“The Mob Consisted of All Nationalities as They Live in Los Angeles”: The Coroner’s Inquest After the Chinese Massacre of 24 October 1871

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As we continue the commemoration of the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the horrific Chinese Massacre of 24 October 1871, during which hundreds of Latino and Anglo rioters lynched 18 Chinese males, including a teenager, we turn to the aftermath and, specifically, the coroner’s inquest conducted over four days from the 25th to the 28th. The dozen jury members heard from nearly eighty witnesses and there is a great deal of information, as well as gaps in knowledge, introduced during the proceeding.

The first two hours on the opening day consisting of visiting the jail yard on Spring Street, between Temple and First streets (the land was acquired from Jonathan Temple in the early 1850s), and viewing the bodies of the Chinese murdered by the mob. The Los Angeles Star called the scene “a ghastly spectacle” while the Los Angeles News referred to it as a “strange and repulsive sight.” There were an unstated number of Chinese men and women huddled in the jail, having either been arrested or sought refuge from the rioters.

As for witness testimony, there were plenty of those who could attest to seeing lynching, but many could not (or would not) provide names, even if they offered that they could recognize participants by sight. Occasionally, a witness might identify someone by ethnicity, say as an Irishman or a “Spaniard” or “native Californian,” this last meaning a Californio, not an Indian. One stated he heard a man who shot and killed a Chinese man yell out that “I’ve given him Mississippi hell,” while another told how “a Frenchman with a long knife” was calling to others to “burn them out.”

Los Angeles Star, 26 October 1871.

Some who testified seemed to be willing to place more of the blame for the massacre on Latinos, with one man specifically claiming that “it was the fiendish actions of the Spaniards” that were most responsible, though he was not able to identify any individuals. There were, however, plenty of instances in which Anglos were pegged as participants and, there were witnesses who provided names.

It should also be added that newspaper coverage could both provide verbatim and paraphrased testimony, with the Star apparently offering more of the former and the News the letter. Moreover, it is quite likely that many witnesses may have deliberately avoided specifying individuals by name, the massacre did take place at night in a poorly-lit town, with a great deal of rushing about, yelling, gunfire, the crashing of materials and other distractions.

Henry T. Hazard, an attorney and future Angel City mayor, was among those who gave some significant detail. He told the jury that Charles Austin was “the first to mount the roof” of the Coronel Adobe and that he recognized “Ramon Dominguez as being one who held a Chinaman,” though when Hazard asked him to release the captive, “Dominguez then released his hold.” Hazard also testified that he tried to get a crowd to desist from attacks on the Chinese but he “was pulled down by my friends and advised to remain quiet or I would get shot.” Notably, the Star reported that Hazard climbed on the roof of the Beaudry Block, on the east side of Negro Alley across from the Coronel Adobe.

Star, 26 October 1871.

The city marshal, Francis Baker, was a few blocks south of the scene when the initial shooting erupted and, by the time he arrived, Bilderrain had been shot and Thompson approached the Coronel and then was shot and staggered backward before collapsing. Baker said the Chinese fired their guns “promiscuously” before closing the apertures to the Coronel and ceased shooting. He testified he called for those gathering to hold their fire and organized a guard along Negro Alley and the Plaza, but, as he returned from the latter, found that the first Chinese man was seized, apparently from the Beaudry building. He left police officers Emil Harris and George Gard, both future chiefs of police, at the Coronel and returned to the Plaza and Negro Alley intersection at the north.

As for Harris, he got to the scene and found that Sheriff James F. Burns was deputizing citizens to form a cordon around the area to seal it off, but added that, while some volunteered to help, others were calling for the storming of the Coronel Block. The officer said he and Gard looked to keep anyone from approaching the structure, but, once Sheriff Burns left, the crowd “got the upper hand” and “all efforts to prevail upon the citizens to cease firing and keep quiet, were unsuccessful.” This was especially true once rioters got on the roof, chopped holes into it and starting shooting through these gaps.

As for the first Chinese man captured, being from “one of the Yo Hing [Company] houses,” Harris was on the way to the jail with the prisoner when he testified, “about 100 or more [persons] took him from me, held me, and took him up to Temple Street.” He could identify no one, but then ran back to Negro Alley to take up his station, where, hearing the cry of fire, he, Gard, and some citizens got up on the roof of the Coronel and he said he called out for the fires to be extinguished and any further attempts to cease.

Star, 27 October 1871.

