Water wars: ‘The Untold Story’

– 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.

ROB 33--Cowboys and cattle near Independence Area. On backsi

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.


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51 Responses to Water wars: ‘The Untold Story’

  1. Ken Warner July 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    I should read Walton’s “Water Wars” again and the book mentioned above would be an interesting read allso.

    But I recall from “Water Wars” that much of the Owens Valley water rights were sold to agents of the DWP who posed as agents for a Federal water reclamation project that would have turned the Owens Valley into productive agricultural area. That all happened before the 1920’s.

    Also the ranch where Crowley Lake is now was bought somewhere around 1910 by somebody closely tied into DWP. And that area really controls the watershed into the Owens Valley and when the Feds found that out, the Water Reclamation project was scrapped because there was no control of the water entering the Owens Valley and Owens River.

    But my memory is fuzzy and I probably don’t have this memory quite right. But it was before the 1920’s that the ultimate fate of the Owens Valley was set. As I recall.

    • J-Frog July 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

      1905’ish Eaton came to the valley with inside info from his buddy Lippencott and the Scheme began! Yes Scheme!

      • Ken Warner July 23, 2013 at 9:31 am #

        Yeah, those are the names I was trying to remember. Those guys were way ahead of the game. Sort of like Jobs and Wozniak — with guns on horses

  2. Pat Symons Rowbottom July 20, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    Brierley’s version is “the correct one” as I have always heard it from my ancestors.
    Willy Chalfant was slanted, baised and in cahoots with the Watterson Brothers as a newspaper editor. Flora Chalfant, his wife, was close friend of my grandmother’s and mother’s. She suffered much angst by his behavior and writings and I visited her home with my mother when young. She was also my sweet Sunday School teacher.

    • Bung July 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

      Nice contribution Pat, first hand accounts are great. I have a signed copy of Story of Inyo, I’ll use it to start my next campfire.
      PS, I love the subtle praise Caesar reference to news for cash.
      Kind Regards,
      Mr. Hole

  3. Big AL July 20, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Pat is right … I am not so closed minded as the one author says in regard to how this all played out. But I have heard the story about how locals had a hand in all of this ..

    Just look at the situation in Mammoth right now .. locals there (Elected officials), who are helping financial parties rape and pillage the town and everyone else. They are making some money off of it as well.


    People using their influence to milk people of their money, just like Chalfant did. Like the Brierley brothers, getting rich off of the backs of their neighbors.

    So yeah .. DWP was not the only villains in this story, they had accomplices who lived here. Make no mistake though .. this whole article doesn’t change a thing about what happened, and how DWP did what it did … it only makes light of the fact that there were local accomplices.

    Takes all kinds of folks … and some will sell you out for the money, some will kill you for it, some will just be your neighbor and look out for you.

    • War profiteering and corruption July 23, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      How right you are, Big Al. But the corruption doesn’t stop at the local level.

      Not long ago, the Vice President of the United States and his wife were major shareholders of defense contractors Halliburton and Lockheed-Martin. The next thing we know, the Secretary of Defense received a briefing that was so full of obvious lies about weapons of mass destruction exiting in Iraq, that he angrily threw the documents on the floor while exclaiming: “This is pure Bull-S***!” The President then directed an invasion, many lives were lost, no WMDs were ever found in Iraq, and the only people who made out on the deal were … guess who? … Lockheed Martin and Halliburton. And today our country has been bankrupted trying to pay for that slick bit of profiteering.

  4. Big AL July 20, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    ooops my mistake .. the Watterson brothers .. not the Brierly brothers.

  5. MJA July 20, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    The only person who can truly tell the past is the same person who can tell the future, and that’s no One. =

    • Big AL July 21, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      I get what you’re saying MJA .. but that is not entirely true.

    • Blutarsky July 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

      There was water here?

