Home ]

Home Free Home: A History of Two Open-Door California Communes

Back Up Next
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25

Chapter 7
Court Dates And The Injunction

Everybody living at Morning Star was supposed to be in court on September 18th, but some arrived late and others decided not to go. Before the proceedings started, the judge ordered the bailiff to escort anyone shirtless, barefoot or wearing shorts out of the courtroom. A few were ushered outside. His Honor then read the fifty or so names of those who had been read the restraining order the previous week and had been summoned to appear. Half were absent or tardy, so bench warrants were issued for their arrest. Lou's attorney then asked for a continuation until Friday so that he could prepare a defense. The judge granted it, adding that no arrests for non-compliance would be made until that time. The restraining order stood as issued, but everyone was relieved that Morning Star could remain their home for five more precious days.

On September 22nd, the Morning Star tribe regathered in the courthouse. Some took time before the hearing to wash their clothes in the courtyard fountain while others joined hands in prayer. The judge, red-faced and puffy, seemed especially irascible and ordered the bailiff to eject anyone not meeting the dress code. He evicted several for wearing bells, which he found particularly annoying. Finally, with a scowl on his face, he called the court to order.

"Your Honor," the District Attorney began. "Since none of the defendants present have an attorney, I move that the case against them be dismissed, since if the court grants the injunction against Mr Gottlieb, the same objective will have been achieved."

The judge's subsequent dismissal of the charges against the fifty was the only bright moment in an otherwise dismal day. A score of officials testified to the trash, filth and human waste covering the ranch. They agreed it was no longer an organized camp since none of the original structures (except Lou's studio), lean-to's, shed and A-frames met any of the state's organized camp standards, let alone those of the county.

Hochuli took the stand. "I have seen ranch residents engaged in sexual intercourse near my fence, people urinating, defecating and walking around in the nude."

"What does it smell like?" the judge asked.

"A good old-fashioned leftover toilet," he answered amidst laughter form the audience.

"This is a thing you can't measure in decibels, either!" the judge commented.

In his cross-examination, Lou's attorney did not dispute conditions at the ranch, but pointed out that his client had been cooperative with officials and had tried to obey their orders. Finally it grew late, and the judge continued the case for a week at which time Lou, as the only defendant, would have his chance to rebut the county's claims. Of the injunction as granted at that time, the District Attorney said he would take immediate steps to close the ranch.

September 29th: Early fall rains set a chill in the air, causing some Morning Star residents to leave for warmer climes. But the courtroom was packed with those who considered the ranch their home regardless of weather or legal problems. Wertheimer began the proceedings by calling two friendly neighbors to the stand. William Barlow came from an old and respected family who once had owned the whole valley around Graton. Don Orr was one of the largest apple growers in the area. They both testified that Morning Star people had not caused them any trouble, and that the hippies were busy cleaning up the ranch.

LOU: "Don Orr was one of the very few people who saw the future and knew that it worked. He was always very helpful with respect to the ranch. At least four times he brought his two-ton flatbed truck up to Morning Star along with his several healthy, large sons, and together we cleaned up the mess the hippies had left - a subject about which I will speak again later because I'm not sure that it should have been cleaned up. At any rate, we were doing what we thought was right."

Bearded patriarch Lou, contrasting strangely with the clean-shaven judge of his own generation, then took the witness stand to testify on his own behalf.

"In the past seventeen months, I have become aware of a great need in our society," he began. "The Great Society is in reality a rat race, creating the kind of environment which can be lethal. The runaway juveniles and army deserters who come to Morning Star are a fine example of this. Our society is transforming so rapidly, the machine displacing people, that it produces bums at an increasing rate. They have become technologically unemployable, for machines do their jobs better and more efficiently. This is a tremendous affront to the employed. Therefore, new avenues of experiment must be explored to find out what to do with all this leisure time. Along this line, I see Morning Star as an open, intentional community with a tremendous potential for psychological and sociological discovery.

