The Rainmakers

Material Information

The Rainmakers
Natural History


Subjects / Keywords:
Rain ( jstor )
Chemicals ( jstor )
Witches ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


The Rainmakers, by Gerald Carson
General Note:
Box 10, Folder 22 ( SF Water Modification - 1981-83 ), Item 5
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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Ti Rainmakers

A succession o. d iduals have devoted their talents
to milking the louds-and the people

by Gerald Carson

While thes omadkiceocieies of puimi-
tive iersts and Awneasetol d down as
agricalterists, they a(imi d-a soire abun-
dat food supply, andloa ith it a par-
lyring r that the rains wo4 t cam
and the crops would withe.'ttP rbaps
nature'sdoughscould be contrOd. The
wish led to the belief that such a goal was
Aan datearers and great chiefs and
priests arose to act as rainpakers. They
were wFer than common men or at least
cleverer, gudarns of secrf'icarms, in-
terceshiWp saably capableof cocili-
ating t.os or a gryd.rits, AO were,

Sir r^isft W less


upon symQpa itc, or
that is;,the notion that lilmpneduma lccike,
that the effect resembles the cause. So
some tribes squirted water on csh other
or imitated the calls of aquatic birds or, as
in Uganda, set out pots of water to draw
down the rain when the pasturage failed.
Animal'sacrifice was believed to be effec-
tive provided the animals were black the
color of storm clouds. Later came the idea
Sof a pantheon of gods who controlled the-
Sphenomena of nature. Among the Greeks,
rain was supposed to come from the sm-
preme deity, Zeus, who poured water
through a sieve: Homer speaks in the Iliad'
of "the rain of Zeus." The Romamn sky
god was Jupiter. In time of drought the
women of Rome, with bare feet and
streaming hair, went in procession up the
* slope to the Capitol, seat ef thebLhq*pt
cult, to offer ptryers And a mHilitedh"
later, the people of Santa Barbara, in
,southern California, petitioned the mis-

sion authorities to allow them to carry the
Virgin. Nuestra Sellora del Rosario, in
procession through the town with prayers
and supplications for rin.
Plutarch, writing of a great battle that
occurred in 102 .c., believed that noise
produced rain. Since nature's rain was ac-
companied by thunder, people might get
the same uas in..he same way. This
assQCq. a a .ae ntually came to
tiorcird dti with concussion. In
the sixteenth century Benvenuto Cellini'
wrote that he had brought on rain by artil-
lery fire. Church bells have been rung in,
France and Italy tojar the air and so wring
precipitation from the skies, and a modem
scholar, Clark C. Spence, a professor of
American history at the University of Illi-
nois, has noted that "shooting with can-
non, handguns, and rockets, was common
in the Beaujolais wine districts almost to
the twentieth century." .

The concussion theory is probably the
most widespread and durable of all popu-
lar beliefs connected with compelling the
skies to give up their moisture. In the
United States there was the opinion that
the Fourth of July is usually wet because
of the patriotic noise released during an
old-fashioned Fourth. In 1 880 U,S, patent
No. 230.067 was granted to Daniel Rug-
gles of Virginia, a former Confederate
general, who owned a ranch along the Rio
Grande in Texas, for a scheme to send up
a balloon loaded with explosives. Ruggles
encouraged the ideas of another
concssionist, Edward Powers, a Chicago
civil engineer, who wrote an influential
book, War and the Wearher' or, the Arti-
ficial Production of Rain (1871).
Powers listed some two hundred battles
that were accompanied by raip. Since
most battles weFe (fouhtin the temperate
zone, with rain expected on an average of
Normu StarfrNic'Soedt
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gle of vis4l; Onabui* LAht r it
didn't. Whewa.Aaini msnewe tedthe
Washington Post cbaita~is y ed it "a
hard rain,"Ona puUp ccsioana bhe
weather human alasict sAORFS, a
thundersla iid i i keoadf
but mostly newbwrotka than w *reit
was suppo sei.9 TEier igna this-
geographical discraPcy, -ad to. e" .
York Sun saU* "{ lwq.k~)B1oCplling
Dyrenforth, a mitl abl t; lean call
the clouds together with a lead of dyna-
But Puck, the haonaO s mapziwn of
the period, aprps ib *apici m poeti-
cally, too: .'ir while they watch for
drops of water,/jfals just whiee it hadn't
orter/By torii, jM~ey oh~ r qrter,"
The topic d dealing ra~ throt can-
cussion may tbaip. by istewac eto
a prominent4 ,)gisagintpwalgopAt=t rSoae
S50,000 on a utach. During tW6 and
1907, Charles W Pest. the Batte Creek,
Michigan, breakfast food mfifamai ac-
quired213,l4 a~.WBiLb$h landbi
GarEa, Lytj al s:ddcey counties,
Texas, ibtbtinai a lk water made
it imanatike dev4ets firoperties as

