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Probe

January 23, 2001

QUESTION: Ever since I was a kid I have been hearing about Flowing Wells in Niland. Although I have been to Niland many times, I have never seen the well or wells. Does water flow from the well? Is it like a gusher or does it bubble out of the ground like a spring? Did somebody dig the well? — Curious, Brawley

The well is about five miles southeast of Niland. To get there from Niland, take Pound Road to the Highline Canal.

Cross the Highline, then the railroad tracks, follow the tracks for 50 to 75 feet to Old Glamis Road, go about 100 yards, maybe 200 yards down Glamis Road. That should get you to Flowing Wells or hopelessly lost.

Don't worry about it. We've been hopelessly lost many times but always found our way home. You can follow the railroad tracks northwest back to Niland.

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You could miss the well. It's not a geyser or a gusher. Since we've never been there, we hesitate to call it an oozer.

Otis Tout in his book "The First 30 Years," commented that referring to the water breaking the desert surface as a "flowing well" was a "misnomer."

Flowing Well or Flowing Wells was the location first seen by new arrivals to the Imperial Valley, who were surrounded by their worldly goods waiting for transportation into the Valley's irrigated area in a rough-riding freight wagon.

Before the canals, the roads or even the promoters, there was the railroad, skirting the Valley's edge on its way to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Before the railroads, or even horses, Indians ran across the desert. Never did they burden themselves with food or water. An Indian who wanted to visit the coast just hit the road, depending on luck and toughness to get him through.

If you're driving along Highway 78 or the railroad track, you can still see the Indian trails cut 500 years ago on their way to the coast.

The settlers who got off the train were just about as tough as the Indians.

F.F. Leja arrived in 1901 from his native Poland to work on the canal to Calexico. He filed on 40 acres, and with borrowed equipment, put in a crop of barley.

In 1903 he sent for his family, still in Poland. We don't know any of the details of Mrs. Leja's loading her children aboard ship for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

We know the train trip from Baltimore to Flowing Wells took 11 days. When the little family arrived in October 1903 there was nobody there to meet it.

With her children huddled around her and unable to speak English, Mrs. Leja spread a blanket on the ground. She and her family spent that first desolate night under the stars listening to strange night sounds.

The next day, Mrs. Leja and her kids searched for her husband. The family feared they were waiting in the wrong place.

When Leja didn't turn up, another settler, J.H. McKim, bundled the woman and her children into a buggy and hauled them over a dusty road several miles to the family's new homestead.

Tout writes F.F. Leja was so excited to see his family he forgot his native Polish and spewed forth in English, which his family didn't understand.

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