“We Want Peace to be Restored; That Justice Fulfills its Obligations”: The Killing of Antonio Ruiz by Deputy Constable William W. Jenkins, Los Angeles, 19 July 1856, Part Four

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Having presented, in part three of this post, the reporting and views of the Los Angeles Star as, in its edition a week later, it covered the 19 July 1856 shooting death by deputized constable William W. Jenkins of Antonio Ruiz and the succeeding events of the several days afterward, we turn now, in this fourth part, to what was published in the Spanish-language El Clamor Público, also from the edition of the 26th.

The images here are from the 26 July 1856 edition of El Clamor Público, copies of which were made available to the author by historian Paul Bryan Gray, who is also the biographer of the paper’s publisher, Francisco P. Ramirez.

There was the expected marked difference in tone and approach as the young proprietor of the paper, Francisco P. Ramirez, did not hesitate in calling the homicide a murder. It also looked at the conflict that took place at Fort Moore Hill and the adjoining Plaza on Tuesday in another viewpoint than the Star. El Clamor briefly described the “Appearance of the Inmate,” stating that he was a young man of 25, tall, slim and of a pale complexion, but also that he spoke Spanish very well, which seemed apparent from reports and testimony about the interactions he had with Ruiz and María Candelaria Pollorena. It was added that, when he appeared in court for the preliminary hearing, Jenkins “manifested a notable indifference” and that “his appearance did not in the least affected.”

Next, the paper turned to the “Encounter at the Plaza” on Tuesday evening, stating

All day the greatest feeling has reigned among the people. From very early they all walked around with weapons in hand. Commerce has completely come to a standstill. The population has split into two different factions. In the evening, a party of about one hundred armed Mexicans descended from the hill adjacent to the city, and in the Plaza they had an encounter with the Americans. The uproar was of quite a magnitude. Marshal William C. Getman was wounded by a bullet to the head that by chance was not fatal. The Americans did everything in their power to disperse the Mexicans. It is not known what their intentions would be, but it is believed that they planned to make an assault on the jail.

While much of this agrees factually with what was reported in the Star, it is notable that there was nothing said about sacking the city and killing all of its Anglo residents and that El Clamor made a distinction between Mexicans and Spanish-speaking Californios. Moreover, as briefly as its contemporary, the paper reported that, on Wednesday, “the authorities made some arrests in order to investigate and discover the promoters of the riot that took place the night before,” giving the number of those incarcerated as a dozen. It added that “among them some very respectable citizens who have never been involved in riots or dealt with such things and noted that several were released and that for these individuals “it has been extremely sensitive to spend the day among criminals of the lowest stamp.”

For Thursday’s report, though, there were some new pieces of information, along with the statement that the heavy emotion of the week continued and “the whole town is armed” and “there is no one who goes unprepared.” What was not reported in the Star was that “some Americans today took a son of Don Vicente Guerrero to go with them to inquire into the whereabouts of a company of armed men who are in the vicinity of this city. They took him to El Monte, and several times they threatened to take his life if he did not give some satisfactory reason.” Here was another incident of what was generally known as the loosely organized “Monte Boys” and their “method” of seeking for wrongdoers.

By Friday, as the Star also observed, “it seems that the most perfect tranquility has happened” with citizen guards on alert, but nothing newsworthy to report. A separate editorial, however, was titled “The Late Tragedy” and had some pointed commentary to make about the killing of Ruiz by Jenkins, beginning with the statement that “a deep impression has been caused in the minds of the people by the tragedy that took place in this city last Saturday.” In recounting that Jenkins was examined and then released on bail by Judge Benjamin I. Hayes, El Clamor acknowledged that “for testimony as vague as that given by the only persons who witnessed this event, a man cannot be convicted—according to the law . . .

The paper, however, continued that,

But everyone is convinced that it was a MURDER—nothing more, nothing less. But, let’s stop with the questions—let justice serve its own ends—let spirits be calmed—because a more favorable order of things is being announced in this city. We are very sorry for the differences that have arisen between Americans and Mexicans. The disorder that took place on Tuesday has only served to further distance the barriers that have long existed between the two races. Anyone who calmly examines the events of this week will see a palpable lack of principle in what has happened. On one side, we believe that the assault that the Mexicans tried to carry out in the jail, aided by individuals of various nationalities, was very inappropriate, because the prisoner had not yet been examined by the authorities—and even if he were, there is nothing more regrettable than the fact that the people take the law into their own hands, thus the innocent suffer the consequences of an immoral mob that pounces on its victims with the rapacity of unbridled savages.

