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A Los Angeles firm dealing in honey sent to eastern buyers one hundred cases of pure California honey with the compliments of the firm, all charges being pre-paid. The packages were attractive in design; the contents, in purity and flavor, unequaled.
By such enterprise the attention of those who are not so fortunate as to dwell in a land flowing with milk and honey are attracted to Southern California and its bounteous products.
The native Californian did not have honey, although he had the land on which every shrub, bush and week that grew blossomed in their season, floral tributes to the sun-kissed soil, in which nature stored the delicious nectar.
It was the "gringo" who saw the possibilities of garnering the sweet harvest. That sturdy old pioneer, Ira Hopper, about a half century ago brought the first tame bees into the state. Two hives, or colonies, was Mr. Hopper's importation. The bees thrived in this paradise of the little workers, and soon Mr. Hopper had an apiary of one hundred colonies — the increase of the original two stands — which he readily sold for one hundred dollars each. From this small beginning the business has increased in magnitude until the fame of it is almost world wide.
I recently met George Lechler, a pioneer, who has for the past twenty-three years devoted his time and energies to bee culture, giving to the business his best efforts; entering into it with the same spirit of earnestness that characterized his life in the pioneer days of Los Angeles; and he has been successful.
He is a native of Pennsylvania, and crossed the plains in 1858 with an ox team. He came to Los Angeles and there found employment as an express messenger with the Butterfield Overland Stage company, then running on the southern route. Mr. Lechler's run was from Los Angeles to Fort Yuma. He held that position until the stages were removed to the northern route.
Like all who come, and see, and are conquered, he loved the southland too well to leave it. Mr. Lechler had part in the pioneer history of Los Angeles that is of much interest, but has never been in print. I mention one incident, which occurred in 1861:
Many of our pioneers were in sympathy with the confederacy. The Los Angeles Grays — the citizens' military company — commanded by Captain Alexander, were about equally divided in sentiment; and so intense was the feeling that it was thought best to disband the company and store their arms — eighty stand — in the armory, which was on the second floor of the Stearns block, corner of Arcadia and Los Angeles streets.
It was at this crisis of affairs political that Sydney Johnson — he who afterward became the idol of the confederacy — resigned his commission and came to Los Angeles on his way to offer his services and life to his beloved state.
About this time Robert Carlyle of the Chino, and John Raynes of the Cucamonga ranchos were active in the interest of the confederacy, donating horses and money for a proposed cavalry company to be organized here and marched into Texas.
The federal authorities, as a precautionary measure, sent Major — afterward major-general — Hancock with a company of regulars from fort Tejon to Los Angeles. Their camp was on the then open field east fo Main between Third and Fourth streets.
Local southern sympathizers, encouraged by the activity of those wealthy ranchers in behalf of the confederacy, and the presence in their midst of Sydney Johnson and other prominent officers who had resigned their commissions in the United States army with the intention of offering their services to the confederacy, planned to seize the arms and munitions stored in the armory. Mr. Lechler, learning of their intention, informed Major Hancock, thinking that he would take possession without delay, and thereby keep the arms from falling into the hands of the enemy. Major Hancock, however, being a soldier, must be governed by orders. The arms were not government property and the major decided to report the matter to headquarters.
Mr. Lechler, knowing that immediate action was necessary, told Major Hancock that if he would permit the use of one of his mountain howitzers, he, Lechler, and four of his friends would guard the arms until the necessary orders to take possession should arrive.
To this request the major gave consent, and George Lechler, John Murat, N.A. Potter, John Goller and August Stormer had the howitzer placed at the head of the stairway leading to the armory. They then mounted guard, holding the fort until Major Hancock under orders removed the guns and munitions.
On the way from the armory to the camp some of the soldiers jestingly remarked that they bet the howitzer was not loaded. When they came opposite Third street they ran the gun up that street, fronting the hill through which the tunnel now is, and, to convince the jesters that it was loaded, Dave Anderson fired it off. The result was convincing. The howitzer was loaded.