he had hoped. Post had talked-with moN
Civil War veterans about their warthn
experiences and concluded that artili
fire and rain were connected. Rain S
lowed thunder. Cannons made thunfa
Why not od out once andfor allifa ab
bardment of the sky could produce rat
"I don't undertake the task of rain-makt
as a disciple of science,'the Battle Cr4l
empiric explained, "but because the cra
... eed rain." i ;,
Explosives attached to kites were (4.
charged over the area in a series of splp
tacular "rain battles." and also at Batt
Creek, where, following the aerial ww
fare. a soaking rain descended. The UA
Weather Bureau pointed out. however,
that it rained that day from the Great
Lakes to the Pacific Ocean. Rain doctor-
ing, Scientific American commented, was
an incurable disease.
The elemental human need for rain in-
tensified west of the ninety-eighth merid-
ian, where precipitation tended to fall be-
low the level necessary for traditional
farming methods. Out of hopes denied
and much suffering, a grim form of humor
often emerged.
"This," said a newcomer to the Great
Plains, "would be a fine country if we just
had water."
"Yes." answered a discouraged sod-
buster, heading back east with a crowbait
team and rickety wagon, "so would hell."
As the settlement line pushed out onto
the subhumid plains in the mid- 870s, sci-
entific meteorology and precise knowl-
edge of cloud physics still lay in the distant
future. There was a general indifference
to theoretical science in the United States
during much of the nineteenth century; a
"get ahead" economic philosophy empha-
sized the immediately useful. Exceptions
An.lftfn Asnrm

The Dyrenforth Rainmaking Thras {1892) exploded
ground charges and balloons in an effort to make rain.

do come to mind, such as Joseph .tenry,
first secretary and director of the Smithso-
nian Institution, an investigator who did
basic work in electromagnetics and initi-
ated the use of telegraphic reports for
weather predictions and storm warnings:
and Joseph Leidy, a naturalist who made
contributions of permanent value in every
branch of zoology. To the list may be
added the name of James R Espy, a seri-
ous :student of cloud thermodynamics,
who as early as 1830 described the up-
ward movement of warm air as the pre-
condition to the formation of cloudsthe
cooling of the air, and the condensation of
its moisture .into- raindrops. :Espy,- was
never regardedasa fraud, but neither was
he a success. He ended up with a modest
niche in a government bureau, studying
storms without producing any. So'folk be-
liefs filled the knowledge vacuum. In ad-
dition to; the concussion theory, other
ideas that gained acceptance included:
*The notion that plowing up the land
made it rain, a doctrine warmly embraced
by the rainbelters-those farmers who
settled on the semiarid plains during a wet
year, relying upon a continuance of the
generous rainfall. Abnormally heavy rain-
fall after the Civil War seemed to confirm
the maxim, "Rain follows the plow."
*A theory that railroad and telegraph
lines increased rain because of the elec-
tricity in the wires or in the current run-
ning along the steel rails.
The idea that planting trees induced
in, which makes it understandable that
first Arbor Day was celebrated in
72 in Nebraska.
*fhe release of chemical gases to induce

