Have you ever wondered where McLeod Lake, in downtown Stockton, got its name? I did. If you look at the Museum's earliest map of the Stockton area, which dates from the middle 1840s, you can see this very Scottish name right in the middle of what was then very Hispanic territory. How did this happen?
McLeod Lake, ca. 1900.
George Tinkham, the venerated early twentieth-century local historian, offers an explanation in his History of San Joaquin County (1923). He tells us that the lake got its name from a man named John McLeod. Tinkham also tells readers that McLeod was a trapper and a friend of Charles M. Weber, the founder of Stockton.
Historians Thomas Hinkley Thompson and Albert Augustus West give additional details. According to their History of San Joaquin County, California (1874), McLeod worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and in 1827 or 1828 led a trapping expedition from the Pacific Northwest into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. In addition, they claim that McLeod and his group camped on the south side of French Camp Slough during that visit.
What else do we know about McLeod?
For one thing, he may have been a notable Canadian. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography includes an entry for a fur trader named John McLeod who was born in 1795 in the parish of Lochs, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, and arrived in Montreal, Quebec, at the age of twenty-one with a six-year contract to work for the North West Company, a fur trapping enterprise. Soon afterward, North West merged with Hudson's Bay Company, which became McLeod's employer for the next three decades.
McLeod's responsibilities included clerking, overseeing the fur trade, and exploring in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, as well as the Northwest Territories. Over time, he gained the respect of coworkers and superiors. One report stated that McLeod had "steady habits of business and correct conduct" and described him as an "active well behaved Man of tolerable Education." It also found him proficient in the language of the Crees, with the ability to understand Chipewyan.
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, McLeod set sail from British Columbia in 1838 on the Cadboro, a Hudson's Bay schooner, on a mission to search for company trappers lost somewhere in the Sacramento Valley. He found them with the help of Mexican officials and Russians, who were based at Bodega Bay. While there, he paused to discuss the fur trade with Ivan Antonovich Kupeianov, the Russian American Company's chief manager in Northern California.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography sees the record going silent soon afterward. In 1842, McLeod retired at the age of forty-seven and apparently returned to Britain. The date and place of his death are unknown.
So did John McLeod visit this area at least twice? Or were there, perhaps, two Hudson's Bay trappers of the same name who traveled here two separate times? Nobody seems to know.
Whatever the case, whichever person McLeod Lake honors should be seen as one of San Joaquin County's many unsung action figures. It doesn't seem inappropriate to consider the lake named after him as a monument not only to certain kinds of small, wild, valuable furry creatures once found here in abundance, but also to the wave of trappers whose presence helped blaze the path for European settlement shortly before the Gold Rush.
A new exhibit titled "Wherever There's a Fight: A History of Civil Liberties in California" has opened at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum. The traveling exhibit, rich with narrative and photographs, animates the history of civil liberties focusing on the hidden stories of unsung heroes and heroines who stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, and economic hardship.
Biddy Mason (1818-1891) won freedom from slavery in landmark 1856 California legal case.
"Wherever There's a Fight" is part of California Council for the Humanities' thematic program, Searching for Democracy. The exhibit is based on the Heyday Books publication Wherever There's a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California, by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi (2009).
In both the book and the exhibit, four central themes are evident: civil liberties are essential for democracy; while civil liberties repeat over time, targeted groups change; civil liberties are in perpetual flux; and although the U.S. Constitution promises rights, every generation must fight for equality and justice to make them meaningful.
Thirteen interpretive panels of photographs and texts tell the stories of ordinary people capable of extraordinary acts, who fought violations of their civil liberties in California, reflecting the prejudices and political winds of the times.
These include Paul Robeson, who told the House Un-American Activities Committee, "You are the Un-Americans and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves." Anton Refregier's colorful murals, targeted for destruction by a 1953 Congressional inquisition but ultimately declared historically protected, depict true stories of Indians at the missions, anti-Chinese riots, and labor strikes. And in 1939, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned John Steinbeck's instant best-seller, Grapes of Wrath, though six hundred readers had already put it on reserve.
"Banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile," says Kern County's librarian Gretchen Knief. "Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading."
Support for "Wherever There's a Fight" is provided by the Cal Humanities (CCH), whose thematic initiative, Searching for Democracy, is designed to animate a public conversation on the meaning of democracy today through a series of local, regional, and statewide humanities-inspired activities.
Funding is also provided by Exhibit Envoy, which provides traveling exhibits and professional services to museums throughout California.
"Wherever There's a Fight" will be on display at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum through June 16, 2013.
My poor daughter. A lover of animals, she would often ask me as a child to make drawings of them for her. "Daddy," she would say, "draw me a cat." So I would grab my pencil and paper, sit down, and go to it. I don't remember her ever complaining, but her disappointment must have been great since everything I draw almost always ends up looking like either a dog or a truck.
I admire people with artistic talent, including my daughter, whose gifts have blossomed over the years. Another artist I admire is Ralph Yardley, a native Stocktonian who gained fame during the early years of the twentieth century as one of America's leading newspaper illustrators.
Title head for 1899 Stockton High School publication created by Ralph O. Yardley.
Back in 1987, Tod Ruhstaller, the chief executive officer of Stockton's Haggin Museum, put together a small, delightful book on Yardley titled Ralph O. Yardley: Stockton's Inkwell Artist Extraordinaire. The book starts with a brief biography of Yardley, who was born in 1878 to Stockton grocer John Yardley and his wife, Caroline. After graduation from local schools, Yardley junior moved to San Francisco, where he studied art at Hopkins Art Institute and Partington Art School.
Yardley started his professional career as an artist for the San Francisco Examiner. After a short stint with the San Francisco Chronicle, he moved to Hawaii and became staff artist for the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. In 1902, he returned to the mainland and for the next half-century worked for a number publications that included the San Francisco Chronicle, Bulletin, and Call; the New York Globe; Harper's Magazine; and Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. In 1922, the Stockton Record hired him as its resident artist. He stayed there for the next thirty years.
Yardley's portfolio included caricatures, special layouts, and editorial cartoons. I first learned about him through a series of cartoons he drew during the 1920s. He collectively titled them "Do You Remember?" Each installment depicted historic structures, sites, or events based on Yardley's memory and old photographs. So popular were the cartoons that they enjoyed a second run in the Stockton Record during the 1960s.
Two friends of the San Joaquin County Historical Museum were so taken with "Do You Remember?" that they faithfully cut out each daily installment, brought the cartoons together as collections, and gave them to the Museum for preservation. A collection of Yardley originals can also be found at the Haggin Museum.
All too often, we tend to exalt men and women who win battles, transform the land, or come up with inventions that help us control nature. Ralph Yardley is different. Yardley is one of many often-unsung heroes from the past who enriched the cultural life of his community through art. Stockton and San Joaquin County were better places then—and are better places now—because he lived here.
Visitors to the San Joaquin County Historical Museum can look forward to some of Yardley's art being incorporated into redesigned exhibits currently under development.
"The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day…." So begins "Casey at the Bat," the most famous poem in baseball history. It's the bottom of the ninth as the story begins, with two outs and two runners on base. Then "mighty Casey" steps up to the plate. Will he pull it off? Will the Mudville nine overcome the two-run lead of their opponents?
Not the Mudville nine: Members of the Woodbridge, California, baseball team, 1876.
Anyone who has read the poem knows the answer. But a burning question for the better part of a century has asked where Casey and his team were playing that day.
"Casey at the Bat" was written in 1888 by Ernest Lawrence Thayer under the pen name "Phin." A native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Thayer had recently graduated from Harvard University. Among other accomplishments, he had edited the Harvard Lampoon and struck up a friendship with William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate. In 1886, Hearst had hired him as a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner.
