Honey in Inyo County

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November 30, 2014 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 







By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)

Inyo County contains the Owens River Valley; it is between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains and the Inyo Mountains. Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Continental United States, is on Inyo County’s western border. The Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, the lowest place in North America, is in eastern Inyo County. Owens Valley is the deepest valley on the American continents. The largest escarpment in the United States rises from the floor of Death Valley to the top of Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range.

This extraordinary geography provided the filming locations for Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, many Western films, Gunga Din (where the Alabama Hills substituted for the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan), two Star Trek movies and a couple of noir films, the best of which is Robert Mitchum’s Out of the Past (1947). Inyo County was one of the locations for a fake version of Charlie Chaplin’s life but Chaplin stars Robert Downey, Jr., which makes up for a lot that’s crummy about the movie.

The second significant conflict over water in the Owens Valley inspired Roman Polanski’s fiction film Chinatown (1974). No one made a movie about the first conflict: the driving of native people into Lake Owen and shooting them.

Writing about Inyo County’s real human and natural history includes Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain (1903), Carey McWilliams, Southern California: an Island on the Land (1947), Jane Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar (1973), Gunfighters, Highwaymen and Vigilantes (1984), Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (1986), and Karen Piper’s Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A. (2006).

The following two more academic essays, one long, one short, describe the Paiute irrigation system and the social network that made that system work: Harry W. Lawton, Philip J. Wilke, Mary DeDecker, William M. Mason, “Agriculture Among the Paiute of Owens Valley,” The Journal of California Anthropology, (1976) and Jenna Cavell, “Recovering Cultural Memory: Irrigation Systems of the Owens Valley Paiute.” Fall Writing Program UC Berkeley (2011).

The film Interstellar (2014) – not filmed in Inyo County — predicts enormous dust storms cover the planet, a monster Dust Bowl that ends the world. This is fiction based on science and the idea of a killing dust may be applied particularly to California. Reisner pointed out in Cadillac Desert that “the vast amount of water sitting in underground aquifers, a legacy of the Ice Ages and their glacial melt …. Will be mostly gone within a hundred years – a resource squandered as quickly as oil.”

So far, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, and Sacramento promote water depletion, especially if it is by a large agricultural corporation. Chief Justice Rehnquist waxed particularly sugary and sentimental in his opinion in Salyer Land Co. v Tulare Water District, 410 U.S. 719 (1973), writing:

“In the beginning, the task of reclaiming this area was left to the unaided efforts of the people who found their way by painful effort to its inhospitable solitudes. These western pioneers, emulating the spirit of so many others who had gone before them in similar ventures, faced the difficult problem of wresting a living and creating homes from the raw elements about them, and threw down the gage of battle to the forces of nature. With imperfect tools, they built dams, excavated canals, constructed ditches, plowed and cultivated the soil, and transformed dry and desolate lands into green fields and leafy orchards. . . .”

One problem with Rehnquist’s rhapsodic prose is that the native people in the Owens Valley, which, true, is several 213 miles east of Tulare if you drive, 140 miles away if you walk – about 90 if you are a crow and can fly the distance — already had an irrigation system, and that system sustained a substantial aboriginal population for probably thousands of years before pioneers found their way by painful effort.

The first people did not see their land as inhospitable solitude. There were 2,000 of them, and they mostly all got along. The land was not dry or desolate, and there were green fields already, although no leafy orchards until the Americans arrived, took over their irrigation system, killed some of them, transported others, and used the labor of those who survived to do the hard work on the farms and ranches.

With Rehnquist, we always knew who would win in cases brought before the Supremes: the rich guys.

One of the principal players in the California Water Wars, conflicts between farmers and ranchers and the City of Los Angeles over Owens Valley water, was the brilliant self-taught engineer William Mulholland, who did not promote stealing the Owens River water and who made no money off it personally except for his salary, which he would have gotten anyway, but got his former boss Fred Eaton talked him into it. Fred Eaton, not coincidentally, purchased a lot of acreage in the Owens Valley at about this time, and he was to make money off his political legerdemain at both federal and local levels.

