Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as depicted in the Book of Revelation, are Conquest
(or Pestilence in some
interpretations), War, Famine and Death. Modern Americans haven’t seen much of
the first three for quite a while, and many might argue that the fourth biblical
horseman is not really apocalyptic – it’s just the natural order of things.
the biblical group, Santa Cruz (along with most of California) has its own Four Horsemen: fire, flood,
earthquake – and drought. It’s been awhile, but drought’s hoof-beats can be
clearly heard in this dry, sunny January of 2014. Oldsters like me remember the
drought motto of 1977: “If it’s yellow, it’s mellow – if it’s brown, flush it
down.” Those are words to live by, once again.
We can look
back, however, to a historically severe drought, lasting from 1862 to 1865, that
came to be known as the "Great Drought", and caused far more damage to our state than this one will. Why? – because none of
our statewide water storage and distribution system was in place at that time. When
the rains stopped in 1862, there were no reservoirs to store water, no deep
wells and no pipelines.
What made the
1862-65 drought even worse was that it followed several years of above-average
rainfall and one of the worst floods on record. The San
Lorenzo River overflowed its banks and flooded downtown Santa Cruz, which
led to the construction of our first flood-control project – Elihu Anthony’s “bulkhead”,
whose location is preserved in today’s Bulkhead Street.
the towns, the huge ranchos of
post-mission Mexican California were still home to huge herds of cattle, and
the plentiful rainfall encouraged the rancheros
to expand their herds. Many of them probably borrowed money to do so, gambling
on continued favorable weather to produce profitable beef, hide and tallow sales
those local rancheros was Joseph
Majors, fellow trapper of Isaac Graham, and one of the earliest Americans to
settle in our county. In 1862, Majors owned large tracts of ranch land on the North Coast, supporting sizable herds of
cattle. By 1867, however, most of the land and cattle were gone – victims of
A traveler in
California at the time, William H. Brewer, kept
a journal in which he recorded evidence of the disastrous effects of drought.
On his way up the Salinas Valley, he noted:
“The drought is terrible. In this fertile valley, there will not be over a quarter crop, and during the past four days’ ride we have seen dead cattle by the hundreds.”
In southern California, where rainfall is even more chancy, the disaster was worse. Many of the long-established landowners in the area were bankrupted, selling off land and cattle for pennies on the dollar. It was the end of the rancho era of Old California, as the huge open cattle ranges were broken up into smaller farmsteads or bought up by speculators for future subdivision.
Sources (available at SCPL):
- Pokriots, Marion D. The Joseph Majors Story (2005), p. 49
- Brewer, William H. Up and Down California in 1860-1864 : the journal of William H.
- Santa Cruz Public Library, online local history articles, photographs and newspaper article indexes.