Here to return to
SPRING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
The vineclad verandah of an old Spanish home
ONE of my longest stops was at a private house well out in a suburban district of Los Angeles. From the window of my room I looked forth on a world luxuriantly green and brightened with blossoms in marvelous profusion. To add to the pleasure of all this, birds were plentiful, and, in particular, there was a mocking-bird that had a habit of perching not far away and piping and trilling with rare ardor and eloquence. Several palms, a magnolia and some camphor trees grew in front of the house, and behind it were orange, fig, peach and other fruit trees. The entire region was much like a park, so carefully were the orchards kept, and so abounding were the cultivated flowers and shrubs. The surroundings of the finer dwellings were little short of perfection, and there was never any rawness due to waiting for nature to give them a proper setting, even about the newer homes. Things grow so quickly and respond so readily to man’s training that a home almost at once nestles in flowers and vines and foliage that give it repose and charm.
The story goes that the climate is so favoring you can plant toothpicks one day, and the next morning find them grown into tall trees that can be cut and sold for telegraph poles. In sober fact, the nearest approach to this is the growth made by the blue gum, a species of’ eucalyptus. Aside from fruit trees, no trees in Southern California are so conspicuous and abundant. A blue gum will send up a shoot twenty feet tall in a twelvemonth; and in Australia, its home land, it attains a mature height of three hundred feet. The Californians usually cut their blue gums down every few years, and sprouts are allowed to start from the stump. “Our trees here don’t know when they are dead,” I was informed; “for no matter how little is left when the blue gums are chopped off they will at once take a new start as vigorous as ever. Why, a small patch of blue gums will keep a family in wood.”
Throughout California, no matter where one wanders, mountains are always in sight glorifying every landscape. Where I then was I could see a series of heights close at hand, lofty and rugged. During the cooler months the clouds love to linger about their summits and they often whiten over with snow; but no snow falls in the vale, though there are sometimes touches of frost. Things continue green and blossoms are profuse throughout the winter, and there is a gradual increase of color and fresh growth until high tide is reached in April. Then water is no longer so abundant, and presently the flowers go to seed and the grass withers, and except where there is irrigation the face of the earth is sere and sober. Thus it remains till late autumn when the reviving showers awaken the dull fields and roadsides and pastures to life.
The summer heat is at times excessive; yet it is a dry heat that does not carry with it a sweltering discomfort. What is far worse are the dust storms. In some sections these are frequent, and they are experienced occasionally even in Los Angeles. The dust fills the air like a fog and penetrates the houses and covers everything. Moreover, it irritates the throat and makes one constantly thirsty. Out on the desert, the wind, besides raising the dust, whirls the sand through the air, and sand-drifts gather in the lee of all obstructions. One man told me about an experience of his in a desert sand-storm in a top buggy. “The dusty wind had been blowing all day and night,” said he, “and then let up. I’d been waiting for that and I started, but it had only quit to get a fresh hold and it soon blowed like the mischief again. The sand cut my face and the alkali in it made the tears run. Pretty soon my buggy blew over; but I got it right side up again and went on. A little farther along it capsized once more, and this time the top blew off and went bounding away out of sight. The storm was so blinding I couldn’t see a thing ten feet distant, and I’d been troubled a good deal to keep in the road because the wind was so fierce it would pull on the reins and get the horse out of the beaten track. So in making a new start I just tied the reins to the harness. Then I got into my wrecked buggy and let the horse find its own way home.”
Evidently the California summer is not in some respects all it might be, and the winter also has its failings, though of a different sort. In a Chicago railway station, on my way from the East, I overheard an Ohio woman who was returning from a visit to the Pacific Coast discoursing on its weather to a chance acquaintance. Her voice was hoarse with a severe cold. “I’ve never seen worse fog anywhere,” said she; “and the tourists were all kicking about it. I wasn’t comfortably warm half the time, and I had to wear jis as heavy furs as at home. The houses ain’t fixed to heat. They don’t have stoves except in their kitchens. So you can only sit around and shiver. Even in summer the nights are chilly, no matter how hot the day has been. You have to be careful not to let in too much of that night air or you’ll ketch your death of cold. I’ve never minded the winter in Ohio half as much as I did this winter out there. Then, too, I’ve always been used to livin’ at home, and though the grub was good I got tired of hotel cookin’. Of course, there’s wonderful things to see, and all that, and I was enjoying myself pretty well until I struck Los Angeles where I got this awful cold. I didn’t meet any people there but jis had colds, and I heard a lot of tourists sayin’ they wouldn’t live there if you’d give ‘em the finest house in the city. It seemed like I was never goin’ to get over my cold, and I said, ‘Ohio is good enough for me. I can die as well there as out here;’ and now that I’m most back I’m so glad I don’t know what to do.”
