“The Instrument of Rescuing from Oblivion a Portion of the Early History of our Country”: An Historical Sketch of Los Angeles County, California, November 1876, Part Four

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In this fourth part of a post covering the Los Angeles County history, issued in November 1876 by Louis Lewin and Company and published as part of the American centennial and a joint resolution of Congress asking each county in the country to develop these histories, we continue with former county judge and current attorney Benjamin I. Hayes’ contribution covering the period from 1847 to 1867.

As noted in part three, Hayes delivered something that was less a narrative than largely a recitation of facts, but in a somewhat disordered, jumbled fashion—perhaps a reflection of the decline of his health that led to his death in early August 1877, a little more than a half year after the work appeared. This continued with his recitation of various city, county, state and federal officers over the period since county government was organized (following the ratification of California’s constitution at the end of 1849) in spring 1850, months before statehood.

The enumeration (line 38) of Benjamin Hayes, with fellow attorney and Maryland native Joseph Lancaster Brent, in the 1850 federal census, actually taken 17 January 1851 because of California’s admission to the Union the previous September. Hayes then lived on the west side of Main Street across from what later became the Pico House hotel and his neighbors were the Alaniz family. Note the listed age of Don Maximo Alaniz as 97, though he was more likely 90—the owner of Rancho San José de Buenos Ayres, where Westwood and UCLA are now, died just weeks later in early March. He was a native of Sinaloa, one of the soldados de cuero or soldiers who escorted the 44 founders to Los Angeles in 1781, and was a resident of the pueblo by 1800.

The listing of the various elected officials isn’t interesting reading, but did, at least, provided the names and, in some cases, dates of service for those who might later seek out that information, though Hayes offered the caveat that these were just “some of the principal offices,” including current officeholders, such as county treasurer F.P.F. Temple, who took office the prior March, having been elected on 1 September 1875, despite the disastrous collapse of his Temple and Workman bank albeit having the work almost completely done by his deputy. As was his wont, Hayes tucked in little biographical details of some of the personnel. When he got to the listing of mayors (the current one being Prudent Beaudry), he observed that the first two Alpheus P. Hodges and Benjamin D. Wilson ,”through tempestuous times, held the helm with firmness and foresight.”

One little detail of importance was the reference to the brief Donation System, inaugurated in August 1852 and repealed two years later, “by which thirty-five acre tracts, and other lots were granted on sole condition of improvement, with payment of fees.” Some readers may have seen Henry Hancock’s survey of these donation lots, which, to some Angelenos of the time, amounted to a giveaway of what could have been revenue-generating properties to provide monies for a chronically underfunded city government. Hayes also provided some detail on the issue of irrigation, especially ways in which lands south of the city could be cultivated with better management of the supply from the Los Angeles River. In 1858, he added, the second city zanja (water ditch) was opened and improved matters significantly and which overcame previous resistance by vineyardists along the watercourse who didn’t want water diverted to others to their disadvantage.

The 1852 state census, the only such conducted, showed (lines 2-3) Hayes with his recently arrived wife Emily Chauncey, also a Maryland native, with their “last residence” shown as Missouri. Near neighbors included the López and Valdez families.

Stephen C. Foster, mentioned in part three of this post as an early alcalde and prefect during the period of military rule after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, was mayor in 1854 and had “managed well,” the chronicler related, when Foster resigned and then was quickly reelected without opposition over what would seem “merely a curious circumstance, or a capricious freak” without an explanation as to why. In one of his longest discussions, Hayes noted that Foster resigned because of the state supreme court’s stay of execution for convicted murderer David Brown, while Felipe Alvitre (of the Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, community where the Temple family long resided), also found guilty of murder.

“The wretched, friendless Alvitre” was led to the scaffold and, with Brown finding at least a brief reprieve, “this still more inflamed the native Californian and Mexican portion of the population,” though it should be noted that, when Brown was arrested for his crime, a public meeting was largely attended by Americans and Europeans, to whom Mayor Foster promised his resignation to help lead a lynching party if justice (that is, a conviction, death sentence, and execution) was not forthcoming. Hayes, who was district court judge at the time, did record that there was ‘a great multitude of all classes” at the Alvitre hanging as Sheriff James R. Barton (a former son-in-law of Rancho La Puente co-owner John Rowland and who was killed while on-duty in early 1857) had a posse of men guarding the yard where the execution was taking place.

