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Dirt (Part 2)

The Spaniards—a mixture of Spanish, Basque and Indians—were the first Europeans to settle here in the Santa Clara Valley. Captain Juan de Anza, a Basque, led what I believe is the greatest migration in local history. He left the garrison town of Tabac, in what is now southern Arizona, in the dead of winter 1775-76, with 241 men, women and children. They were to arrive in California with 242; one woman died during childbirth and two were born on the harrowing, three month, overland journey. Because water was so scarce in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts that the party had to cross, de Anza split the party into two divisions so that the limited waterholes would have a chance to recharge.

Why were the Spaniards in California? The answer is twofold. In 1496, Pope Alexander IV divided the world into two parts because of conflict between Spain and Portugal who were trying to get to the riches of China and the Orient. With dominion over the Philippines, Spanish galleons sailed from Manila loaded with silks, spices and treasures by the Great Circle Route, eventually coming down the west coast on the Humboldt Current to Acapulco. The goods were then transported across Mexico and shipped onward to Spain.

It was a dangerous journey. The sailors often suffered from scurvy, and pirates, like Sir Francis Drake, tried to intercept the galleons off the west coast. The Spanish administration proposed that the Manila galleons put in at California ports to restock with fresh vegetables, but usually the captains preferred to continue, being so close to their destination. Another threat was the Russians who came down from Alaska and established Fort Ross in northern California.

In order to reduce the threats, the Spanish colonized lower and central California. Catholic priests were sent to convert the local Indians, attempting to educate them to become Mexican citizens and eventually take ownership over the lands. Unfortunately, the task proved too difficult as the Indians had no concept of land “ownership” and didn’t want it.

Before the Spanish came, the Indians were living quite well on acorn mush, acorns being plentiful in the Llano de Robles, plain of the oaks. There were fish in the streams—salmon, trout and steelhead—and lots of small and large frogs and birds. The streams ran year round and the weather was mild, so the Indians didn’t need to build permanent shelters, like their counterparts in the northwest and southwest.

In order to put their plan for the Indians in place, the mission system was introduced by the Spanish, bringing the concepts of permanent settlement and agriculture to the Native Americans. Next week, I’ll tell how the dirt under our feet became the foundation of this new agricultural economy.

Dirt (Part I)

For the next few weeks, I am going to write about “dirt.” Not political dirt, not Hollywood dirt, just plain dirt—the kind we have underneath us, some of the best dirt in the world.

How did we get this dirt? Unfortunately, we are sitting on top of the intersection of two great tectonic plates: the North American Plate to the east and the Pacific Plate to the west. These masses are floating atop liquid magma and bump up against each other right where we live. Where they meet, they have developed faults due to the Pacific Plate moving northward faster than the North American Plate.

The Hayward fault, extending south along the east bay to Milpitas, is considered to be the most dangerous fault. On the other side of the bay of our valley lies the San Andreas Fault, extending from the Sea of Cortez, dividing the Baja Peninsula from mainland Mexico, and running through California to the north of us where it continues under the Pacific Ocean. It was the San Andreas Fault that gave us the great quake of 1906. In 1868, there was a major quake along the Hayward Fault. Andrew Hill, the famous local artist, lived through both and said he felt the Hayward quake was more severe.

Over the eons, these faults pushed up the mountain ranges bordering our valley: the Diablo (or Mt. Hamilton) Range to the east and the Santa Cruz Range to the west. Between the two, winter rains carried topsoil down the slopes and created our fertile valley, the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” A huge basin of fresh water, and aquifer, developed deep underground—water that would later irrigate our crops and quench our thirst.

The Indians first arrived about 12,000 years ago, settling in the lowlands where life was relatively easy and food plentiful. Because the climate was so mild, they never built permanent shelters like the Indians in the Northwest, Alaska and the Southwest. These local Indians had three major gods: Eagle, Coyote and Humming Bird. Mt. Umunhum was named by these Indians, and while we don’t pronounce the “h” in Umunhum, we should because the flutter of the bird’s wings is the same to us as it was to them.