Once two Chinese men were shot trying to escape from the building, Harris stated that a crowd got into the structure from the east, or Negro Alley side, and pulled out some men, one already dead, while he told those present to take a live Chinese man to jail. He added that the next house or room was breached and he ordered its occupants taken to the jail, as well. He continued that the shop of Dr. Gene (Chee Long) Tong was entered and the doctor and a woman brought out, with Harris relating “my impression was that they proceeded to jail with them.” In fact, Dr. Tong was lynched, while the woman apparently was released.

Harris continued that the next building was a store from which “a dead Chinaman was thrown into the street and another which I supposed to be not quite dead was then brought out and thrown also into the street.” There were also many looters and the officer said that he and Gard tried their best to limit the plundering, even as a Chinese man, hiding under a bed with a gunshot wound to the head, emerged. Harris remained in the store until midnight until he was relieved by the sheriff.

Finally, the officer testified that, while he recognized no one involved in the attack and saw no one with any rope, he did “recognize all the dead Chinamen” and said “all were innocenent except one, small, good-looking, well-dressed Chinaman.” As for the four principals involved in the shooting that drew Bilderrain, Thompson and others to the scene, Harris said they all escaped.

Los Angeles News, 27 October 1871.

With respect to George Gard, his statement did not vary much from Harris in terms of recollection, but he provided names of purported rioters, including Jesús Martinez, who yelled out that he shot a Chinese man and then was involved in some looting. He also specified A.L. King, who worked at the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad depot at Alameda and Commercial streets, a short distance away. A.R. Johnson was another firing a gun before Harris took away the weapon.

Among those said to be encouraging violence against the Chinese were Edward Huber and a blacksmith only identified as Foster. Gard continued that, as he was helping a wounded Chinese man out from under a bed, “a number of Mexicans then rushed into the room, and discharged their pistols at him, killing him immediately.” Butcher Andreas Soeur was wielding a meat cleaver and engaged in looting.

Officers Samuel Bryant and Robert Hester offered their testimony, with the former identifying Refugio Botello as one shooting at the coronel Block, and noting that Johnson, a shoemaker, bragging he’d hung four Chinese and that “cheap labor was done away with now. Bryant identified Patrick Maguire as calling for hanging and concluded by stating that he and Hester told rioters that some of the men they arrested were women to throw off suspicion and protect their charges.

News, 28 October 1871.

Hester told the jury that he went to the rear of the Coronel Block and found about a dozen Chinese (the Star said he gave the number as up to 30) and that he fired three times at these men as they fled. When he returned to stand guard, he saw Martinez, a sexton at the Calvary Cemetery at the base of the Elysian Hills, wielding an axe and chopping at the roof of the structure. Hester also named Charles Austin, Adolfo Celis, Johnson and Edmund Crawford as those who were in the vicinity.

Officer William Sands also identified Antoine Silva, Johnson and Crawford as members of the mob, related that he took a gun from Johnson “because he handled it as any crazy man would do” and dismissed Crawford’s advocating that hanging of all the Chinese in Los Angeles because he was like “any other drunken fool.” Deputy Sheriff B.S. Bryant told the jury that, when he was at the Coronel Block, and, once the building was breached, Marshal Baker pointed out a deputized volunteer, Louis Mendel. Bryant, however, added, “he had placed a very bad man as guard, as it was only a short while ago that he was tried for grand larceny.” Mendel was said to have told others to “be quick before the Dough boys [local Army soldiers] come up.”

Sheriff Burns talked about his call for volunteers for a cordon around the Coronel Adobe, adding that if arrests were not possible, then they were permitted to shoot any fleeing Chinese down, though this was only for the east or ear parts of the building, not the front-facing portion. Other witnesses suggested that this order was permission for the gunning down of those Chinese who tried to escape from the bulding in the early stages of the massacre.

Star, 28 October 1871.

He mentioned rescuing a Chinese man from an unnamed rioter who yelled, “here’s the son of a bitch, I’ll have him,” while another bellowed “Damn the Sheriff! Shoot him! Hang Him!” when Burns called for calm. He identified Patrick McDonald as confronting him on the rescue of another Chinese man and saying “Damn you, Burns, we’ll hang him anyhow.” As to those firing into the building, Burns said there were eleven and named Botello, Crawford, MacDonald and Johnson, with the latter shoting “hang him” while waving his pistol.

With respect to the testimony of law enforcement personnel, the News commented that it was strange

that the City Marshal and the policement, who are able to give detailed and circumstantial accounts of the terrible affair, should yet be utterly unable to identify a single one of those whom they saw engaged in perpetrating the damnable outrages.