In a separate editorial, the main one on the second page devoted to news, El Clamor asserted that “this week has been one the likes of which California has never seen, at least since the US-Mexican War.” It continued that there was never such a state of affairs and observed that business was suffering while everyone took up arms. Moreover, the paper averred that no one in northern California would be surprised by the news and that “everyone was already prepared for a revolution to take place.” It was noted that, since about 1849, Los Angeles was “the theater of the most atrocious murders,” but, as the Star would agree, “criminals have always managed to get away.”

Under these conditions, the paper went on, “justice almost never fulfills its obligation.” Yet, it stipulated that “the Spanish people have always wanted to keep public order and tranquility” and “have blindly submitted to laws that they do not know and in any case they have made an effort to obey them.” El Clamor did not wish to seek justification or mitigation for the “memorable” events of Tuesday night, unequivocally writing, “the conduct of the people who formed said meeting is quite wrong.” The paper castigated the leaders of those on Fort Moore Hill for thinking they could attack the Anglos guarding the jail as it could no be done “safely” and doing so would only mean that the lives and property of their families are in danger.

The editorial concluded that,

The death of Don Antonio Ruiz has exasperated the spirits of all Mexicans. It is becoming a very common custom to murder and outrage Mexicans with impunity. These therefore have already caused so many outrages and injustices that they have suffered, but taking up arms to ask for a remedy for their evils, is an action that is wrong. We want peace to be restored, that justice fulfill its obligation, that the Mexicans who are now wandering return to their homes as soon as possible, and we hope that reform will take place immediately.

It is a testament to the maturity, knowledge and sense of historical perspective that the young Ramirez possessed that he composed another editorial titled “Ostracism.” In the piece, he observed that it was often a practice of the democracy of the ancient Greeks that, in times of deep societal conflict, the names of persons being banished from society were written on oyster shells and that this was followed immediately by the individual being expelled.

The publisher then linked that practice with what transpired on the Wednesday after the Ruiz killing and the day after the “encounter” between Latinos and Anglos at the Plaza. Ramirez noted that the public meeting that led to the formation of what could be called a “Committee of Public Safety” included a resolution that was adopted calling for the twenty-person body to be able to banish anyone from the county. Observing that “this is similar to the ostracism of the ancient Greeks,” he continued that

The only good thing we find in the resolutions is that the people who make up the Committee are very respectable or occupy primary positions in our society. These gentlemen will not at all deny their powers, and we trust that they will not abuse the power that certain people have entrusted to their hands.

We’ll take a closer look in the next part of this post at the public meeting and the establishment of the committee and it is also worth noting that, in a short piece on “Military Companies,” El Clamor here again had a somewhat different take from the Star on these organizations. It recorded that “most of our fellow citizens have registered their names on the roll of the various military companies that have been formed these days,” but, in addition to noting that Major Walter H. Harvey, whose life was briefly summarized in the last post, was in command of the City Guards, as well as stating that the Los Angeles Rangers, formed in 1853, were at hand, it noted that “the French have organized.”

It is interesting that there was no mention in this context of the Mounted Californians led by General Andrés Pico, hero of the Californio resistance during the Mexican-American War, most notably at the Battle of Sa Pasqual in December 1846, and which was credited by the Star for tracking down and arresting Fernando Carriaga, the French-born leader of the group that gathered on the hill and then rode down to the Plaza, during which Marshal Getman was shot and wounded.

In any case, El Clamor did add that these companies “have organized to support the Committee, restore order and support the authorities in their decisions,” while it was only briefly reported that, “a party of men has come from El Monte to help the militia of this city.” Please check back with us tomorrow as we move to the fifth part of this post concerning the public meeting following the Tuesday night skirmish and formation of the committee and its resolutions meant to reestablish authority in an Angel City that drifted too far toward deviltry.

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