The Press War

Women compel men to think — that’s what Clara Foltz said.

Clara Foltz is credited with inventing the idea of a public defender.
  • Clara Foltz is credited with inventing the idea of a public defender.

Clara Foltz must have lived at least nine lives. A descendant of Daniel Boone, she was a wife, until her husband abandoned her and their four children. She was the first woman to practice law in California, and in the 1920s, the first deputy district attorney in the U.S. She was a suffragist and a popular speaker. On May 16, 1887, she founded a newspaper in San Diego. “With full assurance of faith,” said her first editorial, “we anticipate the time when the Daily Bee, so modest in its beginning, will rank with the noblest journals of the land.”

Among Foltz’s aims: “Let men and women recognize in each other elements of success…. Women compel men to think. Their mission is to ennoble the race, and no better field for the exercise of her influence can be found than in the publication of a daily paper.”

The inaugural Bee had a six-page spread. Three contained ads for the real estate boom turning San Diego from a backwater village into a metropolis. Subscribers could pay 15 cents a week, or six dollars a year. On the top left of the masthead, words in a rectangle announced that its first edition already made the Bee “The Best Local Paper.”

Although Foltz vowed to “anchor us down for all our days,” on November 17, 1887, she laid “down the editorial pen.”

“The change is not pleasant,” she wrote. “It is with some measure of sorrow that we part company with employees who stood nobly by us when days were dark and when it took nerve and courage as well as a good supply of moral stamina to do.”

Foltz edited the Bee for six months. The “press war” brought her down.

In May of 1887, San Diego was enjoying an apparently limitless real estate boom. There was so much wild speculation, developers even wanted to annex Baja California. San Diego’s four major newspapers ran long, sales-pitch features about the beauties of Ensenada. In the Bee’s second issue, Judge W. F. Clark concluded a three-column article with: “If you seek for health, fortune, and happiness come to this tierra perfecta.”

For the May 28 issue, Q.B. traveled to Ensenada with “as gallant a company of capitalists and their guests as ever sailed out of San Diego Bay.” Q.B. stayed at the “magnificent headquarters of the International Company… never was there a jollier crowd than ours that day.”

In 1883, Porforio Díaz signed the Law of Colonization. The law permitted foreigners to colonize unoccupied lands in Lower California, under many restrictions. In 1884, the International Company of Mexico, formed in Hartford, Connecticut, began acquiring properties. By 1887, they claimed to own 18,000,000 acres in Partido Norte, from the California border to Ensenada. Before the company bought the land, Ensenada had 300 residents. Now, wrote Q.B., “more than 1400 happy, busy people — mostly American — are engaged in thriving enterprises… and thousands of acres of arable land… await the magic hand of labor.”

Foltz’s nickname at the paper was “Queen Bee” — usually shortened to. Q.B. She concludes by quoting Colonel L.P. Crane, spokesman for the International Company, that a railroad, currently under construction, will connect Ensenada with San Diego. Ensenada will become the “Ciudad de Porvenir — the “city of the future,” a title heretofore claimed by boomtown San Diegans.

On June 4, 1887, the Bee interviewed Herbert Howe Bancroft. California’s preeminent historian called the International Company a “magnificent enterprise,” made so by the dictator Porfirio Díaz. “Mexico is a republic only in name,” said Bancroft. “It is an autocratic, an aristocratic government in every sense of the word…They can say what they like about General Díaz, he is eminently a progressive man, and decidedly above avarice.”

The International Company laid out Ensenada’s streets and avenues in the American fashion: names in alphabetical order running east/west; numbers, north/south. They called the main avenue Ruiz, after the original owner.

María Ampara Ruiz de Burton visited the Lincolns in D.C.

María Ampara Ruiz de Burton visited the Lincolns in D.C.

On June 10, 1887, the Bee printed a “Warning to the Public! I hereby warn those who intend to purchase lands at the ‘Ensenada’ that the International Company cannot give valid titles to said lands. This property belongs to me. It is a royal grant, ratified, given in 1804 and confirmed by the Mexican Government in 1859 and 1868.” The warning was signed, Maria A. Ruiz Burton.

In a brief editorial comment, Foltz said the Bee “withholds an expression of union in the matter,” but would investigate and then take “the side of right and justice.”

