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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter VII. Southern California as a field for Emigration

I think it may be useful and not uninteresting here to put down some facts on the suitableness of Southern California as a field for emigration. It is still true, as in the days of Martin Chuzzlewit, that very misleading statements are put forth by interested parties to induce the unwary to emigrate to colonial and other settlements, and many an honest man has been involved thereby in great loss and disappointment. I shall try to state things as they are.

People in Great Britain have very inadequate notions, for the most part, of the extent of the state of California, it is seldom apprehended that it is from seven to eight hundred miles in length, and from two to three hundred in breadth. When the discovery of gold was made some forty years ago in the northern part of the state, it was to that part of it chiefly that the rush of emigrants took place. It was San Francisco, in the north, that suddenly became a great and wealthy city. It was there, too, that the usual lawlessness of a mining population, dissevered from family life and from the influences of Christianity and civilization, showed itself, and gave a bad repute to Californian society. The notion got abroad that every second man in California carried a revolver in one hand and a bowie-knife in the other, and that no man who was not actually on fire with the gold-fever ought to commit himself to such dangerous fellowship. Even in the mining districts of Northern California, however, things are now much changed for the better. There is still a rowdy element, as there is in most of the new states of America; but it is confined to a limited class—the frequenters of saloons, the prize-ring, and the vile dens of sin—and respectable men who mind their own business, and had quiet and peaceable life, may enjoy throughout the state the same sense of security and tranquillity that is to be found in most other civilized parts of the globe.

About twenty years ago two things began to attract the attention of Americans to Southern California—its wonderful climate and its magnificent fruits. These two things are now doing for Southern California what its gold-mines did forty years ago for Northern. They are drawing to it a rapidly-increasing population, but in a much quieter way, and of a much more varied character than that which the gold-mines drew to the northern part of the state.

First, as to the climate, it is hardly possible to exaggerate its qualities. During the summer half of the year little or no rain falls, and you have an almost unbroken succession of bright, sunny days. The heat is considerable, especially in inland places—from 80 to 90° is not uncommon; but near the coast it is delightfully tempered by a refreshing breeze from the sea, and, unlike most tropical countries, the nights are comparatively cool. I found myself able to walk considerable distances in the middle of the day, not only without exhaustion, but with somewhat of the exhilaration that one feels in Switzerland. Work, too, can be done in the fields with a very high thermometer. Sunstroke is unknown, so is dog-madness. The soothing, balmy influence of this splendid spell of genial summer weather is felt by every one, and it, makes life sensibly brighter and cheerier. One sometimes thinks with a chill shudder of the eastern winds and cold fog that are not unknown even in summer in one’s native land. Not that you require no precautions against cold; the changes of temperature, as the daily fogs fall and rise, are considerable, and have given rise to a saying that you catch cold in Los Angeles twice a day.

But it is winter which gives its best feature to the climate of California. Except when it is raining, winter is like summer. The nights are colder, but there is not much difference in the days. And this is the great attraction to the people of the eastern states and of Canada, many of whom are pouring into Southern California. They get tired of the severity of the eastern and northern winter. Once in California. they are loath to leave it. For consumptive people it is like the elixir of life. Every second person you meet tells you he came to Southern California for the health of some member of his family, and in almost every case the benefit was remarkable. With some precautions against the change of temperature between day and night, and with due arrangements for exercise in the fresh air and abstinence from exhausting toil, persons of weak chests and throats are enabled to live comfortably, and if the disease has not gone too far, they have every chance of recovery.

