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A History of 



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By Margaret Romer, M.A. 

Chapter I. 

The Valley before Settlement. 

uv^ Tens of thousands of years ago, before man inhabited 
i^ the earth, the Gulf of California extended inland almost 
I to San Gorgonio Pass. Had Yuma been in existence then, 
it would have been on the eastern shore of the Gulf, while 
the mountains east of San Diego would have been on the 
western shore. The entire Imperial Valley was then under 
the waters of the Gulf of California. 


^ The mighty Colorado River emptied into the Gulf on 
the eastern side. The Colorado is a powerful stream. Its 
drainage basin extends from the Gulf of California to the 
southern edge of Yellowstone National Park, an area of 
of over 260,000 square miles. Most of this region is moun- 
tainous and erosion is rapid. As a result, the Colorado 
carries in suspension tons and tons of solid matter. Even 
now this mighty stream carries some 160,000,000 tons of 
sediment past Yuma every year. 

For centuries, this mass had been poured into the Gulf 
^y^ from the eastern side. It is little wonder then that it 
gradually built up a delta, which year by year crept west- 
ward until at last it reached the opposite shore. 

Thus the Gulf acquired its present shore line, while the 
northern part was entirely cut off, leaving it an inland sea. 
The River chose the southeastern side of its delta and thus 
flowed into the Gulf. The inland sea evaporated at the 
rate of about six feet per year. In the course of time it 
dried completely, leaving an arid basin which later became 
known as the Salton Sink. Its deepest portions were cov- 
ered with a thick crust of salt. 

How many centuries it remained so, no one knows. 
However, evidences clearly show that the Colorado again 
changed its course and again flowed into the Sink. In due 
time it refilled the inland sea and made of it a great fresh 
water lake. When it was full, it broke over the silt dam 
on the south-western side by the Cocopah Mountains and 
found its way to the Gulf by what is now called "Hardy's 
Colorado." During the years, perhaps centuries, that the 
Valley was submerged under the lake, the Colorado was 


6 A History of Calexico 

dumping its millions of tons of sediment into it each year. 
This process continued until a depth of 1,000 feet of sedi- 
ment had accumulated. This was God's way of makmg 
the Valley ready for the coming of man. This was the 
process which made the Valley potentially one of the rich- 
est spots in the world. 

The Colorado again changed its course, due to the shift- 
ing of its own delta, and again flowed into the Gulf, leav- 
ing the lake to dry in the sun. How many times the mighty 
river returned to the lake no man knows, but judging from 
its later caprices, it was probably several times. 

The Valley has been practically dry since the advent 
of man. In 1540, Melchoir Diaz, a Spanish explorer in 
the service of Cortez, viewed the great Valley. It was then, 
and has every since been, a vast arid region. It is almost rain- 
less and the sun beats fiercely down the whole year through. 
Little wonder then that the inhabitants of this region were 
limited to horned toads and lesser animals, and vegetation 
to the sage-brush and an occasional mesquite tree. It was 
a land of sterile, parching plains and shifting sand hills. 
Here lay hundreds of square miles of the richest soil in 
the world, 1,000 feet deep, waiting silently, protected by 
the sun, waiting, waiting, through the centuries, until the 
need of man should spur the strongest on to bring the waters 
of the mighty Colorado again to the land and cause it to 
bear fruit to feed humanity. 

The earliest record of the Valley having been crossed 
by white men, was in 1781. This was in connection with 
the founding of the pueblo, Los Angeles. Governor De 
Neve had put the work into the hands of Captain Rivera. 
Rivera had gathered his band of colonists at Loreto, Lower 
California, and had delegated the task of guiding them to 
the site of Los Angeles, to a lieutenant, while he led the 
supply train by way of Yuma. He lost his life on the great 
desert at the hands of the Indians. 

The Valley was crossed several times by military parties 
in the war with Mexico in 1846. By the terms of the Treaty 
of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the California-New Mexico territory 
passed into the possession of the United States for a con- 
sideration of $15,000,000. An army was sent to take pos- 
session of the territory. 

In 1853, Professor William P. Blake made the first sur- 
vey of the Valley. He and his party were in the employ 
of the Government. The small remaining remnant of the 
old lake appears on the charts as "Blake's Sea." It was 

A History of Calexico 7 

Professor Blake who first observed the old beach line and 
examined the shells, which observations revealed the geo- 
logical story of the Valley. 

Many of the "Forty-niners" came to California via a 
trail over the desert through the great Sink. They crossed 
the Colorado River at the ford at Yuma and then crossed 
the Valley. Later, Dr. A. L. Lincoln, a relative of Abra- 
ham Lincoln, established a ferry across the Colorado at 
Yuma. A few years after this, seventy-four camels were 
imported from the Saharah to do service over the desert 
portion of the old trail. They were soon replaced by 
horses, however, as camels moved too slowly for Americans. 

The road branched at Sunset Springs, one part going 
through San Gorgonio Pass to Los Angeles, the other going 
southwest over the Carriso Creek route to San Diego. It 
was over this latter route that the stage line was operated 
after 1858. The famous old stage driver, David Butter- 
field, of whom many tales of bravery have been told, carried 
the United States mail and passengers across the desert 
twice a month. When the Civil War broke out the service 
was increased to once a week. 

The Eastern terminal of the stage line was at Yuma. 
The Confederacy claimed Arizona in its ranks and confis- 
cated Mr. Butterfield's property. Thus ended the old stage 

There were three stage stations in the Valley. These 
were located, respectively, at Coyote Wells in the west, 
Indian Wells about the center, and at the southern limit of 
the east side chain of sand hills. These stations were situ- 
ated where there were springs. They consisted of an adobe 
waiting room and stables where fresh horses were kept for 
the stages. Perhaps the best known of these stations to- 
day is Coyote Wells, where the El Centro-San Diego stage 
still stops to permit the passengers to quench their thirst at 
the well, only that a garage has replaced the old adobe 
stable. The old adobe waiting room has been replaced by 
a little frame store and post office. 

About this time also, the Valley was definitely studied 
with a view to reclamation, but nothing came of the effort. 
Considerable scientific interest in the Valley was evidenced 
in the seventies. 

Dr. Oliver Meredith Wozencraft, a San Francisco physi- 
cian, came to the Valley in 1849. He w^as quiet, gentle, 
lovable, and a man with vision. He conceived the idea of 
reclaiming the Sink. His general plan was virtually the 
same as that which was followed later. He presented his 

8 A History of Calexico 

ideas to the State Legislature and was sympathetically 
heard. In 1859, that body passed a bill proposing to cede 
to Dr. Wozencraft all state rights to the land on this desert, 
in consideration of his reclaiming it. 

Government sanction was needed before this project 
could be begun. The bill was presented to Congress, but 
the country was on the verge of the great Civil War and 
had no time for the uninhabited desert valley in the West. 
The Doctor waited patiently until the war was over and 
again went to Washington with his plans. He made trips 
to the Capital year after year, each time waiting, waiting, 
months at a time, in the hope that his bill would get a 
hearing; but always more pressing matters of state caused 
it to be set aside. He died there on his mission, in 1887. 
He gave his life's work for the Valley but never achieved 
success. His is a sad but beautiful story of perseverance 
and devotion. His daughter, Mrs. Mary A. Streibrenner, 
of San Bernardino, said ; "It was his own idea and no one's 
else. . . .My dear father lost a fortune on it. . . . 
Everything went for the desert. Dear father was confident 
of success. He gave his very life to achieve its reclamation."^ 
He has been called the "Father of the Imperial Valley." 

The government made a partial re-survey in 1880. It 
was in this survey that New River was named. In 1886 
the Southern Pacific Railroad crossed on its way from Los 
Angeles to Yuma. 

It was also in the eighties that the New Liverpool Salt 
Company established an extensive plant at the northern 
end of what is now Salton Sea. The salt was scraped up 
and piled by means of a steam shovel. Only a minimum 
of refining was necessary as the salt was naturally white 
and pure. The plant operated profitably until 1906, when 
it was completely destroyed by the flood. 

For several years in the nineties, the southwestern part 
of the Valley overflowed in the winter and early spring. 
This caused a luxuriant growth of grass. The cattle men 
of the eastern part of San Diego County were quick to take 
advantage of the feeding possibility and herded their cattle 
mto the Valley by the thousands. When summertime came 
with its heat and dryness, the cattle were herded back to 
the mountains. Mr. Frank Thing and his brother first came 
to the Valley with their cattle in 1891. Mr. Thing spent 
several winters there and later, when settlement began, 
went to Calexico as one of the first permanent settlers. 

1. Howe, "Story of the First Decade," 26. 

A History of Calexico 9 

During one of his early winters in the Valley, Mr. Thing 
by chance ran across a great pile of human skeletons. 
There were hundreds of them. Whether they were the re- 
mains of white men or of Indians, he did not know. His 
duties did not take him back to the spot for many years. 
When he did return, he searched carefully for the bones but 
was unable to find them again. He also told many of his 
friends and a searching party tried vainly to re-discover the 
skeletons. They had undoubtedly been covered by the 
drifting sands. Unless by some miracle, the story of those 
bodies will remain a secret which the Great Desert will 
never reveal. 

Chapter H. 

C. R. Rockwood and the Beginnings of Reclamation 

1892 to 1900 

The man to whom the credit for the actual reclamation 
of the Salton Sink is chiefly due was Charles Robinson 
Rockwood. Mr. Rockwood was a man of vision, perse- 
verance, and indomitable courage. He was born in Michi- 
gan in 1860. He attended the University of that State, 
but did not graduate as he was forced to leave an unfinished 
course because of trouble with his eyes. Engineering was 
the profession of his choice, so he came West. He was in 
the service of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad for two 
years and then with the Southern Pacific for seven years. 
In 1889 he entered the United States Geological Survey. 
He was chief engineer in the Yakima Valley Reclamation 
project in Oregon, which was never completed because of 
the withdrawal of financial support. 

John C. Beatty was a promoter of some prominence. 
He had learned of Mr. Rockwood's success and sent for 
him to investigate the possibility of irrigating a vast tract 
of land in Sonora, Mexico, from the Colorado River. Mr. 
Rockwood reported to Mr. Beatty that his project was im- 

While in Yuma, Mr. Rockwood heard of the Salton Sink, 
and immediately investigated. He quickly saw the possi- 
bilities and made his reports to Mr. Beatty. The latter gave 
up the Sonora project and started the "Colorado River Ir- 
rigation Company" and began selling stock. 

Mr. Rockwood began his survey of the Sink in the 
winter of 1892. He was assisted by his associate engineer, 
Mr. C. N. Perry. In the spring of 1893, they went to Den- 

10 A History of Calexico 

ver to present to Mr. Beatty their field notes and their plan. 
Mr. Beatty was well pleased, but a financial panic was 
upon the country and it was quite impossible to proceed at 
that time. Mr. Beatty made a trip to New York to try to 
interest Eastern capital. He succeeded but slightly, and 
most of what he did get was merely paper. Messers. Rock- 
wood and Perry had become so imbued with the spirit of 
the great enterprise that they determined to put everything 
they had into it in order to realize their dream. 