The thing about engineers is they are always doing something, always building dams, diverting waterways, draining wetlands, turning the LA River into a concrete sarcophagus, building Chernobyl. Engineers probably intend no harm. It’s just what they do.   If you were to ask a psychiatrist what to do about water limiting growth in Los Angeles, she would give you a pill or a long talk about your childhood. Turning engineers loose on the environment is a political decision.

Young author Mary Austin came down to Los Angeles to interview Mulholland. She told him the Owens valley died when it sold its first water right to Los Angeles – that the city would never stop until it owned the whole river and all of the land. Reisner reports that after Austin left, a subordinate found Mulholland staring at the wall vacantly. “By God,” Mulholland said, “that woman is the only one who has brains enough to see where this is going.”

Mulholland at the time was a popular fellow. He treated his workers well. He brought to Los Angeles the water the voters mistakenly thought would enrich them but that instead directly enriched only the business elite that had promoted it and real estate developers. On the other hand, over the years, others indirectly benefited, at a cost of unsustainable automobile-oriented urban sprawl.

On opening day of the LA Aqueduct in 1913, he made a speech. This is it: “Here it is. Take it.” The public so loved Mulholland they wanted him to run for mayor. He said, “I would rather give birth to a porcupine backwards than become the mayor of Los Angeles.”  The 1928 failure of the St. Francis Dam, located in San Francisquito Canyon, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles ended his career. Over 600 people drowned. The day it failed he drove over to the site, horrified. He said, “I envy the dead.”

Professor Piper quotes an Owens Valley farmer in her Lost in the Dust. He says, “Here it is. Fix it.”

. The aqueduct’s “mouth” — perhaps a more accurate metaphor is “urethra” because the mouth is up in the Owens Valley — is in the San Fernando Valley.  The aqueduct emptied at Owensmouth . This is now Canoga Park. Owens-urethra was never considered as a town name (except by me.), The name for the San Fernando Valley street “Vanowen” is a combination of van Nuys and Owens.

Historian/activist/attorney/journalist/Nation magazine editor Cary McWilliams, his Southern California: an Island on the Land (1947):

“In large part…this fear [of drought, the purported reason for building the aqueduct] was artificially stimulated by a group of powerful ‘empire builders’ of the period. In 1905 and later in 1910, a syndicate financed by Harry Chandler, General Harrison Gray Otis, Joseph F. Sartori (the banker), Henry Huntington, E.H. Harriman, E.T. Earl, and M.H. Sherman acquired most of the former holdings of the Van Nuys and Lankershim families in the San Fernando Valley.…Eventually this group of men acquired control over 108,000 acres of land in the valley. Once in control of this vast acreage, they came to the water board of the City of Los Angeles with a typically grandiose proposal: that the city should build a 238-mile aqueduct to tap the waters of Owens Valley (located between the Sierra Nevada and the desert); and thereby hangs a tale.”

Otis had arrived in Los Angeles as a typical drifter of the period after the Civil war, “a man without resources,” according to Cary McWilliams. Otis was a most unlikeable fellow, the embodiment of hubris, all sorts of nastiness, vindictive, and no one liked him.   He may have had a borderline personality disorder if the contemporary descriptions of him are accurate, but borderline personality disorder defines the hubristic, utterly selfish, and cynical and culturally and environmentally blind ideology that largely built this state. This is the ideology Canadian philosopher C. B. MacPherson called “possessive individualism.” You are what you own.

Reisner writes “Sesquipedalian tergiversation was the strong suit of Harrison Gray Otis, along with slander, meanness, biliousness, and the implacable pursuit of a good old-fashioned grudge. Under his ownership, the Times was less a newspaper than a kind of mace used to bludgeon and destroy his enemies, and, and which, were many.”

Professor Karen Piper, author of Left in the Dust (2006), grew up in Owens Valley after Owens Lake died and the clouds of toxic dust were sometimes so heavy crows fell out of the sky.

Owens Valley dust, she writes, is called PM-10.   Individual particles are smaller than 10 micrograms, which allowed them to infiltrate lung tissue.   The aquifer under her hometown is contaminated with arsenic.

