“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 Five

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For this fifth part of a post dealing with the history of Los Angeles County published in November 1876 by Louis Lewin and Company and as the local contribution for a Congressional resolution calling for county histories across the nation for the American centennial, we continue with Benjamin Hayes’ portion concerning the period of 1847 to 1867. Hayes, a former district court judge and an attorney recently returned to the Angel City after a decade in San Diego, wrote less of a narrative as a kind of stream-of-consciousness recitation of facts. What the account lacks as a story, it does provide some important information about the two decades following the seizure of Mexican-era Los Angeles by American military forces and leading to the era of the region’s first development boom.

In his coverage of the end of the Mexican-American War, Hayes relied heavily on the then-unpublished memories of his brother-in-law, John S. Griffin, an Army doctor with the invading forces who returned to his native Virginia, but came back to Los Angeles in summer 1854. Other early physicians recorded by the chronicler included Richard S. Den (who came to Los Angeles in 1843 and long resided in Santa Barbara), William B. Osborne, Alpheus P. Hodges (the first mayor of the Angel City), Alexander W. Hope (also briefly a councilman, state senator and captain of a short-lived volunteer police department), James B. Winston, Thomas Foster (another early mayor), and James P. McFarland, a partner with future governor John G. Downey in an early drug store and subject of a prior post here.

An early photo of Benjamin Ignatius Hayes (1815-1877).

Osborne was given some attention as a member of the New York Volunteers under Jonathan Stevenson, who came during the Mexican-American War and then opened a drug store in 1850 before McFarland and Downey (Hope had the third, which opened in 1854), while he, in partnership with Moses Searles, also took the first photographs in the Angel City in August 1851. Osborne, who was also a deputy sheriff, was so busy that Hayes wrote that it was “impossible to recount his various functions” and described the doctor as “a most useful man anywhere—friendly among his neighbors, of intelligence and public spirit.” He was among the first to drill an artesian well, imported many plants (roses, shrubs, fruit), and sent local grapes to a New York Agricultural Society (the Empire State was a major winemaking center then) meeting.

After noting that the Angel City’s first dentist was J.W. Gaylord, Hayes abruptly, as was typical for his essay, to the idea that “let us make a diary of a year or two,” but even this was a recitation of facts that no relation to each other or, in most cases, much explanation as to why they were important or noteworthy. In mid-July 1851, Hayes recorded, there was a performance of a theatrical troupe, but, whether this was a first in Los Angeles or not was not stated. On 1 September, the city auctioned lots, ranging in price from $20 to $31, with the buyers choosing which they wanted.

A reference to Hayes as District Court judge, Southern Californian, 21 September 1854. The paper was blatant in its calls for citizens to take law into their own hands should the court fail to convict murderers and this, in part, led the California Supreme Court to issue stays of execution in cases at this time—in one instance, it led to a legal execution and a lynching in January 1855.

On 5 October, David W. Alexander started for Europe and we at the Homestead care because we long thought that accompanying the Irish native was William Workman, who returned to his hometown of Clifton in the north of England for his only visit back to the old country—but we know that Workman was in Veracruz, México in February 1851 and was enumerated in the British national census the end of March, while Alexander resigned from his Common (City) Council seat before he left. What we now know is that Alexander and Workman traveled home together in 1852, during which trip they stopped in New York to have a photo taken by Mathew Brady, later famed for his Civil War battlefield images, as well as to visit Alexander’s family—as a very recent post here recounted.

The first meeting of local Freemasons occurred in early November, while, on the 20th, Encarnación Martinez, wife of Rancho La Puente co-owner, with Workman, John Rowland, died. Hayes stayed at the Rowlands’ adobe on his migration from the east in 1850 and wrote very favorably of the couple. Here, he observed, of Doña Encarnación, of whom little has been recorded,

Of her it is said truly, “Many will remember with what zeal she ministered to the weary traveler, with what care and anxiety she watched the sick bed—feeding the hungry and befriending the friendless. Her whole life was an exemplification of that enthusiasm in doing good which so particularly characterizes the christian woman.”

Hayes also noted that 22 December was a celebration of “Forefathers’ Day,” which is still commemorated in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to honor the arrival of the Pilgrims—Native Americans would, as with Thanksgiving Day, have much to say about the flip side of the coin on that story. Five days later, it was recorded, Antonio Garra, who led a revolt of indigenous Californians against white incursions in southern California—though Hayes did not put it this way—was executed at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, owned by Isaac Williams, for his purported role in the killing of four Americans at the San Diego County ranch of J.J. Warner, chronicler of the first part of the centennial history. The problem is that Hayes was wrong—Garra was not executed until 10 January 1852 and it occurred in San Diego. So, this is another illustration of why it is always good to make sure we look for corroboration for what seems like a reliable primary

A public notice concerning Merced Rains, widow of Rancho Cucamonga owner John Rains and for whom was her legal counsel, not long after he lost reelection as judge, Los Angeles News, 4 March 1864.

