Chapter 27

He knew the measure was going through. I don't know how he knew it, but he did. Maybe in the same way he knew the members of the Los Angeles Chamber would give them the fifty thousand dollars. Or in the same way he knew the San Francisco members would make up the rest of the ninety thousand dollars needed to carry out the investigation. And when the Legislature met they appropriated the ninety-four thousand dollars to pay back the loans and an additional three hundred thousand to continue the investigation.

The association had done what it had set out to do. It took ten years all told, of intensive study, to work out a plan that was submitted to the Legislature as the State Water Plan. It was finally approved by the Legislature, much to everyone's surprise.

The opposition, still active, had it referred to the people, the well-informed people, who passed it.

In 1935, the project was authorized as a federal reclamation undertaking. Construction began in 1937.

William was only one of the many people who worked for the success over a seventy-five year time period. When California struggled to save its precious flow of white gold, but in all those years, out of the many who gave their life blood to see California adopt a plan for conservation of its water, not one man contributed greater faith that the springs of water would be saved to use for man's good.

The California of the future would not have a broken cistern that would not hold water. When the plan would be finally carried out, all the waste waters would be used. It would not come about in one year or ten, but it would come. William's faith knew it as no one else could have.

Men had worked on this dream since 1873 to make it the reality it is today. Efficient engineers, politicians of vision, honest legislatures and congressmen who could not be wooed with gold, the organizers of the California State Irrigation Association, and its president, and the small irrigation districts that were far-sighted enough to work with the larger unit. Everyone worked together, rich and poor, so the dream might be pushed ahead, the plan could materialize. The work that William did was small compared to all this.

I have written of his work only because it was a story of faith and because I knew of it first hand. What others did can be plainly seen as one traverses the highways of California today. The engineering feat is obvious as the water cascades over the Shasta Dam, the highest man made falls in the world, as the rain starts on its way being moved from the north where it isn't needed, to the south where it is.

Faith made the Valley a land of fulfillment instead of a land of promise.

I do not know how many years William worked on the project. I do not know how many years he worked for the Association. It was never too apparent when he was working as a staff member and when he was working out of love. I only know he was a familiar figure at the Capitol for about eight years, as he came and went when duty called.

Now his hair was white, he still had the same erect carriage, the same spring to his step, as he traversed the palm-lined walks of Capitol Park.

To his face he was always greeted as the "Reverend," but to his back he was often called affectionately, and sometimes fearfully, "The Boss of the San Joaquin."

And how did he fare when his work was over, when the Marshall Plan converged into the larger plan that became known as the Central Valley Project, a federal project with a price tag of two billion dollars, all to be finished in the years to come? Well, about the same as usual. He did his ranching in pretty much the same way as always, with the help of Annie, of course, the boys and two girls. There were the same chores to do, the same power bills to pay, the same uncertainty of crops and failures and worry of low prices, the same anxiety that the cost would add up to more than the production. But the old apprehensions were gone, all the little problems had been. swallowed up in the larger problem of seeing the springs come forth in the desert and the valley to rejoice in its blossoming

When the call came to reach out for men's souls in such a way it could not be ignored, he would get into his car and drive away on a preaching tour for a few days or even a week.

He preached in low places and in high places as the opportunity presented itself. Among the lowly places was the Plaza in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles newspaper did a feature story on this activity, inserting a photograph of him as he was in his seventies. The soft wavy hair was still as thick, but very white, and, instead of wearing the little narrow black bow tie he wore a blue and white silk four-in-hand with large, bold design, to show he had kept up with the feeling of modern styles. The smile was not as brilliant as in former years, more sweet than vital in the way a young mother's smile is.

The story's caption read:

"Reds' Sabotage Soapbox Taken

Over in Plaza, by Disciple of Love, Faith."

It explained, "Offsetting the doctrines of sabotage spread by communists in the same district, William Mullen, superintendent of the Open Air Evangelistic Association, laid down a new doctrine of faith to more than five hundred men gathered in the Plaza yesterday."

"Mullen's work at the present time marks a return to the same spot where years ago he took issue with the destructive policies of the I. W. W., then seeking to establish strength in Los Angeles.

"'We are only seeking to prevent the seeds of sedition being sown by the reds from taking root in the hearts of the poor and the unemployed,' was the description the evangelist gave yesterday of his work. 'The only way I know to do this is to preach, in simple fashion, the doctrine of faith and love as exemplified in the Gospel.'

"Mullen, who also has worked for many years to better the conditions under which boy bootblacks live, received no salary as superintendent of the association, which is dependent entirely on donations."

Among the "high places" where he preached, was often the First Presbyterian Church in Bakersfield, where he delivered one of his last sermons in March shortly before he died. Wherever he went, from the governor's palace, to the residing places of the little bootblack's on the street, he was welcome.

In speaking of his service THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN wrote, "In more recent years the Reverend Mr. Mullen has devoted himself to farming in Kern County, but he never has lost the urge to preach, and his sermons have lost none of the energetic human quality that won him thousands of followers whom he first attracted by training wild horses in the streets to draw his crowd."

In May, he gave a public horse taming act at the Fair Grounds and the same paper publicized it in a front page story.

"The spectacle of an elderly minister, one famed throughout the country for his phenomenal strength, and his horse taming powers, gentling the wildest horses within an hour and transforming them from man-killing broncos into saddle horses that a child might ride with safety, is the thrill promised Kern County residents at the Fair Grounds next Saturday.

