The Waterfront Wars  

By the 1880's, the press had mounted a campaign against the Southern Pacific Railroad's transportation monopoly. In this cartoon from the "Wasp," a San Francisco weekly, the tentacles of an octopus grasp businesses whose livelihoods depended on Southern Pacific. The creature's eyes are the faces of Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford, the last two of the Big Four owners of the railroad. The tombstone at the bottom may commemorate the 1880 Battle of Mussel Slough in which five farmers were killed by Southern Pacific agents.

In 1894, the Southern Pacific Railroad had, literally, tried to fence Oakland off from the waterfront, but the fence was torn down by angry citizens. In this 1896 cartoon from "The Examiner," the fence still stands in front of the strikers' homes, a reference to the Pullman strike of 1894. In the foreground, Collis Huntington holds out an incentive to Stephen Gage from the local Republican Party which routinely selected "railroad men" as candidates. Railroad party regulars were responsible for getting out the vote by whatever means possible, including intimidation and stuffing the ballot box.

The election of 1896 was widely seen as a referendum against Southern Pacific's statewide monopoly. The "railroad men" were defeated in Oakland as well as other parts of California. In this post-election cartoon from "The Examiner," Collis Huntington is shown the door by a stern California farmer. The creature at Huntington's feet is Grove Johnson, U. S. Congressman from the Sacramento Valley who was roundly defeated in the election.

Carolyn Douthat

Oakland Museum of California Logo  "Walk Along the Water"
  Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.

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