I realize I may be going down a rabbit hole with this section. Yet, the mesmerized state I experienced while reading “The Red Queen” is the very reason why I was so excited to drive through the Owens Valley on this 14th of June 2019. It was.
Now, I could further illustrate the chicanery, subterfuge, spies, bribery, [and] campaign of divide-and-conquer employed by Mulholland and his cohorts to grow Los Angeles. But I won’t. Read “The Red Queen” to find out.
I will, however, address the role Teddy Roosevelt played in the making of modern Los Angeles. I’ll do so because this was my favorite part of the entire book. It was such a unique history that no one I’ve ever met, in all my life, taught me. So, I teach you.
Now, after the land and its water rights along the Owens River were bought by Los Angeles, and after Los Angeles annexed the San Fernando Valley for the sake of increasing the value of its incorporated lands (so as to increase its debt capacity and issue sufficient bonds to fund the Aqueduct’s construction from the Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley), LA needed one more thing. LA need authorization for its Aqueduct to pass through federal lands. It needed then President Teddy Roosevelt’s authorization.
To make an interesting story short, Teddy gave it. Why? Why would he approve of the shenanigans of rich Los Angeles businessmen? Why would he allow the violation of the intended purpose of the U.S. Forest Service? Simple. He realized the value of a big city on America’s west coast. Teddy wanted LA to grow for several fascinating reasons that were never broached in all my years of history classes.
One, as per my own intellectual reasonings, forty years beforehand, the Civil War had been fought. The enormity of the American landmass made it conceivable that future sectional conflicts could arise, especially considering how far away the District of Columbia was from the Pacific Coast. It was – and still is – conceivable that Westerners could start wondering why they need bureaucrats from thousands of miles away to tell them what to do with the land inside their own states. Federal control of water and other infrastructures, which would allow the populations of the West to grow, could, thus, help perpetuate subordination of the Western States to DC. It could stave off Western Secession.
Granted, the City of Los Angeles funded its own aqueduct. But, remember, LA needed DC’s permission, and asking permission is an act of subordination. However, later on, federal money brought even more water to Los Angeles. I believe Roosevelt knew this would happen (as Hoover Dam would demonstrate). I believe he knew the Bureau of Reclamation he himself signed into law would become directly responsible for massive population growth of the Western States – especially California. Control that growth of people, and control the people themselves. So, why not get the ball rolling with LA?
Again, this is what I think. I could be wrong. But I don’t think so.
Now, another big reason Teddy approved the Aqueduct is mentioned in Cadillac Desert. Reisner said Roosevelt feared Japan. After all, Japan, from 1855 to 1905, had made itself into one of the mightier powers in the Pacific. It industrialized and Westernized amazingly fast. Its potential had become great. Its decimation of Russian armies in Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 shocked the world. Japan was a force to be reckoned with, as WWII made obvious.
Well, what would stop Japan from looking eastward towards the United States? What would stop Japan from, one day, landing 100,000 soldiers in California? A city called Los Angeles could. A large population capable of forming an army to rebuff a Japanese invasion would deter the Japanese from even looking at the West Coast of North America. Thus, in spite of immoral shenanigans executed by men like William Mulholland, Roosevelt acquiesced, and authorized the passage of the aqueduct. Los Angeles was on its way to become what it is.
Thus, again, this was the source of my desire to see the Owens Valley. I love this history. Granted, there wouldn’t be much in this part of California specifically evincing Roosevelt’s geopolitical considerations. But who cares? I wanted to see the setting for an episode in American history that no government school – that no one except Reisner – taught me.
And, the winter of 2018 – 2019 dumping record snow in parts of the Sierras made me curious, at the very least, to look at stream flows to imagine how much land could have been irrigated by the Owens once upon a time. And, would the greenery of the land, after such a wet winter, make it look like Switzerland? I doubted so. But hey…
FEATURED IMAGE FROM: pload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/War_flag_of_the_Imperial_Japanese_Army.svg/640px-War_flag_of_the_Imperial_Japanese_Army.svg.png