heavy cane. For those reasons, he fled.

Magno: He declared the he had run away because, his son being sick, he took care of him and was therefore unable to go out to work. As a result, he was given no ration and his son died of hunger.

Prospero: He declared that he had gone one night to the lagoon to hunt for ducks for food. For this Father Antonio Danti ordered him stretched out and beaten. Then, the following week he was whipped again for having gone out on paseo (to visit his village). For these reasons he fled.

Russian hunter Vassili Petrovitch Tarakanoff, who was taken prisoner by the Spanish in 1815, recalls witnessing the treatment of Indians who had fled their mission and were recaptured:

“They were bound with rawhide ropes, and some were bleeding from wounds, and some children were tied to their mothers…Some of the runaway men were tied on sticks and beaten with straps. One chief was taken out into the open field, and a young calf which had just died was skinned, and the chief was sewn into the skin while it was yet warm. He was kept tied to a stake all day, but he soon died, and they kept his corpse tied up.”


Aside from running away, another reaction to death and mistreatment at the missions was armed revolt.

Diegueno Indians rebelled and burned down Mission San Diego in 1775. When asked why they had burned the mission, the Indians later said “they wanted to kill the fathers and soldiers in order to live as they did before.”

A female Gabrieleno (Kizh) shaman named Toypurina planned a revolt at Mission San Gabriel in 1785. Unfortunately, the plot was discovered and stopped. At her trial in 1786, Toypurina (who is a hero to the Gabrieleno today, sort of like Joan of Arc), said to her accusers: “I hate the padres and all of you for living here on my native soil, for trespassing upon the land of my forefathers and and despoiling our tribal domains.”

Perhaps the most successful uprising involved Quechan Indians who wiped out a mission and two settlements founded by the Spaniards on the California side of the Colorado River in 1781. 

There was also the Great Chumash Uprising of 1824, which involved Indians from three Missions (Santa Ines, Santa Barbara, and La Purisima) taking arms against their Spanish oppressors.

After the Missions

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain. Missions were secularized in the 1830s. The vast lands were supposed to be re-distributed among the Indians, but things didn’t work out that way. Many were cheated out of property, or lands were seized by corrupt officials. Many Indians became ranch hands on Mexican ranchos. Under Mexican, and then American rule, the Indians would continue to suffer in new and traumatic ways.

Reflecting on the legacy of the missions, Friar Mariano Payeras wrote to his superiors in Mexico City in 1820: “I fear that a few years hence on seeing Alta California deserted and depopulated of Indians within a century of its discovery and conquest by the Spaniards, it will be asked where is the numerous heathendom that used to populate it?…even the most pious and kindly of us will answer: the Missionary priests baptized them, administered the sacraments to them, and buried them.”

Between 1769 and 1890, the Native American population declined from an estimated 300,000 to 16,600.

Whitewashing History

Despite this documented record of oppression, disease, cruelty, and death—the California Missions experienced a revival in the late 19th and early 20th century as a way to market oranges, real estate, and a romantic myth of California’s past.

Castillo writes, “The missions, where thousands of Indians remain buried in unmarked mass graves, were resurrected in the 1890s and early 1900s and rebuilt as monuments to a concocted past that featured a loving, cooperative relationship between the friars and the Indians. Many California leaders, either ignorant of the truth or choosing to ignore what happened, joined in this duplicity.”

In his book Orange County: a Personal History, in a chapter entitled “Our Climate is Faultless: Constructing America’s Perpetual Eden” local writer Gustavo Arellano discusses how American businessmen and early 20th century mass media contributed to the myth of a Spanish Mission past that never existed.  

On orange crate label art like Charles Chapman’s Old Mission Brand and in films like Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro (and all the Zorro stories that followed), the mission myth was born—ignoring the ugly historical reality. 

This myth continues today. “Across California, streets, playgrounds, and even schools have been named after Padre Junipero Serra,” Castillo writes, “Yet Serra is still revered by many in California as a kindly friar who loved and treated the Indians as if they were his children.”

In Sacramento, on the grounds of the state capitol, there is a bronze statue of Serra. In San Francisco a gigantic statue of Serra overlooks the entrance to Golden Gate Park. And in Washington D.C., in the National Statuary Hall of the nation’s Capitol Building, there is a statue of Serra holding a model of a mission in one hand and a large cross in the other. Not to mention the numerous statues of Serra at the missions themselves.

“For decades, the California State Department of Education has required every elementary school in the state to teach fourth grade pupils of the supposed contributions of not only Junipero Serra, but of the missions themselves,” Castillo writes.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II conferred beatification on Father Junipero Serra, a major step toward becoming a saint. 

It seems that, as with American history in general, California still has much reckoning to do with its real past. 

I’m reminded of a quote from the famous African American writer James Baldwin: “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”

The Dark Legacy of Father Junipero Serra

I just finished reading a new book called Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father by Steven W. Hackel, who is a professor of history at California State University, Riverside.  Hackel, who has written extensively on this topic, is also curator of a current exhibit at the Huntington Library entitled Junipero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions.

In the "Epilogue" to his book he reflects on the darker legacy of Father Junipero Serra, a legacy filed with cultural desolation and death.  Here are some excerpts from Hackel's epilogue:

"What Serra helped to initiate in California--colonization via an extensive "ladder" of Catholic missions, where tens of thousands of Indian lives were monitored, modified, and frequently shortened--was by every measure far more complex and destructive than he could have imagined...The California missions in his day formed a shaky bridge for Indians between the world of their ancestors and that of Spaniards.  What Serra did not live to see and understand was that later, for many Indians, this bridge led to a graveyard.

Thus, in a morbid irony, the concentration of Indians in the missions--the first and necessary step in Serra's plan--allowed for the wide and ready transmission of disease that only accelerated new baptisms and expanded death's work.  This became the missions' undoing and Serra's albatross.

Across the California missions one in three infants did not live to see a first birthday.  Four in ten children who survived their first year perished before their fifth.  Between 10 and 20 percent of adults died each year, with women of reproductive age suffering the most because of the dangers associated with childbearing and introduced venereal diseases…the high mortality rates were unrelenting, year after year for decades.

Of those who survived at the missions, some would become practicing Catholics.  Some would not.  Some would flee what they saw as an oppressive institution...Most went along with the missions because they appeared to represent the best of a few terrible options, to try to sustain their families, their culture, and their heritage in the bleakest of times.

By the time the missions were secularized in the early 1830s, more than 80,000 Indians had been baptized between San Diego and north of San Francisco, but almost 60,000 had been buried, nearly 25,000 of whom were children under the age of ten.

By 1855, after the gold rush and the establishment of American rule in California, the Indian population of the state stood at around 50,000, reduced from the 310,000 who lived in California in 1769 and a mere vestige of what Serra had seen when he came north from Baja California.

Today, the legacy of the California missions and Junipero Serra cannot be separated from these terrible events.  This has only been acknowledged relatively recently.  By now, Serra is  remembered in not one way but three: as a pioneer, as a religious icon, and as a colonial imperialist.  To many, Serra is the man who brought agriculture to the Golden State and who laid the foundation for California's future greatness.  To some Catholics--some of whom descend from the mission populations--he remains a heroic and saintly embodiment of the religion's timeless virtues.  Pope John Paul II accepted Serra's cause for canonization in 1985 and declared him venerable, the first of three steps to sainthood.  In 1988, the pope beatified Serra.  To others, however, Serra's life embodies the evils inherent in a colonial system that promoted cultural genocide, sanctioned corporal punishment, and brought about the devastation of California's native peoples.

What makes Serra such a necessary figure to get right is that he embodied a history of Indian-missionary relations nearly hemispheric in its scope.  Serra, although he stands out as exceptional among his Franciscan peers, in his practice of Catholicism was typical of the thousands of Catholic missionaries who came to the Americas during the early modern period.  His dismissive assumptions about the Indians' religious practices and his belief that that Indians had to be saved from their own barbarousness were likewise standard.  It is hard to imagine that any other group played a larger role in shaping the early period of Indian-European relations than these men, who were called to these shores by their own religious desires and by a Spanish state looking to expand and secure its American territories.  Millions of Indians, from the southern tip of South America to the northern hinterlands of Canada, and from the shores of the Chesapeake to the coves of Monterey Bay, were introduced to a central part of European culture and society by men in black or gray or brown robes who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who attempted to reorganize their ways of life."

Chapter 4: These Lands Used to Be Mexico

The Ontiveros Family: When Fullerton Was Part of Mexico


Any history of a human settlement must begin with "first families."  In the history of Fullerton, this "first family" is often considered to be the Ameriges, the brothers George and Edward, two commodities merchants from Boston who "founded" Fullerton in the year 1887.  But this was not really the first family here.  The landscape they found was not empty or devoid of people or history.  In fact, the Amerige brothers were relative latecomers to this region.  Before they arrived, there was another lengthy history, involving pioneers, great expeditions, wars, and conquest. 

The true "first families" in this region were Native Americans, specifically the Kizh tribe, who had many settlements in the landscapes that would become Los Angeles and Orange Counties.   In 1769, the first Europeans passed through what would become Orange County--it was the expedition of Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish soldier sent to make the first explorations and settlements of California, which was then a part of New Spain.  Twelve years later, in 1781, another group of settlers arrived to found the town of Los Angeles.  That's right, Los Angeles was founded in 1781!

Among the settlers on this expedition was a farmer from the Sinaloa region of Mexico named Josef Antonio Ontiveros.  Josef's grandson, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, would in time become a very important landowner and rancher in the area that would become Orange County.  His Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana included the land that would become Fullerton.  And so, in the interest in telling the complete history of this region, I've decided to tell some of the story of this first family--the Ontiveros family.  The source of this information is a well-researched book called The Ranchos of Don Pacifico Ontiveros by a woman named Virginia Carpenter, who is quickly becoming my favorite Orange County historian.  Here's the story of the Ontiveros family...

The Founding of Los Angeles

Los Angeles was founded in the year 1781 by a group of settlers from Mexico.  At this time, Spanish settlement in California was pretty sparse, and so the government financed pioneer parties to populate the region, sort of like how the United States would later create Homestead Acts to encourage settlement of its western regions.  An important early settlement party of this type was led by Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, Lieutenant Governor of Baja (lower) California.  He was commissioned by the government to recruit soldiers and settlers to found a pueblo (town) near Mission San Gabriel.

One of the settlers recruited was a farmer from the Sinaloa region named Josef Antonio Ontiveros, who was 36 years old at the time.  Ontiveros was born in Pueblo San Pedro de Chametla (in Sinaloa) in the year 1744.  At age 22, he married Ana Maria Carrasco y Birviescas.  Of their children, we know they had a boy named Juan Patricio and a girl named Juana de Dios.  His wife and children would accompany him on the difficult expedition into California.

Thankfully, the Spanish were pretty good record-keepers, and in the files from this expedition we find a cool description of Josef Ontiveros: "His stature 5 feet 4 inches and 9 lines, his age 36 years, his religion Roman Catholic Apostolic. His characteristics were chestnut colored hair, blue eyes, brown skin, reddish thick eyebrows, curved or hooked nose, a gash in the eyebrow of the right eye, another one above the chin, or beard and another one on the left side of the forehead, a thin beard."

The expedition to Los Angeles consisted of two parties: one traveling overland, and the other by boat.  The Ontiveros family traveled by boat.  It took them six months.  Along the way, two soldiers deserted and three people died of smallpox.  Meanwhile, most of the overland party was massascred by Yuma Indians, including the expedition leader Rivera.

Amazingly, all of the Ontiveros family made it safely to their destination.  On September 4, 1781, with the blessing of Governor Felipe de Neve, the settlers officially founded the town of Los Angeles.  The full, original name of the town was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de Los Angeles (The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels).  For a time, Los Angeles was the only town between San Diego and Santa Barbara.  Interestingly, however, Josef Ontiveros would not stay there long.  The following year, 1782, he was transferred to the Presidio (military fort) of Santa Barbara.

Trouble in the Army

My source for all this material, Virginia Carpenter, does not say why Josef Ontiveros was transferred to Santa Barbara shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles, for which he was recruited as a settler/soldier.  Perhaps he was just transferred there because he was needed.  It also appears that his wife and children may have stayed behind, in Los Angeles and San Gabriel, while the father was away on military duty.

While at Santa Barbara, Ontiveros was arrested as part of a desertion plot, and sent further north, to Monterey, as punishment.  Why would Ontiveros desert?  Carpenter provides a possible explanation: "In the 1780s desertion became a problem for the army.  Because conditions were so miserable (food, clothing, and other rations were sparse), many soldiers made the attempt to return to their homes in Mexico (there was no place else to go), in spite of the fact that it was almost impossible for a man to go alone.  Even if he was lucky enough to steal a mule, there were the hundreds of miles of desert to cross and Indians to dodge or fight.  If a man did reach Mexico, he had to live in hiding, for to be found was to be returned to the army--and California."  I can't help but wonder if Josef wanted to return to Sinaloa or to Los Angeles, where his family was.

In either 1787 or 1788, Josef was discharged from military duty and rejoined his family in Los Angeles, where he was given a plot of land and became a shoemaker.  Ten years later, in 1798, he died at age 54, which was probably about the average life span of the time.

Rise of the Ranchos

In 1784, the governor of California, Pedro Fages, received petitions from three soldiers for land grants for the purpose of raising cattle.  These were the first of the famous Spanish Land Grants, the largest of which went to Manuel Nieto, who received the land that would eventually contain the Ontiveros Rancho.

When his father Josef was transferred to Santa Barbara in 1782, nine-year-old Juan Patricio Ontiveros was left with the padres at the San Gabriel Mission.  He was confirmed that same year.  As soon as he was old enough, he joined the army, and reached the rank of corporal.  In 1794, he married Antonia Rodriguez y Noriega, who was 14.  This was considered a proper age to marry at the time.  Antonia's parents were both Indians from Sinaloa.  The couple had eight children for whom we have records.  The eldest son was Juan Pacifico, who will become the most important person in this narrative.

In 1814, when he was 42, Patricio was Mayordomo of the San Juan Capistrano Mission.  I'm not sure what a mayordomo did--it sounds like a leadership position of some sort.  Then, in 1825, he moved to Rancho Santa Gertruedes, which was owned by the Nieto family.  There, he held the position of Encargador de Justicia, which was sort of like the Justice of the Peace.  Shortly before he died, in the mid-1830s, Patricio petitioned governor Figueroa numerous times for a land grant, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  That task would fall to his son, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros.

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros Becomes a Ranchero

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, son of Juan Patricio Ontiveros, was born in Los Angeles on September 24th, 1795.  In 1814, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he enlisted in the army, and served for 20 years.  In 1825, he married Maria Martina Osuna of Santa Barbara.  He was 30 and she was 19.  The couple had an astonishing thirteen children in their fertile marriage.

In 1835, after his father's death, Juan Pacifico took up the matter of applying for a land grant.  After two years of legal negotiations between Ontiveros, the Nietos family, and the Mexican government, Juan Pacifico was granted the 36,000-acre Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, wbose boundaries contained the present-day cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Brea, and Placentia.

I'd like to include Carpenter's description of the landscape in those days of the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana, as this landscape is almost completely lost in my day.  The last remnant of it in my town is a former oil field now called Coyote Hills, which the Fullerton city council recently approved a massive development project on.  But these words evoke something wild:

"The ocean, 20 miles away, could be seen and occasionally heard.  Fairly level, there were hills on the northern part and in the east where it included part of Brea Canyon.  The soil varied from sandy, the diseno (map) shows a large sand wash through the center, to red clay near the Brea end.  It was covered with chapparal (low bushes), mustard and large patches of cactus.  The wildlife included snakes, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, wild cats and mountain lions, quail, ducks and geese during their migrations.  Bears and deer stayed in the canyons.  There were many, many insects from fleas to ants.  Trees were so few that they were used as landmarks, there were sycamores and poplar where there was water, and live oaks in the canyons."

Now I would like to quote some fragments of Carpenter's description of life on the rancho, as this is also a lost way of life in my day: "Families arose about three a.m. prayed and ate breakfast...The boys and young men slept out of doors...As the Indians did all the work, the rancheros had only the management to do...Men talked and gambled and rode over their land--Boys practiced riding and roping skills and played games, while women had much work to do...Older women dressed in black, as there were so many deaths to mourn in the large families...The important things were births and deaths, wedding, everyday and seasonal events and always the church...There were no schools, so few people could read or write...There was hunting, particularly bear hunts; but no fishing, all their sports being on horseback...The father, as head of the family, ruled it.  He often arranged his children's marriages and what they would do...all houses were made of adobe (sun dried bricks)...roofs (were made) of tule reeds and tar until so many were set afire in Indian attacks that the missions began making clay roof tiles, shaping them in wooden molds...everyone, even women, carried their own knives...Juan Pacifico lived quietly on his rancho taking little part in public events."

Damn Yankees!

Alas, this way of life was not to last long, for already American businessmen had set their sights on southern California markets and real estate.  As early as the 1820s, Yankees were immigrating to California.  Carpenter writes: "They came for business, a new market.  The New England clipper ships built to bring tea and spices from the Orient stopped in California and found that the vast herds of cattle were a source of tallow for candles and for the leather needed by the eastern shoe factories. About the same time a demand for beaver hats in the East brought the trappers, or mountain men, as they were called, overland into the west...Many of the Anglos who camein the late 1820s and 30s stayed and became Mexican citizens so that they could own land; they married Spanish girls and thereby inherited shares in ranchos as well.  They opened stores and loaned money on cattle and land at ruinous rates, foreclosing when payments could not be met.  The easy-living rancheros knew nothing about Anglo business methods, nor compound interest."

One of these immigrants was an Italian named Giovani Batiste Leandri (or, as he was called in Mexican California, Juan Bautista Leandry).  He moved to Los Angeles in 1827 and opened a store in an area with the unfortunate name "Nigger Alley."  He prospered as a businessman, became a citizen in 1839, married a Mexican woman named Francesca Uribe, and bought Rancho Los Coyotes from the Nietos.  Next, Leandry brought suit against Juan Pacifico Ontiveros over the boundary between their ranchos, and managed to get a valuable water spring.  Leandry died in 1843, but more losses were on the horizon for the Ontiveros family.

Between 1846-1848, there was the Mexican American War, which Ulysses S. Grant called "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.  It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory."  This war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico was forced to cede half of her country to the United States.  This included California, which was admitted to the Union as a free (as opposed to slave) state in 1850.

Conquest by Bureaucracy

In 1849, in the intermediary period between the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Statehood of California, Bernardo Yorba (owner of the neighboring Rancho Canon de Santa Ana) bought an area of the Ontiveros rancho called Canada de la Brea (which included modern day Brea Canyon).  Yorba paid $400 for the land, which amounted to about 30 cents per acre.  This sale was actually part of a more complex land deal, in which Yorba then traded Canada de la Brea to an Englishman named Isaac Williams, who'd married into a Mexican rancho family, and been given Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  If things start to get confusing at this point, I'm sorry.  After the American conquest of California, things got notoriously confusing when it came to land ownership.

Carpenter explains the new and unfortunate situation for rancheros like Ontiveros in the early years after California became a part of the United States, an era which I will call Conquest by Bureaucracy: "The greatest difficulty which the rancheros experienced was to be in the matter of their land titles.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed Mexican citizens possession of their property; but the United States did not consider a declaration of ownership sufficient; there must be official records.  A 'Board of United States Land Commissioners [was] appointed to settle private land claims in California' and every ranchero was ordered to present proof of his ownership and the location and size of his rancho.  This was disastrous for many of them and contributed to the break-up of the rancho system, because of the casual way the grants had been handled and their indefinite boundaries.  Few of the rancheros could read or write, so a man's word had served in business, and as many had lost their papers, most of the claims had to go through the courts, a time-consuming and expensive process...The Land Commission of three men handled over 800 cases between 1852 and 1856."

Carpenter does a valiant and detailed job of explaining and summarizing the lengthy and frustrating legal battles that Juan Pacifico Ontiveros faced in an effort to hold onto his rancho.  I will spare you the details and explain it as simply as possible.  In 1854, the United States Land Commission rejected Ontiveros' claim to the rancho he'd owned for 20 years.  He appealed the decision and, in 1856, the Court of Appeals reversed the Land Commission's decision.  But the attorney for the Land Commission didn't give up.  He took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, who in 1857 upheld Ontiveros' claim.  

The End of the Rancho, and the Founding of Anaheim, Placentia, and Fullerton

In 1856, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros purchased another rancho called Tepusquet near Santa Barbara.  Within a few years, he would sell off all of his Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana and move to his new rancho.  This period is really interesting because, in this era, we see the birth of the present-day towns of Anaheim, Placentia, and Fullerton. 

First, Anaheim.  In 1857, Ontiveros sold 1,165 acres of his rancho to a George Hanson, who was employed by a group of Germans in San Francisco who were interesting in forming a colony to raise grapes.  These Germans formed the town of Anaheim.  

Second, Placentia.  In 1863, Pacifico and his wife deeded 3,900 acres of their rancho to their two sons Patricio and Juanito.  Family tradition says that these brothers lost the land in a gambling debt to their brother-in-law, Augustus Langenberger.  This guy then sold then land to a man named Daniel Kraemer, who was one of the founding members of Placentia.