The paper also wanted to know what, if Baker made looters leave their booty behind, why these criminals were let go. Another point raised subsequently by historians Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, in their article on Harris, and Paul de Falla in his work on the massace noted that Harris and Gard were paid by Chinese companies for extra patrols of their businesses, suggesting there was a notable emphasis in their reactions on the evening of the massacre.

Star, 28 October 1871.

There were a number of citizens who testified and made partial or full identification of suspected lynchers, with King, Crawford, Johnson and others mentioned several times. A.J. Bowman was stationed near the Plaza as a volunteer and overheard merchant Samuel Caswell and the Widney brothers, Robert and William, arguing with a Mr. Cohen, proprietor of a clothing shop in the United States Hotel, who was saying that he was in favor of hanging all the Chinese in the city. J.W. Brooks couldn’t name individuals, but told the jury he saw a Mexican, German and and Irishman involved in the lynchings at “Griff’s” corral, that is, the Griffith and Tomlinson facility and added than American he’d recently seen placed a rope around a Chinese man’s neck.

Others identified as being involved by some witnesses were a man named Geary; another a billard parlor owner known as Ybarra; one named Scott; A.L. “Curly” Crenshaw boasting of killing three men; D.W. Moody; John O. Riley, who was dancing on John Goller’s wagonmaking shop balcony as he bellowed out “bring me more Chinamen boys, patronize home trade;” a fluent Spanish speaker named Samuel Carson, who said in that language that he’d killed two Chinese men with his gun; Benjamin McLaughlin; Jacob C. Cox, a plasterer and former Union Army soldier in local Civil War regiments, who bragged of making a Chinese man “keel over;” and a Mrs. Grascy, who was purportedly pleased that a clothesline from her yard was used in the lynchings.

One of the stranger testimonies was offered by Common Council member George M. Fall, who happened to be the driver of the wagon that hauled a Chinese woman as she was being taken back to Santa Barbara in December 1870 (this was discussed in the post here two days ago). Fall added that the woman was the same who was the subject of the reward claimed by Marshal William C. Warren and police office Job Dye, culminating in the daylight gunfight that led to the killing of the former by the latter (this, too, was covered in Saturday’s post.)

News, 29 October 1871.

Fall, who was chair of the council committee on water and negotiated for a fire engine for the city’s volunteer firefighting corps, told the jury that he was asked by future mayor Prudent Beaudry “for hose, to wash out the block where the Chinamen were,” but the council member claimed he turned down this request. Later, he said, William Ferguson, a fellow council member, Coronel (whether this was the building owner and state treasurer is not known), and Sotelo (perhaps the “Romo Sortorel” or Carmen Sotelo identified by some as being among the rioters) went to him and said that there was the threat of setting fire to the building and asked him to “attach the hose to the hydrant and appoint a party to take charge of the hose.”

Fall then said that members of the mob took it and carried it into the structure and “after the excitement had subsided, I ordered the hose put away.” Moreover, he claimed he went, in response to the drama of the previous December, after Yo Hing at a saloon, throwing a brick and a chair at him “and broke my arm in doing it.” Emiliano Acevedo, one of the few Latinos to testify at the inquest, stated that he “saw a Chinaman coming along the sidewalk and saw Geo. Fall pick up a board and strike the Chinaman in the face with it” and then chase the man, likely Yo Hing, through the saloon. Acevedo also identified Martinez, Johnson and a man named Mateo as involved in the mob.

Robert M. Widney, generally accounted a hero for his efforts to quell the rioting, told the jury that he sought help in his appears to the crowds, but only two of the up to ten persons he identified as being involved in lynching could understand English. An Irishman purportedly told Widney “a good lot of white men ought to be hung too.” Widney’s brother, William, used a gun to fend off some riotes, while merchant John Lazzarovich tried to help and was threatened by mob members.

News, 29 October 1871.

Accused by some of being involved in the Vigilance Committee that lynched Michel Lachenais in December 1870, Widney did testify “that none of the Old Vigilance Committee were engaged, except in rescuing Chinese from the mob.” He added that John M. Baldwin addressed crowds, “the majoity [thought] to be Mexicans” in Spanish, with his remarks translateed into English, though the News and the Star differed in their interpretations about how this went. The bottom line, though, was that Baldwin told the latter that “the sentiment of the crowd was very much against me.”

Yet, the purported interpreter, tinware proprietor John D. Hicks testified that he did not know Spanish, which led Baldwin to return to the stand to insist that he did translate his remarks. Recalled, Hicks allowed that he knew enough of the language to “tell the prices of good and the names of articles in my store.” Meanwhile, Baldwin’s brother, Leon, told the jury that there was a preponderance of “native Californians” or “Spaniards” at the Temple Street executions and that one who acted as a guard at the lynching site was a Latino.