No doubt her experience was in some respects abnormal. The season was an unusually wet one, and I witnessed several astonishing downpours when torrents brown with sediment flowed in every roadside gutter, and some of the streets were a-wash from curb to curb. The worst flooded ones could only be crossed by wading in water a foot or more deep. Often boards or pieces of timber were laid across the gutter streams to serve as makeshift bridges.
The uncommon wetness of the season was attributed by some people to the magic of a professional rainmaker. The previous year had been dry, and he contracted to bring rain by a certain date. Then he betook himself to a mountain-top; but what mysterious rites he performed in his efforts to produce rain no one knows. The desired result failed to materialize until two days after the time set, and for this reason payment was refused. The rainmaker, however, had his revenge by drenching the country at frequent intervals, and in some sections there were disastrous floods. He declared he would not desist until he was paid. Thus urged, his employers finally turned over the money, and the torrential rains more or less promptly ceased.
Probably the most delightful excursion that can be made from Los Angeles is to the island of Santa Catalina, twenty-five miles off the coast. When first discovered the island was thickly populated by savages, and later it was frequented by pirates who preyed on the rich galleons in the Philippine trade. Now it is a pleasure resort that attracts multitudes of visitors, and its single village is a crowded settlement of hotels and shops and numerous little cottages huddled in a narrow valley basin. Thence you look forth on a crescent beach with wave-torn bluffs on either side reaching out into the sea. In all its length of twenty miles and its width of from two to nine, the island is a chaos of steep hills and mountains, furrowed with deep canyons and having many rugged precipices. The loftiest height is Black Jack which rises twenty-five hundred feet above the sea level. Most of the slopes are grassed over, and thousands of sheep find pasturage on them. You see the paths of the grazing flocks everywhere winding along the inclines, and often see the sheep themselves or hear their bleating. Off in the middle of the island is a farmhouse where the caretakers of the flocks live, but otherwise human life is confined to the neighborhood of the village of the pleasure-seekers.
The cliffs of Santa Catalina
No matter whither I wandered I found a constant succession of glens and ridges clothed with scattered bushes and thorny clumps of cacti, and one can judge of the country inland by the fact that two young men who had lived in Santa Catalina for years recently lost themselves while coming from the west shore eight miles distant. A fog bewildered them, and one gave up with heart trouble or whiskey, and the other went on alone. Night came, and the wanderer stumbled about in the darkness all to no purpose. It was afternoon of the next day when he reached the village. Then search parties started to find his companion, but he was not where he had been left, and it was two days later that they came across him in a remote part of the island trying to find his way back to civilization.
The showers that every now and then trailed over the uplands and down into the vales were full of vague mystery. There was mystery too in the gray old ocean always pounding along the shore, and in the drift of sunlight and shadow across its sober expanse. I had one experience that seemed to argue that this poetic quality as evinced by nature had a marked influence on the island dwellers and made them poetic also. The first night at my hotel I was awakened early in the morning by voices under my room. Evidently the floor was thin and I was over the dining room. A waiter was giving his comrades some advice and it was in rhyme, as follows:
A mile or two back from the village up a canyon lived an old hermit who had a chicken ranch. Any farm or country home with land attached, even if there is no more than a garden patch, is a “ranch” in California. I called on the hermit one day. His house was of the shanty order standing in the midst of a plot of ground which he had palisaded with a lath fence against his marauding fowls. Besides chickens he had hundreds of pigeons and a few ducks and turkeys. For closer companionship he kept a couple of handsome collies, and when the sheep from the hills came down around his place, the dogs drove them back.
“I’ve been on Santa Catalina twenty years,” said he. “It was just beginnin’ to be a resort when I got here. There was one small hotel and a few boarding houses, and often more people would come than they could accommodate. Then a good many would have to sleep on the beach. Our summer weather is all right so they didn’t suffer from damp or cold; but they did sometimes get into trouble with the sand fleas. We got fleas here pretty near as big as a grain of wheat, you bet!”