Third, Fullerton.  In 1863, Juan Pacifico sold the lion's share of his rancho to Abel Stearns, who (at the time) was the largest land owner and cattle baron in Southern California.  He paid $6,000 for 30,672 acres.  In 1868, beset by financial problems, Stearns and his friend Alfred Robinson, along with businessmen in San Francisco, formed a syndicate called the Stearns Rancho Company.  It was from the Stearns Rancho Company that George and Edward Amerige, two merchants from Boston, in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railroad, purchased the land upon which they founded the town of Fullerton in 1887.


For the conclusion of this post, I'd like to quote Virginia Carpenter, local historian extrordinaire: "The orange groves and mainly rural life remained until the 1960s when the boom made Orange County the fastest growing county in America reached the area.  The five towns grew until their borders touched and the trees were pulled out to make way for houses, apartments, condominiums, business and industry.  Stearns Ranchos Company and the Anaheim Union Water Company continued in business until the 1970s.

The price of land has increased ever more than the population which has grown from one family to over 400,000.  Juan Pacifico Ontiveros paid nothing for his land; the first purchasers $2 per acre; Langenberger in 1864 only .95 cents per acre; Daniel Kraemer the next year $1.18; McFadden four years later, $10.  By 1876 the price had risen to $50; orange groves were hundreds, then thousands of dollars an acre and now the price of an acre is in the hundreds of thousands and lots grow smaller."

Juan Pacifico Ontiveros died in 1877 on his Rancho Tepusquet.  According to the existing records, Pacifico had 88 grandchildren and 103 years elapsed between the birth of the first child and the death of the last one.  Thus they lived through California history from its Mexican days to modern times.

Abel Stearns: A Transitional Figure

Just as Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, represents an important (and representative) transitional figure in California's history, stretching from the Native American Era to the Spanish Era to the Mexican Era, to the American Era, so does Abel Stearns, who once owned nearly all the lands that encompass present day Orange County, including Fullerton.  Who was he?  To answer this question, I just read a very interesting chapter on him from local historian Phil Brigandi's book Orange County Chronicles.  Here's a little bit about Abel Stearns, aka Horse-Face.

Abel Stearns, aka Horse-Face

He was born in Massachusetts in 1798, but was orphaned at age 12.  After spending his adolescence traveling on trading ships, he settled in Mexico in the early 1820s, where he became a Mexican citizen.  This was just after the Mexican War for Independence, and about 20 years before the Mexican-American War.  Stearns eventually moved to Los Angeles in the 1830s.  This was when Los Angeles (and all of California) was still a part of Mexico.  This was the era of the Californios--Spanish-speaking residents of Alta ("Upper") California.

In LA, Stearns opened a store dealing with cow hides and tallow (oil), which were the main exports of California in those days.  The wealthiest California landowners at this time were almost all cattle ranchers.  Abel became a sort of "middle-man" between the producers of cow hides, and the merchant ships.  He was very successful at this, eventually establishing a warehouse near present-day San Pedro in 1834.  The following year, he got into a knife-fight with a drunken sailor, who cut up Stearns' face pretty bad.  His ugly face earned him the nick-name "Caro de Caballo" aka "Horse Face".

What he lacked in beauty, he made up in wealth.  In 1841, at age 43, he married the 14-year-old daughter of a wealthy rancher.  Her name was Arcadia Bandini.  The following year, Horse-Face purchased his first rancho from governor Jose Figueroa, the 28,000-acre Rancho Los Alamitos, the first of many large ranchos he would purchase from debt-ridden Californios.  The loss of the Mexican-American War proved disastrous to Californios, but provided a nice business opportunity for the Yankee Abel Stearns.  By the late 1850s, Horse-Face had acquired the following ranchos: Los Coyotes, La Labra, Las Bolsas, Yorba, and San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana.  At the height of his weath, Stearns owned around 200,000 acres of Southern California land.

Several factors contributed to Stearns' decline.  The dwindling of the Gold Rush hit him pretty hard--he'd made a fortune selling beef to gold-hungry miners in the 1850s.  Then, there was a massive drought in 1863-64, which took a major toll on his cattle.  By the late 1860s, Stearns began selling off his vast holdings to pay off debts.  Along with his friend Alfred Robinson and other businessmen, he formed a real estate company, which sold off subdivided acreage to prospective settlers and town-builders.  Two of these town builders were George and Edward Amerige, who bought the land which would be called Fullerton.

Abel Stearns died a rich man in 1871.

Chapter 5: The American Conquest

American Pirates, er, I mean, Pioneers

The first Americans (that is, white citizens of the United States of America, as opposed to Native Americans) to visit present-day Orange County were otter hunters. According to historian Leo Friis, "Sea otters were once plentiful along the pacific coast and dwelt in great numbers in the kelp beds off Dana Point. The pelts of these animals were very valuable and efforts by American, English, and Russian sea captains to trade for them met with determined opposition from Spanish government officials who forbade all trafficking with foreigners,"

This didn't stop these greedy Yankees, though. They wanted otter pelts and were determined to get them, even if it meant lying, stealing, and cheating. In the 1800s, Yankee captains like John Brown and George W. Eayrs sailed their pirate, er, merchant ships with guns along the coast, decimating the otter population.

Another big "draw" for early Yankees was beavers, whose pelts were also valuable commodities. The famous pirate, er, pioneer Jedediah S. Smith was one of these beaver hunters. He was given permission too pass through California and leave, but Smith was so obsessed with trapping beaver that he over-stayed his welcome, much to the chagrin of Governor Echeandia.

Another yankee pirate, er, hunter, I mean, merchant was William Wolfskill (which is actually a pretty badass name). He passed through present-day Orange County to profit from killing native animals. Wolfskill was apparently quite the diplomat. He gained favor with the local Spanish padres by slaughtering Indians who would not cooperate with the Mission system. He was therefore allowed to stay and hunt.

Business Conquest of California

Spain lost control of California after Mexico won its independence in 1821, the consequence of a bloody war. American businessmen saw an opportunity to exploit a fledgling nation.

The American firm McCulloch, Hartnell and Co. quickly monopolized the southern California commodities market. It was an excellent example of conquest by bureaucracy. Americans, ever the cunning businessmen, profited hugely from the chaos following the Mexican war for independence.

When McCulloch, Hartnell, and Co. quit business in California, the Boston firm Bryant, Sturgis and Co. took over. The famous seaman Richard H. Dana, author of the book Two Years Before the Mast, whom Dana Point is named after, was an employee of Bryant, Sturgis and Co. His job was to export "hide and tallow," aka cow skins and cow oil, from California.

After Bryant, Sturgis and Co. went out of business, the "hide and tallow" market, along with many other California commodity markets were taken over by local merchant Abel Stearns. He was, needless to say, insanely wealthy.

Railroad Monopolies

“Railroad corporations subsidized hundreds of newspapers, sometimes buying them outright, and if they did not own an influential newspaper they offered subtle bribes to its editors, reporters, and correspondents…From the lowliest local elections to the national campaigns, the railroads were always involved, using their power to defeat any candidate suspected of being hostile to them.”

--Dee Brown, “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West”

Railroad monopolies. No, I’m not talking about the popular board game. I’m talking about the fact that huge railroad companies like the Santa Fe and the Pacific Electric once owned and controlled huge tracts of land in the United States, including Orange County.

Fullerton is named after George Fullerton, president of the Pacific Land Improvement Company, which was owned by the Santa Fe Railroad Company. Many towns in Orange County, like Fullerton, were hugely profitable for the railroad companies, as they got land grants from the government, and could charge basically whatever they wanted to ship people and commodities east and west. And the railroad companies did not just get the rail lines, they got the land around the rail lines, and all its coal and oil and minerals and prime real estate.

Another Orange County railroad tycoon was Henry E. Huntington, whom Huntington Beach is named after. Historian Leo J. Friis writes, “The extension of the Pacific Electric Railway lines into Orange County created a new impetus for urban development. Henry E. Huntington laid the foundation of his rail empire in 1901.”

Dee Brown writes, “With their control of local and national governments, the railroad owners operated their lines almost free of taxes, paying nothing at all on their unpatented land grants.”

And who built these railroads? Immigrants, mainly, Brown writes, “During the pioneer days of the transcontinental railroad, more than six times as many railroad men as passengers were killed or injured in accidents.”

Dee Brown ends his admittedly depressing history of the railroads in America with a quote from a pioneer traveler, “Some day in this country…it will be decided that railroads are to be run for the public, and for their benefit and accommodation. Corporations and monopolies, cliques and combinations, may, for a time, oppress and hinder the people; but there always comes a day when the public assert, and, asserting, maintain their rights."

Early Pioneers

Domingo and Maria Bastanchury

Continuing my research into the history of my hometown of Fullerton, I've begun flipping through Samuel Armor's massive 1,600 hundred page book History of Orange County: With Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men and Women of the County who Have Been Identified with Its Earliest Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present (1921).  Here's what I learned from reading the section on Fullerton pioneers Domingo and Maria Bastanchury.  Fellow locals will recognize Bastanchury Road, one of Fullerton's main thoroughfares, named after the Bastanchury family.  

Domingo was born in Aldudes, Basses-Pyrenees, France in 1839, son of Gracian Bastanchury.  He never received any formal education, but instead made his living as  sheep herder.  At age 21, he sailed for America, around Cape Horn, and landed in California.  The difficult voyage took six months.  He continued working as a sheep herder, gradually acquiring lands.  At one time, he was the largest sheep herder in LA County (before the formation of Orange County in 1889), owning between 15,000 and 20,000 head.  He eventually acquired over 6,000 acres, in and around present-day Fullerton, and  switched his business to citrus cultivation.   At one time, the family owned the largest citrus grove in the world.  He and his sons (Gaston and John) formed the Bastanchury Ranch Company.

In 1874, he married Maria Oxarart, who was born in 1848, also in Basses-Pyrenees.  She obtained a limited education in her home country before immigrating to America.  Biographer Samuel Armor writes: “Mrs. Bastanchury shared with her husband all the trials and hardships incident to pioneer life on the plains of Southern California and while he was in the mountains with his sheep she was alone with her little family, her nearest neighbors being several miles away.  She well remembers the country when there was no sign of the present town of Fullerton; all the trading was done in Los Angeles or Anaheim…There were only two houses between her home place and Los Angeles, and where now hundreds of autos travel the main road between Los Angeles and Fullerton, in the early days there would not be more than one team a week.”

Evantually, Domingo and Maria had four sons: Dominic (who owned a 400-acre ranch in La Habra), Gaston (manager of the Bastanchury Ranch Company), as well as Joseph and John (who also oversaw the ranch).  Domingo died in 1909, leaving the vast family holdings to his wife and sons.

Chapter 6: The Founding of Fullerton

The story of the founding of most American cities is a complex mixture of business interests, ingenuity, and tragedy. So it was with the founding of Fullerton.

As I walk along Harbor (which used to be called Spadra Road, and before that El Camino Real, and before that there was no road), over concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets, I can't help but try to envision this land before it was "developed": acres of mustard plants, coastal sage scrub, rolling hills, coyotes, quail, other plants and animals. And Native Americans. In this case, the Kizh.

Any American history, local or otherwise, must, in good conscience, acknowledge that Euro-Americans were relative latecomers to this place. One tends to forget this fact, as the land has been molded and developed to reflect Euro-American interests. In the case of American history, "might" has usually made "right."

My telling of the story of my hometown of Fullerton, California is as much a labor of sorrow as it is a labor of love.

George and Edward Amerige, two wealthy commodities merchants from Boston, are generally credited as the "founders" of Fullerton, but they were not the first ones here. They were simply the ones with the wealth and audacity to divide the land into small tracts for development and sale, which they did quite successfully.

Before the Ameriges, the land which came to be known as Fullerton was "owned" by ranchers. Before that, it was "owned" by Mexico. Before that, Spain. Before that, the land had no owner. It was inhabited, occasionally, by the Kizh, for whom the notion of land ownership was deeply offensive.

Too often, history books celebrate the founders of a place simply because they founded it, without pondering why. But let us ponder this question: Why did George and Edward Amerige "found" Fullerton? It was to make money, plain and simple. They saw an opportunity to cash in on real estate in Southern California, and they did. To me, this is not cause for celebration, merely quiet acknowledgement.

The man for whom Fullerton was named, George Fullerton, is equally unimpressive. He was president of the real estate arm of the Santa Fe Railroad Company. All he did was take a bribe from the Ameriges (a one third interest in their real estate ventures), so the train would pass through Fullerton and make them all richer.

George Fullerton

When viewed in this light, Fullerton's founders are no more impressive than America's founders like Washington and Jefferson. These men were smart, but they were also super wealthy, slave-owning aristocrats who wanted to get richer.

In the case of the Ameriges, we must pause again to consider the cost of land commodification and development: destruction of natural habitats, relocation of Native Americans, and later, subjugation of immigrants and pollution. I cannot, in good conscience, praise these men for being "forward-thinking" or any such nonsense. They were simply astute business men who cashed in.

Having said that, I also acknowledge that these men were human beings with loves, interests, families. They were not simply profit-minded. Evidently, George and Edward were fond of fishing and quail hunting. However, let us consider the first buildings they built here: Their real estate office, and a mammoth hotel called the St. George Hotel, named after George.

Anyhow, that is how the present-day city of Fullerton was founded: two wealthy merchants from Boston making lots of money from real estate, and bribing the railroad company man, George Fullerton.

The Amerige Family

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the City of Fullerton, some local residents interviewed many early pioneers of the city in 1937. These interviews were paraphrased and compiled into a document entitled "The Story of Fullerton and Its Founders" which is available in the Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library.

The following information is taken from a series of interviews with George Henry Amerige, one of the founders of Fullerton. The interview was conducted by Darrel A. McGavran, whose father worked for the Chapman ranches.

McGavran begins with this statement: "Any organization, community development or social improvement is usually but 'the lengthening shadow of one man,' and so it is with the founding and growth of the community of Fullerton, California. That man is George Henry Amerige, who with his brother, Edward, founded Fullerton. Thus it is appropriate that this story of Fullerton first consider the biography of the Ameriges."

The Amerige family is of ancient Italian origin, being one of the oldest protestant families of Italy. The name, in Italian, Amerigo, is from the same derivation as that of Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512), Italian explorer after whom the American continents were named.

Because of religious persecution (Italy was catholic, the Ameriges were protestant), the Amerige family moved to Germany. Maurice Amerige, grandfather of George Henry Amerige, came to Boston, Massachusetts around 1807. Maurice Amerige was a dealer in horses, and the Ameriges became one of the prominent colonial families of New England. Maurice Amerige and his wife Sarah had three sons:

George Brown, who went to California during the gold rush of 1849 and became the owner and editor of the Alta Californian, the first paper ever published in California.

William Amerige, who went to China as a trader, and died there in 1839.

Henry Amerige, father of George Henry Amerige, who became a prominent sail-maker and ship outfitter in Boston. Among the ships outfitted by Henry Amerige was the "Star of the East," which carried missionaries to Honolulu, Hawaii. Henry Amerige outfitted the ship for the arctic explorer Dr. Elisha Kent, for his trip to the North Pole in 1852. In his early years, Henry traveled extensively and visited almost all of the continents of the world.

Henry Amerige helped develop the Boston suburb named Malden (after which Malden street in Fullerton is named), and became a leading citizen and city planner. There is a park in Malden called "Amerige Park."

Henry Amerige married Harriette Elizabeth Russell, who also came from an old and prominent New England colonial family. Her great great grandfather, Eleazer Giles, lived in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. Her grandfather, also named Eleazer Giles, fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding the armed brig "Saratoga." He was a seafaring man and actually had a wooden leg. Her father, Benjamin Russell, was a slave trader.

Harriette and Henry Amerige had five children, of whom George Henry Amerige was the second born.

H. Gaylord Wilshire: Speculator, Socialist, Con-Man

In the decades following the United States' conquest of California, there followed a huge influx of people and companies hoping to buy and sell the newly-acquired lands and make a nice profit.

Two such speculators were George and Edward Amerige, who purchased the land that would become Fullerton. Because they didn't have the cash to buy the land, they partnered with speculator H. Gaylord Wilshire and the Pacific Land Improvement Company, the land development arm of the powerful Santa Fe Railroad Company.

The Amerige brothers and Wilshire formed the Fullerton Land and Trust Company and began selling off lots, and did quite a lucrative business.

Interestingly, H. Gaylord Wilshire was quite a colorful character. He ran unsuccessfully for congress on the Socialist ticket. He made a pile of money buying and selling lots of land in Southern California. Wilshire Ave. in Los Angeles is named after him.

In his later years, Wilshire became a successful con man, promoting and selling something called "The Wilshire Ring" which he claimed could heal all manner of diseases. He was called "one of the really suberb con-men of his time."

Chapter 7: Orange Empire

Charles Chapman and the Citrus Industry

Charles C. Chapman was Fullerton’s first mayor, and he has been called “The Father of the Citrus Industry.” He was hugely influential in shaping the early direction of Fullerton. But who was he? Where did he come from? What was he all about?

Charles C. Chapman

Apparently, he thought pretty highly of himself, because he wrote his own biography and called it Charles C. Chapman: The Career of a Creative Californian. Streets, schools, and a University were named after him. There is a giant bronze statue of him at Chapman University. One of Fullerton’s first newspaper editors called him “Czar Chapman.” And yet his entire wikipedia page is only two paragraphs. This is what it says:

Charles Clarke Chapman (1853–1944) was the first mayor of Fullerton, California and a relative of John Chapman, the legendary "Johnny Appleseed." He was a native of Illinois who had been a Chicago publisher before settling in Southern California.

Chapman was a supporter of the Disciples of Christ, who was a primary donor and fundraiser for California Christian College, which in 1934 changed its name to Chapman College, and is now Chapman University, in his honor.

I knew there had to be more than that. And there is..vastly more. In the Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library I found a Master’s thesis entitled “Citrus Culture,” by Laura Gray Turner. There is an entire section entitled “Charles C. Chapman: Determined Agriculturalist and Rancher Elite” which tells the fascinating and disturbing story of this man.

Charles Clarke Chapman was born in Macomb, Illinois in 1853, into a culture and family charcterized by “a hardy protestantism, fundamental in doctrine, puritanical in tradition, and capitalistic in economic dogma.” These combined values of fundamentalist Christianity and capitalist zeal would drive the future career of Charles C. Chapman.

After a series of economic ventures and failures, Chapman entered the history business in 1876, at age 23. Chapman and his brothers founded Chapman Brothers, Printers and Publishers and they began writing and printing local history books. What sort of history did he write and publish? According to Turner, they were, like much amateur history of the era “celebrations of Anglo-Saxon origins. Individuals accorded grandest adulation in these volumes were the successful businessman, the manufacturer, and especially the hardworking farmer.” These 19th century amateur histories were often informed by what historian John Higham calls “nativist tradition fostered by an attitude of racial superiority.”

This celebration was made manifest by the 1893 “World’s Columbian Exposition” in Chicago, a massive fair “in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage.” The fair grounds were called, appropriately, “White City.”

This fair lasted six months, attracted some 27 million visitors (about half of the U.S. population) and was spread out over 633 acres. Because of its size, this Exposition “shaped the way the nation saw itself and the world…[it was] a kind of tract, an argument for the superiority of our civilization…It saw itself as American destiny made manifest.”

Charles C. Chapman was intensely involved in this exhibition. He and his brothers, “always ready to seize an opportunity for profit, made plans for the construction of several hostelries [and]…an eight story luxury hotel.” I guess their history business had paid off.

Chapman described the World’s Columbian Exhibition as “the most stupendous and beautiful display ever made of the world’s achievements in art, industry, architecture, soil products, science, religion, and in the whole realm of man’s accomplishments.” Social critic Edward Bellamy, author of the classic Looking Back saw the Exhibition quite differently: “The underlying motive of the whole exhibition, under a sham pretense of patriotism is business, advertising with a view to individual money-making.”

Charles Chapman did indeed make a lot of money off the Exhibition, but his fortunes were short-lived. In 1893, the United States plunged into an economic depression, in which Chapman lost almost everything. In 1894, his wife died. Turner writes, “Resolutely, Chapman turned his face westward, where now at mid-life he would begin anew.”

One interesting aspect of American history is that the economy has almost collapsed a number of times. With economic downturn come strikes and social unrest. But always, without fail, a wealthy elite manages to reclaim power and “set things right.”

So it was with the great economic crash of 1893. Charles C. Chapman, wealthy publisher and property owner, lost almost everything. So he packed up and headed west from Chicago, seeking new markets. And he found them in the fields of Orange County.

Charles Chapman was possessed by a single-minded focus and obsession with making money, and lots of it. Turner writes, “With characteristic industry, Chapman applied his indefatigable discipline and business savvy to the task of restoring profitability to his newly acquired and rechristened Santa Ysabel Ranch.”

He studied handbooks of citriculture, met regularly with other local growers, and established “contacts among the nation’s financial, commercial, and political power brokers.”

