STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
The Cost of Litigation
During the era of anti-irrigation litigation, agriculture languished and all efforts toward improvement and progress were stifled. Lands yearly became less valuable and in many instances could not produce the cost of harvest nor of the payment of taxes. It was a period of intense depression. The assessed valuations of the county decreased from the year 1890 to 1905 approximately $2,000,000. These valuations would have gone lower had the assessors the temerity to assess at proper valuations. The State Board of Equalization kept the figures higher than they ought to have been under the economic conditions prevailing during these years of distress. With the results of the constant litigation in doubt, and with the persistent activity of those who sought to wreck the newly adopted method of irrigation, the citizens deprived of the water which they so earnestly desired, were temporarily helpless to effect any change in the county's economic situation.
It has been previously shown (Chapter V) that the decade from 1880 to 1890 was not the most prosperous in the county's history. The increase in population during these years was slight – from 8751 people in 1880 to 10,040 in 1890 – an increase of only 1298 in the ten years. The total assessed valuation in 1880 was $9,182,010. In 1890 it was only $14,840,933, an increase of only $5,658,923 in the period. As heretofore stated, the growth was at best minimum. These were years of extreme drought on both the west and on the east sides of the San Joaquin river, and of the decline of wheat production due to the yearly cropping of the soil. The county's economic condition was unhealthy. It can easily be comprehended from these conditions that the more progressive inhabitants of this central area sought irrigation as a solution of the situation.
And yet during the period from 1890 to 1905 the economic trend was retrogressive! It is inconceivable that the anti-irrigationists deliberately sought to inflict this condition on the county, yet this result is shown by the assessor's reports. The reports and data from 1905 to 1920 tell a widely different story and are illuminating as to the value and effect of irrigation.
The assessor's report for 1891 shows the following: real estate other than otherwise enumerated, $11,085,580; improvements on the same, $819,680; city lots, $737,336; improvements on the same, $886,380; telegraph lines, $17,107; personal property, $2,291,283; total valuation of the county, $15,837,366. The value of property affected by mortgage was $5,423,530. The assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages on real estate was $3,644,763. The number of acres sown for crop in 1891 as as follows: wheat, 291,431; oats, 261; barley, 33,163; corn, 110; hay, 1,500. The principal items of the personal property assessed are as follows: money, $51,308; solvent credits, $111,502; 104 been hives, valued at $104; 3221 calves valued at $16,105; 123 beef cattle value at $2460; 11,421 stock cattle valued at $1,159,223; 1921 colts valued at $38,420; 2327 American cows valued at $46,540; farming utensils valued at $36,663; firearms valued at $4162; fixtures of saloons, stores and other business places valued at $30,197; furniture valued at $120,333; 230 common goats valued at $276; goods, wares and merchandise valued at $225,156; 280,155 centals of wheat valued at $224,123; 2130 centals of rye valued at $1278; 2653 centals of barley valued at $1657; 254 centals of corn valued at $152; harness, robes, saddles valued at $42,153; 423 tons of hay valued at $2538; 11,121 hogs valued at $17,793; 53 thoroughbred horses valued at $17,246; 1423 American horses valued at $128,070; 6330 Spanish horses valued at $273,772; 83 jacks and jennies valued at $18,260; jewelry and plate valued at $4120; libraries valued at $7431; 341,000 feet of lumber valued at $6820; machinery valued at $145,423; 4439 mules valued at $288,595; musical instruments valued at $8520; 155 pianos valued at $24,800; 2531 poultry valued at $7593; 939 sewing machines valued at $11,268; 3500 graded sheep valued at $14,000; 36,370 common sheep valued at $63,646; 6542 lambs valued at $3271; wagons and vehicles valued at $142,431; 911 watches valued at $23,653; 31,000 gallons of wine valued at $7750; 521 cords of wood valued at $1563.
The irrigation ditches owned by private parties were scheduled as follows in this report: San Joaquin and Kings River Canal Co., 11 1/2 miles; La Grange Ditch and Hydraulic Mining Co., 4 miles; San Joaquin Ditch and Water Co., 5 miles and the Knight's Ferry Water Co. The first was located on the West Side and furnished water to land adjacent the new town of Newman. The location of the others is identified by their names. Telegraph lines were as follows: Western Union, 3 lines, total mileage 31 miles; San Pablo and Tulare Extension 25 miles; Central Pacific, 22 miles; Sunset Telephone and Telegraph line, 24 miles; Pacific Postal Telegraph line, 23 miles, and J. J. Stevenson, private line, 3 miles. The railroads that traversed the county were as follows in 1891: Stockton and Copperopolis that terminated at Oakdale; the San Pablo and Tulare Extension R. R. that touched the towns on the West Side of Vernalis, Westley, Crow's Landing and Newman, and the Central Pacific that touched Salida, Modesto, Ceres and Turlock.
The writer is well aware that the detail of these dry statistics is far from interesting reading, but it is only through the statistics that the economic situation at any one period in the county's history can be illustrated. As the irresistible progress of the irrigation movement – once it became a virile, moving force – created such a rapid transformation and as that movement is peculiarly interwoven into the economic web of the county, albeit the central portions of the county, it is the purpose to refer to the reports of the county assessor's office at varying intervals. This will be done for the purpose, as stated in one of the earlier chapters, to furnish a basis of comparison for the different periods and to show what effect the marriage of the water with the land – in other words, the bringing of the water from the mountains and the rivers to the plains of Paradise Valley – had economically on those communities in which the canals were located and on the county at large. It will also show the penalty that the county paid in tribute to the misguided opposition to irrigation. It will likewise demonstrate the transcendent value of water on arid lands. It should be borne in mind in this connection that the Modesto and the Turlock Irrigation districts were organized in 1887, that for the first three years the districts progressed slowly toward the completion of the two systems, that the litigation began about 1890 and continued for a period of at least ten years, that the Turlock District completed its system about 1901 and that Modesto District finished its work in 1903.
