A subtle division arose in the budding community between the
Hindu-oriented yogis and Don and Sandy King who were holding
bible-readings in their newly finished house. The latter felt
uncomfortable in a group chanting 'Hare Krishna' while others who
had Jesus stuffed down their throats as children did not want any
more Christianity. A group LSD trip on the hillside below the
Lower House brought about thirty people together in the morning
RAMON: "For me, the highlight of that experience was the
moment Don and I embraced, tears streaming down our cheeks. It
felt like the healing of the Christian-Hindu rift within the
group. The Morning Star consciousness was higher than any of the
traditional antagonisms between the old faiths. From then on,
musical sessions included hymns from all the religions."
LOU: "I don't know what I can say about Don and Sandy
except that perhaps theirs is the only happy marriage I have ever
witnessed in America. They truly have become one in Christ, and I
think their achievement is enviable. They came from two wrecked
lives and have built one together in Alternate Society which is
very beautiful to behold."
A tin can was placed in the Lower House. New arrivals were
encouraged to put in five dollars, although no one was turned
away if they couldn't contribute. Lou bought a couple of hundred
pounds of rice, wheat or beans every few weeks to make up the
balance, so everyone ate simple, nourishing meals of grains,
garden vegetables and occasionally fish contributed by local
On June 8, 1967, Ramón inserted an ad into the local paper:
"Morning Star Diggers will swap work and organic
vegetables for what have you. Diggers are determined to find a
way of living that's human, person-to-person. Money makes life
impersonal. It's our hope at Morning Star to establish a system
of barter with our neighbors."
RAMON: "A little old lady whom we nicknamed 'Mrs. Le
Moo-moo traded raw milk, eggs and butter with us in return for
cleaning her barn and fixing her fences. We figured out the
exchange rate and discovered we were making about fifteen cents
an hour. But she was very sweet about it when we pointed it out,
and we came to a better understanding."
Other neighbors did not share Mrs. Le Moo-moo's enthusiasm.
With Morning Star's two houses and barn filled to capacity, huts,
shacks, lean-to's and tents sprouted like mushrooms. 'Oms' and
chants floated across the starlit meadows while Tibetan-style
yogis perched on fenceposts and shell-decorated goddesses walked
the boundary paths, tinkling like windchimes. One girl felt sorry
for a neighbor's horses because their manes hung in their eyes.
She gave them a trim, thereby ruining their chances for a showing
at the county fair. When the noise and commotion grew too intense
for some of the middle-class neighbors, they complained to the
Health and Building inspectors. Nude bodies were visible from
their land, and they were afraid the whole Haight-Ashbury was
moving next door.
When the Health Department inspected, they found both septic
systems overflowing. A conference with Lou and his guests left
them impressed: "Lou Gottlieb will make every attempt to
cooperate concerning waste disposal. There are intelligent people
out there, and they will try to correct any problems themselves.
We told them what was needed, and they agreed to do it right
The building inspector was equally sympathetic: "Frankly,
I was thinking of throwing the book at them, but they've been so
willing to cooperate, I've softened my attitude. Morning Star
might resolve into a tent community because there are no
restrictions against tents, but when you start working with
two-by-fours, someone can get hurt and the building code laws are
Chuck Herrick, co-founder of Ecology action in Berkeley,
arrived with his companion Betty. He gave a class in ecology at
the ranch and convinced Lou to spend the money necessary to build
a bath house. Work was already under way to add leach lines to
the original septic systems. Crews of Diggers were merrily
digging away at three one-hundred-foot trenches, four feet deep.
At the Lower House, the crew had to work standing in the septic
run-off, with the result that hepatitis hit like the Black Plague
a month later.
Meanwhile, another life style arrived at Morning Star. Setting
up their first camp next to Lou's studios, the Winos added a
bacchanalian element to the already broad religious spectrum.