The hermit had a number of flourishing fig and peach trees, and was starting some grapevines. I noticed several rank-growing plants I thought looked like tobacco. “That’s what they are,” said he. “One day an Irishman from Los Angeles called on me and he saw a chicken pickin’ at itself, and he caught it and looked to see what was the matter. He found some mites, and he says, ‘What little tej’ous things are these?’
“I told him, and said I could get rid of them if I had some tobacco leaves. Well, the next time he come he brought a packet of tobacco seed, and he said, ‘You raise some tobacco and you use it on your chickens. If you don’t I’ll kill you.’
“It grows very good here. If you have water you can grow most anything in this soil except greenbacks. Would you like to see our island foxes? They’re a sort you don’t find on the mainland. I caught one last night in that box over there. I’ve heared him a-howlin’ around for a week, and he got three chickens o’ mine. These foxes make nice pets and I s’pose I’ve caught as many as four hundred and sold them at a dollar apiece.”
We went to the box, and he tilted it up so that I could see the pretty creature within — evidently a fox, but only half the mainland size. I believe the island contains certain other creatures with a peculiar individuality, but it is especially famous for the fish in the surrounding sea. Here is found the leaping tuna, the most active game fish in the world. It is caught with a rod and line, but the line must be many hundreds of feet long, and the fish will tow the boat at racehorse speed from one to twenty miles before it is captured. In weight the tuna sometimes exceeds two hundred pounds.
Nothing afforded me quite so much pleasure while I was at the island as a trip in one of the glass-bottomed boats. The boat could have carried a score, but two young men in addition to myself were the only passengers this time. There was a continuous cushioned seat at the sides and stern, and the oarsman sat in the prow. We had an awning overhead, and in the bottom of the boat were three heavy plates of glass about eighteen inches by three feet, boxed in at the sides. The harbor water was somewhat roiled, but as soon as we got to the cliffs jutting seaward we looked down into fairyland. Even when the depth was fully fifty feet there was scarcely any obscurity, and the sunbeams flickered down almost as through the air onto the gray rocks and the wafting, many-hued sea-plants and the numerous finny inhabitants. How calm everything down there seemed! and with what lazy pleasure the fish moved about in their wonder-world! They were marvelously colored — red and blue, silver and brown, striped and spotted; and some were pallid little sardines just hatched, and others would weigh four or five pounds.
My fellow voyagers almost exhausted themselves in their expressions of delight. “Well, sir,” one would cry, “this is the finest sight I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Then the other would break in with, “Look at this gold fish! Ain’t he a pippin! and Tom, here’s a jelly fish right under the glass. Gee! ain’t that pretty?”
“Dick, get onto this!” exclaims Tom. “Do you see the fish with spots on its back like lamps?”
“That’s the electric fish,” explained the oarsman, “and in the dark those spots light up the water. Now we are going over a lot of seaweed — ribbons and lace and such. It’s the wet dry goods of the ocean, and there’s enough right in sight to stock a millinery store.”
“I s’pose you can catch fish here at the island any old place,” remarked Tom. “My! it looks so nice down in there it would just suit me to camp under water right here for a while.”
“Those gold fish take my eye,” declared Dick. “I would certainly like to reach down and grab a couple.”
“See that seaweed with the violet-colored tips,” said Tom. “I tell you that’s pretty.”
“That was nice all right,” agreed Dick; “but look at this big purple shell lying on the bottom. I wish I had it.”
Just then a little rowboat approached, in which were two fellows in bathing suits, and our oarsman spoke to Dick and said, “If you want that shell one of those chaps will go down and get it for a quarter.”
So the other boat was hailed and as soon as the diver had leaned over into our craft to take a look through the glass and locate the shell, down he went, and we could see him swimming like a frog straight for it. When he came up he gave a rap on the glass beneath us, and then he presented the shell, climbed into his boat and put an old coat about his shoulders. “There’s a number of such divers here,” said our rower as we moved away, “and they make big money — five, ten and twenty dollars a day; but they don’t live long. If they ketch a cold it goes right to their lungs.”