  6. Greg W July 22, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    The Wattersons were influenced by DWP to foreclose on numerous properties. The Summers family lost their ranch between Mammoth and Crowley in just this manner. Amazing how water can bring the worst out of people! But,………the Owens Valley would be another Palmdale if not for DWP buying 300,000 acres of it, and there’s the silver lining.

    • J-Frog July 23, 2013 at 8:27 am #

      Yeah it could be another Palmdale in one perspective but in my perspective it would be mostly reservation since the whole valley is culturally significant, But then again we must put the White America capitalism theme in play and their is too many desirable resource’s in the valley to leave it to the Indians…..
      To me it’s not a silver lining when you can’t use the land, but have to watch it deteriorate…

    • Mark July 23, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Palmdale? What you don’t like section 8 housing 😉 and the crime and hoodlums that come with it..

      The Antelope Valley Sheriff station has more calls per day then anywhere else in the County.

      So yes DWP makes a better neighbor

      • Wayne Deja July 23, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

        Mark…..Sad thing about it is seeing what that area (the Antelope Valley) has turned into over the years….I lived in Lancaster from 1963-1986,and then another 4 years in Rosamond. Back in the 60’s and 70’s,Lancaster was a great little town,lots of open space,and very little crime.When it started growing too much,I moved to Rosamond. By the time I left for Oregon,that area got to growing quickly too.Moved to the Owens Valley in 2000. I’ve been to Lancaster three times in my 13 years living here,and when I last went,in 2008,I got lost looking for my old house.Hard to believe how that area has grown,and definataly one of those cities now to where I ask myself “How can anyone live in a place like that?”….We are so darn fortunate to be living where we live up here….

        • Ken Warner July 25, 2013 at 9:00 am #

          Just about every place was nice in the (50’s) 60’s and 70;s. Even SoCal beach areas were nice and uncrowded.

          Then the World got over populated. There were those who warned against over population then just like people are warning against Global Warming. Some cared — most didn’t.

          And now this is what we got. The Owens Valley will eventually get like all those places people left to come here. It just will take a little longer because of the LADWP and the fierce winters, the lack of shopping etc. But it will happen.

          I hope it takes a while because moving to where there is still room and peace and quiet is getting more expensive by the day because that’s what a lot of people want.

          We had it in Mammoth 10 years ago and then the idiots sold it for a handful of beans.

          • Mark July 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

            “Just about every place was nice in the (50′s) 60′s and 70;s”.

            Before the invasion of illegals from South of the boarder

      • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 8:53 am #

        Yeah just think how it looked before all the European decease’s, Greed and yellow belly ways came over here from abroad. think about that Mark before you push it on the Mexicans…

  7. J-Frog July 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    Yeah Enough about the ranchers! What about the Paiutes, Shoshones and other eastern sierra/Inyo mountain Natives that had so much injustice to deal with, and places like Lone Pine Reservation don’t even have a perennial stream running through it like all the other reservations in the valley, I mean water is the driving force in most aspects in life, we have become so entitled to this convenient lifestyle, that nobody is really that mad about the fact we don’t even have the ability to sustain moisture in the soil we live on?
    But hey this is the free country right? and Natives do have Treatment as a state status and tribal sovereignty right?
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Resources.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Education.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Currency.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Internet.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Military.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR Justice.
    Yes! Only as long as the Government controls YOUR LAND!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Ken Warner July 23, 2013 at 9:40 am #

      Good words J-Frog.

    • Big AL July 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Right on Jerry ..

  8. ferdinand lopez July 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    what about the cavemen who were pushed out by the dinosoars,ill bet they miss theyre water,and if you dont think the eastern sierras cant turn into a section 8 paradise,think again,take a look at your neighbors

    • Wayne Deja July 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      ferdinand…..My neighbors are Hispanic……north and south of my house….and they are BY FAR the hardest working people I have EVER known……one family working 2 or 3 jobs 7 days a week….and the other,the guy is up 6 days a week at 5 A.M. to work a 12 hour shift at his job,outside, in the heat of summer and the cold of winter…..both good families and people I’m glad to know and happy to call them all friends of mine….The people in my town abusing the system and getting what they can for free-of-charge…..and not working.. are usually the people that talk like you are talking…..not the Hispanics,that’s for sure !!

      • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

        I see it that way also Wayne, some of the hardest working individuals I have came across were Hispanic as well.
        It’s funny how Ferdinand Lopez has the smell of a “Uncle Tom” doing his best to kiss up to the slave master for what little acceptance he may be granted..

      • hispanic voters July 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

        “Immigrant: Deport thyself.” Not exactly the kind of message you want to send when you’re courting Latino voters. Unsurprisingly, Romney backed away from the phrase shortly after taking it for a test spin in the GOP primary, but it reappeared during the presidential debates. Romney won just 27 percent of the Latino vote, the lowest figure since Bob Dole’s campaign in 1996.

        Better find a way to appeal to this voting bloc, neocons – if the GOP ever wants to win any future elections.

        • Tom O. July 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

          No need to worry about the ‘neocon’s the fool in the white house is single handedly destroying the party he is affiliated with….I like to call his followers ‘Obots’.

  9. ferdinand lopez July 25, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    overpopulation…………why is it that illegals and people who cannot afford to take care of themselves,reproduce like friggin rabbits

    • Ken Warner July 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

      I think you would find the DVD “Idiocracy” entertaining.


    • Mark July 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

      Well the illegals are having more babies because they are taking over the country. The poor have babies because making babies and living off the system is easier then getting an education and finding a job.

      However when you have the poor and uneducated making more babies then the educated and those that can afford it the World is digressing socially and economically. It’s not really a bad thing humans are a plague on the environment the sooner we all die the better off the World will be.

      If the liberals were to die off first the rest of us might have a chance.

      • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 8:44 am #

        Why the Hate? Why don’t you check yourself Mark, I don’t think anybody’s perception of throwing another in a expendable category is the answer.
        You had it right the first time “humans are a plague on the environment the sooner we all die the better off the World will be.” and then you had to go and throw that divisive status quo stuff “If the liberals were to die off first the rest of us might have a chance.” that only puts yourself below any real positive approach, I mean if you really cared about anything that approach is usually counter productive to having any good outcome to anything anything other then yourself.
        I mean today’s Right Vs Left is so old already. we don’t have a democracy anymore so why can’t we stop acting like such sheep to the established powers, its a my team vs your team theme, PEOPLE NO LONGER VOTE ON PRINCIPLE, they vote on how the republicans or democrats think and than vote with them on every issue?? We no longer vote on Principle anymore, That’s a problem!

        • Poli-Sci 101 July 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

          It’s We vs Them today.
          The We’s says Them’s are communists.
          Them’s says We’s are fascists.
          The pundits have radio shows, write books and make zillions.
          And so it goes.

  10. Wayne Deja July 25, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Mark….But….But…..Your problem is it ain’t going to be the Liberals dying off soon….it’s going to be the angry,old Republicans and Tea-Partiers that will be the first to go…..and what that will do is make things better for the environment,immigration laws, gun laws,racial balance, the economy,and a whole slew of other things that will help to make the Country AND the World a happier…and a better place to be for the next generation.Don’t believe it?….watch FOX NEWS for a period of 12 straight hours and tell me any different.

    • Mark July 26, 2013 at 8:30 am #

      Our Country’s economy was at the top for the last century. I don’t care who you are when you’re at the top the only direction to go beside forward is down. I think the direction were going is down. Just look at unemployement, there’s more people on welfare in California than people working.

      It’s going to be another 45 years before all the old Republicans and Tea-Partiers die off. I think things will go to hell in a hand basket first.

      I’ll be in Lone Pine today. I’ll keep and eye out for you Wayne 😉

      • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

        Dergulation of wall St. and two unfunded wars Mark. Did you know the top 5 banks control over 50% of the GDP growth… Yes we are going down! Remember Occupy Wall st. movement? what side were you on? Yeah that’s why we are going down!

