By R. A. Thompson
Following is an article from
the “Out West: A Magazine of The Old Pacific and the
(Please note: The following article was contributed
by Mary Garatti and transcribed
Yolo County is seventy-two miles northeasterly from San Francisco. It is eighteen miles from Sacramento, the State capital. It is bounded on the east by the Sacramento River, on the north by Colusa, on the west by the coast range, and on the south by Solano county. It is fifty miles from San Pablo Bay, with no intervening hill or mountain, and is sixty miles from the Pacific ocean. It has a 650,880 acres of land, of which four-fifths is level land. Its assessed wealth is $16,000,000; it has no debt, and its tax-rate is the lowest in the State. Its foothills, which merge into the coast range, are mainly used for grazing. It has a number of valleys running into the mountains, of which Capay Valley, the outlet of Clear Lake, is the largest and most important. It has forty thousand acres of tule land lying along the Sacramento River, which affords rich and succulent pasture for stock during the rainless months of summer and fall. Its principal streams are Cache and Putah creeks, which rise in the coast range and flow across the plain into the tule basin on the Sacramento River. They have deposited over a great area along their course a rich sedimentary soil to the depth of from twenty to thirty feet, with no hard-pan or other break between the water-bearing gravel on which it rests and the surface soil. When first cultivated, in favorable seasons, it would produce from sixty to eighty bushels of wheat, or a hundredfold of barley to the acre, without irrigation. A strip of this grand soil extends from Blacks station to Winters, twenty miles in length by eight miles in width, including Woodland and its surroundings, and there are other areas of greater or less extent around Knights Landing, Winters, Esparto, Blacks Station, Yolo, along the Sacramento River, and the entire length of Capay Valley for twenty miles on both sides of Cache Creek. There are in all four hundred and fifty thousand acres of level land in one body in Yolo, which will average with the best river bottom lands in the State, or elsewhere in the same zone in the world.
Woodland, the county seat of Yolo, is situated on the Cache Creek delta, in the center of the county. Some of the orchards and farms near the town are irrigated by the Moore ditch system, which covers about fifteen thousand acres, and presents a scene of astonishing fertility. A lot in the town left to itself for a few years can be compared only to a tropical jungle of trees, vines and flowers. The site of the city was originally covered with groves of white-oak trees. Their long drooping branches swept the tassels of the wild oats which grew beneath, and gave an indescribable charm to the landscape. They were surpassed in height only by the redwoods of the coast forest. Few of these noble trees remain, but the memory of their vanished splendor in the name of “Woodland,’ bestowed upon the city by Mrs. J. S. FREEMAN, the wife of its founder.
So much advertising matter is afloat on the tide of promotion now flooding the Sacramento Valley that it is especially desired in this account of Yolo to keep within the limit of practical fact. It is difficult, however, to give the facts without apparent exaggeration. In the report of the Irrigation Investigation of Cache Creek, Professor J. M. WILSON, of the State University (Washington Government Printing Office, 1901), enumerates the products of Yolo County as follows - Wheat, corn, alfalfa, all the fruits and vegetables of a subtropical climate, plums, pears, prunes, oranges, lemons, limes, figs, pomegranates, dates, grapes (table, wine and raisin), olives, almonds, English walnuts, and berries of all kinds. He says there are 80-acre tracts near Woodland on which all these products are grown, and adds that in a single block of the town most of these plants and vegetables may be found growing, and that there are fifty thousand acres in one body around Woodland of equal fertility, not including the Putah Creek delta, and land of the same quality north of the city. The official statement of Professor WILSON was drawing detail down to a fine point, and was tested with the following result: On a lot in the town of Woodland, 80 feet front, by a depth of 145 feet, one-seventh of an acre, the following trees, plants, vines and flowers were found in full bearing - Twelve naval oranges, one lemon, one cherry, three apple, two fig, two olive, two apricot, four almond, and two plum trees, fifty-eight grapevines (nine varieties), plots of dewberries, raspberries and loganberries, fifty varieties of rose bushes, a small vegetable garden of onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mint, sage, parsley, and beds of bulbous and other flowering plants. There is a seven-room cottage on the lot, with a small blue-grass lawn in front, and eight walnut trees along the sidewalk, grown from nuts planted in the spring of 1893. By actual measurement one of these trees has a circumference of three feet five inches a foot above the ground, a height of thirty-five feet, and a reach of from fifteen to eighteen feet on each side of the trunk. This place eight years ago was a vacant lot on the border of the town without a tree or shrub upon it. There are thousands of acres to which this scale of production could be applied with proportionate results, with irrigation and the same care in selection and cultivation. This modest home is surrounded by many more elegant residences, with a splendor of vegetation which cannot be described but may be imagined from the accompanying illustrations. This instance is cited only to show what a man of small means can do, in eight years, on an ordinary town lot in the city of Woodland. On an acre of land with the same care he could support a family.