Piper remarks that Lake Owens – once so vast it had to be crossed by steamboat, and now dead – began to recede as soon as farmers and ranchers began to draw water out of it for irrigation.   Those farmers and ranchers whose way of life ended as a result of the aqueduct also were killing Owens Valley but at a slower rate than the City of Los Angeles killed it.

Aboriginal people lived in the Owens Valley for at least 800 years. They may have lived in it for thousands of years. The Paiute were hunter-gatherers and, although some anthropologists sometimes refer to this people as agricultural, they were not farmers within our contemporary definition of the term “to farm.” The stretch made to turn Indians into farmers – when they were not – is understandable.   Americans despised the Indians for not being like them. They didn’t pick up on the fact that, if the Indians had been like them, the Americans would not have gotten Owens Valley from them.  Indians were seen as, at best, pathetic. There is no need to retroactively turn the Paiute into agricultural people. They were grand as they were. In at least one wonderful way, their way of life was superior to the Americans: they used the land sustainably. It lasted. Their ecological footprint was light.

Our usual understanding of “farming” was modified in the sustainable farming movement. Professor Bill Mollison describes permaculture as a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system. See, Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements (with David Holmgren, Transworld Publishers, 1978)

The Paiute did irrigate native grasses.   A newspaper correspondent for the Los Angeles Star in August 1859 reported, “Whole fields of this grass, a tuber of a series of nutritious grass of which our horses were very fond, miles in extent, are irrigated with great care, yielding an abundant harvest of what is one of their principle articles of food.” Indian rice-grass, wild hyacinth, wild rye and “love grass” (Eragrostis), a small bulb from the tulip family, grass-nut and spike-rush comprised a base of the aboriginal diet.

Reisner states the native people learned to irrigate from the Spanish. He cites no resource in support of this conclusion. The social relationships, however, that supported this communal enterprise were too complex to have evolved in the about 80 years Spanish colonization of California and the Gold Rush, when Americans first came into Inyo County. I can’t find any reference to Spanish presence in Inyo County before 1850. Paiute words for irrigation and irrigator are not related to Spanish words. If the Paiute learned irrigation from other people, they probably learned it from other aboriginal people. The Hohokam people of south Arizona – several hundred miles away – irrigated land for at least 2000 years

The system was vast and depended on dams and canals, although the first Americans who arrived in the valley did not recognize the irrigation system for what it was.

Harry W. Lawton, et al, contend that the native people were farmers. Their implicit thesis is that the first people were not inferior to the European cultivators.

The Lawton authors — even though their research is outstanding — have a cultural bias of their own; that is, they buy into the idea that agriculture in the ordinary sense was an advance, was “progress” in the human condition. Jared Diamond first challenged that bias in “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” in 1987. Diamond’s works on agriculture are widely read, influential with powerful people like Bill Gates.

Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? (2012), focuses on New Guinea but looks at other “primitive” groups. His conclusion is that, although in some ways, modern life is unequivocally better than traditional life, in other ways, e.g., conflict resolution, talking, child-rearing, treatment of the elderly, traditional practices are more humane. A missing piece of this research is a comparison of American impact on the environment contrasted with traditional peoples’ approach to natural resources, because, actually, the traditional people come out ahead.

The Paiute people’s cultivation practices – essentially, the idea behind contemporary Permaculture farming — allowed 2,000 people to inhabit the valley with a minimal impact on the natural ecology, possibly for millennia. UC Berkeley scholar Jenna Cavell points out that the idea promulgated by Garret Harden in his famous article “Tragedy of the Commons,” Science (1968) that communal ownership inevitably leads to environmental destruction, is at least undermined by Paiute commons in native grasses.

Many, maybe almost all, of the Americans who came to California after the Gold Rush in the middle years of the 19th century were culturally blind, their thinking shaped by both the deeply held belief that the native people – and the Asian and African people – were inferior to them but more profoundly also by what Canadian political scientist C.B. Macpherson termed in 1962 “possessive individualism,” in which the individual is conceived as the sole owner of his or her skills and owes nothing to society. A selfish concern for consumption is, for someone who buys into this view according to Macpherson the core of human nature.