4'And prayer. Whether the showers that
always finally came were of divine origin
or Itot, it was incontrovertible, as a saying
of the short-grass country had it, that "ev-
ery dry spell ends with a rain."
Maybe, it was said, the climate was
changing-wishful thought based upon
the misinterpretation of the natural cycles
of weather. Farmers on the hardsoil buf-
falo-grass plains said, "The country is be-
coming more seasonable." Hope fathered
the thought. And when the corn wilted in
the heat-the leaves curled up and the
ears were only nubbinmsiwhent the pas-
tures turned brown and the rain barrel was
low, then desperate met saw shimmering
miragesof freshwater lakes and embraced
the expedients of despair. The moment for
the entry of the rain wizard had come.
Many of them re-:now forgotten-
rogues, mystics, opportunists, flat-earth

believers, self-dduders-but some lef&'-
mark. Clayton B. Jewell was a dispatch
for the Chicago. Rock Island, and Pc
Railroad Company who attracted t he
tendon of Rock Island officials becausalf
experiments he had made with rock
and gases.Good crops would bring ei*
grants, boost land values, generate freig
traffic. So the Rock Island fitted out a sl
cial laboratory car, eventually expand
to three cars, for the rainmaker and his 9.,
sociates. They toured Kansas and ma4b
sorties into Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska
and South Dakota. As with all the rai
compellers, Jewell's formulas and meth-
ods were secret, but curious observers did
Kansas State Hormal Soc Topeka
ag MS, THE M51T1
S rem Wonderful
22nd1*, IV 0tO ?

ibourne tei "Ohio Rain e Wiard"

Filr Week.
And baa contracted wopaodiwoe a
heavy Rain the last day k of tefalr.

Governor Humphrey
Wi he pt- e peacdq.
The management of the Fair Asbooia-
tion will spare no palns or expense to
make this fair the most entertaining
of any ever held in western Kaana.

be been Moued wer th Bot Isibal
a lrltti I 1 w JT i a.
WRUNSIr6UYa .mraYtesr. .U*s e crass
A handbill advertises the appearance
of Frank Melbowne, the Rain
Wizard, at a local air.

report glimpses of bottles, pipes, tanks,
electric wires, and a pipe in the ear's rof
from which chemicals escaped. tMi
claimed he had brought down rainp1
six times. On one occasion, according
Kansas newspaper, so much precipM ft,
followed the magician's ministratiolUMM
a farmer implored Jewell to put a
the deluge or his calves would
Jewell replied rather jauntily: "Ma
wound up for ninety days. Same pd wtf
stopping as for starting. Teach the i-
to swim." Other raihlroads showed s
terest but the Rock island drafedjl
periments. Jewell moved on to Ca1f l
where he failed to milk the c k.r
Los Angdes. He died in 1906 doing what
he did best, dispatching trains for the Mis-
souri Pacific at Coffeyviie, Kansas. :
SFrank Melbourne, a born gambler and
oon man, was known as the Australian

Mal Doctor. The newspapers were well
lIlted with accounts of the wonders the
"g shanipulator had performed or was
- Mil t, and they obliged by calling him
le i Wizard. His charge was $500 or
ftU according to what the traffic wou'd he guaranteed to produce rain in
Obin ys. Like most of the "precipita-
ai" elbourne promised "no rain-no
pf" tit there were ways of juggling the
l lelbourne usually set up his appa-
M al an agricultural fair where he re-
igigrses from chemicals he said were
previtsly unknown to science. The the-
ory was that drops of moisture coagulated
around the particles of rising gas and
came down as rain. If it rained in the
wrong place, the professor explained that
the wind had caused the gases to d .
Sometimes rain followed Mellb
demonstrations and sometimes it d\t,
but the Rain Wizard's reputati -g
badly damaged when it became hm-
that his secret equipment included a
rometer and that the dates he chose ib
performance coincided with the wi-gr
forecasts of a popular almanac wiAdr ,
spected for the accuracy of its preditin.
Melbourne was a kind of shooting star-
up and then out-the beneficiary of
shrewd publicity and human gullibility.
Melbourne's career was profitable
enough to inspire a school of imitators in
Kansas and Nebraska: a former county
clerk, a bank cashier, a "colonel" in New
Mexico, a "professor" with a "powerful
rain machine." There were also some
imaginative cloud crackers whose activi-
ties were not necessarily chargeable to
Melbourne's influence, though they may
have found his success inspirational. A
versatile Missourian named Dorman, who
manufactured artificial diamonds, a laxa-
tive, and wrote poetry, brought forth the
Continental Rain-Making Compaql ag
used both chemicals and a shotpt. A
'Vtor" with the improbable nals f
08rge Ambrosius Morrison Sykuc, %U
6lved the earth was flat, was, dio*
S8ntricities, a salesman of such g
-R capabilities that the New 0
1bid said he could sell the BmoiAk
1ge "without even getting up a snO."
#t Goodland, Kansas, a clutch df ea
f te entrepreneurs-franchisen s,
Id call them today--created the lip
Moe Artificial Rain Company (whi 6.
O"l purchased or stole Melbourne% Oi
i"), the Swisher Rain Compaq ad
ti Artificial Rain Company. All of these
opportunists could read the almanacs and
the barometer and had access to the Sig-
nal Service weather maps. Like medical
doctors of the period, rain doctors were
not called in until the case was desperate.