The “Ruiz,” of Ruiz Avenue in Ensenada, was Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s grandfather, Don Jose Manuel Ruiz. He was the first chief ensign (alférez) of the presidio. On April 30, 1806, the Spanish government honored his earlier request and granted him Rancho Ensenada de Todos Santos, 48,884 acres, for his “gallant services.”

Like Apolinaria Lorenzana and Eulalia Perez, Ruiz de Burton lived much of California history in the 19th century. She was born in La Paz, Baja, in 1832. At age 15 she witnessed the American takeover. She fell in love with Colonel Henry Stanton Burton, who became Yankee governor of the region. They were married July 7, 1849. Burton homesteaded Rancho Jamul. During the Civil War, he was promoted brevet Brigadier General. Maria traveled with him to Washington D.C. and Newport, Rhode Island, and became friends with, among other notables, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Burton died in 1869, leaving his wife with a land grant in Jamul and her inherited holdings at Ensenada.

When she wrote the warning, Burton was 55. Two years earlier, she published her second novel, The Squatter and the Don. Hailed as “the first published narrative in English from the perspective of the conquered Mexican population” (Beatrice Pita), the novel tells how Americans steal Spanish and Mexican land grants from their rightful owners. Since she was a woman and a Latina, de Burton had to use a pseudonym. She chose “C. Loyal” — “loyal citizen.”

True to her word, Foltz had a reporter interview de Burton the day the warning came out.

The Bee ran the interview the next day, Saturday, June 11. But few San Diegans read it. Thugs grabbed copies from paperboys and newsstands and either tore them up or burned them in the in the streets. The Bee’s offices on the Sheldon Block always pinned the day’s edition to a bulletin board out front. Someone tore down three copies that afternoon. Foltz contacted the City Marshall, who promised to look into the matter.

At the end of an exhausting day, Foltz went home at 7:00 p.m. Along with most of the Saturday edition destroyed, she learned that Harr Wagner, a good friend who owned the printing press, was transferring his interests to a new publishing company.

Shortly after Foltz left, M.J. Mossholder, an attorney for the International Company, barged into the office with six men. He held up a warrant for the printing machines and the type, and ordered printers working on the Sunday edition out of the building. Mossholder’s men loaded all the equipment — even some Foltz owned outright — into a wagon. Although she had a lease for the building, Mossholder padlocked the doors and sped away.

When she heard the news, Foltz searched through the rubble of broken chairs, hammered desks, and blots of printer’s ink on the floor. She found a “dummy” copy of the Sunday edition. Hoping one of them would print it, she ran to the offices of the Union, the San Diego Sun, and the Weekly San Diegan. All three refused.

In a fury, Foltz rented a carriage and rode south to National City with three men from the Bee. Agents of the International Company followed on horseback. They lagged behind until she reached the office of the National City Record and roused editor Frank Burgess.

Around midnight, when Foltz waved her crumpled copy of the Sunday edition and pleaded her case, an agent shouted her down.

“She’s no lady! She’s a blackmailer!” She wanted compensation for writing favorable articles about Ensenada. If not, she would publish a false claim and try to destroy the International Company!

Foltz fired back: unlike the other papers, who had been paid to praise the company, the Bee printed the truth — and would continue to with Burgess’s help.

The agents vowed to give the editor proof of her falsehoods by 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. If they couldn’t, they would pay Burgess $1000.

Burgess waited. No proof came. And the other Sunday editions lambasted the Bee and de Burton. The Union called the “irresponsible” Bee a “persistent and importunate beggar” out to smear the International Company’s “men of honor, responsibility, energy, and wealth.” And de Burton is a “childish old lady”; “San Diegans have known all along that her claim is a chesnut….Title deeds now being given to Lower California lands run from the Government of Mexico through the International Company, and these are full warranty deeds.”

“The International Company derives its title directly from the Government of Mexico,” wrote the Sun. “What does “Mrs. Burton hope to accomplish by parading in the newspapers her alleged title when the Mexican government alone can afford her relief?” Such a “monstrous intention” would have the “effect of blackmail upon innocent purchasers” and would suspend the company’s development of the region. The Sun concluded that Mrs. Burton was “old and incompetent,” and Foltz now headed a “stingless bee.”

The agents never gave Burgess any proof. So he published the Monday edition of the San Diego Bee on a single sheet with no ads. The headline reads: “NOT QUITE DEAD” — subheads: “Futile Attempt to Crush the Bee; Russian Tactics Tried in America; A Free Press Not to Be Muzzled; Truth Is Mighty and Will Prevail.”

