Meade County Colony in California
Reasons for the Migration
Some years ago I wrote a story with Peggy Greenwell about a Meade County migration to places in California. Interestingly several people have recently asked me about the Brandy industry, World War I, the migration, and the depression. While reacquainting myself with the subject, I discovered new and interesting things. Every now and then, when the stars align just so, divergent events converge in extraordinary ways. So it is with Meade County, Kentucky, California, International Workers of the World, the Mexican Government, an apple-blight, World War I, and the Great Depression. Over a forty year period, many Meade County people were displaced from their homes and migrated west. Some did so because of a lack of jobs, the Great Depression, illness, or the desire for a new start. Some returned with money they earned and resumed their place in Meade County society and some stayed in California. At least one returned in a coffin. Some may have been caught up in a war with Mexico about which few have ever heard.
I think everyone knows that at one time Meade County was known for its distilleries and for manufacturing brandy. We have Brandy Road and Apple Jack Road named for this production. Near Ekron, stands one of the last distilleries in the county to cease operation. Meade County was known for vast apple orchards from which the Apple Jack Brandy was distilled, and from whence it got its name. Sometime in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, blight descended on the apple trees and over a period of years they began dying. As the trees died it affected the job market and the farms. Without the apples, the farmers suffered from the loss of produce sales, the distilleries could not sustain themselves, combined together unemployment resulted, and the depression came early to Meade County. World events caused further unrest in all of America.
In 1905 a Marxist labor organization formed based on the philosophy of Karl Marx. It was originally named the International Workers of the World. Nicknamed the “Wobblies,” It originated in Chicago, Illinois and was a militant-anarchist-insurrectionist labor union formed by William “Big Bill” Haywood, and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. It shunned legal practices like arbitration, collective bargaining, and plant shut downs (legal strikes) legitimate labor Unions used. Instead it advocated the use of armed conflict and violent illegal, “wild cat” strikes. The Wobblies advocated the overthrow of capitalism in favor of an industrial democracy, during a period when Karl Marx advocated the armed Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The I.W.W. sponsored violent strikes in Leadville, Cripple Creek, and Telluride, Colorado, and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, as well as other eastern and western states. One of the I.W.W. leaders a Mr. Joe Hill was executed for a murder he committed in Utah. The Wobblies had organizers in the vicinity of San Diego, California, and vigilantes suspected of being supported by the sheriff opposed them there. In Georgia five of their number were tarred and feathered by black robed Klansmen. At the same time, Meade County residents were venturing west in search of prosperity in California.
Among those that moved west in 1908, were Houston and Eugen Pollock of Raymond, Kentucky. Busch Stiff also went west as did a number of Meade County men and boys and more from Union Star, Kentucky. Stiff died in California but his body was returned to Meade County, and he is buried in the Raymond Baptist Church Cemetery. The relatives of Austin Knott, and Garfield and Bony Johnson were three of the Meade County boys who went west to pick citrus of oranges and lemons in southern California. Lots of men moved west. Some went into mining and moved to Sacramento and San Francisco, California. Many found a haven in a suburb of San Diego, called Chula Vista.
Chula Vista is a Spanish name meaning “beautiful View.” The history of Chula Vista goes back thousands of years when it was inhabited by Native Americans, Yuman speaking Indians of the Kumeyaay, tribe. Descendants of these Indians live there today. Chula Vista was part of a large Spanish land grant called Rancho Del Ray. Later the Mexican Government named the land “Rancho Del la Nation, “The National Ranch,” when it formed its own government in 1831. The United States claimed California in 1850, after the Mexican War. Ownership changed in 1868, and in the 1880s several directors of the Santa Fe Railroad, and a Colonel William G. Dickerson, a professional town planner were brought to the area by Frank Kimball. The land was purchased for its real estate potential. These men wanted to attract new settlers, and to do so they distributed promotional material advertising across the country stating that 5,000 acres were being subdivided into five acre lots with avenues and streets 80 feet in width running each way. This tract, they wrote, “known as Chula Vista lies but a mile from the thriving place of National City. These five acre lots sold for $1,500.00 each in 1887, and by 1889 ten houses were under construction. It was to this area the Meade County migration headed. The migration was interrupted by World War I.
On April 6th, 1917 the United States declared war on the German Empire headed by Emperor Kaiser (the German word for Caesar) Wilhelm, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, while Czar (the Russian word for Caesar) Nicholas II, the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, was executed in the Russian Revolution. The first World War saw two things, with the death of Czar Nicholas II, and the exile of Kaiser Wilhelm it officially ended the ancient Roman Empire, and it saw the birth of communism. World War I ended at 11:00 O’clock, on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, and Meade County soldiers who contracted the dreaded Spanish Flu returned and spread the disease. Meade County people died from the epidemic as did those of other areas of the country. More people continued the move west. This movement was exacerbated by the “Great Depression.” People everywhere lost homes and farms, and the exodus of the homeless was aptly described by John Steinbeck in the prize-winning novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” The communist Bolshevik revolution in Russia, cemented the Marxist system there, encouraging many progressives to spread it to America like the epidemic disease it was. The I. W. W. Wobblies were one of those groups.
See Part II,
The Devil in the Garden of Eden, and the last Mexican War