A post here in January will go into great detail of the incident, but we’ll observe for now that, when Alvitre, whose stay of execution petition was delayed, was dead and his body cut down from the scaffold, the assemblage rushed the jail, overwhelmed Barton and his men (though with what resistance is not known) and seized Brown, who was dragged out and lynched. The former judge, who presided over the Alvitre and Brown cases, noted there was a third convicted murderer huddled in the jail adjacent to the scaffold, but “him the infuriated crown did not molest.” The unnamed man was William B. Lee, whose property was auctioned for funds for his defense by William Workman and the papers of which are in the Homestead’s collection—there’s another future blog post waiting to be written!

Following Stephen C. Foster (who served again briefly in 1856 before resigning to attend to the administration of the estate of his brother-in-law Isaac Williams of the Chino Ranch) was the unrelated Thomas Foster, under whose administration the public school system was inaugurated, as well as improvements introduced to get water to the southwestern section of the city, likely the area near what is today Pershing Square. Damien Marchessault was a rare example of a mayor who served several terms in the late Fifties and into much of the following decade with Hayes recording that he focused heavily on water, schools and the city’s part of the arrangements with Jonathan Temple for his Market House, soon to become the Court House. While the writer merely noted that Marchessault died in 1868, he didn’t mention it was because of suicide.

For the several other mayors through the Sixties and first half of the Seventies, Hayes provided brief references of achievement: Henry Mellus was an official of “personal suavity and honor;” José Mascarel signed an ordinance banning concealed weapons and another providing land to the area’s first oil company; Cristobal Aguilar oversaw negotiations for the region’s first railroad, the Los Angeles and San Pedro, grants to the Canal and Reservoir Company for water distribution and provision of the precious fluid for a woolen mill (of which F.P.F. Temple was a founder), and a new ordinance for the sale of city-owned lands; Joel Turner, during whose term a board of education and a ward system were established; and James R. Toberman, under whom city debt was reduced and a rare surplus provided even as taxes were cut. Hayes ended this portion by stating that “since the charter of 1874, city legislation has been fruitful of measures which we leave, together with many of prior date omitted above, to take up the thread of travel through labrynths [sic] of the remoter past.”

So, he then went back to 1848 and the discovery of gold in the north and the resulting rush of Angelenos, principally Latinos, to try their hands at the mines, along with migrants from Sonora in northern México, while ranchers in this area benefitted mightily from the great demand for horses and cattle. Hayes stated that the exodus was such that, as “every head was turned toward El Dorado,” there were only 30 Americans who remained in town in the summer of 1850 among the hordes of gold seekers coming through Los Angeles on their way north. For these gold-seekers, he continued, there was

a generous response from the bounty of the “Lugo family” at San Bernardino, a Williams at Chino, a Rowland and a Workman at La Puente. Nor only from these—Native Californian liberality everywhere opened its full hand to way worn stranger

Moreover, 1850 Los Angeles “was a year of enjoyment, rather than of earnest pursuit of riches,” though there was plenty of money and “all sought to make the most of the pleasures of life, as it seemed.” Hayes then turned to horse racing, a pastime indulged in by Latinos with a great passion, as “they might justly boast of their horses,” some of which were known in Mexico City. With the influx of Gold Rush-era wealth, enormous purses were developed in betting for races, including a nine-mile contest in mid-August 1851 involving a horse owned by former governor Pío Pico and Teodosio Yorba against an unnamed steed from the north and for which the stake was 1,000 cattle at $20 apiece and $2,000 in cash, with two shorter races involving $4,000 worth of cattle and $2,000 cash each.

In March 1852 came the legendary race of Pico and Yorba’s Sarco and José Sepúlveda’s imported Australian mare, Black Swan, with the latter winning and it recorded that “not less than $50,000 must have changed hands,” while Hayes added that “more deserves to be said of what the Californians tell of this exciting race.” In fact, so much was said of horse racing in Los Angeles during the Fifties (and one involving Moses Carson, brother of the famed agent and scout Kit, former apprentice to William Workman’s brother David, from 1840) that one wonders how much of his income Hayes expended on this sport!

Characteristically, the narrative abruptly shifted to another topic, this being the first three American families in Los Angeles, these being those headed by Joseph S. Mallard, Lewis S. Granger and John G. Nichols, with the latter’s namesake son said to be the first American child born in town, though Hayes added, “among the novelties of a strange region, emigrants could not fail to notice the vivacity and robustness of the native-born children, and the large proportion of persons of an advanced age.” So, Guadalupe Romero of what became Santa Ana in Orange County died in 1858, apparently aged 115 years, while former soldier Antonio Valdez lived to be 92 when he passed a year later and the scribe recalled the Californio men who “appeared to fine advantage, in showy old style ranchero attire, on their gay and spirited horses” while the women were comprised “of elegance and naivete and kindness all with good sense and wit so happily blended, by some rare gift of Nature.”

