It rained but not everyone was convinced

In last week’s blog, we looked at an amazing experiment conducted in San Diego in 1891. Folks actually believed they could make rain by setting off explosives and rattling the clouds. The latter part of 1891 saw a severe drought beset Duval County and thousands of cattle were dying from hunger and thirst. It was not surprising that some ranchmen would reach for any hopeful proposal to end the drought.

Robert Kleberg and N. G. Collins raised funds to bring a meteorologist named John Ellis from Oberlin College to replicate a seemingly successful experiment he had conducted in Midland, Texas. They brought in an old canon from the King Ranch and with the help of an Army detachment from Fort Bliss, they set-up their equipment on the Collins Ranch a couple of miles northeast of San Diego.

Ellis climbed into a balloon and rose into the heavens to check the clouds. The soldiers, meanwhile, filled small balls with powder and soaked them in nitro- glycerin. After days of waiting, some dark clouds appeared overhead and the soldiers, at Ellis’ direction, released balloons filled with sulfuric acid gas and exploded them with the canon. The blasts caused quite a stir in town and a discharge was so close that it leveled the soldiers’ tents.

But lo and behold, by nightfall it began to rain and the dry grass below sprung back to life. It rained about half an inch in an hour. Shortly after five in the morning, a north wind blew the cumulus clouds away and the rains stopped and so did the experiment. The soldiers took down the camp and Ellis and his men returned home by way of Corpus Christi. Ellis and the rest of the rainmakers reported to Washington and others that the experiment had been a success.

Local residents also praised the experiment. H. J. Delamer of the Delamer Ranch in San Diego praised the experiment, as did Dr. L. B. Wright, F. Gueydan, Judge James O. Luby, and G. W. Fullerton of Gregory, who had contributed $300 for the experiment. The main backers of the project were not as effusive. Kleberg, whose mother-in-law Henrietta King had contributed the most, $1,000, agreed the rain probably resulted from the explosions but still remained cautious that more work needed to be done before the process were proven. Collins, on the other hand, did not think the bombing had caused the rain and openly told the press as much. That prompted Ellis to reply that Collins would not have been convinced had it rained gold on his neighbor’s land, if it did not fall on his land.

As years passed, atmospheric scientists concluded that Collins was indeed right; the explosions had nothing to do with causing rain to fall. And so, you do not see anyone pulling out their shotguns during the frequent dry spells in Duval County today.