Thayer supposedly attended a number of baseball games in Stockton while working for Hearst. To many Stocktonians, his presence at the very least hints that the game took place here in San Joaquin County. Adding to the evidence are three players on the local team who shared names with counterparts in the poem and the unlikely coincidence that a game played in Stockton during the 1887 season featured someone similar to Casey and ended with the same score.
Besides, it's argued, Stockton in its early days was known as "Mudville."
Not everyone finds these arguments compelling. Across the Continent, in Holliston, Massachusetts, people see things differently, claiming their own town as the original Mudville. For evidence, they point to one of their neighborhoods known by that name since the 1850s, and they cite Irish names common to their baseball teams as well as the poem. In addition, they explain that Thayer's family not only kept a summer home just down the road in Mendon, but also owned a woolen mill about a mile away from Mudville.
So who's right? It's hard to tell. Thayer himself didn't really help matters with an assertion shortly before his death that "Casey at the Bat" had no basis in reality.
A couple weeks ago, a student in Massachusetts (yes, that Massachusetts!) sent me an e-mail. She wanted the final word: Was it Stockton or Holliston? Was she taunting me? In any case, what could I say? Call me a traitor if you will, but I ended up sharing both sides of the story. Then I admitted that I didn't know the answer.
I still don't know. But, really, how important is the location? Actually, I think it matters a lot, but not simply as a matter of local pride. To me, the argument over Mudville represents part of an important yearly ritual, one that awakens Americans each spring from a dreary winter and leads them to diamonds throughout the land in search of friendly rivalry and treasured memories.
In the end, perhaps "Casey at the Bat" tells us more about ourselves—wherever we live—than we've bothered to admit.
The author wishes to thank William Maxwell, archives manager at the Bank of Stockton, for his insights into local baseball and the poem "Casey at the Bat."
Things that grandchildren of docents from the San Joaquin County Historical Museum—and other youngsters—will not do, recognize, or understand.
dialing a phone
a busy signal
a collect call
Lillian Gish, Clara Bow, Fatty Arbuckle, Jean Harlow, etc., etc., etc.
Buckwheat and Stymie
Spanky really spanked
Laurel and Hardy
Martin and Lewis
movie and popcorn under a dollar
Saturday afternoon double feature with a cartoon and western serial
climbing from the back to the front seat of the car to sit between your mom and dad
lying down on the backseat of the car for a nap
lying down on the high shelf between the back seat and the rear window
getting your windshield washed and oil checked when you get gas
Ramblers, DeSotos, Studebakers, Packards, Nashes, Plymouths, Hudsons, MGTD’s
white wall tires
driving with your right arm around your girlfriend
drive-ins and “mushy roomy rooms”
black and white TV
Jimmy Durante, Mrs. Calabash
TV test patterns
Walt Disney smoking on TV
EVERYBODY smoking on TV
Heckle and Jeckle
Beanie and Cecil
Kukla, Fran, and Ollie
The Cisco Kid (Oooooh, Seees-co. Oooh Pancho…)
Reginald Van Gleason III
One of these days Alice, POW! Right in the kisser! Or, BANG ZOOM straight to the moon!
Why? Because we LIKE you.
walking to school
writing letters to friends
writing with a fountain pen
the ink well hole in your desk
smoking in restaurants
Fuller Brush Man
McCarthy and House Un-American Activities Committee
Soviet Union, USSR
J. Edgar Hoover
every president between FDR and Clinton except Kennedy
The Korean War
the new 45 by your favorite singer
high school girls in dresses
girdles, snaps, and stockings
no shower in your house
Little Lulu and Tubby
Mutt and Jeff
Archie and Mehitabel
black dialect in kids’ books, especially “gwine”
Little Black Sambo
Bre’r Fox, Bre’r Rabbit, Bre’r Bear
taking pop bottles back to the store for 2 cents
all stores closed on Sundays
moms always wearing aprons
ALWAYS calling every adult “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
no fresh vegetables in winter (in the East/Midwest)
the sound of “Ka-CHING” on the carriage return on a manual typewriter
reel-to-reel tape recorder
the smell of burning leaves
having a shelf of encyclopedias in your house
Pecos Bill smoking
Onward Christian Soldiers
Some people who read this list will think of additions, as many Museum docents already have. Please feel free to send me more entries at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will continue to expand the list.