From Santa Catalina I returned to the mainland and went far back from the coast to a small isolated village. I arrived one warm noontide. A cow was wandering about the wide unshadowed main street, a few teams were hitched to wayside posts before the half dozen stores and saloons, and a rooster was scratching over a gutter rubbish heap. At one end of the street was a patch of grass and a group of trees, and here a prospector’s outfit had stopped. The outfit consisted of a canvas-topped wagon loaded with supplies and drawn by four mules which were eating oats from their nose bags. On either side of the vehicle was a water barrel, and on behind a sheet-iron stove and a bale of hay. The proprietors were three men enroute for Death Valley, and they were prepared to spend a year searching for wealth in that desert region.
On the rear borders of the hamlet stood a tiny church with a barbed-wire fence around it. A preacher came from somewhere and held service every other Sunday. I was told that only two men in the place were churchgoers and that the minister considered it was a big day if he had an audience of ten. Beyond the church were park-like pastures with frequent great oaks just putting forth their new foliage. But as a whole the surroundings were either level plains growing in their better parts to wheat and barley, or were low parched hills thinly covered with sagebrush and mesquite.
The village was on the Newhall Ranch, which includes nearly fifty thousand acres. When “old man Newhall” was alive all the suitable land was in wheat, and at the time of harvest he often shipped several trainloads in a day, while now it is something notable to fill half a dozen cars in that time. The village was a busy place then, for not only were two or three score men employed on the ranch, but twice as many more were working some neighboring oil wells, now abandoned. A lanky long-haired youth who had charge of one of the drink resorts told me the history of the place while he sat on a battered and initial-carved settee in front of his saloon and contemplatively smoked a cigaret.
“Dad come here twenty odd years ago,” he said, “and he’s seen this town drop four times and the business go dead. Well, things are not so bad just now as they might be. We get the trade from the ranches for ten to thirty miles around, and they’ve been makin’ some-thin’ the last few years and have money to spend. One while we lived in Los Angeles. That’s quite a burg and gettin’ bigger all the time. I used to could say nobody could lose me in Los Angeles, but I don’t hardly know where I’m at in some parts now.”
When I left the village to resume my journeyings it so happened that I was stranded for several hours at a railway junction, a few miles distant, where I had to stay till midnight before I could get a train. One attraction of the waiting-room was a gambling-machine. You put a nickel in a slot, turned a crank and something went buzz inside, and possibly a sum varying from ten cents to two dollars dropped out down below. I saw a number of fellows try it, and two of them used up a quarter each in their efforts, but the machine simply kept what they dropped in and gave back no prizes. The profits of the machine, according to the man in charge of the station lunch counter, were about a dollar a day. He said the thing was against the law and would not be allowed in the cities, but in small places the law was not enforced.
The lunch man and a friend had a long discussion about the merits of various systems of gambling — cards, craps, roulette and faro bank, and attempted to decide which was “the fairest game in the bunch.” “I’ve tried them all,” said the friend. “Yes, I’ve monkeyed around the gambling tables a good deal. I am naturally lucky, too, and when I win, I win right quick.”
Nevertheless he was at present so hard up he was planning to beat his way on a freight to some land of promise farther on. He went out, and the lunch man turned to me and said, “There ain’t much use of playin’ against a professional gambler. He ain’t settin’ there for his health, and he’s bound to win oftener’n you are. But a feller knockin’ about always sees ways to make a lot of money if he only had a little pile. It takes too long and requires too much effort to earn and save it. So he tries gambling; and yet if he has luck he always wants more money than he has won, and he won’t stop until he loses it all.
“Some of the worst gambling places are over in Arizona. I went into one town there with fifty bucks (dollars) in my pocket and wearin’ a twenty-eight dollar suit and a new overcoat and shoes, and with a four-dollar grip in my hand. But in three weeks I come away a tramp. Now I’ve made up my mind to do different,” said he as he prepared a cup of coffee for himself. “I ain’t touched my booze for a month, and if I can save seventy-five dollars I’m goin’ to start for New England where I come from. I can have more fun with five dollars in Boston than I can with a hundred dollars in these cities out here.”
Most likely he would fail in his intention. The Far West is full of human driftwood. Men who have any capacity and industry easily get profitable jobs, but a considerable proportion of such men are constantly roving to new territory, and money doesn’t stick to them.
