My grandfather was Ray Trussell, the third son of Davis and Sarah. He was born in Bashan Co., Ohio in 1862 while his father was operating the family sawmill along the Ohio River in Racine. In 1869, at the age of seven, Ray moved, along with the rest of his family, to Reserve, Kansas where they remained for another seven years. Then in 1876, the family moved to Nebraska. Finally, in
July 1881, at age nineteen, Ray moved to Sierra Madre with his parents when they settled there. Ray was a good student and after arriving in Southern California thought he might want to be a teacher, so he enrolled as a member of the first class to enter the
Los Angeles Normal School, at the time, one of two state teachers colleges. The Normal School system eventually evolved into today's California State University system.
Ray must have abandoned the teaching idea as the first graduating class of the Normal School was in 1884 and by late 1883, Ray was off to Jefferson City, MO., where his father owned 80 acres of land just across the Missouri River three miles west of
Holts Summit. On his father's behalf, Ray negotiated a contract with a local sawmill owner by the
name of James Irwin
and set about cutting, milling and selling the timber from the site. Ray apparently made a deal with his Dad whereby he would clear the land and sell the resulting timber before he sold the property itself. This way, the father got the proceeds from the sale of the land and the son got the proceeds from the sale of the timber, giving him a stake to start out his life as an independent person. It took Ray a little less than a year to clear the land, mill the lumber, sell it, and then to sell the land.
While visiting the area he made the acquaintance of May Rhodes of Jefferson City, MO., who was about fourteen years old at the time. The two of them carried on a correspondence and, five years later, Ray came back Missouri to marry her. A small card with the program of a play that May and Ray enjoyed together in early 1884 was found among May's personal effects when she died in 1965.
Real Estate Business in Otay
After Ray returned from his expeditions in Missouri, he entered the Real Estate business, setting up an office in
National City, CA. He called his business the Tia Juana and Otay Land Agency. We know little about the history of this business, but a photo of Ray in front of the establishment at its grand opening and a copy of his business letterhead still survive. It would appear that he established the business in early 1885, shortly after returning from Missouri probably using the proceeds from the Missouri enterprise to finance it. 1884 was one of the wettest years of record. So it's likely that Otay never looked like better farm country than it did that year. Ray probably had some success at first, as Southern California was in the midst of a land boom at that time. In fact about that time was the beginning of a land boom for San Diego County in particular, a boom which followed the arrival of the Santa Fe Rail Road which came to town in 1885. Land sold fast and prices rose until the early spring of 1888 when the boom collapsed, apparently leaving Ray with only his homestead in Otay.
In late 1888, May and Ray made the commitment to get married. On December 8, 1888, Ray went to Otay and mortgaged his Otay homestead for $450 and set out to for Missouri and get married. He first went to a Sanitarium in Battlecreek, MI to have an operation. It is as he leaves the Sanitarium that he begins the portion of his diary that is
available today. The operation he had and his reasons for choosing a Sanitarium in Battlecreek, MI. remain a mystery. Most likely relatives or friends were involved in his choice of a sanitarium so far from home. His daughter Rebecca
recalls that he had another, apparently related, operation around 1904/5 for reasons that were not clear to her. He had this first operation on Saturday, Dec 22, 1888, spent two weeks in recovery, and by
Sunday, January 8, 1889, he was on his way to visit his relatives in Reserve, KS and Verdon, NB. He arrived in Jefferson City, MO. on Thursday, January 26th and first went to visit friends, the Nichols, in Cedar City, friends he'd made during his visits to the area four and a half years before. On Tuesday, January 31st Ray and May were married in Jefferson City. Later in the day, Ray wrote about the event in his Diary Ray saying that he, "... felt solemn indeed."
That night the bride and groom caught the 1 a.m. train from Jefferson City to Kansas City and by 9:30 that morning they were heading to Southern California. It is most likely that the newlyweds traveled on excursion and that it took them four days to make the trip from Jefferson City to Los Angeles. In those days the train would have gone through Kansas City to Sacramento. The newly weds would then have taken a steamboat from Sacramento to the Oakland train station. One of the steamboats in the fleet at the time was the Delta Queen. This particular steamboat is now in service on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers where the reader can share an experience much like these newlyweds experienced 108 years ago.