      • Big AL July 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

        I can understand the frustration … but I don’t think there are more people milking the system or unemployed than there are employed and taking acre of things.

        And as much of a problem we have with immigration issues, it’s not fare to slur all of these people because they are Hispanic. There are a lot of Hispanic people who are legal. And lot of them feel the way you do to Mark, that the illegals mess it for everyone .. and illegal is in exclusive to being hispanic.

        Good post there Jerry.

  11. ferdinand lopez July 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    yeah,i love mike judge

  12. ferdinand lopez July 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    well,my other post probably wont make it so ill try to tone it down,your right on the nose mark,kinda scairy to think whats gonna happen to this country when a bunch of people who dont care about anything but reproduction are the majority,take a look at the country they wrecked and left behind

    • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 8:50 am #

      Yeah and look at us now! we cant even come to a consensus of having any problems to even address them.. and how are you and me not part of the huge groups of people that are doing not enough to leave a better world after us?
      Whats gonna happen to the country? Look at what we are doing to the country Mr. Lopez!

    • Big AL July 26, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

      Way to be politically correct there ferd. Of course I hate being politically correct, I just prefer to not hate people because I think they happen to be a good scape goat for the problems we’re all facing. Love the narrow mindedness though.

    • Wayne Deja July 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

      Lopez…..Think it might be time for you to look in the mirror when you state what types of people will be the ones when someone “looks at the Country they wrecked and left behind”….

  13. ferdinand lopez July 26, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    deja….what a bone head you are,you live in fantasy land,your predictions for the future are ignorant and nothing but a pothead fairytale

    • J-Frog July 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Weren’t You kicked off the Island a long time ago?

  14. Badfinger July 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Waht ameriKKKa really needs is another goood OL CIVIL WAR… Kill Em All, Let GOD Sort Em Out… That’s the american way 🙂

  15. Badfinger July 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Then when We are finnished fighting for Freedom, we all can drink some whiskey and beer for our horses… hahahaha

  16. Wayne Deja July 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Lopez……Your gonna have to live with my “predictions”,cause it’s the way it’s gonna be for a long while….once the for-mentioned old,angry people are gone…..unless your one of them that’s gonna be gone.Your not just against illegal immigration…..your against anytype of immigration all-together….sitting back all angry and mad “your Country” is being “taken over”,and not a darn thing your complaining is gonna do about it.

  17. ferdinand lopez July 28, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    thank god for the right to bare arms

  18. Wayne Deja July 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Lopez…THAT is what’s scary….people that post like you,and then talk about the right to bare arms….What do you mean by that,if you refer to what you’ve been saying ?…gonna go down to Arizona with Sheriff Arpaio and guard the boarders ?….how does the “right to bare arms” feed into what you’ve been posting about illegal immigration,overpopulation,and section 8 housing ?….or is it just a way to try and say the Liberals are a coming,led by President Obama,to your neighborhood soon,knocking down doors to take everyone’s guns away from them ?

    • Roger July 29, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      attention Ferdinand and Wayne: The two comments above seem to be typical of many posters. Their lack of spelling ability is a reflection of general ignorance concerning whatever topic is being discussed. (It’s- bear not bare) (I’m also annoyed when there, their and they’re are not employed correctly.)

      • sugar magnolia July 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

        That’s funny…the right to bare arms…I for one have bare arms right now and I’ll fight for my right to keep them that way…at least until winter comes!!!

  19. Wayne Deja July 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    Roger…..What “annoys me” the most is when someone comes on and says how they are annoyed because someone happens to mis-spell a word,and then to call them ignorant for doing it…..which is also completely off-topic of WHATEVER is being said or discussed.This isn’t like some sites where you can edit a mistake after you submit it…I guess some of us “regular people” aren’t as perfect as you are…..

  20. Divided we fall July 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    … and the childish sniping goes on …


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