Gin Chow: Farmer, Prophet, Author, and Water-Rights Fighter by Merle Blasjo

A previous article described the remarkable capabilities to predict events attributed to Chinese immigrant Gin Chow. He first demonstrated this ability to neighborhood farmers who observed that his predictions of storms, frost and other weather events often came true, even when predicted days or weeks in advance. Word spread to the local media, who were glad to have such attention-getting material to report.


Gin’s predictions included national and international events such as earthquakes and warfare. These reports to large audiences naturally reached some skeptics.
Doubters pointed out that they heard many of the predictions after the event. Undeterred, Gin continued to shower the public with new forecasts

His fame was so widespread that the publication of his material became profitable. He published numerous pamphlets, a yearly almanac, and books, all of which found a market in his followers. Unfortunately, there are no longer copies of any of his writings in existence, with two exceptions: his first and second annual almanacs.

I was able to read his “First Annual Almanac” at the public library. It contained a jumble of history, predictions, science, philosophy, and religion (Eastern and Western). They were written in a voice we sometimes call “Pidgeon” English. It is what Westerners hear, or perceive they hear, from Chinese people learning English. An example of Pidgeon English is “On Tuesday next come big rain.”

Later, Gin received accolades for his participation in a famous water rights court battle. In the early 20th century, Santa Barbara and Montecito realized their land development could not continue because groundwater was becoming depleted.
The cities formed a plan to make a supply of water available for many generations. Two dams would be built on the upper Santa Ynez River to capture floodwater and direct it into tunnels carrying it over the mountains to Santa Barbara and Montecito. These dams, Gibraltar and Juncal, continue operation to this day.

Gibraltar Dam
Juncal Dam

Hearing of this project, Gin and his neighbors became concerned over the possible loss of water for their farms. After studying the situation, a group of 39 farmers launched a lawsuit. The complaint essentially was that cities did not have a right to this water. Gin was elected to be the leader of the group.

The suit, recorded as Gin S. Chow et al. vs. City of Santa Barbara and Montecito Water District, was debated at different jurisdictions and was studied by the California Supreme Court. A judgment was finally handed down favoring the defense (Santa Barbara and Montecito).

Two months later, Gin Chow died as a result of an accident. He will be remembered for his spectacular predictions and publications, perhaps more vividly than for the Santa Ynez River rights struggle. Even though the court decision was a loss for Gin and his plaintive group, it marked the tenacity of the human spirit in standing up to a larger and more powerful group

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