Charles Fries painting at Camp Merritt, Laguna Mountains, 1924. “We made a number of trips up to Laguna Mountain. Mr. Merritt had built a cabin up there, which was more pleasant than camping out."
I learned to write by watching my grandma at her easel. First she’d sketch, then stroke on the base colors, then dab until details began to appear. Around that time she’d step back, gaze, meditate, and finally go to work again, adding new layers of color and nuance.
From Vallecitos Point, Where Extremes Meet, Laguna Mountains Resort, 1928
My grandma’s friend and teacher was Charles Fries. In those days he was called the dean of San Diego artists, the founder of San Diego’s art community. Ben Dixon, sometime curator of the Serra Museum in Presidio Park, deemed Mr. Fries a master at “...subtly transmitting to canvas the mystic opalescent lights of a twilight mountain glen, the strength and vigor of the California pines combined with a sunlit ripple of water, the grace of a swift-flying cloud across the rarifled atmosphere ofa blue sky pierced by mountain peaks, or the delicate tints of orchid and rose in the shimmering golden mist of a California dawn.”
Rocks at La Jolla, 1930. "We could’ve bought lots in the center of La Jolla for $25."
Mr. Fries, his wife Addie, and daughter Alice trekked west in 1896, leaving behind a Vermont farm. “I spent all my time painting the cows,” Mr. Fries wrote, looking back from his 80th year. “So I wasn’t a farmer long.
Balboa Park Before the Exposition, c. 1912
“Addie’s health was poor, and I feared that she would not have pulled through another winter in Vermont. We received some literature from Santa Barbara, and I was not long getting the fever to go west.
Charles Fries, c. 1925. Mr. Fries’s paintings of Yosemite began to sell and to secure him a local following. Several of the paintings he traded to U.S. Grant, Jr., for lots on F Street near 28th.
“On the 17th of September 1896, we started for California against the protests of all the relatives, who prophesied all kinds of dire results.
“In Los Angeles we looked up Mr. Charles Lummis, introduced to us by a mutual friend. He insisted that we go to Capistrano to sketch, as he said it was the most typical Mexican town in Southern California.
“We took Mr. Lummis’s advice and went down to Capistrano, to a small hotel owned by a Mr. Mendelson, where Allie came down with typhoid fever on her sixth birthday, October 6, 1896.
“As there was no house in the town to rent, Mr. Lummis got us located in the old San Juan Capistrano Mission. He arranged to get us the rooms’ rent free if I’d agree to present the Landmark Club with a painting. No one had lived in the Old Mission for over 20 years, and the dirt was knee-deep. We used the old dining room to live in and slept out in the cloisters. A priest came out every other week and held services. He also slept in the cloisters.
“Allie lingered at the point of death for days. We engaged a nurse from Santa Ana, and Dr. Rowan, giving up liquor for two entire weeks, handled the case just fine, and she finally recovered That incident suggested the subject Too Late that I painted. The old dining room was a most picturesque setting.
“One day I painted a little cattle piece over by the river. When going to find the subject, I met a Gypsy woman who had a wonderful costume. She tried to get me to let her tell my fortune, and I offered to allow it if she would let me paint a sketch of her. But no! All she could think of was Dinero! Dinero!
“I went on, and coming to the Gypsy camp saw the young ones almost naked, and I sat down to make a sketch of the camp. But she came back and threatened to get her man after me, and she destroyed the sketch.
“After we had been in Capistrano five months, I felt like a change of scenery. I suggested that we go down to San Diego for a few days. The natives around there scoffed at the idea, having acquired the Los Angeles psychological attitude as to San Diego, and derided the idea of its being worth going down to see.
“It was a quiet little town of 16,000 people and had that atmosphere of mañana por la mañana that appealed to us. At first, we lived for a short time on 16th Street. The second place we rented was from Mr. Sherman of Sherman Heights fame, one of the early pioneers of the burg. He was a splendid man.
“We had a few hundred dollars left, and we invested $500 of it in a lot in Middletown, which is today’s central district. Addie wanted to invest in La Jolla instead. We could’ve bought lots in the center of La Jolla for $25.
“We made several moves and finally rented an old building on 24th and Logan Avenue. I used the store below for my studio, and we lived upstairs. As there was no commercial work to do, I’d had to get up a class and go to teaching.