"Moreover, communal living has been healthful for many. If you suffer from ulcers, don't go to Las Vegas for an expensive vacation. Come to Morning Star. Before injecting posteriors with massive doses of vitamin B-12, doctors should recommend a three-month stay in Alternate Society. We are the first of many such communities to fulfill such needs, satisfying the law by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

"This style of living can also be used as a lesson of survival in the manner of the American Indians. As more and more people return to the land from the cities, they must learn the ways of the land - how to survive on it - how to grow their own food, how to construct their own shelters, so that they can go from an urban to a rural environment.

"I have cooperated fully with the county officials in attempting to comply with their wishes in bringing the ranch up to standard. As of today, there are six working toilets in running order, huge amounts of trash and debris have been hauled to the dump, and numerous shacks and lean-to's have been demolished. I have grandiose plans,including a mess-assembly hall and dormitories which will be beautifully constructed in folk architecture."

The District Attorney then interrupted to asked who as in charge when he was away.

I believe that Morning Star is in the hands of the Divine," Lou replied.

It was late afternoon when the final arguments were presented. Wertheimer argued that his client had tried to cooperate. The District Attorney said that plenty of evidence had been presented to support an injunction. With the case submitted on both sides, the judge began to read the bans which would be enforced at Morning Star. They prohibited anyone from doing the following:

1 - Operating an organized camp until health hazards are abated.

2 - Inhabiting any structure, except Mr. Gottlieb's one-room cabin, until they comply with building code standards.

3 - Exposing themselves or engaging in sexual intercourse in view of the roadway or any other properties.

4 - Trespassing on neighboring properties.

5 - Depositing garbage or human excretion on the property.

6 - Starting fires except where there is a permit.

7 - Building new structures or repairing old ones unless a permit is obtained.

Finally, he ordered Lou to tear down all structures which had been condemned and to haul away all trash within thirty days. He further stated that his order or any portion of it could be modified or suspended at any time "if good cause was shown." He was giving no consideration to Lou's philosophy because "that can't be legislated in court. I'm only interested in violations of the law."

He went on to say that "Mr. Gottlieb's predicament reminds me of a man who says he's building a hotel and invites guests while it's being built. In other words, he's putting the cart before the horse." When Lou's attorney asked for a twenty-day stay of the order - and then ten, the judge replied that plenty of time had already been given. The place had to be cleared by the following Wednesday.

Lou's reaction to the proceedings: "I'm more confused than ever!"

On October 2nd, the rains began in earnest with a day-long downpour. People huddled around the fireplace in the Lower House, trying to decide whether to leave or stay and face arrest.

"I guess when they come, all we can say is that we live here," someone commented.

Lou stayed in his studio, playing his piano and wondering what to do. Later he went over the injunction item by item.

"No one disagrees with that section... of course... we agree there, but how to comply? The building and health inspectors were here yesterday, and left me more confused than ever! Maybe ten grand will do it, but it might be twenty... I'm sorry we haven't been able to convince the judge or the people of Sonoma County that what we are doing is of historic significance and that we're not threatening anybody. The injunction is a document drawn up out of fear, but what are they afraid of? I don't know... If you think this closes this place, you're out of your nut!"

The next day a big feast was prepared. It was the night before the Wednesday eviction deadline and the party lasted until early morning. Nicknamed 'The Last Supper,' it was attended by about forty people who had decided to remain and face possible arrest.

FRIAR TUCK: "That was also about the time of the 'Beeper.' It was strange, that's for sure. You'd be sitting in the Lower House, and out in the trees you'd hear 'beep!... beep!...' It was real steady-like. 'What the fuck's that?' you'd say and take a run outside and start lookin' around. Like forty guys would be out there, and you'd hear it, man, but it was nowhere. It had a lot of people freaked out for a long time. I can remember people staggering out into the night to become completely lost twenty feet from the Lower House, stoned out of their minds, in search of the Beeper."

The following morning, as breakfast was being prepared, the sheriff and two health officials walked into the Lower House.

"Good morning, officers, can we offer you something to eat?" one of the cooks asked.

They declined the invitation (there might be LSD in the food), and instead proceeded to inspect the ranch, notebooks and cameras in hand, recording the extent to which Morning Star was obeying the judge's injunction. On the basis of their inspection, they filed the following affidavit with the court:

1 - About 21 persons were asleep in eleven different structures on the ranch.

2 - Mr. Gottlieb was still maintaining an organized camp in that 30 or more persons were living on the ranch, people were sleeping there and food was being consumed.

