“The Lands of the Sun Expand the Soul”: Exploring Diverse Aspects of Southern California Life in The Land of Sunshine, August 1896

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The remarkable Charles Fletcher Lummis was, as a biographer put it, an “American Character,” who lived “a curious life” from 1859 to 1928, with the great majority of it spent in Los Angeles. With the literal definition of a “peripatetic” as someone who walks about, Lummis qualified as such by his “tramp across the continent,” which he meant as a verb and a noun in describing his journey to California from Ohio in the 1880s, but he was also intellectually moving constantly.

Whether preserving pre-American California historic landmarks, including the missions, albeit romantically; running the Los Angeles Public Library; creating the Southwest Museum of the American Indian; building his unique house El Alisal; running the Angel City’s first literary magazine of note, The Land of Sunshine; writing poetry and novels; and all manner of other interests, Lummis, in his trademark green corduroy suit and wide-brimmed sombrero, was easily one of the more notable figures in late 19th and early 20th century Los Angeles.

His magazine included works of fiction and poetry, articles on history, travelogues of various parts of the American Southwest, and, as importantly as any of these, booster pieces promoting greater Los Angeles. The Homestead’s collection has a goodly number of issues of The Land of Sunshine and its successor, Out West, and this post features the August 1896 issue of the publication that boasted the motto, Los Paises Del Sol Dilatan El Alma, or “The Countries of the Sun Expand the Soul.”

A prime feature article, reflecting the great interest Lummis had in the outdoors as the so-called “Great Hiking Era” was in its early stages, was “By Way of the Devil’s Backbone” concerning a hike along that well-known, and often intimidating, passage to the summit of Mt. San Antonio (Baldy). Author George F. Leavens, who was a Pasadena window shade manufacturer, was there to visit a mine and described his trip to see the enterprise, which involved hydraulic techniques, some of which had done tremendous damage to California’s mountains with most of the method banned just more than a decade before.

Leavens added, however, that “the trip from there to the summit of Mt. San Antonio, over the Devil’s Backbone, was an afterthought and he began his account by describing the life of pine trees there as “one bitter struggle for existence” and filled “with the strain of combatting the adverse conditions of their environment.” Having ridden their mules a couple of miles further up San Antonio Canyon, he and his partners dismounted, tied their mules to trees and “started rather timorously along the trail.”

The writer noted, to the north, that steep drop toward Lytle Creek and further out, the “broad expanse of the weird, uncanny, treacherous desert, while southward in the canyon they “could trace its entire course to where its stream debouches into the valley, twelve miles away and 8,000 feet below.” After a short hike further, Leavens continued, “we soon came to a steeply-tilted section of the backbone, where we needed our hands to steady us in climbing over the jagged rock.

While admiring mariposa lilies, violets, and “leafless anemones pushing their snowy-star-shaped blossoms up through the rocks,” Leavens and his companions thought it amusing that “we rolled large boulders into the cañon, and watched them leap from crag to crag, frightening the birds from the eyries” as the rocks fell some 4,000 feet “with only clouds of dust by which to trace their course.”

As the group approached “a rugged, brown-gray cliff, frowning desertward,” they feared they’d have to hike along its massive face, but were relieved that the trail wrapped around to the south of it and “over a smooth, wind-swept slope of broken rock that from the valley looks like an immense ash-heap.” Yet, while the summit of “Baldy” presented itself, “then came much the longest, steepest and most tedious “pull” we had yet encountered.” As the party marched on, “we felt keenly the effect of the tenuous atmosphere, and stopped every hundred feet or so to recover breath” though Leavens offered that “the revivifying ozone quickly restored us, however.”

Even though the precipitation totals for the winter of 1895-1896 were low, some 8.5 inches in Los Angeles (the 1890s included five years under nine inches), the writer stated that “we passed a number of large snowdrifts, and indulged in snow-ball-ing and other winter sports—in July” and he observed frozen insects, bees and butterflies in the snow. Leavens returned to his fascination with the “pine’s struggle for life” at the higher elevations, deemed “more desperate” than below and added “there is something piteous in the brave and persistent but hopeless effort of this hardy tree, to extend its habitat to the highest attainable altitude.”

At least, he continued, “after repeated discouragements we reached the summit” and noted that monument of granite blocks was a “partial shelter it afforded from the cold, searching, southwest wind.” The view “included, practically, the whole of Southern California” with Mt. Whitney barely visible to the Mexican border to the Colorado River and the ocean, this panorama seen through some kind of a telescopic glass. Leavens then rhapsodized:

A Wagner or a Beethoven might paint the unutterable glory and mystery of this landscape, in harmonious tone-colors. A Schumann or a Chopin might give expression to the overpowering majesty of the scene. But for the ordinary mortal there remains only the eloquence of dumbness in [the] face of such sublimity.