Russ Livingston is a retired K-8 principal and a docent at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum.
In an earlier blog, I addressed San Joaquin County's lesser-known Chinese-American "potato king," Chin Lung (January 25, 2012). Here's the story of the County's nationally known "potato king," Japanese-American George Shima.
Japanese immigrant Ushijima Seikichi, later known as George Shima, arrived in San Joaquin County in 1889 and worked his way from migrant laborer to farmer in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Shima's innovative farming techniques produced top-quality potatoes, which brought a premium price on the market. The soft peat soil was ideal for growing smooth-skinned, high-quality potatoes, and Shima perfected the sub-irrigation of the crop using narrow trenches, or "spud ditches," every thirty rows of potato plants.
Shima was a moderately successful potato farmer in the early 1900s, when he struck up an important friendship with Lee Allen Phillips, a Los Angeles attorney, financier, and Delta reclamation agent.
He and Lee Phillips…had a lot of confidence in each other. Phillips recognized Shima as the producer, the man who could grow things. Shima saw in Phillips the man who made the big deals in land, who got the backing.… [They] had a unique arrangement. Just two men, in mutual confidence, risking hundreds of thousands of dollars on the other fellow's honesty and reliability—Phillips, the dreamer, and Shima, the man who made a lot of dreams come true. (J. C. McCarthy, former superintendent of operations for Lee Phillips, Stockton Record.)
Phillips would purchase Delta land, arrange for construction of levees to reclaim a tract or island, then lease the land to Shima, who moved in crews of Asian workers to clear the tules and plant an initial grain crop. After that initial crop, potatoes were planted. Shima leased as many as fourteen thousand acres from Phillips.
George Shima (seated), with lieutenants Konkie (left) and Ito (right), ca. 1920.
By 1906, Shima was growing more potatoes than any other farmer in the world. He became famous nationally when the Stockton Record published a widely reprinted story on "the potato king."
Shima had three riverboats built in Stockton to transport his potatoes to the San Francisco Bay Area for wholesale distribution. Shima's lavish yearly entertainments for bankers, produce merchants, and journalists became legendary. He, Lee Phillips, and other capitalists financed the construction of the Stockton Hotel, the luxury hotel that still stands in downtown Stockton.
Shima first purchased—rather than leased—Delta farmland in 1910: eight hundred acres just north of the potato farm of the Chinese "potato king" Chin Lung on what is now known as the Shima Tract. A year later he bought eight hundred acres on McDonald Island, west of Stockton. His success, visibility, and these land purchases apparently contributed to the statewide agitation for the Alien Land Law, which a couple years later forbid Japanese from purchasing land and severely restricted land leasing.
Shima was a major stockholder in California Delta Farms, formed in 1912 by Lee Phillips through the merger of six Delta land companies. California Delta Farms owned 37,400 acres of Delta farmland.
In the 1920s, Shima had to dismantle his "potato empire" due to the Alien Land Laws. Shima became a leader in the fight against these laws. He was president of the national Japanese Association of America from 1908 through 1925, the most important leader for Japanese in the United States.
Shima also left a legacy of supporting students attending the University of California and Stanford University. He is memorialized in San Joaquin County by the Shima Center at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton.
The San Joaquin County Historical Museum had an exhibit on George Shima before I became executive director six years ago. We still get frequent requests from Museum visitors for directions to that prior exhibit. I hope we can again tell the Shima story in an exhibit in the near future. If you have ideas, artifacts, or photos that might be included, please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Most Northern Californians probably know about a community in the San Francisco Bay Area named Vallejo. They may also be aware that its name honors General Mariano G. Vallejo, an early California landowner in the Sonoma area. What many people don't know is that a connection exists between Vallejo and San Joaquin County. In fact, the County can be seen as the setting for an event that was crucial for the course of his career.