Like most business endeavors, Chapman’s early years as an orange rancher were met with limited success and sometimes outright failure. Pests and disease among the trees proved major obstacles. He experimented with fumigation methods, sometimes using cyanide to kill pests, which for a time was common practice. Cyanide is a deadly poison that kills insects, but isn’t too good for people either.

But Chapman’s real challenge was competition with other local growers. He needed an edge, and he found this edge with clever marketing and branding, relatively new business practices, but ones that would transform American consumer culture in the 20th century.

Drawing upon his advertising and publishing experience, Chapman elevated the orange crate label to an artform which used “vivid symbols and scenes, careful constructs of fact and fantasy, [which] evoked memory and anticipation in a contrived assault upon the senses.”

Chapman was a pioneer of the idea that consumers do not just buy products, they buy ideas, they buy fantasies. And that is what Chapman’s Old Mission and Golden Eagle orange brands created. The images on Chapman’s Old Mission brand labels offered a “sanitized vision of the Spanish past…the mission myth of paternalistic displacement by a superior culture…an Anglo-Saxon approbation of the Spanish mission heritage.” The Old Mission labels featured peaceful padres in a pristine California utopia, a fantasy totally disconnected from California’s real history, which was full of violence, conquest, racism, and oppression.

Conspicuously absent on the Old Mission or Golden Eagle labels were “the ranks of workers whose backs and hands plowed, planted, watered, picked, and packed the fruit on its way to consumers’ lips.” The exploited masses whose labor made the citrus industry profitable (Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans) were not a part of Chapman’s advertising fantasy world.

But it was the unacknowledged labor of these masses who made Chapman the business and political titan he became. It was their backs who bore him into the Mayor’s seat, into the ranks of the Republican power elite, who might have carried him into the White House. Calvin Coolidge and the Republican Party wanted Chapman to be their Vice Presidential candidate in the 1920s, but Chapman declined, preferring instead to reign over his Southern California business and political empire.

On April 7, 1904, two articles were printed side-by-side in the Fullerton Tribune, the local newspaper.

One was an anonymous letter signed “One of the Laborers.” It was basically an appeal to Charles C. Chapman, local orange tycoon, for fair treatment of his workers. This laborer calls the conditions and wages of the workers a “regular outrage” and “slavery.” He ends with this appeal: “We are not permitted to sleep in the house after a hard days work. We are brothers in Christ Jesus, born of one flesh and blood, and we ought to have a tender feeling for all. But after all of that the cold-hearted rancher sends his hired man to the barn to sleep with the living creatures that inhabit therein.”

The second article was called “The Chapman’s Entertain Their Friends and Neighbors,” and describes a lavish dinner party at the three-story, thirteen-room Chapman mansion. The article reads, “the guests were given the opportunity to inspect the beautiful rooms on the first floor, consisting of library, reception hall, music room, dining room, breakfast room and kitchen. The rooms on the second floor were then shown. The guests were then invited to the third story which proved to be a hall strictly in keeping with the rest of the house.”

Here, on one newspaper page, is summed up power relationships in Chapman’s Citrus Industry.

Some of the first orange laborers in Orange County were “native sons of now divested old ranchero families.” Before the United States conquered California and took it from Mexico by force in the Mexican-American War, much of the land was subdivided into large ranches, owned by Mexican families. When the U.S. took over, many of these ranchers lost their lands. Their children, stripped of property, wealth, and land, ended up becoming laborers in the groves of a new wealthy, white American elite, like Fullerton’s own Charles C. Chapman.

The Citrus Workers: A Different Side of the California Dream

Last week, I discovered that the Fullerton Museum Center’s next exhibit is all about the orange groves of Orange County. It’s called “Citrus: California’s Golden Dream.”

Upon learning this, I was struck with a sense of purpose. I thought…I can possibly contribute something meaningful to this exhibit, based on all the research I’ve been doing. So I compiled some of my recent research and writings into a paper entitled “The Orange County Citrus Industry from the Perspective of the Workers.” I described the conditions of the Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican orange pickers throughout Orange County history. These workers faced exclusion, segregation, housing discrimination, and overt racism. I think it’s important for the Museum’s exhibit to tell this side of the story, so it does not become a dishonest “puff piece.”

Three days ago, I e-mailed my paper to the Fullerton Museum Center curator. I have not yet received a response. Since then, I found another excellent paper in the local history room entitled “Citrus Culture: The Mentality of the Orange Rancher in Progressive Era North Orange County.” It was a Master’s thesis written by Laura Gray Turner. A chapter entitled “Laborers in the Groves” sheds further light on the conditions of the workers. Here’s what I discovered.

Some of the first orange laborers in Orange County were “native sons of now divested old ranchero families.” Before the United States conquered California and took it from Mexico by force in the Mexican-American War, much of the land was subdivided into large ranches, owned by Mexican families. When the U.S. took over, many of these ranchers lost their lands. Their children, stripped of property, wealth, and land, ended up becoming laborers in the groves of a new wealthy, white American elite, like Fullerton’s own Charles C. Chapman.

In the late 19th century, with the construction of the trans-continental railroad, a new minority labor force entered California..the Chinese.

Conditions for the Chinese laborers in the orange groves were not ideal. Turner writes, “Six days a week they labored, often sleeping under the trees in the groves…in crude bunkhouses or small shanties…wages were probably about a dollar per day.” Chinese, like other minority groups, were forced to live apart from the dominant/white community. According to Turner, newspaper accounts of the Chinese presence in Orange County “reveal a certain ‘we-they’ mentality and a sense of social superiority exhibited by the white grower elite.”

In 1882, the U.S. government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which made official what was already widely practiced. Chinese were forbidden from becoming U.S. citizens.

With increasing anti-Chinese sentiment, a new group entered the citrus labor force…the Japanese. Turner writes, “Anticipating the eventual drift of the hate campaign of the northern California urban press and labor unions to turn on them, Japanese moved into the more receptive environment of southern California agriculture.”

Conditions for the Japanese laborers were, however, not ideal. One orange grower, George Key, recalls: “There were about twenty men living in a one room building made of rough 1” x 12” boards, no flooring, no windows, and one door. Smoke from the open fire had to find its way out the door or through the cracks. An open hole in the ground a little ways from the door received all refuse.” This type of housing reminds me of the housing I observed when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

When the Japanese laborers began to organize to assert their human rights, “Orange County growers joined the chorus of opposition to ‘Japanese immigration, ownership, or even leasing’ of land.” This sentiment ultimately let to the Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920, which forbade Japanese people from owning property.

The increasing anti-Japanese sentiment let to a need for a new/cheap labor force, and growers looked to Mexico, the labor pool that would dominate the industry for the remainder of the 20th century. Who were these Mexican laborers and what was life like for them in Orange County? George Key recalls: “The first of the Mexican laborers coming from Mexico were very poor and uneducated. Most communities had ‘Mexican settlements.’ Because these people were poor and knew nothing but poverty, they worked for small wages. Living conditions were deplorable with makeshift shacks and outdoor toilets.”

Like the Chinese and Japanese laborers before them, Mexican laborers faced exclusion, housing discrimination, racism, and occasional forced deportations, like during the Great Depression, when white people needed jobs.

The Orange County citrus industry was characterized by the very darkest manifestation of American capitalism: a wealthy elite, with the help of government, making enormous profits on the backs of an exploited, second-class labor force.

I hope the Fullerton Museum Center curator has the integrity to represent this tragic reality in the “Citrus: California’s Golden Dream” exhibit.

The Roots of Segregation: Orange County Citrus Towns

The racial segregation in Fullerton, particularly between whites and Mexicans, did not spring up out of nowhere. It was a direct result of the citrus industry and the wealthy growers (like Charles Chapman) who needed cheap labor.

In a paper entitled "Mexican Villages in the Orange County Citrus Towns 1900-1950," UCI professor Gilbert G. Gonzalez sheds light on the roots of racial segregation in Fullerton, which was integrally tied to the orange industry.

Unlike other crops like corn and wheat, oranges must be harvested by hand. Gonzales writes, "Since the beginning of citriculture some 6,000 years ago no other method besides hand-picking as been developed to remove the orange from the tree."

Orange County, which was once comprised of thousands of acres of orange groves (owned mostly by a wealthy elite like Chapman) needed "to establish a local, permanent labor supply." Beginning around 1910, following Chinese and Japanese Exclusion Acts, this labor supply came primarily from Mexico.

Unlike immigrants from Eurpoe, Mexican immigrants were not welcomed into the society at large. Rather, "the labor policy of many local grower associations included the construction of housing for their picking labor, and this usually meant housing for Mexican families...citrus picking came to be associated with the Mexican communities as if its inhabitants were bound to a single function in the economy."

As the citrus industry grew, so did these "citrus towns." By the 1940s, the county Mexican population "stood at 16,000, or roughly 15% of the total population. The vast majority of Mexicans lived in the citrus towns."

Mexican immigrants living in these towns were excluded from the life of the dominant/white community. They were excluded from public schools and if, for example, they wanted to go to the movies (like the Fox Theater), they "were obliged to sit in the balcony."

The Mexicans in the citrus towns were socially confined to one economic function: picking and packing oranges. However, as with other marginalized communities, this social and cultural isolation "promoted the need for a self-reliant, creative, and organized society capable of providing for its own social and cultural needs...Here a unique and culturally dynamic Mexican community existed on the margins of Anglo-American society."

Holidays like Christmas and 16 de Septiembre (Mexican Independence Day) were celebrated with "parades, processions, orations, dramatic plays, music, dancing, and crafted displays."

A 1919 article from the Anaheim Gazette describes one such celebration at the La Habra citrus village of Campo Colorado: "With the riot of color, patriotic oratory and inispiring music, the Mexicans of North Orange County...celebrated the 109th anniversary of Mexican independence in this city Tuesday...a Mexican orchestra was in attendance, and there was no lack of patriotic music, the Star Spangled Banner and the Mexican anthem being rendered by both...there were also three or four beautiful floats in the procession. These floats were artistically decorated with the Mexican and American colors, Old Glory and the red, white, and green flag of Mexico."

Despite the segregation, discrimination, and exclusion, the Mexican Americans of the Orange County citrus towns created unique cultural expressions.

So what happened to these citrus towns? According to Gonzalez, "The citrus communities flourished until the demise of the citrus industry after the post-war (WWII) industrialization and suburbanization...the urban blue collar barrio supplanted the picker camp."

George Fullerton's "Chinamen"

George Amerige and his brother Edward planted the first stake in the town of Fullerton in 1887 and began the process of developing it into a profitable municipality. The first “significant structure” they built was the St. George Hotel, named after George Amerige. Apparently, he thought pretty highly of himself.

When establishing a town, infrastructure is important. George and Edward needed help digging irrigation ditches. Thankfully, they knew a railroad man named George Fullerton who could hook them up with cheap labor—Chinamen!

Bob Ziebell writes in Fullerton: A Pictorial History, “George Amerige says he installed the town’s first water system ‘employing Chinamen to do the excavation work on the ditches.’” As a way of saying “thanks” to George Fullerton for bringing the railroad (and Chinamen), George and Edward Amerige and the Santa Fe Railroad Company decided to name the town Fullerton, after a guy who had made a pretty successful career for himself on the backs of “Chinamen.”

Because they were basically second-class citizens, Chinese immigrants proved an invaluable (and cheap!) labor force for railroad companies in 19th century America, including Fullerton.

A Brief History of Migratory Farm Labor in California

In the mid-1930s, at the height of the great depression, a novel written by a young John Steinbeck shattered the carefully-constructed myth of California as a “land of sunshine and abundance.”  Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath told a gut-wrenching story of migratory farm labor exploited by wealthy land owners.

Around that time, another book came out that is less well-known today, but perhaps equally illuminating.  That book is Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California, written by a young lawyer/journalist named Carey McWilliams.  First published in 1935, McWilliams’ book is a carefully researched work of social history.  Factories in the Field may be read as the research that backs up Steinbeck’s fiction. 

I read Factories in the Field this summer, and was blown away by this largely unknown history.  It’s a story of greed, corruption, exploitation, violence, and human struggle.  It’s a story that is ongoing, that still affects what we eat and how that food is produced.  I have decided to write a series of articles, chronicling the major parts of McWilliams’ important book.  If we understand our shared past, maybe we might better understand our present.

Part I: Land Monopolization

By the time California became a state of the Union, much of its land was already spoken for.  By 1870, the powerful railroads held nearly 20,000,000 acres of land.  By 1871, 516 men in California owned 8,685,439 acres of land. 

“Our system,” said governor Haight, “seems to be mainly framed to facilitate the acquisition of large blocks of land by capitalists or corporations either as donations or at nominal prices.”

According to McWilliams, “The ownership patterns established by force and fraud in the decade from 1860 to 1870 have become fixed; the social structure of the state is, in large part, based upon these patterns.  California more than once has been referred to as a colonial empire, and, by and large, the description is accurate.”

After the Gold Rush of the 1850s, landowners in California began to realize the financial potential of agriculture.   Contrary to American mythology,  the bulk of California farmland did not go to small farmers.  Rather, it went to railroad companies, land barons, and corporations, who held enormous influence over elected officials.  If you have been watching the show “Hell on Wheels” you have some idea of the power of the railroads in 19th century America.

According to Walter V. Woehlke, a writer for Sunset Magazine in the 1920s, “Wheat and cattle barons controlled the bulk of the fertile land in large tracts, having acquired their principalities through purchase of the old Spanish grants or though evasion of the laws protecting the public domain.”  The result of this situation was “a class of landless tenants and drifting homeless farm laborers.”

In his 1872 travel book, Afoot and Alone, Stephen Powers describes "the notable phonemona of California...the multitude of its tramps, the so-called blanket men.  I seldom met less than a dozen or fifteen a day.”

It is to these blanket men and bindle stiffs, to the exploited Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican laborers of California’s past and present, that I dedicate this series.

Henry Miller's Hoboes

When Americans think of "Captains of Industry" we normally think of men like Rockefeller (the oil baron), Carnegie (the steel baron), and Vanderbilt (the railroad baron).  We do not normally think of agriculture.  But, according to Carey McWilliams, California's Captains of Industry definitely included agriculturalists or "farm industrialists."  McWilliams titled his book Factories in the Field to emphasize this point.

One of California's first and most ruthlessly successful farm industrialists was a man named Henry Miller (not the author).  A German immigrant, Miller began his career as a butcher and cattle trader in  San Francisco.  He began acquiring more land through shady deals involving buying out heirs to Spanish land grants, purchasing land "scrip" from U.S. surveyors, bribing local officials, lobbying the state legislature, and making friends with the powerful railroad companies.

By the turn of the century, Miller owned well over a million acres of land and over a million head of cattle.  According to McWilliams, "Miller liked to boast that he could ride on horseback from Canada to Mexico and sleep every night in one of his own ranches." 

As a result of his land grabs and power, Miller was able to push many small farmers and original settlers off the land.  Many of these displaced farmers and settlers became "tramps" and hoboes."  Miller discovered that these hoboes and tramps could be hired for very low wages, as long as they didn't settle and kept moving along his farm empire.  What developed was a route called the "Dirty Plate Route" (hoboes carried their own plates with them).  McWilliams calls this "the beginning of migratory farm labor in California."

Sometimes Miller would pay local constables and sheriffs to round up tramps and hoboes from freight yards, arrest them on vagrancy charges, which they could pay off by working for free on a Miller ranch.  Conditions on the ranches were often "lousy and foul."

H.A. Van Coenen Torchiana, who was once a foreman on one of the Miller ranches wrote, "The whole system was vicious, and bred industrial oppression on a large scale."

Despite the fact that he was largely responsible for this system of industrial oppression, Miller went to great lengths to create a public image of himself as benevolent: "In the mornings, in Bakersfield, the tramps, who had jumped off the train, would line up in front of the bank when they saw Henry Miller enter.  When he emerged from the bank, it would generally be with a large bag of coins--two bit pieces.  As Miller shuffled out of the bank, he would hand each man two bits, while he, hat in hand, would murmur, 'Thank you, Mr. Miller' or 'God bless you, sir.'"

Bonanza Farms and Indian Labor

Up until 1860, much of California agriculture was centered around huge cattle farms, perhaps best represented by those of Henry Miller.  After 1860, a new crop began to dominate...wheat.  1860-1890 saw the rise of massive wheat farms in California.  By 1890, 40,000,000 bushels of wheat were produced in the state, making California the second largest wheat producer in the United States.

Wheat farming was, for a time, profitable for large scale growers like Hugh J. Glenn, but it also exhausted the soil.  According to Carey McWilliams, "Within a decade the land barons of the state had seriously undermined the agricultural resources of California.  The same feverish frenzy that had characterized mining in California also characterized wheat farming, which was not strictly speaking farming at all, but a variety of mining."

During the heyday of the great wheat farms, the main source of cheap labor was Indians, who had also supplied the bulk of the labor force during the Spanish colonial period.  It's no secret that when Americans took control of California, the Indians were ruthlessly exploited and uprooted.

Charles Loring Brace, a writer who visited California in 1867, expressed the popular U.S. attitude toward Native American laborers during that time period.  He describes them as "perhaps the lowest tribe of the human race--they were all disgustingly dirty, and with but little clothing on them, living, in part, on pine seeds, acorns, and grass seeds; a diminishing race."

It is, of course, ironic that writers like Brace blamed Native Americans for their own "diminishing" and not the Anglo Americans who systematically exploited and killed them.

In her 1884 novel Ramona, writer Helen Hunt Jackson portrays treatment of Native Americans in late 19th century California.  A character in the novel, Allesandro, explains how Anglo Americans treated Native Americans: "When they buy the Mexican's lands, (they) drive the Indians away as if they were dogs; they say we have no right to our lands."

Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, who visited Southern California in 1876 noted that most of the labor force was Cahuilla Indians from the San Bernadino mountains.  According to McWilliams, these Indians were paid "ridiculously low wages, or no wages at all (a bottle of whiskey was one method of payment)."

Chinese Labor

Between the decades of 1870 and 1890, fruit gradually replaced wheat as the main crop of California.  Reasons for this included changes in market conditions, droughts, and high freight rates.  While wheat could be harvested mechanically and required less labor, fruit often had to be hand-harvested and required a large labor force.

Enter the Chinese laborer.

The completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869, which had relied heavily on Chinese labor, created a lot of job-seeking Chinese immigrants.  These "coolies" were a Godsend for large fruit growers in California, as Chinese laborers would work for very low wages.

According to the California Bureau of Labor, Chinese workers constituted around 80 percent of the agricultural laborers in the state in 1886.  Low-paid Chinese labor was a major factor in the early economic success of the California fruit industry.

Large fruit growers faced a problem, however...large-scale and vicious racism against Chinese people in late 19th century America.  As early as 1854, a California Supreme Court decision had included Chinese in "a statute which prohibited the testimony of Negroes, mulattos, and Indians, in cases to which white men were parties."  According to Carey McWilliams, "Newspapers had stated as early as 1850 that the Chinese were being murdered with impunity."

Anti-Chinese clubs sprang up around California starting in the 1860s.  Cities like San Francisco passed discriminatory ordinances making it illegal to carry baskets on the sidewalks or for men to grow their hair a certain length.  Chinese people were routinely harassed and expelled from their homes and places of work.

This anti-Chinese sentiment became federal law in 1882 with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which sought to curtail Chinese immigration to America.

The Geary Act of 1892 continued the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act and also provided for massive deportation of Chinese from the US.  The language of the Geary Act is eerily familiar.  It "forced the burden of proving legal residence upon the Chinese, and required that all Chinese laborers register under the act within one year of its passage."

When these legal measures failed to expel Chinese people as swiftly as people wanted, Californians resorted to vigilante "justice", as shown by the following examples, as excerpted from Carey McWilliams' book Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California:

"On August 15 (1893), riots broke out near Fresno: Chinese were driven from the fields and were 'compelled to make lively runs for Chinatown.'  Chinese labor camps were raided and fired."

"In Napa Valley, on August 17, a white laborers' union was formed, and a mass meeting protested the further employment of the Chinese in the prune orchards."

"In Southern California, at Compton, the Chinese were barricaded in packing sheds where they were forced to sleep for safety, while 'hoodlums' raided the fields and drove out the Chinese."

"On September 3 anti-Chinese raiders swooped down on Redlands' Chinatown, broke into houses, set afire to several buildings, looted the tills of Chinese merchants, and generally terrorized the Chinese."

"At Tulare, Visalia, and Fresno, hundreds of white men were busy 'routing out the Chinese, terrifying them with blows and pistol shots, and driving then to the railroad station and loading them on the train."

During the years when this anti-Chinese activity was most acute (1893-1894), the United States was in the throes of a major economic depression.  During this economic turmoil, Americans sought a scapegoat for their troubles, and found that scapegoat in Chinese workers.

Japanese Exclusion

"From 1882, when the first Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, until about 1930, the history of farm labor in California has revolved around the cleverly manipulated exploitation, by the large growers, of a number of suppressed racial minority groups which were imported to work in the fields."

--Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California 

After the exclusion of Chinese laborers from California following the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Geary Act, and widespread armed vigilantism, large growers were faced with a dilemma.  They could have reconsidered their labor policies and created a more just and fair system.  Instead, they began importing another exploitable minority labor force...the Japanese.