Another problem that presented itself was that of se- 
curing land rights in the Mexican part of the Valley. The 
land through which the main canal must be cut was owned 
by General Andrade, Mexican Consul in Los Angeles. The 
thing that complicated the situation was that a firm in Scot- 
land held an option on the land. Mr. Rockwood journeyed 
to Scotland in a vain attempt to interest the holders of the 

On his return from Scotland, Mr. Rockwood met Mr. 
John C. Beatty in Providence, Rhode Island, surrounded by 
luxuries purchased, it is said, with the money from the 
stock he had sold.- Mr. Rockwood was too modest a man 
to tolerate that sort of proceedings, so he dropped Mr. 
Beatty forever. Mr. Rockwood, however, was an engineer 
and not a promoter. He needed assistance in the handling 
of the financial side of the project. He therefore looked 
for another associate. He soon decided that Mr. Samuel 
W. Ferguson was his man. Mr. Ferguson was the manager 
of the Kern River Land Company and formerly a land agent 
for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was honest, depend- 
able, aggressive and experienced as a promoter. The two 
men became associated. Their first move was to borrow 
$5,000 from Dr. W. T. Heffernan, a Yuma physician, for 
an option on the Andrade land in Mexico, the Scotland 
option having expired. 

An eccentric old character named Hal Hanlon owned 
the land where the heading would have to be placed. The 
land was practically valueless except for that one purpose, 
but Hanlon held onto it stubbornly, demanding $20,000. 
He would listen to neither pleas nor reason. Finally it was 
purchased by Mr. Rockwood and his associates, Messrs. 
Perry and Ferguson. They paid $2,000 down, which they 
had also borrowed from Dr. Heffernan, their Yuma friend. 

Mr. Rockwood next interested Mr. Anthony H. Heber 
of Chicago. Mr. Heber was a promoter of some prom- 
inence. He left a good position to come West and enter 

2. Howe. "Story of the First Decade;" also statements of early settlers. 

,v<.' <• .'-^es;.:-*,^*^ 

The Camp at Cameron Lake. 

Headquarters of the California Development Company 

A History of Calexico 11 

the work with Mr. Rockwood. He also left his wife and 
four children, telling them he would not be gone more than 
six months. It was four years before he returned. Mr. 
Heber had enthusiasm, ambition, confidence and business 
ability. Messrs. Rockwood, Heber and Ferguson incorpo- 
rated under the laws of New Jersey, April 26, 1896. They 
called their firm the "California Development Company." 
They were capitalized for $1,250,000. Mr. Heber was 
made president. 

In the summer of 1897, Mr. Rockwood endured a two- 
months illness in a Boston hospital. While in that city in 
the interest of his beloved Valley, he was taken with typhoid 
fever, and there he suffered alone among strangers. The 
illness was serious, but his life was spared for the work he 
had yet to do. 

On his recovery, he made a second trip to Europe in 
search of capital. There were two men there whom he 
hoped to interest in his cause. When he arrived he learned 
that they had both died since he began his journey. He 
gained nothing by this second trip to Europe. Mr. Rock- 
wood was by this time weary and discouraged, but it never 
occurred to him to give up the struggle. He had the 
tenacity of a bulldog. 

On his return, he interested Mr. Silas B. Butcher, Presi- 
dent of the Hamilton Trust Company of Brooklyn. Mr. 
Butcher agreed to finance the project. Mr. Heber was 
also in New York at the time. The two men were so elated 
over the success that they spent their last $2 on a dinner 
to celebrate the victory. The next morning the papers came 
out with the announcement that the "Maine" had been 
sunk in Havana Harbor! This created uncertainty in the 
financial situation in the country as a consequence of which 
Mr. Butcher refused to carry out the agreement. War and 
financial depression followed. This meant hard times for 
the Company. 

Suddenly Mr. Rockwood received word from Tyndall 
and Monk, an English firm, to come to London and close 
the deal. They would finance the project, they said. In 
almost uncontrollable joy, Mr. Rockwood journeyed to 
England for the third time. He was joined soon afterward by 
Mr. Heber. The deal was practically complete, and the 
two men hurried back to America to begin operations. 
Hardly had they reached this country, when the London 
company cabled that they could not complete the trans- 
action. They gave no reasons. It has ever since remained 
a mystery. 

12 A History of Calexico 

The two men were now almost penniless. Mr. Rock- 
wood had wealthy friends in Detroit whom he thought he 
might interest, but he did not have the money to take him 
there. Mrs. Heber had some valuable jewelry which was 
pawned to provide the means of Mr. Rockwood's trip to 
Detroit. Mr. Rockwood did not know until many years 
afterward where Mr. Heber secured the money for that trip. 

After all, it was useless. Mr. Rockwood was then 
stranded in Detroit. At this point he had to accept a po- 
sition with a Boston firm to go to Porto Rico and perform 
some expert services there. Mr. Heber was tired out; he 
returned to his family after four years of fruitless effort. 
Mr. Rockwood became president of the Company. He was 
not as elated over the honor as one might suppose, for it 
all looked so hopeless. Apparently every possible source 
of capital had been exhausted. Those most interested had 
also used up all their private resources. Mr. Rockwood 
was indeed discouraged. Could his fond dream ever be 
realized? The plans were complete. Every detail had 
been carefully thought out. All that was lacking was the 
money to carry out the work. The total liabilities of the 
California Development Company at this time were $1,365,- 
000. There was nothing to show for it but the filing on the 
River and the camp and surveying equipment. Even the 
filing had to be renewed. The Attorney-General of New 
Jersey began suit to cancel the charter of the Company for 
non-payment of the annual tax to the state. 

Mr. Ferguson was the man who at last found a capitalist 
to finance the project. He telegraphed to Mr. Rockwood 
and the latter lost no time in reaching Los Angeles to meet 
Mr. George Chaifey. 

Mr. George Chaffey was born in Ontario, Canada, in 
1848. He was forced to leave school at the age of fourteen 
because of ill health. For a while he worked for his uncle, 
who was a contracting engineer. Later he joined his father 
in the steamship business. He was captain of several ves- 
sels and had a first class engineer's certificate. In '78, he 
won recognition as a ship builder. In time, his parents 
moved to Riverside, California. He came to visit them and 
remained here. 

In '81, he and his brother, W. B. Chaffey, founded Eti- 
wanda. He devised a mutual water company for that 
community, which became a model for all southern Cali- 
fornia. In '82, he designed a small power plant in con- 
nection with the Etiwanda irrigation system, to run a dy- 
namo, and thus operated the first electric light in southern 

A History of Calexico 13 

California. The same year he installed in Los Angeles the 
first electric system in the world for street lighting. Also 
in the same year, he founded Ontario, California, and orig- 
inated and endowed Chaffey College there. 

The government of Victoria, Australia, became so in- 
terested in his work that it sent for him. He went, and 
accomplished great desert reclamation work there, besides 
founding several colonies. He then returned to the United 
States. His attention was called to the Imperial Valley. 
He considered it the greatest opportunity ever presented 
for reclamation work. He saw only the physical side. He 
did not investigate the financial side; but plunged imme- 
diately into construction work. On April 3, 1900, Mr. 
Chaffey signed a contract which practically gave him com- 
plete control for five years. 

Mr. Chaffey experienced considerable difficulty with 
the Mexican government in getting permission to run the 
canals through Mexican territory. He had to agree to 
colonize part of the country in return for the desired per- 

Mr. Chaffey was with the Company only twenty-two 
months. In that brief time he constructed 400 miles of 
canals and laterals. His prestige secured publicity through 
the New York Times, Tribune, and Post, the Philadelphia 
Press, and the Scientific American. These papers gave 
much news space and made editorial comments on the en- 

Immediate colonization was the condition under which 
Mr. Chaffey joined the Company. The colonists were to 
take up land under the Desert Land Act. Accordingly, in 
March of 1900, the Imperial Land Company was organized. 
It was to be the colonizing agency. It was to receive 25% 
of the gross sales of water stock in the United States and 
of land sales in Mexico. It was to have all the town-site 
rights and was invested with all rights to power, light, 
telephone, railroad, and other similar franchises throughout 
the Valley. 

Mr. Chaffey invested much money besides putting up 
his personal possessions as security for the Company. Los 
Angeles banks would not accept Valley securities. This 
curtailed the credit previously enjoyed by Mr. Chaffey and 
his brother. Mr. Chaffey brought the Company, froni no 
assets but a camp and surveying equipment and liabilities 
to the amount of $1,365,000, up to a surplus of $342,687.16. 

The actual work was begun by Mr. C. N. Perry at Flow- 
ing Wells in April, 1900. The first work on the canals 

14 A History of Calexico 

was done in December of the same year. The camp was 
next moved to Cameron Lake, which was an enlargement 
of New River. It was a beauty spot, an oasis in the desert. 
It was named after Mr. Cameron, a San Diego rancher 
\\-ho grazed his cattle there. Fishing was excellent, but 
the water was too bad for drinking, so the camp was moved 
again to Silsbee. 

Silsbee was situated on beautiful Blue Lake. Here the 
drinking water was better than at Cameron Lake, but still 
too bad for permanent use. It was here that the first Fourth 
of July celebration in the Valley was held, in 1900. 

Mr. George Hunt located in the Valley that same year, 
and six months later established the California and Mexico 
Company. In this, he interested General H. G. Otis of the 
Los Angeles Times. The result was the purchase of a 
ranch consisting of some 700,000 acres, partly in the United 
States and partly in Mexico. 

The Imperial Land Company began an extensive pub- 
licity campaign. Settlers began coming in great numbers. 
In the fall of 1900, there was one voting precinct in the 
Valley. Ten men voted there at the election that year. 

Cameron Lake, being nearer the border, was a more 
convenient location for the camp than Silsbee. For this 
reason, the camp was moved back to Cameron Lake. 

In the fall of 1900, the Imperial Land Company laid out 
the town-sites of Imperial, Calexico, Brawley, Heber, and 
Silsbee. Imperial was built up first. The Land Company 
did a flourishing business with headquarters there. A post 
office was established and Dr. Heffernan was made post 

For convenience, the camp was again moved to the 
American side of the boundary line on the east side of New 
River on the town-site of Calexico. The history of Calexico 
itself begins at this point. However, the story that goes 
before is necessary to the intelligent understanding of what 
follows. Calexico is the outgrowth of the reclamation of 
the Colorado Desert, and its history would not be complete 
without an account of the great reclamation work which 
made it possible. The early history of the Imperial Valley 
and that of Calexico are one and the same, and so cannot 
possibly be separated. 

