It took a court order to undo some political mischief and make Bakersfield the county seat of Kern County in 1874.
Havilah, the mountain mining town that had boomed when the gold was flowing, had held the honor since the county was incorporated in 1866.
But the flow of gold was beginning to slow and Bakersfield was taking off.
The way the story goes, said Janet Kutzner of the Havilah Historical Society, when the ballots were counted, some from Walker Basin and other mountain towns were missing.
Strangely, she said, they have turned up in the care of Chris Brewer, a historian and descendant of Bakersfield founder Col. Thomas Baker.
Brewer definitely has the ballots, which came from the Tejon, Bear Valley and Walker Basin areas, he said. They are simple strips of paper with titles and votes typed out or written in a flowing formal hand, sometimes over the crossed-out remains of past ballot measures.
For County Seat: Bakersfield. Typed.
For County Seat of Kern County: Havilah. Hand-written.
It was that irregularity of forms that prompted a political and, eventually, legal struggle over the validity of those votes after election day on Feb. 15, 1873.
“When the votes were tallied there was some mischief,” Brewer said.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors, two members of which were “mountain folk,” threw out 54 votes.
“There were two sets of votes that they ended up not counting,“ Brewer said. ”They were excluded because of reported fraud.“
The entire fate of the election — and the county’s future — swung on those ballots, he said.
“Without those (contested) ballots, it was 310 for Bakersfield and 328 for Havilah. With the ballots the count was 370 for Bakersfield and 332 for Havilah. So the outlying district votes were heavily in favor of Bakersfield,” Brewer wrote in an email.
Supporters of Bakersfield’s bid tried to get a writ of mandamus passed in the Kern County court in Havilah.
“The action was thrown out of court so a lawsuit was filed and heard in (the) district court of Tulare County,” Brewer wrote. “Judge Demming heard the case and said the supervisors were legally justified in throwing out the ballots from the three precincts.”
But, he said, the judge also ordered that all the votes should be counted and the will of the people exercised.
Bakersfield won and flourished.
Havilah lost. The gold dried up. The town turned ghost.
History moved on.