"At that time the Rev. William Mullen of Shafter, noted two decades ago as the wild horse taming preacher, will give his first publish exhibition in twenty years. The exhibition is not in the nature of a comeback for the minister, since abandoning public demonstrations, has tamed many wild horses for Kern residents and for members of his family. Saturday's exhibition, slated to begin at 2:30 o'clock, is being given as an educational event for farmers, and other horse owners, under the auspices of Farm Adviser Lawrence Taylor and the University of California Extension Service.

"'Anyone can tame a horse just as I do, by following my methods exactly, 'the Rev. Mullen declares, and will explain his methods to the spectators. Nevertheless, education or not, old-time residents who remember the horse taming parson's exhibitions in front of the old armory here are expecting thrills galore when the big minister and the wild horse meet.

"No longer has the minister the physical power to throw a horse in to a feed bin or perform the other amazing feats of strength that were part of the old exhibitions, the Rev. Mr. Mullen says, but he can still throw a horse to the ground and can teach any able-bodied man to do the same thing.

"Wild horses will be brought down from the mountains of Kern County for the demonstrations."

It was because of the success of this exhibition, that the committee in charge of the County Fair, held later in September, invited him to give a horse-taming exhibition each day for a week.

"You can't do it," Annie told him. "I won't let you. You are an old man now."

"Then if I'm dead," he answered her heatedly, "call in the undertaker and put me under the ground, but let's not have a walking dead man around here."

"But William," she softened, "those horses are too vicious for you now. You can't move as fast as you did when you were a young man."

When she saw there was no use, she agreed and suggested he take Everett to assist.

"I shall keep the engagement," he told Annie.

What happened at the exhibition is also best told by THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN which made its front page news in reporting the activity of that fair.

"Hundreds of persons saw the famed horse-taming parson subdue a wild horse at the County Fair on the first day. It was a man killer from the R. L. Stockton Ranch where William worked as a young man. The animal was filled with fear and would climb over a seven-foot fence or go through a barbed wire fence to get away. The noted handler said the animal was young, however, and the fear was removed so that he became docile and tractable by easy and kind handling. But, on the last day an "old and filled with dread horse" was to be broken, and of this the newspaper commented:

"The fair crowd thrilled to the excitement of trying to gentle the old horse who had never permitted anyone to ride him, although many had attempted.

"'He is on the offensive,' Mullen told the crowd, 'as well as defensive, fights with both front and hind feet and will run at a man as quickly as away from him. He is an outlaw and an enemy to mankind--which is an unnatural condition--but he can be brought into docility and made a kind and gentle horse by proper treatment.'"

After a little more than thirty minutes, the animal was ready to receive him on his back, as thousands of other wild animals had done, too, in just about as many minutes.

The horse had not failed him, but behaved as obediently as any intelligent animal should. His life was now complete. He had had faith in the horse to the end, and it had not disappointed him. Instead, it brought him honor when he was an old man. He remembered what the horse had taught him about human nature. He remembered it with tenderness and affection for it had been a part of the best things his life had given him.

He mounted the outlaw now with the same lack of fear he had always mounted a wild horse, but not the same agility of his youth, for he had changed. But not the horse. The horse was the same understanding animal responding to affection in the same loyal way. He had been disappointed in other men and what they had done, but not the horse.

He knew that before he dismounted he had to recognize the knowledge God had given him, and that it was his duty to pass what he had learned on to his son, and his son's sons, and to all those who had come to see one of nature's wild forces harnessed. Now the old Professor was to speak from a leather pulpit, but his voice would be the voice of a fervent young man and with an unmistakable Gaelic quality that compelled the ear to listen to the authoritative admonition, as his message had always brought rapt attention.

What he said was what he had often spoken, and with the tenderness of an old man who remembered many things, but most of all he spoke of love and loyalty, for that was what the horse had taught him.

THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN printed what he said--a short sermon of one paragraph.

Annie clipped it out and pasted it in the old worn scrap book, the last chapter in the life of the famed Cowboy Evangelist.

"It was necessary to use bits, hobbles and twirling, in order to subdue this animal today. I would have that none of you, beloved, would be like this horse with a heart full of fear and a neck so stiff that it is necessary for God to use a bit on you; but rather that He should have your hearts filled with love by the Holy Ghost, and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, loving one another and being kind by relieving the widow and orphan in their distress. Also, keeping yourself unspotted from the greed of the world. If this ye will do, ye will have found heaven on earth."

Finished, the old Professor leaped to the ground. Everett swung into the saddle to ride the now-manageable horse to the barns behind the bleachers, undoubtedly to deliver him to a satisfied owner.

The spectators' applause resounded throughout the entire ring of the extensive fair grounds.

Now the trainer, famed since the state's historic 1880s and of the Great Valley's expansion since the 1890s acknowledged the audience's appreciation by doffing his hat and bowing low as he pivoted around with his heels to take in the immense audience.

Immediately onlookers huddled around him to ask him further questions. Everyone seemed eager to learn more and more about his gentle method of harnessing wild forces by his kind, humane method. He reached into his pocket and took out a large white, silk handkerchief he always carried with him for his pulpit, and he wiped away a tear. Those close must have seen the smiling countenance through the look of satisfaction. As for the tear or two--they were of pure joy, for that was what he felt.

The End
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