A History of Calexico 15 

Chapter III. 
Early Life in Calexico, 1901 to 1905 

It is well at this point to present a resume of the con- 
ditions under which these brave pioneers existed. The tem- 
perature varied between 100 and 120 degrees for a large 
part of the year. There was no ice and no shade save the 
"ramada," which was always the first structure to be erected 
in a community. It consisted of four or more uprights sup- 
porting a frame which was roofed over with dry brush. 
There were frequent sand storms, the fury of which must 
be experienced to be realized. One of these storms, worse 
than the average, laid low every tent in the settlement. 
Water had to be hauled from Indian Wells, one mile south 
of Silsbee. It was brought in a barrel dragged on a sled 
by a mule. 

Passengers coming to Calexico had to leave the train 
at Flowing Wells and journey by stage to Imperial and the 
remainder of the distance by wagon. Freight was brought 
from the railroad by regular "freighters." These were 
heavy wagons drawn by a long string of mules. This 
"freighter" took enough water for the round trip, when it 
started from Flowing Wells. At regular intervals it would 
drop off a barrel of water to provide for the water supply 
on the return trip. 

Construction work progressed very slowly for lack of 
money. Always the same monster, lack of capital, hovered 
over the project. The cost of construction always exr 
ceeded the available capital. The settlers were becoming 
restless, and they desired to have the Government to take 
over the work so that it might not be retarded for want 
of money. The Yuma project was being carried on at that 
time, and the settlers turned envious eyes on the prog- 
ress being made there. 

However, water reached the boundary line in June of 
1901. A luxuriant growth of vegetation followed the water 
along the ditches, proving that water was all that was 
needed to make the desert bloom. Sorgum, milo maize, 
wheat, and barley were raised near Calexico, also a test 
crop of cantaloupes, which was a thorough success. Travel- 
ers noticed the similarity of conditions there with conditions 
in Egypt. This suggested the possibility of cotton. The 
California Development Company tested out a few rows of 
cotton with marvelous success. By December, 1901, some 
78,000 acres of land had been filed on, and actual work was 
begun on about 8,000 acres. 

16 A History of Calexico 

The year 1902 opened with glowing prospects, which, 
however, were soon dampened by the reports of the Govern- 
ment. In the publications of the Department of Agricul- 
ture, (Bureau of Soils, Circular No. 9, 1902) the percent 
of alkali in the soil was exaggerated. People were warned 
to stay away from the land there. They were advised to 
abandon the worst of it completely and raise only certain 
crops on the best of the land. This was a severe blow to 
the Company. It discouraged the settlers who were al- 
ready there, and undoubtedly kept many prospective set- 
tlers from coming. It was also bad for the Company finan- 
cially, as it made capital still harder to obtain. In spite 
of this handicap, the Valley continued to prosper. By this 
time, colonists were literally pouring in. 

The first woman to file on land in the Valley was Mrs. 
Shenk. The land is now the "C. C. Kanch." 

Hard feelings had arisen between the Chaffey brothers 
and the original stockholders. In conclusion of the diffi- 
culty, the Messrs. Chaffey accepted $300,000 for their in- 
terest in the Company, and retired. To Mr, George Chaffey 
is due the credit for the material beginnings of the reclama- 
tion of that desert. Dr. Wozencraft and Mr. Rockwood 
dreamed and struggled, but Mr. Chaffey built. The ag- 
gregate credit, however, is more theirs than his, since it 
was not vision, courage nor ability that they lacked, but 
only money, which Mr. Chaffey was able to supply. 

The telephone and telegraph came into the Valley about 
this time. The joy of the settlers on having telephone con- 
nection with Los Angeles was unbounded. 

The first permanent building in Calexico was a small 
adobe which still stands, between the railroad and the bor- 
der. It was built by Edward Aiken & Co. and was the 
home of the International Bank. The adobe building, 
which now houses the offices of the Irrigation District, was 
also built at this time. Very shortly thereafter. Dr. Heff- 
ernan built a store building, also of adobe, on the corner 
of Second Street and Imperial Avenue. 

The remainder of the settlement was composed of a 
ramada and tents. It was the custom for the owner to tie 
his tent flaps when he was away from home. This was 
the only lock that was needed. Practically never was any- 
thing stolen. 

Among these crude surroundings in 1901 the Valley's 
first child was born in a tent. Her parents were Mr. and 

A History of Calexico 17 

Mrs. Thomas Beach. They named her "Cameron," after 
the lake. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Beach and Mr. Frank 
Thing later boasted the first frame residences. 

Messrs. Perry and Beach planted the first trees in the 
town in the yard of the Beach home, along Imperial Avenue 
and on the California Development Company's grounds. 
It was they also who conducted the cotton experiment. 

The first school was taught by Mr. J. E. Carr. It was 
situated under a ramada three miles north and three miles 
west of Calexico, about midway between the towns of Cal- 
exico and Imperial. The district was known as the Im- 
perial School District of San Diego County. The next year 
the school was moved into a tent three miles east, which 
placed it on what is now the highway between Calexico and 
El Centro on the main canal. Hon. John Shenk succeeded 
Mr. Carr as teacher. 

In 1904 the district was divided, and a school located 
in Imperial and one in Calexico. It was held in the same 
tent which was moved into town and set up on the corner 
of Third Street and Imperial Avenue and was shared by the 
Methodist Church. Miss Gaskill, now Mrs. P. W. Preston, 
was the first teacher in the town school. The following year a 
school building was constructed and Miss McWilliams, now 
Mrs. J. E. Peck, and Miss Nautridge were the teachers. 
There were 113 pupils at this time. The building still 
stands (1923) and is now used for the primary depart- 
ment of the Hoflfman School. 

The system of administering justice was unique. Mr. 
J. B. Hoffman was the first Justice of the Peace both in the 
entire Valley and in the town. There was no jail, so Mr. 
Hoffman improvised one. He chained a log to two mes- 
quite trees and then chained his prisoners, by the ankle, 
to the log. The offenders were chiefly drunken Mexicans 
and Indians. Later a small frame building was constructed 
for a jail.^ 

Occasionally it was necessary to take a prisoner to San 
Diego, the county seat. The stage line across the mountains 
had long since been discontinued, so it was necessary to go 
to Los Angeles via the Southern Pacific and there change 
to the Santa Fe and go down the coast to San Diego. The 
round trip took four days. 

1. "Bob" Davis gained the reputation of being the 'town nuisance.' He 
continually brolte the laws but was never convicted because nothing could be 
proved against him. He was very proud of his achievements and continually 
boasted of them. On one occasion while he was being detained in the jail, 
he upset it, and still later he burned it. 

18 A History of Calexico 

Mr. Charles A. Sanborn was the Customs officer. The 
United States Customs service first established a station 
at Calexico about October 1, 1902. The first building oc- 
cupied as a customs house was located on Imperial Avenue 
near the present railway crossing, and the official crossing 
to Mexico was an extension of Imperial Avenue. On July 
1, 1904, the customs office was moved to a frame building 
on the northwest corner of Rockwood Avenue and First 
Street, and Rockwood Avenue was used as the official cross- 
ing into Mexico. The Immigration service and the Cus- 
toms service were housed together until 1903, when the 
Immigration service became a separate office. 

The religious needs of the community were first met by 
church services held in the dining room of the California 
Development Company's building. It was during one of 
these services that the Valley's first tragedy was announced. 
Mr. Perry was sitting in his office when Charlie Dow, the 
Chinese cook, came rushing in and shouted, "Mr. Pelly! 
One man plenty dead!" Upon investigation, he was found 
to be right. A man had been killed, but the murderer was 
never detected. The same Charlie Dow soon opened the 
first bakery in the tovra. 

The Methodists and the Congregationalists both claim 
to be the oldest church. Both started in 1904. 

During these early years there was but one piano in 
the town. This was borrowed for every important occasion 
and hauled about on a two-wheeled cart. 

It was about this time also that Mexicali started. It 
was a natural outgrowth of Calexico, being the part of the 
settlement on the Mexican side of the line. The two towns 
were named by Mr. L. M. Holt (no relation to Mr. W. F. 
Holt.) Mr. Holt was a cripple and was popularly known 
as "Limpy." He disjoined the names California and 
Mexico and reassembled the syllables and evolved there- 
from the names Calexico and Mexicali. It was also he who 
gave the Imperial Valley its name, although the credit is 
usually given to Mr. Chaffey. 

Life was not all work and no play with the pioneers. 
They did more than their share of work, but when they 
played they played equally hard. Horse racing was per- 
haps the leading sport. Imperial Avenue was the race 
track, and many and exciting were the races held there. 

Another amusement was provided by fastening a five 
or a ten dollar bill to the end of a well-greased pole, then 
swmgmg the pole out over one of the irrigation ditches. 

A History of Calexico 19 

Anyone wishing to climb for the prize was welcome to do 
so. Ninety percent of the contestants landed in the ditch. 
This sport was an unending source of merriment. 

In the fall of 1902, the Southern Pacific Company be- 
gan work on the extension from Old Beach (now Niland) 
to Calexico. It was complete and in full operation in May 
of the following year. 

With the railroad came many other conveniences, not 
the least of which was ice. It is difficult to imagine how 
these early pioneers survived the heat without ice. It is 
no wonder that the day of its coming was celebrated as a 
legal holiday. All business was suspended for the after- 
noon and the town had a big party at which everyone ate 

Very soon after the coming of the railroad, the "boom" 
began. By that time there were over 700 miles of canals 
in the Valley. 

A small settlement had grown up around Barne's store 
a quarter of a mile east of the present town limits and a 
quarter of a mile north of the border. It was thought that 
this settlement would be the town and Calexico would be 
merely the Company's headquarters. Natural growth, 
however, disproved this theory, and in 1904 the post office 
was moved from Barnes to Calexico. The store soon fol- 
lowed the post office, and today nothing is left of Barnes 
but the memory. 

The post office was placed in Dr. Heffernan's store at 
Second Street and Imperial Avenue. Joe Estudillo was the 
post master. 

This same year also witnessed a great auction sale of 
lots. Regular excursions were operated from Los Angeles 
and many were the families who came to make their homes 
on the newly reclaimed desert. 

Prominent among the arrivals of that year were Mr. and 
Mrs. John Steindorf. Mr. Steindorf started the Inter- 
national Lumber Company (now Calexico Lumber Com- 
pany) at Fifth and Emerson Streets. The Steindorfs have 
been among Calexico's leading citizens ever since. Mrs. 
Steindorf was the first president of the Womens' Club and 
will be spoken of again in that connection. 

The Calexico Chronicle printed its first issue in a tent 
under a mesquite tree in 1904. Mr. Overshiner was every- 
thing, including owner, editor, printer and janitor. The 
next year he sold out to Mr. W. F. Holt, who moved the 

20 A History of Calexico 

equipment to a frame building at First Street and Imperial 

A brick factory was started to meet the demands of the 
"boom." Messrs. Harbour and Peterson came from Los 
Angeles with a knowledge of brick making. Bricks were 
easy to sell but not so easy to make under desert conditions. 
It was such hot work that it was very difficult to secure 
labor. However, they started a kiln at Calexico and made 
brick, the first of which were used in the Calexico Hotel. Mr. 
Peterson did most of the work, and the firm not only made 
brick but took contracts for putting up the buildings. They 
built about 95% of the brick buildings in the entire Valley 
up to 1910. The factory was soon after discontinued. 

