By Denise Ortuno Neil
John Guthrie McCallum was the first white settler to explore the Palm Springs area and make it home for him, his wife Emily, sons Wallace, Harry and Johnny, and daughters Mae and Pearl. McCallum was a man of prominence coming from San Francisco. His professional life included being an attorney, editor, and politician, and as a founding member of the American Party, had cast one of the first electoral votes in California for Abraham Lincoln and even attended his inauguration. He came to know the Palm Springs area through his service as being an Indian Agent to the Mission Indians, which led him to meet the Cahuilla Indians who inhabited the area they called Agua Caliente, which McCallum would come to call Palm Valley. He decided that the areas dry climate would be a healing place to help his son Johnny, cure his Tuberculosis. And so in 1884, he moved his whole family to the desert, with hope and adventure in sight.
He had the now famous McCallum Adobe built, to house his family. The early years found the McCallum’s only neighbours to be the Cahuilla Indians, McCallum befriended and also employed them to build not only his Adobe, but also the first irrigation ditch in the West, which brought water from the White-water River to Palm Valley (Palm Springs), to irrigate the crops that McCallum had planted to fulfill his agricultural goals. Eventually, McCallum would help to establish the Palm Valley Land and Water Co.
Through the years McCallum came to own hundreds of acres of prime land in Palm Valley, and although his agricultural dreams gave way to years of harsh weather and drought, it was his sense of optimism and love for the desert area that came to cement his legacy. And it was his daughter Pearl, who perpetuated that legacy, and along with her husband Austin McManus, developed key properties in Palm Springs, which included, The Oasis Hotel and The Tennis Club. Since then, the McCallum Foundation was established, and through donating millions of dollars, it has helped support many desert institutions such as College of the Desert, The Living Desert, United Way of the Desert and the Palm Springs Historical Society, plus many more. And it is all because of John Guthrie McCallum, and the love he had for his son Johnny. We thank you Mr. McCallum.
For more information contact the Palm Springs Historical Society at www.pshistoricalsociety.org .