Then, the writer listed the major property holders of 1851 and the assessed values (a new concept as of the formation of the governance system of California in 1850 prior to statehood, which took place on 9 September), including José Sepúlveda (102,000 acres: $83,000); Eulogio de Célis (100,000, including half of the massive Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando in the valley of that name, though the value was only shown as $13,000, perhaps this was a misprint); John Forster (who was married into the Pico family and owned 61,000 acres in what became Orange County and in San Diego County: $13,000); Bernardo Yorba (37,000 acres in the future Orange County); Antonio María Lugo (29,000 acres and $72,000) and large amounts for Pío Pico (22,000: $10,000, Jonathan Temple (20,000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos, though it was actually 27,000 acres: $79,000, among others.

The varying values may have concerned those lands considered more valuable for their actual or potential agricultural use, as opposed to those only deemed useful for grazing cattle and horses, though this latter formed the economic backbone of the region, with a recent boon to local rancheros because of the onset of the Gold Rush. Notably, John Rowland was present on the list, with 29,000 acres valued at $70,000, but his Rancho La Puente co-owner Workman was absent. Their 48,790-acre ranch was later divided evenly among them, but other sources corroborate what is noted in Hayes’ narrative in that Rowland took a larger share in the early days, leaving Workman with a still substantial 20,000 acres, though why the latter was not part of this list is puzzling. Other rancheros mentioned, though without specified acreage, were Isaac Williams of Chino, the value of which was given as $35,000 and which was at around 27,000 acres, and Ricardo Vejar, $34,000, though he, like Rowland, was half-owner of a large ranch, San José (modern Pomona area), but the other grantee, Ygnacio Palomares, was also not listed.

With respect to Temple, Hayes had a brief notation that prevailing rates of interest on loans was 5%, which the chronicler attributed to the merchant and ranchero offering loans “to the hundreds eager to share in the bonanza at an sacrifice” when Temple set his rate at 5% in 1848 and 1849. More disjointed information followed, such as that, from 1851, immediately following statehood, and afterward, there was much talk of a division of California—something still bandied about today—as well as Hayes’ recollection of the attempt on his life in November 1851 in an apparent unsolved case of mistaken identity, and a listing of early civil engineers.

For the year 1852, Hayes recounted a number of factoids relating to deaths, marriages, holiday celebrations and the like, as well as the Valentine’s Day arrival of his wife Emily from Missouri. Among the more interesting tidbits was that tailor Nicholas Blair advertised seeds for garden seeds he grew along the Arroyo Seco and said these were better than those imported and that future state treasurer Antonio Franco Coronel became superintendent for county schools (though no institutions actually opened until 1854). While the former judge noted that the “Land Commissioners came” on 27 August, he didn’t say what the body was and why there were in Los Angeles. Given that the purpose was to hear claimants provide that their Spanish and Mexican era land grants were supported by documentary evidence and that this was a major issue in early American-era California, it is surprising Hayes said nothing more.

Also important was his statement that, at the September city election, here were all of 386 voters, but, while he gave census numbers, it should be noted that he was talking about the 1852 state census, which was conducted because the 1850 federal enumeration, held early in 1851 because of California’s admission to the Union in September 1850, was considered so significantly undercounted. That latter tally only included 1,610 people in Los Angeles and 3,530 in the county, but the state count, the only of its kind, came up with 7,831 people in the county. Of these, Hayes observed, 4,693 were whites, 3,693 were indigenous people (only a couple hundred or so were listed in the 1850 census), and 295 were foreign-born, but he called these numbers “probably unreliable,” while badly erring in giving the September 1875 population of the Angel City as 2,549! It was probably intended to read 12,549. Separately, Hayes stated there were some 2,500 persons in Los Angeles in spring 1850 and that the number was about 3,000 by the start of 1853, including 300 Americans.

With respect to law and order, the former judge recorded that “in those days of disorder the peaceful slumbers of the citizens were guarded by the Voluntary Police, of one hundred men, led by the Dr. Hope mentioned earlier. Among those serving in the organization were David W. Alexander, Stephen C. Foster, Isaac S.K. Ogier, Joseph Lancaster Brent, John G. Downey, Hayes himself and prominent Californios, Agustín Olvera, Francisco Guirado, and Juan Sepúlveda. Later, there were such citizen militias (common across the country before the Civil War blatantly revealed their faults and lack of preparedness for battle) as the City Guards and Ringgold’s Light Artillery (1855), a rifle company and a French infantry corps (1857) and, more successfully from Hayes’ point of view, the Los Angeles Rangers (1853). More recently were such organizations, more social than martial, as the Rifleros de Los Angeles (1873) and the Los Angeles Guard (1874.)

