Relocations recur throughout the history of Manzanar and the Owens Valley. The Paiute and early farmers, as well as Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes at different times and in different ways. +More...
American Indians began using the valley 10,000 years ago. About 1,500 years ago the Owens Valley Paiute established villages here. They hunted, fished, collected pine nuts, and diverted local streams to irrigate native plants. Miners and ranchers moved into the valley in the early 1860s and homesteaded Paiute lands. They raised cattle, sheep, fruit, wheat, and other crops. A conflict between Paiute and settlers over land use erupted. The U.S. Army was called in and forcibly relocated nearly 1,000 Owens Valley Paiute in 1863.
Many Paiute later returned to the Owens Valley and some worked on local ranches. The town of Manzanar, the Spanish word for “apple orchard,” developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Farmers grew apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, and alfalfa on several thousand acres surrounding the town.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began acquiring land and water rights in the valley in 1905. The department completed the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913. Land buyouts continued in the 1920s. By 1929 Los Angeles owned all of Manzanar’s land and water rights. These acquisitions forced some farmers to relocate out of the Owens Valley. Five years later the town was abandoned. A long era of settlement and agricultural production came to an end.
- Sam Newland, a Paiute describing his Owens Valley childhood, mid-1800s.
The Owens Valley Paiute relied on abundant water from snow-fed Sierra streams and a diversity of plants and animals for their subsistence. Living in settlements along the waterways, the Paiute created irrigation systems to enhance the growth of native plant foods. For more than 3000 years they hunted game, gathered piñon nuts, made baskets and pottery, and traded with other native groups beyond the mountains. +More...
In the 1860s, discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains attracted a flood of prospectors. Ranchers and farmers followed, often using Paiute irrigation systems and grasslands. A harsh winter and scarce food in 1861 - 1862 forced the Paiute and settlers into open conflict. The military intervened. In 1863, they forcibly removed 1,000 Paiute 175 miles away to Fort Tejon, in the mountains south of Bakersfield, California.
Many Paiute eventually left Fort Tejon and returned to the Owens Valley where they lived in camps near towns and farms. They integrated farm and domestic labor with traditional food gathering. By 1866, they were indispensable to the Owens Valley agricultural economy.
Nearly half the miners who came in search of riches in the 1860s were immigrants. They came from countries including Scotland, France, Mexico, and Chile. Pablo Flores, a Mexican miner, first discovered silver at Cerro Gordo in 1865. The area eventually produced over $13,000,000 in silver, lead, and zinc. Other newcomers, using the Homestead and Pre-emption Laws to settle on Paiute homelands, farmed and raised livestock to support the mining camps. +More...
After 1880, a decline in mining reduced demand for local farm products. With no adequate transportation to outside markets, the Owens Valley economy wilted. This changed when the narrow gauge Carson and Colorado Railroad was built on the east side of the valley. It provided an adequate, though expensive, means of shipping livestock and crops. By 1885 seven major canals provided Owens River water to valley farms.
John Shepherd homesteaded 160 acres near Manzanar in 1864. By the late 1880s, he owned 1,300 acres. He employed Paiute men and women as field workers and as laborers. They worked on a toll road to the Panamint and Darwin mines east of the Owens Valley, in what is today Death Valley National Park.
- Martha Mills, Manzanar resident from 1916 to 1929
In 1905 the city of Los Angeles announced plans to build a 230 mile-long aqueduct to supply their growing city with Owens Valley water. That year John Shepherd sold his Owens Valley ranch to George Chaffey, a prominent Southern California agricultural developer.
Over the next five years, Chaffey’s Owens Valley Improvement Company laid the groundwork for an agricultural subdivision, piping water from local creeks and planting thousands of fruit trees. Eventually 480 acres of apples, 40 acres of peaches, 30 acres of pears, 5 acres of prunes, and several acres of grapes grew at Manzanar. The company’s promotional brochures promised “Fortunes of Apples in Owens Valley.” Several dozen families moved to the area. The new town of Manzanar grew to include a general store, community hall, garage, and school.
During the 1920s the city of Los Angeles began buying additional water rights and property in the Owens Valley. Chaffey sold his Owens Valley Improvement Company interests to the city in 1924. Other farmers followed. Some leased their orchards back from the city while others moved away. The city of Los Angeles managed the Manzanar orchards until 1932. The town’s last two families left in 1934.
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