Between 1890 and 1910, the number of Japanese people in California rose from 2,039 to 72,156, many of whom worked as agriculture laborers.  In 1901, the Industrial Commission on Immigration reported, "In the state of California alone there is today a great army of Japanese coolies, numbering upwards of 20,000.  They do not colonize as do the Chinese; they are scattered throughout the state, doing work in the orchards, vineyards, gardens, and hop and sugar beet fields."  By 1909, there were 30,000 Japanese field workers in California.

Apparently, the large growers were as pleased with the Japanese as they were with the Chinese, as a low-paid labor force.  J.L. Nagle of the California Fruit Growers Exchange stated, rather bluntly, "The Japs and Chinks just drift--we don't have to look out for them."  The growers liked a labor force that worked cheap when fruit needed harvesting, and then moved on.

The Japanese brought about innovation in California agriculture.  It was they who introduced rice cultivation to the state, a crop which by 1935 brought in around $20,000,000 per year.  Some Japanese were able to purchase farms and become growers themselves.  George Shima became famous for a time as the "Potato King."

When Japanese agricultural laborers began to organize and demand higher wages, they were met with racial prejudice and exclusion.  In 1920, the Los Angeles Times stated, "Japanese labor is not cheap labor.  The little brown traders know how to get as much for their product as the traffic will bear."

When Japanese immigrants began to purchase and cultivate their own farms, they faced systematic legal discrimination and exclusion.  In 1909, John D. Mackenzie, Commissioner of Labor Statistics, stated, "The moment this ambition [land ownership] is exercised, that moment the Japanese ceases to be an ideal laborer."

Feuled by widespread anti-Japanese media and hysteria, the California government passed the Alien Land Law of 1913, which prevented Japanese people from owning property.  A similar Alien Land Law was passed again in 1920.  The Immigration Act of 1924 (aka The Asian Exclusion Act) excluded the Japanese from entering the United States.

Writing in 1939, Carey McWilliams stated, "The Japanese are today no longer an important element as farm laborers."  With another labor pool excluded, the large growers looked elsewhere.  McWilliams continues, "After 1920, the large growers, who of course employ the bulk of farm labor in California, began to use Filipino and Mexican labor, as it was unorganized and cheaper."

Mexican Labor

The following is from a series I am writing on the history of farm labor in California based on the book Factories in the Field: The Story of Migratory Farm Labor in California, by Carey McWilliams

Around WWI, as Chinese, Japanese, and other “undesirable” immigrant groups were being 
expelled from California, and many men from California were fighting overseas, large growers looked to Mexican workers “to relieve the labor situation.”  Mexican immigrants would remain the dominant low paid labor force for the remainder of the twentieth century, and they remain so today.

By 1920, at least 50 percent of the migratory labor in California was Mexican.  In 1926, growers sent lobbyist S. Parker Frisselle to congress “to get us Mexicans and keep them out of our schools and our of our social programs.”  Between 1920 and 1930, at least 150,000 Mexicans worked in the fields of California.

Mexican laborers, like the Chinese and Japanese before them, were ideal for growers because they were low-paid and easily deportable, should workers organize for higher wages or better conditions.  Carey McWilliams explains, “The general attitude of the growers towards the Mexicans is summarized in a remark made by a ranch foreman to a Mexican: ‘When we want you, we’ll call you; when we don’t—git.’”

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, white Americans began to clamor for the agricultural jobs worked largely by Mexicans.  Just as Chinese laborers were deported enmasse following the Great Depression of 1893, Mexican laborers were deported en masse during the Depression of the 1930s.  McWilliams writes, “Beginning in February, 1931, thousands of Mexicans, many of whom were citizens of the United States, were herded together by the United States and shipped back to Mexico.” 

This phenomenon was not limited to California.  Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were illegally deported at this time.  This historical reality is described in heartbreaking detail in the book Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s by scholars Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez. 

Mexican laborers in Southern California often lived in work camps, or “villages” which were segregated from the dominant Anglo community.  The definitive scholarly work on this subject is Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Workers Villages in a Southern California County 1900-1950 by Gilbert Gonzalez.  This book describes the Mexican citrus villages of Orange County, which are the roots of current unofficial white/latino segregation in cities like Fullerton and Anaheim.

McWilliams states, “Although the charge is vociferously denied, Mexican and Negro are segregated in the rural schools.  Arthur Gleason interviewed the principal of one rural school in 1924.  ‘Mexican children,’ she said, ‘will not be admitted to this school.  The reason is public sentiment.  The trustees will never put those children in here.  This school is a white school.’”

It is a significant, though not widely taught, fact that the first public school de-segregation case in the United States was not Brown vs. Board of Education, but Mendez vs. Westminster, which declared racial segregation in Orange County schools to be unconstitutional.  Up until 1946, however, it was considered okay.

Stay tuned for more on Mexican farm labor in California!

Chapter 8: Early 20th Century

Fullerton's Political System

Fullerton, California was incorporated as a city in 1904. It was governed by a newly-formed body called the “City Trustees” and one Mayor, who were elected by the people. These trustees and mayor were largely white, wealthy landowners and businessmen. The first mayor of Fullerton was Charles C. Chapman, the richest man in town. From the very beginning, the political system in Fullerton favored wealthy, white landowners and businessmen.

Around the middle of the century, Fullerton’s political structure changed to a “council-manager” system, and it remains so today. The city is governed by five elected City Council members, and one appointed City Manager. There is a mayor, but that is larely an empty ceremonial title, as his vote counts the same as the other council members. The Council Members meet twice a month and receive a small stipend. The City Manager works full-time and is well-paid. Because he is not elected, he is not answerable to the people.

Describing this trend, local historian Spencer Olin writes, “By the mid-1960s, then, several marked changes in political structures and practices had occurred that clearly favored the interests of a certain class segment, first of regional capitalists and next of owners of national and international corporations…an increased depoliticization of the municipal administration had taken place through the imposition of the council-manager system and the move away from elected officials toward appointed ones.”

Most City positions are now appointed, not elected: the police Chief, the Planning Commission, the City Manager. These people do not have to answer to the public they serve. This system, of course, has consequences. If city officials are not answerable to the public, the chance for corruption increases, as we have seen with the current Fullerton Police Department, and the Kelly Thomas police brutality issue.

Olin continues: “If we carefully analyze the political forces behind such changes in municipal (city) government, while at the same time paying attention to underlying economic developments, we can uncover the antidemocratic implications of suburban policies…We can see, for example, that important areas of public authority were removed from the control of locally elected officials and were taken over by relatively autonomous and distant governmental agencies largely insulated from the political process.”

A good example of this is the Fullerton Planning Commission. Members of the Planning Commission are not elected, they are appointed. Thus, there is no limit to the amount of money and favors they may receive from developers or corporate interests who want them to “approve” their projects. While it is true that planning commission meetings are often open to the public, members of the commission have no obligation or incentive to actually listen to the public.

This anti-democratic system clearly favors corporate and developer interests, and allows them to “move directly into the inner circles of government, and once there to dominate more effectively than ever before municipal affairs” (Olin 234). I have seen this first-hand in Fullerton, with the Coyote Hills issue. The Chevron Corporation, who owns West Coyote Hills, is deeply involved in the Fullerton political process, employing lawyers, experts, and public relations folks to give them access to Council Members and the planning commission. These, and other, corporate-government relations go on largely outside the sphere of public debate and scrutiny.

When I began to attend City Council meetings around 2009, I was struck by the arrogant and dismissive way in which certain members of Fullerton City Council treated anyone from the public who voiced any kind of dissent. For a long time, I thought: “Well, those guys are just assholes.” But now I see them as part of a larger system, a system of corporate-government pacts, a system that alienates and excludes the average citizen.

Having said that, I think things are changing. The recent Kelly Thomas police brutality issue has put the formerly-insulated Fullerton City Council directly in the public spotlight. In a way, I feel bad for these guys. They are dealing with something completely new and foreign to them…democracy.

Oral History: Paul Des Granges

Paul Des Granges was born in 1891 in Fullerton, CA. As a young man, he worked for the Brea Olinda oil fields, then as a road paver for Fullerton, then as a farmer. Eventually, his family owned a 40-acre orange grove in Fullerton. He was interviewed in 1971 by Anne Riley for the Fullerton College Oral History program. Here are recollections of Fullerton over the years from a man who was here from almost the very beginning of the town.

On Who Owned Fullerton Land before the Amerige Brothers

"Stearns' Ranch was all over here at one time. They owned quite a bit of that property here. It's an old Spanish land grant is what it was. You'd have to dig into some of California's history to get who Abel Stearn was, but he married a Spanish woman. He was a Yankee, and he knew how to get things."

On Working the Brea Olinda Oil Fields

"You had to work in those days! Well, if you got a Sunday off once in a while, you was in luck…We had twelve hour days, 365 days a year."

On Charles C. Chapman (orange rancher/Fullerton's first mayor)

"He had his own private drive-way for quite a few years, coming through there…State College to Acacia. He used to have to close it off at each end about once a year, a day or two, to hold it…When it [Fullerton] was incorporated, a good Christian member [Chapman] employed enough men to vote for him…that he knew would vote the right way for him…built the Christian church for them."

On Louis Plummer (Superintendent of Fullerton Union High School/Ku Klux Klan Member)

"Smooth talker. Plummer came here, and he was a…I guess…gosh, I guess the old fellow did teach…I never had him…Oh, he was quite a church man. Pretty smooth…And he got a building named after him, and all that. And he wrote a book. Oh, he was quite a man."

On Who Provided Water for the Community During the 1938 Earthquake

"I knew very well that the water tank out by the stallion barn had come down, because water had all come down through there and down through the yard. And we didn't have any water there at the house that night, except a couple of ten gallon cans that we got down in Mexican Town. [At this time, Mexican Americans lived in segregated work camps called "Citrus Towns" or "Mexican Towns"] They were on the hillside below the place…and we got a couple of ten gallon milk cans full of water, and that's all. We had twenty-one people there in the yard that night."

On Hippies

"A lot of these hippies that are coming in here, they've got to be fed or something, or taken care of, and they've got to have the money enough to pay the rent for the rent for the thing…I don't know."

On the Decline of the Citrus Industry

"Well, they call it progress. I guess so…The tax bill got too big. Orchards…you couldn't make decent sized oranges to save your soul in this part of the country. We don't know to this day, for an honest fact, any more than to say that it's just the smog that did it, that's all."

Oral History: Albert Hetebrink

The Hetebrinks were one of the oldest and most established Fullerton families, right up there with the Chapmans and the McFaddens. The Hetebrink house is that big creepy-looking house right next to Fullerton College. From previous research, I read that an Albert Hetebrink was in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. You can read about that HERE. He was a fairly wealthy orange rancher here. At one time, his ranch covered 40 acres in Fullerton. He was a member of the "rancher elite" who relied upon Mexican labor to pick and pack his oranges. Knowing this, I was interested to find a 52-page interview conducted with Albert in 1999, for the Fullerton College Oral History program.

I was disappointed with the interview for a few reasons. First, Albert was 99 years old, and a bit senile, when the interview was conducted, so his memory of names, places, and events is spotty at best. Second, the interviewer neglected to ask about the really interesting issues like the Ku Klux Klan. At age 99, the two things Albert kept talking about were bridge and golf.

One problem I've noticed with the Oral History Program at Cal State and Fullerton College is that the interviewers seemed to interview primarily those with power: orange ranchers and mainly wealthy white people. As a historian, I am equally interested in reading about those without power: the working class and minorities. So far in my research, I have found a few such interviews, but not many. I hope they exist, or I am going to have to do those interviews myself.

Having said that, there were a few interesting tidbits from the Albert Hetebrink interview. Before the Hetebrinks moved into the large house on Chapman Ave, they lived in a smaller house near the railroad tracks. He recalls, "The hoboes followed the railroad tracks in those days, and they always stopped in for a meal…[my mother] always had chickens and eggs out there, and she always could mix up a meal for them any time of the day. And she did, as a rule." Interestingly, the hoboes were one of reasons the family moved. Albert recalls, "We moved over here [on Chapman] because they put a railroad track to Placentia. And the hoboes all followed the railroad track, and they were always begging a meal. So that's why we moved over here, mainly. It was one of main reasons, and to get closer to town."

Albert went by the nickname "Pete." When asked why, he said, "I had an uncle Albert Hetebrink. He and a Placentia friend of his were out hunting, one behind the other one. His friend was the one in back, and his gun went off and killed Albert…My uncle Dee Dee (Dietrich] couldn't call me Albert because he knew Albert, and so he called me Pete. That's how I got my nickname."

In its early years, Fullerton was a "dry town," meaning it was hard to get a drink of alcohol anywhere, mainly because those in power (like mayor Charles Chapman) were very religious protestants who were against drinking. Albert recalls, "The people that drank, they liked to go to Anaheim because they were a wet town. Fullerton was more connected to the church, so it was just more natural to be dry."

When asked if they had help on their ranch, people who worked for them, Albert said simply, "Oh yeah, Mexican labor," but he did not elaborate much on the subject. The interviewer asked a couple times about a man named Juan Castro, a man who had worked on their ranch and lived in a house on the orange grove. Albert had little to say on this subject except, "Oh, he worked. Yeah, he worked on the ranch." I can't tell if Albert's reluctance to discuss his laborers was due to embarrassment or simply a lack of interest, or both. A bit later in the interview, Albert said, "I had Mexicans that lived on the ranch."

When asked if he ever played cards with Juan Castro, Albert replied, "No."

When asked about the decline of the agriculture industry and the rise of residential, commercial, and industrial development in Fullerton, Albert speculated that it has affected the weather: "To have more houses where it used to be vacant ground, there's more houses and more heat…we never really had any bad cold weather after that…I think it's rained less." Instead of global warming, Albert witnessed local warming.

In response to this, the interviewer observed a trend toward more localized agriculture: "I think people are starting to turn towards raising their own food a little bit more. But you're an old hand at that, and we have to learn how to do it again."

Tariffs and "Free Market" Capitalism

What is a “free market”? I’m no economist, but I believe it is allowing businesses to operate independent of government control or oversight. This is my understanding of “free market” capitalism. In a true “free market” there would be no safety standards for automobiles, no one testing if meat was safe, no labor laws. Children could work in factories, like they used to, before government started meddling in things.

But “the market” has rarely, if ever, been a true free market. C. Stanley Chapman, a wealthy orange grower in Fullerton, talks about how their business was threatened in the early to mid-twentieth century by foreign producers who “had the advantage of cheap labor.” So, what did the Chapmans do? They went to the government and asked for help: “Father made several visits to Washington to work on various Congressmen and Senators.”

After some convincing (and campaign contributions?) Chapman convinced the government to establish a tariff on foreign oranges and lemons: “When this tariff was established, it immediately gave us a chance to compete.”

That was not the free market. It was government intervention. And Chapman was a strong Republican! He almost ran for vice president. I don’t think this is unique. The common notion is that Republicans are for the “free market” and against government meddling, except when that “meddling” brings them more profits, with tariffs, subsidies, tax breaks, bailouts, etc. Why do you think these big companies spend so much time and money lobbying congress? They want help, just like everyone else.

Chapman Buys the News

The notion of powerful business interests owning, influencing, and dictating the news is nothing particularly new in America.

As orange tycoon/mayor Charles C. Chapman gained political and economic power in Orange County around the turn of the century, he began to receive criticism from Edgar Johnson, editor of the Fullerton Tribune. Johnson often called Chapman “hizzoner,” “Czar,” and even “The Great I Am.”

Fed up with this criticism and the debate it sparked, Chapman started his own newspaper, The Fullerton News, in 1902. He hired former photographer and advertising man Vivian Tressler as editor. Chapman also appointed Tressler as postmaster. In those days, the post office was a popular gathering place for people to share news and ideas. Chapman didn’t like that, so he used his power to control information and discourse.

Even more disturbing was Chapman’s stated purpose for establishing his own newspaper. He called it a “prohibition or temperance and republican” newspaper. Chapman sought to channel the public discourse TOWARD the evils of drinking and the temperance movement, and AWAY from issues like economic justice, labor unions, checks and balances of power, fair wages, or even participatory democracy.

If he could get everyone arguing about saloons and drinking then their attention would be diverted from other, perhaps more important, issues like: Why are workers paid so little? Why are we denying them citizenship? Why are they segregated from us in work camps?

Some People Used to Grow Their Own Food

The massive corporatization of the food industry in America has had some positive benefits, and some serious drawbacks. On the positive side, getting food is now very convenient. All you have to do is drive to a grocery store and viola! Food. On the negative side, a lot of food is now genetically modified and filled with potentially hazardous preservatives and pesticides.

But there is a more fundamental, and more basic loss that has happened with this modern development...people have become more disconnected from the land they live on. I know almost nothing about how to plant vegetables, to care for them, to watch them grow, to feel a connection between the work of my hands and what I put in my body. This disconnect turns out to be more tragic than we realize. When we start to lose our connection with the natural world, with the world we inhabit, its plants and animals, it becomes easier for us to exploit it, to not care. But it was not always this way.

Jessie Corona de Montoya describes growing up in a pre-developed, more agricultural Fullerton. She helped her grandma grow the food in their garden, and they basically lived off that food. “The only thing we had to buy was potatoes,” she recalls, “We didn’t have potatoes in that garden, but we had everything else. Our fresh meat was the chickens.”

Montoya lovingly recalls her grandmother’s deep knowledge of growing and preparing food: “She raised squash, tomatoes, corn...when she harvested all those vegetables, she dried them in the sun. She dried her corn and string beans, and then she saved them in little sacks that she made, until wintertime. When wintertime came, she dropped these vegetables in boiling salted water, and it was just like they were just picked.” Near the garden, her grandmother had plum, apricot, and peach trees.

Montoya’s father would cure olives and peppers in large barrels, and he would bake bread. She recalls, “My father had built an oven outdoors out of fire brick and cement. When we were little it looked to us like an igloo; it was round...he used to bake enough bread enough to last all week.”

The time they spent planting, harvesting, preparing and eating the food created connections not just between people and the land, but between family members and friends: “My parents would plan to meet, maybe in the Santa Ana Canyon where the river runs, and everybody would take something to the picnic...the salsa was fresh California peppers, fresh tomatoes and onions.” Large groups of up to sixty people would get together for whole weekends of eating and hanging out: “There was always somebody who could either play the guitar or a violin for music. There were always musicians in the crowd.”

Is this deep connection to the land, to our food, and each other a thing of the past, of the “good old days” long gone? I don’t think it is. My good friends Landon and Ali spend a summer working on small, organic farms in Europe, through a program called HelpX, “an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.” Ever since that experience, Landon and Ali have begun growing their own vegetables. Just last week, I had some wonderful grilled zucchini that they grew.

In the future, gardening may become more than a hobby for people. As people become fed up with eating unhealthy, mass-produced food, there is a growing trend toward local growing and consuming. As I’ve said before, maybe the old folks had it right.

Union Oil Had Its Tentacles in Everything

Hubert C. Ferry worked for the Union Oil Company from 1918-1956, first in Los Angeles, and then in Fullerton. Although his degree was in law, he was something of a renaissance man for the company. He worked “in a supervisorial, managerial, legal, administrative, or official capacity.”

As I read the transcript of a 1975 interview with Ferry for the CSUF Oral History Program, my initial impression of Ferry is that he was a very well-informed, service-oriented man who really believed he was working for a service industry. He said, “Considering the magnitude and hazards involved, the petroleum industry is performing a miraculous service with an outstanding safety record.” I’m not sure he could make that claim today.

But what really strikes me about this interview is how deeply embedded Ferry was, not just in Union Oil, but in the political, municipal, and civic life of Orange County:

He was on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

He was on the Advisory Board of St. Jude Hospital.

He was on the Orange County Planning Commission.

He was on the Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles County Air Pollution District.

He was on the Advisory Committee of the State Board of Health.

He was Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Orange County Transit District.

He was Chairman of the Committee that financed the building of the current City Hall in Fullerton.

What business does a guy who worked for a major oil company for 38 years have on all these civic and municipal committees? I have to wonder whose interests he was representing on all those committees and boards. I suspect he was representing his employer, Union Oil. It is more than a little disturbing that a guy from an oil company was so deeply embedded in governmental and civic affairs.

Is this why Los Angeles and Orange County are so polluted?

Is this why Southern California has such shitty public transportation?

Oranges, Oil, and Smog

How did oil replace oranges as the primary export of Fullerton in the mid 20th century? One of the reasons is a major by-product of oil...smog. C. Stanley Chapman, whose family used to own one of the largest orange groves in the country, recalls:

“For a number of years, we had noticed that along the highway the trees didn’t do well. We all thought it was dust or something like that. Then it began to be evident that it was the exhaust from the automobiles. As that increased, the damage increased.”

Chapman describes other crop issues they had, such as disease and pestilence. But, he concludes, even without those problems, “The smog would have gotten them [the orange trees].”

As someone who has grown up with smog as a fact of life, I am interested to read accounts of people who lived before smog. Elvin Ames, a teacher at Fullerton Union High school in the 1920s and 30s, describes the view of Orange County from Lake Arrowhead in those days: “When you got up there—our cabin was out on the rim—you could just see all over the world. We could see Catalina and we could see the ocean and we could see all the town in the valley. That was before the smog covered everything like it does now and it was really an inspiration to go up there.”