My midnight train carried me to the remarkably fertile country that extends for nearly a hundred miles east of Los Angeles. There you find an endless succession of orange, lemon, apricot, peach and other fruit orchards. Back a little from the route I took through this wonderland, the mountains frowned in purple gloom from beneath a capping of foggy clouds, and wherever a canyon opened from the heights it had shot out over the levels a wide waste of sand and stones that was half overgrown with brush. Such land was furrowed with water-courses that were perfectly dry except just after storms. However, dry water-courses are not confined in California to small streams. There is a saying that the rivers are “bottom upward.” That is, the channel is usually a waste of sand, but if you dig down deep enough you are pretty sure to find a seepage of water. After a storm the dry channels are suddenly filled with rushing torrents that transform the lowlands to shallow ponds, and marshes of mire.
In the region where I then was oranges grow to perfection, but they are raised with scarcely less success in the upper Sacramento valley over five hundred miles to the north. Heat and cold on the coast are a matter of altitude, not latitude, and the wildflowers are a-bloom among the foothills and the valleys in midwinter throughout the entire length of the state. What wonder that California is the great orange center of the world!
With proper care the trees grow very rapidly. They are vigorous and long-lived. For a hundred years they will continue to bear, and an instance is on record in Italy of an orange tree that survived to the age of four centuries. Perhaps no other tree blossoms more regularly and generously, and though sometimes a cold wave does serious local harm, a general failure of the crop is unknown. The trees require little or no pruning back, but the branches have to be thinned out somewhat. To combat the scale pests a good many owners resort to spraying, but the most effective way is to fumigate. The leading varieties of trees only grow about ten feet high and are very compact with branches trailing on the ground. Even the larger species seldom attain over fifteen feet, so that a tent can be put over a tree and the fumigating done very thoroughly. Tents enough are used to cover a row, and when that row has been treated they are shifted to the next. It is night work, for the heat of the day and the fumes combined would injure the foliage.
In the early spring one finds much of the land among the orange groves hidden by rank weeds, and by peas purposely grown during the winter and later ploughed under to serve as a fertilizer and to give the soil humus. After the ploughing the land is kept clean, and it is cultivated many times in the months following. The bare brown earth is not a pleasing setting for the evergreen, glossy-foliaged trees, and their appeal to the eye is also hurt by the round, stout solidity and uniformity of shape of the trees themselves.
Picking begins in time to ship for Thanksgiving use, but the early fruit is poor. It is not ripe, and in order to get a good outer color some of it has to be treated to a few days’ sweat. This turns a green skin to the proper tint, though the inside may be as sour as a lemon. The picking continues until May, and in the height of the season you can buy excellent windfalls from peddlers on the town streets at “ten cents a bucket,” and the bucket holds about eight quarts.
A well-grown orchard, conveniently located, is commonly priced at fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars an acre, though at such figures the native Californians, if they give you a confidential opinion, say they don’t see how any money can be made. It is better to sacrifice something on location, for the investment will be decidedly less. There is great advantage to a prospective purchaser in working in the country a year or two in order to get acquainted with the climate, the soil and crops and methods of marketing. The tenderfoot usually pays high for the place he buys, and often he “comes with a nice little pile and goes back with nothing.” Many natives make a business of staying on a place for a while, improving it and then selling at a fancy valuation. That done, they buy some other ranch, which can be had cheap, and repeat the process.
The manipulations that one hears of in connection with the sale of land in the coast country make a very curious story. The real estate agents are persons of an optimistic turn of mind, with a marked ability to tell fairy tales. I heard of one man who was dissatisfied with the place he owned, and he put it in the hands of a firm of agents, to sell while he looked up another home to his liking. Shortly afterward he saw a place advertised by these agents that he felt from the description was exactly the thing he wanted. He went to them, and lo! it was the very one he was trying to sell.
The agents are all eager to get hold of prospective purchasers, and some of the loiterers at the station are likely to be acting in their interest. That old Kansas farmer you see chewing tobacco and sitting around in the waiting room is wintering in the vicinity, and he is making a little money by keeping on the lookout for new arrivals, getting acquainted with them, and if they want to buy land he steers them to some real estate firm with which he has an understanding.
Everybody trades in land “on the side,” even cheap clerks and servant girls. They can get lots for one dollar down and a dollar a week. But most of the small speculators pay in cash one-fourth of the price and agree to pay the other quarters at six month intervals. They really never intend to make the second payment, but expect the land to advance in value so they can sell out at a good profit before the six months expire. In short, they seldom buy because they want the property for themselves, but simply to await some bigger “sucker” who will take it off their hands at an advance. With prices going up the investors generally make money. On the other hand a drop in values finds a vast number of obligations that cannot be taken care of. The speculators are forced to sell for what they can get, which makes prices tumble still worse and there is a general crash. The preceding inflation has often been so great that it is difficult to estimate what a person has really dropped. “I have lost fifty thousand dollars,” said one investor, “and the worst of it is that five hundred dollars of the sum was good money.”