Anthropologist David P. Barrows contributed an article on the houses of Cahuilla (spelled “Coahuia”) Indians, of whom, he wrote, there were 800 members on rancherias that “fringe the desert’s edge from the San Gorgonio pass southward along the base of the San Jacinto mountains” near today’s Palm Springs, while “fifty miles south of the San Gorgonio a great arm of the desert runs in between the Coyote and Torres mountains, the Coyote valley” where the natives long resided. He added that the indigenous people also occupied mountain regions and mesas, so that they were “Indians of both the desert and mountain” over some 4,000 square miles.

Barrows wrote that “I shall never lose the sensations with which I first rode one quiet evening of Coahuia valley and saw each low tule-thatched adobe or brush jacal backgrounded by the dark hills and surrounded with Indian plunder.” He added that “the cedar-bark houses of Santa Rosa or the beautiful palm-branch houses of Agua Caliente will ever be bright pictures” as “they never outrage the scenery” and “never drive out the gods of the mountain and wood by incongruous appearance and wanton character.”

He went on to note that the “primite [primitive?] house of the Coahuia was probably a very rude and simply affair; circular, like the Apache hogan, and made by propping boughs about an upright pole, or by piling together bundles of tule or stiff grass.” Some of these were found occasionally or “made on short notice or in some distant village where old things linger on.” The jacal was more common at the end of the 19th century “and a truly beautiful and snug little home it makes” with its ridge pole involved a pair of branches in the ground and four shorter ones for the corners. On this poles were laid across and connected with yucca spines, while greasewood was a wattle siding and the roof of thatched tule.

The earthen floor was packed hard and kept dry and swept regularly, while the small fire pit bordered with stones generated smoke that exited through a hole in the roof and this also blackened the rafters, though airflow through the walls was good while also keeping rain out. A new jacal was easily built when needed and Barrows noted that furniture was sparse, with a metate or basket-mortar essential, and baskets holding most of the belongings.

Outdoors, large baskets of willow held grain and seeds for the winter months while ollas of clay kept the water supply constant. There might be a baby’s board or a hammock, along with a blanket or bull’s hide inside, as well, and jacales were occupied by segregation of men and women. He noted that a ramada or porch allowed for shade, while “a patio makes a little yard in summer and wards off the breeze from the open-air fire.” The family congregated there in the hot season, with the women weaving and grinding on the metate and “here the men lounge, children play and gaunt dogs sleep in the shade.

Barrows concluded by observing,

Here in these cool porches I have passed many pleasant hours with my Indian friends, chatting over the affairs of the day, or listening to the accounts of the Antiguos, “our ancestors,” enlarging my vocabulary of Indian words and forms, and sometimes singing over and over the sweet minor songs of the Coahuias.

A graduate of Pomona College, Barrows earned a master’s degree from the University of California and spent summers throughout the Nineties with Coahuilla, whose ethnography and botany formed the basis for his dissertation written in 1897 while he earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago. He spent years in the Philippines as a superintendent of schools under American colonial rule, taught at the University of California before working in military intelligence in the Philippines and Siberia, returned to the university to serve as its president, and wrote about North African Berbers and Black tribes. While Barrows had positive comments about the Coahuillas, he adhered to prevailing theories and views of white superiority and, in 2020, Barrows Hall at the Berkeley campus was unnamed as part of the university’s effort to address the legacies of historical racism at the institution.

Flora Haines Loughead of Santa Barbara wrote of “The Old California Vaquero” and “his superb horsemanship, his wonderful agility, his splendid courage and endurance at the rodeo,” adding that “the world has never witnessed horsemanship surpassing that of the California vaquero.” She went on to observe that “the impression has gone abroad that the California vaquero was a man set apart for this especial work,” but countered this by writing that “in fact, every gentleman was presumed to be able to act as [a] vaquero” and that aristocratic Californios were eager to show their abilities.

Loughead added that “the California vaquero was no stupid, dull-witted, uneducated peon . . . but a daring, ambitious fellow, who no doubt welcomed this rebound from an aimless though delightful social life.” She talked in some detail about the saddle, bridle and other equipage, as well as the use of salt on the bit to help more easily train colts and she noted that “the old saddles were frequently masterpieces of ornamentation, exquisite devices being wrought by hand upon the leather, the horn being fashioned into fantastic and artistic shapes, while hold or silver mounting frequently contributed to the outward splendor.”