At Oakland May and Ray would again board the train. They arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 5th, and spent a short while visiting Ray's parents in Sierra Madre. Chances are that they also spent some time visiting with his sister Winnie and her husband, Ed Jones as they lived just across the street in what would later be known as the Wisteria House. By Thursday, February 9th, they were back at Ray's ranch in Otay. That night the newlyweds were subjected to a "Chivari" by Ray's local friends in Otay. The Chivari was a custom where the bride and groom are kept awake by loud noises and celebrations outside their boudoir on the night of their honeymoon.
Life on the Otay Plateau
At this time, there were three Trussell brothers living in San Diego County. Date, who was living on the San Pasqual place his father had purchased from Mr. Kennedy
two years earlier
, Cal, who was living on a homestead he'd put together in Nestor, CA (just southwest of Otay near a small creek that flows into the Otay River) and Ray, living on his homestead on Otay Mesa, immediately south and
adjacent to the Otay River about two miles east of the current crossing of the Tiajuana Trolley.
Judging from the diary, it was a pretty hard life in Otay in those times. Light came from a coal oil lamp. There was no running water and the well often went dry, necessitating that May take the
demijohn over to the Brays next door and fetch the water for household chores. Ray was struggling to make a living from whatever he could raise on the land. Crops like potatoes, beans, peas, musk melons, water melons, sweet corn, cantaloupes and hay are often mentioned, but it would appear that the hay, potatoes, melons, and cantaloupes were the principle cash crops. Melons were probably the most successful crop. Ray would plant them in March/April and harvest them in the months of July, August and September. Potatoes were also successful for at time, selling for as much as $1.25 per hundred pounds in 1889 and 1890.
The principle entertainment for the young Trussells came from going elsewhere. Ray would go to downtown Otay almost daily and he and May regularly
visited Ray's brother Cal and his wife, Nellie, in Nestor. At the time when the Ray returned to the area with his new bride, Cal and Nellie had two children and were expecting a third. For a while May and Ray were active in a literary club that met in Otay. They also attended Sunday School regularly. The couple also enjoyed going out riding in their buggy to see the sites. Among those they found of greatest interest were the desert flowers and the beach at Coronado. The Coronado Hotel, a spectacular edifice even today, was brand new at that time, having been completed in February 1888. Surely it was the most spectacular man made structure in the County.
Occasionally the Ray went north to San Pasqual to visit Date on the San Pasqual Ranch. During these trips Ray and May met the Judsons.
The first mention of the Judsons in the diary concerns a race the Judsons held with Jack mules. At this time the Judson Family Patriarch John B. Judson, who brought his family to San Pasqual Valley
, was about 60 years old. His children were Elizabeth, age 23, Andrew, age 21, Fred, age 19, Newton, age 17 and Clara, age 15. Ray was about 27 and May was about 19 yrs. So the Trussells had much in common with the Judson children.
Going from Otay to San Pasqual was much more of a journey in those days than it is today. The trip usually took two days and Ray would camp overnight in
Bernardo, Poway or Linda Vista on his journey.
On one trip to the valley, Ray bought a cow and calf from the Judsons and a wagon load of apricots from Date and set out to sell the fruit in
New Town and take the cow and calf home to Otay. He left San Pasqual with his new purchases at about 4 p.m. on the first day and camped
a little. The next day he sold the apricots in San Diego, put the calf in the wagon and got home promptly. May named the Cow Cinderella. In fact, as one family cow was replace with another, several of them ended up with the name Cinderella.
The new family also received a number of visitors. Cal and his family visited pretty regularly ... returning the visits Ray and May made to them. Ray's sister Pink came to visit once and got so sick that Ray ultimately sent for his Dad in Sierra Madre. Ray's older sister, Winnie also came to visit shortly after Nellie gave birth to Helen
and when May and Ray had their first child, May's mother, Mary Rhodes, came all the way from Jefferson City to spend several weeks at the Trussell home in Otay.
The First Child, Mary
A couple of months after the Trussells were married, May found herself pregnant. By the middle of the summer it became clear that May's mother Mary Rhodes planned to come out and spend some time with the Trussells ... about the time May was to have her baby. Ray and May
decided that the little homesteader's shack they were currently living in wouldn't do for the new baby, and particularly for mother. So he set out to build a new house. Unfortunately he didn't have the sort of spare cash required to build a house so he sold 9 acres of his land for
$2,000 and used that money to finance the construction. For weeks the construction slowly progressed ... Ray doing the constructing. Ray hired two helpers, John and Eugene, and a houseboy for May. They moved into a tent, tore down the old house, cleared the land on the hill, put in
drain tiles, built a new corral, etc.
