A Plain Statement

On April 28, 1883 a letter was published in the Canadian periodical
the British Whig titled “A Plain Statement.” The anonymous letter, signed
simply “Western Settler,” warned Canadians interested in settling in Southern
California to be wary of accounts of how prosperous the land is. He states that
water scarcity is a huge problem and that “the land is worth nothing without
water, and there is nothing more than two thirds enough for the lots sold” in
Etiwanda and Riverside. The writer states “This is not a paradise by any means.
Riverside is a beautiful place and the climate is unsurpassed by any other. It
is a fine place for a person with money seeking a pleasant home, apart from the
profits of agriculture.” He is concerned that new settlers, drawn by the good
things being said about Southern California, will come to the area seeking easy
investment opportunities. On the contrary, he states that many of the crops, including
orange trees, have failed during this season and that “the orchards will not
pay this year.” The letter concisely discourages anyone to settle in Riverside
and Etiwanda.

The Chaffey brothers were quick to respond. 1883 marked an
important year for the Chaffeys as they generated momentum for settlement in
the Inland Empire. Etiwanda, in particular was a key colony for the Chaffey
brothers, along with Ontario. Many of the letters sent during these years are
dedicated to encouraging and convincing people that Southern California is a
prosperous place to live and work. Their company, and in fact their lives,
depended on people purchasing land from them in places like Etiwanda and
Riverside. A letter like “A Plain Statement,” published in a widely read
publication like the British Whig could be extremely detrimental to the Chaffey

On May 15, 1883, less than a month after the letter was
published (remember, this is a time before email, when information moved
slower), William Henderson wrote a lengthy letter to the editor of the British
Whig regarding the letter. Immediately William Henderson calls out the
anonymity of the letter as evidence that the writer is “evidently ashamed of
his work.” William Henderson calls the claims basely false but that because of
the periodical’s “wide circulation and general good reputation” readers might
believe the statement uncritically.

William Henderson refutes the idea that people buying the
land are participating in risky speculation, stating that many people are
buying the land in small parcels for homes and farms, turning it into a proper
city. In fact, Etiwanda, one of the cities the “Western Settler” is most
critical of, has a school, a church, a store, and a hotel. This is especially
impressive given only a year ago the area had been completely undeveloped.

Next, William Henderson addresses the water scarcity topic
as well as the claim that crops are unsuccessful. He categorically refutes any
statement that says water is a problem in the Chaffey Brothers’ properties. He
writes, “The water rights of Ontario and Etiwanda are among the best in
Southern California. The amount of water given with the land is definite and
the supply is greater than that used in some of the most prosperous settlements
of this favored region.” He continues by stating that claims against the viability
of the crops planting in the region are failing. William Henderson refers to
several farms that have made money through the various fruit trees and crops.

William Henderson ends the letter undermining the validity
of the “Western Settler,” calling him a lazy and indolent instigator. He
presumes that the writer of “A Plain Statement” was an unwise investor that
settled in a different part of Southern California that experienced problems
and that now he is generalizing inappropriately. He reiterates that the
anonymous nature of the letter is suspicious, perhaps if the letter writer has
attributed his name, the “Western Settler” would be revealed to be an
unreliable source of information. William Henderson encourages the letter
writer to “back up his statements, let him come forward like a man, and face
the music instead of sneaking behind an assumed name.”

It’s no surprise that the Chaffey brothers would want to act
fast and aggressively towards anyone who is critical of their business plan. It
is interesting to read this publication and the following letters as history
unfolds page by page, letter by letter.




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