The European viewpoint that technological and capitalist “progress” is a hierarchy, with the dominant modern culture at the apex, was generally accepted until University of California at Berkeley professor of anthropology Franz Boas (1858-1942), drawing conclusions from Charles Darwin’s examination of human nature, rejected the then popular evolutionary approaches to the study of culture, which saw all societies progressing through a set of hierarchic technological and cultural stages, with Western-European culture at the summit. In his The Mind of Primitive Man (1911) Boas argued that culture developed historically through the interactions of groups of people and the diffusion of ideas. He introduced the idea of cultural relativism, which holds that cultures cannot be objectively ranked as higher or lower, or better or more correct. In 1901, Alfred Kroeber (1876 to 1960) was his first student at Berkeley. Kroeber is regarded as the founder of California Indian studies. (Handbook of the Indians of California, 1925).

Water flows through Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain, 1903, which describes the area as it was before American ideology just about destroyed it. On desert flora:

“Their whole duty is to flower and fruit, and they do it hardly, or with tropical luxuriance, as the rain admits. It is recorded in the report of the Death Valley expedition that after a year of abundant rains, on the Colorado Desert was found a specimen of Amaranths teen feet high. A year later the same species in the same place matured in the drought at four inches….Extreme aridity and extreme altitude have the same dwarfing effect, so that we find in the high Sierras and in Death Valley related species in miniature that reach a comely growth in mean temperatures. Very fertile are the desert plants in expedients to prevent evaporation, turning their foliage edgewise toward the sun, growing silky hairs exuding viscid gum. The wind, which has a long sweep, harries and helps them. It rolls up dunes about the stock stems, encompassing and protective, and above the dunes, which may be, as with the mesquite three times as high as a man, the blossoming twigs flourish and bear fruit.”

McGrath’s chapter of Gunfighters, Highwaymen and Vigilantes called “No Goodee Cow Man,” writes:

“….The most extensive irrigation system was at Bishop Creek where some six square miles of land, known as pitana patu (Note from author of this essay: “Pitana” was the locus of what would become Bishop. “Patu” refers to the Utah Paiute, a tribe that practiced irrigation. The Southern Paiutes of Utah practiced limited irrigation agriculture. They raised corn, squash, melons gourds, sunflowers and, later, after the American occupation, winter wheat.) to the Paiute, was watered. Paiute women harvested the seeds and bulbs of the wild plants each fall. Since the Paiute only irrigated and harvested – they did not prepare the soil, sow the seed, or cultivate the plants – what they did has been called ‘irrigation without agriculture.’ While Paiute women gathered nuts and seeds and dug roots, Paiute men hunted for antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, and jackrabbits and fished for trout. This way of life, in the arid and rocky trans-Sierra country required a vast territory to support a small number of Paiutes. (Author note: 2,000)

The encroachment of whites, particularly ranchers, would certainly have an almost immediate effect on the ability of the Paiute to hunt and to gather food.”

It did. Cattle, marketed initially to miners in the trans-Sierra, consumed the grassland. Violent conflict between the native people and the ranchers was a consequence. Starving Indians stole cattle. The Americans killed them. Eventually, those Indians who survived became the workers who did the hard work in the orchards that supplanted the cattle ranching. California state law allowed the enslavement of Indians, and Owens Valley farmers created a complex code to distinguish “good” Indians, Indians who agreed to live in the American way, from other Indians, who kept on living the Paiute way.

“The Basket Maker,” by Mary Austin, summarizes the way of life that ended for the first people in Owens Valley in a story about one woman:

“…The Paiutes had made their last stand at the border of the Bitter Lake (Owens Lake), battle-driven they died in its waters, and the land filled with cattle-men and adventurers for gold: this while Syavi and the boy lay up in the caverns of the Black Rock and ate tule roots and fresh-water clams that they dug out of the slough bottoms with their toes. In the interim, while the tribes swallowed their defeat, and before the rumor of war died out, they must have come very near to the bare core of things….”