“Not long after settling in San Diego, Ed Davis, who had studied at the Rhil Academy, came to see me and we became warm friends. He settled and developed a ranch at Mesa Grande when there must’ve been few whites there. The Indians thought a good deal of him and elected him their captain.
“Ed built a hotel as a summer resort. It burned down a few years ago and, as he had a mortgage on it and failed to insure it, has lost everything in his old age. He had three great big husky boys and a girl and a lovely wife. All he has left is one boy. I believe they are now living on Palomar Mountain.
“I was invited to his resort, and he gave me the use of one of his tent houses in an oak grove. I believe an oak grove can be one of the darkest places imaginable at night when there is no moon. I was up at the hotel one evening when he was giving an illustrated talk on Indians and remained until nearly all had gone to their rooms and then attempted to find my tent and became confused and utterly lost; but I found my way back to the hotel where Ed was preparing to retire. He lit a lantern and toted me to my domicile.
“One evening I decided to visit a neighbor in the grove, a writer whose stories in the Saturday Evening Post I had much enjoyed. When I was ready to return to my tent, he kindly brought out the lamp to help me find it. In a few minutes I happened to look out through the fly screen with which the tent was lined and saw my neighbor wandering about apparently lost, trying to identify the trees, so as to get his bearings.
“We had not been in San Diego long when we became acquainted with Mr. Von Poser, an old German and forty-niner. He made a fortune mining in the early days, but still had the fever; had dropped several fortunes — euchred out of them, I presume. For he was quite generous, but suspicion gradually grew upon him as a consequence.
“I was out with him on several trips, to Campo, Jacumba, and vicinity, and we really did make one fine strike near Campo. But he was so suspicious he would not trust anyone who could have financed the find. And we were both so hard up we neglected to work on it, and finally the San Diego and Arizona Railroad covered up the tunnel we had started.
“Mr. Von Poser was a fine character, generous to a fault, very sensitive. He had run away from Germany when quite young. Though the family made strenuous efforts, they never found him. They were a prominent family. He said an old German, who kept a boarding house in New York City, hid him in a straw mattress when they were looking for him, and in that way he escaped and finally landed in California. When he died, sometime in his 80s or 90s, he was camped out at Jacumba, and when they found him, they thought he must have starved, as there was nothing to eat about the camp.
“My acquaintance with Mr. Poser had considerable influence on both my art and finances. The old German went with me on painting and mining expeditions into the mountains and desert, taught me the techniques of dry mining, and related thrilling tales of adventure and hardship. I never did strike it rich in my mining ventures but struck it rich in California lore.”
In 1901, in search of adventures and hoping to find a place where he could make a better living with his art, Mr. Fries decided to travel north. “My pupils Mrs. Gough and Mrs. Goundie, and Mr. and Mrs. Boutelle, persuaded us to go north with them. They were going up to the Yosemite Valley, and we were to sketch and they to take lessons. About the middle of April, with four teams, about 3:00 p.m., we started and camped in Rose Canyon on the first night.
“Addie was not well and her heart was troubling her, and the others were not as congenial as might be. The menfolks were in a hurry to get on, and of course that did not leave any time for sketching and giving lessons to womenfolk. So we thought it best to drop out and let them go on, which we did near Pasadena.
“We camped near Los Angeles in a park during a rainy spell, and that gave Addie a chance to rest. We started on, and at Riverside we found tons of beautiful navel oranges dumped out to rot, while thousands would have been glad to get them — another sample of the impracticability of this beautiful system we are living under. Freight rates were so high, it didn’t pay to ship them. We filled a couple of gunny sacks and had all we could eat for some time.
“Further north we camped one night in a rancho corral. In the middle of the night I heard a great commotion. A shepherd dog belonging to the ranch was barking furiously at our tent, trying to rouse us. I went out to see what was wrong and found that one of my mares had caught her rope in her front shoe and was strangling.
“I rushed back and got my knife and cut it loose, or she would have strangled to death. Flow that intelligent dog knew that particular horse belonged to me has always been a puzzle, as there were quite a number of horses in the corral.
