by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It was a pleasure to again be invited to speak to the Glendora Genealogical Group, of which my colleague Steven Dugan is president, and the topic this evening was the remarkable Henry Dalton (1804-1884), the longtime owner of the Rancho Azusa, or, that is, whatever he was able to keep hold of in his lengthy, multi-pronged battle with squatters, surveyors and others over more than 35 years of legal struggles.
Dalton and his Californio wife Guadalupe Zamorano were also the contemporaries and northern neighbors of William Workman, another native of England, and Nicolasa Urioste, who hailed from New Mexico, the co-owners of the Rancho La Puente, though there isn’t much evidence that the couples had much contact with each other. Dalton and Workman, however, were close friends with another British-born local, Hugo Reid, though events of the Mexican American War (see below) may have affected their relationship.
In any case, the ups and downs that Dalton experienced through much of his years in the region were in contrast to the situation with Workman—at least until the terrible and dramatic downfall the latter experienced when his Temple and Workman bank collapsed in 1876. Dalton, after a period of near poverty, was able, in his final years, to enjoy a modicum of financial security and his widow enjoyed a measure of that until her death three decades after his.
Dalton was born in the Limehouse section of East London along the northern bank of the Thames River and was apprenticed to a brother who was a merchant. After only a short time, however, he broke his contract and took to the sea, winding up, about 1821, at Callao, Peru, the port city adjacent to that newly independent nation’s capital, Lima. Though he arrived virtually penniless, Dalton was able to become a successful merchant over about two decades in the South American country, where he met a native of Scotland named Hugo Reid.
In fall 1843, Dalton followed Reid to Los Angeles, where he set up shop in the pueblo and then, within short order, began to acquire ranches in the San Gabriel Valley. This included the purchases (Dalton did not become a Mexican citizen, choosing to remain a British subject) of Azusa, San Francisquito and Santa Anita, which gave him a mini-empire of several thousand acres on both sides of the San Gabriel River, while his store continued to operate for more than a decade.
In fact, the artifact that I brought to share with the group is the first of more than twenty ledgers that Dalton, who was meticulous recorder of his life and work with a large collection of his papers now at the Huntington Library, kept—this one dating from 1845-1856. Among his many customers were William Workman, F.P.F. Temple and Jonathan Temple, but we’ll look to cover more about this remarkable document in a future post.
When the Mexican-American War broke out and the Californios revolted against the Americans who seized Los Angeles in summer 1846, Dalton’s future brother-in-law, José María Flores, commander of the native armed force defending their home land against the invaders, oversaw the treatment of Americans and Europeans captured in the Battle of Chino, which took place at the end of September.
Benjamin D. Wilson, one of the prisoners, spoke very harshly of Dalton and his connection to Flores when it came to plans of what to do with he and his fellow captives, while praising Workman and Ygnacio Palomares, co-owner of the Rancho San José, east of Azusa in the Pomona area, for their efforts to free the prisoners.
While it is not clear what role Dalton really played in the events recounted by Wilson, he did, shortly after the war’s end, marry Guadalupe Zamorano (Dalton, though, had children from a girlfriend in Peru and did not see them after he left for the north). When the Gold Rush erupted in 1849, however, Dalton did not benefit from the beef trade with cattle as other ranchers, like the Workmans and Temples did, as his large herd was actually seized and freed by Indians in the Four Creeks area near modern Visalia. So, with his financial position in an uncertain state, Dalton launched a scheme that was audacious and, apparently, not well enough considered.
Given his extensive land holdings, he thought, in early 1855, to establish a “Splendid Enterprise” in the form of a “Great Southern Distribution of Real Estate and Personal Property.” For shares of a dollar each, Dalton proposed to present 432 “first class prizes” including a house on the Plaza in Los Angeles that he reckoned was worth $11,000, a vineyard of 6,000 vines with a house and other buildings pegged at $10,000, other residences and lots in the Angel City, 240 lots in his new town of Benton on the Azusa ranch and two dozen 40-acre farms on the ranch.
Beyond this were offered cattle and horses and a catalog and surveys were to be sent through the county to stir up interest for the project, the drawing for which was scheduled for 7 May. While he claimed that potential purchasers of shares could find “a guarantee of the reality, fairness and security” for the distribution from such eminent Angelenos as Wilson (perhaps the two were in better accord then?), Abel Stearns, Phineas Banning, David W. Alexander, Francis Mellus and surveyor Henry Hancock, only 166 tickets were sold and the drawing was cancelled. At least two lawsuits were filed, though, by shareholders against Dalton, who continued to experience (and, too often it seemed, court) difficulties.
A huge problem involved Hancock, who was known for his wrangling with ranch owners over surveys they needed to prosecute their land claims before a federal commission and then courts with respect to grants of ranchos made under México and Spain. In Dalton’s case, he was staggered to find that, when the surveyor drew the plat for Azusa and specified the one league (about 4,400 acres) within the established bounds of the ranch, all of which Dalton expected to receive in a successful petition for his patent, Hancock moved the tract west of where Dalton was actually residing full-time since about fall 1855 (as the ledger shows his transition from Los Angeles) to land adjacent to or even within the San Gabriel River.
