by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As we continue our look at the 1876 history, published by Louis Lewin and Company for the American centennial, of Los Angeles County and having, in the first two parts, summarized the contribution of J.J. Warner regarding the period from 1771 to 1846, we pick up with the second chapter, penned by Benjamin I. Hayes (1815-1877) and concerning the era of 1847 to 1867.
Hayes was born in Baltimore, where his father was a mechanic, tavern-keeper, house painter and, from 1851-1853, county sheriff. Among his siblings was a brother who was an architect and another who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, while one of his sisters was married to a Confederate brigadier general and two others later came to Los Angeles after their brother settled there. Hayes was a graduate of St. Mary’s College, the secular arm until its closure in 1852 of a Roman Catholic seminary that still operates in a state that was a colony for English Catholics when established in the early 1630s. While he was admitted to the bar in his home state, Hayes quickly departed for Missouri and settled in Liberty, northeast of Kansas City.
By 1839, Hayes became the publisher The Far West, a newspaper that was previously issued by Peter H. Burnett, a friend of Hayes who was later California’s first American-era governor, while he also practiced law. In 1845, he was proprietor of the Platte Argus, northwest of Kansas City and then, in 1848, the year he married Eliza Chauncey, a native of Maryland and resident since infancy of Missouri, he went to St. Louis to publish, with two partners, The Weekly Fountain, a newspaper devoted to temperance, or the opposition to the manufacture and consumption of alcoholic beverages—this was an irony given that Hayes was widely known in Los Angeles for his habitual drunkenness.
It was because of Eliza’s poor health that Hayes joined a migrant caravan leaving Missouri for California in September 1849, though most of his compatriots were gold-seekers—notably Hayes recorded in the published portion of his journals that a slave of his accompanied him to where the party left. After some initial misadventures, Hayes was part of the Clay company that took the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico and then headed south along the Río Grande to El Paso and then west through parts of the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora as well as Arizona, following the Gila River to its junction with the mighty Colorado, reached on the last day of the year.
By mid-January 1850, Hayes and his compatriots (there had been a split of the company into two sections) got to Warner’s ranch where the two future collaborators met and Warner gave Hayes some of his history, including his own western journey to improve his health. After almost two weeks, Hayes pushed on through Temecula and reached the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, owned by Isaac Williams, at the end of the month, where many emigrants were camped after making the difficult journey from the Mormon capital at Salt Lake City. On the 31st, the stop was made at Rancho La Puente and the “large, substantial adobe house” of John Rowland, “a plain spoken gentleman,” with William Workman residing a mile away and said to be “owner of a princely estate” (which was true of Rowland)—more on Hayes’ impressions of La Puente are to come in a future post.
On 1 February, after passing by Mission San Gabriel, Hayes ventured into Los Angeles, where he was astonished to meet African-American barber Peter Biggs, who’d been the slave of a friend of Hayes from Liberty. He then returned to the mission and then back to Los Angeles, where he stayed in a camp of a former Missouri governor, John C. Edwards. On the 4th, he was in the town and was doubtful about his prospects for hanging his shingle as a lawyer, but he did embark on a practice, including partnerships with Lewis Granger, who he met at Chino, and Jonathan R. Scott, a New York native who was in Missouri before he came to Los Angeles.
A few months after his arrival, the organization of California’s political system, preceding its admission as the 31st state in the Union in September, was inaugurated and, in the city and county elections, Hayes had the distinction of serving as both County Attorney and City Attorney. He narrowly escaped assassination in the famous Lugo Case of 1851, but went on, the following year to win election as District Attorney for a region that covered a wide swath of southern California and served two terms from 1852 to 1863 before narrowly losing to Pablo de la Guerra of Santa Barbara, who benefitted from Union Army soldiers voting in the Civil War-era election. One of his best-remembered rulings concerned the freeing in 1856 of Biddy Mason, a slave brought to Los Angeles by a Mormon, who sought to take her to Texas but who was prevented from doing so as Mason pursued her rights under California law. Mason went on to be one of the most prominent Black residents of Los Angeles until her death in 1891.