Mariano G. Vallejo late in life (ca. 1880).
Vallejo was born in 1808 to a well-placed Mexican family from Monterey, California. The son of a soldier, he spent most of his early years in the Monterey Presidio and got much of his formal schooling directly from the governor of Alta California. In 1824, he enrolled in the Presidio as a cadet. Soon afterward, the governor promoted him to the rank of corporal. Five years later—at the tender age of twenty-one—Vallejo held the post of second lieutenant in the Mexican army.
In 1829, Vallejo was given the task of subduing a rebellion among native Californians. He had under his command a contingent of more than one hundred Mexican troops. Indians from throughout the San Joaquin Valley had gathered under the leadership of Chief Estanislao, taken up arms, and dug entrenchments in or near what is currently Caswell State Park. By the time Vallejo and his soldiers arrived, Estanislao and his allies had already driven back another force of Mexican soldiers.
Analyses of the ensuing conflict differ. Some historians see Vallejo and his troops routing the Indians and forcing the survivors to take refuge in Mission San Jose. Another perspective, expressed in a previous post on this blog (December 14, 2011), sees the Native Americans victorious. Whatever the case, the bloodshed and destruction were great, and the encounter did nothing to slow the momentum of Vallejo's rise to power. In fact, later developments suggest that he actually benefited.
In 1833, Vallejo was appointed commander of the San Francisco Presidio, founded the town of Sonoma, and was granted Rancho Petaluma. One year later, he received an appointment to the highest military command in Northern California, the directorship of Colonization of the Northern Frontier. Bestowal of this authority enabled him to begin construction of the Sonoma Presidio and to form an alliance with Chief Solano of the Suisunes tribe.
By the early 1840s, Vallejo had become a key player in California politics under Mexican rule. But his fortunes declined rapidly after U.S.-backed forces declared the Bear Flag Republic in 1846. Two years later, the discovery of gold on the American River triggered a human tsunami that diluted the power of leading Californios like him and forced them to expend fortunes in defense of their land titles. In 1890, at the time of his death, Vallejo's influence had shriveled and his once-vast landholdings had dwindled to one small two-hundred-acre ranch.
Nobody can say for certain what would have happened if Vallejo hadn't led his troops into battle against Estanislao. It's probably safe to assume that the history of California and its Native Americans would have differed somewhat. I can't help wondering also whether Vallejo's ascent to power would have been quite so steady or rapid without the afterglow of notoriety he seemed to gain as a result of that encounter.
It's hard to forget that Stockton is a seaport city, especially when towering oceangoing vessels regularly enter the port to load up with agricultural goods. But how many people currently remember the city's past as a major West Coast shipbuilding center? And how many can recall the influence that the U.S. Navy has had in San Joaquin County, most notably through Rough and Ready Island, and especially in times of war?
Built in Stockton: The U.S.S. Engage (MSO 433), sister ship of the U.S.S. Lucid.
The Stockton Historic Maritime Museum exists to perpetuate that history. The Museum came into existence as a nonprofit corporation in 2010. It has acquired the U.S.S. Lucid, a wooden-hull minesweeper originally launched in 1953, and has entered into collaboration with the San Joaquin County Office of Education to restore it. Students who work on the project as members of the County's Building Futures Academy can learn valuable marketplace skills. At the same time, they rediscover a crucial part of San Joaquin County's economic history.
Restoration of the U.S.S. Lucid is well underway. After completion, the ship will be towed to Stockton's waterfront, where members of the public will learn firsthand not only about the vessel, but also about Stockton's shipbuilding past.
The U.S.S. Lucid (MSO-458) is one of only 101 wooden-hull oceangoing minesweepers that the U.S. government had built and commissioned during the Cold War. The U.S. Navy chose wood as the building material for the hull to give the vessel better chances of escaping metal detecting mines. Construction of the ship required special materials and techniques. Although actually built in New Orleans, the U.S.S. Lucid is identical to three other wooden-hull minesweepers constructed in Stockton by Colberg Boat Works.