The Mount Signal district took form about this time. 

Before passing on to later times, let us make a closer 
acquaintance with the real builders of the Valley and the 
town of Calexico. As has already been stated, the Com- 
pany's headquarters were at Calexico. Mr. C. R. Rock- 
wood, the real Father of the Valley, was Chief Engineer 
and General Manager. Mrs. Rockwood was with him, 
helping him, sharing his disappointments and doing the 
countless things which pioneer women always do but for 
which they seldom receive credit or glory. 

Mr. C. N. Perry was Mr. Rockwood's right-hand man. 
His official capacity was that of Assistant Chief Engineer. 
His work for the Valley can never be measured. He is a 
leader in every sense of the word. He has a large square 
jaw that betrays the determination of a bulldog, yet it is 
directed by a keen intellect. He has foresight, wisdom and 
industry. He has the strength of a giant, yet the gentle- 
ness of a child. Mrs. Perry's fortitude and character are 
also evidenced by the fact that she stood by her husband's 
side through all those early struggles. 

Messrs. E. H. Gaines, F. F. Hall and D. L. Russell were 
also engineers on the project. Mr. L. R. Rockwood, brother 
of the Chief, was a chain-man. He is still one of Calexico's 
citizens. At present he is proprietor of the "Rockwood 

..^^- J- ^- Hoffman, who came from Pennsylvania, was 
with the Company from the first, in various positions. It 
^l^n 1 ^'^^ pitched the first human habitation on the site 
?l ^?;^^\C0' namely his tent. At present he is president of 
tne Mexican-Chinese Ginning Company. Mr. Hoffman is 
Kindly and jovial, yet he has a character that is strong and 
true as steel. Mrs. Hoffman came to the Valley in 1903 

A History of Calexico 21 

as Miss Florence Gould, to visit Mrs. Perry. She remained 
as Mrs. Hoffman. She is a true pioneer woman who has 
borne the hardships patiently. Her nature is sweet and 
gentle. She has done far more than a woman's share in 
this world's work, for not only did she help in the pioneer- 
ing, but she reared a splendid family as well. Mr. and 
Mrs. Hoffman are still among the leaders in Calexico. 

Mr. Frank Thing, it will be remembered, grazed his 
cattle in the Valley before settlement began. In 1902 he 
opened a butcher-shop in Imperial and shortly thereafter 
opened one in Calexico also. His brother shared the busi- 
ness with him. They killed their own stock and bought 
and sold cattle and hogs. Later they expanded their meat 
shop into a general merchandise business. Mr. Thing was 
at that time a bachelor. It was not until 1908 that his fu- 
ture wife came to Calexico. Mr. Thing is a man with the 
true pioneer spirit. This means strength, both physical 
and mental. It means dauntless courage and untiring in- 

Doctor Heffernan has already been referred to as as- 
sisting to finance the project. He was not only a financier 
but a real pioneer as well. Previous to his arrival in the 
Valley, he was a physician in Yuma. He was a resident of 
Calexico from the first and still has his office there. In 
the early days he served as Commissary for the Company. 

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Beach came to Cameron Lake in 
1900. Mr. Beach was one of the builders of the town 
and Mrs. Beach, one of the small band of women whose 
services can not be measured. The Beach family now re- 
sides in Los Angeles, and their little girl, Cameron, the Val- 
ley's first-born, is married. 

Mr. J. E. Peck came to the Valley in the summer of 
1901 with his college friend, John Shenk. The latter re- 
mained a year as teacher of the district school. Mr. Peck 
became a draftsman for the Company. Later he was their 
silt expert. At present, he is owner of the J. E. Peck Lum- 
ber Company at El Centro. Mrs. Peck has already been 
referred to as Miss McWilliams, one of the first teachers 
in the town school. Throughout the years, she has been 
active in school, club and civic affairs. 

The story of the early days would hardly be complete 
without mention of old Borego, the town's Indian mascot. 
He was a character such as one seldom meets even in story- 
books. He was past eighty, had no money and needed 
none. He lived on what he could pick up, an odd job for 
a meal here, another there. Often meals were given him. 

22 A History of Calexico 

He slept anywhere. Why should he care where? His 
queerest trait was that of wearing everything he had. Peo- 
ple were generous in gifts of discarded clothing and he 
wore them all at one time ! Perhaps he would have three 
or four vests and as many coats on when the thermometer 
was over 100. When questioned as to why he wore them 
all, he would always reply with the question, "What else 
shall I do with them?" He was everyone's friend and no 
one's enemy. 

The early comers to the Valley were of three distinct 
classes: The first class was comprised of men who had 
strength, courage and determination. The second class 
was much smaller in numbers and consisted of men of 
wealth who took up large tracts of land for speculation. 
The third class was composed of adventurers who had no 
money and very little determination or courage. They 
desired only to sow little and reap much. Through natural 
processes, this class disappeared. It soon found that the 
reward could not so easily be gained. Men of this class 
were, at first, numerous and had considerable unfavorable 
influence upon the better people at that time, but they 
added nothing of value to the history of the Valley. 

The early days were days that tested men and women. 
They went through wind, fire and flood. The weaker ones 
returned to the comforts of advanced civilization. Only 
the strongest remained. The result of this natural sifting 
is a strong, homogeneous mass of people. It has left only 
people of sturdy character who are self-reliant and ag- 

Out of this class of people has grown the far-famed 
"Spirit of the Valley." This spirit is intangible yet it is 
definitely felt by everyone who has lived there. It is com- 
posed of ability to do things and the desire to do things 
well. It is a feeling of faith in one's self and in the Val- 
ley. It is optimism to the limit of good sense. It is a 
feeling of confidence in others as well as one's self. It in- 
volves the spirit of cooperation and extends wide-open arms 
to the stranger who is made of the right kind of stuff and 
will, himself, enter into the "Spirit of the Valley." 

A History of Calexico 23 

Chapter IV. 

The Floods, 1905-1906. 

In order to understand the conditions that caused the 
floods, it is necessary to give a moment's attention to the 
geography of that region. The Colorado River flows in a 
general southerly direction, while the Alamo and New 
Rivers, only a few miles west of the Colorado, flow in a 
northerly direction. The reason for this apparent con- 
tradiction in the nature of things is that the land through 
which the two smaller rivers flow is the bed of the old 
Salton Sink. It is separated from the Colorado by a low 
range of hills and slopes to the north. The lowest point 
now holds the Salton Sea, the surface which is some 240 
feet below sea level. The Colorado flows on the very rim 
of the Valley. 

In 1903 the Government denied the Valley the use of 
the waters of the Colorado River. Mr. A. H. Heber had 
influential friends in Congress, and he made a noble and 
desperate fight for the rights of the people of the Valley. 
In the session of 1903-04, he caused a bill to be introduced 
which admitted that the Colorado was more valuable for 
irrigation than for navigation. The Reclamation Service 
opposed the bill. Finally a committee composed of House 
members and reclamation officials made a brief visit to the 
Valley and returned an adverse report. The result was 
that Congress refused the people of the Valley the use of 
waters of the Colorado River. 

In June of 1904 Mr. Heber entered into a contract with 
President Diaz of Mexico whereby the California Develop- ' 
ment Company might take the Colorado's waters through 
Mexico where the United States had no jurisdiction, the 
only condition being that in case of a shortage, Mexico 
could retain half the water if it was needed on her own 
soil. The Mexican congress ratified the contract. For an- 
other reason also it was necessary to cut a new intake some- 
where along the course of the River, for the first four miles 
of the main canal had become so coated with silt as to make 
it impossible to supply the necessary amount of water to 
the 10,000 settlers of the Valley. This silt might have been 
removed, but the new cut was the quicker and the cheaper 

Accordingly, the Mexican intake was cut under the 
direction of Engineer Rockwood in October, 1904. It was 
50 feet wide. The water was low, and it was not expected 
to rise before the early part of the summer. This would 

24 A History of Calexico 

allow plenty of time to construct a permanent gate and 
thus close the gap before flood time. 

The Mexican government was exceedingly slow in rati- 
fying the plans for the permanent gate. Its approval 
was necessary, hence haste was urged. The desired sanc- 
tion, however, did not come for a whole year, or until De- 
cember of 1905, 

In February, 1905, there came an unexpected flood. 
When it had subsided, it left the intake so silted up that 
it had to be dredged again in order to get enough water 
through it to supply the Valley's needs. A second flood 
produced the same result. The Imperial Valley Press of 
July 25, 1916 informs us that a single day's supply of water 
for the Imperial Valley contains enough sediment to build 
a levee twenty feet high, twenty feet wide and a mile long. 
In view of these facts, fear of the floods diminished. It 
was not until the third flood of the season, in March, that 
the engineers realized that they were facing an unusual 
season and therefore decided to immediately close the gap. 

Consequently, a dam of piles, brush, and sand bags was 
thrown across the gap. It was just completed when an- 
other flood came and washed it away. A second dam was 
built and promptly shared the same fate. This last flood 
widened the gap from 60 to 160 feet. Water was over- 
flowing the banks of the main canal and running in a hun- 
dred streams to the lowest part of the sink. Here it was 
accumulating and forming the new Salton Sea. 

The danger was now keenly appreciated by Messrs. 
. Rockwood, Perry, and their associates, but they were power- 
less to cope with the situation for lack of money. To meet 
the urgent need, they appealed to the Southern Pacific Rail- 
road for a loan of $200,000. This loan was granted by 
the late H. E. Harriman against the advice of his councilors. 
It was agreed that the Southern Pacific was to have control 
of 51% of the Company's stock until the loan was repaid 
and have the right to appoint three of its directors, one of 
whom was to act as president of the, Company. Mr. Epes 
Randolph of Tucson, formerly connected with the Pacific 
Electric Company in Los Angeles, was appointed president. 

Mr. Randolph made a personal investigation and tele- 
graphed Mr. Harriman that it might cost three-quarters 
of a million to save the Valley. Mr. Harriman wired back 
directions to proceed. 

Mr. Rockwood then attempted to divert the river to 
the east side of the island opposite the gap by means of a 

A History of Calexico 25 

jetty. This method proved unsuccessful and had to be 

The Southern Pacific Company next, under the direc- 
tion of their engineer, E. S. Edinger, put in a 600 foot dam 
of piling, brush mattresses, and sand bags, at a cost of $60,- 
000. This dam was built in October and November. On 
November 29-30 came a tremendous flood v^hich increased 
the flow of water from 12,000 to 115,000 cubic feet per 
second. The new dam was washed out completely. 
Scarcely a vestige of it was to be seen. Also the northern 
part of the island was washed away. This terrific flood 
widened the gap to 600 feet. Most of the river went tear- 
ing through it in a mad rush for the Salton Sea, which al- 
ready had an area of 150 square miles. If this continued, 
the Valley would again be, as it had been in the past, at the 
bottom of a lake. 