I'm a Christian Soldier!

When World War I broke out, Fullerton resident Fred Strauss and his friend Nels Nelson decided to enlist. He recalls the experience, “We went there to Los Angeles and had a lot of beer. Finally, after we had had enough beer and we got to feeling pretty good, I said to my pal, ‘Let’s go and enlist and join the Army.’ And he said, ‘Okay, we’ll go.” So they enlisted.

Fullerton resident Archer W. Kammerer was in the National Guard during World War I. When asked why he chose to join the National Guard, Kammerer said, “The company I enlisted in had a pretty good baseball team, and I liked to play baseball. The kids were pretty enthusiastic about it. I think that was the reason I enlisted.”

Strauss enlisted because he was drunk. Kammerer enlisted because he liked baseball. I think the deeper reason was because they were bored, and the War offered a welcome contrast to their boring, hum-drum lives. Strauss recalls, “There was nothing to do in Fullerton. We had a few moving picture shows...Or you could sit across the street from where our store was, at the ice-cream parlor. We could sit there for a ten-cent soda for about two hours and talk to one another. There was nothing else to be done.”

I don’t think these men were unique in their reasons for enlisting. America at that time was pretty rural, and the War Propaganda promised adventure, as it still does today. Of course, the reality of warfare turned out to be less than glamorous. Over 115,000 American boys lost their lives in that war.

In the National Guard, Kammerer admitted that he didn’t really know what he was supposed to be doing or why he was doing it: “We tramped around in the hills and didn’t know what anyone else was doing. I don’t think we cared very much...Down on the border, there was nothing really for us to do except wish we were not there...I don’t know for sure but in a war maybe the best thing is not to know too much about it.”

Strauss had similarly Kafkaesque moments in his War experiences. He recalls, “We were stationed in San Diego, at Camp Kearney. We used to march on the parade grounds every day and sing, ‘I’m a Christian soldier, marching to the war.’” This is funny because Strauss was Jewish. That’s a pretty weird thing to require soldiers to sing, especially in a country founded on religious liberty.

Smallpox and Influenza

Before the advent of antibiotics and vaccines, lots of people died from diseases like smallpox and the flu. Jessie Corona de Montoya discusses a smallpox epidemic in Fullerton around 1918.

“We were quarantined,” she recalls, “Nobody could go in and all the ones that were in the house could not leave” (13). Jessie and two of her brothers survived smallpox.

Because I live at a time and place where smallpox has been completely eradicated, I have no idea what it was like. Was it like smaller chicken pox? Montoya paints a disturbing picture: “They’re red. It’s a little bump, and it’s red on the surface and then they are full of some ugly matter that turns a deep grey, ugly when they burst…and the smell. This rotten smell. I can’t describe it” (13). That sounds considerably worse than chicken pox—more like the Bubonic plague.

A few years later, an influenza epidemic afflicted six members of Montoya’s family. “A lot of people died,” she recalls, “There were lots and lots of deaths from that” (14).

"We Were Outlaws"

Jessie Corona de Montoya moved with her family to Fullerton in 1921. Her father, Jose Ramon de Montoya, was a rancher in Riverside, and then a foreman for a rock and gravel company. They lived on Raymond Ave. in Fullerton. The ancestry of the Montoyas was a mixture of French, German, Mexican, and Native American. Thus, although the family was originally from Mexico, some of the members had blonde hair and blue eyes, and some were darker-skinned. This variety of complexions and mixed ancestry led to a lot of confusion and conflict in the 1920s in Fullerton, where discrimination against Mexicans was fairly widespread.

Montoya recalls an experience where she and her siblings went to the public pool in Fullerton. To enter the public pool, they had to go though a turnstile. Her youngest brother, Edward Lorraine, had blonde hair and blue eyes, and he was allowed in. Her sister, who had light brown hair and an olive complexion, was allowed in. When one of her darker-skinned brothers tried to get in, the man at the turnstile said, “You can’t come in, we have a day for Mexicans to swim.”

This made her older sister, Esther, really mad. Montoya recalls, “She grabbed the man and she pulled him over right close to her face and she said, ‘He is my brother. His skin is darker than mine. How come you let the blonde one in? They’re from the same father and mother.” Esther, in a rage, “hit him one time, she grabbed the hair. She grabbed him by the neck and she punched that man until somebody called the police.”

When the police came, Esther held her ground.

“What’s this all about?” the police asked.

“He wouldn’t let us in for swimming. We paid our way; we had money. He let those two in and then when this brother was ready to go in, he wouldn’t’ let him it. So when he said there was a certain day for Mexicans to swim that made me awfully mad because we are Americans, and I never knew we were anything else but Americans.”

The police man looked at the beat-up turnstile man.

“Did you do this to him?” the officer asked Esther.

“Yes,” she said, “and I’ll do it again.”

“You let them go on in and swim,” the officer said.

“I wouldn’t go in there if he paid me,” she said, and took her siblings home.

Montoya recalls another incident where her family was at the movies in Anaheim and a couple teenagers called her father a “Kraut” because he had blonde hair and blue eyes. This was during WWI, and her brother was actually overseas fighting the Germans.

“That made us very angry,” she recalls, “We were twelve, and maybe seven and all three of us in unison jumped over dad and mom, over the next seat where those two young men were, they were teenagers, and beat up on them. We were outlaws, I guess.”

Who Started the Gangs, and Why?

Describing the job opportunities for Mexican immigrants in the 20s and 30s in Fullerton, Jennie Reyes, who later owned La Perla restaurant on Truslow Ave, said, "As far as jobs, there were no jobs for the Mexican people, not even as a clerk in the store, not even that. All we would do was work in packinghouses, pick tomatoes in the fields, pick walnuts, pick prunes, pick cucumbers, strawberies and blackberries...we knew we were not wanted in other jobs so we just segregated ourselves to what we could do, where they could accept us." (CSUF Oral History Project)

Decades of job exclusion bred anger and, at times, gangs, like the pachucos and zoot suiters in the 40s, and the more modern gangs we have today, like Fullerton Tokers Town. Reyes said in 1975, "We still have that in our minds about being left out or not being accepted...I think that's why there are so many things happening now because they don't find jobs. They get desperate and they go into gangs, which is not right either...To them everything just closes up in their minds, I guess, and they just rebel against society."

Dicussion of gangs usually depicts these people as anarchist thugs. And sometimes they are. But a factor that often gets left out of discussions is the root cause of most gangs, which was job exclusion and discrimination. It's like punks. Punks didn't just spring up out of a vacuum. Punks in America sprung up as a revolt against Reagan-era politics and culture.

One of the problems with gangs, however, is that once they are born, they tend to take on a life of their own, which can get pretty ugly. In a 2008 article from the OC Register called "He's Lived The Life," former FTT member Michael Maciel gives his reason for joining the gang: "Gangs were a way of gaining a reputation, like a rite of passage in our neighborhood."

I remember, when my brother was going to Fullerton Union High School, a boy named Angel was shot and killed in a gang-related drive-by. Gangs are certainly not good, but I think any meaningful conversation about them has to include historic discrimination and job exclusion. Reflecting on discrimination and gangs in her neighborhood, Reyes said, "Now I can see that it is lack of education."

Searching for the Truth about the Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cal State Fullerton conducted an Oral History Project where students interviewed residents of Fullerton who had lived here since the beginning, whose stories might shed light on the history of this place.

Many of these interviews were transcribed and bound into two large hardback collections that anyone can check out from the Fullerton Public Library. But there are a handful of interviews that you have to try a little harder to find. One of these is an interview with Albert Launer, a former city attorney, that was conducted in 1968. The subject of this interview was the Ku Klux Klan.

This interview is NOT in the library’s general collection like the others. Rather, it is behind a locked glass case in the Launer Local History Room in the library, which happens to be named after Albert Launer. You may not check out this interview. Rather, you must first know that it exists, and second ask the employee of the local history room to get it for you. You must read it right there in the local history room. You cannot check it out.

Thankfully, in researching the history of Fullerton, I discovered this interview. I am a little disturbed that it was this difficult to find. To me, this suggests a suppression of information and a fear of the past. I do not fear the past. I fear that, if we don’t understand our past, we are likely to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. In the interest of truthful history, I will summarize the interview I read, which you can read too, in the local history room.

The picture that Albert Launer paints of the Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton differs from the stereotypes we might have of the Klan in the south. Klansmen in Fullerton were not necessarily uneducated “rednecks.” They were on the City Council, they were judges, police officers, teachers, local business owners. They went to church. For a time, the Klan was a powerful civic and cultural force. And the Klan was not limited to Fullerton. Launer recalls when Fran Richardson ran for California governor in 1924, he was officially endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, and he won. I will quote a somewhat lengthy section from Launer’s interview, because I think it gives insight into the makeup of the Fullerton Klan in the 1920s:

“There were two groups in the Klan as I now recall it. One of them was a church group, a school group. They were tied in with the activities around what now represents Plummer Auditorium [Superintendent Louis Plummer was a member of the Klan] and its directives toward good morals and good culture. This group was represented by the WCTU [Women’s Christian Temperance Union] results [Prohibition]. They felt that you must preserve and protect these youngsters. They opposed dancing, and were against exposure of any kind. The whole school concept was the sort where the parents turn the children over to the teachers and the teachers must be pure as the dickens. If they wanted frolic at all, they had to get out of town to do it. They were a law enforcing group, not realizing that they’d never get anywhere with this type of stuff behind the Klan and its reputation.

We had this other group, mainly oil workers who were seeking an opportunity to be part of the enforcement agency. They were good workers who worked ten hours, prior to that twelve hours a day. My first work in the oil field was hoeing and in a year’s time I was up in the garret for twelve hour shifts. But there was a good industrious class among them. And then there was the riff-raff among them. The Klan picked up, so far as I could see, the better part. Many of these fellows in the Klan I had met when I entered the Masonry in 1918.

And so, the Klan had two different ideologies or objectives. Some of them felt they could use the Klan to improve and protect (not so much improve as protect) youth and the purity of the community. They didn’t use the church as they use it today, either. There was fundamentalism that, so far as our church is concerned, is lost today. The Klan was apparently presented to the prospective members as an agency through which you could keep this community growing safely and morally, in the right direction.”

This mentality reminds me very much of philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil. In her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal. She writes, “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

In light of this, I can’t help but think of current events. Three of our current city council members are facing a recall because evidence suggests that they tried to cover up a murder committed by Fullerton Police officers. If you were to meet these men at a political “meet and greet” you would not think they were evil or sadistic. They are painfully ordinary men. When they tried to cover a crime committed by a city employee, a cop, they were probably doing what they felt was “normal,” protecting their own, protecting the city’s reputation. But as more and more details have come to light, the actions of these “ordinary” men seem, frankly, evil. This explains the protest and the public outrage.

Taking a broader perspective, why aren’t more Americans outraged that out country is currently involved in at least three wars? Probably because most people blindly accept the thesis that, whenever the U.S. goes to war, it is the right thing to do. It is justified. It is normal.

As I look back at Fullerton’s history, which is filled with racism, discrimination, and other injustices, I can’t help but think that the people committing these “crimes” were not sadistic devils. They probably had potlucks and went to church. They worked normal jobs. They had families. When viewed in this light, Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil is both insightful and frightening. The only solution I can see to this is for people to look more carefully at cultural and political values they take for granted, lest we become complicit in things that will make future generations ashamed, like the Ku Klux Klan.

The KKK and "Patriotism"

I’ve often wondered what factors would motivate someone to join the Ku Klux Klan, as it was so obviously filled with hate, racism, and violence. In an interview for the CSUF Oral History Program in 1975, Edna Welton, who lived in Fullerton during the KKK’s “hey day” in the 1920s, said, “It’s my recollection that the Ku-Klux-Klan was put out as a patriotic thing. I think that a lot of folks got into it with the idea that it was patriotism on their part.” The KKK members had a certain vision of America as a land of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and they wanted to enforce this vision.

Fred Strauss, a Jewish merchant in Fullerton at this time, agreed. “They [KKK members] thought it was a new American organization,” he said. At this time in America, fraternal organizations like the Masons, the Elks Club, and Rotary were a very important part of the social life of communities. It is not unreasonable to assume that rural, uneducated folks saw the KKK in much the same light.

Albert Launer, a former Fullerton City Attorney and School Board member, said, “Some of them [Klan members] felt that they could use the Klan to improve and protect...youth and the purity of the community. The Klan was apparently presented to the prospective members as an agency through which you could keep this community growing safely and morally, in the right direction.” According to Launer, the Klan included a church group and a school group who sought to preserve “good morals and good culture.” Wait a minute! Church groups seeking to impose their morals and culture on everyone else? They still do that today! Only they don't wear hoods and burn crosses anymore.

Of course, the KKK ended up doing some pretty awful things. “Once in a while, they burned a cross on some Catholic’s home,” Strauss said. He also hinted at the fact that some residents of Fullerton would not go to his store, because he was Jewish. “If they didn’t want to come in our place, they didn’t have to come in.” The main targets of the KKK in Fullerton, those deemed morally or culturally inferior, were Catholics, Jews, and Mexicans.

The Fullerton College Alma Mater Song is a Real "Klanthem"

The Fullerton College Alma Mater song was written in 1922, and the Superintendent of the College at the time, Louis Plummer (which Plummer Auditorium is named after) was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan. This fact is documented in Christopher Cocoltchos' 1979 UCLA doctoral dissertation "The Invisible Government and the Viable Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Orange County, California, During the 1920's." Here is a close reading of Fullerton College’s Alma Mater Song:

All hail to Alma Mater,
They glories cannot die
So long as loyal hearts are true,
So long as heroes vie
For honors in the field and hall,
Thy name shall ever be
The challenge and the trumpet call
That leads to victory.

The language here is of medieval heroism and god-worship (Alma Mater means “nourishing mother” and was used in ancient Rome as a title for various mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele, and in Christianity for the Virgin Mary.) The school’s success is equated with battle “that leads to victory.” But what kind of battles does a school really fight? Isn’t it just a place of learning? Maybe sports events are like “battles” but winning a football game seems a pretty trivial and hollow “victory” given the fact that a school’s primary function is education. Maybe the “battle” is more ideological, as we shall see below.

How can thy children well forget
The golden and the blue?
They’re mirrored in the bright sunshine
And skies of azure hue.
God writes thy colors everywhere
In shadow and in flame
Then hail our Alma Mater
All hail thy glorious name.

Here we begin to see the racist implications of the song. The “children” or students are ordered to remember “the golden and the blue” which refer to the school’s colors. However, given the large KKK population in Fullerton at the time the song was written, “golden and blue” could also refer to the preferred racial features of blonde hair and blue eyes. These features are said to be written by God everywhere, in the sky and sun. The sixth line more clearly relates to Klan activity. God’s colors are written “in shadow and in flame,” which are symbolic of purity, something the KKK tried to illustrate by burning crosses.

O Fullerton, dear Fullerton,
The golden and the blue,
The colors of the conquerors,
Thy stalwart sons and true
Will bear with eager hearts and hands,
While young ambition’s flame
Stirs memory’s altar fire and we
Recall thy much-loved name.

The Aryan features of gold and blue are here directly related to people, not school colors. In this case, gold and blue represent the features of the European “conquerors” who “purified” the land of the ungodly natives and other undesirables. It is these conquerors (Spanish mercenaries) who are praised in the song. This battle for racial superiority seems to be the battle alluded to earlier in the song. This interpretation is supported by the fact that part of the curriculum at the time was “Americanization” courses. In this stanza, we also get another reference to fire, “memory’s altar fire” and “young ambition’s flame.” Could it be that the first Fullerton College Newspaper, The Weekly Torch, referred to Klansmen’s torches? It is possible.

It turns out that Fullerton College's student magazine is still called "Torch"

"They Burned Their Crosses in Front of Our House"

The following is an excerpt from an interview for the Fullerton Community History Project with former Fullerton resident Margaret O’Hanlon. The interview was conducted and recorded by Anne Riley in 1971. Margaret’s husband, Dan O’Hanlon, was a prominent figure in early Fullerton. He was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, the Elks club, the first president of the Fullerton Realty Board, and an insurance agent. Margaret recalls a conflict between her husband and the Ku Klux Klan in Fullerton in 1923:

Margaret O’Hanlon (MO): Then, of course, you have heard about this business with the KKK [Ku Klux Klan].

Anne Riley (AR): I read about that. Can you tell me something about it?

MO: Yes, you know they came really from Anaheim, I think. I don’t think they’re local people very much, but there was one night they came into the park and there was a bandstand in the park in those days.

AR: This would be what, Amerige Park now?

MO: Yes. It was 1923 and they held forth getting very bitter about we Catholics. And, of course, Dan was a very religious man and he thinks a great deal of his faith which I do, too. And this fellow was damning the pope and so on and so Dan could not stand it, so he called him a liar. And the police came and they thought, they said he was disturbing the peace. Well, there wasn’t any peace to disturb because they were getting quite strong. They had put patches of paint across the main street and K something. I don’t know what they were. I don’t know if I should be telling you this but it was all in the paper.

AR: It was something you could probably read up on.

MO: Well, if you got all the papers it would be a load of papers that it would be in. I think we have some of the papers around here, still. And of course they searched him (chuckles). They got some keys and I think a pair of rosary beads in his pocket, a crucifix or something like that was all they found. Someone said, Oh, he had a gun, and he didn’t have a gun. He never brought a gun from England at all and never had a gun. And so anyway, Mr. Launer who was a friend of his, he belonged to the Kiwanis club then, and Mr. Launer came and kept them at the police station for a little while, not over night. I was waiting at home. I knew he was there over at the park; the park was crowded you know. They were strangers, they weren’t Fullerton people that were crowded around and they were all dressed in their…

AR: Their hood?

MO: It was scary, you know?

AR: Did they carry torches?

MO: I don’t remember the torches.

AR: I see pictures of them.

MO: But they were in their uniforms, whatever you call them. Yes, they were. They were beginning to be quite strong, and anyway, the police just held Dan for an hour or two. Mrs. Rothermal, they used to have a butcher store on Harbor, she called me up and she said, “Do you know where Dan is?” I knew he’d been to the park , and it was late. It was eleven o’clock. And she told me where he was but then he came home.

AR: You must have been upset.

MO: Mr. Launer...Oh, I don’t know about being upset. He just knew it was the thing he had to do. He just couldn’t stand it. He’s not that type of person. [Dan was] some person that he thought a great deal of blasted and not truthfully either.

AR: Tell me now, was the only thing that the Klan was against at the time Catholics?

MO: Well, they’re against black people, too, I think.

AR: Jews and blacks and catholics.

MO: Yes, they’re against Jews.

AR: Of course, Fullerton didn’t have many black people at that time.

MO: There was just one family, I think, when we came; they were kind of nice people really. They lived on Wilshire when I remember them first. I think they moved away…

Unnamed Person (UP): Somebody called up Father Murphy, threatened to burn the church down and put KKK on the side of it.

AR: That was the same night as this?

UP: Around the same time, I think.

MO: Yes. Well, this is what I remember. After that you see on the couple of days afterwards, I think it was the next night or very early in the morning, they burned their crosses in front of our house in the middle of the night. It scared me to death.

AR: Oh, it would have.

MO: And I don’t know who, but I heard a couple of shots that went off and that waked me. Dan wanted to go out and I said, “No don’t,” and I said “Just stay indoors.” So in the morning before it was light, I went out and moved this burnt cross and threw it out. And then they had plastered this K across Harbor, great big things across Harbor. But you know, we never heard of them again, not in Fullerton. Never after that in Fullerton…They just couldn’t stand it…

Racism at the Fox Theater

In the 1920s, racism against dark-skinned people (mainly Mexicans and blacks) was fairly commonplace in Fullerton businesses, like restaurants and the Chapman Theater (Later called the Fox Theater).

Jessie Corona de Montoya, in an interview for the CSUF Oral History program, said, “In the twenties, there were people that weren’t allowed anywhere...Mexican people, even blacks...they wouldn’t serve them, just because they had a dark skin.”

Describing her experiences going to the movies at the Chapman Theater, she remembers, “Another thing that was really bad, I thought the worst, and was so humiliating was when you went in a theater and they flashed a flashlight on your face, to see what color you were.” In those days, “the blacks and other races sat on the left-hand side, in a little small area.”

Why Are There So Few African Americans in Fullerton?

The relatively small number of African Americans in Fullerton is something that has puzzled me for a long time. It was not until I read the book A Different Shade of Orange: Voices of Orange County, California Black Pioneers by Robert A. Johnson and Charlene M. Riggins (2010) that I began to understand the reason why.

The main reason is historic housing discrimination. Johnson writes, "Not only were black people prevented from living in "sundown towns" like Brea and Orange, and prevented from purchasing property in areas that had racial covenants like the land that Richard Nixon's father bought in Yorba Linda, but it was almost impossible to find any apartment to rent or property to buy outside of the Truslow area" (185).

"Sundown towns" were towns where it was illegal for black people to be there after sundown. For many years, with the exception of the Truslow neighborhood, Fullerton was basically a "sundown town." The historical reality of "sundown towns" is extensively documented in James Lowen's 2005 book Sundown Towns.