The “bare core of things” underlies the transition in fiction in Inyo County to noir. The American occupiers’ avarice becomes soul sickness.

Inyo County’s landscape was the background for the death scene in Frank Norris’s McTeague (1899) and the silent film drawn from McTeague — Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1923) – is about a man’s loss of reality and spiritual balance.

In 1924, Austrian-born Jew Erich Von Stroheim spent two months shooting the Death Valley ending to his silent film Greed. (Co-written by June Mathis, the screenplay closely followed Frank Norris’s McTeague. Many of the cast and crew became ill from the heat.) Von Stroheim considered the film a contemporary Greek tragedy, in which environment and heredity controlled the characters’ fates. Greed (and McTeague) led to the dark films called Film Noir, generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1940s, and derives from the “hardboiled” school of crime fiction that emerged in the writing of Raymond Chandler, James M. Caine and Dashiell Hammett.

McTeague described a San Francisco couple’s descent (Zasu Pitts, who grew up in Santa Cruz after 1909, and who some of us are old enough to remember as the tittering aunt in the television series, My Little Margie TV series (1952-1955) and The Gale Storm Show (1956-1960), played the wife.) into poverty, violence and murder as the result of jealousy and greed.   The novel ends with McTeague’s nemesis finding him in Death Valley and their deaths there:

“Suddenly the men grappled, and in another instant were rolling and struggling upon the hot white ground. McTeague thrust Marcus backward until he tripped and fell over the body of the dead mule. The little bird cage broke from the saddle with the violence of their fall, and rolled out upon the ground, the flour-bags slipping from it. McTeague tore the revolver from Marcus’s grip and struck out with it blindly. Clouds of alkali dust, fine and pungent, enveloped the two fighting men, all but strangling them.

“McTeague did not know how he killed his enemy, but all at once Marcus grew still beneath his blows. Then there was a sudden last return of energy. McTeague’s right wrist was caught, something licked upon it, then the struggling body fell limp and motionless with a long breath.

“As McTeague rose to his feet, he felt a pull at his right wrist; something held it fast. Looking down, he saw that Marcus in that last struggle had found strength to handcuff their wrists together. Marcus was dead now; McTeague was locked to the body. All about him, vast interminable, stretched the measureless leagues of Death Valley.

“McTeague remained stupidly looking around him, now at the distant horizon, now at the ground, now at the half-dead canary chittering feebly in its little gilt prison.”

The film noir Out of the Past (1947) directed by Jacques Tourneur starred Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas and Rhonda Fleming. Noir author James M. Cain made unaccredited revisions to this story of a man who attempts to break with his past and start over in a small town in rural California. That small town is Bridgeport, in the eastern Sierra in Inyo County. Roger Ebert called Out of the Past “The greatest cigarette-smoking movie all time….There were guns in Out of the Past, but the real hostility came when Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoked at each other.”  Mitchum does not escape the destiny he helped create within a corrupt world, as Oedipus did not escape the destiny he helped to create in the Sophoclestragedy.

Roman Polanski’s neo-Noir/neo-hard-boiled detective Chinatown (1973) is not filmed in Inyo County. It is, however, a fictionalized version of William Mulholland’s work as Chief Engineer, a really evil (and fictional) portrait of Harrison Gray Otis, played by Echo Park’s John Huston, Anjelica Huston’s father – by the time of the film events long dead — and the plot to create a false drought. The California Water Wars — series of conflicts between farmers and ranchers in the Owens Valley and the City of Los Angeles over water rights.

Jack Nicholson plays the detective in the film. Nicholson was then in a romantic relationship with Anjelica Huston. Her grandfather was actor Walter Huston, who played Walter in the 1948 John Huston film The Treasure of Sierra Madre – also a film about greed and called a “neo-western) partly filmed in Inyo County. The lead actor was Humphrey Bogart.

Treasure closely follows a B. Traven novel, published in 1935.  Whoever B. Traven was – his identity is disputed — his characters are antiheroes, and the cause of their suffering is capitalism.

