Curious Cases: Exploring Law and Order in Early Los Angeles

By Paul R. Spitzzeri

The second year of Curious Cases: Exploring Law and Order in Early Los Angeles, a program looking at notorious and fascinating criminal events in the region from the 1850s to the 1870s, is starting soon at the Homestead Museum.

The four-part series for 2016 looks at four dramatic events: the 1857 massacre of county sheriff James R. Barton and his posse by bandits in what is now Orange County; the Lugo Case of 1851, involving murders at Cajon Pass, the implicating of two members of the well-known Californio family, and out-of-town bandits looking to make a quick buck, but instead coming to a gruesome demise; a group of mass lynchings in late 1863; and the lynching of multiple murderer Michel Lachenais in late 1870.

Godfrey LA from Fort Hill 1870 edit
A view of Los Angeles from Fort Hill by William M. Godfrey, ca. 1870. From the Homestead Museum collection.

Each program will feature a PowerPoint-illustrated talk giving background on the events, followed by a group discussion in which participants will be given some primary source material (newspaper accounts, court record information, autobiography snippets, etc.) to help guide the interchange.

Themes involving criminal justice administration, popular justice (vigilantism), race and ethnicity and others will be explored during the discussions.  In each case, there’ll be some connections made to present-day situations—and there have been many controversial law-and-order matters in our country in recent months and years.

The dates are 24 January (Barton massacre); 15 May (Lugo Case); 14 August (1863 lynchings); and 16 October (Lachenais lynching) with reservations opened about four weeks ahead of time.  For the first installment, it is recommended to call (626.968.8492) or reserve online ASAP.

In something new for this year, two of these presentations are traveling.  The Barton massacre installment will also be presented at 7:30 p.m. at the 11 February meeting of the Orange County Historical Society held at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2400 N. Canal Street in Orange.  The Lugo Case program is going to be offered on 5 June at the A.K. Smiley Library in Redlands, with details still being worked out.

A bonus to the Curious Cases roster is a special lecture on Saturday, 6 February at 2 p.m., at the Homestead Museum, by award-winning historian and Yale professor, John Mack Faragher, based on his brand-new book, Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles.  Reservations are also open for this event. A book signing and light reception will follow his talk.


From the editor: History buffs take note! If law and order in early Los Angeles are subjects of interest to you, Paul (in his spare time!) maintains a blog called Trembling on the Brink, which includes writings about the history of crime, violence, and criminal justice in LA from the 1850s to the 1870s.

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