In addition to these racist civic policies, there were widespread racist housing policies throughout Orange County, including Fullerton. The 1914 deed of ownership of Richard Nixon's father's land in Yorba Linda reads: "That no part of said premises, or the improvements thereof, shall ever be sold or leased to any individual other than of the Caucasian race."

In Fullerton, these policies were the norm. The only neighborhood where minorities were allowed to rent or own homes was on the other side of the railroad tracks, on Truslow. Mary Owens, an African American woman who moved to Fullerton in the 1940s recalls, "At first we had gone to look for apartments, and they would not rent to us. Leon [her husband] said, 'You know, we're going to have to buy a house here.' That's what happened. We bought a house, this house [on Truslow]."

Warren Bussey, an African American man who moved to Fullerton in the early 1950s, tells a similar story: "We [blacks] were only living on two blocks [he lived on Truslow as well]...Living in California at that time, it was more prejudiced than it was in Texas."

In addition to civic and housing discrimination, African Americans in Orange County also faced violence and terrorism from their racist white neighbors. A 1956 article from the Orange County Register entitled "Fire Bomb Hurled into Placentia Negro's Home: Children Periled" tells the story of the Harris family, who lived on Orangethorpe Ave just east of Fullerton. Less than a week after this African American family moved into the neighborhood, "a molotov cocktail was thrown through their two young dauthters' bedroom window, catching the curtains on fire and singeing the bed."

Another African American family couple, Ann and Jim Hillman, moved to Orange. The first night they moved in, someone through eggs and potatoes at their house and wrote "Negro go home" on their door.

Warren Bussey's house in Fullerton and the African American Masonic Temple in Santa Ana where he was a member both burned down.

Because of this widespread climate of racism, exclusion, and violence, it is not surprising that the African American population in Fullerton stayed pretty low. Between 1920 and 1950, the African American population in Fullerton skyrocked from 18 people to 57 people, roughly .01 percent of the population.


Mary Owens, who has lived in Fullerton since the 1940s. She founded the Leon Owens Foundation to support high school and college students.

Richard Nixon's Roots in Fullerton

When I attended Fullerton Union High School, I remember hearing that former president Richard Nixon had attended my school. I never thought about it much since then, but as I've been researching the history of Fullerton, this fact seems important. Nixon was from Orange County. He was born in Yorba Linda, attended school in Fullerton and later Whittier, and his personal and political roots are deeply embedded in this place. The $25 million Nixon Library is in Yorba Linda. Nixon's deep connection to Orange County is discussed in some depth in the book The Big Orange: The History of Republican Politics in Orange County since 1950 by Lois Lundberg. Much of Nixon's fundraising and support was tied to Orange County businesses and politicians, like the Lincoln Club. When he was president, he established the "Western White House (Casa Pacifica)" in San Clemente. Richard Nixon, perhaps the most corrupt politician in modern American history, has roots in Fullerton.

Nixon attended Fullerton High School from 1927-1928, his freshman and sophomore years. His years as a student are documented in an Oral History Project conducted by Cal State Fullerton in 1970-71 (when Nixon was president). The project, a series of interviews with students and teachers who knew him as a student, is called "The Richard M. Nixon Project." This document, available in the Local History room of the Fullerton Public Library, is a fascinating read because it shines light both on Nixon the young man, and on the culture of Fullerton in the late 1920s, when he was a student here.

Regarding Nixon's personality as a high-schooler, the consensus from the interviews is that he was "a quiet fellow," a "serious student," not "an easy person to get to know," and yet "an excellent public speaker," and "a tough opponent in a debate."

Irvin Chapman, son of Fullerton's first mayor Charles C. Chapman, came from similar circumstances as Nixon. Both men grew up on farms, somewhat isolated from the community-at-large. Chapman recalls, "A person who comes in from living in a house on an orange ranch or a farm back in those days...has a feeling of being apart from the community...I felt, and I think I kind of basically had a very similar nature to his [Nixon's], reserved and kind of apart from the kids that lived in the town...I think both nature and the environment in which he grew up tended to make him that way, so he was reserved and shy and did not make an effort to get acquainted."

Nixon played violin in the school orchestra, tried football (rather unsuccessfully), and participated in dramatic plays. But his real skill, as a student, was in debate. Chapman recalls, "He was always well-prepared...never could you get a point on him that he wasn't prepared for with a rebuttal in his card file... He had done his research and he knew it." Nixon, the young man, even in high school, "seemed to have a desire that he was going to be someone in politics," said classmate James Grieves, "He was tenacious, very tenacious."

What was the culture of Fullerton like in the 1920s, when Nixon went to school there? Although none of the interviews mentions it, there was a fairly pervasive Ku Klux Klan presence in Fullerton that included Louis Plummer, Superintendent of Fullerton Union High School. Was Nixon, or his family, involved in any of that? I don't know, but he could not have escaped its influence.

Fullerton Union High School, at that time, had a dress code for girls, but not for boys, according to Nixon's former English teacher, Helen Dryer. "If a girl stepped over the line at all," Dryer recalls, "she was called in before the uniform dress board." Regarding boy's clothing, she said, "They could dress, I suppose, as they pleased."

The 1920s was the Prohibition Era and the Fullerton leadership, including Chapman and Plummer, had rather rigid ideas about morality and "good citizenship." Grieves describes a typical school assembly at the high school in those days: "The principal would have something to say, something was bugging them or some corrective measures had to be taken, and then there would probably be a speaker who would talk on various subjects...smoking, drinking, safaris [safaris?]...our sex lectures were always put on for separate audiences, girls one time and fellows the next." I would be VERY interested to hear some of those "sex lectures."

But Fullerton was not completely conservative. For entertainment, students could see films at the Chapman [later called the Fox] theater or vaudeville shows at the Rialto Theater. Another popular weekend activity at the time, according to Nixon's schoolmate Rowe Boyer, was "to congregate on the sidewalk or sit on the car and watch people Saturday night...Everybody would go down on Saturday night and walk up and down the sidewalk, if nothing else."

Some of Nixon's classmates, like Irvin Chapman and James Grieves, continued their relationships with Nixon after high school, as he climbed the ranks of American politics. Chapman and his father Charles had the most interaction with Nixon, as the Chapmans were deeply involved in Republican politics. Irvin recalls a speech that Nixon gave to the Lincoln Club (an elite cadre of Orange County uber-wealthy businessmen who helped bankroll the political careers of Nixon and Reagan). "It was after he had been defeated by Kennedy for President," Chapman recalls, "He seemed to be much more in command of the situation. The speech that he made that night was, I think, probably one of the best ones that I have ever heard him make."

James Grives was an Air Force officer during the early years of the Cold War. He recalls, "My speciality was intelligence...I had the problem of indoctrinating troops in anti-Communist activities. I had worked with the American Legion and the Associated Farmers in this capacity, and I have attended Communist meetings undercover." Grieves and Nixon shared anti-communist zeal: "At that time Dick [Nixon] was heading the national anti-communist move, you know, and was chairman of the House Committee on Un-American activities. That really kicked him off in national politics," Grieves recalls.

Thus, Richard Nixon's roots in Fullerton tie him to perhaps two of the darkest areas of modern national politics: corporate campaign finance, and the Red Scare.

Hawaiian Punch

Like most medium-sized American cities, Fullerton has spawned a few companies over the years that have risen to national prominence and become household names. Fender Guitars is probably the most well-known. But a close second is Hawaiian Punch.

The story of how Hawaiian Punch started is really not all that interesting, I’m sorry to say. Some guys made a product in their garage, it became popular, they sold it.

What is WAY more interesting to me is how Hawaiian Punch got swallowed into a giant corporate conglomerate, as is the case with most successful American products.

Here’s the story:

1934: A.W. Lee, Tom Yates, and Ralph Harrison develop the first Hawaiian Punch recipe in a converted garage in Fullerton, CA. It was originally meant as an ice cream flavoring, but people apparently liked to add water and drink it straight up.

1946: Reuben P. Hughes, with other investors, buys Hawaiian Punch and re-packages it as a beverage.

1963: Tobacco giant RJ Reynolds acquires Hawaiian Punch under its RJR Nabisco subsidiary.

1981: RJ Reynolds transfers Hawaiian Punch to another of its major food subsidiaries, Del Monte.

1990: Proctor and Gamble, one of the largest corporations in the world, acquires Hawaiian Punch.

1999: Cadbury Schwepps, which becomes a subsidiary of Kraft Foods, acquires Hawaiian Punch.

Today, Hawaiian Punch is operated by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, a subsidiary of Cadbury Schwepps, a subsidiary of Kraft Foods.

Hawaiian Punch used to be made largely from fruit concentrate. Now it is 95% high fructose corn syrup and water, and 5% fruit juice. Hooray for the corporatization of American food!

Forced Deportation of Mexican-Americans

“Tens of thousands, and possibly more than 400,000, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were pressured — through raids and job denials — to leave the USA during the Depression, according to a USA TODAY review of documents and interviews with historians and deportees. Many, mostly children, were U.S. citizens.”

--USA Today April 5, 2006

A little-discussed aspect of The Great Depression was the fact that thousands of Mexican-Americans were illegally deported because white people needed jobs. This phenomenon is discussed at great length in the 1995 book Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, by Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez.

Fullerton was no exception. In Fullerton: A Pictorial History, Bob Ziebell quotes Gruzilla Mackey, a Fullerton teacher who taught in the Mexican work camps in the 20s and 30s:

“The American Community no longer spoke of ‘our’ Mexicans. They no longer considered that no ‘whiteman’ could pick oranges. Instead they felt that the jobs done so patiently by Mexicans for so many years should now be given to them. ‘Those’ Mexicans instead of ‘our’ Mexicans should ‘all be shipped right back to Mexico where they belong...And so, one morning we saw nine train-loads of our dear friends roll away back to the windowless, dirt-floor homes we had taught them to despise” (120).

The U.S. government has historically treated Mexican immigrants as more of a commodity than as human beings. For example, when the economy was booming in the early 20th century, “Mexicans poured into the USA, welcomed by U.S. factory and farm owners who needed their labor. Until entry rules tightened in 1924, they simply paid a nickel to cross the border and get visas for legal residency” (USA Today). However, when the stock market crashed in 1929 and white people needed jobs, "The government undertook a program that coerced people to leave," says Layla Razavi, policy analyst for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

This policy had far less to do with legal status than with skin color. “Employ no Mexican while a white man is unemployed," wrote George Clements, manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce's agriculture department, in a memo to his boss Arthur Arnoll. He said the Mexicans' legal status was not a factor: "It is a question of pigment, not a question of citizenship or right." (USA Today)

A Bank With a Human Face

When the Depression hit Fullerton in 1930, Fred Strauss could have lost his home. He could no longer afford his mortgage. The reason he didn’t lose his home is because his lender, The Fullerton Building and Loan, chose not to foreclose.

Strauss recalls, “When the Depression came, I couldn’t even pay my $40 a month, so all I paid was $8.88 for about one year and a half, just the interest. The Fullerton Building and Loan had a mortgage on it and they were very lenient with it and told me as long as I paid my interest I would be all right.”

The Depression slowly got better, Strauss was able to continue his regular payments, and eventually ended up paying for the house completely. “I don’t owe any money on the house anymore,” he said, “I’ve been living here 45 years and I like it very much here.”

Those were different times. Building and Loan companies were often localized, so they knew their customers personally. How different things are today, where banks foreclose so quickly and there is often no leniency. I have an idea for banks today that might cut down on the number of foreclosures, and restore the faith of an increasingly angry public, as demonstrated by the growing OccupyWallStreet movement.

Here’s my idea. Whenever a bank decides to foreclose a home, the president of the local branch of that bank must make dinner for the homeowner and their family, go to their house and explain to the family exactly why they are losing their home. No e-mails. No phone calls. No form letters. Face to face. The president has to look the family in the eyes and say, “We are taking your home.” Then maybe bank presidents would begin to see their customers as human beings with families, hopes, dreams, and fears. I think that would be a nice change.

Fullerton During the Great Depression

Omie Jensch was born in 1915, and moved to Fullerton in 1928, after her father (a citrus foreman in La Habra) died. She was an only child, raised by her mother. In an interview for the Fullerton Union High School Historical Society, she recalls growing up in Fullerton during the Great Depression.


"All the ranchers were losing their ranches at that time because they couldn't even pay the taxes on them...there was just not any money for anything. A lot of kids couldn't even buy uniforms for school."


"The school (Fullerton Union High Shool) had to stay almost the same, becaue there wasn't any money. You know, the government wasn't coming up with anything but the absolute necessities. In fact, they really pushed kids going to school, because of the dollars they were losing on a kid being put a real hardship on the school. You really got punished if you were ditching."

"Maple school...was predominantly Mexican, becuase the Mexicans lived around there. We called it the Maple-Truslow area...It was south of the tracks and east of Harbor."

"One incident, the Kraemer family, they had a Hawaiian boy living with them, and he went to school with us. I can't remember the girl he was going with, but her family was kind of perturbed and everybody thought it was terrible."

The Great Flood of '38

"There was one of the biggest floods that has ever been through here...The Santa Ana River just completely overflowed its banks. There were hundreds of people killed...and everyone just came together to help everyone else. We didn't have, at that time, Natural Disaster, where they brought in help and money for them. Everyone that was able to help did. In fact, we had four or five families sleeping with us; people slept on our floor. They slept in shifts until they could find a place to live.

Citrus Labor

"I can't remember when they started having Mexican pickers and didn't have the Filipinos anymore. They had bunkhouses, these Filipino workers. And at that time, I had never seen a Filipino person before! And there could only be men. There couldn't be any Filipino women here. I guess that's one of the reasons they had those big bunkhouses. So the men could all come and live together...for a while Chinese women weren't allowed to come in either. That's the way the Filipino deal was. I can't think of the ranch where these big housese were. But the workers worked for everybody. Any ranch that needed them."

When asked, "So they worked accordingly, just like everybody else, for pay?" Jensch replpied, "They didn't get as much pay."

When asked, "So they were probably more welcomed workers?" Jensch replied, "Oh, they stayed together, they didn't bother anybody, just there in their'd never see them downtown, only maybe for groceries or on a Saturday night."

When asked, "What was the minimum wage for the orange pickers and the walnut pickers?" Jensch replied, "I don't remember exactly."

Forced Re-Location of Japanese Americans

In 1942, during the second World War, thousands of Japanese American citizens were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in "internment" camps, which is what Americans called their “concentration” camps.

With the approval of the U.S. government, General De Witt “issued his Exclusion Orders Nos. 59, 60, and 61 directing all Japanese, both American citizen and alien, to be moved out of Orange County (Germans and Italian aliens were never evacuated). Local Japanese strove desperately to arrange their financial affairs. Many sold their property at a sacrifice. Some entrusted their business to others who in some instances proved dishonest or deficient in managerial ability.”

In other words, many Japanese Americans were not only relocated, but they lost their homes and businesses. Orange County Japanese Americans were sent to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona under military escort.

What were conditions like for the Japanese Americans? According to Orange County historian Leo Friis: “The buildings that were to serve as their homes were roughly constructed. Water was bad tasting and within a few days after their arrival most of the evacuees were suffering from diarrhea. Separate comfort stations for men and women were supplied with rows of unpartitioned toilet seats. No privacy was afforded those taking showers. Many of the evacuees were employed at the center at wages ranting from twelve to nineteen dollars a month. Residents of the center dug into their savings to purchase clothing. Those of meager means were forced to rely upon shipments from churches and other charitable organizations.”

It is an important bit of historical irony that, while United States servicemen were oversees fighting to free the world from Hitler’s fascism, the U.S. government was implementing policies that were, at core, fascist.

Betty Oba Masukawa, was a Japanese American woman born and raised in Fullerton. In an interview for the CSUF Oral History Program, she recalls her experiences in an internment camp during WWII:

CSUF: You mentioned evacuation. What was your major concern at the beginning of the war?

Betty: Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it, because I was born here. I didn’t pay any attention to any of the rumors, until it was really happening.

CSUF: How were you told about the evacuation?

Betty: It was in the newspaper.

CSUF: And what were your feelings at the time that you found out about the evacuation?

Betty: If we had to evacuate, we had to evacuate (laughter).

CSUF: What sorts of provisions did you make?

Betty: You mean our home?

CSUF: Yes.

Betty: The mayor of Fullerton, William Hale and his son Harold took care of all our things. We gave him power of attorney and he took care of our ranch; we had a ranch at that time. Well, it was my parents’ ranch. He took care of all our personal belongings for us, so we had no worry.

CSUF: Was he a friend of your family?

Betty: Yes, a very good friend. The whole family was very good. My personal things he took to his house, and he stored it up in his room, which he didn’t have to; he could have just put it in the garage. But, no, he put it in his house, and really took very good care.

CSUF: Where were you then sent?

Betty: We were sent to Poston, Arizona.

CSUF: From Fullerton?

Betty: From the Anaheim train station. We were the last family to go from Orange County.

CSUF: Were you notified in some way that you were to…

Betty: Yes. At that time my daughter…We were supposed to go at a certain time, a certain date. But we could not make it, because my daughter had chicken pox or measles, one of the two. So we asked if we could wait and be the last ones to go. So they were very kind and let us wait so I wouldn’t have to leave her at the Orange County Hospital, by herself and then we’d be gone. So they let us stay ten more days, anyway.

CSUF: And you went on the train?

Betty: Yes.

CSUF: What were you able to take with you?

Betty: Just your personal belongings. One suitcase. But I told the Army fellows that, “I have a child, and I have to have more than one suitcase.” So they passed it. I got to take more…We took a trunk then. But they said, “Don’t tell everybody that you’re taking a trunk.” (laughter)

CSUF: And what was it like when you arrived in Arizona?

Betty: Terrible.

Betty’s husband (Mas): It was hot and dusty. Rattlesnakes all over.

Betty: If it wasn’t rattlesnakes, it was scorpions.

CSUF: What was the physical building that you lived in at Poston like?

Betty: Like barracks, a lot of cracks in it, you know, so the dust could go through.

CSUF: Oh dear. What time of year was that?

Betty: In May. A really hot time. It was really hot.

CSUF: You were in a barracks with how many people?

Betty: Well, each barrack had four rooms; it was all partitioned. We had the font, and it was a larger one. The dust blows, and everything gets dusty inside. You can just have tears, you know. But gradually, we were getting mail orders, like Sears or Montgomery Ward, to make it look more like a home. Eventually they gave us linoleum for the floor, which is very good. Or course, we had to buy all our window shades and things like that. And dinner sets, also, because sometimes we’d go to the mess hall and bring the food home to eat.

CSUF: What was your occupation while you were there?

Mas: She worked at the beauty shop.

Betty: To begin with, I knew the police chief; he was from Anaheim. He (Kiyoshi Shigekawa] asked me if I’d like a job. So he gave me a job as police matron. That’s a laugh, isn’t it? (laughter) So I was in the police department for a while, and then I got into the beauty work. They had classes. I met the two girls; there were only two girls who had a license. They were leaving for Chicago. Eventually everybody could go out from the camp, you know. So they went to Chicago, and I took over as head of the beauty shop in Poston.

CSUF: Had you ever done anything like that before?

Betty: No. But since they were licensed girls, they showed me everything…

CSUF: And what about your husband? What was he doing?

Mas: I was in the police department.

Betty: He took care of the baggage.

CSUF: Of the people that were coming in?

Mas: Coming in and going out.

CSUF: So your little girl was how old when you went to Poston?

Betty: Four years old. There was a class in front of our barracks, so she went to school there.

CSUF: Was there a social life going on in camp?

Betty: Yes. There were dances.

Mas: Outdoor baseball.

Betty: Outdoor theater.

CSUF: Do you have any special memories about that period of time?

Betty: Well, a group of friends would come over to our apartment, and we’d play cards and stuff for the evening. That’s about all we could do in the evening.

CSUF: And how long were you in Poston?

Betty: Three and a half years.

Fullerton During the Holocaust

Fred Strauss was a German/Jewish immigrant who moved to Fullerton in 1909. For many years, he worked for the Stern and Goodman’s store, the first general store in Fullerton.

During the 1930s, when Hitler came to power in Germany, his Jewish relatives in Germany began to write him letters, begging him to help them escape. “Everybody was crying that they wanted to come, come, come,” he recalled. They were hard times for Jews in Germany. “My brother was standing on the sidewalk one time and the storm troopers put him in a concentration camp,” he said.

During the Depression, Strauss did not have a lot of money to help out his suffering relatives, but he did manage to help many of them come to the United States, with great difficulty. He recalls the story of how he managed to help them escape the Holocaust:

“I decided I was going to bring them over and I had such a time. I had to go to the judges; I had to go to the police department; I had to go to everybody else. I had to have a photostatic copy of my bank account, which I had to lie a little bit about because it wasn’t what it should have been. It cost me quite a little sum of money and I couldn’t get them out. I had a friend by the name of Howard Irwin who was very well-acquainted with our governor [Frank] Merrian who was our governor of California then. Howard was living in Long Beach and he went to bat for me. He went to the governor and asked if he could help me. So the governor sent a wire to the American Consul in Stuttgard, Germany to release my folks at once. In fourteen days my mother, my brother, and his wife were on their way to this country. Of course, Hitler took everything away from them, they didn’t have anything at all.”

