San Francisco’s Early Keys to Regional Dominance

January 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

San Francisco’s Industrial Cross-Roads:

California’s establishment into the Union in 1850 was in many ways the story of two competing ways of living, two competing industries fighting over the same resource. The conflict that set the stage for this battle grew out of a debate between the primacy of valley agriculture and industrial mining; the two most significant economic interests of the state in the late 19th century. While the court case that settled much of the dispute, Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company (1884), was simply a property owner in conflict with a large industrial mining operation, the decision encompassed a significant shift to the U.S. Supreme Court and California’s economic future. But why the court decided in this way, is a story of history and politics, as much as legalities. In bringing the decision in 1884, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer cited many statutes and precedents. The Sawyer Decision remains one of the first Supreme Court decisions to identify and define a “public interest,” and accorded by some as the first environmental decision in the United States. While the Public Trust Doctrine of California water law as we know it today would not come into play by name for several decades, its mechanisms were structured by Judge Sawyer in Woodruff v. North Bloomfield. The concepts of a general public interest and the acknowledgment of a changing environment (as opposed to static), were put into dialogue for the first time and given quantifiable value through Sawyer’s precedent.

"Hydraulic Mining - The Sluice" (1860). Courtesy of Society of California Pioneers ~ via Calisphere

Few court cases before this had come to such detailed analysis between the relationship of private property, the environment, and the state. As the decision would imply, there was a theoretical collective public interest beyond and above individual private interest. Significantly, by defining California’s waterways as variable and subject to natural change (something that was not legally accepted prior), it was against the collective public interest, Sawyer suggested, for the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company to continue to dump mining debris into the Yuba River tributaries which would invariably lead to significant, and unpredictable property damage downstream by flooding. Already by the late 1850’s, reports emerged that the mining debris from the Sierra’s had migrated and had settled and raised the river beds as they approached California’s central valley.

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Adventuring, Reminiscence, and Nostalgia: A Path to an Early California Identity

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Society of California Pioneers: Identity & Temporal Orientation

Founded in 1850 the Society of California Pioneers was charged to:

collect and preserve information connected with the early settlement and conquest of [California], and to perpetuate the memory of those whose sagacity, enterprise, and love of independence induced them to settle in the wilderness, and become the germ of a new State.

Membership in the Pioneers was reserved for, “all who were residents of California prior to January 1, 1850, and the male descendants of all such who were members.” James W. Marshall, for example, would be one of those revered pioneers, but his legacy of remembrance would be a rocky one compared with other figures in the pantheon of California’s origin story among the Society of California Pioneers. In the future, Marshall’s precise (and longer) story among the Society of California Pioneers will appear in another post. However, just as Daniel Boone opened the Cumberland Gap and the Cooper’s settled Cooperstown in upstate New York, “Men with names like “Sutter, Reading, Larkin, Stearns, Hensley, Bidwell, Marsh, Young and many others” symbolized the virtues espoused by the Society of California Pioneers. These men they argued were, “Pioneers of the first class…gentlemen.”

A Society of California Pioneers diploma of membership as illustrated in 1898

The membership diplomas demonstrate this nostalgic orientation towards the past.  The certificates reveal a keen reverence for the romance of California’s frontier and pioneering past, and by implication a derision of its recent path in industrial development. The certificate depicts an eight paneled series of distinctly wild California scenes, none of which contain imagery of industrialism. The images of independent miners, Mexican vaqueros, and mission neophytes, juxtaposed with the image of sleepy Yerba Buena cove, expansive San Francisco Bay, and the natural wonders of Yosemite Falls and the Sierra big trees, demonstrates a reverence for what seems to have been lost in their mind.

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