Foltz wrote: “It is positively painful to reflect that a ‘childish old lady’ has rendered it necessary for the ‘mammoth syndicate’ to announce for the thousandth time that they are ‘above reproach’ and ‘possessed of honor, responsibility, energy, and wealth.’

“We have simply endeavored to give voice to one who is comparatively helpless and poor, without even so much as a single editorial comment…. We now offer to publish the title papers of the International Company side by side with those of Mrs. Burton. Will the men of ‘honor,’ etc., furnish the manuscript?”

“The Bee is, whatever may be said of other papers, independent and opposed to frauds of every kind and description. The Union may kiss the feet of as many frauds as will accept its homage. However, we wish the paper well and hope it may be more successful in selling its stock than what we learn it was last week.”

“We beg now to inform our enemies that the ‘Stingless Bee’ has been led by its ‘Queen’ to a new and sprightly swarm.”


In less than a year, the International Company turned Ensenada from a remote fishing village — church, warehouse, and around 60 shacks on Todos Santos Bay — into a burgeoning development with over 3000 colonists, mostly American. The corporation guaranteed full title deeds, approved by the Mexican government, and promised to make Ensenada a major economic tributary for San Diego.

Col. C.P. Crane, a spokesman, said he paid $10,000 to send four crack lawyers to Mexico City to track down Burton’s claim. When they couldn’t find it, Crane concluded that President Diaz must have “wiped [it] out with the scratch of a pen.”

“Mr. Crane speaks as one of the company,” María Burton wrote in the Bee on June 13. “His little fiction of sending ‘four eminent lawyers’ was a wild goose chase.” They should have “searched the old Spanish archives at the Surveyor General’s office” in San Francisco.

According to Burton, Crane attacked anyone who questioned the company’s title. His “bulldozing” included Burton. “He said to me, ‘Take care, madam…else you find yourself extradited and plunged into a dark Mexican dungeon.’”

The new Bee, cobbled from a borrowed printing press and type, lasted two days. It disappeared June 15. Rival papers lambasted the “stingless bee” and wrote glowing features about the “Colossal Colonization Enterprise” in Ensenada. The Sun: “San Diego’s backcountry south will soon experience a civilization never dreamed of by the most sanguine of mission fathers.”

Other articles called Burton “old and incompetent” and said the corporation should charge Foltz with blackmail. She allegedly demanded $1000 for her silence.

“They had better let Clara alone,” wrote the Riverside Enterprise. “She is a fine writer and an excellent lawyer. Better probably than one out of any ten in San Diego.”

“Here’s our hand,” added the Riverside Gazette, “strike home!”

On June 19, the Union interviewed prominent San Diegans George Marston, W.W. Stewart, and Dr. Peter Remondino. All agreed the colonization in Baja was a definite boon for local business. Attempts to “prevent its progress,” Remondino warned, “would have anything but a desired effect.”

On June 25, the Bee reappeared: new type, new press, new Hoe cylinder, heading, and steam engine. The office on the Montgomery Block sported shiny new desks and chairs. Paperboys had brand new pouches. Foltz thanked “the generosity of others” and said “a free press cannot be crushed out of existence by a piece of persecution which might shame a Russian autocrat.”

Foltz, who now called herself “Sister Clara,” questioned the Union’s accuracy: “Dr. Remondino denies having expressed any opinion against the Burton title as he knows nothing about it.”

Did the Union also misrepresent Marston and Stewart? “Can statements by a newspaper which resorts to such methods be believed?”

On June 26, the Union put California’s renowned historian, Herbert Howe Bancroft, on the journalistic witness stand. He was finishing volume two of his History of the North Mexican States and Texas, and predicted the corporation’s project would be “a magnificent success. In the olden times, the founder of a colony was regarded as akin to the gods. Surely he is entitled to at least as much credit now.”

In the interview, Bancroft deplored the “attempts of sensational enthusiasts to impede the progress” of the corporation. “Any attempt to show that a prior and better title to the Ensenada is despicable.”

Rumors persisted that Mexican citizens in the region were irate over severe mistreatment by the corporation and foreign colonizers. Some said they were up in arms. “The bickerings of discontent,” said Bancroft, “will not in any manner affect the question of right.”

“He who writes history,” Bancroft concluded, “should be free to chronicle the facts as they exist, without fear, or favoritism, to any.”