On September 10th, Ray's sister Winnie arrived to do what she could to help May around the house. May was now in her 8th month. When Mom arrived a few weeks later, on October 2nd, she found May, Ray, and Winnie, all living together in one tent. Apparently she took it in good humor. Shortly after Mother Rhodes arrived, Ray took the family goat, Gin in the tent to visit the family.
May writes, "... we all giggled ourselves almost sick". Humor wasn't always that light. Being 8 1/2 months pregnant and living in a tent did get on May's nerves, on Oct. 10th, she wrote," ...Ray worked on the house and I was sick and as mean as I could live."
Finally, on October 16th, Ray finished the new house. The next day, May wrote, "... there wasn't any 17th at all!" The project wasn't finished a moment too soon, just in time to move in. May had her first baby, Mary, on November 2nd. Doctors were a little different in those days. On Nov. 5th, not only did Dr. Woodward make a housecall, he brought his wife to see the new baby. Imagine a Doctor doing that today!
Ray's Good Business Sense
Right from the start Ray showed good business sense and an unusual level of energy. Early on when he visited his brothers Cal and Date, he arranged to haul their produce to the San Diego market. The diary shows Ray making several trips in the spring of 1889 to sell Date's apricots in New Town. He made similar trips with Cal's produce from Nestor. Ray's property was on the Otay Mesa above the Otay River. Perhaps Ray hoped, somehow, to get water from the River, but the mechanism for this did not appear while he and May lived there and the prospects for a dry farmer in San Diego County, an area where the average rainfall is about 12 inches per year, have never been very good, and Ray was no exception. At best it was a hard life operating a dry farm in Otay.
Hard Times, Cal and Date Move to Oregon
Meanwhile outside events were taking place that would make for big changes. Following the takeover of the California Southern Railroad route between Colton and San Diego by Santa Fe in 1885, a transcontinental route to San Diego was created. In a short time the population of the city doubled to 40,000 and a land boom resulted. Davis Trussell and his sons Cal, Date, and Ray had all apparently invested in the area about that time. But in the spring of 1888, the
boom had begun to go bust and by late 1889, the San Diego County economy was in serious trouble. By late 1888, Ray was left with only his homestead in Otay. In early 1889, Amos D. Trussell lost most of his money in the failure of the National City Bank. On March 1st, 1890, when the news of trouble at the bank came, Ray reports, "Went to S.D. to see about get ting money for Pa. Had poor success". About two months later, on April 25th, Ray's father came down from Sierra Madre himself and apparently he didn't have much success either. According to May Trussell, "Pa lost all his money in the Bank failure. He got about 25˘ on the dollar". Following that point, things must have gone downhill fairly quickly. By early July that year, May and Ray stopped writing in their diary for six months, a habit they seemed to adopt when times got particularly hard for them personally.
After that July 90 entry, neither Cal or Date are mentioned as living in the area. Sometime between July 90 and Jan 91, both Date and Cal left Southern California and moved to Roseburg, OR. Probably to escape the hard times in Southern California and make a new start in the North West. Perhaps also as an indirect result of their Dad's misfortune and reduction in resources. It's likely that, in Cal's case, trying to make a buck and support a family in Nestor had become too great a challenge. Perhaps his ranch, like the San Pasqual place, was actually owned by his father. In Date's case, his father may have announced he would have to sell the place, or at least collect rent on it and Date, not seeing a workable situation there, followed his older brother to Oregon. Perhaps Date was captured by Cal's vision of potential prosperity in the Northwest. It appears that it was Cal's vision of potential prosperity in San Diego County that had drawn so many Trussell resources to that area five or six years earlier.
In the minds of Cal and Date, the move to Oregon must have been successful. Both of them spent the rest of their lives in that area, and many of Ray's children had fond memories of going with their Dad to visit Uncle Cal and Uncle Date in Oregon. Cal had several children, but Date never married. Cal kept a ranch, but also entered a number of off beat enterprises. Franklin Trussell, Ray's son, recalled visiting Cal, who lived way out in the countryside and noted that Cal was trying to sell ice cream there at a roadside stand. Apparently Franklin thought the ice cream was of exceptionally good quality, but the idea of trying
to sell it by means of a roadside stand at such a remote location, didnt impress either Ray or his son as a good business strategy.