“We were short of funds and hurried on. We camped one night on the beach between Santa Barbara and Gaviota Pass. It was a beautiful moonlit night, and the roar of the surf frightened the horses, and they strained at their tethers fliriously all night.
“The next morning a tramp asked for some food, which we gave him. On arriving at Gaviota Pass, and pausing at the store to buy some needed articles and to make some inquiries, Addie noticed the same tramp. We had told him we were going to Yosemite, so I imagine he thought we had considerable money with us.
“There was a large number of men — rough specimens — lounging about. They were engaged by the railroad, as they were building the Coast Line at that time. The only camping spot we could find was a mile or so up the canyon, and the wind there blows a gale every night. Addie awoke and heard the horses neighing and heard footsteps, and she screamed, ‘Charley, get your gun!’ She was sure a man was just outside the tent, about to stab me. However that may be, a man told me the next day that some of those boys would cut your throat for two bits.
“After making a sketch and just getting started the next day, we met an immense herd of wild Texas broadhorn steers driven by a dozen vaqueros. There were about 1200 in the herd. They drive these cattle down through the Pass to ship them from the coast. Our little mare began to kick up didoes, and against the advice of the vaqueros, I was compelled to get out and stand at her head to keep her quiet — quite dangerous, as wild cattle will attack anyone on foot. A bunch started down across the arroyo below the bridge and headed for us, but the vaqueros managed to head them off. Certainly there was considerable excitement for a few minutes, but we came out whole.
“Allie managed to get poisoned in some manner, and her lips broke out in blisters, and she was very sick. We hurried on and in time arrived at Arroyo Grande, where Mr. and Mrs. Frank English lived. They had owned a store and post office in Capistrano, and (Mrs. English) posed as Mother in my painting Too Late in which the doctor arrives too late to cure the dying child. Addie would have nothing to do with it.
“Mrs. English had taken lessons from me, and she was very glad to see us. She cured Allie’s sore mouth with one of her recipes. I put the horses out to pasture and we were guests in her home, and she assembled a class for us; and in that way we enlarged the size of our depleted finances.
“We were there about four or five weeks and had a time getting the horses from the pasture when we left. Lucy, our mare, jumped two wire fences.
“We went on to Pacific Grove just outside of Monterey, as we were informed there was to be a Chautauqua convention there, but we arrived too soon, and as hay was a dollar and a half a bale, and the horses having enormous appetites, after a week or so we decided to go on.
“While we were there we made the acquaintance of a young man. He and his sister were running a curio store there and he knew of a bed of olive shells, and we waded out in the early mornings and dipped for them, up to our waists in cold water, and it certainly was a freezing job. I finally collected enough shells to make a curtain, as they were all the vogue and sold as high as $500. We used our spare time rubbing one end over a file so they could be strung on a fine wire.
“A couple of months later in Yosemite there would be a meeting of seven tribes of Indians, and they were crazy for the beads, and Addie strung them on ribbon into waist and hatbands. By selling the beads to the Indians, we reimbursed our finances again.
“From Pacific Grove we crossed the river into San Xavier Valley on a flatboat and camped on the other side of the river for the night. The water in the river was like circus lemonade, and we never saw mosquitoes so thick before. The tent the next morning was completely lined with mosquitoes on the inside.
“Then we passed an immense territory of grain, no houses in sight for miles and miles, and — oh! so hot. The going was tough and we walked a great deal, stopping in Coulterville, where we left Addie’s bike and other nonessentials, and in Merced Canyon, a grand spectacle. At last we arrived in Yosemite and passed three glorious weeks, resting, hiking, trading with soldiers and Indians; also sketching and painting the likes of Half-Dome, Bridal Veil, Cathedral Spires, Vernal and Nevada Falls, a Jew peddler, Salem Clark’s camp, Mariposa Grove, bears. Our time was only marred by one great tragedy. Addie was writing in her journal and lost her precious fountain pen.
“On our way down, we passed through the mining country, and the havoc made of the country is terrific, great gullies gashed out.
“One Saturday afternoon, we camped at a mining town. The spring in the wagon had broken, and when I finished paying for it I had only 50 cents left. Monday morning we went on and towards evening took a road by the advice of a young fellow living near but found out afterward that it had not been traveled for some time. In descending near a creek, the left rear wheel went all to pieces. There was a little empty cabin near, which we preempted.
