"The Last Spike is Driven..."
last spike is driven…the options are secured.”
In March 1905, Fred Eaton went to the Owens Valley to buy
land options and water rights.
On March 22nd, Mulholland reported to the Board
of Water Commissioners. He
had surveyed all the water sources available in Southern California and
he recommended the Owens River as the only viable source.
Immediately following Mulholland’s presentation, Fred Eaton
made his proposal that the City acquire from him whatever water rights
and options he had been able to secure to further the project.
in the valley, Eaton had conducted some business for Lippincott as well.
The bulk of Lippincott’s staff had been diverted to the lower
Colorado River. The
floodwaters of the Colorado River had broken through temporary
irrigation barriers and had carved a new channel southeast to the Salton
Lippincott knew Eaton was headed to the Owens Valley.
Several power applications were pending for projects on the Owens
River. Lippincott required
information about who the owners were, the use to which the power would
be put, and the potential of these projects to interfere with the
Reclamation Service’s activities.
Lippincott asked Eaton to do this work.
This trip became the source of conflict between the Owens
Valley and the City of Los Angeles.
Eaton visited the Independence Land Office to do
Lippincott’s research. There
he met Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register.
The impression Eaton left was that he was there to do work for
the Reclamation Service, and his subsequent land acquisition activities
were interpreted in that light.
Whether deliberate or not, this impression caused anger
among residents of the area, most notably Austin, when they discovered
that Eaton was not acting on behalf of the Reclamation Service.
To the people of the Owens Valley, selling water rights and land
for a desired federal project was far different from selling land to
Eaton and water rights to the City of Los Angeles.
Austin embodied the people’s feelings of betrayal and
anger. They were afraid
that the Reclamation Service intended to abandon them, serving the
interests of the City of Los Angeles instead.
Austin wrote to the Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office
and to President Theodore Roosevelt to protest.
Meanwhile a serious decision faced the Reclamation Service.
It was required to make a recommendation to the Secretary of the
Interior regarding the feasibility of a project in the Owens Valley.
The Board of Engineers who were to make that recommendation
met on July 27, 1905. From
an engineering standpoint, the project was viable.
One of the commissioners had previously met with Austin and made
sure discussions about the project gave serious consideration to his
protest. However, the
economic feasibility of the project was in question.
The Board saw Los Angeles’ ownership of the Long Valley
Reservoir site and 50 miles along the river as a great impediment to
proceeding with a Reclamation Service project.
The Secretary of the Interior, the cabinet member
responsible for the Reclamation Service, made no decision until much
Mulholland returned from a car trip to the Owens Valley not
two days after the Board of Engineers had met. His statement, “The last spike is driven…the options are
secure.” Was the City’s verdict on the project.
It seemed irrelevant that the Reclamation Service had made no decision when on July 29, 1905 the Los Angeles Times headlines bannered “Titanic Project to Give City a River.”