A few examples of the yield of small tracts near Woodland, Winters, Esparto and Capay Valley are given, for the past season of 1901, in proof of fact that the yield of Mr. HURST’s lot was not exceptional. John WRIGHT received $6,412 for twenty acres of Sultana grapes; J. E. MARTIN of Esparto, received $2.114 for four acres of almonds; A. L. McCLOUD received $1,500 for three acres of mixed table grapes; Mrs. PEART received $1,332 from five acres of Zinfandel wine grapes, which produced seven tons to the acre; F. A. McFALL of Esparto, received $1,200 from five acres of almonds, second year of bearing; T. D. MORIN of Cache Creek, received $600 for oranges from two hundred trees; Byron JACKSON near Woodland, received from one hundred and sixty acres $35,662.30, a net profit of $16,152.70. Many other instances of the fruitfulness of Yolo delta lands could be given, but the above are sufficient.
In the wheat-producing era of the State, the largest returns per acre and the largest yield in proportion to area in cultivation were from Yolo County. It is now fast forging to the front as a fruit-producing county, and it only entered that field in the past few years. Edwin S. HOLMES, of the U. S. Agricultural Department, credits Yolo, with 1,114,300 bearing fruit trees, one-eighth of all in the State, and it is growing this year 250,000 acres of wheat, 60,000 acres of barley and oats, 30,000 acres of volunteer oat and wheat hay, and 40,000 acres of alfalfa. Some of these alfalfa fields are irrigated and some are not. There are five creameries and three skimming plants in the county. The yield of butter for the year 1901 was 667,935 pounds, of which 602,975 was creamery-made, and 64,960 pounds was by the dairy method. It has 20,000 acres in table grapes, 11,000 acres seedless Sultana raisin grapes, and 8,000 acres in wine grapes.
Raisin grapes yield from seven to ten tons to the acre. The late honored and skilled horticulturist, R. S. BLOWERS, made the first raisins ever produced in the United States, on his farm within two miles of Woodland. The Yolo Sultana raisins are bleached, and are plump and meaty. Ninety per cent of all the bleached raisins of the State are grown in Yolo. They are sold in advance to a New York firm, and are never seen in the markets of California. The same may be said of the Yolo table grapes, which are specially packed for the New York market and are superb in appearance and quality. They would be a surprise and a revelation to the average Californian.
Table grapes yield from eight to ten tons to the acre, and wine grapes from ten to twelve tons. Almonds yield two tons to the acre, and are worth from eight to twelve cents a pound according to quality. Apricots yield two tons of dried fruit to the acre. Peaches yield 4,500 pounds to the acre, worth $40 per ton.
Citrus fruits have not been much grown in Yolo for profit. The fruit from two hundred trees in Capay Valley, paid the owner last season six hundred dollars. Small plantings of orange and lemon trees from five to fifteen years old are in full bearing in all parts of the county, and it is a demonstrated fact that the rich sedimentary soil of Yolo will produce as fine oranges and lemons as ever ripened in the sunshine. A lady in Woodland, from two trees fifteen years old, gathered this season three thousand lemons, by actual county. Riverside orange orchards, in ten acre plots, which originally cost $2.50 an acre, now sell at from $1,500 to $2,000 an acre. The possibilities of citrus fruit culture in Yolo County may be measured by these figures.