One real estate agent who talked to me with unusual frankness was a man who had just retired from the business after a ten months’ experience. He had come from South Dakota and had made his home in a growing coast city of ten thousand inhabitants. “I have been successful,” said he, “but my Godfrey! I didn’t feel right. You can’t tell the whole truth and make any sales. Southern California is a good place to spend money and a poor place to make it. For some people it’s healthy, but for me the winters are too damp and chilly; and yet the natives say you don’t need no fire. The fact is, fuel is expensive and most people can’t afford it. There’s many a family makes one cord of wood last a whole year; but I burned just as much as we did at home in the East.
“A considerable number of widows lived in the town where I was. When a woman had a little money left at her husband’s death she’d buy or build a nice-looking house, but if you examined it you’d find it was put up very slight and cheap. Outside there’d be clapboards nailed right to the studding, and inside cheese cloth over lath, and wall paper pasted on the cloth. The place was a summer resort, and for three or four months the lone woman with a house would rent her dwelling and live herself in a tent or shed behind it. The money she received had to support her the year through. So her food was mostly bread and a little fish and tea, with now and then five cents worth of warm soup bought at a restaurant. All the time she’d put on the appearance of being very well off, though in reality she was poorer than Job’s turkey.
“People in the East think that the climate in California is so favorable that they can pay any price for a ranch and make money on whatever they choose to go into, and that there’ll be no need of their doing much only to let things grow. The real estate agents encourage that notion. They’re the gol-darndest lot I ever saw. They can’t talk reasonable, and they never quit their everlasting blowing. You’d think they were fairly crazy about this country. It will almost make a man who knows the situation vomit, the way they talk. Murderation, they’ve got dodges to beat any Eastern man that ever lived. They always like to take a possible customer to ride to show him around. Crowd him into your rig some way, and then your sale is half made. Otherwise, a rival will take the drive with him and your chance in that quarter is gone. It isn’t the habit to exhibit any anxiety to sell. You point out this and that piece of property and talk about what it is suited for and what its future value will probably be, and you’re pretty sure to get your man interested.
Enroute for Death Valley
“Everybody deals in real estate, ministers and all. Some of the ministers get so tangled up they have to leave their pulpits. You have no idee of the state of things. I know one Methodist minister who has done particularly well. When he notices a new man in his congregation he of course takes pains to shake hands and welcome him, and then he asks if he is going to settle. If the man says, ‘Yes,’ the minister mentions that while he is not in the real estate business he knows of various pieces of property for sale and would be glad to render any assistance he could. You see, the members of his flock place whatever piece of land they want to dispose of in his hands, and he lists it and sells it on a per cent the same as any other agent. But he is supposed by the purchaser to be disinterested, and he talks with the stranger’s family, holds prayers with them and keeps them right under his thumb. You can’t never persuade the preacher’s man away. He’s got a dead sure thing, and by and by the sale is made and the rest of us say, ‘The parson has landed another man all right.’
“Then there’s a kind of agent who has no office or no nothing. He keeps watch of the streets. When he sees strangers standing around in the sun trying to get warm he happens up to ‘em and says, ‘ Kind o’ cold this morning.’
“That leads to talk, and if he finds they have some notion of buying property he says, ‘Well, I ain’t got no property to sell, myself, but there’s a friend of mine has just about what you’re lookin’ for, and I’d be glad to take you around to see it.’
“Darned if he ain’t about the best man in town, next to the preacher, to make sales! The strangers perhaps wouldn’t go in the door of a real estate office, but they buy of him because they think he has no money interest in making the sale. They may even brag afterward to the real estate men who have offices, and say, ‘We bought through him because we didn’t want to pay you fellers a commission.’