Perhaps the greatest difficulty that the engineers had 
to face was that of supplying the necessary water to the 
inhabitants while the engineering work was in progress. 
They dared not cut off the water supply while they were 
closing the gap. 

A method of control was suggested by Engineer Rock- 
wood, namely, to construct a permanent steel and concrete 
gate at Pilot Knob, where solid rock foundation could be se- 
cured, and dredge out the 4 miles of silted canal. Then, when 
the water was low, most of it could be run through this gate 
and channel, leaving the lower gap dry enough to construct 
a permanent dam or levee there. This could be done be- 
fore the next high water was expected. 

Mr. Rockwood also planned to build a new headgate 
on the northern side of the intake and divert the entire 
river around the gap via a by-pass, while it was being per- 
manently closed. The chief objection to this plan was 
that it would necessarily be of wood on a silt foundation 
and might be undermined. 

In November Mr. Randolph decided to try both plans, 
working on them simultaneously. Contracts for the struct- 
ural iron and steel work for the concrete gate were let in 
Los Angeles. Machinery for an 850 ton floating dredge, 
the "Delta," was ordered in San Francisco. Work was 
pushed hard throughout the winter. The steel and concrete 
headgate was not completed until June 28. The "Delta," 
owing to the San Francisco disaster, was not ready for 
work until the following November. 

Work on the Rockwood gate continued day and night 
with alternate shifts. It was completed on the 18th of 

26 A History of Calexico 

April, the very day of the great earthquake and fire at San 
Francisco. Mr. Harriman had rushed to the scene of the 
tragedy. The next day the maddest flood of all came 
tearing down the Colorado. It was far beyond the capa- 
city of the newly completed dam, washing it out as if 
it were so much kindling! The river was like an angry 
monster that would not be bound by human fetters. The 
crevasse was ever widening and the whole Colorado poured 
through it at the rate of 4,000,000,000 cubic feet per day. 

Mr. Rockwood's disappointment must have been the 
keenest suffering, for it was not lack of knowledge that 
made his work fail, but the ever-present lack of capital with 
which to operate. Nevertheless, he resigned, and Mr. H. 
T. Cory, Mr. Randolph's assistant, was put in absolute con- 

In June came another flood that widened the gap to 
over half a mile. The whole river was running into the 
Valley, leaving the channel to the Gulf dry. Once in the 
Valley, the river spread to a width of eight to ten miles. 
Then it divided into separate streams that ran into the 
Salton Sea. Thousands of acres of crops were drowned 
and thousands of acres more were so badly eroded that the 
land can never again be cultivated. The works of the New 
Liverpool Salt Company were under sixty feet of water. 

At the height of the flood, 75,000 cubic feet of water 
poured through the gap every second, or 6,000,000,000 cu- 
bic feet every 24 hours. Salton Sea rose at the rate of 7 
inches per day and soon covered an area of 400 square 
miles. The main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad had 
to be moved to higher ground five times that season. 

The "cutting back" was the most dangerous feature of 
the flood. The lower stratum of soil was badly cracked. 
All the soil was soft silt, and when the water washed against 
the lower stratum in its cracked condition, it washed out 
like powdered sugar, causing the upper strata to collapse. 
This "cutting back" action worked up stream at the rate 
of 1,500 to 4,000 feet per day, leaving behind it, a deep, 
ever-widening gorge. The channel remains today a silent 
evidence of the great floods. It varies in depth from 50 
to 80 feet, has an average width of 1,000 feet, and is more 
than 40 miles long. The amount of soil thus gouged out 
was nearly four times as much as the total digging for the 
Panama Canal. 

It was imperative that this "cutting back" be stopped, 
lor, it It were allowed to continue, it would soon cut into 
the canals of the irrigation system. This would send all 

The "cutting back" of the river. 

Flood scene showing the levee. 

A History of Calexico 27 

the irrigating water down the Alamo and New rivers and 
thus ruin the entire system. Also it would cut off the water 
supply for the 12,000 settlers, who were absolutely depend- 
ent upon it. There was more danger that people would 
be driven out of the Valley for want of drinking water than 
there was that they would be drowned out. 

The towns of Calexico and Mexicali were directly in 
the path that the river was cutting back. Could they be 
saved? Engineer Perry directed the building of a levee 
six feet high around the river-side of the town. Every man, 
woman, and child worked until exhausted filling bags with 
sand, earth, or anything available. Every shovel in town 
was in use, even sauce-pans were wrung into use for the 
purpose. Every horse and mule in the vicinity was put to 
work on the levee. This work continued for 48 feverish, 
anguishing hours. No one slept except from exhaustion. 
No one thought of removing his clothing. 

Would the dike hold? The fate of two cities depended 
upon it. Now and then it would break through somewhere 
and the water would pour in on the town. With a scream 
and a dash, the whole force of workers would turn their 
energies to the new break. Every household in town brought 
out its bedding, mattresses and everything that would be 
useful to stuff into the breaks. 

Mr. Perry was on duty the whole time directing the 
work. It took the strength of a mighty man to endue that 
strain, but Mr. Perry was equal to the emergency. 

There was a row of stately cottonwood trees along one 
side of the Company offices, that had been tenderly raised 
and were highly prized. Now, in this supreme struggle, 
these trees had to give their lives to help save the town. 
Under Mr. Perry's direction, they were hewn down and 
suspended by chains in the river channel that the angry 
waters might beat against them and thus spare the bank 
on the Calexico side of the river. The noble trees did their 
work well. They saved that bank. 

As if there were not already enough to contend with, a 
mad wind was racing across the Valley. This added greatly 
to the difficulty of the fight, for it blew out the lanterns and 
drowned men's voices when they tried to shout orders or 
call for help. 

The Company hastily constructed a tent on stilts back 
a safe distance from the flood. The safe was moved to 
the new "office," and all valuable papers were taken there 
for safe keeping. The Southern Pacific depot was on the 

28 A History of Calexico 

^river side of the levee; hence, in order to save it, it vtras 
hastily taken down in sections and moved to safety. 

Everything on the river side of the dike went floating 
down the stream. The water tank went out the first night, 
leaving the town without its supply of pure water. The 
irrigation water is so laden with sediment that it is the 
color of chocolate, hence this added difficulty will be ap- 

At last, after the second horrible night, the flood began 
to subside. When the waters had fallen to a safe level, 
all Calexico slept from sheer exhaustion. 

The next morning smiled down on a much-relieved town 
on one side of the levee and on desolation on the other side. 
Mr. Perry's brains, plus everyone's strength, energy, and 
courage, saved Calexico. West of the levee, as far as the 
eye could see, was one vast expanse of water. People 
constructed flat boats and barges on which to travel about. 

Here and there a high place showed itself in the form 
of an island on which were crowded whole families that 
had taken refuge on the highest spots they could find. This 
situation was more common on the Mexican than on the 
American side of the boundary. Rescue work was prompt- 
ly begun, but it was very slow and exceedingly dangerous 
since the current was so swift and there were so many im- 
pediments in the river. The rescue boats frequently be- 
came entangled in the tree tops and were lost. It took 
several days and hundreds of unrecorded deeds of bravery 
to save all the people from the waters of the flood. 

The flood waters covered about 6,000 acres, while some 
13,000 more were ruined by erosion in side canyons. When 
the new channel was gouged out, the waters from both 
sides made a mad rush for the new lower level, leaving 
devastation in their paths. 

The Inter-California Railroad to Yuma had been built 
as far as Cocopah. This was completely under water. The 
official crossing from the United States to Mexico had pre- 
viously been at the foot of Imperial Avenue. This land was 
all washed away. It was fortunate indeed that the cross- 
mg had, in 1904, been moved to the foot of Heber Avenue. 

As rapidly as possible, Calexico repaired its damages. 
The actual loss in the town amounted to about $15,000. 
Mexicali suffered to the extent of about $75,000. 

The whole Colorado, however, was still flowing down 
the channel of New River and had yet to be turned back 
mto its old course. There was little in recorded history to 

A History of Calexico 29 

help the engineers in their gigantic task. Most floods had 
merely been overflows, but this was an entirely new prob- 
lem. This was a roaring river that had changed its course 
and was rushing madly into an ancient basin below sea 
level. Three hundred million cubic feet of water every 
hour were rushing down a 400-foot slope, through easily 
eroded soil into a basin about the size of Long Island Sound. 

This situation was so new that the engineers had noth- 
ing upon which to base their opinions. They all disagreed. 
About the only point upon which they were agreed was 
that something had to be done at once. The Southern Pa- 
cific engineers, then in control of the situation, decided to 
construct a dam of rock instead of pilings, brush, and sand 
bags. They quickly constructed a railroad from their main 
line to the break, for the purpose of hauling rocks and other 
materials. They next borrowed from the Union Pacific 
Company 300 "battleships." These were mammoth side- 
dump cars that had been used in the construction of the 
Lucin cut-off across Great Salt Lake. They had a capacity 
of 50 to 60 tons each. The California Development Com- 
pany had three light-draught steamers and a number of 
barges that were used on the river. The Southern Pacific 
furnished work trains and gathered rock, gravel, and other 
materials including 1,100 ninety-foot piles, 19,000 feet of 
heavy timber for railway trestles, and 40 miles of steel 
cable to be used in the weaving of brush mattresses. The 
Southern Pacific furnished pile drivers and steam shovels, 
also many engineers, mechanics, and workmen. This re- 
sulted in efficiency and speed. 

The greatest difficulty was in obtaining common labor. 
It was impossible to secure enough Mexicans, so Indian 
tribes were organized and used. These with their families 
constituted a separate camp of about 2,000 souls. The rest 
of the laborers were Mexicans and American adventurers. 
The whole vicinity was put under martial law with a mili- 
tary commandant to police the camps. 

Active work began August 6, 1906. The summer floods 
were then subsiding. First, a woven brush mattress was 
made in twenty days and nights by two shifts of men. It 
was made of baling wire, steel cable and 2,000 cords of 
brush. A total of 13,000 square feet of this mattress was 
made. It covered the bottom of the gap to the width of 
100 feet, double thickness. Its purpose was to serve as a 
foundation for the rock filling. Next, a railway trestle 
ten feet wide was built across the crevasse. On the 14th 
of September, trains of "battleships" began running across 

30 A History of Calexico 

it and dumping rock onto the mattress at the bottom of the 

In the mean time, the Rockwood by-pass and headgate 
were completed. By October 10, only one-tenth of the flow 
of water was still going over the rock dam. But the Rock- 
wood dam was showing signs of weakness. In the after- 
noon of October 11, it gave way and went floating down 
the stream. The by-pass then became the main river. The 
top of the Southern Pacific dam was left dry. The dam 
that went out had cost $122,000 and four months of labor. 

