Meet the 5 of Swords
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Desperate to find a new water source for Los Angeles, Frederick Eaton recalled a camping trip in the Sierras where he "gazed down upon the Owens Lake and thought about all the freshwater flowing into it and going to “waste." Yes, Los Angeles was some 200 miles away, but it was all downhill. All one would have to do to move it to the city was dig some canals, lay some pipe and let gravity do the rest." In other words, Eaton realized an opportunity to sustain Los Angeles' growth and took matter into his own hands.
In 1906, the Board of Water Commissioners created the Bureau of Los Angeles Aqueduct. They appointed William Mulholland as chief engineer, who planned and developed the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Aqueduct brought plentiful water to Los Angeles, which supplied its explosive population growth. It also diverted the Owens River and its tributaries, taking water away from the Owens Valley, eventually disabling the farms and communities there.
During the time that Eaton was surveying the Owens Valley land for his personal water project, the federal government was also in the process of reclaiming land in that area for a large irrigation system in response to the newly signed Newlands Reclamation Act. Many local farmers willingly gave up their land to make this project possible. However, since Eaton was also buying thousands of acres of land at the same time, "it was a common but ill-founded assumption in the valley that Eaton was representing the Reclamation Service. Eaton did nothing to correct the inference that his activity in the valley was related to the government project." In addition to knowingly withholding information, Eaton used inside information from Joseph Lippincott, the regional engineer of the Reclamation Service, to help gain the water rights.
The underhanded process of Los Angeles gaining the water rights for Owens Valley angered many residents.By 1924, when Los Angeles had taken so much water from the valley that Owens Lake dried up, the farmers and ranchers rebelled. They turned to violence and dynamited the aqueduct's concrete canal.