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So a rain could reasonably be expasi
without human intervention. It was to
the rainmakers often won. In case dI a
cloudburst, a lawsuit for damages w-
be no disaster but, rather, a great -g
since it would constitute legal proof aoL
the pluviculturist did indeed make it t*.
The last and most spectacular af A
producers of meteorological fantasies g
Charles M. Hatfield, a former sewin|t=*
chine salesman with a ninth-grade e .
tion. As a result of experiments condWti
on his father's farm in San Diego C41M
California, Hatfield announced tit a
combination of twenty-three chemicals,
properly aged and evaporated from galva-
nized pans on top of wooden towers or
platforms, produced a "chemical affinity
with the atmosphere." He explained his
principle in vague but impressive jargon.
One is reminded of Starbuck, the central
character in the N. Richard Nash play
The Rainmaker, who explains,"I look up
at the sky and 1 say 'Cumulus!' I say
'Cumulus-numbus! Nimbulo-cumulusr "
Sur enough, after this bizarre incanta-
i, rain came down "in buckets, rain in
bt h, fillin' the lowlands, flooding' the

is addition to his use of scientific
aw6-o-jumbo, Hatfield also understood
l prsuasive power of understatement.
1 atot make rain," he insisted. "That
vag be an absurd claim. I merely assist
N1l6 I only persuade the moisture to
amildown." It was, he said, "a mere mat-
wMfaEhesive attraction." Since southern
O(hlia is a semiarid region, the natural
hMabitat of the road runner, the horned
toad, and turkey buzzard, of sagebrush
and cactus, the eternal search for water
made Hatfield's evaporators a familiar
sight. For nearly a quarter of a century he
conducted some five hundred demonslm-
tions, for fees varying from S$ to
$10,000. His apparent successes -la
some southern California municipdllM
fearful that he couldn't put the genie l
into the bottle, especially after a daN a
Lake Moreno broke with heavy dan--
and loss of life. Sixteen inches of rain W
in two days. The city of San Diego offep$
to pay the rain magician's fee only if tb
would relieve the city of damage sits
amounting to some $3,500,000. Obviou*
Hatfield chose not to collect and departal
in considerable haste, well armed and
without his $10,000.
At the high point of his career, Hatfiel1
enjoyed the courtesy title of "professor,''
and he became something of a folk hero
like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. In recogni-
tion of his fame, the Native Sons of the
Golden West erected a historical monu-
ment of red granite to "Hatfield, the Rain-

feared the fit dfeAXl *:am tdsl that had
preceded ItW~j~*i wa't- aaclusive.
Statistical prooi f ef f4civ4s9 was lck-
.The i the
ry~ of never
^^*Qu~l^* **';

mi Ra at,
hisChafcr. T 0ogoth
nt World War II. ard
invesliquid tigajiio L an d
years Fa still en-
binmakiiog Bd, s-
controidversial postwar G.


Vmuii the

*i5sociate Vincent 'J. haefer. TogeLhqr
they worked on method for de-icing ai
craft wings d i' World War II. The*
investigation ding:'to Langmirk
biographer, iM1 Rose.eld, "led to
controversial postwar expeiments in seed
ing clouds for purposes4- artificiall rami
making.'" It was in Langmuir's attempts
atr "that he gained hit

* A cA Odal hist. o-
i "ltij~tisz to Natural

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