Now the Southern Pacific went to work clearing out 
and enlarging the four miles of silted up canal, since the 
steel and concrete gate above it was ready for use. It 
might now be opened and thus handle part of the water 
through the ditches, while another attempt was being made 
to close both the Rockwood by-pass and the original gap. 
Operations were pushed night and day. A thousand men and 
700 horses and mules were at work. It was planned to con- 
struct another rock dam on another brush mattress in the 
by-pass also, as this type held best. Levees connected the 
two dams, making a continuous barrier one-half mile long. 
They extended it to both sides as well. 

On November 4 the lower Mexican intake was com- 
pletely closed. The trouble seemed over and all seemed 
well. There was rejoicing throughout the Valley. 

On December 7, another sudden flood came tearing down 
the Gila, a branch of the Colorado. A reconstructed 
earthen dam further to the south went out! The break 
was at first small, but it widened so rapidly that in three days 
the whole river was pouring through it and again rushing 
into the Valley. This demanded immediate action. It also 
proved that, in order adequately to protect the Valley, a 
higher, stronger and more massive levee would have to be 
built on the West side of the river for a distance of at least 
twenty miles. 

The Southern Pacific Company felt that it had done 
its share. It had already spent over a million and a half, 
and its financial interests in the Valley would not justify 
further expenditure. 

The United States Government would be the principal 
loser if the Valley were to be lost. The land taken up by 
the settlers was still legally in the possession of the Gov- 
ernment, pending a correct survey. Besides, if the river 
were not controlled, it would eventually destroy, not only 
the Imperial Valley, but the Laguna Dam, which was a pro- 

A History of Calexico 31 

ject of the United States Government to the north. Also, 
if uncontrolled, the Colorado would cut for itself a gorge 
from which it would be impossible to draw water for irri- 
gation. The total potentially fertile land that would thus 
be rendered barren, was more than 2,000 square miles, or 
enough to support a quarter of a million people. 

For these reasons, therefore, the Southern Pacific called 
upon the United States Government for aid for the Valley. 
Theodore Roosevelt was President at that time. The South- 
ern Pacific offered the Government the use of its tracks, 
trains, quarries, laborers, and everything it had in the way 
of equipment; but it considered that the Government should 
pay for the work, since the cost would run into millions. 
The California Development Company also offered all it 
had to aid in the work. 

Congress had just adjourned for the holidays. The 
Government could not proceed without the authority from 
Congress nor without arrangements with the Mexican Gov- 
ernment. All this time the river was pouring into the Val- 
ley, but the water was not alarmingly high and was run- 
ning more or less peacefully down the Alamo and New 
River channels. All would be well until the next flood 
came. The gap must be closed before that should occur. 

President Roosevelt placed the responsibility on the 
California Development Company and demanded immedi- 
ate action by that Company. In the meantime he agreed 
to try to bring about permanent action on the part of the 
Government. The California Development Company was 
powerless to meet the situation for lack of money, so the 
Southern Pacific again came to the rescue. Mr. Harriman 
telegraphed to President Roosevelt that the Southern Pa- 
cific would proceed to meet the emergency trusting that 
the Government would assist as soon as it could get action. 

The river fighting crew and equipment were still intact; 
therefore, on December 20, 1916, when the order was given, 
all the resources of the Southern Pacific were thrown into 
the work of controlling the river. The crevasse was then 
1,100 feet wide and had a maximum depth of 40 feet. The 
whole river was pouring through the new gap. There was 
no time to build another brush mattress. 

The plan next adopted was to build two railroad trestles 
over the gap and to have 1,000 flat cars and "battleships'* 
of rock ready all at once and to dump rock faster than it 
could possibly be carried away by the stream or swallowed 
by the silt. Three times the piles were torn out and went 

^2 A History of Calexico 

floating down the stream and three times were the trestles 
partly or wholly destroyed. On the 27th of January the 
first trestle was finished for the fourth time, and the rock 
dumping process began again. 

Men worked night and day with feverish haste. Not a 
moment was lost. A thousand cars of rock were on the scene 
and were dumped as fast as they could be "placed" on 
the trestle. In order to save time, the rocks that were too 
large to handle were broken on the cars in transit by "pop- 
shots." This consisted of dynamite so placed as to split 
the rocks. The roar of the mad waters, the "pop-shots," 
the shouts of the men, all combined to furnish the excite- 
ment that spurred the men on to their maximum speed. 
Two unknown Mexican laborers gave their lives to the 
cause. They fell from the trestle into the roaring torrent 

Once in the water, the rocks settled and rolled down 
the stream. All this had to be overcome by more dump- 
ing. Lastly, small stones and gravel were dumped to fill the 
places between the big rocks. 

The crevasse was finally closed and the river unwillingly 
forced back into its old channel on February 10, 1907. 
This was 52 days after Roosevelt asked for help and 15 
days after the first load of rock was dumped from the 
first completed trestle. The work had to be done fast or 
it would have been lost. It was a question of dumping 
rock faster than the river could carry it away. 

The Southern Pacific also built twelve miles of levees 
along the west side of the river with a railroad track on 
top so it can immediately send material to any part of it 
in case of weakness or a break. Also, they constructed a 
second levee to the west of the first, to impound the waters 
in case of a break in the first levee. 

The additional cost was approximately $1,600,000. The 
total expenditure by the Southern Pacific was $3,100,000. 
The work was done thoroughly. It has stood the test of 
many a flood and has held. The engineers who directed the 
final closure and the building of the levees were Messrs. 
Epes Randolph, H. T. Cory, "Tom" Hinds, and Mr. Clark. 

The Southern Pacific completed the work without the 
aid of the Government and afterward put in a claim for 
the cost of the operations. This reimbursement bill dragged 
along in Congress for three years without action. Hearings 
were held, expert engineers were consulted, and the whole 
subject was thoroughly discussed. Reimbursement was 

A History of Calexico 33 

urged by most of California's big newspapers and by the 
Imperial Valley's Chambers of Commerce. It was recom- 
mended by Roosevelt and was urgently recommended by 
Taft, but did not pass Congress. The United States has 
never paid back the sum of the actual outlay to the Southern 

Two novels have their setting in the Imperial Valley. 
Both deal with the early days and both use the floods for 
the climax. The better known of these is "The Winning 
of Barbara Worth," written by Harold Bell Wright. 

It is a well known fact that Mr. Wright was a preacher 
in the Ozark country and that he was poor both in money 
and in health. Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Holt of the Valley 
were also from the Ozark country and were good friends 
of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. Mr. Holt had made a financial 
success in the new country and urged his friend to come 
there also, thinking that the dry climate would do him 
good. Mr. and Mrs. Wright made the move, Mr. Holt giv- 
ing them considerable assistance. Mr. Wright started the 
ranch now known as the "Wright Place," between El Cen- 
tro and Holtville. He made a financial success while re- 
gaining his health. 

Out of appreciation, Mr. Wright wrote "The Winning 
of Barbara Worth." He idealized his friend Mr. Holt in 
the character of Mr. Worth. Mr. Holt's daughter was 
made the heroine but was not actually found on the desert, 
as the story goes. The successful lover and the hero who 
closed the gap was Mr. H. T. Cory, while Mr. Rockwood 
was represented as the Seer. The novel is in no sense a 
history, although it follows, in a general way, the trend of 
events in the Valley. 

The other novel is "The River," by Edna Aiken. Its 
scenes are laid in Calexico and at the gap in the bank of 
the Colorado River, The book was written to idealize Mr. 
Cory, much to the indignation of Mr. Rockwood's friends. 
While not historically accurate, the book gives a very true 
representation of early life, customs, and conditions in the 
town of Calexico in the early days. Mr. Cory is idealized in 
the leading part as "Rickard." Mr. Rockwood is cruelly 
and unjustly characterized as the unsuccessful engineer 
called, in the story, Tom Hardin. The other characters 
are all taken from life. 

34 A History of Calexico 

Chapter V. 
Developments to 1915 

Due to the dauntless character of the people of the 
Valley, the flood did not affect business conditions nearly 
as much as would be supposed. Everyone had confidence 
that the difficulty would be overcome. The "Spirit of the 
Valley" prevailed. Things went on the usual way. 

Owing to the difficulty of getting to their county seat, 
and to the growing consciousness of the unity of the Valley, 
agitation was rapidly gaining headway to make the Valley 
a separate county. 

The Pomona district was at the same time trying to 
break away from Los Angeles County. The State laws 
granted no authority to counties to subdivide ; therefore 
it was necessary to create a state law giving such authority. 
Pomona and the Valley joined hands in the fight. They 
sent representatives to the State Legislature to plead their 
cause. On March 15, 1907, an act was passed especially 
for Pomona and Imperial, authorizing the division of 
counties. Pomona never secured its separation from Los 
Angeles County, due to the fact that those in favor of sepa- 
ration lost in the election. 

The people of the Valley, however, speedily carried 
through the necessary procedure and became a separate 
county. A petition was first sent to the San Diego County 
Board of Supervisors, asking for the creation of a new 
county. The petition was granted. On the 6th of August, 
1907, an election was held to determine whether or not the 
majority of the voters were in favor of separation. The 
election carried. The towns then voted for El Centro as 
the most central location for the county seat. El Centro 
is the Spanish for "the center," and, true to its name, it is 
approximately the geographical center of the Valley. 

The organization and the first meeting of the Board of 
Supervisors of the new county took place in the Valley 
State Bank Building in El Centro on the 26th of August 
that same year. Mr. F. S. Webster was made Supervisor, 
since he had previously been Supervisor of the Imperial 
District of San Diego County. Mr. James B. Hoffman 
was officially made Justice of the Peace. He had carried 
on the duties of this office from the very first, by common 
consent though without official appointment or electon. 
Mr. D. b. Elder was elected the first County Clerk. 











A History of Calexico 35 

The county was diveded into Supervisoral districts. The 
same divisions were made for this as for the Irrigation dis- 
tricts. In other words, the Supervisoral districts and the 
Irrigation districts were identical in area. Calexico is in 
District No. 1. Mr. S. McHarg was the first Supervisor of 
that district. Mr. George L. Pulliam is the present Super- 
visor (1922). 

The Farmers' and Merchants' Club was organized soon 
after the great floods. It owes its beginnings directly to the 
great disaster, since it was the need that the merchants and 
farmers felt for each other that brought them together, 
and the club was the natural outgrowth. Mr. Edward Dool 
was its first president. The club worked consistently in co- 
operation with the town and with the Women's Club. 

The Woman's Civic Improvement Club has been no small 
factor in the development of Calexico. It organized on 
the 3rd of June, 1908 with Mrs. John F. Steindorf as its 
first president. There were 24 charter members. Mrs. 
J. E, Peck was perhaps the most active worker in the fram- 
ing of the constitution. Mrs. Fritz Kloke is also deserving 
of special mention. She had definite plans and worked 
them out with untiring zeal. She passed away in Los 
Angeles in 1915. 