Their drunken brawls, aggressive panhandling and thievery
disrupted the community as well as further aggravating the
LOU: "With the arrival of Nevada, Gypsy, Chief Roger Goodspeed, TW and Crazy Annie, we had the cast of characters for
the definitive establishment, at least in my thinking, that it
was impossible and immoral to ask people to leave the ranch.
There had been some wine-bibbing, and there were a number of
people in the community concerned about the violence and the
threats of violence. So we had a meeting. Morning Star Ranch
actually did have four meetings in 1967, and the minutes for one
of them are around someplace. They are very funny. At the
conclusion of this first meeting, it was decided that Nevada,
Gypsy, TW and Crazy Annie had to go. They were too much. Out of
the question. The could not stay. Gypsy, for example, had the
habit of pulling his knife in grocery stores. I told him that it
didn't make for good public relations. But he said, 'It's
impossible, man! I never pulled a knife on him because when I
pull my knife I use it, you see what I mean? You say I pulled my
knife on him and I didn't use it, then you're killing my
"Anyway, they had all gone down to the river that day,
and we felt confident. They were voted out 'in absentia,' as it
were. So I girded up my loins, because there were a number of
people who were really terrified when the knives came out and the
shouting and screaming started. When their car pulled into the
area next to my studio, I went out to confront them. All five
were in the car. I said, 'That's it! We've decided you have to
leave.' Well, they took it in good grace except that Nevada said,
'Hey, it'll take me about a week to get my stuff together - to
find another place to stay,' or something like that. The next day
Gypsy came to me and said, 'I'm beggin' you, I gotta stay here.'
And I said, 'No, no, I can't, you know.' I was very firm.
"Then I began to get into serious physical trouble. I had
the worst 'yin fit' I've ever had in my life. I had a headache I
could have entered in the World's Fair, cold sweats, mild nausea
and uncontrollable weeping, all of which summarized in my mind
that God's will was for me to stop doing that. That was the last
time I ever asked anyone to leave Morning Star."
Not wishing to join Lou's sociological experiment, the
neighbors' opposition to Morning Star came to a focus in their
self-appointed spokesman, Edward S. Hochuli, whose property
abutted the northeast corner of the ranch. An advisor to the
president of a local college, he saw himself as an expert on the
younger generation and locked in a struggle with Lou "for
the minds of the children."
LOU: "Ed Hochuli retired to Sonoma County, the
vice-president of a large title company. The first time I met him
was at his house. I had walked over to apologize for something, I
forget what. He had written an article, he told me, on the
problems of leisure and also another one entitled The Rest Of The
Century In Redwood Country. I thought that we understood each
other. That proved to be a misconception. He only came over where
there was trouble. One day he arrived, his face grey with certain
green tones, his mouth shaking. 'One of your followers,' he
reported, 'has a fire going near my place. When I told him to put
it out, he called me a horse's ass.' I walked over to where
George was camping and said, 'George, I'm asking you as a favor
to me, to apologize.' 'I apologize,' George said. Then, with
Hochuli still standing there, I asked George why he had said such
a thing. 'Because he is a horse's ass,' George replied.
"The next thing I knew, Hochuli had started circulating a
petition around the neighborhood, subsequently signed by three
hundred and eighty-five citizens, beseeching the authorities to
intervene in 'whatever it was that was going on at Morning Star
Ranch.' This petition was what really changed the offensive
strategy of the county with respect to the ranch, for they then
went ahead and perfected the technique of injunctive procedure, a
rare form of legal proceedings, especially in this regard.
"Well, I thought we should go and visit all the signers
of the petition. Five ladies and I copied down all the names and
addresses. The first one I met was the retired barber of
Occidental, of Yugoslavian origin. I asked him why he had signed,
and he said that he didn't know. Not more than three months
later, when the shit had truly hit the fan, he came up to me and
said, 'I'm sorry I signed.' Another was the bartender at Skip's
bar in Graton. He denied having signed it. Well, after that I
just quit going around."