3 - Mr. Gottlieb had not complied with the requirements of an organized camp in that the facilities for preparation and the handling of food were inadequate; the food and utensils were not properly stored, nor were they clean.

4 - The sewage disposal facilities were inadequate in that the disposal facilities for the accommodation of kitchen wastes had not been completed.

5 - Approved garbage containers were not provided and there was still refuse lying about the camp, such as trash and rubbish.

6 - Although able to do so, Mr. Gottlieb had not required the residents to leave the ranch.

On the basis of the affidavit, the judge ruled Lou in contempt of court. He fined him the maximum five hundred dollars or five days in jail, adding that for each day's violation there would be a similar penalty.

Lou returned to the ranch feeling checkmated. Sobs and crying greeted his news. Everyone gathered in Don and Sandy's house to decide what to do. Don suggested that everyone should stay on principle and that Lou should refuse to pay the fines. It was pointed out that this would be fruitless, since the court would simply attach Lou's bank account. No one wanted to see this happen.

Don Orr had read of the most recent developments in the Press Democrat and came to the meeting to see if he could help. He offered his farm workers' dormitories as temporary shelter since it was off-season and they stood empty. About a mile down Graton Road, the dorms had beds, blankets and cooking facilities. The thought of leaving Morning Star was heartbreaking, but since Lou would be hurt the most if people stayed, everyone finally voted to move out. The sad exodus began, and by nightfall Morning Star stood deserted except for one lonely light in Lou's shed.

Don Orr's compassionate generosity touched everyone, but few were able to sleep and most suffered from acute homesickness. Some took to wandering the county road in the early morning until they found themselves almost involuntarily back at the ranch. They realized that it was home, come what may.

LOU: "Don Orr understood completely the whole idea of Land Access To Which Is Denied No One and its beneficial effects, but he could never quite detach himself from the monster. The last time I saw him in this life, he came in and sat down in the egg shed and said, 'Well, Lou, I'm a success. I'm $400,000 in debt to the Bank of America.' One week later he mixed himself a milkshake with a lethal dose of pesticide and killed himeself."

The following morning, October 7th, Lou phoned the sheriff's office to ask them what he must do to get out of paying five hundred more dollars that day. They replied that he must place the people who refused to leave the ranch under citizen's arrest and the deputies would come and take them away. Lou reported this to the people who had returned, about thirty by mid-morning. They had gathered around the campfire to wait for a pot of brown rice to cook.

NEAR: "Lou sat with us, very depressed about what he was going to have to do. Marijuana sacrament was passed out which most people ate so there would be no revealing odors when the police arrived. The police arrived around one p.m. Fifteen people lined up, waiting to be arrested. The police asked each person if he would leave immediately to avoid arrest. Each refused to leave, declaring Morning Star was his home. Then the police ordered Lou to arrest them. As Lou recited the words, 'I place you under arrest,' he hugged and kissed each of his friends goodbye.

"They were driven to jail. After being fingerprinted and photographed, the men and women were placed in separate cells. Their voices united, however, in chorus after chorus of 'Hare Krishna.'

"I had some traveller's checks stashed. Prior to the arrest, I wrote down everyone's name with the intention of bailing them out as soon as possible and called a bail bondsman. He agreed to give me a bargain rate. He would take all my checks ($120 worth) and free whomever want to be free.

"All the women were freed by his bond along with one man - Junior. The rest of the men decided to remain in jail and fast. Sandy King freaked out when she learned that Don had chosen to remain in jail. At first she tried to get back in, but they wouldn't let her back in her cell. Then she started scolding me for having bailed her out. It was quite a show! The women and Junior were picked by some Morning Star brothers who had chosen not to be busted. Nerves were taut for those arrested as well as for those who hadn't been.

"Shortly after this group returned to Morning Star, Lou took a carful up to Bill and Gwen Wheeler's ranch. Bill's studio was almost finished after a year of hard work, and the Wheelers had decided to have a housewarming. They had invited local ranchers, a restaurant owner from Occidental and also all the Morning Star people. The ranchers stayed in one corner drinking beer while the hippies gobbled down all the food to the very last crumb. They found Bill's dope stash, finished it off and disappeared down the path to explore the land. Lou was unable to enjoy any of it. He was sprawled out on the floor with the worst headache he had ever had. He felt like he was dying. Those arrested had no hard feelings towards Lou. They knew he hadn't wanted to bust them, and they didn't have to be busted. They tried to cheer him up, but he was out of it."