That afternoon, the Bee fired back. “These statements are very good,” wrote CIVIS (a pseudonym for assistant editor Edward Cothran), “and if they could be extended to include the person who hires the writer, they would be perfect.”

“What does Mr. Bancroft know about the matter?” asked Burton in the same issue. “The Mexicans are more civilized than Mr. Bancroft thinks, and will take care of their rights sooner or later.”

Burton to Bancroft: “You are very much mixed about the doings and privileges of the International Company. I fear you have not understood their history well enough to write about it.”

On Wednesday, June 29, the San Diego Union printed a page-long fusillade: “It is an open secret that a class of people advance themselves by pulling others down to their level. [They] sometimes get into the newspaper business… some of these people are women.”

“These women seem to be at loggerheads with themselves because they are not men. They are blistered with an ambition to be something they are not, and cannot be… Sometimes they fail as lawyers, and then take to journalism, where they fail more so.”

“[These] people are intellectual harlots. They make merchandise of their intellect, when they have any. Their tongues are for sale to the highest bidder.”

Bee, July 1: We “have given a poor and comparatively helpless woman a hearing of her rights. What is the answer? Vilification and personal abuse such as have scarcely a parallel in the history of California journalism.”

In her next issue, Foltz added charges of “obscene innuendo, coupled with an attempt to annihilate the Bee and threats to force its editor to leave town.” Foltz reminded her readers that the corporation and its “subsidy” newspapers had yet to produce a valid claim.

After July 4, the press war shifted from onslaughts to skirmishes: the Bee demanding proof from the “conscienceless godocracy”; the other papers attacking Foltz’s “irritating self-importance” and her attempt to sell papers by sabotaging a crucial enterprise.

The Coronado Mercury: “We wish to God you were a man, for your own sake to mind your own business and keep your tongue from wagging.”

Edward Cothran, Foltz’s long-time friend and ace writer, satirized the conflict with Chesnut, a mock tragedy (the title is the corporation’s name for Burton’s claim). The characters are Chesnut (Mrs. Burton), Governor George (Stoneman, of California), Sellout (Bancroft), Gasbang (Major Sisson, the name from Burton’s novel, The Squatter and the Don), and Queen Bee (Foltz, later called “The Prisoner” when absconded in chains to an Ensenada prison).

When Queen Bee argues for freedom of the press, Governor George replies: “None of your poetry here, you blackmailing hound, too long un-whipped by masters of the ‘Mammoth Syndicate.’”

“How shall I have a trial,” she frets in Act two, “If I be not heard?”

“Your trial will be that of a brand new rope,” Governor George replies, “or of being shot with black bandage over thine eyes.”

Ordered to transport the Queen Bee to Ensenada on his wagon, Hackman opines: “But could these cushioned seats give voice to all they know, they would a tale unfold whose stern morality might make the Puritan roll heavenward and pray that Sodom and Gomorrah rise no more.”

By the end of July, the Bee became so popular it expanded to six pages to accommodate advertisers. Foltz had a new problem: the paper had more ads than copy. So she serialized a long (many said “silly”) novel.

Needing a rest, Foltz went to San Francisco with 10-year-old daughter Virginia. While she was away, Cothran did the unthinkable: he took a job with the San Diego Sun. He never said why he made the jump, but wrote a series of articles attacking Burton’s claim (“spent sky rocket, a collection of rags, a mist, a ghostly fire fly”) and her florid style (“the unsyllabled, silent language, thinking God and uttering eternity!”).

Cothran was renowned for filling “a column with readable reflections after a walk around town” or spending half a day at the writer’s coffee shop hangout on Front Street. The loss of a 20-year friend and journalistic comrade stunned Foltz. She questioned his “sudden conversion, inspired by senseless animosity.”

“Cothran’s departure,” writes Barbara Babcock, “marked the beginning of the end for Clara Foltz as a crusading editor.”

The issue of November 17 was her last. “The editor who would avoid clashing with the opinions of others must write platitudes merely,” she wrote. “We did not care to enter a field already so admirably filled.”

Foltz praised employees “who stood nobly by us when days were dark… the lash wielded by the hand of envy has not always been stingless.”

Stealing Burton’s title was not the International Company’s only crime. In a 54-page, three column per page report, The Truth About Lower California, Manuel Sanchez Facio listed dozens of infractions, from bogus surveys to selling the same lot to three different buyers. On Mrs. Burton’s claim: “this corporation has never failed to improve any opportunity to inculcate this false theme.”

