Read All About It in the Los Angeles Star, 28 April 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead’s collection of historic newspapers, comprising a few hundred issues, most comprising Los Angeles sheets from the first half of the 1870s, helps provide us great context for the region as well as specific references to the Workman and Temple families. Today’s featured edition is the Los Angeles Star of 28 April 1874 and there is some very interesting content about the Angel City and its environs.

The main feature, probably penned by editor Benjamin C. Truman, who later wrote a booklet on the topic, concerned “The Pursuit of Vasquez” as the infamous bandido chieftain Tiburcio Vásquez, whose criminal career commenced in the early 1850s and whose first arrest and conviction took place in 1857 in Los Angeles County for the robbery of Juan Francisco. Vásquez is sometimes heralded as a “social bandit” who was driven to crime because of racism and, while there is no reason to doubt that he experienced bias from some Americans and Europeans, the fact that his initial stint at San Quentin was for pillaging from another Latino, seems proof enough that the social banditry theory is more than defective.

Whatever his motivations, Vásquez, who served two terms at the notorious prison, led a gang into the San Benito County hamlet of Tres Piños, where a robbery turned into murder as the marauders fled and continued their depredations in other parts of the Golden State, including in Los Angeles County. The Star went into the most recent crime attributed to Vásquez and his men, the ransom of sheep rancher Alessandro Repetto, a native of Genoa, Italy, on 18 April, after beginning its coverage by stating “we have already recounted the events immediately connected with the visit of Vasquez in this neighborhood” and suggested that readers would benefit with . . .

a recapitulation of what transpired after the visit of Repetto’s nephew to the bank of Messrs. Temple and Workman, for the purpose of procuring the money demanded for Repetto’s ransom. The boy’s conduct upon presenting the check was such as to arouse the suspicions of Mr. [F.P.F.] Temple, who locked him in a room while he went in search of an officer, with whom to consult on the proper course to be taken in the premises.

Temple, the bank president, located Albert Johnston, under-sheriff to Sheriff William R. Rowland (son of late Rancho La Puente co-owner, with William Workman, John Rowland), “who after some parley divulged the facts of Vasquez’s visit, his uncle’s capture and the demand for a ransom.” Rowland was then given the information “and a plan of action was determined upon.”

A posse was formed, including attorney and deputy sheriff Henry M. Mitchell (a former Star reporter whose behavior during the horrific Chinese Massacre of October 1871 was raised as questionable), constable Samuel Bryant, Tom Vincent, merchant John M. Baldwin and Julián Chávez, namesake of Chávez Ravine, and they “were detailed to go around by the Tejunga [sic] to intercept the bandits.”

Johnston, meantime, was sent to El Monte “to secure the co-operation of some of the residents of that locality,” a reference to citizens of that community who often joined such posses and were sometimes known as the “Monte Boys.” Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse, responding to a state government reward for the arrest of the bandit with his own posse, “was to reach Repetto’s by a route in the rear [Repetto’s house was in the south-facing hills of what is now Monterey Park, so Morse may have gone along the Mission San Gabriel road from Los Angeles and then turned south] and aim at the capture of Vasquez and his confederates, if possible, before he could take the alarm and escape.

The paper then added,

In order to carry out this plan, Mr. Temple was to detain the boy, Repetto’s nephew, until the pursuers, could either flush or bag their game. The pursuing parties had, however, hardly left the town before the boy became so importunate in his demands for release, asserting that if the officers arrived at Repetto’s before he did, Vasquez would know he had been betrayed and would surely kill his uncle as he had threatened to do, that Mr. Temple came to think he might possibly be in a manner instrumental in Repetto’s death and suffered the boy to depart.

The young man raced to the ranch and raised an alarm before Sheriff Rowland and his group arrived. While Mitchell and his men were at Tujunga in case the bandit and his gang sought their escape through that route, Rowland and colleagues headed as far as Soledad Pass at the west end of the San Gabriel Mountains before their “horse had become thoroughly worn out” in the pursuit.

Mitchell and his party, having heard nothing, left their position and headed into the mountains “when they struck the track of the robbers and followed them over a wild and precipitous mountain country to a point where they were compelled by a rain wash or land slide to return.” In doing this amid steep and dangerous terrain, the posse lost two horses which fell over a precipice.