As dramatic and inspiring as this story is, it disturbs me that it was so difficult for Strauss to get his suffering family out of Germany. If he did not know a guy who knew the governor, his family would most likely have died. “If it wasn’t for Governor Merriam, not one of them would have been here,” Strauss recalls, “They would have all been killed.” I wonder how many Jewish Americans during the Holocaust were not so fortunate as Strauss to have this rare connection. I wonder how many people died because of bureaucratic red tape.

War is Never Glamorous

Of all the American wars of the past century, World War II is perhaps the most glamorized. Tom Brokaw desribed the heroism of our troops in his famous book The Greatest Generation. But war is never glamorous, and any discussion of it must be tempered with the very real trauma it inflicts on those who fought. Archer W. Kammerer Jr, of Fullerton, fought in WWII. He was in the infantry in Germany mostly. His father, Archer W. Kammerer Sr, a Republican business man, describes his son after the war:

“The first night he came home I guess we sat up until about three or four o’clock in the morning asking him questions and talking to him, but after that he didn’t say anything and never has. He used to wake up at night, occasionally, and was pretty excited. He was fighting before you could snap him out of it. He got married, that’s his picture up there, and shortly after he got married he came pretty close to beating his wife up because he had another one of these dreams. He’s all right now.”

I have a cousin who fought in the first Gulf War. Before going to war, he was a model student, with a bright future ahead of him. When he returned, he was addicted to drugs, and has struggled with addiction ever since. He is not a “bad guy.” I believe he used drugs to self-medicate the very real trauma he experienced.

War is never glamorous. It makes me really mad when I see recruitment ads for the military on television and before movies, depicting war as this great adventure. I would rather they show videos of soldiers talking about their real experiences, and how it affected them. Once, when I was having a drink at The Continental Room, I met this guy who was about to be deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. He was terrified. He said that he joined the army to clean up his life, but that what he experienced had messed him up more. He said, "Joining the army was the worst decision I ever made."

Schools at War

In a fascinating paper entitled “Mobilizing for Victory: The World War II Home Front in the Schools of Fullerton, California,” Kathleen M. Traeger looks carefully at the impact of the war on school curriculum.

Two programs were created in the United States during World War II whose purpose was to get students behind the war effort: The High School Victory Corps and the Schools At War Program. These programs were implemented in schools all over the United States, including Fullerton (see also The Impact of the War Upon American Education by I.L. Kandel).

The purpose of the High School Victory Corps, according to Traeger, was “to encourage reform of secondary school curriculum and promote full participation of youth and personnel in war-related extra-curricular activities.” This war-based curriculum was meant to “emphasize the meaning of democracy, our own American history and traditions, and American heroes.” Courses “assigned books that highlighted patriotism and American values and ideals.”

History, English, and Social Studies courses were assigned books like Education and the Morale of a Free People, that celebrated America, justified the war, and “emphasized observing patriotic rituals for boosting morale.” Teachers were forbidden from discussing negative aspects of American history. Traeger writes, “The reporting of history in textbooks was carefully evaluated by the teachers and staff in the reporting of the war, in order not to raise any agitation.”

These curriculum changes were not just ideological; they were also practical. The purpose was to prepare students “for service in the armed forces and in industry.” For example, the “Four-Four Plan” was participated in by many high school students. Under the Four-Four Plan, “students attended regular school classes for four hours daily and worked four hours daily at the Douglas plant, to help build planes.”

In addition to the High School Victory Corps, the Schools At War program got elementary school children directly involved with the war effort, collecting scrap metal, and selling war stamps and bonds. Traeger writes, “Any school student who would collect over 100 pounds of scrap metal for the war effort would be given an award by the War Powers Board.” A seventh grade class in Fullerton put on a play called “Line Up For Victory,” which emphasized “the need to collect metals in order to defeat the “Japs.”

From the Bracero Program to "Operations Wetback": Changing Attitudes Toward Mexican Immigrants

"The relationship between Mexican immigrants and the United States has been characterized by periods of alternating cycles of hospitality and antagonism. The changing nature of the economy and the political climate affected which of these cycles confronted the newly arrived Mexican immigrants."

--Alma M. Garcia, The Mexican Americans

In researching the history of Orange County, I have noticed wild fluctuations in how Mexican immigrants have been received. During the Great Depression, when white people needed jobs, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans were illegally deported, or as president Hoover put it, "repatriated" back to Mexico. This historical reality is documented in tragic detail in the book Decade of Betrayal, by Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez.

During World War II, with American servicemen overseas, American companies needed labor, so they looked to Mexico again. The U.S. Government, in conjunction with big business, put together the "Bracero Program." (Bracero is Spanish for 'hired hand'). So, when we needed them, Mexicans were again welcomed into the Untied States, as a source of labor.

These workers were instrumental in keeping the war economy going. In Orange County Through Four Centuries, Leo J. Friis writes, "On February 11, 1943, representatives of 41 of the 45 orange packing houses of the county met at the Anaheim Elks Clubhouse where the committee presented a plan to import seasonal workers from Mexico." And that's what they did. Under the "Bracero Program" thousands, perhaps millions, of immigrants from Mexico were welcomed to the United States.

But what about when the "real" (i.e. white) Americans returned home from the war and wanted jobs? Enter "Operation Wetback" of 1954. I wish I was making this up, but I am not.

In her fascinating book The Mexican Americans, Alma M. Garcia writes, "The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) developed 'Operation Wetback' in an effort to reverse the tide of 'illegal aliens' from Mexico. In June 1954, the INS began a program to deport undocumented Mexicans living in the United States, specifically in the Southwest. The Border Patrol employed questionable paramilitary tactics in rounding up Mexicans and deporting them back to Mexico."

La Perla

Jennie Reyes and her husband Johnny owned and operated a Mexican restaurant in Fullerton called La Perla for almost 40 years. It was located at 247 East Truslow. Reading a transcript of an interview with Reyes from 1975, I am overwhelmed at how much she cared about her community, and contributed in very tangible, practical ways to the lives of her customers. She recalls:

“In those years that we worked, the Nationals, the Mexican people that used to come from Mexico to work here, used to go to our restaurant and we used to make very good money. We made good money in the restaurant by working hard, too. I feel that we earned it. We didn’t try to cheat the boys or anything. We used to help them in sending money to Mexico for them. I remember I used to get five and six hundred dollars just for the money orders because they had to send the money to their families. They were working here and I hated to see them spend it and not send it home. It really wasn’t my business, but I felt sorry for those people back home and I could imagine what they were going through, hoping and praying and waiting for the money to come from their husbands over here, so I used to tell them, ‘Okay, just bring me the money. I’ll send it.’ Every Monday I used to spend about four hours at the bank to make all those money orders and to get the money orders ready to send, and to register their letters and all that.”

At a time when there was tremendous racism against Mexicans and other minorities in Fullerton, Reyes’ restaurant welcomed everyone and treated them fairly and warmly: “I used to tell them, ‘I don’t care if you are colored, an American, a Mexican, a bracero, or a Japanese, whatever your nationality; whatever you are, you are welcome here. Just behave like a human being and respect the place.’ That’s all I asked of everybody and it worked because I used to treat everybody the same. I used to be nice to everybody, I tried to do my best for everybody.”

Reyes saw herself, her family, and her business as a part of her community. She was deeply connected to her customers’ lives. Speaking of recent immigrants from Mexico, she said, “They couldn’t speak English. They didn’t know where to go, who to go to, who was going to take advantage of them, who was going to be honest to them. That’s why I used to feel sorry for them. If I would go to town shopping and I’d see somebody there, and some of them didn’t know English they'd say, ‘Could you interpret for me?’ I’d say, ‘Sure.’”

How different this business mentality is from a large, faceless corporation who only cares about profits and the bottom line. It’s kind of ironic. Once a corporation goes “public” and starts having to answer to shareholders and not customers, that business loses its connection to the real public and the local community.

I think businesses today would do well to emulate the model of La Perla restaurant.

Protest and Change

In the early 1960s, when Cal State Fullerton was selecting its mascot, students chose an elephant. One of the main reasons for this was the First Intercollegiate Elephant Race which took place on May 11, 1962.

Why an elephant race at a college? The idea for the event began as a joke. The Dean of Students published guidelines for campus organizations and clubs and gave, as a silly hypothetical example, “Elephant Racing Club.” Some students from the Sigma Phi Omega fraternity thought it was a great idea, and began actually organizing it.

Gathering faculty and administrator support, the event took shape. They invited other colleges to participate in the elephant race, including Harvard. The event caught media attention and ultimately became a reality.

On May 11, 1962, 10,000 spectators and 89 reporters gathered on “Dumbo Downs,” a large dirt field near campus. 15 colleges were represented, each with an elephant and a rider.

CSUF historian Lawrence de Graaf writes, “The actual race was more a spectacle than an organized contest. Elephants, a motley group ranging from 77 pounds (a baby elephant) to three tons, were raced in three categories. Moreover, they inclined toward following their own instincts rather than the guidance of humans trying to get them to run down regular lines. Most of them never completed the course. Eight races were staged; some essentially parades in which the animals carried water buckets and flags in their trunks.”

The event was almost a disaster. De Graaf continues, “One moment of excitement came when the full-sized elephant from Long Beach State College broke into a gallop and veered 90 degrees into the spectators. Fortunately, everyone got out of its way in time and the driver eventually guided it back to the field.”

Because of all this, there was no clear “winner” of the elephant races. Harvard was awarded the prize of a golden shovel with “Super Duper Pooper Scooper” emblazoned on it, because it was the oldest university present.

The Elephant Races solidified the elephant as the Cal State mascot. The silliness of both the event and the mascot had both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, it put the newly-formed Cal State on the map, so to speak. On the other hand, “association with such an eccentric event coupled with the college’s proximity to Disneyland produced a stereotype of a college with frivolous foundations.” Some called Cal State “Disneyland Tech” and “Dumbo College.”

In the 1960s, amid all the social movements happening on campus, students and faculty established the Experimental College, a tuition-free, gradeless, progressive satellite of the "regular" curriculum.

Former professor Lawrence de Graaf writes, "The Experimental College epitomized a combination of the idealism and disdain for convention prevalent in the 'counter culture' of the late 1960s. The college intended to prepare graduates to organize the poor, work with peace and ecology movements, and start free schools and communes." Students graduated when they were ready, when they "discovered how to relate constructively, creatively, joyfully, to other people."

By 1970, the Experimental College offered 24 classes to 447 students. Unfortunately, as the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s began to dissolve into the disillusioned haze of the 1970s, students lost interest and the Experimental College ended in 1974.

In 1967, amid the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and all the other social and cultural turbulence facing America, a battle for academic freedom was waged in Fullerton City Hall.

The conflict began when a 24-year old graduate student at Cal State Fullerton, Terry Gordon, directed and put on a play by Michael McClure called "The Beard". Michael McClure, an iconic figure in the Beat Generation, wrote numerous poems, plays, and novels that dealt with the social realities and problems of 20th century America. "The Beard" is a about a fictional encounter in heaven between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow, which culminates in a simulated act of oral sex (not actual oral sex). At that time, "oral copulation" was a felony in the state of California.

Although the showing of "The Beard" was a private performance, some members of the local press got word of it, and got in, and ran headlines like "Lewd, Smut-Ridden Play Given at Cal State Fullerton." This issue caught the attention of conservative local politicians. Historian Lawrence de Graaf writes, "Seizing an opportunity for publicity in an upcoming election year, politicians from Orange County joined the attacks." A "Special Senate Committee on Pornographic Plays" was created and they subpoenaed Terry Gordon, his professor Edwin Duerr, CSUF president Langsdorf, and many others.

The proceedings took place in the fall of 1967 in Fullerton City Hall. The investigating senators included John G. Schmitz, a member of the John Birch Society, a group famous for opposing civil rights legislation and for their anti-communist zeal. The entire transcript of these hearings was recorded and published by the Senate of California. I found a copy of it in a special exhibit on "Banned and Challenged Books" in the CSUF library.

I felt like I was reading the script of a brilliant legal thriller. It reminded me a little of the play "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which was also about academic freedom. I don't have the time or patience to reproduce the entire transcript here (its about 200 pages), but here are some excerpts. Don't worry, this intense story has a happy ending. I am seriously considering writing a play about this whole thing.

Ralph and Natalie Kennedy: Civil Rights Heroes

Up until the 1960s, it was very difficult for minorities to get housing in Fullerton because of racist housing policies. The recently-published book A Different Shade of Orange: Voices of Orange, County, California Black Pioneers discusses this historical reality.

Two local people who were actively involved in championing the cause of fair and open housing were Ralph and Natalie Kennedy. As early as the 1950s, they were distributing open-housing petitions to prevent housing discrimination. Natalie recalls, “There was a Chinese family trying to move in about six houses from us. There was a deed restriction that...made it so minorities would not be we got a petition going all around our neighborhood. Everybody signed it and they got in. That was very early. That was in the fifties.”

Ralph and Natalie continued getting signatures for an open housing petition for the city of Fullerton, trying to raise awareness and to help change a social climate of racism.

In 1963, the State of California passed the Rumford Fair Housing Art, “which made it illegal to discriminate in the area of housing against ethnic minorities and races.”

In response, a large group of the wealthy elite (banks and property owners and real estate agents) got an initiative on the ballot (Prop 14), which would repeal the Fair Housing Act. This coalition was operating under the racist mentality that minorities drive down property values. To them, making a lot of money was more important than making a just society. These groups and individuals remind me of the powerful corporate conglomerate called Magnum Opus, Incorporated in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan: “It was a marvelous engine for doing violence to the spirit of thousands of laws without actually running afoul of so much as a city ordinance.”

With this massive corporate backing, Prop 14 passed. However, it was later declared unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, many property owners, ever the clever capitalists, found ways to subvert the Fair Housing Act. Ralph describes this trend that still continues today and explains why Fullerton is still largely segregated: “They got the idea that maybe we can’t overtly refuse to sell to somebody, but we can make sure that they don’t build any housing in Orange County that’s affordable to relatively poor people, many of whom are going to be ethnic minorities. So in this indirect manner, the society in general was able to continue this discriminatory effect." Even today, Fullerton has very little affordable housing. The proposed development on West Coyote Hills is typical Orange County: very expensive, exclusive housing.

Ralph and Natalie continued to work for fair housing for minorities. They were instrumental in creating the Fullerton Fair Housing Council, the first of its kind in Orange County, which later became part of the Orange County Fair Housing Council, which helped thousands of formerly-excluded minorities to find homes in Orange County.

Ralph, the campus minister at Cal State Fullerton, became president of the Presbyterian Interracial Council, which worked to end housing discrimination, school discrimination, and exploitation of farm workers. He started the Friends of the Farm Workers of Orange County. Ralph was arrested for peacefully taking part in a farm worker strike in Northern California.

As if all that was not enough, Ralph also founded and edited The Fullerton Observer, the only independently-run, family owned newspaper in Fullerton, which still exists today, helmed by Ralph and Natalie’s daughter Sharon.

When asked in an interview why he did all this for his community, why he gave so tirelessly and creatively for so many years, he responded, “The reason I do this, and Natalie would probably have a similar reason, because it comes out of our faith, faith in the idea of love and the idea that love is best evidenced by serving your fellow man in whatever kind of difficulty they may be in.”

Natalie echoed this sentiment: “Live simply that others may simply live.”

Teach-In at Cal State Fullerton

On february 17, 1967, Cal State Fullerton hosted its first "Teach-In." What is a "Teach-In"? It was a relatively common thing in the 60s, an extra-curricular college event in which speakers were invited to give their thoughts on a wide variety of issues, often involving civil rights and U.S. government policy. The subject of the February 17th Teach-In was "The American Policy in Vietnam." It was sponsored by the CSF Understanding Asia Committee, a joint student/faculty group.

Dr. Stuart Silvers, the faculty advisor of the committee, explained the purpose of the Teach-In in an editorial in the Titan Times: "It is felt that now is a crucially important time to present as fully as possible an examination of the U.S. policy on South East Asia, and in particular Vietnam…In the face of continuing demonstrations and protests against the continuation of the war, the Administration continues with apparent impunity to increase the scale upon which it seeks to fight the war. This Administration continues this policy of escalation even in view of the reluctance of our allies to support us. There is virtually no support of America's policy in Vietnam, throughout so-called free world, yet we are continually told by members of the Cabinet and the President of the necessity of the war. Except for several unpopular and hence hard to buy magazines and newsletters, the mass media has offered, we believe, very little in the way of analysis which reflect positions alternative to those of the Johnson administration. Television and radio carry news reports from Washington which are in conflict with reports found in European newspapers and this has come to be known as the 'Credibility Gap.' This is serious, and in an attempt to do something toward bridging this gap, the Understanding Asia Committee has gathered a host of well-known spokesman for various positions with regard to U.S. foreign policy and especially Vietnam."

Among the speakers at the Teach-In were James Farmer, an economist from San Fernando Valley State College, who had spent two years in Vietnam from 1962-62; Edward M. Keating, founder and publisher of "Ramparts" a liberal catholic magazine; Robert Scheer, author of the book "How the U.S. Got Involved in Vietnam"; Theodore Edwards, the Southern California Chairman of the Socialist Workers Party, and a commentator on the Los Angeles radio station KPFK; John Harris, an African American civil rights activist, founder of the Watts Progressive Labor Party, and a participator in the famous "Freedom Rides" in the American South; economist Arthur Castens; and a special recorded message from philosopher Bertrand Russell.

News of the Teach-In alarmed local residents and politicians, who formed the Concerned Fullerton Citizens' Committee, and distributed handbills around neighborhoods asking questions like "Do You Want Berkeley in Fullerton?" The Fullerton Police Department was called in to maintain order in what was sure to be a controversial event.

On the day of the Teach-In, local groups set up protests outside the CSUF gym, where the event took place. Among the protestors were Ralph Forbes, president of the American Nazi Party in Southern California. Forbes partnered with Reverend William Fowler of El Monte to set up a makeshift speakers stand and say things like "If the same determination was shown in Vietnam as was shown in Germany, the war would be over now."

Local labor unions picketed the event, mostly the "communist" speakers. They carried signs reading: "We have traitors in the U.S." Inside the lobby of the gym, tables were set up representing groups like the Students for a Democratic Society. the Socialist Workers Party, and the black Muslims.

The event was open to the public, and was well-attended, by both supporters and opponents of the war in Vietnam. Attendance was estimated at over 1,000. Speakers were met with both boos and applause. President Langsdorf and others criticized the event for not booking more speakers in support of the war, as the vast majority of the speakers were against the war and for peace. Dr. Silvers replied to these remarks by stating: "More invitations were sent out to pro-administration representatives than to all others and the overwhelming majority of those invited declined." A student added "There is no paucity of official government views on the Vietnam conflict."

This event was unprecedented in Orange County, and its mixed response represented a growing conflict between the older conservative Republicans and the younger student Democrats in the county, a conflict that continues today.

Fullerton Toker's Town

The documentary “Bloods and Crips: Made in America” is about the circumstances that gave rise to the two biggest gangs in LA. It was racist housing policies in the 30s and 40s that forced poor blacks into South Central. And then it was basically social neglect. People have this idea that gangs arose simply because minorities are evil or inferior or something. But the reality is that white people are and were partly the cause.

It’s the same in Fullerton. Fullerton Tokers Town (FTT) and other gangs arose because of racist housing policies back in the day, and racist police, and the KKK (yes, the Klan operated in Fullerton too), and lack of funding for schools and stuff. Someone should make a documentary about FTT. Showing how these people are human beings with human needs and desires and community. Not to glamorize it or condone it. Violence and drugs and other gang-related stuff is certainly not okay. But people need to understand the conditions in an American city (Fullerton) that gave rise to gangs, and how we are still complicit. And maybe to point a way toward reconciliation.

The Briggs Initiative

“The year was 1978, and state Sen. John Briggs (R-Fullerton) was riding high. Convinced he was on to something, he sponsored a statewide initiative that would, in essence, permit school boards to fire teachers who acknowledged their homosexuality. Even on the eve of the election that November, it was murky as to how far Proposition 6, the so-called Briggs Initiative, would go, but in October, Times staffer Robert Scheer asked Briggs if "simply being a homosexual and admitting to that fact is grounds for firing." Briggs replied: "That is correct. If you are a homosexual, publicly admitted or practicing, that is automatic grounds for the removal of a teacher or a school administrator or an aide or a counselor."

--The Los Angeles Times, 2009

I first became aware of Senator John Briggs when I saw the movie “Milk.” There was a scene in the movie where Senator Briggs was debating Harvey Milk over the so-called Briggs Initiative. Where was this debate held? In Fullerton! I was ashamed, but not surprised that the architect of one of the most anti-gay ballot measures ever would be from Fullerton. I grew up here. I know there was and still is a fair amount of anti-gay sentiment. Case in point—Proposition 8 passed. On the day of that election in 2008, Chapman Avenue was lined with “Yes on 8” posters.

Who are these anti-gay activists? Based on my experience and observations, they come largely from churches. There is a scene in “Milk” where someone asks how many signatures would be needed to put the Briggs initiative on the ballot. "Whatever it is," someone says, "they'll get it in two Sundays at church in Orange fucking County."

