by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the San Gabriel Cemetery, there is a gravestone for William Money (pronounced, apparently, Mo-nay) and which was placed in recent years by descendants of his first wife. It notes that he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1807 and died at San Gabriel, circa 1881, but it also states that he was a physician, theologian, philosopher, writer, naturalist and historian and an “advocate of the octagonal concept in building design and construction” with an image on the stone showing a grouping of such structures.
Whether he was eccentric, a crank, mentally ill, all of these, or more, Money was certainly among the most colorful figures in greater Los Angeles for some forty years from about 1840 to roughly 1880. This post features, from the Museum’s collection, a two-page report filed by the Committee on Foreign Relations with the United States Senate and ordered to be printed on 27 May 1852 in answer to a memorial, or claim, filed by Money for “compensation for forty-five horses seized under the orders of General [Stephen Watts] Kearney in California,” during the Mexican-American War.
These animals were self-declared by the memorialist to be worth $100 each and there were “other articles lost, as he avers, in consequence of the conduct of the troops under the command of said Kearney.” The report went on to state that,
The memorialist alleges that he had been engaged for many years as a naturalist, in exploring California, studying the geology, geography, and productions of the country, with a view to publish the information accumulated by his observations and researches; and that he had compiled a large manuscript volume containing many drawings, paintings, and maps, which was worth $10,000. He says he had instruments connected with his scientific investigations in natural history, worth $320, and personal baggage and provisions worth $680. He states that in November, 1846, he left the town of Los Angelos [sic] for Sonora . . .
From that point, the document continued, Money reached an indigenous settlement referred to as “Howargo” and this is where Kearney’s men took his horses, stranding him in that location. Beyond this, the claim was that “information having been given by General Kearney’s troops to hose Indians and to he neighboring tribes, that the country was under the American flag,” those natives were to “aid and assist in the American cause, and to prevent the passage of all persons from the settlements to Sonora.”
This alleged instruction allowed, it was asserted, the Indians to indulge “their natural inclination for pillage” and, once Kearney’s men left, “the Indians took prisoners the whole of the memorialist’s party and commenced an indiscriminate plunder of the property and baggage” of Money, and “in few moments totally destroyed all the valuable manuscripts, drawings, maps, and interesting documents, the result of more than twenty years of arduous labor, and upon which the memorialist placed his sole dependence for his future maintenance.”
Not only this, “Money “mentions the sufferings to which his wife was subjected in consequence of his losses” and the report noted that the memorialist’s “statements on this subject present a case of female suffering of [a] very aggravated character and well calculated to make a deep impression on the sensibilities of the heart.” This stated, the committee noted that it would send a bill to look into the accusations “and to provide for the payment of as many of the horses of the petitioner as were taken under the orders of General Kearney and appropriated to the service of the United States.”
While this certainly sounded favorable to Money and his claim, the report, however, added that there were “certain circumstances which have in a great degree thrown suspicion upon the whole claim.” Specifically, he provided affidavits which pegged the value of the animals at $40 or $50 dollars, but these were erased and the words “100 dollars” inscribed, leading the committee to comment, “it is clear that the word erased was forty or fifty, but which cannot be distinctly told.” When the committee looked into the value of horses in late 1846, it was learned that “the usual price for the best horses in California did not exceed the price of $25 per head on an average.”
Consequently, the members not only felt that the valuations in Money’s affidavits were “very extravagant,” but wrote that the erasing of those amounts and the substitution of amounts that were double, “such fact brings a just suspicion upon the whole claim.” Additionally, the committee averred that “there was “no ground, no proof, upon which the government of the United States can justly be made responsible for the depredations committee by Indians in the manner stated.” They found no evidence that Kearney or any officers or soldiers under his command instructed indigenous people to imprison Money and his family or take or destroy their property.
Moreover, the committee held that the destruction of the property was not “a necessary consequence of the seizure of the horses,” countering that the former could well have been taken and destroyed without the latter having taking place. The matter of the property “is too contingent and uncertain to constitute a valid claim against the government” and any assigned value was beyond what the committee could ascertain and it was concluded
Some samples of the talent of the memorialist which have been exhibited to the committee do not produce any favorable opinion of the value of manuscripts, &c., said to be destroyed.
While there were many greater Los Angeles residents, Jonathan Temple among them, who filed claims with the federal government over provisions given to or taken by the invading American military force in 1846-1847, Money’s attempt to get more money by lumping the $11,000 comprising the manuscript, scientific instruments and personal property—the latter two conveniently adding up to an even $1,000—with the impressment of his horses may very well have likely prevented his efforts from being successful.