The Indians had a legend that the Golden Gate was created by a great earthquake, and that before the quake, the Santa Clara Valley was submerged and part of San Francisco Bay, with the bay’s outlet at Moss Landing. This makes sense to me. Here in the south valley, Coyote Creek flows northward, while directly on the opposite side of the valley, near Morgan Hill, the Pajaro River flows south and then west to meet the Pacific Ocean near Watsonville. There, at Moss Landing, the river enters the Pacific at the undersea Monterey Canyon. This ancient canyon is as deep as the Sierras are high, nearly 9000 feet deep where it intersects a line running between the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. Those two streams, the Coyote and the Pajaro, carried the silt that made our valley’s rich soil.

Two Dogs Named Buck

I’d like to tell you about two dogs named “Buck.” The first one is widely known because he was the lead character in the famous book, “The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London.

The book, as you remember, featured Buck’s experiences in the famous gold rush in Alaska and the Yukon. Perhaps you didn’t realize that the book was written right here in Santa Clara on the grounds of what is now the Carmelite monastery. Then, it was the ranch of Judge Bond on the western end of Franklin Street. It was on the porch of the Jamison Brown house where the book was written and London describes the location in the text:

“Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley, Judge Miller’s place it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden around the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide, cool veranda that ran around its four sides.”

According to the book, “Buck was put aboard a freight train at College Park Station” (where Bellarmine is today).

London had gathered his background material for “The Call of the Wild” when he was in Alaska, particularly in the far-north frontier town of Nome. Nome was a real rough-and-ready gold rush town, and London was part of the rough-and-ready crowd. My neighbor, Neil Lockley, is the grandson of Fred Lockley. Fred and a partner were the men who started the first free mail delivery in Nome during the same gold rush. According to family legend, there was many a time that Fred Lockley pulled a drunken London out of a Nome bar and saved his life. Lockley and London remained friends during their lives.

The other Buck was another of my dog friends. He belonged to my son, Dave, who really loved dogs. How Dave acquired him I don’t remember, but Buck would come to work with him at the print shop, which really wasn’t a fitting place for a huge, 150-pound Grand Bernese Mountain dog. The Bernese Mountain dogs originally came to Switzerland with Hannibal and were later used by the Swiss for rescue.

Buck and I became great friends and I was detailed most days to take him to a friend’s enclosed yard where he could roam. When I transported Buck from the print shop to his running area on Lenzen Avenue, he would try to sit on my lap and supervise my driving. If I changed routes, he would become immediately upset until I got back to what he recognized as the correct and shortest route.

Buck later developed cancer and, as I wrote before, the only place to bury your dog is in your heart.

Man’s Best Friend

In my recent series on the 1906 earthquake, I related Ralph Rambo’s memories of the day. I especially liked the episode of how he adopted the Doyle School dog after discovering him shivering on the front stoop of the school. Calling the dog, he jumped into the buggy, driven by Ralph’s father, and the dog stayed with them until he died many years later.

I am reminded of my first dog, Teddy, a white, mixed-breed Alaskan Spitz. Teddy was given to me by Mrs. Hubble, my piano teacher, and he followed me home one day after a music lesson. I guess he followed me home because of the short cotton-rope leash around his neck! Arriving home, I was told to take him back, but my pleading, “Aw gee ma, can’t I keep him” finally prevailed, and my life-long love affair with dogs began. There have been many dogs in my life over the years, and I have loved them all.

Two I remember well belonged to John Steinbeck when he lived in the hills above Los Gatos in the late 1930s. It was during my senior year at Los Gatos High School where one of my favorite classes was journalism. Mrs. Mendenhall, a very proper Victorian-principled lady, gave each of our class members the assignment of acquiring an interview. Most of my classmates interviewed a local bank manager or insurance agent, but I set out for a bigger catch. Steinbeck had recently finished The Grapes of Wrath. As I approached his small home, two giant dogs escorted me to his front door. I was glad that I liked dogs and showed no fear, for if I had, I fear that I would have been dog meat (there will be a future column about my interview with Steinbeck).