Other 1851 trivia included the fact that a Latino theatrical company performed the drama, “The Immortal Poet, Don Jose Zorillo;” that the county’s debt totaled some $47,000 at the end of the year; and that there were four hotels in town, including the long-lived Bella Union, along with The American, Sportsmen’s Hall, and The Arkansas—the latter may have been a nod to the many Southerners who came through Los Angeles during the era. The Bella Union’s history was given in some detail into the 1870s, at which time it was rechristened the St. Charles. Also mentioned were the United States Hotel (opened 1856 and, under the ownership of Louis Mesmer, was “a massive, elegant brick structure” and then leased to Hammel and Denker) and the Pico House, situated on the site of the “commodious adobe dwelling” of the “very distinguished” José Antonio Carrillo, formerly a member of the Mexican Congress and a departmental supreme court justice. The hotel was leased to Antonio Cuyas and Company by builder and owner, Don Pío Pico. The Lafayette Hotel was on the property once occupied by Eulogio de Célis (see above), “an estimable and wealthy gentleman” and a retired merchant from Spain. The hotel opened in 1859 and run by three successive groups of Germans and which “vast building has been entirely reconstructed within the past two years.”

After noting that the September 1855 general election included 1,479 votes, while that twenty years later was 5,175, Hayes went on to include some early African-American history of the Angel City. He mentioned Peter Biggs, the first barber in town and who was a slave of an officer stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when he came to the region during the Mexican-American War, upon which “his freedom was necessarily recognized.” In spring 1850, there were only three or four Blacks in Los Angeles, whereas, in 1875, the total was some 175, of which 75 could vote and “many of whom hold good city property, acquired by their industry,” with the writer adding, “they are farmers, mechanics, or of some one or other useful occupation; and remarkable for good habits.”

Singled out was Robert Owens (called “Owen” here), who came from Texas at the end of 1853 with his wife Winnie, two daughters and a son, Charles. Owens was accounted as “a shrewd man of business, energetic, and honorable in his dealings; [and] made money by Government contracts and general trade.” At his death in mid August 1865 at age 59, the account concluded, Owens was “well esteemed by white and colored” citizens alike. Also mentioned were the quintet of African-American men who were members of the local society of Mexican-American War veterans, including Peter Diggs, George H. Smith, Paul Rushmore, Peter Byus, and Lewis G. Green, the latter featured in a previous post here. Byus served under General (later President) Zachary Taylor and others in México, Rushmore was also with Taylor and then drove a team led by Colonel John Ward (of whose estate William Workman was executor) from Chihuahua to Los Angeles. Diggs and Smith were both served on the Navy vessel, the Columbus, while Green was on the Portsmouth, as well as, over nearly a decade, on five other ships.

Hayes then discussed the early history of the first newspaper in Los Angeles, the Star, launched in mid-May 1851 and described as one “that has always exercised a salutary influence,” even though it was left unmentioned that the paper was shut down for four years from 1864-1868 because publisher Henry Hamilton, who, Hayes wrote “ably conducted” it “through a trying period” in the Fifties, was so blatantly pro-Confederate during the Civil War that he was arrested and sent to Alcatraz Island (granted in 1846 by Governor Pío Pico to William Workman and then transferred to F.P.F. Temple before it was seized by the federal government, which still maintains ownership) until he signed a loyalty oath, but his struggling paper was shuttered. Hayes praised the Star for publishing the letters of Hugo Reid about the local indigenous people, issued by the author’s death in September 1852, a life of missionary Junípero Serra (though the natives had contrasting views of the man Hayes called “the founder of California civilization), and for having “in a thousand ways . . . brought our full information upon the resources of this section.”

Also given some attention was Francisco P. Ramirez, the teenaged publisher of El Clamor Público, the first Spanish-language paper in our area and which lasted from mid-1855 until the end of 1859. Hayes added that Ramirez was state printer from 1860-1862 and editor of the official publication of the Mexican state of Sonora before returning to Los Angeles and serving as a federal land registrar. From 1864-1868, Ramirez ran a San Francisco Spanish-language paper and, in 1865, was California’s official translator, and he then was a partner in the operation of La Crónica, which was launched in 1872 (and later had Thomas W. Temple II as its publisher) while serving as a lawyer. Hayes briefly covered the history of other local papers including the Southern Californian (1854-1855), the Southern Vineyard (published by Warner from 1858-1860), and the News (which succeeded El Clamor Público and the Southern Vineyard and operated from 1860-1872, when it was taken over by the Mirror).

