Southern California Genealogical Society

1890 Census News Items

Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1890. "THE NATIONAL RODEO. Counting the People Under Difficulties. Experiences of Census Men. It is a Big and a Hard Job, but a Fair and a Full Count will be Made –Humors of the Work”

For two weeks past Supervisor of Census L. E. Mosher and his corps of enumerators have been hard at work trying to get at the correct population of this city. As almost every one knows, the United States takes account of stock once in every ten years by counting human heads. The last count was made in 1880, and as the population has greatly increased since then, especially in Southern California, the people of this section are more than anxious to see the official report of the census-takers. This is the eleventh census, and it is believed by many that it will demonstrate the fact that the population of California has more than doubled since the last one taken. There are people in this city, however, who firmly believe that they are about to be swindled, for they have registered more than one bet that the population of Los Angeles city will reach way up in the nineties, and when they are told that the number is liable to drop down below fifty thousand, they get mad and think the Northern Citrus Belt has put up a job on them. One prominent citizen who has held high official positions in this city called at Supervisor Mosher’s office in the Bryson-Bonebrake block the other day and informed Mr. Mosher that the whole thing should be stopped at once.

"But why” asked the Supervisor.

"Because it’s a put-up job. The Government should have taken this census three years ago, when we were in the midst of our boom. We could have made a good showing then, but now I don’t know what will happen to us. If we don’t make this the second city in California we are ruined, sir, and it is your duty to put a stop to it,” and the p.c. fumed at the mouth and swore that he could whip the man who put up the job on Los Angeles. He could not be made to understand that the census could not have been taken three years ago. He then undertook to tell Mr. Mosher how the census should be taken. He wanted to know how many names had been taken.

"I cannot give you any information on that subject,” replied Mr. Mosher.

"But I am a tax-payer and I want to know just what you are doing. I have a right to know how this thing is going. You have been at work long enough now to be able to give me an estimate. What do you think your old census will show?”

Mr. Mosher quietly told him that it is against the law for him to give any information and handed him the following important order to supervisors and enumerators to read:

"The thirteenth section of the census act of March 1, 1889, makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $500, for any supervisor or enumerator to communicate to any person not authorized to receive the same any information gained by him in the performance of his duties. It is not, therefore, within the discretion of the supervisors or enumerators to make public or give out any part of the information obtained by them. This applies with equal force to local authorities, newspapers and individuals. In no case will the Superintendent grant permission to divulge any such information.

"No tabulations whatever of the returns must be made by the supervisors, and no rough estimates given out. The schedules should be sent to Washington immediately after examination has been made by the supervisor to discover omissions and errors.”

Mr. Mosher has found this order quite handy, for it has saved him considerable trouble. He has been besieged by people who insisted on knowing how the census is coming out, and after the first day he found it necessary to post this order at half a dozen conspicuous places in his office.

As near as can be learned there have been no attempts made in this city to bribe either the supervisor or his enumerators for the purpose of inducing them to swell the population; but Supt. Robert P. Porter has discovered that this kind of work is being carried on in certain sections or he never would have issued the following order:

"To the Supervisors of Census: It has been brought to the attention of the Superintendent of Census that the City Councils and boards of trade of certain western cities have appropriated sums of money to aid their Census Supervisors in the enumeration of the population. While it may be urged by some that such a proceeding is legitimate, and merely intended to help the Government to obtain a fair and full enumeration, I am compelled to look upon it as an almost irresistible temptation to fraud, and as consequently endangering an honest count of the people. If tolerated by this office, it would have a tendency to bring the whole census into dispute.

"You are, therefore, positively instructed not to receive any such compensation yourself, nor countenance for one instant the payment of any sum of money whatever, by municipalities, corporations, associations, or persons, to enumerators. Any Supervisor of Census who is not content with the remuneration allowed by law (which is double the amount paid in 1880) should at once resign. The Eleventh Census must and shall be above suspicion. To tolerate any action on the part of municipalities, associations, organizations, or individuals, no matter how powerful they may be, which has for its purpose the debauching, or which would even throw the slightest taint upon the truthfulness, of the returns would, in my opinion, be nothing short of a crime against the people of the United States.

"This whole matter, together with the facts in the possession of this office, has been laid before the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, and the action of the Superintendent of Census in placing every legitimate obstacle at his command in the way of the distribution of local funds for this purpose meets with the Secretary’s approval.”

If there had been such an attempt made in this city Mr. Mosher would have exposed the projectors, for he is not the man to tolerate anything of an underhand character. He will give the people a fair count, and, as he has almost two weeks more in which to close his work, there is no doubt but that he will not miss more than a few hundred.