Apparently, Money incurred significant expenses in prosecuting his claim by traveling to the nation’s capital to pursue it. A William Money was on a shipping manifest as having arrived at Philadelphia in 1852, but the cost was also personal, as, when he returned home to Los Angeles, he found his wife had borne a child with another man. Soon after, he also made a dramatic shift in vocation, but more on this below.
There is very little known about Money’s life generally, though it seems accepted that he was born in Edinburgh and he stated, in his sole published work, from 1854, that, not only was he born with four teeth and an image of a rainbow in his right eye, but already was a student of law, natural history, medicine, philosophy and theology as a child. Yet, he continued, he was apprenticed, because of the poverty of his family, to a paper-maker in Glasgow when he was 12 years of age and lasted five years before taking ship to America in 1825. He said he was at a New York City street-corner when he was called to minister the Gospel and then embarked for the deeply Roman Catholic México the same year.
He stated that he operated a paper-making business in the nation’s capital, but then relocated to Pitiquito, a town in the northwestern state of Sonora, and, perhaps under the influence of the stringent John Knox, the Calvinist firebrand who remade Scottish theology by furious assaults on the Roman Catholic Church, Money made it his mission to assault the Church in this outpost of México. After a half-decade of tilting at theological windmills, during which, he asserted, his enemies took sick, died, went insane or fled, he headed in 1840 to Los Angeles, with a 13-year old wife and native of Sonora, Isabella Rada.
It has been reported that in the few years after his resettlement, Money helped repair the Plaza Church and also drew the diseño, or map, of the Rancho Palos Verdes for the Sepúlveda family when they received a grant to the land from the governor of the Mexican department of Alta California. Then came the misadventure to Sonora described in the Senate report. It is unclear what Money did from 1846 to 1852, though there are reports that he traveled frequently back and forth between the Angel City and Sonora.
As noted above, when he returned home after pursuing his claim in the east, he found that Isabella, with whom he seems to have had two children, a son and daughter, who did young, bore a son with Pedro Abarta, a Basque bar-owner in Los Angeles. Money secured a divorce, one of the first in the American-era in the Angel City, while Isabella and Abarta, who married in 1863, had several children, one of which, Lastenia, is the subject of a series of posts on a remarkable incident involving her killing of her seducer in Los Angeles in 1881.
Maybe it was the trauma of his travels for his claim and the discovery of the adultery of his wife, but, whatever the cause, Money decided to form his own church in Los Angeles, with some observers referring to him as the first cult leader in the city (in fact, as recently as 2004’s Heaven’s Gate, as well as 1978’s People’s Temple, mass suicide, Money has been invoked as some sort of precursor—though this seems a mighty stretch.) The local weekly newspapers, the Los Angeles Star and the Southern Californian, provided him space for some of his generally inscrutable musings about religion and philosophy.
His “Reform of the New Testament Church” appears to have had a minuscule following, though Money had the distinction of producing the first publication of substantial size—some have called it the first book, though, at 22 pages, of two columns in English and Spanish, the word “pamphlet” might be a better one to use—printed by the Star in 1854 and being an evocation of his new church, of which he anointed himself the bishop. The Southern Californian, in its edition of 1 February 1855 went into the bishop’s new work at some length, with tongue seeming to be firmly planted in cheek, noting, “the volume by Professor Money comes to us bound in the beautiful coloring [of scarlet] . . . and is finely got up and executed at the Star office in this city.”
The account observed that there was a “Council General” for the new church that met next to the main zanja, or water ditch, in the Angel City in August 1854, and that the president of the fledgling organization was Ramón Tirado with the secretary being Francisco Contreras (in 1868 Money married Francisca Contreras, likely related to the church official). As for Money, he was said to have “pensively dwelt on the noble objects of his mission,” in a rural area of the county, “and in fastings and prayer concocted this great work of his life.” He went over some of his early life, as noted above, though his five-year battle with Catholic clergy at Pitiquito.
Having related the life and work of the bishop, as expressed in his publication, the paper concluded by observing,
Thus ended this famous disputation of which history furnishes no parallel. From the foregoing our readers can form an idea of this great work . . . we would advise all to procure a copy, as there being no stereotype edition, the present few numbers will end the supply [the Huntington Library and UCLA have the only known copies.]
In early November 1855, subscribing himself as “Bishop, Deacon and Defender of the faith of Jesus,” Money sent a letter to the editor of the Star to inform the public that, through his assumption of the leadership of the church, he was stepping away from the practice of “my physical system,” though he was announcing the imminent (it never did happen, however) publication of his My California Family Medical Instructor, numbering some 200 pages and 50 plates of the body and explaining a trio of systems for maintaining health.