Phone calls from irate neighbors poured into the District
Attorney's office and other county administrators demanding they
'do something.' Finally, on the last day of June, Lou was handed
a 'cease and desist' order signed by the Health Department head
that gave him twenty-four hours to comply with sanitary standards
for an organized camp or cease operations.
"This is an organized camp?" Lou asked in
astonishment. "If anything, it's a disorganized camp!"
THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY: "It will be impossible for Mr.
Gottlieb to comply with state regulations in twenty-four hours.
The other alternative is for Mr. Gottlieb to close his ranch and
order his people to leave until such a time that the regulations
are complied with."
LOU: "Someone is afraid of something."
The Health Department head had at first refused to sign the
'cease and desist' order, and a dispute arose between his
department and the District Attorney.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: "Mr. Gottlieb says he's not
operating an organized camp and never said he was, although
someone reported he said he was. At first it looked like he was
operating an organized camp, and we gave him the regulations that
had to be met. He has been cooperating with the Health
Department, and health officials have been on the property
bi-weekly helping direct the abatement of undesirable sanitary
conditions. We're sort of in the middle. We're trying to get all
the data together and work with everyone concerned. We don't like
to force people to comply with health regulations, but we try to
help them. The people of Morning Star are trying to abate their
health problems, and have abated a considerable amount. I intend
to take no action against Morning Star until at least after the
4th of July holiday."
More tours of the ranch were made over the weekend to gather
evidence that Lou had not closed the ranch as ordered. Finally a
week later, a police car was dispatched to arrest him. It broke
down somewhat poetically in Graton, a small town famous for the
nauseating stench that permeated it during the apple season when
the local apple juice cannery dumped its waste into the creek. A
second police car managed to make it to Morning Star. Lou had
just emerged from his 'piano box' after a typically intense early
morning practice session, and was socializing with the score or
more people lounging on his porch. He submitted to arrest in a
lighthearted manner which triggered laughter from the crowd. At
his arraignment, bail was set at $276 as he quipped his way
through the proceedings. Bail posted and a court date set for
September, he returned home to his disorganized-organized camp,
more amused than threatened by the latest turn of events.
About this time, Bill and Gwen Wheeler paid their first visit
to the commune. A blond, full-bearded artist from Connecticut,
Bill had moved to Sonoma County in the summer of 1962 and settled
into an old, rickety house on Coleman Valley Road known as 'Irish
Hill.' He then bought a 320-acre ranch about a mile inland from
the house and eight miles from Morning Star. That summer he had
built a large, barnlike studio on his land. Gwen, a strikingly
beautiful brunette, had met Bill on the street in Sausalito. She
had left her family home in New Mexico after her nineteenth
birthday to strike out on her own on the West Coast. After
spending several weeks with Bill, she had accepted his invitation
to quit her job and move in with him.
GWEN: "I was relieved to get out of the city, and loved
our life by the ocean, surrounded by rolling hills. I grew to
feel very close to Bill, although much of who he was and what he
did remained a mystery to me. I was very intent on working hard
on our relationship and, when my family pressured me and Bill
insisted, I began wearing a wedding ring and took his name. The
patterns of my life began to change. I learned how to provide
much of our own food by making preserves, baking bread and
tending a garden. I grew to love smoking grass so much that I
gave up drinking alcohol altogether. High on grass, I lost my
self-consciousness and my sensitivity to my surroundings was
"Our house was very close to Highway One on the ocean,
and people often stopped by as they travelled along the coast.
One day, three interesting young men in a truck drove up and
stayed a few days. They had a highly developed consciousness of
themselves, a sense of personal freedom and a positive - even
radiant - outlook on life. When they left, I wished they could
have stayed longer, and saw that Bill also was very much affected
by their visit. They had asked him for permission to live on his
land, but Bill had said he wasn't ready. It was those three men
who first told us about Morning Star Ranch.
