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
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
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:
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
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
"'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
"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
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
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.