“The poison oak was very abundant, and Allie and I were badly poisoned. Addie managed to get a man living near on his ranch to help us lug the wagon down to the cabin. I cut a sapling three or four inches in diameter to bolster up the hind axle; it turned out to be poison oak also. And Allie had to crawl under some ivy vines to get water for us out of the spring, as she was the only one small enough to get in there.
“I helped the man dig his potatoes in exchange for feed for the horses and potatoes and corn for us. In a day or two we heard of a very prosperous farmer living not far off, a sort of horse trader, and I sold him the whole outfit for $60, just enough to get us back to San Diego. He took everything but my pictures, which he was to ship later, and delivered us to the nearest station, 30 or 35 miles.
“We went to Stockton, and by boat to San Francisco, and then to San Diego on a crowded boat. Addie and Allie managed to get a cabin, but I had to go deck passage. And weren’t we glad to get back to old San Diego.”
The Fries family rented a place on 9th and E Street but soon moved out to 30th and El Cajon Boulevard, where Mr. Fries tried his hand at beekeeping. The way Allie told it, her father didn’t like the bees and had to get rid of them. Meanwhile, he couldn’t sell his pictures, on account of which he became so blue and downhearted that Addie got discouraged and left him. She took Allie and moved into the St. James Hotel and sold papers on the street to make expenses.
While at the St. lames, on July 21,1905, Addie stood at their Fifth-floor window overlooking the bay. The gunboat Bennington, lying peacefully in the harbor, suddenly disintegrated. There was a boiler explosion. Sixty-one crewmen were killed outright and nine more died of wounds, out of a crew of 179. From this tragedy came the first burials in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Eventually, Mr. Fries’s paintings of Yosemite began to sell and to secure him a local following. Several of the paintings he traded to U.S. Grant, Jr., for lots on F Street near 28th. The reunited family moved there.
“While living in a tent in a nearby canyon, I built a little cabin on the back of these lots, and we spent a happy year in the brush, not disturbed by landlords. We had averaged a move a year since our marriage, and that was enough.
“Among the lots traded with Grant were a couple at 14th and L in the wholesale business district. We were wondering what they were worth and decided we would take $1000 for them. I was painting a portrait of Mr. Cleveland, one of the oldest lawyers in San Diego, an old-timer with a good sense of values. He advised us to put them on the market for $2500, and he guaranteed we would sell them in three months, and so it turned out. We received cash for them and used the money in building our house.
“Mr. Von Poser, with whom I had been out prospecting, advised me to build an adobe house. I made 1200 adobe bricks from what is now the cellar. Mr. Von Poser helped me, or I helped him, with the cement and plastering. One of my good friends, Mr. Stageman, helped me out with the lathing. It was great fun but hard work.
“It has been a nice home for us for years, but of course I see where I made mistakes. I believe I could have gotten it built by contract just as cheap, as the people I hired saw I was a greenhorn and chiselled me.
“I have been able to live for the last 25 years on my work and have done little teaching. In that time, I have made it a business of going out on trips of ten days or two weeks, once as long as six weeks.
“Quite a number of years ago Miss Harriet Morris and I went to Palomar Mountain for a week or two. I camped in a tent and she at a farmhouse. I attempted while I was there a subject looking down the hill to see if one could possibly give that effect. Miss Morris thought I did succeed, but I doubt it.
“Later on Miss Morris was teaching out near Escondido with a very small class. Addie and I visited there, and we boarded with a family. The father and mother were not congenial and were living in dire poverty, the man a dreamer and the woman a little energetic piece of humanity and practical; and the combination made it disagreeable for all concerned.
“They had a house full of children, and the ranch was all run down. They lived mostly on beans. I love beans, generally, and never knew I could get tired of them. On arriving home, my wife informed me — knowing my love for beans — that she had just fixed up a nice batch of baked beans!
“I was invited out to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Block, out at the foot of the Cottonwood Grade. They were a very old couple. He was a Russian Jew, and she was an American schoolteacher. He came out and settled on this land in the early days and finally prevailed on her to join him. I don’t believe I ever saw a couple more attached to each other.