The first activity of the club was a series of social events 
for the purpose of raising money to plant trees in the town. 
Heber Park had just been laid out. It is situated on Emer- 
son street, one block from Imperial Avenue in the northern 
part of the town. The Woman's Club undertook the ex- 
pense of planting this park with trees. Also the women 
planned to place trees on the school grounds and in the 
parkings. After much labor and expense, the trees were 
planted in the park only to be promptly frostbitten and to 
die, and all the work had to be done over again. 

The Club's next valuable achievement was the establish- 
ment of a reading room for men in the town. The value of 
this reading room can scarcely be appreciated without a 
brief resume of the conditions pertaining in the town. 
Calexico was "dry." Mexicali was exceedingly "wet." 
There were a great many working-men in Calexico without 
their families. They had no homes and no place to go, 
hence many wandered "across the line" and promptly be- 
came incapacitated for work the next day. This reading 
room contained the daily papers, the leading magazines, 
and all the books that the inhabitants could donate. Hence 
it materially improved the condition in the town. 

36 A History of Calexico 

The next step was to add a rest room for women. It 
was provided with couches, tables and chairs. It was es- 
pecially for the women from the ranches who had to travel 
many miles to town and always stayed all day. Here a 
club woman was in charge, and the women from the 
ranches could leave their babies while they were shopping, 
or they could find rest themselves. 

The following year, Mrs. Thomas Mahew became presi- 
dent of the Club. That year, the Club enlarged its reading 
room into a small circulating library. This reading and 
rest room was situated in the adobe building which still 
stands between First and Second streets on Imperial Avenue. 

Mrs. Steindorf was president again the third year and 
the library continued to grow. At first, the club women 
alternately took care of the books, but it soon ougtrew this 
method. Miss Dorothy Gleason was made the first regular 
librarian, serving three hours a day, three days a week. 
In September, 1910 Mrs. Bessie Wofford took charge. In 
April, 1912 the Imperial County Library was organized and 
the Calexico library merged with it. 

On the very eve of the floods, Mr. Frank Thing expressed 
his confidence in the town by putting up the first two-story 
building. It was known as the Thing Building, and it still 
stands on the corner of Second and Paulin Streets. It housed 
the Thing Brothers' meat market. 

About this time the people of Calexico felt the need of 
a town government. They had outgrown the method (or 
lack of method) formerly employed, — namely, running 
things by common consent. Accordingly, the people elected 
a Board of Trustees. 

This newly elected board held its first regular meeting 
in the office of the Calexico Chronicle on Imperial Avenue 
on the evening of April 28, 1908. The trustees were: 
Messrs. J. A. Morrison, G. W. Shenk, Dr. W. T. Heffernan, 
G. W. McCuUum and F. F. Thing. Mr. O. B. Tout acted 
in the capacity of clerk. Mr. Morrison was elected presi- 
dent of the board. Mr. J. M. Eshleman was, by a unani- 
mous vote, selected City Attorney. 

The board then set to work drawing up ordinances, the 
very first of which was to prohibit the sale of liquor in Cal- 
exico. The second regulated the placing of guy wires for 
the public safety. The third fixed the time and place of 
meeting of the board. The fourth provided for police super- 
vision. A total of seven ordinances was framed that night. 
The seventh prohibited gambling. All of them were passed. 
The Chronicle office was to be the regular place of meet- 

A History of Calexico 37 

ing. Later that spring Dr. Harvey Smith was appointed 
Health Officer. 

That summer, sidewalks were completed in the business 
section. In October the "Eastside Addition" was annexed to 
the town. 

On January 22, 1909, a special election was held at 
which bonds were carried to the extent of $3,500 for muni- 
cipal buildings and other improvements. The following 
month, the city made arrangements with the Holton Power 
Company for street lights. 

In the spring of 1909, the City Hall was moved into a 
room of its own in the rear of the Thing Building. The 
town then purchased its first typewriter for the use of the 

On October 2, 1909, another special election was held 
to vote more bonds: $28,000 was voted for water works 
and a water system; $2,000 to buy land for reservoirs for 
the city water. Owing to the large amount of silt in the 
water, already referred to, settling basins were imperative. 
The sum of $2,000 was voted for fire fighting apparatus; 
$500 being intended for the improvement of the parks and 
$3,500 for a City Hall and jail. The following spring, the 
Fire Engine House was built on First Street. 

At this time also, the crossing into Mexico was moved 
from Heber Avenue to Heffernan, where it remains today. 

Rockwood Plaza had been set aside for park purposes 
and was being used as a base-ball ground. It was sur- 
rounded by a high board fence. It was quite a contrast 
to the beautiful park that is found there now. About this 
time, also, the Post Office was dignified with a location of its 
own at Third Street and Imperial Avenue. 

Varney Brothers had established a general merchandise 
store in Imperial in 1902. It had grown and prospered. 
In 1910, that firm established a branch store in Calexico. 
There, also, their business flourished. Now they are one 
of the leading firms in the Valley, having six stores in as 
many different towns. 

During this time, the Chronicle had seen several changes. 
Its successive editors were: Messrs. Charles A. Gardner, 
John Baker, now of Holtville, O. B. Tout, and Bert Perrin. 
Mr. Perrin was editor from 1913 to 1922. 

In the fall of 1907, the ninth grade was added to the 
school. It met in the old Congregational Church at 6th 
and Paulin streets. This old church building has since 
been bought by the members of the colored Baptist Church, 
who moved it to Third Street and Eastside Avenue. 

38 A History of Calexico 

The town was growing so rapidly that the following year 
a new school building was imperative. A splendid new 
two-story brick school was built. This school building 
was the pride of the town. Two years later, in 1910, the 
kindergarten was started in the original little school build- 
ing on Sixth Street, where it still meets. In the spring of 
1911, the high school graduated its first class. 

In 1915, construction was begun on a large and splendid 
new high school building. That same year, the Dool 
School was built to provide for the children in the east part 
of the town. It was a beautiful school building in Spanish 
style and surrounded by several acres of play-ground. The 
Rockwood School was also completed about this time. It 
is similar to the Dool School in architecture. 

In order to encourage the planting of trees, the city 
undertook to water and care for parkings free for all prop- 
erty owners who would plant trees. This plan furnished a 
great impetus for tree planting. At the present time every 
street is lined with trees. The graceful pepper tree pre- 

The sewer system was installed in 1911. 

At this time, also, Calexico had a miniature prohibition 
fight. "Temperance beer" was the issue. It contained 
2% of alcohol and was claimed by many not to conflict 
with Calexico's first ordinance. Its advocates declared it 
was not an intoxicating liquor. The fight was exciting. 
Every citizen was lined up on one side or the other of the 
issue. The matter was brought before the board of Super- 
visors and that body decided against the "temperance beer.'" 
This decision was made on the 22nd of April, 1911. 

Early the next year, a small frame jail was put up in 
the southwest corner of Rockwood Park. This proved too 
fragile for a jail, so two years later it was moved to its 
present location in the fire engine house on First Street. 

It was in 1909 that cotton was first grown in marketable 
quantities around Calexico. Four hundred bales were sold 
that year. With this success, several cotton gins were 
built and the production of cotton steadily increased. 

Calexico was never long without excitement. Huey 
Stanley was a radical I. W. W. leader. He was a man of 
courage, strength, and considerable military ability. It is 
a pity that a man of his talents and initiative should lead 
others m a wrong direction, as this man did. Berthold and 
Ryan Price ^ were Stanley's co-workers. They led a band 
of I. W. W.'s, largely composed of bums, across the border 
into Mexico. They attempted to set up a socialist com- 

A History of Calexico 39 

munity according to their own ideas, directly across New 
River from Calexico. 

Governor Kelso Vega of Lower California would not 
permit the settlement. Stanley and his men would not 
leave ; so the regular Mexican army attempted to drive them 
out. The result was a battle between the two forces in 
February, 1911. All Calexico watched the struggle, which 
began shorly before noon and lasted until dark. The 
churches cared for the wounded and buried the dead. Dr. 
Dana Weed was chief hero of the rescue work. At that 
time, he was not yet a physician, but his big heart was al- 
ways interested in suffering humanity. School children 
brought cloth from their homes for bandages to help him 
in the work. 

The result of the day's fighting was that the Mexican 
army retreated to the kindly shelter of Mt. Signal, some 
fourteen miles away. Stanley and his men were victorious 
for the time. 

However, on the 8th of April in the same year, the Mexi- 
can army returned 900 strong with General Mayol at its 
head. This time the fighting took place a mile or so fur- 
ther to the south. Stanley and his men fought bravely 
and killed 13 and wounded 28 of Mayol's men. Mayol's 
soldiers shot and killed Stanley himself. Without its leader, 
Stanley's army fell into disorder and soon dispersed. Thus 
ended the socialist settlement across New River. 

Four years later, Calexico suffered a real tragedy. 
About eight o'clock in the evening of June 22, 1915, the 
vicinity was visited by an unusually severe earthquake 
shock. Forty minutes later, another shock came equally 
as bad as the first one had been. Several fires resulted. A 
camp of American soldiers was stationed there at the time, 
and the soldiers helped the fire department in extinguishing 
the conflagrations. Most of the fires were in residences 
though perhaps the largest one was the Thing Building. 
The building was saved, however, without irreparable dam- 
age having been done. 

Everything of brick was leveled to the ground. Not a 
brick building was spared, not even a brick chimney re- 
mained standing. The beautiful new Rockwood School 
building, the pride of the town, was nothing but a pile 
of bricks. The new high school building was about 
half completed. It was so badly shaken that it had to be 

There were no deaths from the quake in Calexico, but 
Mexican was not so fortunate. It suffered many. The to- 
tal damage in Calexico amounted to about $300,000. 

40 A History of Calexico 

List of Presidents of Board of Trustees or Mayors : 

J. A. Morrison John C. Pace 

E. H. Rockwood Edward Dool 

C. H. Holmes Casey Abbott 

E. H. Rockwood T. J. West 
Ale Baskin 

, List of City Clerks: 

O. B. Tout Edward B. Brown 

J. B. Hoffman Frank P. Green 

Robert L. Glasby Paul Steindorf 

City Manager: 
Paul Steindorf 

Chapter VL 

Calexico Today — 1915-1923 

Let us now view Calexico as it is today. 

The High School was rebuilt and completed in 1915. It 
is a beautiful building and a credit to the town. The year 
1918 saw the completion of the Hoffman School, a new 
grammar school on Seventh Street. The original school 
building is still in use as a kindergarten. Besides this, 
there are now three grammar schools and the high school. 

The Library remained in the old adobe on Imperial 
Avenue until the year 1919. Andrew Carnegie's assistance 
was then accepted and a splendid new library building was 
constructed on Heber Avenue at Fifth Street. The Library 
moved into its new home in February of the year 1919. 
Mrs. Bessie Wofford is still librarian. She is doing a great 
work for her city in her untiring helpfulness to everyone 
who seeks assistance in the Library. 

The Calexico Chamber of Commerce organized on the 
evening of January 30, 1917, as the successor to the Far- 
mers' and Merchants' Club. A board of directors was 
elected and Mr. Frank D. Hevener was made the first presi- 
dent. In the early years of its existence, the Chamber was 
unable to accomplish much due to war conditions and the 
financial depression which followed. 