Hayes, whose wife died in September 1857 leaving him a son, Chauncey, moved to San Diego, where he resided for about a decade and where he practiced law, served as District Attorney in 1866-1867 and followed this with election to the state Assembly, with his single term comprising the years 1867 and 1868. Yet, Hayes returned to Los Angeles early in 1876 to work for historian Hubert Howe Bancroft’s project to copy all public records of the Spanish and Mexican eras and followed this with his endeavor for the county history. Later in the centennial year, Hayes took up the practice of law in a room in the Lafayette Hotel, situated on the site where his adobe house was when he first lived in the Angel City. In early August 1877, however, Hayes, who was suffering from poor health, died at age 62 and was memorialized for his integrity, honesty, relationship with the Spanish-speaking Californios and other good qualities (nothing was said about his penchant for drink.)
In his account of those twenty years from 1847 to 1867, Hayes began with a detailed look at the second conquest of Los Angeles in early January 1847 by the combined forces of Navy Commodore Robert F. Stockton and Army General Stephen Watts Kearny, after Calfornios revolted following Stockton’s seizure of the pueblo the previous August. Hayes relied heavily on the then-unpublished journal of his future brother-in-law, Army doctor John S. Griffin, who became a very prominent figure in Los Angeles after he left military service.
For example, Griffin wrote of the battles at the San Gabriel River (Río Hondo) and La Mesa (in modern Vernon) and Hayes offered his own commentary on these engagements, based on the recollections of future county judge and namesake of the famous tourist thoroughfare at the Los Angeles Plaza, Agustín Olvera. While we’ll save some of these details for a January post, it is worth noting that Hayes made reference to the fact that the revolt of the Californios, what he termed a revolución, “owned much to the patriotic zeal of the women of the country, by fervent appeal and indignant upbraiding impelling father, brother, husband, lover, to resistance.” He also observed that, despite a lack of proper military training and needed resources, the locals relied on “honor and love of country” which “threw away cold calculation and military caution.”
Also of interest is the chronicler’s statement that the first postwar election of the Los Angeles ayuntamiento, or town council, brought to office all Latinos, including the mixed-ethnic Miguel Pryor and Hayes lauded the fact that “its record is creditable to their probity, intelligence, economy and zeal for the public good,” though the council was prematurely dissolved by order of military Governor Richard B. Mason and Stephen C. Foster, who was married into the prominent Lugo family, was appointed alcalde (mayor) instead. His tenure lasted from the start of 1848 through late May 1849 and he was praised for his “superior skill” during that short period.
Hayes was complimentary of the postwar period with Colonel John C. Frémont, who operated semi-independently and often in conflict with the likes of Stockton and Kearny, said to be “courteous and gay”, while Mason was “just and firm” in his administration. The Californios were adjudged to have a “natural good temper” that “favored a speedy and perfect conciliation,” though the writer was, obviously, not present at the time and relied on a rosy recollection of his brother-in-law. Still, he averred that military officials were well-treated by the locals and it was recorded that “for hospitality the families were unrivalled through the world.
One interesting story was that General Andrés Pico, the hero of the Californio victory at San Pasqual, near San Diego, in December 1846, and Lieutenant George Stoneman, later a Civil War general, California governor and local orange grower, were compadres (close friends) who organized a horse race. In the contest, “Old Oso” (Bear), owned by Pico and his brother, the former governor, Don Pío Pico, along with William Workman, bested the champion steed of Santa Barbara owned by Dr. Nicholas Den, formerly a resident of Los Angeles and said to have been the first trained doctor in the region.
