– Press release
Those looking for a villain during the time of the Owens Valley ‘water wars” should cast an eye toward the Watterson brothers, who used their Inyo County Bank to exert a heavy-handed influence on the residents of the county while they themselves were involved in unethical banking and financial dealings. And the bank’s collapse in 1927 did more damage to the county’s economy and its residents than the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The lingering perception that Los Angeles “stole” land and water from Owens Valley farmers and ranchers is, for the most part, incorrect, since the city paid a fair price, if not more, for all the land it purchased in the valley in the 1920s.
The Owens Valley, far from a verdant agricultural Eden, was a tough place to make a living from the land, and “many, many” of the county’s ranchers and farmers “were barely making a living. They had small places and were just getting by.”
Those are three significant points that challenge the conventional wisdom about the history of the Owens Valley and LADWP. Those first-hand observations are put forth in the book, “The Owens Valley Controversy and A.A. Brierly: The Untold Story.” Brierly was a well-known Bishop resident and public official who was on the front lines of the “water wars” of the 1920s, so much so that he carried a pistol. That was because he was among the many ranchers and farmers who sold both water rights and land to LADWP in that tumultuous era.
Rob Pearce, Ph.D., Brierly’s grandson, completed “Untold Stories” because, as he notes in the introduction, “I have become increasingly aware that these old timers told a much different story of the events around the turn of the century and what the region’s environment was like, than that which is currently being told by many individuals regarding DWP and the Owens Valley.”
Pearce will give a presentation and sign copies of “The Untold Story,” on Saturday, July 20, from 1-4 p.m. the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant St. in Independence. Light refreshments will be served.
The book puts a completely different perspective on what many have come to accept as the history of the Owens Valley and the LADWP in the 1920s. As Abraham Hoffman, author of “Vision or Villainy” wrote of the book, “(People) whose minds are made up and don’t want to be confused with alternative views of their ‘history’ would not like Pearce’s book, but more open-minded people would find its message worth pondering. It’s a small book that may be read in an evening, but it has a big message that comes from someone whose family credentials in Owens Valley cannot be denied.”
The book consists of a summary of the Owens Valley situation through the 1920s as told to Pearce by W.A. “Gus” Cashbaugh and A.A. Brierly. Then, there is an extensive, oral interview of Brierly, conducted by a graduate student in 1976.
Pearce adds his own perceptions and concerns about the valley in the introduction and a separate chapter. The story of the Brierly family is a compelling saga of a pioneering Inyo County family. A.A. Brierly worked in Inyo County as a school teacher, undersheriff, special deputy, superintendent of schools, probation officer, tax assessor and surveyor in a career that spanned 65 years, 1905-1970. He died in 1983 at age 98.