The Poor Enumerator

The life of the enumerator is not an easy one, and it is safe to say that not more than half a dozen of the 166 enumerators under Mr. Mosher would accept the job again under any circumstances. He has thirty-two men in this city, and it is enough to bring tears to the eyes of a tender-hearted man to hear them tell of some of their experiences.

One poor fellow, who is working in a sister city, wrote letter after letter to Mr. Mosher after the first day asking to be relieved. He had no idea what he was undertaking when he was sworn in. His last letter winds up in the following language, which is a fair sample of many others that have been received from all parts of the district:

"I have had four irate women drive me from their homes with broomsticks and other feminine weapons, and have had several doors shut in my face, a stick or two shied at my head, and in fact it was only by using the utmost amount of tact I am capable of that in a great many cases I was able to secure any information.

"I hope that out of regard for your peace of mind the other enumerators have not bothered you as much as I have, but then I suppose that there were not many of them placed in his position.

"Will you kindly let me know, taking your time about it, whether there is any prospect of doing better for me than the 2 cents a name, etc. I will do my best in any event to secure the most accurate and reliable information possible.”

One old soldier, who has been working on Boyle Heights, walked into the Supervisor’s office yesterday afternoon and threw down his last report. With a sigh that came from the bottom of his soul, he said: "I would not undertake this job again for a thousand dollars. I don’t know that I have had more trouble than the other boys, but I’ll bet that at least one-fourth of the people I have taken, I had to take in the morning before they were out of bed. I found after the first day that I could do more work early in the morning than any other time, and if I could get my foot in the front door I would make a bee-line for the bedroom. Sometimes they would threaten to kill me, and quite a number threw bootjacks and other things at me, but they could not get out of bed very well, and I stood my ground until their ammunition gave out, when I fired the questions at them. Some would answer without trouble, but others would cover their heads up and yell for help. Oh, I have had a regular picnic! The greatest number I ever took in one day was 218, but I was so tired that night that I could not sleep.”

One lady in a fashionable part of the city saw the enumerator coming across the street to her house and she met him at the door. She had watched him go into her rival’s house across the way, and as soon as he set his foot on the porch she asked:

"Will you tell me what age old Mrs. Blank gave you?”

"It is against the law, madam, to tell you.”

"Well, if you don’t tell me how old she said she is, I will not answer a single question. I will not let that nasty, old painted-face thing get ahead of me.” After some trouble he made her understand that he was sworn not to divulge any information he received, and that no one would ever learn her age, as the papers would be locked up in Washington.

There have been several arrests so far. One woman was arrested in this city yesterday because she would not answer questions, and Mr. Mosher has ordered several other arrests. Yesterday morning a warrant was taken out for one of the wealthiest farmers in Clearwater. He is an educated, intelligent man, but he got it into his head that he would not let the enumerator come into his house, and tomorrow he will be lodged in jail. Mr. Mosher has received a dispatch from Washington instructing him to have every person arrested who perversely gives his enumerator any serious trouble, and the chances are that quite a number of arrests will take place during the next few days. Three or four arrests have been ordered in San Diego.

Yesterday Mr. Mosher received a card from an enumerator in El Cajon, San Diego county, who complains because he lost four and a half hours by being stuck in the mud. He attempted to cross a ditch or something of the kind and sunk to his armpits in mud. (This was in the non-irrigable district.) It took him four and a half hours to work his way out, and he thinks the Government should allow him a full day’s pay.

One unlucky fellow who gets $6 a day and has to pay $4 a day for his team and about $1.50 for "grub,” writes to Mr. Mosher that the thermometer has held its own at 114 degrees during the past ten days, and he is about dead. He is a nervy chap, and will stay with it to the end.

Another one, who is doing Antelope Valley, has written a pitiful letter, in which he states that he cannot get inside of a house at night. For ten days he has been compelled to sleep in stubble-fields.

In this city it is not an uncommon thing for women in certain sections to come to the door in their night dresses if the enumerator gets around in the forenoon. When they learn his business they politely ask him to call in the afternoon.

One poor young dude who started out under the belief that he could earn $7 or $8 a day got forty-eight names the first day. He worked fourteen hours and thinks the Government should be ashamed of itself for not allowing him more than 96 cents for that day’s work. He has made less than $1.50 a day since he started in.

Some of the high-toned society ladies have allowed the enumerators to fill out the list, when they would suddenly change their minds and want to tear up the card and have the enumerator call around in the afternoon.

"Women is queer critters."


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