Image courtesy of the Bancrof Library, UC Berkeley.

Image courtesy of the Bancrof Library, UC Berkeley.

In 1884, Harrison Gary Otis was looking for newspapermen to staff the Los Angeles Daily Times, the modest paper he edited in a very modest Los Angeles. The city’s first paved road – Main Street – had been laid down less than four years before. With only 12,000 residents, Los Angeles was the provincial seat of a rural county with hardly 34,000 residents.

But more would come, Otis was sure. The Southern Pacific railroad linked the city to the transcontinental rail network (but it wouldn’t be until the end of 1888 that trains arrived directly from the East). An “orange empire” in the county’s inland valleys had begun to boom. The whole nation wanted the golden promise of navel oranges from Los Angeles.

Civil War veterans suffering from PTSD and “lungers” – men and women suffering the urban scourge of tuberculosis – had a promise to redeem too: the promise of renewed health in the easeful sunshine of the valleys and foothills. The new rail connection from the East would bring them by the thousands.

Los Angeles, so favored by nature, Otis thought, was not destined to remain in the shadow of San Francisco, the center of industry, finance, and population in California. What Los Angeles needed was a storyteller, a weaver of tales, a poet really, to further Otis’ demand that the city deliver on its promise of wealth for those, like him, who intended to turn millions of vacant, dusty acres into farms, orchards, and house lots for millions of migrants. More