“Some years ago I went up to San Francisco to sketch the surrounding country. I went over to Mount Tamalpais and made a sketch of Muir Woods from there. I put up at the Inn on the Mountain run by an old German. At the time we were voting to decide whether women should be allowed to vote. Wasn’t that old German incensed? He had the same idea that most Germans had that woman’s place was a slave in the home.
“We made a number of trips up to Laguna Mountain. Mr. Merritt had built a cabin up there, which was more pleasant than camping out. I’m afraid if a fire ever should get started up there during the summer season there would be a terrible loss of life.
“Frank Thing one year had some sheep pasturing at an old original homestead, and he came after me up at Merritt’s cabin, and we spent a week or so down at the old homestead, and I painted sheep. They make very interesting studies.
“Frank played the violin well. He played entirely from memory and he claimed that they have played all night at country dances and never repeated once. His brother plays the guitar.
“Miss Rice, Mrs. Summerlin, and I went by invitation of Mrs. Thing to their ranch up on the Laguna Mountains, quite difficult to get to. Mrs. Thing had been an old pupil of mine previous to her marriage. The Thing family was large, and each boy took up a homestead claim adjoining each other. It makes a ranch seven miles long. They were in the cattle business and engaged Mexican vaqueros entirely, as Frank preferred them to Americans. As he said, the Mexicans did not object to being rousted out at any time during the night, as sometimes was quite necessary. He also appreciated their musical nature. They would no more than get in their cabins than they were crooning and thumbing their guitars.
“We made two trips out there. The last time rattlesnakes were very much in evidence. One day the men killed more than a dozen while tearing down an old barn. Their little dog was bitten, he suffered terribly and finally died. Frank said that dogs usually pulled through, but this dog was rather old. I had not been much afraid of snakes up to this time, rarely thought of them. But after seeing the sufferings of that little dog, have been more careful since.
“While out there we were sketching under an oak tree. Mr. Thing’s boy who was with us suddenly yelled, and there was a rattler crawling out of the trees. It caused some commotion but none were bit.
“There was an Indian reservation adjoining the Thing ranch. There was an old couple, he being perfectly blind and she nearly so. When Mr. Thing killed a beef they seemed to smell it, as it was invariably followed by a visit from them; the old woman leading the old fellow. Whatever they took home, she carried on her back.
“We were getting ready to make a third trip, when Mrs. Thing received a telegram informing her that Frank had been instantly killed by a train running into their car. The boy was with him but escaped injury. Mrs. Thing is now living in Calexico, as Frank had large interests down there in Imperial Valley.
While Guy Woodward and his sister were running Warner’s Hot Springs, not only did Miss Woodward sell a number of canvases for me, but I had a standing invitation out there and took advantage of it on many occasions. I usually camped at one of the original adobes on what they called Queer Street.
“I was painting one forenoon just north of the bathhouse, when a terrible earthquake shock occurred. I was standing but could hardly keep my feet by holding onto the easel. The ground before me seemed to move in billows similar to the waves of the ocean.
“The Indians were not long in getting buckets of adobe to fill up the cracks. There were shocks for two weeks, and I lay on my bed at night wondering whether the wall would fall the other way or on me. It was the most terrible experience of that sort that I had experienced, and it destroyed several towns almost entirely.
“After her brother died. Miss Woodward took over running the Pine Hills Resort. She invited me to spend a week or so up there, which I did. I lived in a tent with a board floor, quite near where the cook, his wife, and little boy slept. In the evening after their work was through, they would sing their old negro melodies. They had beautiful voices and I enjoyed it very much.
“During World War I, I met Dr. White at Warner’s and she invited me to visit Palm Springs. Shortly after, I took advantage of the invitation and found Dr. White just about done in, as several cars had arrived filled with influenza patients. She was compelled to be both nurse and doctor. Several of the patients died.
“I spent a couple weeks there and worked pretty hard. She let me have a nice cottage and I was independent, so I could get out early in the morning for early effects. The doctor and her sister went out camping in the mountains and invited me. They had all manner of paraphernalia, sleeping bags, pup tents, etc. The sister was a ‘desert rat.’ She could cook delicious puddings in the sand.
