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Golden poppy became the official state flower

On March 2, 1903, by an act of the California legislature, the golden poppy was selected as the State Flower of California. The golden poppy (Latin name Eschscholtzia californica) was chosen because it grows wild throughout California and seemed to reflect the warm and sunny climate and spirit of the land, as well as the gold which had made the state so famous.

Several traditions and legends exist regarding the flower, the most famous of which is that a great cold destroyed all of the Indians in the land except one warrior and his wife. They wandered around in search of food and shelter until the Great Spirit answered their prayers by sending the golden poppy, or fire flower as it was known to the Indians, to drive away the evil spirit creating the cold and frost. Ever since, the legend goes, there has been warmth and plenty in the land.

The flower was discovered growing wild by Adelbert von Chamisso, a German naturalist on a Russian expedition to California in 1816. It was given its Latin name in honor of Johann Friederich Eschscholtz, a surgeon on the same voyage. A poppy preserve is maintained in Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County.

Salton Sea was created when the Colorado River overflowed an irrigation system and rushed into the Imperial Valley

In 1905, a formerly dry area became the Salton Sea when the Colorado River overflowed an irrigation system. The land, known until 1905 as the Salton Sink, was an ancient sandy lake bed. The Imperial Land Company planned the irrigation system to turn the Imperial Valley desert into farm land. The system worked at first but when the Colorado River was swollen with rain water, the irrigation canals overflowed. The sink was filled to a depth of 83 feet over a length of 45 miles. The flood was not stopped completely until February 10, 1907, after months of effort and with the aid of Southen Pacific Railroad work crews.

Once the flood damage was repaired, the Imperial Valley grew into a leading agricultural area. The Salton Sea, named for its salty water, remains to this day, about 30 miles long and between 8 and 14 miles wide, with no outlet to the ocean. It lies about 235 feet below sea level. The incident was portrayed in Harold Bell Wright’s popular novel, The Winning of Barbara Worth. By 1909, there were over a thousand miles of canals in the valley, and it was for a number of years the largest irrigation project in the United States. The valley became known as the “Winter Garden of the World” due to the large amount of barley, alfalfa, cantaloupes, melons, and other fruits grown here.

Much of San Francisco was destroyed by earthquake and fire

In 1906, San Francisco was almost entirely destroyed by earthquake and fire in one of the greatest disasters of modern American history. At 5:16 in the morning on April 18, a massive earthquake on the San Andreas Fault between Salinas in the south and Cape Mendocino in the north shook the entire city. Thousands of buildings were leveled in the quake as fissures opened throughout the city. Still worse, broken electrical lines started fires, while the water pipes to the fire hydrants also broke. This allowed fire to spread almost without resistance through most of the city. The fires burned for three days straight, and Nob Hill, Chinatown, and most of the northeastern part of the city lay in ruins. Only by dynamiting buildings was the rest of the city saved.

Over 500 city blocks were completely destroyed. Most of the city’s businesses, banks, churches, and markets were wrecked. At nearby Palo Alto many of Stanford University’s buildings collapsed. The devastation claimed the lives of 452 people. For the next several weeks, over 300,000 people were made homeless and had to live in army tents pitched in parks and vacant lots, living on army rations and relief donations. The city recovered quickly, creating new building codes and fire laws to help avert another such disaster. Within three years over 20,000 new buildings were constructed.

Construction began on Owens Valley aqueduct which brought water to Los Angeles

In 1908, construction began on an aqueduct to bring water from the Owens River in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains to Los Angeles. Although it was critical to resolve the water crisis which faced Los Angeles, this would prove to be one of the most controversial projects in the state’s history.

The project was ambitious, requiring $25 million to build 238 miles of aqueduct.  It provoked heavy criticism of City Chief Engineer William Mulholland from Owens Valley ranchers and farmers who lost their water supply or their homes. Sportsmen and naturalists also protested the project. The controversy reached to President Theodore Roosevelt, who sided with the citizens of Los Angeles. Even after this ruling, Owens Valley residents on three occasions armed themselves with dynamite and rifles and tried to prevent or sabotage the project. Still, the Owens Valley aqueduct provided much needed water to Los Angeles. Los Angeles’s reputation for looting water resources from other regions has persisted to the present day.


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