There are two roads to Oak Park, the home of Mr. Lechler, one from Newhall station through Eastly canyon and over the foothills, the other from Piru city through Piru canyon. And either road you take, you will be glad you came, if you are a lover of the beautiful in nature — of nature exemplified in her contradictory moods, of stern grandeur exhibited in towering mountains, precipitous escarpments, innumerable hills, denies, gorges and narrow, sinuous canyons, and the milder mood of lower hills mantled in green, scarlet, gold and royal purple, bordering the fertile valleys through which flow the mountain streams of crystal water, giving life to groves of oak, sycamore and willow, and fertility to the soil of cultivated field and orchard. In such a valley is Oak Park.
If your aims are utilitarian and your quest is for information, that maybe of use to you in choice of occupation, or in selecting a home; then you will be glad you came, for here you will see how the hand of man has turned to best account the offerings of nature.
Mr. Lechler commenced business with one hundred and thirty stands of bees. The second year he lost all but thirty stands. He had not provided against a dry year, as that year proved to be. Not discouraged, he continued with more care, until his apiary numbered five hundred stands, producing in one season forty tons of extracted honey.
The highest price obtained for honey has been nine cents; the lowest four and one-half cents.
Mr. Lechler keeps a daily record of the work accomplished by his bees. To enable him to do this, a colony of average strength is hived on scales, and during the honey season the weight is taken every day. When the weather is favorable and the bloom is good a colony will garner six to nine pounds daily, and at times thirteen and fourteen pounds. This may continue fro days and even for weeks without intermission, when suddenly the workers succeed in laying by but a pound or less; and the bee-keeper would not know this fact but for his scales and would not be able to gauge the work of extraction so as to be sure that the end of the season would not find his bees robbed of honey necessary to carry them over.
Two dry seasons in succession sometimes occur, then care must be exercised to avoid loss. Mr. Lechler has made it a rule to hold over one ton or two of honey until he is sure of the season's production. Once he found it necessary to feed to his bees two tons of honey and a ton of sugar to carry them over a second dry year.
Notwithstanding occasional losses Mr. Lechler has found bee culture very profitable and an agreeable occupation.
When improvements now under way are completed Oak Park will be an ideal mountain home. The buildings are located on a plateau many acres in extent, on which there is a magnificent grove of mountain oak, sycamore and willow. A stream, fed by springs that rise in the hills a thousand feet to the rear and three hundred feet above the buildings runs through it. These springs flow from underneath a ledge of rocks that encircles the canyon and beneath the perennial shade of the ever-green oaks and sycamores. Surrounding them, a growth of ferns five to six feet high add their plumage-like foliage to the semi-tropic scene.
Mr. Lechler is now engaged in building a reservoir and laying a two-inch pipe to the buildings and orchard. This will afford facilities for irrigating all his valley lands.
Oak Park was known to the Indians as Aliso canyon. It was a favorite abiding place for the natives. The grove and water were attractions. The close proximity to the old San Feliciana gold mines was advantageous.
It was customary for the padres of the Santa Barbara mission, at times when visiting the settlement at Camulos to extend their ministrations to counsel the red children in the Aliso canyon.
Near the spot now occupied by Mr. Lechler's dwelling grew a great oak — the largest in the grove. The cross had been carved on the stalwart trunk of the tree; and under its wide-spreading branches the faithful fathers told the blessed story of salvation for all who should believe in the efficacy of the blood shed by the Savior on the cross at Calvary.
What an inspiration it must have been to those kindly priests to meet there, in so fair a temple of God's own architecture, those simple hearted natives, seated upon the greensward, sheltered from the rays of the southern sun in its western course by the foliage of the forest; secure, for a time at least, from human strife that rent the outside world. God's hand had reared the majestic mountains that encircled them around about in this amphitheater where they had gathered his people, as shepherds are wont to gather together their sheep into the fold.