The alfalfa fields of Yolo yield from seven to ten tons of hay to the acre, and green or dried it is the best feed known for dairy or stock cattle. A competent authority says: “Texas and Arizona cattle, or the thoroughbred stock from the eastern States or Europe, begin to improve when brought to Yolo, and in a short time you would not know them” - which he attributes to its warm nights and rich pastures. The Bullard Ramboulett merinos of Yolo County, a cross between the German Rambouletts and the Spanish merino, have a worldwide celebrity and are shipped to the Atlantic States, Asia and Australia. There are also herds of thoroughbred Devon, Durham, Jersey, Holstein, Hereford, and Brown Swiss cattle.
The endurance of the Mexican mustang horse under the severest tests, first drew attention to the value of the dry pastures of the State. The indigenous forage plants, some of great value, notably alfilerilla, burr and red-top clover, bunch grass and wild oats, are thoroughly cured standing as they grow. They tenaciously hold their seed, retaining the nutritive principle in both stalk and seed long after they are ripe and dry, and up to the fall of the first rain, when the succeeding crop starts its growth. Often in December, always in January and February, the pasturage is abundant before the preceding crop loses all its nutritive strength; in other words, the new forage crop overlaps and intermixes with the old. All kinds of stock will do well through the winter without shelter and other provision for their support. Such conditions could not be improved for raising horses. The foals have four months of sunshine, no winter, and green food when they most need it. With intelligent care in selection and breeding, it is not surprising that the California trotter and thoroughbred race horse soon rivaled his congener of the bluegrass region, and became a stake winter entered in the Eastern States and in Europe. In this hot field many Yolo horses became famous, and it now has some of the most advanced horse-breeding farms on the Pacific Coast, notably those of Edward Corrigan and the Fair estate, near Knights Landing, with the great English stallion St. Avonicus at the head of its breeding stud.
An effective irrigation system in Yolo would increase the yield and value of its lands tenfold, and its natural facilities for irrigation are nowhere equaled. Clear Lake, with an area of eighty square miles, and a catchment of over four hundred, lies in the coast range 1,325 feet above the Yolo plain. Cache Creek (its outlet) four miles from the lake enters a mountain gorge, through which it flows for twenty miles into Capay Valley. Its fall from the lake to the valley is 850 feet, down the valley it is 200 feet, and across the plain to the Yolo slough it is 150 feet. Fifty thousand horse power could be generated, and the water of the stream could then be used to irrigate all the land upon its borders. That a natural drainage channel from the coast range, which flanks the Sacramento Valley, should exist in Cache Creek is not strange, but that there should be a crosscut through an intervening mountain, connecting the outlet of Clear Lake with the independent catchment of Cache Creek proper, uniting two great drainage systems in one outlet, is a remarkable circumstance, which, in the vastly increased water supply it affords, seems to single out Yolo County as the chosen spot of the Sacramento Valley and the entire Pacific Coast. It can be made immune from the vicissitudes of rainfall, and but for the hindrance of the irrigation laws of the State would long ago have realized the possibilities of its wonderful soil and climate.
For many years the Yolo farmer struggled with wheat culture; he tried to meet the grain buyers and the sack combine with the gang plow, the patent harrow and the combined harvester - but to no avail. Wheat grew everywhere; the middleman reaped the profit; and the wheat farmer was at last forced to turn to the water which for all these years had been flowing unused through his wheat field. Cache Creek was well named; for hidden in its current were fruits, vines and flowers of every hue, alfalfa fields, fat cattle, sheep and hogs, gilt-edged butter, and all that gratifies the eye and taste of man. At last the people of Yolo are alive to the fact that there is wealth in wedding the water and the land. How to get the water on the land is now the important question? The first step in a new constructive policy for Yolo and the whole of North California would be the repeal of the present irrigation laws, and the establishment of a system of irrigation under State control, all vested riparian rights to be paid for by the State which is responsible for the laws under which they were acquired.