Moreover, he intended to publish in the tome a list of some 5,000 patients whom he’d treated since his arrival in California, spanning from San Diego to San Francisco. Of these, Money claimed that only four died under this care, including a member of the Avila family who passed during childbirth in 1840; a woman in the Reyes family who succumbed to tuberculosis five years later; a Latino man who died of malarial fever, also in 1845; and Francisco Botiller, who also had tuberculosis, and passed away in 1854. After writing, “thanks be to God, who has been so favorable with my practicing systems,” Money insisted that he wrote the letter to leave medical practice and thanked the “Californians and Mexicans, who are living witnesses of my physical skill.”
Two weeks later, the bishop issued a circular, reprinted in the Star, in which Money lambasted the Catholic clergy of Los Angeles, including Father Anacleto Lestrade of the Plaza Church, for what he claimed were covert and overt efforts to discredit him and the Reformed New Testament Church. He invited Lestrade and other Catholics to join him in the Reformed Church, which he insisted Christ taught the disciples and which was the one true Church for hundreds of years afterward. He ended by averring that “I am tired of arguments” and that he’d survived three decades of debates, while concluding,
I have never been overthrown as yet—why? the cause and effect is of God—I stand in his Spiritual Sebastopol [this a reference to the current Crimean War, though that city is now in the Crimea, seized by Russia from Ukraine in 2014], the Bible, where all the infernal powers of hell and the devil has never, nor will conquer me. So, brethren of the Actual Church, I wish you well, and the Reformed Church salutes you in the love of God the Father, and the power of Jesus Christ, and the consolation of Jesus Christ be with all. Amen.
In the first days of 1856, Money, stating that he was “of the Primitive State of the Roman Church,” issued an “encyclical” to Roman Catholic Bishop Tadeo Amat, praising the newly appointed Amat and assuming that his “honored friend” undoubtedly, since his arrival in the Angel City, heard of Money and the Reformed Church, adding that “this reform is intended to correct the abuses which have crept into the Church” and could only be done publicly, not in private.
Amat was informed by Money that his The Index of My Reformed Catechism had no been successfully addressed by Catholic clergy in Los Angeles and who “have ridiculed themselves, by condemning me in public prints as the most obstinate heretic on the earth” and that “such insults I have suffered with prudence as Christ commands.” He asked the Catholic bishop to “choose one article showing me where I have erred” and offered that, “if you convince me of my error, I will with the rest of said Reformed Church return again to your Church.” Otherwise, Money continued, “we . . . will remain firm in said reform, which we possess in Jesus Christ.” He ended by informing Amat that he could not address him with certain titles, as these were anti-Christian, but waited for an answer “with patience, relying on your noble and competent determination.”
Amat, apparently, did not reply, but a letter to the Star by, purportedly, the congregation of Money’s church, expressed outrage at statements attributed to Amat’s flock and went at length to defend their leader, including the observation that
His courage is active in encountering the dangers to which he has been exposed, and passive under the aggravated calamities which the malice of his foes heaped upon him in respect to his science in theology, philosophy, natural history, physic, civil law, and about twenty other arts. His fortitude is remote from every appearance of rashness, and his patience (as his divorced wife declares him to have been a just and good husband . . . though always living in a state of voluntary humiliation and poverty, but honest) . . . In every period the Sonorians and Californians have beheld in his character dignity and elevation, blended with love and pity, and all the gentleness of a meek and lowly mind, standing with firmness, which no priestly terrors can restrain.
Continuing unabated to laud Money as having every pure virtue, the letter insisted that, had he been born in the United States, the bishop would be viewed as “a spiritual [George] Washington, as he is to us—first in religious war, first to make peace and union, and first in the hearts of his followers, not only in his life time, but after death.” As for Amat, he was dismissed as “no more in the theology hands of our citizen Bishop William Money, than a lamb in the paws of a lion!!!”
The writer, assuming it was not Money himself, closed by gushing that he was “the purifier of the doctrine of Jesus Christ from the corruption of sinful man, and, as such, answered the question of whether he was “a heretic and a foolish man” with a resounding “No for certain!!!” It was only the Roman Catholic clergy whose inquisitional attitudes “are capable of so low a disrespect and personality, proceeding from envy.”
By the end of the decade, though, the church seems to have quietly been disbanded and, in the 1860 federal census, he gave his avocation as a doctor and resided with the French immigrant, Michel Lachenais, a perpetually violent man who was lynched by vigilantes at the end of 1870. With respect to his medical work, Money, under the title of “naturalist,” issued an advertisement in the Star in February 1863, during a terrible smallpox epidemic which took the lives of many indigenous people and Spanish-speaking residents of the region, claiming that his “vegetable extract” was “a preventative of the Small-Pox.” Insisting that he had not “lost a single patient . . . since the commencement of the epidemic,” Money offered his “new discovery for the good of all” at $2 per bottle, promising it would “effect a speedy and permanent cure.”