In time, though, “they discovered, finally, where Vasquez and his men crossed the mountain [through the Arroyo Seco, having stopped in mid-pursuit to rob Charles Miles, who was surveying for what became Pasadena], and followed them to the Tejunga [through the main canyon of that name], where they were compelled by the impassable character of the undergrowth to abandon their horses and take it afoot down the cañon” and where another horse of the posse was lost. This was all the news until the previous Tuesday, when Mitchell sent a report to Rowland on the chase.

The sheriff joined Mitchell at Tujunga and they headed west at the far end of the San Fernando Valley and scoured the section and the coast above Malibu to no avail before meeting Morse “and put them on the track of the fugitives at Tejunga, where all traces of them seem to have been lost.” The assumption was that the bandit and his men came out of Big Tujunga Canyon and then headed north through what is now Newhall Pass and got to Soledad Canyon, northeast of modern Santa Clarita.

Declaring that “the pursuit is not ended by any means,” the Star noted that Mitchell and a new posse, with fresh horses, headed out to continue the search, while Morse and his party were at Lyon’s Station in the Newhall area of Santa Clarita. The paper repeated that locals “have scoured the country from Arroyo Seco to Tejunga, about thirty miles[;] across a rough mountain range[;] Malaga Ranch, a noted harbor for horse thieves[;] and traversed the entire distance from Tejunga to the sea coast, some 25 or 30 miles.”

The Star also professed to understand why Governor Newton Booth sent Morse from the north, but opined that “it would have been better to select some one familiar with the lay of the land in this section” instead of having the Alameda County sheriff wander among challenging areas that “sometimes puzzle even our oldest mountaineers.” The paper also provided its coverage “with a view to do justice to all the brave and persevering officers and men who have been engaged, first and last, in the pursuit of the notorious bandit.”

It then observed that

If the plan decided upon at first could have been carried out, we are of the opinion that Vasquez would have been either killed or captured. But Repetto’s messenger raved so like a madman that Mr. Temple could not find it in his heart to retain him.

By the time, posse members got to the Repetto ranch, Vásquez and his men and animals were well-rested and the account continued that “men following such a party, after reaching a wooded or a mountainous country, would naturally proceed cautiously, to avoid an ambuscade.” Finally, to defend the pursuers, the paper concluded, “those who after a battle sit down and say how it ought to have been won are very seldom those who took part in the conflict.”

Another notable feature was an account from the Star‘s “special correspondent” subscribed as “Viator” about a new San Gabriel Valley settlement, established as greater Los Angeles neared the peak of a boom that began in the late 1860s and would continue for another sixteen months. Writing from the “Duarte Rancho” on the 23rd, he stated that “it is the site of another of those settlements whose phenomenally rapid growth are doing so much to populate Los Angeles county, and develop its hitherto latent resources.”

Viator continued that “it comprises, so I was informed by ex-Assemblyman [Asa] Ellis,” who was featured a few days ago in a post on this blog, “a tract of about 2,500 acres, and was one year ago almost without a settlement upon [it.]” The writer noted that the property abutted the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains had had a rich gravel soil and plenty of sun so, “I am at a loss to know why all that is claimed for it, as the equal of San Gabriel as a fruit growing region, should not be realized.”

The tract was divided into typical 40-acre lots and forty of those were sold, while thirty families were settled there. As evidence that these folk were the kind to quickly build a substantial community, Viator noted that there were fifty children attending a school there, this being “a new and commodious school house, 24 x 30, built of the very best materials” and dedicated on the 23rd with the opening to take place four days later under the tutelage of W.H. Beall.

The opening was handled by John E. Tipton and his wife and “the rejoicings were ushered in by a dance, which commenced about two o’clock, and was kept up until about 12 M[idnight] when dinner was announced.” Not only was plenty of food on offer and which was “enjoyed to the utmost,” but the repast was “moistened occasionally by a glass of port wine from L[uther] H. Titus’ Dew Drop rancho.” Music was also provided by Tipton and his violin, while his six year-old daughter Bertie, “acquitted herself remarkably well” with a song. Dancing continued until 4 “when the company dispersed and sought [hopefully, with success] their homes.”