Woodland is situated in the center of the rich Cache Creek delta. It is less than one hour by rail from Sacramento and four hours form San Francisco. It is connected with all the leading trunk lines to the Eastern States and the Pacific Coast. It is on the main line of the California and Oregon railroad, which connects it with Puget Sound and British Columbia. Its name was a happy thought; for never was there a more beautiful woodland scene than its original site, or as it now appears, though its oaks have given way to the walnut, the palm, the orange, lemon, fig, pomegranate and other exotic trees, with here and there a towering eucalyptus. The rose, japonica, and other plants have replaced its wild flowers, but the homes of its people are still in a field of green and gold. It became the county seat of Yolo in 1862, and grew into a rich city as a wheat center in a few years, before the better use of its lands was appreciated. There was a fascination in wheat culture - a gang plow, a patent harrow, a combined harvester, and from forty to fifty bushels of wheat to the acre, and cash at the end of a short haul, as certain as a check on the Bank of Woodland - and then dolce far niente until the next harvest. Meanwhile a few observing men, had been experimenting in fruit culture and raisin-making, with great results - and there was irrigated Woodland pointing out, like the hands on the face of a clock or the finger on a guide-post, the straight road to prosperity. One experiment followed another, and at last the people of Yolo realized that their delta lands and climate combined made the richest fruit center in the United States.
The coming of the railroad in 1868 gave Woodland a new impetus. Its growth has since been rapid, and in proportion to its population it is said to be the richest city on the Pacific Coast. It has a progressive mayor and city council, an active and willing Board of Trade, which cooperates in all that will promote the welfare of the city. Its streets are wide and are kept clean. It owns its waterworks, and has an efficient fire department (partly paid and partly volunteer), a modern city hall built at a cost of $30,000, a free public library, churches of all denominations, a large high-school building, a number of grammar schools, a business college, and the Holy Rosary Academy with a large attendance. It has four banks, all of the highest financial standing - one with a paid-up capital of $1,000,000. It has many handsome business houses and blocks, three of which are of faced building stone from near-by quarries. Nearly all the schoolhouses of Yolo are surrounded by fruit and other ornamental trees. It has an exceptional cultured and law-abiding population, whose influence and example cannot be over-estimated in the healthful and visible moral coloring of its social life. It has a large fruit-packing plant, a cannery, two creameries, and a hundred-barrel-a-day flour-mill in course of building. Its residences are in keeping with the culture and means of its people; some are large and elegant with spacious and highly improved grounds, and others are small, neat and homelike. It has two daily newspapers which have been in the past and are now, in this era of promotion, among the greatest factors in the development of Yolo.
Winters, twenty miles southwest of Woodland, is the second largest town in the county. It dates its municipal existence from 1875. It is situated at the base of picturesque hills, and stands upon and is surrounded by Putah Creek delta-lands, of the same class as the soil around Woodland. It is noted for its early fruits and vegetables, all of which are shipped direct from the town to Eastern markets. Walter T. SWINGLE, in the Year Book of the U. S. Agricultural Department for 1890, says that Winters is one of the most productive fruit centers on the Pacific Coast, and mentions the fact that it has the most northerly date-palm in bearing in the world. The fruit matures fully and is delicious in flavor. No better evidence of the evenness and mildness of the climate of Yolo and the Sacramento Valley could be furnished. Mr. SWINGLE says, “the date will mature its fruit in the Sacramento Valley as far north as Redding.”
Further down Putah creek, about twelve miles southeasterly from Woodland, is the town of Davisville. It is upon the Putah Creek delta, and is a center of the largest almond production in the State. Yolo, the former county seat, is situated on Cache Creek, and near it is the largest almond orchard in the world. The Yolo olive oil factory is situated here, an enterprise of more than ordinary interest and importance. The olives are picked ripe and are immediately sun or kiln-dried; the moisture evaporates, the pit, a pulp and oils remains, the dried fruit having the appearance of a raisin. The proprietors claim to have invented the process of making oil from the dried olive, and that its advantages are the extension of the time for making oil over a year or even more if desired. The machinery in use extracts the pit and grinds the pulp in one process. The pulp is then subjected to a heavy pressure, and the expressed oil is filtered, runs into a large tank and is ready for bottling. Absolute cleanliness prevails throughout the process, and a fragrant odor pervades the filtering room. In drying, the olive loses half its weight but no oil. Forty dollars a ton is paid for green olives. A ton of the green fruit yields by the usual process thirty-five gallons of oil. A ton of dried olives yield from sixty-five to seventy gallons, so there is little or no loss of oil in the drying. The dried olive has an excellent flavor, and there is quite a demand for it, as an edible dried fruit. With some care in selecting the best varieties for drying, and with care in the process, it is possible that dried olives may become a popular food product.
