A few weeks ago, at the website Timeline, the writer Meagan Day wrote an article about the Kaweah Colony, a short-lived, circa 1886-1892 socialist commune in what is now Sequoia National Forest, and which was crushed railroad conglomerates and other capitalist forces.
It was exciting to see some coverage of this little-known outpost and its dissolution. I myself only learned about Kaweah because the cabins they build showed up during research for my book, and was fascinated enough to drum up an 8,100+ word draft about the colony, its founding and its ultimate end, an end finalized by capitalist interests but brought about in part by colony infighting and paranoia. The piece went nowhere. I submitted it to one or two sites, but who wants to read 8,100 words, especially on something so esoteric?
In any event, while I appreciated the Timeline piece, I found it incomplete. In addition to overlooking the group’s internal conflicts, including a spin-off colony, the piece also didn’t mention the inglorious fact that Kaweah’s founders were xenophobic racists and misogynists. It’s an unfortunate truth that sullies the romantic image, and I admit I struggled with how to address it when I first pursued what seemed to be a fairly straight-forward and timeless tale, but Kaweah’s ugly underbelly is essential to remember nonetheless. It also makes one wonder, as I did in my scuttled piece, whether we’re better off Kaweah was crushed and scattered to the four corners. Does the world need another enclave of white supremacists, even on under the guise of cooperative living? That’s a hard no.*
All that said, here is an unedited excerpt from my unpublished piece. It picks up right after the colony’s Bay Area-based founders, Burnette G. Haskell, James J. Martin and John Redstone, decide to break away from San Francisco and start their own society in the woods.
(*It’s worth noting that California which so many of us envision as a sunshine-y liberal haven, is also a hotbed of white supremacists.)