Hayes’ narrative is, at best, choppy and wanders quite a bit in chronology, location and event (perhaps a reflection of his deteriorating health?) and his discussion of the postwar period notes the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war, at the end of May 1848 and the news of its arrival in mid-August, but doesn’t follow up on the consequences and ramifications. Instead, he turned to the return of Pío Pico from México in July or August and the fact that the governor was denied any meetings in Mexico City much less assistance for the defense of Alta California. Hayes concluded that “Don Pio has lived to a green old age, none the less honored for his having been the last Mexican Governor of California,” more precisely, the last governor of Mexican California.
After discussing more about Stockton and Kearny, with footnotes on locals who served in American forces, including Rowland’s sons-in-law, John Reed and future sheriff James R. Barton, Hayes recorded that the “civic-military” administration of Los Angeles of Foster’s term as alcalde was followed by the return of the ayuntamiento, with all being Californios, excepting Jonathan Temple. This group served through the end of 1849 with the Ord Survey cited as a measure of “their usefulness.” For the first half of 1850, until the civil administration was implemented, as noted above, the council was more ethnically mixed with three Americans or Europeans and five Californios in service, while Foster was appointed prefect, a broader administrative role for a district roughly akin to the county established during that year. He and alcalde Abel Stearns were singled out for their preserving of the archives.
Given somewhat confusing biographical treatments were Stearns, Cave Counts of the northern San Diego County area, Juan Bandini, and Santiago Argüello, with a story of the first American flag in California actually made by Refugia Argüello, the second wife of Bandini, who represented the aphorism that “Woman’s thought is equal to an emergency” when the flag was needed when an American force returned to San Diego from an expedition into Baja California. Hayes then jumped to the late 1849 ratification of California’s first constitution, with mention of local delegates Stearns, Hugo Reid, José Antonio Carrillo and Manuel Dominguez and the subsequent first Los Angeles County election, held on 1 April 1850—at which Hayes was chosen as county attorney. Agustín Olvera, selected as county judge, was also give a brief biographical treatment here, as were some members of the 1834 Hijar-Padres Colony, of which Olvera was a prominent figure, including Ignacio Coronel and Carrillo.
Hayes then moved to the early members of the legal fraternity, beginning, in 1850, with his former law partner, Scott, and recording himself and Granger, Russell Sackett and Manuel Clemente Rojo, noted subsequently the first lawyer in the pueblo and “of finished education and excellent qualities of head and heart” and later a prominent Baja California figure, as the first admitted attorneys to the bar. It was noted that “law books were scarce” but one was used by Scott in a case which he lost, but earned a $1,000 fee, quite a large sum for the period. Another barrister from the early days, Joseph Lancaster Brent brought a good legal library with him, when he arrived later in 1850. In the legal litany, among the later lawyers were Myer J. Newmark, the first Jewish attorney in the Angel City when he was admitted in 1859, and Ygnacio Sepúlveda, the first locally born Latino lawyer (Rojo being from Peru) when he was admitted in 1862. Again, however, Hayes’ writing lacks organization and clarity as he jumps from person to person over period of a quarter century.
In fact, he then turned to Sheriff George Thompson Burill, the first to hold that office and who was described as “punctilious, perhaps formal, but affable” as he tended to wear his military dress sword (he was a veteran of the Mexican-American War) while on duty, claiming this was an “official custom of Mexico, where he had lived a good while.” Hayes told a story of how Burrill was fortunate in that, while responsible for the safety of three Califonios being tried for murder in a court room situated in the old adobe portion of the Bella Union Hotel as a dozen heavily-armed men loomed in a corner, eighteen soldiers arrived to transport the prisoners, who’d been released on bail, home, spoiling the plans of the strangers who loitered nearby. Hayes wrote that the soldiers were placed in service under Burrill to stave off the infamous Irving Gang, part of the noteworthy Lugo Case cited above.
This looks to be as good a place as any to conclude this third part of our post, though we’ll return tomorrow to take up part four. We’ll look to get that published well before Thanksgiving dinner is served, so please join us then.