Karen Piper’s Left in the Dust also looks at American treatment of the Paiute people but continues the story from the time of the American squatters and farmers, through their conflict against the City of Los Angeles oligarchy’s vast engineering project that removed the Owen’s Valley’s water to take it to the San Fernando Valley and which further enrich landowners in the San Fernando Valley – who then obtained the annexation of the San Fernando Valley to Los Angeles and initiated the suburban sprawl of that valley.

Piper points out that real estate, commercial and manufacturing development in the San Fernando Valley contributed to the virtual destruction of the Los Angeles River, which had been the primary water source for the City.

At first, the overwatering of farmland in the San Fernando Valley ensured the tragic flood of 1938: the water seeped into the valley’s aquifer. The aquifer fed the river. The City’s solution was to encase the river in concrete, which means the water now flows more rapidly into the ocean. Street water overflow, factory and dry cleaners’ effluent, pesticides, and toxic chemicals contaminated well water. Treated sewage water flows into the river but sewage pipe leaks and leaking septic tanks continue to pollute the ground water.

During World War II, the Los Angeles Parks Commission intended to purchase a large parcel of Rancho Providencia land on the northeast side of Griffith Park to create a larger park. Forest Lawn Cemetery Company outbid the city for the property to get the City to get a conditional use permit to operate a cemetery. (Essick v City of Los Angeles (1950) 34 Cal.2d 614.)

According to Mike Eberts, Griffith Park, A Centennial History (1996), the public was concerned because they didn’t want dead bodies and embalming fluid to mingle with their drinking water. The city operated a large pond to catch rainwater runoff, and it was directly down the hill from the proposed cemetery. In 2012 the City allowed Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills near the head works reservoir to expand its burial grounds.

Piper points out that those who receive the least polluted river are those who live in the San Fernando Valley, Bel-Air, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills.

The City continued to expand its water draws, and the farmers dug wells until the groundwater was depleted. Without water, even the holdout ranchers abandoned their ranches and communities by 1929, including the town of Manzanar. .

Professor Piper remarks that the Polanski-directed neo-noir film Chinatown (1974) starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway did not show the environmental damage in the Owens Valley for political reasons. Screenwriter Robert Towne and director Polanski intended to call the film Water and Power. The City’s Department of Water and Power owns most of the Owens Valley and remains a formidable opponent to public awareness of this enormous act of environmental injustice.  The movie opens to a scene in October 1937. The LA Aqueduct was completed in 1913. In the film “Mulwray” (Mulholland) is determined not to allow a recurrence of the St. Francis Dam tragedy in 1926.  William Mulholland died in 1935, and no one murdered him.   It is true that Mulholland was a broken man after the dam burst and over 600 people drowned.

The substituted title “Chinatown” in the film means refers to old Chinatown, razed to build Union Station in the 1930s. If you walk out of Union Station on the western side, you can see the line showing the boundary of old Chinatown.

Its reputation for evil began in 1871, when a mob of five hundred white vigilantes killed nineteen Chinese men and boys Old Chinatown symbolized corrupt Los Angeles

According to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times from 1888:

“Chinatown has been left almost without police supervision, and it is more than probable that, unless the police squad in that detectable portion of the city is reinforced, an attempt will be made to reopen the tan shops (businesses run by various Chinese gangs).”

Films like The Heathen Chinese (1904) and Reuben in the Opium Joint (1905) portrayed Chinatown as a dangerous, seedy neighborhood.

At the nihilist end of the film Chinatown, Jake (Nicholson) attempts to rescue the Faye Dunaway character and her daughter and asks them to meet him at her butler’s home in Chinatown. Dunaway is shot. Jake hears, “Forget it Jake – it’s Chinatown.” The comment means no one can fight the very powerful and corrupt in Los Angeles. It is also a reference to the white mob lynching of 19 Chinese men and boys in the Massacre of 1871, and to Old Chinatown’s opium dens, gambling joints and sexual slavery. Piper contends the title of the film, and the reference to Chinatown was racist. Everything that actually happened was racially biased. The film, however, was not.