Another interesting little tidbit was Hayes’ recollection that in 1848, there were 103 owners of “town-farms” within Los Angeles pueblo limits with only eight being extranjeros, or foreigners, including Abel Stearns, William Wolfskill, and Louis Vignes, so that there were three Americans, three French natives, a German and a scion of England—”so has the city ever been, cosmopolitan.” Regarding city lands, the writer lauded the “sound policy adopted at the beginning” for disposition, so that “those of Spanish origin, who number 3,000 souls within the city, an about an equal number outside in the county, retain good agricultural tracts.” Yet, it was clear that the Spanish-speaking population had, since the 1850s, lost a tremendous amount of economic, and political, power, but Hayes did not mention this.

With respect to agriculture, the chronicler’s description is, again, jumbled, but he mentioned some 200 walnut trees planted in 1847, though only a trio remained nearly three decades later. There were olives, figs, apricots, peaches, pears and quince before the American era and a county surveyor’s report from the start of the year noted the inventory of trees were: 14,200 peach; 8,590 apple; 6,000 walnut; 5,800 pear; 3,600 fig; 2,600 apricot; and 2,170 olive, with a total value for 1875 of $525,000. There were nearly 5,000 acres of vineyards, but Hayes was strangely silent about the importance of this product, of which Los Angeles was best known until the emergence of the better vines of Sonoma, Napa and other northern counties. While yields were small prior to the mid-Fifties, there were 639,000 bushes of corn; 416,000 of barley; 20,000 of wheat; and nearly 12,000 of rye in 1875 (William Workman was among those who pushed heavily into growing field crops after the floods and droughts of the first half of the Sixties decimated cattle herds). Hayes also mentioned the experiments of Ozro W. Childs (bees, plums, chestnuts and black walnuts), William Rubottom (pecans at his place at Spadra, now part of Pomona), William Wolfskill (persimmons, probably at his massive orange grove, the first commercial one in the state, off Alameda Street), and others.

The next diversion concerned relations with the indigenous people of the area, but Hayes’ focus was on Indian raids and the wars launched against the native people. In 1850, purportedly during each full moon, Chief Walkara of the Timpanogo (often called Utes) came down through Cajon Pass and stole horses, including 70 of José María Lugo from Rancho San Bernardino, while it was recorded that “the New Mexicans of Agua Mansa,” many of whom came with Rowland and Workman in late 1841, “had been a barrier to the incursions of these Indians, without always preventing them” from accomplishing the objects of their raids. A volunteer militia led by General Joshua Bean (killed at his San Gabriel tavern in fall 1852) was formed to counter the actions of Cahuillas led by the venerable Chief Juan Antonio, who also led them in the slaughter of all but one of the Irving Gang, referred to in part three of this post, in a box canyon near Redlands.

Meanwhile, mention was also made of Antonio Guerra, leader of the Agua Caliente, who was hunted by Americans because he was said to have fomented a mass rebellion in a large swath of southern California. Among the locals involved in the Guerra manhunt were Myron Norton, an attorney and later judge (and signer of the 1849 state constitution), Simon B. Cox and Benjamin S. Eaton (Hayes’s brother-in-law and namesake of Eaton Canyon above Pasadena, as well as father of future Los Angeles Mayor Fred Eaton.)

As he summed up his discussion of the “Indian wars,” Hayes felt impelled to state, given his years as district court judge and confronting extralegal justice, that

A quarter of a century, whereof reminiscences come involuntarily, is worthy of review. A record of crime must have attended this progress in manners and government. For one reason or another the people felt compelled often to “take the law into their own hands.” Those moral tempests which agitated the community to its depths, slumber, we trust, to rise no more, in this better social condition.

With this discussion by Hayes on the issues with the indigenous people in the early 1850s, we’ll close part four and return, on Saturday, with the next segment. Tomorrow’s post, meanwhile, apropos of it being Native American Heritage Day, will be provided by my colleague Beatriz Rivas about her reflections on land acknowledgment statements and her own indigenous heritage and identity. In whatever ways you give thanks today, we want to express our own thankfulness in being able to share regional history with our visitors!

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