BY JUDIE & JOSEPH PALMER
One of the rough gems of the Alhambra Cemetery is the cement remnants of what once was a very large water container. It is unknown exactly when it was installed, by whom, its eventual abandonment, or its complete structure and appearance. Unfortunately, no records or photographs exist prior to its demise.
A popular story states it was a horse trough and water fountain installed after an alleged cemetery fire that occurred around 1882 that burned away the vast majority of the wooden markers found throughout the grounds. This would have addressed two issues; providing water for the funeral horses and means to extinguish any future fires. It is also believed that the water was drawn from a well near the front gate by a windmill. However, only the cement remains of the base have survived with no trace of the fountain or windmill.
We have an idea as to the who, but some context is needed. In 1875, the Catholic community decided they wanted their own burial site. According to an article published February 19, 1875 by Oroville’s The Weekly Mercury, “Three Acres have been purchased and enclosed for a Catholic Cemetery on the sharply-rising ground west of and overlooking the Alhambra Cemetery, near Martinez.” By 1888, most if not all Catholics interred in Alhambra were exhumed and reburied in the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Cemetery, including Don Francisco Galindo.
Many years ago, while researching Alhambra’s origins and ownership history, we discovered something interesting regarding Don Galindo. Dr. Strentzel (John Muir’s father-in-law) was the largest individual property owner of both the cemetery (close to 1/3) and the Alhambra Valley (coincidently enough). Upon his death on October 31, 1890 his wife Louisa inherited the entire estate and when she died September 24, 1897 it was passed on to their daughter, Louie Strentzel Muir.
Later Louie, (putting her affairs in order) indentured it to her daughter Helen along with other land on July 11, 1905 (nearly a month before her death on August 6). Within the document it states, “… and the South half of Block No. Two Hundred and Two (202), less cemetery lot of F. Galindo.” Unfortunately, presently we don’t know where his lot’s exact location was within Block 202 but it’s very possible the former water feature is sitting on it. (Side note, when Helen Muir-Funk sold the land to the County on August 30, 1915 there was no mention of F. Galindo’s lot.)
This brings us back to Don Galindo who (along with Don Juan Salvio Pacheco) founded the City of Concord. He and his family were widely known for their community philanthropy and influence. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he or his family might have donated the land for the water feature, as they no longer needed their plots.
Now that we have tackled its possible origins we’re left to answer, what led to its ruination ? For that, we turn to the history of another epidemic “Glanders,” (much like Covid-19) attacks the pulmonary system, can be passed via airborne transmission and is very deadly if untreated. Although mostly found in horses, it is known to spread to humans and other animals. Unlike the Covid virus, Glanders is a bacterium.
In 1908, the California State Veterinarian, Dr. Charles Keane, remarked that communal water troughs were the most dangerous way for Glanders to spread. He claimed that any type of nasal discharge from infected horses while drinking could infect the entire trough and pass the disease on to other horses. Once infected, a horse sneeze or snort could cause airborne transmission to other horses, animals and humans.
Making the disease even more dangerous was its 100% mortality rate and an infected horse usually had atypical presentation showing no outward signs of the disease before it suddenly dropped dead. Since there were no vaccines or cures available, unsuspecting people suffered a horrible death. Only two things could be done; Horse troughs had to go dry, and horses tested with a biological product called mallein. If the horse had an allergic response to the mallein test, it was destroyed. (Fortunately, there are a series of antibiotics available today that prevent such a grizzly outcome for both animals and humans).
In 1909, Dr. Charles Keane made a plea to city and county officials throughout the state to shut down all water troughs knowing that he would get blow back. Business owners refused to let their troughs go dry, complaining it would ruin their livelihood if people could not water their horses in front of their establishment. Women horse advocates of Los Angeles and San Diego did not like the idea of standing pipes instead of water troughs. They felt the teamsters would be too lazy to draw water in their buckets or refill them, leaving their horses thirsty. By August, Dr. Keane gave up on trying to get Southern California counties to do the right thing.
In the Sacramento Bee on April 20, 1911, Dr. Keane states, “Systemic efforts have been adopted by this department to eradicate Glanders in the state. During the past year over 800 head of horses and mules, which were affected with this disease, were destroyed…” However, by November Glanders was raging in Los Angeles with the loss of over 300 horses within weeks forcing County Veterinarian W. B. Rawland to finally recognize that valuable horse deaths were traced directly to public water troughs. Therefore the County Board of Supervisors ordered all of them to be abolished.
By 1914, eradicating Glanders became a nation-wide movement resulting in the removal or destruction of hundreds if not thousands of water features around the country. The resulting aftermath sped up the country’s transportation transition from horses to motorized vehicles. Perhaps this is what happened to ours, although exactly when is unknown.
During the epidemic there were some experts who believed that stagnant water allowed the disease to spread, while running water prevented its survival. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest they may have been right. Buffalo kept their 200 fountains of flowing water and had no infections, while Cincinnati removed all of theirs and still had a major outbreak. Although it no longer exists in North America, there are still numerous cases worldwide with the most recent major outbreak occurring in India.
One final thought, should you visit the Alhambra Cemetery and pass by the old horse trough, now a flowerbox, give it a loving touch. You won’t catch glanders but now you will know why it might be a planter.
Our Column is sponsored and supported by the Martinez Historical Society (MHS) and the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA). For more information, please visit the MCPA website MartinezCemetery.org or the MHS website MartinezHistory.org. Do you have a cemetery story or images to share? Please email us at email@example.com or call us at (925) 316-6069.