Dogs that I would have liked to have known were the ones that accompanied Fr. Bernard Hubbard, the “Glacier Priest,” on his Alaskan explorations prior to World War II. His two favorites, Katamai and Mageik, were malamutes, and he so loved the dogs that he had them stuffed and mounted and they are currently stored in the archives of the University of Santa Clara.

My own dog is Traveler, a wonderful red golden retriever. His is a most friendly animal and my best companion. One of the sad things about a beloved dog is that their lifespan is so much shorter than ours, begging the question: where do you bury them? There is only one place to bury them and that is in your heart!

Credo Quia Absurdum

There has been considerable debate about the purpose of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus. Is it a men’s historical and drinking society, or is it a drinking and historical society? What does the name stand for? I can’t answer these questions and the name doesn’t translate into anything meaningful in English. The society’s roots—as a benevolent fraternal society—go deep into the gold rush history of California, when there was a real need for such things.

The important fraternal organizations at that time were the Masons, the Knights of Columbus and the Odd Fellows. If a miner was injured or died, and had no family locally, his family needed to be notified and, in the case of death, the remains buried. These organizations took care of these matters for their members.

If a miner couldn’t get into one of the main organizations, there was always E Clampus Vitus. Its motto, Credo Quia Absurdum, is generally understood as meaning “I believe it because it is absurd.” The organization’s aim was “to take care of the widows and orphans but particularly the widows.” As the need disappeared, so did the “Clampers.” But in 1933, Carl Wheat and a group of noted historians revived the organization that now has thousands of members—for once you are a member, you are always a member!

The modern-day Clampers have erected hundreds of historical plaques recognizing the history of the West. They also enjoy a good story. One of the stories that I like best concerns William Henry Eddy, an early Santa Clara County settler. Eddy was one of the heroes of the ill-fated Reed-Donner Party—he led the Forlorn Hope Party away from death and starvation in that horrible winter of 1846-7. When Eddy later died, he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.

In 1949, members of E Clampus Vitus, Yerba Buena Chapter #1, erected a circular bronze plaque on a sierra granite boulder at the cemetery to commemorate Eddy’s deeds. Early one morning, a Greyhound busload of Clampers left San Francisco bound for the San Jose Cemetery to view the monument. While aboard the bus, the members passed the bottle and San Francisco attorney Ed Hammer enjoyed more than his share.

At that time, the red-shirted men carried sidearms loaded with blanks. As the big bus approached San Jose, Hammer stood in the aisle demonstrating how fast he could quick-draw his pistol from its holster. The bus hit a pothole while Hammer was weaving in the aisle attempting to pull his gun, and it fired before it cleared the holster. The wadding of the blank grazed his thigh and calf causing Hammer to bleed profusely. Just as the bus arrived at the cemetery, Hammer passed out, either from the whiskey or loss of blood, and his companions decided that it was necessary to get him to the hospital. The bus driver refused as he said he had no authorization to change the route.

At the cemetery, the Clampers looked around and found a retired civil engineer, George Washington, who then lived in Capitola. Washington, a direct descendent of our first president, was recruited, against his will, to take Hammer to the San Jose hospital in his car. While George drove Hammer to the hospital, one of the Clampers telephoned and let them know that a gunshot-wounded man would soon be arriving. As required, the hospital notified the police of the gunshot victim and they arrived at about the same time as George and Hammer. As Hammer was wheeled into Emergency, the police interviewed George, wanting to know the details. They first asked George what happened, and he answered, truthfully, that he didn’t know. Then the officer asked George his name, to which he said “George Washington.” Incredulously, the officer said, “Yea and I’m Abraham Lincoln. Now let’s start over.” George was taken to the police station where he eventually proved his identity and the fact that he knew nothing of the whole affair. Hammer’s wound was superficial and, now sober, he was released.

The plaque to William Eddy, leader of the Forlorn Hope Party, was officially dedicated in May 1949 and may be seen today at Oak Hill Park in the Pioneer section.