In early October 1890 Ray sold 9 acres of his place to F.M. Clark. Then he began to rent some better bottom land from his neighbors, the Tibbetts, and to grow crops there. This land had the advantage of access to the water in the river, when the river had water in it. For a while, it looked like Ray might be success-ful operating his Otay farm.
In particular he began to discover that he could grow red potatoes and sell them in San Diego at a pretty good price. In 1889 and 1890 Ray was quite successful with this crop. In May 1890 Ray was getting prices as high as $1.25 per hundred pounds for potatoes. Then another disaster occurred. This time Mother Nature stepped in and delivered another blow to the economy of the San Diego Area and to the Trussells as well.
The Tiajuana Flood of 1891
Normally it doesnt rain much in San Diego County and that was one of the problems a farmer had to face there. But in early 1891 all that changed, or at least temporarily. Although it doesn't rain much in San Diego, when it does rain, it sometimes pours. Such as it was in February 1891. Ray reports on the floods in the Tiajuana area near his home in his diary:
"Feb. 26, 1891 It clouded and in evening commenced to rain lightly. Sunday the storm increased in vi ol ence and kept getting worse until Monday noon when wind changed to west and rained but little afterward. Over two inches having fallen for the storm. Moon full Sunday morning. Tia Juana River higher than it has been for 40 years. The river ran over in to the Otay basin with such force as to tear all the railroad track out along the divide except where the water did not run along it. So much water run over that where the falls of six feet were there was no perceptible evidence of them, the water running smooth over them. Tia Juana City was entirely destroyed. Not a house left standing on its foundations (except one or two) or else covered with sand. Lower down considerable damage was done but not so much as at the City. Considerable stock was lost of one kind or another and two or three men lost their lives."
Ray may not have known of it at the time, but that flood was to have major consequences to the economy of San Diego County and to his personal welfare and that of his father as well. In the Temecula area, those floods washed out the tracks for the train that had been giving the San Diego farmer access to larger markets elsewhere. At the same time Santa Fe had moved its headquarters from National City to Los Angeles and built the surf line up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles. As a result Santa Fe decided not to replace the track destroyed in Temecula. Unfortunately for San Diego, for a lot of complicated reasons, it was a long time before the Surf line was integrated into the national railway system and rail service to the Eastern U.S. did not return to San Diego County until after 1900.
By July 1891, the same potatoes that had sold for $1.25 per hundred lbs a year earlier were priced at 35˘ /cwt! For a while, Ray took to eating some and storing the rest. Eventually potatoes recovered some, reaching a price about 40% below their price before the floods. By Sept. 5th 1990, Ray entered the following into his diary, "Been hauling potatoes and getting 75 cts per hun for them. They are considerable worse eaten".
To make matters worse, Mr. Clarke went bust under the additional economic pressure and in April 91 and he reported to Ray that he would have to stop making payments on the property he'd purchased the previous October.
As is often the case, one man's heartache is another's opportunity. If Ray's Dad did have plan, after his heavy losses in early 1890, to sell or lease the San Pasqual place, apparently those plans didn't come to fruition Perhaps the reason was a high asking price bred of high expectations generated during the boom period. Perhaps it was just a failing market, a market further aggravated by the flood. In any case Davis agrees to lease the property to Ray, who writes in his diary:
"17 Oct 91 - Arrived home from San Pasqual Tues. Where we went Sat. before. Everything there all right. Think I will take the place next year. R."
Ray and the Water Agitation
Perhaps Rays last significant act as a citizen of the Otay area is his involvement in the establishment of the Otay Irrigation District under the Wright Act. During November 1891, he makes the following reports:
"Nov. 1 A violent water agitation is going on now. For some weeks they have been trying to organize under the Wright Act. There is some 60,000 acres in proposed district. Business settled this afternoon, throwing out 15,000 acres. All kinds of prophecies are afloat concerning the outcome. Some claiming if it carries that immediate good times will follow. Others that everything will turn up on it's back and rot forthwith immediately if not sooner.
"Nov 7 Traded a great many lies about the water question.
"Nov 28 Gobs! What a time I have had hustling around about the water question. Election was held today. Carried 181 against 47. A week or ten days ago, they had us fairly beaten, but fight we must and fight we did and we scooped them right royally."