For fruit, Lower California seems destined to be the orchard of the world, grapes, oranges, melons, apricots, peaches, plums, pomegranates, lemons, citrons, figs, walnuts, olives, and I know not what all besides, flourish amazingly. Of course, not all equally in every place. There are conditions of particular districts, to be learned only by experience, eminently favourable to some kinds, and perhaps unfavourable to others. But on the whole it is an unrivalled fruit region. If one kind of fruit be specified for which it is pre-eminent, it is the orange; and experience is now showing that a particular kind of orange, called the Washington navel, is the very best that grows. It is to be noticed, as modify in the garden character of the state, that Southern California presents a remarkable combination of mountain and valley. It is in the valleys that fruit is so flourishing. The soil, formed apparently in the bed of ancient lakes, is marvellously fertile. The rich vegetable mould extends in some places many feet—some say hundreds of feet—below the surface. Year after year crops are raised—not of fruit only, but of wheat, grass, and vegetables—without manure. If irrigation be applied, two crops of grain may be got in one season, and of alfalfa grass from three to eight, The soil is well adapted for farm produce as well as fruit. In the larger ranches (the old Spanish word is in constant use) cattle, sheep, and horses are reared, and ordinary farm produce! is raised. It is more in the neighbourhood of towns that the culture of fruit prevails. The quantity of fruit produced is far greater than is required to supply the wants of the population. The less perishable kinds are transported far and wide. Every effort is made to convert what is perishable into durable forms by drying and by canning.

For some years back grapes have been so abundant that the wholesale price has hardly paid the cost of labour. A cent (halfpenny) a pound is considered a good wholesale price. An acre of vineyard usually produces from three to eight tons of grapes. But it is a troublesome crop to rear, and involves a great deal of labour. It is much more profitable to turn the grapes into raisins, but this requires a dry climate, at some distance from the sea, unaffected by the fogs. The orange is probably the most lucrative crop, on ground well adapted for it. But the orange does not bear well till about its eighth year, whereas vines have a fair crop in their third or fourth.

We have yet to mention the most outstanding peculiarity of Southern California, viewed as a field for farming, and especially for horticulture. We refer to the extraordinary distribution of water. Of rivers, streams, or surface running water of any kind, the supply is most limited. Great tracts exist where more is none. This is the more remarkable that the country presents great mountain ranges, which are among the most striking objects in the landscape, from the peculiarity of the soil, the water gets below the surface: sometimes it is within a few feet of it, and at other places you have to descend hundreds of feet before you come to it. If the water is near the surface, the trees and other plants send down their roots, sometimes to a great depth, and find the necessary supply of moisture. Many kinds of fruit trees do not require more water than they obtain in this way. The water percolates upward by capillary attraction, but does not evaporate from the top. In the driest weather the soil is moist a few inches under the surface. Vines do not need to be watered. The opinion has hitherto prevailed that oranges need an artificial supply: but this opinion seems to he undergoing a change. In many places crops of wheat and grass are also obtained without artificial irrigation. In some districts, and especially where more than one crop in the year is sought, artificial methods of irrigation are resorted to; and one of these, I regret to say, is the employment of town sewage water, which in hot weather is most dangerous, and in the neighbourhood of Los Angeles has given rise to several cases of typhoid fever. Artesian wells are not uncommon, and they yield a large supply. The American Government is at present, devoting earnest attention to the best ways of dealing with “arid tracts,” and trying to devise methods of bringing such water as is available to bear on the vast districts of desert, that, exist, in some parts of the country. if the water difficulty could be successfully dealt, with, Southern California would become more abundantly productive than any other part of the globe.

Now, “just here,” as the Americans say, is the point where emigrants are most liable to be misled. I have before me a flaming advertisement respecting the land in a certain valley, which is offered at from eight to fifty dollars an acre. The land, it is said, has grown the premium wheat in the world; it has grown parsnips seven inches in diameter; it has grown eight crops of alfalfa in one year; it has grown two hundred and eighteen tons of sugar-beets to the acre; it has grown deciduous fruits of all kinds and vegetables of every variety in the greatest abundance and the finest bloom; and it is capable of growing cotton, tobacco, pea-nuts, and champagne and raisin grapes. The situation of the valley is high; it is free from fogs, and eminently favourable for health. Now, every word of this is probably true; but where the results specified were obtained, there must have been an exceptional supply of water—probably from an Artesian well. But Artesian wells are costly; the effort to get water by them may prove, after all, a failure; and irrigation by means of them is a laborious and clumsy process. The valley in question is well known to the present writer, and it is really a waterless plain. Men buying land there may fancy they are to grow rich; but after having spent their little all, they may be fain to leave it, go where they may. In general, we may say that those settlers in Southern California who have been fortunate in water arrangements have done well, and some who have had to wait may be aided by Government measures and enjoy final success. But in many cases the want of water has proved a fatal want, and it is well for settlers to find this out in time, and act upon it before they are penniless.