I have made many trips to the desert and have been called the Desert Artist. I have painted much of the Coachella Valley. More than once I was the guest of Mr. Reed. The second time I accepted his hospitality I had quite a time getting there. I sent him a postal, but he had not been to town and hadn’t received it, and of course, he was not there to meet me. I waited for some time; and finally, at the advice of a young man at the store, I decided to take a shortcut.
“In starting, I stumbled and fell flat over a rabbit fence. I kept right on and was heading for some time in the direction I thought was right, until finally deciding that the object I saw was not his house. Reaching for my glasses to verify my doubts, I found I had no glasses. The wind was blowing and it was quite warm. I retraced my steps but soon found my tracks covered up and began to get rattled. But as it began to get dark, it cleared up and I could see the line of lights of the different towns and headed toward the lights. The feeling of helplessness in such a predicament is not pleasant.
“When I got back to town, Mr. Reed’s man happened to be there, and we went on to the ranch. I had a hunch my glasses dropped when I fell, and sure enough, there they were, protected somewhat by some bushes. I felt I was saved as I could’ve accomplished very little without them. Ever since, I always carry two pair.
“Mr. Reed was very indignant at the young clerk for advising me to take the shortcut, as he recognized the danger. Two men in a car got lost in that vicinity a short time before, and one of them lost his life.
“I never knew that rattlesnakes climbed trees, but one morning Mr. Reed realized they were getting some young chicks and shook three or four sidewinders out of some sapling trees.
“Mr. Reed took me over to Hidden Springs Canyon in the mountains back of Mecca. It was certainly enjoyable and we stayed a day or two. It takes its name from a spot rather inaccessible where there is a spring that feeds a clump of palms. Mr. Reed had a candle and by crawling on our stomachs for some distance through a natural tunnel, we finally came upon an opening such like the interior of a cathedral — it was a wonderful effect.
“At another time, he took me to what is called the Painted (Canyon in the same range of mountains. There is a formation there that interested me greatly. It was of soft red sandstone, and the water had rounded off the tops of huge pillars, and it reminded me of the old Egyptian architecture.
“The trip to Death Valley, in 1930, was made with two cars: Will and I in one, and Fenton Garfield and a friend in another. The weather was beautiful and a campground provided all the accommodations, gratis. The subjects are freaky and almost impossible to render.
“There is a Painted Canyon about seven miles from Coyote Wells, where Mr. Merritt and I went for a couple of weeks. We camped in the bottom of a dry wash, which was rather risky, as cloudbursts are very common, and it would have washed us out, but fortunately that did not occur. The foundation there seemed to be immense stones, as big as a house, and the rain would loosen these boulders and let them fall. While sketching under these cliffs one could hear smaller stones dropping occasionally, which caused one to feel a little uneasy.
“One canvas I was working on caused Mr. Merritt to remark: ‘It looks like a fruit salad.’ These subjects are rather freaky, and most people prefer not to have them hanging in their homes.
“Another trip to the desert, I was with an artist friend from Chicago. We went to Mountain Springs and camped up against the wall of an old fort, it seemed to be.
“There were two campers near us, and they seemed to resent our getting near them but finally decided we were harmless. They said they had a gem mine over there, but we couldn’t understand why they should go at night. There were some smugglers arrested there shortly after that, and I presume it was those men.
“A queer duck was living at Coyote Wells, an Englishman they called Charley. From his account, he had served in every war of the century. At any rate, all he could think of was killing someone. He particularly had a desire to kill the county sheriff. It seemed they had cut his wire fence sometime previously. He certainly had murder in his heart. And yet the peculiar combination expressed in that individual is puzzling; he had a few flowers in pots that he cared for, and he nursed and tended them like babies.
“William Pierce and I decided to camp and sketch in San Felipe Valley. Ted Hopkins took us and we had his tent, which was a makeshift. We had terrible weather for two days and nights. The clouds seemed to meet overhead and fight it out. Winds from the sea and desert met and had a duel. We were compelled to sleep on the ground, and it rained constantly that first night of the storm. It was dark as a pocket, and I couldn’t even And the flashlight, so we had to grin and bear it until daylight — after having our pots and pans blowing all over the landscape for hours. When I admonished Pierce that we should get . up and see if we couldn’t anchor down the tent, he rolled over with the remark: ‘What’s the use? Everything has gone to hell anyway!’
