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The Llano Colony as I See It

Episode 2: The Llano Colony in California --- 1/20/2017

Celebrating the Colony's Move to Louisiana 100 Years Ago

This week I thought we’d take a look at how the Llano Co-operative Colony was operated and its early years in California.

Harriman set up his new colony as a corporation – first in California under the name Mescal Water and Land Company, but there was so much opposition to the community that in late 1914, he re-named it the Llano del Rio Co-operative Company and incorporated it under Nevada laws where the politics proved to be a little more agreeable to colony beliefs.

Though Harriman and some of the other colonists were actually members of the Socialist party, it was not a requirement. To join, you did have to purchase a certain amount, at one dollar per share, of stock in the colony and agree to live according to colony principles. To ensure equality among all the colonists, no member would be allowed to own more than 2,000 shares of stock.

Over the years, the stock requirements were changed from time to time, but during the California years, the requirement was 2,000 shares for the head of each household, with lesser amounts for a spouse and each child. This price was based on the estimated cost for providing each member with the necessary tools and equipment.

Arrangements could also be made where you paid a portion in cash or trade and worked off the remainder at the rate of one dollars credit per day. Colonists who still owed on their membership fees were treated as equals inside the colony, except that they could not vote in community elections.

Every member also had to agree to abide by the colony principles, which like everything else over the years, was adapted from time to time to suit colony needs. But basically these stated that all tools necessary for production would be the property of the colony itself and stressed the importance of equality and fairness amongst all the colonists. Each adult member also agreed to work at a job within the colony.

In return, the family received a home with running water and electricity, food, clothing, medical care, education for themselves and their children… Essentially, everything they needed for a full and satisfying life. And all of it was to be produced by the colonists themselves.

The property in California had (and I quote from Bread and Hyacinths; the Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles) “ten thousand acres with nothing but jack rabbits and stink weeds and could be bought for one dollar an acre.” But, with proper irrigation, it would be ideal for fruit orchards and general farming. It was located about 45 miles from Los Angeles "as the crow flies", although the trip by car proved to be an all-day affair – if you were lucky.

The idea of a cooperative colony proved to be alluring to many people, in great part because times were not good. During those first three years in California, the colony grew to include nearly one thousand members. Growth was so rapid, in fact, that most had to live in tents while they waited for homes to be built.

After three years, the colony could boast of a print shop, gardens, orchards, livestock of every description, several lumbering industries, lime kiln, rug works, elkskin boot factory, two hotels, a solarium and bath house, blacksmith, machine shop and more.

Harriman firmly believed that a good social life was necessary to lighten the load of the cooperative pioneers. An advertisement from the Western Comrade, July 1914 issue proclaims -- "Every member to get the full social value of his efforts. Cooperation is not merely a word -- it is action!"

A multitude of entertainments were held during the evenings in the community hall – there were a variety of readings, talks and lectures; theatrical productions; musical concerts by colony bands and vocal groups; dances presided over by dance master George Pickett; baseball and football teams, Billiard Society, and several literary discussion groups.

Education stood out as a chief focus for the colony. In addition to the public schools which were supervised by the Los Angeles County, there was a preschool, industrial school and public library.

Optimism remained high until it was time to begin working on the dam which had been planned for the site from the very beginning. This dam was of the utmost importance to the community, hovered as it was on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

The first problem to appear was the objection of the colony’s neighbors in the valley, who were beginning to fear their way of life was being threatened by the sheer number of colonists moving into the area. When twenty local ranchers fought against the dam project in court, the colony’s application for the required permit was denied. The court’s ruling stated that in their opinion, the colonists lacked the necessary experience and sums of money that would be needed to complete the project.

And the worst was yet to come. When war was declared in April, 1917, Llano faced even greater problems. With many men being conscripted to fight, more jobs, with higher wages, became common outside the colony. Llano residents began to trickle away as more and more left to find jobs on the outside.

It was at this critical juncture that Harriman first heard about a tract of cut-over pineland containing an abandoned company town called Stables in the highlands of Western Louisiana. Soon arrangements were being made to move a large portion of the remaining colonists to the new location, quickly re-named Newllano. Several groups would travel in automobiles, but most, along with all their household goods and industrial equipment would go by train. Many, choosing not to make the move, returned to the world of capitalism.

Approximately 75 colonists, led by Bert Engle, remained at the California location, but a series of lawsuits soon led to the complete loss of that property and the last of the colonists left the Antelope Valley site in 1918.

The future of the Llano del Rio Co-operative Colony would be in Louisiana.

The Museum of the New Llano Colony is open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm. We'd love to have you stop by and hear more about this unique bit of Louisiana history. Or you can visit our website at www.NewLlanoColony.com to read a text copy of this podcast and check out our list of sources for more information on the topics discussed today. I'm Mary Ann Fussell and this is the New Llano Colony As I See It.


“Bread and Hyacinths; The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles” by Paul Greenstein, Nigey Lennon and Lionel Rolfe

“Gateway to Freedom” published by the Llano del Rio Co-operative Colony
The original version of this booklet was written by Job Harriman, though it was edited over the years to suit changes to colony policies.

Llano Colonist, December 10, 1927; Jan 21, 1932; February 16, 1933

The American Co-Operator, February, 1922

Western Comrade, October 1916

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