Before answering the question, What sort of emigrants should go to Southern California? if is necessary to bear in mind the effects of the “boom” of two or three years ago, and the influence it had on the price of land. During the boom, all manner of artificial means were taken to raise the value of land. Syndicates would buy up a large ranch, lay it out like a town in blocks and streets, build a large hotel, run a tram-line or a branch of a railway to it, and invite the world to buy it up in detail. Sometimes the scheme took, at other times it was a dead failure. But the effect of this was to run up the price of the best land everywhere to a very high figure; and, though it has fallen since that time, bargains in land are not easily to be had now. The expectation prevails that there will be another boom soon; but the wisest heads will do their best to prevent it acquiring the wild proportions of three years ago. Thu country is bound to prosper, for if there were nothing else to make it attractive, its wonderful properties as a health-resort, will always bring to it a great influx of people. But in time the mining resources of the state will be developed; manufactories will be established to supply the people with many articles now brought from Chicago or St. Louis; the fruit industry will be placed on a more systematic and productive footing; possibly a considerable shipping trade will be established, especially if a project now talked of be carried out, to make San Diego the Pacific port for the large steamers that trade at present between China and San Francisco. No part of the world seems more sure of future increase and prosperity than Southern California.

Who, then, should emigrate to it? Certainly not all and sundry. I know of an impetuous, well-meaning Scotch lady who brought out a lot of women to the country so utterly unsuited for it that some ladies in California had to raise money to send them back. People with diseased chests need not come here, unless they bring with them the means of living for a wilder or two; otherwise they will be unable to do justice to their ailments. Skilled mechanics will get splendid wages during a boom, but when the boom has “bursted,” they may get no wages at all. Farmers who mean to grow grain and raise stock must purchase a ranch, which can now be got at a reasonable rate only in a somewhat out-of-the-way place, and if it has never been cultivated, can yield but little for a time. Probably the kind of thing that would suit the majority of emigrants best would be a small fruit-ranch of some ten or more acres in the vicinity of a town. Half of this might be an orchard; the other half would be a small poultry and dairy farm. It would be amply sufficient to maintain a horse, two cows, and a flock of poultry. A comfortable wooden house may be built for from £100 to £200. A well and windmill to raise water for domestic and ordinary farm purposes, with barn, etc., might cost other £80. The land (near town) might run from £20 to £100 an acre or more. There is always ready sail for eggs and butter. The conditions of life; are easy: little fuel is needed, and little clothing; and the climate is so dry and warm that cattle hardly need any shelter, and buildings do not readily decay. A frugal proprietor might almost live on the produce of his dairy and poultry, and have the value of his fruit crop over and above. Service costs a great deal, and is difficult, almost impossible, to be had. Four or five pounds a month, with board, is the wages of a female servant; farm labourers have more. Settlers must, be abundantly able to help themselves. In the great majority of farmhouses no servant is kept. There is but a very limited demand for clerks or professional men. Southern California is not the country for loafers or for shiftless fellows. Sharp men, who see what is needed, and can adapt themselves readily to the circumstances of a new country, are the men to get on. As in most other new countries, an immigrant ought not to be in haste to settle; if he can spend a little time in looking about him and studying the situation, so much the better.

The authorities make a most liberal allowance for education, and it is free to all. There is usually a full provision of churches in towns, and in country-places the church-going people generally attend the church of the denomination which happened to be first in the field. The settlers are commonly most neighbourly and obliging; and as to honesty, the risk of losing anything by stealing in rural districts is virtually nil. It hardly matters whether the house-door is locked at night. A settler may shut up his house, leave his live stock in charge of neighbour, be absent for days, and have no anxiety all the time as to his finding everything on his return just as he left, it, both inside and out.

It is said there are about ten thousand of her Majesty’s former subjects settled in Southern California. Many of these are from Scotland, and most, perhaps, are Scottish Canadians. Most of them are fairly comfortable, many are rich, and all are high in praise of a climate which probably, if both summer and winter be taken into account, has no superior on the face of the earth.

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