Why this was done is not apparently known, though one wonders if the inclusion of Hancock’s name as a guarantor for the legitimacy of Dalton’s “distribution” was part of the issue. Another, it has been suggested, was that Hancock became friendly with squatters, who, from the early Fifties, were settling on portions of Dalton’s substantial domain—a situation that also plagued the Temples and Workmans in lands, as with Dalton, near what became El Monte. New arrivals to that area, most from the Southern states, saw no reason why they couldn’t employ squatting on lands they contended were either public or disputed to the extent that they had a legitimate right to occupy them.
While, on occasion, Dalton seemed to acknowledge the practicality of the situation and offered, for example, to survey parts of San Francisquito and Azusa and sell the lands on which squatters were residing to them at reasonable prices, he, far more often, got into significant conflict with his new neighbors. This included the especially troublesome question of water rights in a semi-arid environment where damage to dams and irrigation ditches and threats of violence against him were common.
It didn’t help that, during the first half of the 1860s, the ravages of severe flooding in the winter of 1861-1862 and the succeeding extreme drought of 1863-1864 wreaked havoc on all landowners, including Dalton, who also wrote in his diary of the inundation of grasshoppers during this period. Sheriff and mortgage sales with regard to some of his property occurred several times, while Dalton, over many years, fought expensive battles over restitution for the cost of goods sold or taken by American forces during the war, seeking payment in México for property that was sold but not paid for, and over the mess with the survey at Azusa.
Still, Dalton continued to invest heavily in expanding his farming at Azusa, including a grist mill, vineyard and winery, citrus orchard and much else. By the economic downturn of 1875-1876, however, he was running out of options for avoiding a financial disaster, while his legal efforts did not bear fruit and he was warned by attorneys that nothing more could be done to rectify the survey or defeat the squatters.
Assistance seemed to come with the marriage of his daughter Luisa to Luis (Lewis) Wolfskill, the son of William, purchaser of Rancho Santa Anita after Dalton’s tenure there and who inherited that ranch from his father (he sold it in 1872 to Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark for $85,000 and, three years later, the latter, having sold a portion to Alfred B. Chapman where Chapman Woods is located today, found a buyer in Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin for the remainder for a record $200,000).
Lewis Wolfskill, who was a member of the Los Angeles Common Council in the mid-Seventies, also received, from Dalton, the western two-thirds of San Francisquito, which he then split with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple. In October 1875, as the Temple and Workman bank was closed and a loan being sought, Baldwin acquired that tract—in 1923, Walter P. Temple, son of Temple and grandson of Workman, purchased a small portion of that land and established his Town of Temple, renamed, in 1928, Temple City, which is commemorating its centennial this year.
Wolfskill made earnest efforts to help get his father-in-law out of the economic mess in which he was mired, including the establishment of a new town to be called Mound City. The 1878 project, however, which was to create the community at Dalton’s headquarters, came at a particularly bad time with the poor shape of the economy.
So, as the 1880s dawned, the prospects for the septuagenarian Dalton were especially dire, so much so that, when the enumerator came out to Azusa and found the elderly man and his family living in a small adobe house built for the operator of the Dalton grist mill and asked what his occupation was, the inscription was “fighting for his rights.”
There actually was almost nothing left to contest. In 1881, a Department of the Interior ruling concerning Azusa fully closed the matter of the squatters and contests over land and water, and a Fourth of July celebration made special notice of that fact. Fortunately for the Daltons some measure of relief came at last, as he received a long-awaited payment for property sold in México for a convent, while Guadalupe came into some money, as well, so they enjoyed a much enhanced standard of living in Henry’s last years.
When Dalton died on 21 January 1884, the next day’s Los Angeles Herald was very brief in its report, offering to statement on his character, personality, friendships or even much on his history other than saying he was “one of the pioneers of California” and that he was one of the first growers of quality Muscat raisin grapes. Given Dalton’s forty years of residency in greater Los Angeles, even a modicum of coverage about his battles with the Hancock survey and squatters, not to mention his years as a merchant and his previous tenure in Peru would seem to have been warranted.
Because of the audience of genealogists, the illustrations were heavily weighted toward such items as census data, including the important agricultural schedules from 1860 and 1870 that captured the amounts of livestock, corn meal and flour, and gallons of wine generated by Dalton at Azusa. It was also great to find his birth and apprentice records from London over two centuries ago, while there were some excellent samples from local newspapers of his activities across about thirty years from the mid-1850s until his death.
It also is important to note that a goodly portion of the information for the presentation and this post came from the 1977 biography of Dalton by Azusa Pacific University history professor Sheldon G. Jackson. One reviewer, Arthur Frietzsche noted that, while much local history, especially those built from dissertations, can be underwhelming, Jackson was largely praised for his work, even if he “tends to soften Dalton’s weaknesses.” Frietzsche bluntly called Dalton a “rogue” who was arrogant and stubborn and a smuggler, conniver and a gambler whose negative tendencies played a major part in his frequent failures.
As a notable tidbit of trivia, an audience member asked if there were any Dalton descendants and, while I answered I did not know of any, I did observe that a great-great granddaughter happens to be the great singer Linda Ronstadt. Another attendee then added that there may well be Peruvian descendants to boot!