1891 bombing in San Diego was not from war

In the middle of October 1891, residents of San Diego could hardly sleep for three nights as bombardments exploded through the night. They were not under attack from a foreign enemy; they were party to a rainmaking experiment that captured the attention farmers and scientists near and far.

Twenty years earlier, a fellow by the name of Edward Powers had written a book entitled War and the Weather in which he observed that shortly after intense battles involving heavy cannon fire it would rain. Edwards hypothesized that men could artificially make rain by use of explosives.

Congress approved $9,000 to stimulate this notion and an initial experiment in Midland, Texas appeared to prove successful. Robert Kleberg of the King Ranch and N. G. Collins of San Diego traveled to Midland to talk with farmers in the area to see what they thought about the experiment. They were impressed and invited the rainmakers to come to South Texas. By this time, the experimenters in Midland had spent all the government money, so Kleberg and Collins offered to raise private capital for the experiment.

Rainmakers tried to make in rain by using explosives.
On Sept. 28, 1891, the rainmakers, accompanied by soldiers from Fort Bliss in El Paso, arrived in San Diego. The experimenters chose San Diego because of its location on the railroad and because of a hot dry spell that had afflicted the area for several months. The rainmakers proceeded to set up their operations in an area one and a half miles north, northeast of the train depot in San Diego. They called the encampment Camp Edward Peters in honor of the man who offered the theory of rainmaking by use of explosives. Mrs. C. S. Gunter, wife of Duval County’s surveyor, fashioned a white flag with Camp Edward Powers sewn in red silk. After her husband erected a flagpole and raised the flag, Addie Feuille and Clara Woods came to the camp from town and ceremoniously set off an electric dynamo.

After two weeks of preparation and of waiting for the most opportune time, the rainmakers began firing off explosives in the early morning hours of Oct. 16. The explosives were set off at night to prevent the daytime winds from affecting the experiment. The rainmakers discharged explosives every five minutes for several hours and continued several days. Many spectators came to the camp from San Diego and surrounding communities. As the explosives were set off, the onlookers huddled at the center of camp.

Judge J. O. Luby observed the bombardment from an iron bridge spanning 153 feet across the San Diego Creek. Although it was two and a half miles from Camp Edward Powers and made of iron, the bridge shook with every explosion. Twenty-seven miles away at the headquarters of the King Ranch, the bombardment awakened Kleberg. He climbed to the roof of the ranch headquarters and could feel the structure rattle with each explosion. The Kineños watched the fireworks as if it were the Fourth of July or el Dies y Seis de Septiembre.

So did it rain? Stay tuned for next week's blog for the results of the rainmakers’ assault on the sky.