The report for 1892 is as follows: real estate other than otherwise enumerated (county lands), $11,100,410; improvements on the same $807,797; city and town lots, $823,151; improvements on the same, $940,472; telegraph and telephone lines $15,977; mining ditches $5000; irrigating ditches, $30,000 – total of real estate, $13,722,807. Personal property, $2,335,979. Total valuation of the county, $16,058,786. Value of property affected by mortgages, $5,160,466 and the assessed value of trust deeds and mortgages at $3,421,933. The number of acres sown for crops of 1892 was as follows: wheat, 260,339; oats, 215; barley, 35,163; corn, 80; hay, 1800. The number of fruit trees is placed as follows: apple, bearing, 8063, non-bearing 6152; apricot, bearing 12,136, non-bearing 7640; cherry, bearing 1560, non-bearing 845; fig, bearing 3875, non-bearing 6433; olive, non-bearing 1583; peach, bearing 10,341; non-bearing 15,666; pear, bearing 6345, non-bearing 7642; prune, bearing 1230, non-bearing 1865; orange, bearing 2830, non-bearing 6742; almond, bearing 1320, non-bearing 1054.
The total assessed value of the county in 1894 was $14,906,730, in 1895 it was $14,702,906, in 1896 it was $13,177,885, in 1897 it was $12,494,300, in 1898 it was $10,795,210, in 1899 it was $10,430,155, in 1900 it was $10,824,700. There was in 1900 a slight increase over the valuation of 1899 of the sum $394,545. The value of property affected by mortgages in 1895 was $6,163,448, with the assessed value of trust deeds and mortgages at $3,763,965. The value of property affected by trust deeds in 1896 was $5,400,655, with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $3,512,778. The value of property affected by trust deeds in 1897 was $4,808,255 with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $2,167,230. The value of property affected by trust deeds in 1898 was $3,728,195 with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $2,695,970. The value of property affected by trust deeds in 1899 was $3,606,910, with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $2,591,020.
The value of property affected by trust deeds in 1900 was $3,932,145, with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $2,515,870.
The number of acres sown for crop in 1895 was as follows: wheat, 262,350; barley, 41,310; corn 160; hay, 4060; rye, 12,430; total, 320,310 acres. The number of acres sown for crop in 1896 was as follows: wheat, 257,337; oats, 140; barley, 52,498; corn, 214; hay, 1844; flax, 15 and rye, 13,816 – total, 325,864 acres. The number of acres sown for crop in 1897 was as follows: wheat, 274,525; oats, 45; barley, 48,150; corn, 80; hay, 4300, and rye, 14,260 – total, 341,360. The number of acres sown for crop in 1898 was as follows: wheat, 229,525; oats, 245; barley, 36,125; hay, 3200; corn, 75, and rye, 9720 – total, 278,890 acres. The number of acres sown for crop in 1899 was as follows: wheat, 305,270; oats, 245; barley, 28,700; corn, 175; hay 4500; rye, 9500; and alfalfa, 3570 – total, 351,960 acres. The number of acres sown for crop in 1900 was as follows: wheat, 275,600; oats, 170; barley, 42,190; corn, 140; hay 2530; alfalfa, 6250 – total, 326,880 acres.
The San Francisco and the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Company makes its first appearance on the assessment rolls of the county in the year 1896. This railroad was promoted by a number of San Francisco capitalists. It negotiated with the citizens of Modesto for entrance to the town and received the most flattering encouragement, but, due to the activity of its Stockton promoters, it gave Modesto a wide berth of at least four miles and went through the town of Empire City. After this failure to connect with Modesto, the local subscribers refused to pay their subscriptions for the stock they had previously subscribed for on the understanding that this road would touch Modesto. This road was subsequently absorbed by the Santa Fe Company and it has been generally assumed since that the Santa Fe officials were behind the movement for an alleged competitive road through this county, and used the methods resorted to in order to secure rights of way for nominal considerations.
The total assessed value of the county property in 1901 was $10,779,295, a decrease of $45,405 from the year of 1900. The value of property affected by mortgages this year was $3,607,905, the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages being $2,368,230.
The number of acres sown for crop this year was as follows: wheat, 255,270; oats, 185; barley, 50,625; corn 60; hay, 1920; rye, 17,280; alfalfa, 6770 – total, 332,110 acres. The year the Sierra R. R. Co. makes its appearance on the assessment roll of the county for the first time.
The total assessed value of all property in the county in 1902 was $10,807,565, an increase of $24,240 over the previous year. The value of property affected by mortgage was $3,086,735, with the assessed value of the trust deeds and mortgages as $2,321,870. The number of acres sown for crop in this year was 341,187.
The total assessed value of the property of the county in 1903 was $11,237,530, with property affected by trust deeds valued at $2,858,025, the assessed value of these trust deeds and mortgages at $2,007,735. The number of acres sown for crop this year is given at 326,364 acres. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R. Co. appears on the assessment roll this year, having absorbed the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley road. In 1904 the assessed value of the property of the county was $12,745,250, with the value of property affected by trust deeds at $2,974,315, these trust deeds and mortgages being assessed at $2,275,580. The total assessed value of the county for the year 1905 was $12,655,980.
As the year 1905 constitutes practically the beginning of the progress due to the irrigation of the plains of Paradise Valley and the lands of the Modesto and the Turlock irrigation districts, the complete details of 1905 will be given in another chapter that a basis of comparison may be had with the years following.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County. Modesto, CA. 1924.
© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.