Esparto, near the entrance to Capay Valley, is one of the most beautiful towns in the county. It is surrounded by fertile soil, largely devoted to the culture of almonds, Sultana grapes, prunes and alfalfa. It has a fine brick hotel, a high-school building, a creamery, and is a large shipping point for wheat and barley.
Madison is twelve miles due west of Woodland, and is surrounded by wheat and fruit lands of the highest fertility.
Washington is on the bank of the river just opposite the State capital, and will necessarily grow into a place of importance.
Blacks, and Dunnigans (sic) are railroad stations, and are centers of large wheat and fruit production and shipments.
Knights Landing is a shipping point on the river, and is the oldest town in Yolo County. It was one of the most noted points in the Sacramento Valley during and before the territorial era of California.
Don Luis de ARGUELLO led an expedition into the interior in 1822, and was the first Spaniard in Yolo County. In that journey he probably followed the edge of the slough northward to Knights Landing, the first available crossing he would encounter. The first American in Yolo County was Capt. Jedediah S. SMITH, the most resolute and daring as the first of all Western American pioneers. In 1826 he left the rendezvous of the fur company of SMITH, SUBLET and JACKSON, on Utah Lake, south of the great Salt Lake, and came with a trapping party to Los Angeles by way of the Colorado River, and from thence up the San Joaquin Valley to North California. He was the first American to explore the great San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, now on the threshold of their greatest development. Capt. SMITH wintered on the American River near Folsom, 1826-7, and from his camp the stream took its name of “El Rio del los Americanos” - American River.
SMITH intended to go on to the Columbia River by way of the Sacramento Valley, but when spring opened he was short of supplies. The Mexicans were hard to deal with, and he determined to return, with a small party, directly across the Sierra, to his rendezvous on Utah Lake, for reinforcement, leaving his main party to trap the neighboring streams in his absence. He carried out this daring scheme, and was the first civilized man to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He left his camp on the American river in the spring of 1827 with three men, and after a grim fight with the frost and snow of the mountains, and the heat, thirst and hundred of the desert, he reached his rendezvous, and almost immediately left on his return by way of the Colorado river to California. The naming of the river, after the SMITH party, the discovery of gold on the same stream near his camp twenty-one years after, and the crossing of the Southern Pacific railroad on or very near his trail over the mountains from the west eastward, form a chain of remarkable coincidences in the history of California. On his return SMITH was attacked at the crossing of the Colorado River by the natives, losing all of his supplies and most of his men. Escaping with his life, he made his way on foot across the desert to San Bernardino, which he reached in February, 1828, in a destitute condition. He was assisted by some American shipmasters in San Diego, and following up the San Joaquin valley for the second time rejoined his men, who had moved their camp to or near the Mission of San Jose in Alameda county, in worse condition than when he left them a year before. With the aid of Capt. Stephen COOPER in Monterey he partly outfitted his men, and went over to Fort Ross, the only workshop on the coast, where he procured traps, leather, horse shoes and other essentials for his journey to the Columbia, for which no disaster could turn him. Leaving Ross he came by way of Napa and the Putah Creek pass into the Sacramento Valley, and was the first American to set foot on the soil of Yolo County, from whence he proceeded on his journey to Oregon. There were brave men before and since the days of Agamemnon, and Jedediah S. SMITH was one of them - a type of the genius of his race - its forerunner, who literally blazed the track of the political and commercial conquest of California by his countrymen.
There is another historical incident connected with Knights Landing. On the 11th of June, 1846, Capt. Francisco ARCE, of the Mexican army, crossed the river at Knights Landing with a large band of horses from Sonoma for the use of his government in Monterey. KNIGHT’s wife was a Mexican woman, and ARCE told her, in strict confidence, that the horses were to be used to drive the Americans from the Sacramento valley. She told her husband, a hot-tempered, imperious man. He hurried over to the Marysville Buttes, where there was a party of Americans, who immediately organized under the command of Ezekiel MERRITT, and started in hot pursuit of ARCE. They caught him at the crossing of the Tuolumne River, captured the horses, released ARCE, and told him to tell CASTRO to come up for them himself. This was a casus belli, and had to be quickly followed up. With fourteen men MERRITT crossed the river at Knight’s Landings, stopped for supper at GORDON’s, crossed over that night from WOLFSKILL’s to Napa, increased his party to thirty-three men and at daybreak on June 14th captured the town of Sonoma, its garrison and commandant. By the 10th of July, in less than one month from the capture of ARCE, the American flag was floating over Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, Bodega, and Sutter’s Fort on the Sacramento, and CASTRO was engaged in firing paper bombshells from a camp at a safe distance south of Monterey.