"The Morning Star family often could be seen driving
along in cars packed to the roofs with bodies and faces, or
standing along the roads and the streets of Occidental. They
could be easily recognized by their colorful and often raggedy
clothing, their unusual freestyle hairdos, the wide-open smiles
covering their faces and the evident close feeling of family they
"Bill and I decided to pay them a visit. As we walked up
the hill from the parking lot, we were greeted by Cindy, naked to
the waist, wearing a grass skirt and smoking a cigar. She
directed us to Lou's studio. As we knocked on the door, the sound
of the piano stopped and Lou greeted us with an attitude of
having had his fill of visitors, but still holding onto his
belief that whomever came was meant to be there."
BILL: "Although Lou had never met us nor knew who we
were, he welcomed us warmly into his studio where we talked about
fifteen minutes. Since Sonoma County was warming up for some
legal action, I advised him to get a good lawyer. He replied that
he had experienced at close *and the tragedy of Lenny Bruce
reduced to bankruptcy by legal fees, and he was determined not to
let that happen to him. He also mentioned the need for more land;
the thirty acres of Morning Star were not enough, and he seemed
to sense I owned some. I felt a deep sympathy for what he was
doing, but I could not see opening up my 320 acres. As a sop to
my guilt, I left a twenty-dollar bill on the window sill. I could
support what he was doing, but I wouldn't do it myself. 'Open
Land' was a step I was not then ready to take."
LOU: "I frequently think of Bill Wheeler as my father and
myself as the unruly kid. He must have been Henry David Thoreau
in a previous incarnation. He is a true Gemini, unable to sit
calmly for over ten seconds at a stretch. His energy is
unbelievable! I don't remember our first chat because I was
looking only at stunning, beautiful Gwen whom I can remember as a
young girl riding a horse around Aspen, Colorado, when I appeared
there with the Limeliters."
BILL: "After our talk, Lou took us to the Lower House
where I got my first exposure to communal living, the high energy
and good vibes arising out of seeming chaos. Ramón stood in the
middle of it like a mother hen clucking over her unruly brood. He
had a Chiquita Banana sticker pasted over his third eye. I told
him I was building a studio for myself, but representing it as a
barn to the Building Department to get around their codes. Ramón
looked at me thoughtfully, probably wondering if all the new
buildings at Morning Star could be classified as barns to placate
the building inspectors. By this time, Lou had disappeared in a
swirl of steam behind the boiling pots to help prepare another
mad hatter's dinner for some seventy-five or one hundred of his
The community remained polarized between the 'winos' and the
flower children. Finally the winos were prevailed upon to move to
the parking lot down by the front gate, and the front driveway
was blocked by a large cross which Don King set into a concrete
base. Wild Bill oversaw the encampment, charging visitors a small
fee for the use of the lot and for 'guarding' their cars. The
income allowed the Red Mountain wine to flow freely. The pile of
empty wine jugs grew to incredible proportions as the sightseers
continued to stream in. Rick often visited Wino Flats from Santa
Rosa and became its informal historian.
RICK: "This guy came up to Morning Star with his wife to
do a story on the ranch. He had gotten hold of some marijuana,
and he set his wife down in the corner in front of a typewriter
and he was going to smoke his first joint. Hey. this is the
God's-honest truth! And this guy started smoking this fucking
joint, and he said, 'I'm taking my first couple of drags' -
puff-puff, and his wife started typing. Anyway, he got about
halfway into the joint and, believe it or not, he was one in
seventeen skillion, 'cause when a guy turns on for the first time
he hardly ever gets off. Right? Okay. And a drunk, well, you
gotta try him about four times. So here was this guy smoking a
joint for the first time, and he was one in a million and he
actually got off halfway through the joint!
"'My head's startin' to spin,' he said, and his wife
typed it down. Then he started to babble a bit, and then he
started fuckin' around, you know, and then the next thing he
began thinking about what he'd done and started to get panicky.
Then he got super paranoid, you know, and he flushed the other
two joints down the toilet. And you know what? That cocksucker
went over and got his old lady to go call the LSD Rescue Squad!
No shit! He panicked out on half a fuckin' joint! So they came
and hauled him away."