A little more than a decade later, the 29 January 1874 edition of the Los Angeles Herald carried an ad, titled “A Christmas Gift to Prof. Money,” in which “we native Californians do hereby present to our family physician, Wm. Money, of noble de[s]cent” their praise. It was asserted that, in 33 years of treating 18,000 patients, only a half-dozen perished, but those listed above as the four who died prior to 1854 included inconsistencies.
So, in 1874, it was asserted that those who did not live were a member of the Reyes family who died in childbirth in 1840; the Latino who died of fever, but it was said to have been 1843, not 1845; the husband of the 1840 childbirth death who died of consumption in 1847; and a Botiller family member, not Francisco, but “Anastacion” who was poisoned in 1850 (Francisco was said to have died of tuberculosis in 1854. The additional pair of patients were a member of the Oliveros family who passed from TB in 1851 and Money’s son, who succumbed to croup in 1845.
Emphasized in this advertisement was Money’s purported “superior knowledge of human pulsation . . . which assists him in one-half of the cures” he was said to have effected. The good doctor’s “voluminous manuscript of Physiology” was quoted with 20 indications of pulse rates and diseases, including a high fever for 120 beats per minute; 60 beats “indicates compressive in the cerebrum;” a full pulse of 75 indicates health; “a swift pulse indicates low digestion and dangerous in 100;” and “a quavering pulse indicates acid in the stomach in 95.”
The ad then followed by listing 50 arts and sciences which Money “has publicly shown on sundry times” and including many well-known ones including theology, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, geography, mineralogy, zoography and much more, but also some strange, nonsensical terms like zinbology, demomomenter, ophology, veneumology, pigoventum, and vibrosology.
Beyond this, while claiming that an evocation of the professor’s many talents would require a voluminous work, it was concluded that “we have frequently seen him in conversation with infant children from one month to one year old, in Adams Syro-Chaldaic Language.” Notably, the signatories were Tirado and Contreras of the Reformed Church and the date given as 1 May 1860—even though the medical portion referred to Money’s 33 years of work (that is, through 1873).
Money was also given to predictions and was cited in the Los Angeles News in October 1864 as prognosticating “an early and copious fall of rain this winter,” with the paper noting that his mid-May prediction for precipitation was accurate. In fact, after two years of severe drought in 1862-1863 and 1863-1864, following the Great Flood of 1861-1862, Money, referred to as an astronomer in the piece, was basically right, as the 12 inches that fell in 1864-1865 was a vast improvement. In its edition of 16 August 1870, however, the News referred to earthquake “sharps” by observing
Sometime since our local savant, Wm. Money, gave us to understand that on yesterday Mother Earth would be in one of her angry moods, and give her children who reside in this portion of the moral vineyard a general shaking up. Patiently we have waited. The shake failed to reach us. No more prophesies for us.
The News of 28 May 1872 quoted the “well-known naturalist” as opining that the death of sycamore trees in northern California was caused by micro-organisms he called “infusoria” (these are found in water environments) found in numbers of 3 million per ounce of soil. He asserted that treatment was to be effected by “boring a hole on the south side of the trunk to the heart” and injecting an ounce of sulphur, which would “prevent their ravages for the time being.” The same year he filed with the county a bizarre map asserting his discovery of a subterranean ocean allegedly created by water drawn through a hole at the North Pole and that, heated by volcanic material, came out through the South Pole and created the Kuro Siwa (Kuroshio) warm current in the Pacific Ocean.
Under his guise as an astronomer, Money, who was listed as a physician in the 1875 city and county directory, responded in early March 1876 to the request of a reader of the Los Angeles Herald for an explanation of the appearance of a comet in the sky. He went into some detail about the idea that these were composed of carbonic and nitric acids, potash and potassium nitrate, though the modern understanding is that comets are frozen residues of dust, ice and rock from the formation of the solar system.
In 1881, Money was subjected to the sale by Sheriff William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente co-grantee John Rowland, of a 9-acre property at San Gabriel after a suit filed against a creditor. It seems certain that this was the land on which he built the octagonal adobe house (see the accompanying 1896 photo of the ruins of these structures) in which he long resided. No sources could be located about when he died, either in newspapers or otherwise, though it is assumed this happened the same year as the sale.
Over the last 140 or so years, he has occasionally been discussed in news articles as an eccentric and cult leader and, in 1943, historian William B. Rice, author of an important study of the Los Angeles Star and who died young, wrote a slim 60-page volume, William Money: A Southern California Savant that remains the best treatment on this remarkable figure in 19th century greater Los Angeles.