The Stockton Historic Maritime Museum invites monetary or in-kind donations, renovation sponsorships, and volunteer laborers. Additional information about the Museum and the U.S.S. Lucid can be found at the Museum's Web site. Earlier this year, an article on the program and the ship appeared in the Central Valley Business Journal.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that history surrounds us. Look closely, though, and you can see it in structures, bridges, roadways, rivers, and other objects. Each has a story to tell, sometimes reaching back hundreds or thousands of years.
Inside Stockton’s Fox California Theatre, 1932.
San Joaquin County is no exception. Many people don't know that the Stockton Cultural Heritage Board keeps track of historically significant landmarks, sites, districts, and structures within city limits. The Board's lists includes Saint Mary's Church, Hotel Stockton, Benjamin Holt's house, the Nippon Hospital, the Fox California Theatre, the Philomathean Clubhouse, Stockton's Sikh Temple, and many others.
Want to know more about the background of these and other historic resources? One of the most valuable resources is Wikipedia, which can be accessed here.
Other, private organizations have compiled lists of their own. These include Native Daughters of the Golden West, E. Clampus Vitus, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Stockton Cultural Heritage Board keeps tabs on historic resources within the city that these organizations have identified, as well.
The longest lists, which people also tend to overlook, are kept by the California Office of Historic Preservation, which administers State Landmarks, the California Register, and California Points of Interest. The Office of Historic Preservation also lists entries for the National Register of Historic Places, which the National Park Service administers. Designations by the state and national governments often overlap with those of the Stockton Cultural Heritage Board.
Items within San Joaquin County listed by the California Office of Historic Preservation and the National Register but not elsewhere include the Bank of Italy in Tracy, French Camp, the Lodi Arch, Stockton's Temple Israel Cemetery, the Temporary Detention Camp at the Japanese-American Stockton Assembly Center, and the Women's Club of Lodi.
The full list of historic resources in San Joaquin County already designated goes on and on. Links to government agencies on the local, state, and national levels that keep track of them can be found elsewhere on the Web site of the San Joaquin County Historical Society. However, other resources probably exist that have somehow escaped scrutiny. Chances are, at least some readers of this blog can identify them.
Here's a challenge: Pretend you have guests coming from outside San Joaquin County. To which historic resources would you direct them—besides those already identified by the Stockton Cultural Heritage Board, the California Office of Historic Preservation, and the National Register? And why would you recommend them?
Send your submissions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be happy to post them online.
Did you know that Charles M. Weber, the founder of Stockton, was interested in gardening? Did you know that the tradition goes way back in time and that many of the nation's founders shared that interest? On February 27, 2013, New York Times Best Seller List author, Andrea Wulf, will visit the University of the Pacific to discuss the relationship between horticulture and the Founders, as explored in her 2011 book, Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden.
Thomas Jefferson (1805).
Wulf's illustrated talk looks at the lives of the Founding Fathers and how their attitude toward plants, gardens, nature, and agriculture shaped the American nation. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison regarded themselves foremost as farmers and plantsmen. For them, gardening, agriculture, and botany were elemental passions, as deeply ingrained in their characters as their belief in liberty. In a unique retelling of the creation of America, the award-winning historian will show how plants, politics, and personalities intertwined during the early years of the nation.
Wulf was born in India, moved to Germany as a child, and currently lives in Britain. She has authored several books, among them, The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, which won the American Horticultural Society 2010 Book Award and was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008, the most prestigious non-fiction award in the United Kingdom. The Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation was published to acclaim in 2011 and made it to the New York Times Best Seller List.
Wulf has written for many newspapers, including The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. She is the Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2013 and a three-time fellow of the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
The event is sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa, the College of the Pacific, the John Muir Center for Environmental Studies, and the University of the Pacific Library. The presentation starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Library's Community Room, 3601 Pacific Avenue, in Stockton. A book signing will follow.