In January, 1922, the Chamber reorganized with Mr. 
L. M. Hutchison as president. It secured a permanent lo- 
cation in the Calexico Hotel Building. It has a public wel- 
fare room, a dining room, and a kitchen. Great interest 
has been shown and the membership has jumped to 400. 
Much is being done to advertise Calexico throughout the 
United States. 

A History of Calexico 41 

In November, 1922, the first annual International Cot- 
ton Pageant was held with a view to advertising Calexico as 
a cotton center. It was a complete success. 

The Chamber is now agitating the erection of a Federal 
Building and a first-class hotel. It has hopes of obtaining 
both in the near future. 

Calexico now has three railroads. The Southern Pa- 
cific has already been mentioned. The Inter-California, it 
will be remembered, was begun in 1905, destroyed by the 
flood the following year, and was rebuilt and completed in 
1908. It is a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Company, 
but is operated entirely separately on a concession of the 
Mexican government. It begins at Calexico, crosses the 
border there and runs through Mexican territory to Yuma. 
The railroad was the idea of the late E. H. Harriman. The 
purpose was to provide a direct outlet for produce from 
the Southern end of the Valley. More than this, it serves 
the purpose of a "double track" between Niland and Yuma. 
Trains going one direction can be routed one way, and 
trains going the opposite direction can be routed the other 
way. This results in a material saving of time, for both 
passenger and freight service. 

Mr. William F. Herrin is president of the Inter-Cali- 
fornia Railroad and Mr. Paul Shoup is vice-president. Both 
are also officials of the Southern Pacific. Mr. E. G. Bur- 
dick is general manager of the railroad with headquarters 
at Calexico. 

Two of the trans-continental passenger trains of the 
Southern Pacific are now routed through Calexico over the 
Inter-California tracks. 

The San Diego and Arizona Railroad of which Mr. John 
D. Spreckles of San Diego is president and principal owner, 
started construction east from San Diego in 1916. It was 
not completed, however, until 1920. The cost was $18,000- 
000. The road cuts directly through the mountains, and 
has 17 tunnels and countless bridges in its course. From 
El Centro to Calexico, it operates over the Southern Pacific 
tracks and from there to Yuma over the Inter-California 

The year 1922 saw the transfer of the Calexico Chronicle 
from Mr. Bert Perrin, in whose hands it had been for nine 
years, to Messrs. Randall Henderson and Myron Watson. 

At present, all the water used in the Valley comes 
through one heading. This is situated about one and a 
quarter miles north of the international boundary and is 
officially called Rockwood Gate, but commonly known as 

42 A History of Calexico 

Hanlon Heading, after the man on whose property it was 
built. The water then flows through Mexican territory via 
the Alamo canal. A few miles east of Calexico, it again 
enters our country and branches into several main canals. 
These branch off again and again, so that every foot of the 
Irrigation District's soil is watered by gravity. 

The East Side main canal and the West Side main canal 
are also known as the "high line" canals. They follow the 
highest line along which the water will flow naturally. 
Outside of these two canals, the land cannot be irrigated by 
gravity. It is, therefore, still the natural desert. 

The United States Government has never granted the 
Valley permission to use the waters of the Colorado since 
its refusal to do so in 1904. Water is being used, however, 
by virtue of an old filing made by Mr. C. N. Perry in 1895 
under the laws of California. 

The California Development Company went into the 
hands of a receiver in 1909 and was operated by him until 
1916. In April of that year, it was sold at sheriff's sale. 
By arrangement, the property was bought by the Southern 
Pacific Company and then sold again to the Imperial Irri- 
gation District. Thus the old California Development Com- 
pany went out of existence. 

The water companies were from their beginnings in- 
dependent of the California Development Company. They 
were mutual companies. At the present time, they are in 
the process of merging with the Irrigation District. 

The old Imperial Land Company went out of existence 
soon after the first rush of settlers was over. 

After all the noble work, sacrifice, and fortunes that 
have been poured into the reclamation of this Colorado 
Desert, it is a grave reflection on the business methods in 
operation in our country that hundreds of acres of this re- 
claimed land are now idle because the farmers can not pro- 
fitably sell what they have raised. Acres and acres of 
food crops are plowed under every year because it does 
not pay the farmer to market his crop. The natural re- 
sult is that much of the land has been abandoned for no 
other reason than the market conditions. After men and 
women have sacrificed so much to make this land produce 
food for humanity, it would seem that other men and women 
should make it their duty to regulate market conditions 
so that the original great and worthy motives may be ful- 

Mr. W. A. Brazie is the Inspector in charge of the 
United States Immigration Service. That Service at present 
employs nine men. Approximately 1,500 persons are ad- 

A History of Calexico 43 

mitted to the United States through the port of Calexico 
each year. About 300 depart. Calexico is a port of entry 
for exempt Chinese. 

Under ordinary circumstances, there are no passport 
regulations, and people from the two towns pass freely over 
the border. During the war, however, very strict passport 
regulations were in force. Complete identification, includ- 
ing photograph and signature, was necessary. During that 
time, the office employed 29 men. 

Armed guards from the Immigration Service are al- 
ways stationed at the border to see that no one crosses 
who has no right to do so. They are continually on the 
watch for escaping criminals. 

The Customs Service at the port of Calexico, is headed 
by Mr. C. R. Brown, who has himself contributed a brief 
but comprehensive survey of his department. It follows, 
in part: 

On July 1st, 1910, HefEernan Avenue having been made the 
official crossing, the Custom House was moved to a brick building 
on the northwest corner of Heffernan Avenue and First Street 
and, on July 5, 1915, was moved south to the present location 
in the substantial brick building on Heffernan Avenue near the 
Mexican boundary. 

The value of imports at the port for the year 1903 was 
$13,776; the value for the banner year of 1919 was $12,471,551; 
the value for 1921 was $6,753,380. In 1902, the principal im- 
ports were cattle; during the past few years, imports have varied 
but consist principally of cotton. The falling off in value for 
the year 1921 is not so much on account of any lessened volume 
of business as because of the drop in prices, especially on cotton. 

The Port of Calexico was established, and is now, under 
the district of San Diego. The port w^as placed under the dis- 
trict of Los Angeles in 1913 but in 1920 was put back into the 
district of San Diego. Honorable C. D. Sprigg, the present col- 
lector of customs at San Diego and in charge of this district, 
was chief clerk or special deputy collector in the San Diego 

office at the time the Calexico office was opened in 1902. 

The first customs officer stationed at the Port of Calexico 
was Customs Inspector Charles Sandborn. The first deputy col- 
lector in charge was Deputy Collector Ralph Conklin, who took 
charge on May 1st, 1905. The present officer in charge is 
Deputy Collector E. R. Brown, who has been stationed here 
since 1915 and has been in charge since 1917. 

On the 4th of March, 1922, flags throughout the Valley 
were lowered to half mast as an expression of grief at the 
passing of Mr. C. R. Rockwood. He had moved to Los 
Angeles some time previously but had not severed his busi- 
ness connections in the Valley. His last visit in Calexico 
occurred only a month before his death. About a year be- 
fore his passing, he had a severe attack of pneumonia, from 

44 A History of Calexico 

which he never fully recovered. However, the immediate 
cause of his death was heart failure. His wife, a sister 
and two brothers survive him and the whole Valley mourns 
his loss. 

Calexico has achieved much in recent years. Besides 
the two original parks, it has acquired 17 acres, which it 
is holding for park purposes in the future. It now has 
$500,000 worth of paving and 28 miles of sidewalks valued 
at $545,000. It has six miles of sewers. It has planted 
over 5,000 trees in its parkings. 

It has recently added a new pumping plant to its water 
works, tripling its capacity. It has increased its settling 
basin capacity six-fold and added a chlorine plant and a 
filter system for purifying the drinking water. 

It has installed a modern fire alarm system. Calexico 
is proud of its total assessed valuation of well over $6,000,- 

Building has progressed rapidly. Imperial Avenue, 
where only a few years ago the cowboys raced their ponies, 
is now a paved highway, the main road out of Calexico to 
El Centro and all points north. Stores line both sides of 
the street from Second to Seventh Street. 

Second Street is the principal business street. It is lined 
with two-story business blocks from Imperial Avenue to 
one-half block east of Heffernan Avenue. 

Heffernan Avenue is the only street that crosses the 
border. It is on this street that the Immigration and Cus- 
toms offices are located. Between Second Street and the 
border, Heffernan is lined with foreign stores. First Street, 
parallel to the border, is also foreign. The very air has 
a foreign scent. Here are Oriental stores, with Oriental 
signs on their windows, where dried fish in great variety 
hang, where also many wares, unfamiliar to the American 
trader, are exhibited for sale. 

Then there are the Mexican stores with their gaudy, 
over-crowded window displays and their narrow aisleways. 
The Mexican restaurant is also present with its tortillas and 
its strong odor of chili. Neither must we overlook the fish 
market with its varied odors. It is almost like being in a 
foreign country to walk in this section of the town, except 
that one feels the protection offered by the flag that floats 
above the Custom House. The Mexican flag floats from 
its Custom House only a few feet from ours. 

All of the close-in section of Calexico is paved and the 
city is rapidly extending its sidewalks to the outlying sec- 




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A History of Calexico 45 

The city Hall has recently moved into its new building 
on Heber Avenue at Fourth Street. The Library and City 
Hall occupy two separate buildings set on an entire 
square block of lawn. Rockwood Park occupies the 
next two consecutive blocks on Heber Avenue and the 
high school adjoins the park on the north. The large 
expanse of park with lawn and trees thus formed serves 
as a community center and meeting place for the people 
in civic and general social affairs. 

Again, the citizens of Calexico began to feel that they 
had outgrown their system of government. Accordingly, 
they investigated other methods, and finally, on February 
19, 1918, they adopted the Commission Plan. The people 
elected five commissioners to be the heads of the five de- 
partments. These departments were: Street Department; 
Public Health; Safety and Welfare; Light and Water; Fire, 
Police and Law; and Finance and Accounting. The five 
commissioners elected the Mayor, City Clerk, and other 
important officials and had general control and supervision 
over city affairs. 

On the First of November, 1922, the City again changed 
its form of government. This time the City Manager Plan 
was adopted. Honorable Paul Steindorf, former City Clerk, 
is the first and present City Manager. He appoints all city 
officers except the Mayor. The commissioners are retained 
as heads of their respective departments. The chairman 
of the Board of Commissioners acts in the formal capacity 
of Mayor. The actual business, however, is in the hands 
of the Manager. 

In the brief space of twenty-two years, Calexico has 
grown from a mere grading camp on the desert to a thriving 
city of some 7,000 souls. 

It would seem that Fate had been against it from the 
beginning. Yet in spite of almost every conceivable diffi- 
culty, the people have at last succeeded. The "Spirit of the 
Valley" has prevailed. 


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