While Loughead’s article is of interest concerning the vaquero of California’s rancho period heyday, there is added value in her piece because of the illustrations provided by a 23 year-old California native who was a vaquero on Rancho Jesús María in northern Santa Barbara County where Vandenburg Air Force Base is located now. The talented artist was unknown at the time, though within several years he pursued his career in art and opened a New York City studio with his friends including Will Rogers, artist Charles M. Russell and Buffalo Bill Cody. In 1921, back in California, he opened a studio in Santa Barbara and his fame grew until his death almost a quarter century later. In 1896, however, few knew of the abilities of Ed Borein.

In Lummis’ column, “In the Lion’s Den,” he offered the view that, unlike in the United States, “the Mexican government is bright enough to realize the value of having two languages” and that “Mexico is the first country in the New World to enforce the acquisition of a foreign tongue for the sake of its business advantages” by making the study of English in school compulsory. He continued that “English will never supplant Spanish in half of America; but it has become the great commercial language—and Mexico is going to be ready to do business.”

Beyond this, Lummis asserted that, south of the United States, there was an immense area ‘far richer in natural products, vegetable, animal and mineral” and millions of people “beginning to awaken to the development of their resources” with a commercial future that “is going to be stupendous beyond imagination.” Whereas, Europeans were flocking to Central and South America to invest, “we, who are Americans and next door neighbors calmly doze while foreigners walk away with the business which should logically be ours.”

Also of note in the magazine was a poem by Charlotte Perkins Stetson, who gained major attention for her 1890 short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and a volume of poetry, In This Our World, published three years later. Recently divorced, Stetson often contributed verse to The Land of Sunshine and her poem, “An Invitation,” appeared in this issue and addresses the health-seekers’ paradise that was greater Los Angeles with sample lines like these:

Aren’t you tired of all the threatening and doubting—

The “weather-breeder” with its lovely lie

The dubiety of any sort of outing—

The chip upon the shoulder of the sky?

Like a beaten horse who dodges your caresses,

Like a child abused who ducks before your frown—

Is a Northerner in our warm air that blesses—

O come and live and take your elbow down!

Stetson, who had a tempestuous love affair with San Francisco-based journalist and activist Adeline Knapp, soon married a cousin, Houghton Gilman, and was best known with his name. For over thirty years, they lived in New York City and in Connecticut and, after her husband’s death and stricken with advanced breast cancer, Gilman returned to Pasadena where her only child, a daughter, lived and, long an advocate of euthanasia, died there by suicide in 1935.

Finally, there is a section on “Some Los Angeles Clubs” with descriptions of such examples as the Sunset Club, a literary organization of some of the elite men in the Angel City, including Senator Stephen M. White, Dr. Norman Bridge, architect Sumner P. Hunt, Venice founder Abbot Kinney, and attorney George S. Patton (father of the famed World War II general); the newly launched (September 1895) Jonathan Club, which included many well-known business figures in Los Angeles among its members, such as Hancock Banning, streetcar executive E.P. Clark, civic figure John F. Francis, merchant Hans Jevne, capitalist William Lacy, brewers Simon and Joseph Maier, developer Moses H. Sherman, wine and liquor dealer Henry J. Woollacott, as well as J. Phillip Erie, who was about to debut the first automobile, short lived as it was, in the Angel City; and the Los Angeles Athletic Club and its members “from the rising generation” like Banning, Edwin Cawston of the South Pasadena ostrich farm, engineer John H. Dockweiler, utility magnate William G. Kerckhoff, Frank J. Palomares of the early Californio family from Pomona (there were very few Latinos in these clubs, another being from the Sepúlveda family), developer Robert A. Rowan, photographer George Steckel, and White.

There was also a briefer mention of the Friday Morning Club, the dominant women’s club and which was founded as the Los Angeles Woman’s Club with Caroline M. Severance as president in 1878. After its failed as so many organizations did at the time, the club was revived in the mid-Eighties and then reconstituted under its current name in 1891. With “over three hundred of the most thoughtful and intelligent women of Los Angeles and vicinity,” but comprised of white middle and upper class members, the organization focused on “the discussion of topics of general interest” but avoided “social or sectarian lines with “reforms through the personal enlightenment and increased enthusiasm of its members rather than by united effort in any one direction.”

Of its distinguished guests, the Club boasted hosting Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, poet Joaquin Miller, actor Frederick Warde, poet Ina D. Coolbrith (whose early work was in 1850s Los Angeles,) author and teacher Kate Sanborn and novelist Hamlin Garland. Short story writer Margaret Collier Graham, who published her first collection, Stories of the Foot-Hills, in 1895, was elected preside in June 1896 and the wives of prominent Angelenos Charles Dwight Willard, Billington C. Whiting and Frank A. Gibson were among the directors.

The issues of The Land of Sunshine are often filled with interesting material from cover to cover and we’ll be sure to feature more of those in the Homestead’s holdings in future posts.

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