With respect to agriculture at Duarte, Viator noted that there were a pair of irrigation ditches of ten total miles, so that plenty of water from the San Gabriel River was available. Among the crops already in cultivation were potatoes, corn, barley and rye, while 1,500 oranges trees were in the ground and thousands of other fruit trees were also planted. Viator added,

Mr. Ellis, who is the agent for the property, owns 160 acres. He has planted four acres in English walnuts and three acres in the Alexander white (raisin0 grape, besides oranges and other varieties of grapes. He claims that the upper portion of the Duarte is absolutely free from danger from frost. A banana stock, growing near his temporary house, has remained unscathed through the winter . . . When the improvements on Mr. Ellis’ place are completed, it will compare favorably with any I have seen.

Ellis told Viator of a neighbor’s tomatoes, flowers, and fruit were flourishing, while the correspondent added that “the old orchard and vineyard of Dr. [Nehemiah] Beardsley [Beardslee] gives abundant evidence of the perfection to which fruit trees, from oranges down to peaches, can attain with time and proper care, in the Duarte region.” The tract was owned by three men, including Los Angeles merchant Solomon Lazard and prices were at $30-40 an acre.

The “Proposals” notice was for improvements for the Plaza and what was long known as Sixth Street or Central Park before it became Pershing Square.

Viator hoped to cross the river and visit Azusa but time forbore, so Ellis told him that it was much like Duarte in essential character “and was being rapidly settled up, with a thrifty and energetic population. It was averred that “time, patience and industry will transform these new settlements into thriving towns, and but a few years will elapse before the sunny slopes of the Duarte and Azusa will rival the best developed sections of the country in beauty and productiveness.” As was so often stated in our region, “Nature has been lavish of her gifts, and it only remains for the recipients of her bounty to do their parts.”

In the local news section, there was a lengthy description of the celebration the prior day of the International Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.,) one of the many societies during this heyday of fraternal orders in America. The day was accounted to be perfect as members from the Los Angeles lodge and others at Anaheim, Los Nietos [today’s Whittier/Santa Fe Springs area] and Wilmington gathered by a processing, headed by a band, that marched to the Pico House hotel and then back down Main Street to Fourth, a block to Spring, and then up to the Turn Verein [Turners] Hall on the west side of that thoroughfare, where many musical and theatrical performances were then presented.

After a song by the lodge members, a hymn by the Los Angeles Glee Club, and a prayer by “Reverend,” that is , Rabbi Abraham W. Edelman “of the Jewish Synagogue” or the Congregation B’nai B’rith, there was an oration from Colonel Frederick Stanford, an attorney whose partner was Francisco P. Ramirez—in his late teens, from 1855 to 1859, the remarkable proprietor of the newspaper El Clamor Público. Stanford praised the Odd Fellows, founded in Baltimore over a half-century earlier, and its benevolence to members, their widows and their orphaned children as he observed that “the object of the Order is to provide for mutual succor.”

Moreover, Stanford intoned, “so far as the morals of the Order goes, the world admits than an Odd Fellow, whatever may be his views theologically, is a man of character and sobriety” and, while educational achievement was not mandated, “its composition is entirely of intelligent men; who are, however, often elevated to a higher position than they had ever dreamed of.” The Star added that Sanford’s address was well-received, and punctuated by frequent applause and stated “we regret that our readers are deprived of the pleasure of seeing it in print as he delivered it.”

After the speech, the members sang another hymn “used at the closing of the lodge, when the benediction was pronounced by the Chaplain, and the procession was reformed and marched up Spring street to the hall, where the members were dismissed” by Marshal William Pridham, a Pony Express rider and long-time agent of Wells, Fargo and Company. The paper declared that “the occasion was a most enjoyable one and served doubtless to bring many into closer relations with the Order, and to enlarge the acquaintance of members from different sections of the county with each other.” A prominent Odd Fellow in the Angel City’s Lodge #35 was Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolas Workman and four-term member of the Common [City] Council between 1866-1875.

As always, there is a bounty of advertisements from local businesses, along with public notices, and other items of interest, but the content about Vásquez, Duarte and the Odd Fellows celebration stand out as the most important material in this issue of the Star. Check back for more entries in the “Read All About It” series, including those that help us learn more about early 1870s greater Los Angeles.

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