About a full page was devoted to the story of fraternal societies and orders, including the charter in 1854 for the Free and Associated Masons Lodge #42, of which William Workman and his son-in-law F.P.F. Temple were original members; the formation in March 1855 of the local lodge #35 of the International Order of Odd Fellows, headed by Ezra Drown, whose orphaned son had Workman as his legal guardian and who was raised by the Temple family; and lodge #299 of the International Order of Good Templars, a Temperance organization launched in 1867, while briefly noted were the Order of Red Men and Knights of Pythias, along with the short-lived library (Jonathan Temple was its president) and agricultural society—both from 1859, a Mechanics’ Institute (1858-1860).

Also recorded were such ethnic-oriented entities as the Hebrew Benevolent Society (1854), French Benevolent Society (1860: Hayes noted there were some 600 French men, of which half were married and whose families might have totaled 2,000 persons), the Teutonia Concordia, a German benevolent order (1859, becoming the Turnverein Germania in 1871, and the German population, including American-born children, was said to number about 2,000), the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish society (1875, with a population locally of above 1,000) and the Spanish-American Benevolent Society (1875, but which had a precursor in the Juarez Political Club, launched in 1863).

After giving a short summation of the first Los Angeles-area hospital, an infirmary opened in 1858 an adobe house provided by Cristobal Aguilar, a council member and mayor, by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity, who then built “an extensive hospital of brick, with garden and orchard surrounding it,” northeast of the Plaza, Hayes turned to discussing education was sure to note that,

Contrary to what has been said sometimes, the native Californians were never indifferent to the education of their children, as the acts of the Departmental Assembly [the legislature of pre-American Alta California] and Ayuntamientos [the analog to the modern city council] prove, by constant efforts from the time of Governor [José] Figueroa [whose term was from 1833-1835] and before. It must be borne in mind that their local councils had not faculty to impose a property tax for any purpose, and their annual revenue seldom exceeded on thousand dollars.

Hayes noted that Luis Jordan, who he saw every day on Angel City streets, proposed an elementary school plan in 1846 and that Jordan urged his fellow citizens “humanity, family ties, and the obligation of our office in mute voices tell us hat we must not be indifferent to the helplessness of youth, lest to-morrow our neglect may bring down upon our own heads odium and execration.” Ignacio Coronel, who came with the Hijar-Padres Colony of 1834, mentioned by Warner in his essay, opened a school, while the Rev. Antonio Jimenez applied for a college in spring 1850, though this was never realized.

Around that time, a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Wicks, opened a school and the chronicler recorded that “as late as January, 1853, we had but four small schools, two of them teaching English.” The earliest public schools, with former mayor John G. Nichols and newspaper publisher John O. Wheeler as trustees, soon opened, as did a school at San Gabriel. Women opening schools for girls in the Fifties included Mary E. Hoyt and her mother and Anna McArthur, while, since 1860, there were eight women listed as teachers along with four men, including William T. Lucky, first principal of the state normal school for teacher education and then principal of Los Angeles High when it opened in 1873 and superintendent of city schools. Other women mentioned only briefly elsewhere were Caroline Hartman, wife of a lawyer, who was a fine painter and published author, and Ina Coolbrith (misspelled “Colbraith”), who was a teenage poet published in the local press in the 1850s, but who went on to state and national renown after leaving the Angel City for San Francisco.

Hayes recorded that there were some 8,000 children in the county as of July 1875, though only a portion were in school, with nearly 50 school districts, 60 school houses, and over 70 teachers. He added that the Sisters of Charity opened an orphan asylum and a school in early 1856, while St. Vincent’s College (now Loyola Marymount University) for boys from grammar school level through college was, after a couple of years at a site on the Plaza, “was firmly established in 1857, in their present edifice.” Again, though, Hayes erred here, as the school actually opened in 1865 and relocated two years later to a site now known as St. Vincent Court between Broadway and Hill and 6th and 7th streets.

The author then added (and the last sentence applies now as then) that,

Educational systems have been extended and brought nearer perfection within the past seven years. To those patient laborers of our early days—in adverse circumstances, often their best recompense was the consciousness of duty well done—society is grateful for the noble gifts of useful men and women whom it owes to their knowledge and faithful care.

We’ll return tomorrow with part six with the discursive Hayes narrative, which, confusing with its incessant digressions and lack of flow and order, still has much to tell us about Los Angeles from the late 1840s to late 1860s.

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