Capay Valley, the most striking, the dominating topographical feature and factor in the future of Yolo County, remains to be mentioned. It is twenty miles long, with a varying width of from one to four miles. Most of its area is a rich, sandy loam, the best of all fruit and alfalfa land. It is shielded from the cold winds and frost, and is on this account peculiarly fitted for the growth of early fruit and vegetables. It is in the same belt as the celebrated Vacaville fruit district and is fully as productive. It lies between hills clothed with semi-tropical verdure. The valley was originally covered by groves of oak and other trees which have given place to grain fields, alternating with orchards, vineyards, citrus fruits, and olive groves - a sign along the water way from the Clear Lake reservoir of what would follow its general distribution on the plain below.
A somewhat widespread impression concerning the climate of Yolo accentuates the fact that California, with all its cosmopolitan population, can show as liberal a supply of narrow provincialism as most other places. Californians abroad boast of the State as a whole; at home they are apt to limit their pride to their own locality - in fact to know next to nothing of the rest of the State. Yolo County was mentioned in the hearing of a professional man in San Francisco, “Oh yes,” he said, “there is where the thermometer never goes below a hundred.” Another person who had the opportunity to know better said, “there’s where they can’t grow anything but wheat, ain’t it?” That Yolo is the richest and most productive county in the State, and has an admirable climate, emphasizes this ignorance.
The average summer temperature of Yolo is 77.7°; the average winter temperature is 48.3°; average mean 62.8°. It is on or near the line of contact of the coast winds with the heated air of the interior, and its climate is a blend of the two conditions. The effect of the sea breeze is felt in Woodland about three o’clock, and by nightfall the temperature ranges from 64 to 72 degrees, just cool and just warm enough for physical comfort. The coast winds reach Woodland in two ways, one direct from San Pablo Bay, but 50 miles away, and through the Putah Creek pass from Napa valley. It is stripped of its moisture but retains the freshness of the sea. This inversion, or blend, of the atmosphere continues every day through the summer, excepting only on those days when the north wind stands as a wall against the sea, and at such times it is hot on the Bay of San Francisco and all along the coast. The evenings in Woodland could not be surpassed; the thermometer stands about 70 degrees from nightfall until a late hour in the night.
Yolo County combines all the elements for the support of a large population. Its land is level and easily tilled. It has cheap rates by rail and river to San Francisco. It has hot spells in the summer, but no sunstroke nor heat exhaustion. The nights are always cool. It has lands ranging in price from $60 an acre upwards according to location and improvements. It has water for irrigation and land for sale in small lots. It is in the heart of the Sacramento Valley and in sight of the dome of the State Capitol.
J. A. FILCHER, Secretary of the State Board of Trade, and a high authority, says that Yolo is the richest county in soil and production on the Pacific Coast, or in the United States. Many of the facts given here are from his published reports and those of Professor J. M. WILSON, C. E., of the United States Irrigation Commission; E. S. HOLMES, of the U. S. Agricultural Department, and Walter S. SWINGLE, of U. S. Year Book of Agriculture.
List of photographs that accompany the above article:Cache Creek (pp. 120)
On Cache Creek (pp. 121)
A Woodland Home (pp. 122)
The Hall of Records, Woodland (pp. 122)
Sixteen-Year-Old Orange Trees in Woodland (pp. 123)
Fifteen-Year-Old Olive Trees Near Woodland (pp. 124)
Woodland Sweet Peas. (pp. 125)
Fig Trees Near Woodland (pp. 126)
Profitable Almond Trees. (pp. 126)
Scene on Moore Ditch. (pp. 127)
A Yolo Stock Farm. (pp. 128)
Some Woodland Homes. (pp. 129)
Street Scenes in Woodland. (pp. 130)
A Woodland Business Street. (pp. 131)
English Walnut (six years from the graft). (pp. 132)
On Moore Ditch. (pp. 134)
Seedless Sultana Grapes in Yolo County. (pp. 135)
Prunes in Yolo County. (pp. 135)
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