Before the report came out in 1888, the International Company collapsed. Major Sisson sold the assets to a British conglomerate that President Díaz later charged with fraud.

The new Ensenada rose with the San Diego real estate boom and fell when the boom busted.

Maria Ruiz de Burton spent much of her remaining years in a courtroom, filing unsuccessful lawsuits for her title. She died August 12, 1895, age 64. Forty-seven years later, attorney Harry B. Lind won a claim for wrongful deprivation damages against the Mexican government.

Clara Foltz became a full-time attorney. Believing “the law should be a shield as well as a sword,” she invented the idea of a public defender. Although Foltz enjoyed a distinguished career as “California’s first woman lawyer,” many San Diegans blamed her, and her alone, for the economic bust of 1888.

The Bee hung on for a year. In December, 1888, the San Diego Union bought it out.

QUOTATIONS

1.) Clara Foltz (first editorial): “In every department of The Bee glow the tints and flush of health; in every individual connected with it there springs and flourishes an honorable ambition.”

2.) Maria Ruiz A. de Burton: “Few Americans know or believe to what extent we have been wronged by Congressional action...and how we could be despoiled, we, the conquered people.”

3.) San Diego Union (June 29, 1887): The San Diego Bee’s “convictions — God save the mark! – are for sale to the highest bidder… they are intellectual harlots [who] make merchandise of their intellect — when they have any.”

4.) Barbara Babcock: “Foltz was certain the other San Diego papers were on the International Company’s payroll… many newspapers received regular subsidies in return for squelching unfavorable stories.”

5.) San Diego Union: Foltz’s “egotism dwarfs all mankind. She delights in public occasions but only if she is conspicuous on the program.”

6.) Maria Ruiz de Burton (in The Squatter and the Don): the Land Act of 1851 was an “Act to unsettle land titles, and to upset the rights of the Spanish population of the State of California.”

SOURCES:

Babcock, Barbara, Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford, 2011).

De Burton, Maria Amparo Ruiz, The Squatter and the Don, ed. Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita (Houston, 1997); Who Would Have Thought It? (Houston, 1995).

Dunke, Glenn S., The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California (San Marino, 1991).

Facio, Manuel Sanchez, The Truth About Lower California: Forfeiture of the Contract Made by and Between the Mexican Government and the Mexican International Company of Colonization (Memphis, 2012).

Montes, Amelia Maria de la Luz, Anne Elizabeth Goldman, eds. Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton: Critical and Pedagogical Perspectives (Nebraska, 2004).

Phillips, Irene, Women of Distinction (National City, 1956).

Sanchez, Rosaura, Beatrice Pita (ed.), Conflicts of Interest: The letters of Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton (Houston, 2001); Sanchez, “In the Tracks of Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton” The Proceedings of The Literary History of San Diego & Northern Baja California, 1998-1999 (San Diego, 2000).

Robinson, W.W., Land in California (Berkeley, 1948).

Bancroft, Herbert Howe, History of the North Mexican States and Texas, vol. 2 (Baja California, 1889).

Bonifaz de Novelo, Maria Engenia, “Ensenada, Its Background, Founding and Early Development,” Journal of San Diego History (Winter, 1984, vol. 30, number 1).

De Burton, Maria Amparo Ruiz, Conflicts of Interest: The Letters of Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, ed. Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita (Houston, 2001).

The International Company of Mexico, Lower California, ‘Tierra Perfecta, the perfect land: The Fertile District offered for Sale by the International Company of Mexico (New York, 1886); Description of Lands in Lower California for Sale by the International Company of Mexico; Absolute Patent Title from the Federal Government of Mexico (San Diego, 1887).

Robinson, W.W., Land in California (Berkeley, 1948).

Articles in San Diego Bee, San Diego Union, San Diego Sun, Daily San Diegan, Coronado Mercury, Weekly San Diegan, and others.

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Was just going to browse this, but found it too riveting to stop until I got to the end - fascinating tales of one of our city's early press wars. I chuckled out loud at nearly every one of Foltz's witty - and increasingly acerbic - quotes, especially this from her farewell column in the Bee, with its one-fingered "salute" to her corrupted competitors in the paper news biz: “The editor who would avoid clashing with the opinions of others must write platitudes merely...we did not care to enter a field already so admirably filled.”

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