Manzanar – located between the towns of Lone Pine to the south and Independence to the north — is most widely known as the site of one of ten camps where the United State Army incarcerated over 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. Many of those people lost their homes and businesses. The years behind barbed wire had resulted in financial calamity for those people. They had to start over with nothing at the end of the war.

The federal government forcibly removed Jeanne Watatsuki Houston’s family from Terminal Island to Manzanar when she was eight years old.  The FBI arrested her father, a fisherman who owned two boats, following the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. She was the youngest of four boys and six girls. She and her family spent the next three years in the camp under the watch of armed guards, under the beam of searchlight towers. During that time, her father – of the Samurai class when he grew up in Japan — became an alcoholic. Because her father had no way to channel his aggression against the American government, he became violent towards his family members. Dust blows in through every crack and knothole through the unfinished barracks.

The other family members decided to make the best they could of their incarceration.

“Gardens had sprung up everywhere, in the firebreaks, between the rows of barracks—rock gardens, vegetable gardens, cactus and flower gardens. ….The soil around Manzanar is alluvial. With water siphoned off from the Los Angeles-bound aqueduct, a large farm was under cultivation just outside the camp providing the mess halls with lettuce, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, string beans, horseradish and cucumbers…”





Academic literature on California’s water includes Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (Paperback 1993), and Norris Hundley’s The Great Thirst (2001). Karen Piper’s The Price of Thirst (October 2014) treats global businesses with mafia-lie buyers that buy up the water supply and turn off the taps of people who cannot pay. In our own backyard, where corporations buy up water supplies, Piper reveals how “water banking” dries up California farms in favor of urban sprawl and private towns. Jenna Cavell, “Recovering Cultural Memory: Irrigation Systems of the Owens Valley Paiute.” Fall Writing Program UC Berkeley

(2011).http://americancultures.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/Cavelle.pdf. (Retrieved November 11, 2014) details literature on Paiute irrigation.

National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/manz/historyculture/owens-valley-paiute.html. (Retrieved November 12, 2014)

Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppprs.00423/?co=manz (retrieved October 8, 2014)

Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain

Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, “Thirsty for Justice.” http://www.ejcw.org/our_work/blueprint.html. (Retrieved November 1, 2014)

Jared Diamond, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Discover Magazine, May 1987. http://www.ditext.com/diamond/mistake.html (Retrieved November 18, 2014)

Peter X Feng, Editor, Screening Asian Americans (2002)

Jane Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar

Norris Hundley, Jr., The Great Thirst: Californians and Water a History (paperback 1998)

Roger D. McGrath , Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes

John Walton, Western Times and Water Wars

James McWilliams, “Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty,” March 7, 2014, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/meat-makes-the-planet-thirsty.html?_r=0. (Retrieved November 1, 2014)

William L. Kahrl, Water and Power: The Conflict Over Los Angeles Water Supply in the Owens Valley

Harry W. Lawton, Philip J. Wilke, Mary DeDecker, William M. Mason, “Agriculture Among the Paiute of Owens Valley,” The Journal of California Anthropology, 1976. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0595h88m. (Retrieved November 18, 2014)


Bill Mollison, Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements (with David Holmgren, Transworld Publishers, 1978)

Frank Norris, MacTeague (1899)

Pacific Institute, “Water and Environmental Justice” http://pacinst.org/issues/sustainable-water-management-local-to-global/water-and-environmental-justice/.

Karen Piper, Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert

Julian Steward, Ethnography of the Owens Valley Paiute (1933)

Phyl van Ammers, Echo Park-Silver Lake Patch (2012) “Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills to Expand Conditional Use Permit. http://patch.com/california/echopark/bp–patch-blog-forest-lawn-hollywood-hills-to-expand-6ec5eb6129.

Wilke and Lawton, Agriculture Among the Owens Valley Paiute



Greed (1924)

(Film clip of Death Valley scene shot on location: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/75788/Greed-Movie-Clip-Death-Valley.html)

Out of the Past



Mary Austin’s home, 253 Market Street in Independence

Death Valley National Park

Mono Lake

Los Angeles River Visitor Center

Manzanar National Historic Site

Lone Pine Film History Museum. http://www.lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org/.


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