What was the Rainmaker’s secret?

Charles Hatfield at work with his rainmaking chemicals. Photo from the Farmer’s Almanac.

A judge declared the catastrophe an act of God and not an act of Hatfields, so they were reprieved.

What was their mysterious scientific formula and how did it work? Two Minnesota brothers took the secret to their graves because they were convinced their formula was “too devastating a force to unleash to any one individual or group of bureaucrats that might misuse it.”

Poor California is no stranger to catastrophes—some of them, including a thirst for water, have existed for a long, long time. In the early 1900s, this crisis resulted in negotiations with a pluviculturist from Minnesota. Charles Mallory Hatfield, 39, had gained respect as a pluviculturist, also known as a rainmaker. If there was a need for water falling down from the skies, Hatfield was the man to call. He liked to call himself a moisture accelerator.

He had been perfecting his talent since 1902, on his father’s ranch. His known achievements had been producing 18 inches of rain for Los Angeles. He had also raised the water level of a reservoir by 22 feet. He was invited to perform his magic for the San Joachin Valley for eight years in a row by the area farmers. Actually, some of the natural rainfall was of adequate amounts, but the population of the area was doubling by leaps and bounds and the water supply could not keep up.

The Morena Reservoir was dropping to dangerous levels. Hatfield was called in. He guaranteed to fill it to overflowing for ten thousand dollars or they would not owe him a cent. Hatfield arrived at the location of the reservoir, sixty miles east of San Diego, and brought his brother along for assistance. Hatfield and his brother built a twenty-four-foot tall wooden tower there in the lower ranges of the Laguna Mountains. The top of the tower had a fence around its platform and within the fence was an area for vats to hold secret chemicals. The brothers dubbed their contraption a “rain attraction and precipitation plant.”

The Hatfields worked 24/7 measuring the results and increasing the strength of the chemicals accordingly. First, about an inch of rain fell on December 30, 1915. Over the next couple of weeks, there were some scattered showers of not much consequence. Then… there was a storm beginning on January 14 that lasted six days and smashed rain records. This was followed by another six-day storm with over 12 inches of rain falling on the previous four. Another three inches fell on top of that.

A disaster occurred. The ground was saturated and the San Diego River came out of its banks. Homeowners and motorists had to be rescued by rowboat. Animals and snakes populated the streets. The existing water supply could not be used and telephone and telegraph service went out. Frustrated citizens were suggesting that they pay the Hatfields to stop the rain. Farmers stood at the base of the wooden precipitation plant and begged them to stop.

The brothers, who had been out of touch with civilization and hard at work, thought they were joking and continued their efforts. By the end of January, 44 inches had fallen in Morena and a dam burst. There was a loss of life as a result and the Hatfield brothers had to hide because they were in danger of being lynched.

The San Diego City Council refused to pay them for the rainmaker service when they hiked in to collect their fee. Instead, they wanted the brothers to pay all of the damage suits that had been filed against the city for hiring them in the first place. A judge declared the catastrophe an act of God and not an act of Hatfields, so they were reprieved. They had gotten some publicity, anyway, Charles reflected philosophically.

Charles had once traveled to the Klondike to raise the streams around Dawson City to facilitate panning for gold. He was recruited to Naples Italy to end a drought in 1922, and he traveled to Honduras in 1930 to create enough rain to douse all the forest fires.

Their best achievement was in 1922 when they brought gully washers to the unpopulated Sand Canyon of the California desert. Charles retired from rainmaking after 503 successful attempts. He made his home in Eagle Rock, California and sold sewing machines.

In 1956, Charles was invited to attend the Hollywood premiere of The Rainmaker, and he did. His own career had inspired it. It is a terrific movie, with Burt Lancaster in the role of Starbuck as the silver-tongued rainmaker. Katherine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her part as the tomboy rancher’s daughter who falls under his spell. If you have not seen it, you might find it worth watching for some of the best emoting that Hollywood has ever produced.

As for the real rainmaker and his helpful brother, they had confided to a few choice friends, “Well, the secret will die with us.” And it pretty much did.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious Indeed, a collection of true stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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