GWEN: "On that day, the loving explorations of all those psychedelic folk delicately broke the solitude of Sheep Ridge and, unknown to Bill and me, the seed of the land's new life received the stimulation it needed to sprout."

Just after the women were bailed out, Gina, Ramón and Katy the Dog drove into Morning Star, fresh from a recuperative rest at Tolstoy Farm. With them came Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy and Wally, Nancy's two children Greggy and Michelle, her teenage brother Denny and Tomás, a Mexican-American young man they had met up north. Ramón was amazed at the changes at the ranch. The Lower House kitchen and dining room had been destroyed per order of the county as well as the porch of the Upper House. No cooking could go on at the ranch. All meals were being prepared at Don Orr's farmworkers' dining hall which contained a well-appointed kitchen with a hotel-type stove.

RAMON: "If Sonoma County's officialdom had had their heads screwed on straight, they would have helped build a similar dining hall at Morning Star instead of tearing down what little there was. The bombed-out appearance of both houses distressed me. It also encouraged visitors and newcomers to continue wrecking the structures because it seemed as if nobody cared what happened to them."

Friendly neighbors rallied around, and many memorable meals were served in Don Orr's dining hall. The Orrs, the Barlows and many others came and ate there. John Butler had arrived as well as Coyote, Neal, Jimmy Small, Raymond and FLorence with their beautiful children, Damian and Paula, Zen Jack, Tracy, Pat, Santiago, David Abraham - the list was endless.

John Butler was a very handsome, very black man who looked like the archetypal Mississippi riverboat worker - like Jim in Huckleberry Finn - a type that the average white person would treat in a condescending manner. He had a quiet, melodious way of talking and was extremely hospitable and generous with everything he owned. He began living in the Lower House and his bedroom, which had originally been Ramón and Gina's, became a place where anyone could go at any time of day or night. The radio was always playing and there was always something to smoke. Anything he had he shared, and people came to tell him their troubles. A big-hearted brother with lots of soul, very devoted to Lou and the community, John felt that Morning Star was a dream come true, a place where he felt safe.

RAMON: "John was a lovely man, with none of the bitterness and hostility of so many other Blacks who came. He wasn't a sparkling talker, but somehow there was nothing more fun than going to John's room, getting stoned and listening to the radio with him. He would bring out his special stash of cookies or weed, making you feel so welcome and special. During the time he lived at the ranch he was arrested at least six times, spending many months in jail.

"In contrast another Black man, 'Junior,' really liked to play dumb. He was really very smart, but he liked to come on that way. He loved to nudge up next to someone stoned on acid and play his bamboo flute in their ear, riding a contact high, until the person went totally berserk!"

COYOTE: "Me and some friends had a crash pad in San Francisco. I was stoned on acid one day, and things were getting stagnant. Finally someone said, 'Let's go hitchhiking! Follow me!' And I said okay and we stumbled out the door without our sleeping bags or anything, and the next thing I know - boink! - I'm in the Upper House. Just about that time, everybody had been told to move off and go to Orr's. Nobody had gone to jail yet. Somebody gave me a number three cap of MDA, and then Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy gave me another half a cap. The next thing I remember was lying there yelling for help. It was intense, but I know I fell in love with everybody. I took my drum and went out to that old cross in the orchard and played, and everyone came over and listened. Later on that night, it was 'Take me to your favorite spot' time. Each person took the others to their favorite spot on the land. When it was my turn, I took everybody on a wild goose chase. It was the most totally involved high I had ever experienced, 'cause you had to do it with someone else. It was no fun by yourself. But once I got the taste of LSD in my craw, mm-mm, I couldn't stop. People would come up to me and say, 'How much to you want?' And I'd say, 'I'll close my eyes and open my mouth and let you surprise me.' I split a gram of Orange Sunshine with a friend of mine in Laguna Beach, and had a throwing-up contest in downtown Santa Ana."


Back Next