Kaweah's Broken Dream

Pastor Rod is on vacation this week, We hope you enjoy this article he wrote in 2004.

The last time I stood in Sequoia National Park, it was with a tremendous sense of awe and humility that I gazed up at that enormous 'General Sherman Tree' -one f the oldest trees in the world.

But I felt something else too; namely ... well, let's just say that I'm really glad that the tree isn't called the "Karl Marx Tree" anymore. 

Didn't know it was ever called the "Karl Marx Tree"? Neither did I, until I read about Burnette G. Haskell and his motley crew of socialist utopians, who started the Kaweah Colony up in that region back in 1884. They're the ones who gave the tree its very first name; except for the Indians of course. I don't know what the Indians called it, but I'll guarantee you it was a better name than the "Karl Marx Tree".

Burnette Haskell and James J. Martin were dreamers and visionaries back in the  1880's, profoundly inspired by the utopian writings of Edward Bellamy, Laurence Gronlund, and-yes, of course-Karl Marx. When the two men started sharing their dream of establishing the perfect society, they had no trouble finding takers. By 1884, sixty-eight other people had bought into the plan and the Kaweah Colony was started, high up in the Sierras just east of Visalia.

They weren't expecting much: just a perfect world, inhabited by perfect people, living in perfect peace and harmony. The Colony's immediate goal was a simple one: to set up a village of happy, industrious people who would harvest lumber from the Sequoia groves. 

Their long-range goals were a little more elaborate, however: the plan was to build a railroad down from the slopes of the Sierras, and then a canal system to float the timber to the Pacific. The brochure for the Colony pretty much says it all. Ships would set sail for San Francisco, loaded with the Colony's fare: "olive oil, pure Mountain Vine-yard wine, honey, redwood, statuary marble and selected California fruits. The ships will sail on to Europe, touching at the South Sea Islands, Australia, India, Good Hope, Madeira and visit the Mediterranean to discharge and reload with freight for New York and the Colony via Cuba, the Brazils, Peru, and Mexico. " 1

Of course, they didn't have the "olive oil" or the ''pure Mountain Vineyard wine" just, yet. Or the railroad ... or the canals ... or the ships. Or even, interestingly enough, a clear claim to the land they squatted on! Finding them a suspicious group, the Tulare County Courthouse had delayed in approving their claims. That hadn't stopped them from moving up there anyway.

No, they didn't have much, but they had some canvas tents now! And they had people. 

Boy!-did they have people! There were "dress-code reformers"; "phonetic spelling advocates"; "word purists"; vegetarians, "uncooked-food advocates"; spiritualists; ani-mists; deists and of course, no utopia is complete without a gaggle of noisy atheists. 

Since money is such an evil thing to the socialist, the Colony did away with all forms of the horrible stuff. Laborers were paid with 'time-checks' which served as the Colony's cur-rency, printed in denominations of from ten to twenty-thousand 'minutes'. Haskell predicted that Kaweah's time-checks would someday replace American currency. 

The one thing Kaweah's dreamers and build-ers didn't figure on was the thing that finally caused the collapse. Care to guess what that might be? You got it: the human heart. 

Before too long, the Colony's fragile unity began to erode with each little difference of opinion, each little resentful feeling. People grew distrustful of the leaders; the leaders grew impatient with the people; some people felt un-appreciated; others felt overworked. Accusa-tions of fraud, corruption, and mismanagement began to surface. Charges flew back and forth. 

Before too long the Colony was awash with bitterness, distrust, resentment, and gossip. One-by-one the dreamers packed up and left, leaving only Burnette Haskell to dwell among the ruins of Kaweah's broken dream. One day he perked up! He had stumbled across some 'streaks of gold' on the granite rocks outside the camp. Thrilled, Haskell started dreaming up a new paradise with a gold-mine at its center! 

The next day he noticed that he was leaving 'streaks of gold' on every stone he stepped on: the brass nails on his boots were scratching them into the granite! "Hugely disgusted", Has-kell too packed up and left. 

Nine years later, Congress closed all private claim to the area and established the Sequoia National Forest. That's when they renamed the tree, thank goodness: "The General Sherman". 

Do you know what this world needs? Not new colonies, or new visionaries or new currencies, or a new world order, but new hearts! Let's face it: this world's never going to be happy until the hearts of men are changed.

Transformed lives is what the good news of Christ is all about. 

That's why He came. That's why He died. 

And isn't it exciting? That is the awesome work that our own church is involved in! One by one we see it happening, just as Jesus said:"Behold, I make all things new!" (Rev. 21: S)

 I'm so glad you're a part of it.   RAS

1.Robert Marino, V. Hine California's Utopian Colonies Huntington      Lib. Press, San Marino, CA, 1953 p. 89-95

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