“Another way to force sales is to employ what they call a ‘striker.’ Suppose you are trying to sell a ranch. The striker comes in while you are talking with your customer, and you greet him as a person who owns a ranch close by the one you have for sale. You ask him what he’ll take for his place, but he won’t sell. It’s too profitable a property, while all the time the striker hasn’t any place at all. One agent in the city I lived in was working to dispose of a tract of land to two ladies, and he represented it would have a very ready sale cut up for house lots, though it was miles beyond where the city was at all built up, and the city wouldn’t grow to it in five hundred years. To speak the exact truth it wa’n’t worth a cuss. But he tells ‘em there’s three or four parties after it who are liable to take it any time, and they’d better not delay. So they got the refusal of it for a few days. Before the time was up a striker called on ‘em. He’d never shaved and had whiskers all around his face a foot long. You might say he was from Missouri. He was an old innocent-lookin’ feller and made out he was deacon of some church, and he says, ‘I understand you’ve bought that property, and I wanted to know about getting a part of it. I’m willing to give so much for half of it;’ and he named a price bigger’n they were goin’ to pay for the whole.
“They were all in a flutter, and they said that arrangements were not quite complete, but the property was about to be put on the market by them and he should have first chance. Then they made haste to buy and were the most tickled women in the world, but the man with the whiskers never came again. That old freak would land every victim he got hold of and take their last dollar. I was sorry for those women, but women do make the awfullest breaks in these land trades. They go into speculation head over heels.
“One day a stranger called at my office and told me he’d been in town two weeks and invested five thousand dollars. The tales of the land agents had made him enthusiastic, and he said, ‘You people out here are slow. You stand around doing nothing and let us Eastern people make all the money.’
“He was sure he was going to double on his investment within a year, but he was soon ready to sell out at a heavy loss. There’s no use talking — you pick up any property we had and it would pretty near burn your fingers. That’s what it would. But new people were coming in on every train looking for property to invest in; and the papers were praising it up all the time, so that hearing of prices constantly on the rise they’d get in a hurry to buy. But a month was a long time for a place to be out of the market. By then a man was pretty sure to be sick of his bargain. When I made a sale I just checked it with a pencil. I didn’t cross off the item; for I’d soon have had my book scratched up and spoiled. In a few weeks the property was bound to go on sale again, and then I’d simply erase the check. You could readily tell when a piece of property had recently changed hands, for there would be some little improvements made on it. That’s the only time a man ever had any heart for laying out money and effort on his place.
“The other agents in town got onto me right straddle of my neck for not booming the region more; but I couldn’t do it. If a man came to me and I found he had a family of children I would urge him to keep his money and go back where he came from. If he was a single man, or there was only him and his wife, I showed what there was to be had and let him use his own judgment. But, by gosh, I didn’t feel right even about that, and now I’m quit of the business.”
NOTE. — Los Angeles, the metropolis of Southern California, is naturally the first stopping-place of every tourist who arrives by the Spring in Southern California
Santa Fé or Southern Pacific. In 1880 this “Town of the Queen of the Angels,” as the Spaniards called it, had only eleven thousand inhabitants, but twenty-five years later there were nearly two hundred thousand. It is a modern big city, yet with environs that are peculiarly charming. Here is some of the finest fruit country on the west coast and you find innumerable groves of both orange and lemon trees, and the homes nestle among blossoms and green foliage even in midwinter. Then there is a background of rugged mountain heights, and not far away in the other direction is the sea and the enchanting island of Santa Catalina, reputed to be the greatest fishing-place on earth. Every facility is provided for seeing the towns and villages of the Los Angeles region and for climbing the mountains or going to the wild isle off the coast.
The most famous suburb of Los Angeles is Pasadena. This, too, is a city, but for the most part is a place of homes, each with a setting of velvety turf and full-foliaged trees and flowers. It is a playground of wealth, the winter dwelling-place of a multitude of Eastern people and contains some of the finest residence thoroughfares on this continent. Various other flourishing towns and much of the best cultivated portion of this “Land of the Afternoon” can be glimpsed by taking a day’s trip on a railway that makes a long loop back into the interior. Of the towns on this loop that would best repay a special visit I think Riverside and Redlands should have the preference.
The country is least attractive in the parched months of the late summer and early autumn, and is seen at its best in April and May. As compared with the temperature that most of the states east of the Rocky Mountains experience in the colder months, the West Coast climate will be found very genial, but warm clothing, light overcoats, shawls, or convenient wraps which may be used or discarded according to one’s needs, are an essential part of the traveller’s outfit. The evenings and nights are sure to be cool, and chilling rains are a frequent feature of the winter.