The Birth of Hardcore Punk

In the mid to late 70s, disco was king. The hippie movement had died, and musicians who were voices of protest and dissent (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, etc.) seemed to go away or lose their audience. On the rock music front, you had the birth of what Mark Mothersbaugh has called “white concert rock”—bands like Kansas, Toto, and Boston whose message was basically, “I’m white, I’m a misogynist, I’m a consumer, and I’m proud of it!”

Into this cultural void stepped the punks. The punks were like hippies on steroids. They carried the flame of protest forward right into the 80s, into the Reagan era. In England, you had bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. In New York, you had The Ramones and The New York Dolls. In Detroit you had MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, and Destroy All Monsters. In LA you had Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Bad Religion.

Fullerton spawned its own special breed of punks. Arguably the first hardcore punk band in Orange County was The Middle Class, which formed in 1976 in Santa Ana, but regularly played shows in Fullerton. Guitarist Mike Atta (who now owns Out of Vogue in Fullerton) says, “When we started, we thought we were totally alone. No one was playing this kind of music in Orange County.” However, perhaps inspired by the success of The Middle Class, who were soon playing LA shows with Black Flag and The Germs, a number of other hardcore bands sprung up in Fullerton, including Social Distortion, The Adolescents, D.I., and others.

Punks in Fullerton faced an interesting dilemma. Fullerton has since the Nixon era been a pretty conservative place. Home of republicans, mega-churches, and white flight settlers, you would not think Fullerton would be fertile ground for hardcore punk. But punks thrive on conflict. One could argue that confrontations with police and city authorities only fueled the flames of the hardcore punk scene behind “The Orange Curtain.”


THE MIDDLE CLASS formed in 1976 in Santa Ana, California. The band consisted of Jeff Atta on vocals, Mike Atta on lead guitar, Mike Patton on bass, and Bruce Atta on drums. The band achieved major success in the hardcore punk scene of Orange County and LA. The band's most popular release was Out of Vogue EP, released in 1978, particularly known for its extremely fast title track. The Middle Class are generally considered one of the first bands to play hardcore punk.

SOCIAL DISTORTION Formed in late 1978 in Fullerton by frontman Mike Ness. The original lineup consisted of Ness on lead guitar, Rikk and Frank Agnew on guitars, and Casey Royer on drums. Its first single, Mainliner/Playpen was released in 1981 on Posh Boy, the label responsible for releasing the first singles and albums of many of the local O.C. punk bands. Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ-FM took a liking to Social Distortion, releasing the single "1945" on his 1981 compilation album, Rodney on the ROQ. The rest is history.

THE ADOLESCENTS formed in 1980 in Fullerton, California. They were a punk supergroup, made up of early members of Agent Orange and Social Distortion. They are often credited as one of the leading bands of the 1980s hardcore punk scene. The Adolescents signed with Frontier Records in January 1981 and recorded their debut album, Adolescents, the following month. It quickly became one of the best-selling California punk albums.

D.I. formed in 1982 and combined the Orange County punk sound with a decidedly gothic style on their debut self-titled EP. The EP featured five songs including "Richard Hung Himself" (originally written by Casey Royer while he played for the Adolescents, recorded it with the Adolescents to later re-record it in D.I. ), "Venus De Milo," "Reagan Der Fuhrer," "Purgatory," and "Guns". This EP was later reissued as Team Goon with extra tracks including versions of Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Part II" and Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge". Their first proper album Ancient Artifacts was a more straight ahead Orange County sounding album that included a new version of "Purgatory" from the EP.


THE GALAXY was a roller rink-turned punk club in west Fullerton on Gilbert. Members of The Middle Class booked the shows, and soon The Galaxy was a regular venue for such iconic bands as Black Flag, Social Distortion, Circle Jerks, and a host of others.

ICHABODS was a rock-n-roll bar that would sometimes book punk shows. Located at the corner of Chapman and State College (where the Burger King is now). There also used to be a bowling alley across the parking lot called “College Bowl” (where the Smart and Final is now). Mike Atta of the Middle class says, “You had two cool places to hang out.”

Hands Across America

“Almost six million people joined hands all across America on May 25, 1986. About 4,000 of those people were part of the chain of hands in Fullerton. It was called Hands Across America. It was a chain of people holding hands. The chain was long enough to stretch from New York to Los Angeles. Fullerton was chosen to one of the cities where the people joined hands...The Fullerton Line of people stretched north on Harbor Boulevard to the edge of La Habra. At each end of the line, the Fullerton people joined hands with the Anaheim and the La Habra people. Everybody lined up along the street and joined hands at exactly 12 o’clock noon. Policemen stopped automobile traffic for a few minutes so the people holding hands would be safe. Each person paid $10 (or more) to be a part of Hands Across America. The money added up to millions of dollars. It was given to people all over America who had no food or no homes.”

--Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast

The Cul-de-Sac

The term “cul-de-sac” is a French term meaning, literally, “bottom of bag.” In English, it means a small dead-end street.

From ages 10-18 I lived at the bottom of a cul-de-sac. It is a fairly common feature of the suburban landscape. Who thought of it? Why not just have streets at 90 degree cross angles, like a grid? Why these weird little off-shoots, these appendages?

In his article “Cul-de-Sacs: Suburban Dream or Dead End?” John Nielsen writes, “Developers learned that cul-de-sacs allowed them to fit more houses into oddly shaped tracts, and to build right up to the edges of rivers and property lines.” The primary function of cul-de-sacs was to maximize profits for developers. But what impact do they have on residents?

According to the London Times, “the sprawling and looping design of cul-de-sacs forces people into their cars...many people routinely burn a litre of petrol on a shopping trip for a pint of milk.” Cul-de-sacs are not environmentally friendly, as opposed to the more urban grid design, which allows people to walk to shops instead of driving their cars.

But the impact goes deeper, I think, than money or cars. Living in a cul-de-sac sort of isolated my family, so that the only neighbors we really knew or talked to were among those four houses who shared our cul-de-sac.

There was the S______ family next door. They had two boys around the same age as my brother and me. I envied them because they were allowed to listen to heavy metal and eat junk food and they had a pool.

Then there was the D______ family. Mr. D was a police detective. I don’t know if Mrs. D worked. Their son, who was in his 30s, still lived with them because he had been in a motorcycle accident and had a metal plate in his head and brain damage. He was, I supposed, unable to live on his own. He was, however, very good at volleyball and he could ride a skateboard on his hands, which I thought was pretty awesome.

The two families who lived in the other two houses were kind of mysterious to me. We didn’t talk to them much for some reason.

There was an older couple who lived at the top of our cul-de-sac. My parents would talk to them sometimes. I wasn’t too interested in them because they didn’t play roller hockey or video games. The older woman was Scandinavian and her name sounded like “Yoda.” I’m sure it was spelled differently than the Jedi master, but I always told my friends, “Yoda lives in that house.”

Now that I live downtown in an apartment, I find the world of the cul-de-sac kind of strange. It was so quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of where I live now, where the streets are gridded and I can walk or bike almost everywhere I need to go, and where I run into friends and acquaintances all the time, just walking down my street. In previous generations, it was kind of assumed that when you get married, and especially when you have kids, that you get a house in a suburb. The “American Dream” used to consist of a house, a job, and a family. I think it is safe to say that my generation has a different definition of the “American Dream.” I suppose, like every generation, mine has defined itself partially in opposition to its predecessor, and partially in light of new developments, new technology, and new ways of thinking.

A Nature Walk Through Coyote Hills

Today I went on a Nature Walk put on by the Friends of Coyote Hills group. We walked through the Robert Ward Nature Preserve (which is currently open to residents), and then along the fencing of the over 500 acres of open space that is currently owned by the Chevron corporation and fenced off. Chevron recently proposed a massive development project for this land, which is home to the threatened/endangered species the California gnatcatcher and one of the last large open spaces left in North Orange County, but the city council rejected the proposal. This was largely due to the massive community outcry against the proposal. I took some photos on the hike through this peaceful, pretty landscape. Let's hope the City of Fullerton, Chevron, and any other interested parties, can work out an agreement to preserve this land as open space, for future generations.

Chevron Cronies Invade Fullerton City Council

Went to a Fullerton City Council meeting last night, to decide the fate of Coyote Hills, one of the last large open spaces left in North Orange County, not yet covered with tract homes and shopping centers. The massive Chevron Corporation wants to develop the land. There were dozens of Fullerton residents standing outside with signs and buttons that said, "Save Coyote Hills."

I sat through that four hour meeting. It was interesting. The meeting was half full of residents who actually live in Fullerton, mainly against the development. The other half was paid Chevron cronies, scientists and "experts" meant to give reasons why it would be in the communities best interest to have another sprawling housing development. There was a geologist, a wildlife specialist, a non-profit conservation group, an architect from UCI. Scientists and scholars who have whored themselves out to this major corporation that doesn't give two shits about the community they will damage.

I sat next to one of these cronies, who I swear to God looked EXACTLY like James Lipton, host of "Inside the Actor's Studio." I thought for a moment, did Chevron hire James Lipton? Maybe he could coach the other cronies on acting techniques. How to fake sincerity and integrity.

Number of Chevron cronies with goatees: 5

And then the Fullerton City Council. Richard "Dick" Jones looks and sounds like Boss Hog from "The Dukes of Hazard." He even has this wheezy, high-pitched voice that is almost endearing. He makes several jokes that are not really jokes, and laughs at them.

Don Bankhead, our illustrious mayor, looked like he was falling asleep. He accidentally adjourned the meeting halfway though. A City Planner had to respectfully tell the mayor that the meeting was not finished. Don looked frustrated.

Don Bankhead looks and sounds, and kind of behaves, like the villain from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Enough said.

The only voices of reason on the Council were the two women: Sharon Quirk-Silva and Pam Keller, who asked the developers real, relevant questions.

Interestingly enough, the best questions were asked by the public, citiing pollution and water use problems that would result from the development project, and pointing out the fact that the proposed plan includes NO affordable housing. It's all high-priced. Really high priced.

The attitude of the Main Chevron Cronie changed from "false sincerity" to "smart-ass" as the evening wore on. He seemed put off that he had to actually answer questions from the community.

After the meeting, I ask Council Member Shawn Nelson about his campaign contributions. I point out that development and construction companies donated thousands of dollars to his last campaign (I got copies of his campaign finance reports from the City Clerk). I ask him if this will influence his decision on this issue. He says, "No. It will not."

Class Segregation

Took a long walk today, through Fullerton neighborhoods. It was an object lesson in class segregation. In northwest Fullerton, north of Chapman, there are all these large, perfectly manicured homes, carless streets, signs indicating Brinks Home Security, silently announcing, "Don't Fuck With My Suburb." Expensive cars in driveways. Not a soul in sight. It felt desolate. I wanted to shout with a bull horn, "Oh you upper class people, don't you see that your guarded neighborhoods and home security systems cannot protect you from the disease of apathy and emptiness?" Walked through the poorer South Fullerton neighborhoods, cars on streets. There were humans there. And then downtown, the buffer between these two sides, north and south, where people mix and interact. The northerners come to eat expensive dinners prepared by the southerners. So strange. Oh, Fullerton. When will you be glorious?

The Ex Gutter Punk and the Homeless Man

Walking back from the post office today, I passed this kid, maybe 19 or 20, who I recognized as one of the gutter punks who used to ask me for change outside the liquor store. He always had a kind of strung out look.

But today, he was dressed in "normal" clothes--jeans and a t-shirt. He did not look strung out. I did not talk to him but, being a writer, I like to speculate. he had a kind of vulnerability in his eyes--the kind I've been reading about in Infinite Jest--the vulnerability of a recovering addict trying to put his life back together.

Shortly after, I walked past this homeless man who I see around a lot. Usually he has this kind of upbeat attitude, and likes to chat. I hadn't seen him in a while, and today he looked really haggard, pushing a shopping cart full of his possessions, wearily, a blank look on his face. He did not even acknowledge me.

I know, I understand, how human lives can spiral upward or downward.

Fullerton's Underground Music Scene

If you were to visit most of the bars in downtown Fullerton on any given night, you would most likely think this town has terrible music. Most bars play mindless top 40 dance music, and have shitty cover bands.

However, there is a thriving underground music scene in Fullerton, and you can find it if you look. The best places to visit for good live music are The Continental Room on Sunday nights, Commonwealth Lounge on Monday nights, and Mulberry St. on Thursday nights. These venues feature mostly young artists creating amazing original music.

Postindustrial Fullerton

The City of Fullerton is in the process of demolishing the abandoned factories across the street from Hibbleton Gallery on Santa Fe. One of them was an old Donald Duck Juice Factory. I am trying to get the City to use redevelopment funds to build live/work lofts for artists--to make Santa Fe a real arts destination. This re-purposing of industrial areas into arts areas is happening around the country, and I think is a really good idea. Also, the partially-demolished buildings look kind of cool, in a sort of Detroit-esque, postindustrial way.

Fox Theater Foundation: Get Your Shit Together.

I walked by the Fox Theater today and saw the workers tearing down the "Fox" marquee, which has been there for over 20 years. I was like, "What the fuck are they doing?!" Two men in Fox Theater Foundation shirts and hard hats were observing from across the street. They looked content. I asked the older one, "Why are you tearing down the marquee?"

"It's not historically significant," he said, "We're gonna build a flat marquee, like they had in the 1930s."

Which is fine. But it seems to me that time and resources would be better spent renovating the INSIDE of the theater, so people could actually go there. Also, anyone who lives in Fullerton knows the iconic marquee, and not some 30s version no one has seen before.

Leaving the marquee issue aside, I wanted to touch on a larger problem I have with the Fox Theater Foundation. Seven years ago, the Fox theater was "saved" from demolition, because of a massive amount of donations from ordinary residents. SEVEN years later, the theater is still not open to the public, despite the fact that the Fox Theater Foundation has received millions of donations and redevelopment tax dollars from the city.

And what have they accomplished? They kicked the tenants out of the adjoining buildings. They are tearing down the marquee. They put some posters and fancy signs up. Meanwhile, this amazing public resource remains unutilized.

Come on Fox Theater Foundation. Stop being ineffectual bureaucrats and get your shit together. Do what you were created to do. Open the Fox Theater. How long do you need? Another seven years? I hope to be able to visit The Fox before I die.

Fullerton and the "Permanent War Economy"

For many years, the development of the United States could be understood as rural vs. urban growth. Industrial workers lived in urban cities and agricultural workers lived in rural farming areas. Fullerton was, at first, a rural/agricultural city.

However, by the turn of the century, America saw the rise of a third type of living space...the suburb. In their 1980s study "The Multinucleated Metropolitan Region," M. Gottdiener and George Kephart wrote, "By the 1930s it was well-recognized that the suburban areas possessed commercial and industrial facilities that made them somewhat autonomous from central cities." Orange County in general, and Fullerton in particular began to emerge as one of these new types of population centers.

This trend has continued to the point where now nearly half of the total U.S. population resides in suburban areas.

What were the reasons for this suburban growth? Gottdiener and Kephard cite many forces, including "military-related spending in the permanent war economy, the growth of high technology, the robust real estate market, racism, the flight of the white industrial working class, the construction of traditional (non high-technology) manufacturing plants, the expansion of service-related industries, and new arrangements in the corporate business structure...have all combined to produce the new form of settlement space."

While each of these reasons deserves its own chapter, I would like to focus on the first one, "military-related spending in the permanent war economy." The phrase "permanent war economy" is discussed in depth in Ernest Mandel's book Late Capitalism. This reality is disturbing on many levels, as it suggests that the United States has a structure in place to be permanently at war.

Unfortunately, looking at the 20th and 21st centuries, America has indeed been at war pretty much permanently. At present, we are engaged in at least three military conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya), and probably more that are less-televised.

What is Fullerton's role in the "permanent war economy"? One example is the corporation Raytheon, one of the United States military's largest contractors. They build weapons and develop military technology. At present, they are the fifth largest employer in Fullerton.

Segregation in Fullerton

Despite all the talk about America being a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl” of inclusion, many American cities, including Fullerton, are still, in 2011, characterized by shockingly rigid social and ethnic divisions.

I learned this when I took a train trip around the United States a few years ago. I wanted to see the country for myself. I took off from the Fullerton train station with a one-month rail pass that would allow me to go wherever the Amtrak went. And I went all over, across the Rocky mountains through Colorado, to Chicago, down through the south, through Memphis and New Orleans and Birmingham, up the east coast through Philadelphia and New York and Boston, through my home state of Wisconsin, and back home. I had a backpack, a notebook, and a camera.

The thing that struck me the most was how segregated by color many U.S. cities still are. I remember being in Chicago, and taking the train to Oak Park, the suburb where Hemingway was born. To get there, you pass through a very low-income area populated almost exclusively by African Americans. Oak Park was more like north Fullerton—mainly affluent white people living in large, well-manicured homes.

When I visited Graceland, outside Memphis, I again passed through a low-income African American community. And then when I got to Graceland, it was mostly white people on vacation. Interestingly, most of the employees of Graceland were African American.

Fullerton is also shockingly segregated. The “south side” of Fullerton, literally across the railroad tracks, in the Valencia and Truslow neighborhoods, is the “Mexican Area.” The “north side” of Fullerton, up around Sunny Crest, and Skyline, and St. Jude Hospital is the “white area.” Moving west, out toward Gilbert, in Amerige Heights, you have the “Korean area.” And what is to east? Fullerton College? Cal State Fullerton? Those are actually pretty diverse. Education brings diversity. The exception, I suppose, is downtown Fullerton. But, even there, in the restaurants, it is mostly Mexicans making and serving food to white people.

Why is it this way? The answers are varied and complex. I know that, in Los Angeles, South Central became the “African American” area because of racist housing policies back in the 20s and 30s that excluded African Americans from living in other neighborhoods. I think the same is probably true of Fullerton.

There is also the common explanation that “people like to be around people like them.” There may be some truth to that, but even this statement turns out to be not so simple. Why do people like to be around their own kind? One reason is that, when they are new immigrants, they speak the same language and will look out for one another and hopefully not take advantage of one another. The root problem of this is the fact that minorities are often exploited by non-minorities.

Describing housing conditions on Truslow in 1975, Jennie Reyes of Fullerton said that the landlords charged a high rent and did not keep their properties maintained or even up to code.

“They rent them for a high price, and they do not do anything to them,” she said. How could the landlords do this? Because recent immigrants perhaps do not yet know the language and can be easily dismissed and taken advantage of.

Reyes, herself a long time resident of Fullerton, was screwed over not by landlords, but by the City of Fullerton itself.

Her family restaurant, La Perla, and her home were taken over by the city and demolished to make way for an underpass. The city paid her a price for the land, but she “didn’t think it was a fair price for all this work.” The work she was referring to was 30 years of owning and operating a restaurant that was an important part of the community.

In an article from the Fullerton News-Tribune (back when the Fullerton News Tribune actually printed news) titled “Progress Uproots a Family,” Reyes’ daughter Mardie De La Torre said, “People don’t realize what it is like being forced to leave the home where you have lived all your life...the city talks about ‘comparable market value’ but the laws are unrealistic.”

The city attorney at the time, Kerry Fox, defended the city’s position with this statement: “We follow the law, we don’t set the law. Whether the laws are fair—that’s not my business.” That may be technically true, but it should have been the business of City Council, who approved the decision to destroy Reyes’ business and home.

Reyes’s family wasn’t the only ones who were affected. Other businesses and homes around Truslow and Lemon were also demolished, including the Negrete Market.

Reflecting on the consequences of this, Reyes said, “What I think makes it so bad is that some of the people from that area are very poor. Some of them have a car, you know, but some of them don’t and it makes it hard for them to go to the shopping centers...what are they going to do now?”

I don’t claim to have the answer to segregation in America, but a good start would be for people to recognize that it still exists and is a pervasive part of American cities. Another good idea would be for businesses, cities, and individuals to have compassion on people who look or act differently from them.

May We Please Protest, President Gordon?

In 2011, fascist shenanigans were afoot at Cal State Fullerton. In light of growing student protests against tuition hikes and bloated executive compensation, CSUF President Milton Gordon issued "President's Directive No. 5." If it sounds like something out of George Orwell's 1984 or the Vietnam War days, it is.

The directive reads, "Public meetings, performances, rallies and similar events may be held by students and faculty in accordance with procedures approved by the president."

So, basically, if students or faculty want to protest the fact that, in the past 12 years, president Gordon's salary has increased by 71% while adjunct faculty salaries have increased by 7% and student fees have increased by 238%, they have to do so in a time, place, and manner dictated by the president, the very person they are protesting.

If I'm not mistaken, the First Amendment gives all Americans the right to assembly and petition, especially on a PUBLIC university campus. Many of the major social movements of the 20th century have begun on college campuses.

The reason given by the president for this directive was that the protests might interfere with normal campus activities. Um, well, that's kind of the point of a protest. If president Gordon tries to suppress peaceful protestors, even if he uses the University Police as enforcers, the Constitution is not on his side.

Here's a tip for protesters. You have the right to protest, and no presidential directive can stop you. Last time I checked, we live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Know your rights, and excercise them! No justice, no peace.