The final witness at the coroner’s inquest was Frederick Weaver and he identified more people involved in various elements of the massacre than anyone. For example, he heard Fall and Henry M. Mitchell, a Star reporter, calling out “hang him” and “swing him” when among the infuriated crowds. Weaver said he remarked to Mitchell that, if one Chinese were lynched the same would have to be done to fifty others, the journalist (who played a key role as under-sheriff in the capture of famed bandido, Tiburcio Vásquez, in 1874) replied “all right.” The paper went to lengths to defend Mitchell, while saying that Weaver “a thoroughly honest and generally reliable man” must have confused who he’d spoken to amid all the turmoil. On the other hand, was it Mitchell who wrote the incendiary summary quoted in yesterday’s post?

News, 29 October 1871.

Weaver also gave details about the behavior of King, who castigated Christian missionaries for their work among the Chinese and “bringing them here to cause trouble among us, and Johnson, who was said to have growled, “damn it, we’ll show them how to hang Chinamen.” When it came to specifically naming those involved directly in lynching, he could or would not provide names, which again proved to be an enormous obstacle to justice as the situation turned to the legal ystem, beginning with the grand jury.

There were some of those identified as being heavily involved in the massacre who offered their testimony to the coroner’s jury. Johnson tried to claim that, after getting drunk, he couldn’t remember much of what transpired that terrible evening, though he then went into some detail about what he did recall, including his volunteering as a guard, calling for the hose to put out fires, and arguing with Sheriff-elect William R. Rowland, who won the September campaign about whether he should be taken home.

Charles Austin also said he was on hand as a guard, followed one group to a lynching, and then replied when asked which side he was on that he was on the side of peace. John Riley, the dancing blacksmith at Goller’s shop, said he only saw a bit of the proceedings, went to a saloon and then stood as an observer before heading home. Edmund Crawford, said he witnesed some of the lynchings on Los Angeles Street, went to a saloon, and then went home, claiming that any comments attributed to him about being involved constituted “a story.” Ramon Dominguez allowed that he was present at the first hanging at the lumber yard and that “we found a dead Chinaman in the [Coronel] building,” but did not admit to much more.

News, 29 October 1871.

D.W. Moody also testified that he was a volunteer guard and one of the jury members even spoke up for his “excellent character.” A.L. King, identified by many witnesses as very involved in the massacre, said that he heard “that Chinamen were killing white men in Negro Alley wholesale” and grabbed some weapons and headed over from the depot, even shooting himself accidentally in the hand. He said he was a guard until 2 a.m. and saw Jacob Cox toss a flammable item on the Coronel roof and that he rushed to retrieve it.

Carson also told the jury he was deputized as a guard and did nothing but that. Antonio Silva, a resident of two weeks, said he was in the crowd originally, but went home by 8 p.m. Butcher Andreas Soeur denied making any claims of involvement in lynching and only acknowledged that he witnessed killings, but a recalled witness, Eugene Germain, positively identified Soeur as boasting of his role in hanging some of the Chinese, while Gard reappeared to affirm that he saw the butcher looting, while Harris did the same and said Soeur told him he was taking a goose or chicken home for his dinner.

Lastly, Cox told the jury he offered to help police office Sands, was one of those who fired at the first fleeing Chinese man to emerge from the Coronel and volunteered to retrieve a body of a man mortally wounded in the structure. He added that this individual told him that the Chinese involved in the shooting that preceded the massacre had fled and who told him. Yet, Cox admitted to tossing an incendiary device into the house to get those inside to surrender and acknowledged he was on the roof with Carson, but only to put out fires, and that Martinez and Botello were cutting holes there. Of course, he denied having a direct role in killing, only allowing that he said he’d seen one victim “keel over.”

Star, 30 October 1871.

After four days, on the 28th, the foreman, Henry T. Baker spoke for his colleagues when he said:

We find the mob consisted of all nationalities as they live in Los Angeles, and find that we have sufficient evidence to accuse the following persons as having taken part in the destruction of the lives and property of the Chinamen.

And we further direct the attention of the Grand Jury to the reported testimony in which they will find many names of such persons who seemed to have encouraged the mob by their sympathy with them in their expressions.

Unfortuantely, the inquest file appears to have been lost so the names of the over 100 persons accused by the jurors as direct or supporting participants in the massacre will likely never be known. With that, we will return tomorrow with more on the aftermath of the massacre, including the covening of the grand jury and its report, in the period leading to the trials dealing with some of those indicted and held in early 1872.

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