“One day at Jacumba we were climbing a mountain and came upon a cave. It smelled like a menagerie, and we scooted, as we had no guns. The next day one of the boys saw the lioness with a couple of cubs.
A number of years ago, I started out one morning and accomplished riding my bicycle over 75 miles in one day, not, however, for the sake of a ride, as I had an object in view. I had heard of a spot I might homestead, five miles beyond Escondido on a mountain I had once climbed. I didn’t succeed in locating the claim. But I did succeed in nearly breaking my neck on the way back home. The chain on my bicycle broke, and as there were no brakes I had to jump off.
“Sometime after that I did locate a homestead at the foot of Little Tecate Mountain. I had been visiting and sketching in Bee Canyon where an old friend had a ranch. He persuaded me to take up this claim. I managed to get about $50 worth of lumber on the spot and went out a number of times to fulfill my obligations as a claimant but finally gave it up as a wild dream. Addie was not strong enough to live such a life, and I couldn’t qualify without lying like a house afire, as many did. So I afterward turned it over to the Forest Reserve.
“I did considerable sketching in the neighborhood of Dulzura. At one time, Ray Anderson and I rented a cottage and a horse and buggy and had many delightful trips. One day we had been sketching at the top of the grade five miles above Dulzura; it was very dusty, and not having any way of protecting the canvas, when we arrived at our cabin we found about an inch of dust covering it. I brushed off all I could, and it produced a wonderful fog effect. It reminded me very much of the effects I had seen in Scotland.
“One trip going back home towards evening, below Dulzura, it began to rain. A little further on I stopped at a large Jamul ranch owned by the Spreckels interests. The rain continued, so I remained all night for a charge of $2.
“The next morning about 9:00 a.m. a heavy wagon with four mules started for Bonita Ranch. We were about five hours getting a short distance to the ranch on account of the mud. There was a restaurant near for the benefit of the working men. I bummed a dinner. From there, 18 miles home, I walked, carried, and rode the bicycle. It was Addie’s bicycle, and it clogged with mud much more than a man’s. When I arrived home — tired, dirty and angry — if anybody had told me, as I had been told before, that it didn’t rain in this climate through summer, I might have resorted to violence.
“The Anderson boys had bought a ranch out back of Alpine and managed to get us with an old rickety wagon over to an old deserted ranch house belonging to them. The road had not been used for years.
“The view there shows the watershed of the west Cuyamacas. I decided to paint a large canvas of it. Mr. Harry McKee, who was handling my work at the time, suggested it and thought he could sell it to the Cuyamaca Club. I built a large easel, pounding the uprights into the ground, and left it out in the open until it was finished.
“McKee managed to have it hung in the Cuyamaca Club and received several subscriptions from members. About that time, I received a very insulting letter from someone I had never heard of. He said that he couldn’t see why the directors had allowed the painting to be hung. I showed the letter to the president, and he cussed the fellow roundly. But that same fellow had influence enough to have it taken down.
“There is one trip I neglected to speak of: Mr. McKee was practicing law at Fresno, where he had migrated after his sad experience here in San Diego, in a free-speech fight which was a disgrace to the city. He was one of the leaders in the free-speech fight, which certainly was an eye-opener, what with the lack of adhering to the truth exhibited by the press, and the failure on the part of so many to show any sense of justice, and the savage recourse to primitive modes of torture, such as administering a coat of tar and feathers and brutally treating those with whom they did not agree. Mr. McKee shook the dust of San Diego off his feet, after serving 30 days in jail as one of the leaders in the free-speech fight.
“He was keeping bachelor’s quarters in Fresno. He and I took a short trip out to the Sierra Nevada mountains, the first and only time I have been in that range. I have always had a great desire to sketch in the High Sierras; but one is required to have pack animals, and it means much hardship, and I guess I will never be equal to it.”
Mr. Fries died in 1940, leaving 1721 cataloged paintings. A generous fellow, he gave my family lots of them, for birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. All my life I’ve stared at his eucalyptus groves, beaches, and deserts, and still I can hear the artist’s voice. It’s gentle, reverent, amused, excited, and grateful. Fifty-three years after his burial, Mr. Fries keeps teaching me how to write.