“The Truth is, They Came—They Saw—And Left”: The Killing of Antonio Ruiz by Deputy Constable William W. Jenkins, Los Angeles, 19 July 1856, Part Six

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This sixth part of the post covering the 19 July 1856 homicide of Los Angeles resident Antonio Ruiz by deputized constable William W. Jenkins and its aftermath, having looked extensive at coverage in the following week’s editions of the Los Angeles Star and El Clamor Público newspapers, takes a different tack. Specifically, material found in the scrapbooks, numbering 100, sedulously assembled by District Court Judge Benjamin Ignatius Hayes and preserved by his son Chauncey, with some acquired by the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, forms the basis for this part.

In the 1929 book, Pioneer Notes from the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849-1875, editor Marjorie Tisdale Wolcott (1889-1934), a native of Redlands who wrote articles for Sunset Magazine and Touring Topics on such local luminaries as Abel Stearns and Antonio María Lugo before working on the Hayes tome, wrote that he was born in February 1815 in Baltimore. After graduating from the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s College, he was admitted to the bar in 1839. Soon, he migrated west and settled at Liberty, Missouri, northeast of Kansas City, where he ran a temperance (anti-alcohol) newspaper.

Los Angeles Express, 3 July 1929.

In 1848, Hayes married Emily Chauncey, though she lived only nine more years, bearing a daughter, who died after a few hours, and son Chauncey. That same year in Liberty, his sister Helena married Benjamin S. Eaton, who later became a prominent figure, as did his son Fred, in Los Angeles. Later, in the Angel City, another sister, Louisa, wedded Dr. John S. Griffin, another significant personage and who was involved in the vigilance committee formed after the Ruiz killing and the resulting skirmish between Latinos and Anglos at the Plaza.

In late 1849, as the Gold Rush was in full swing, he headed for California and landed in Los Angeles the following February, where he hung his shingle as a lawyer. For a short time he was the Los Angeles County Attorney and then joined forces with Jonathan R. Scott, also a member of the vigilance committee. In 1852, he was elected as District Court judge, a position he held until early 1864 after he was defeated in a reelection campaign by Santa Barbara’s Pablo de la Guerra, whose victory was secured by Union Army soldiers stationed in the Confederate-supporting part of California.

After losing the election, Hayes migrated to San Diego, where he practiced law and continued his collecting of California history, while marrying Adelaida Serrano, by whom he had a daughter who died as a young woman. In 1876, when it was decided to compiled a history of Los Angeles County for the American centennial, Hayes joined Jonathan T. (Juan José) Warner and Joseph P. Widney in the project. Later in life, he returned to Los Angeles and worked as a lawyer until his death in August 1877 at age 62.

An early photo of Benjamin Hayes from the 1929 book.

When Hayes died, tribute was paid to him by a couple of prominent attorneys and judges in Los Angeles, Andrew J. King and Volney E. Howard, with the former praising Hayes as a mentor to whom “I was indebted more than to any one man” and who concluded, “in dropping a tear over his grave I say that, whatever his faults may have been [one of these was his purported fondness for drink, despite his early temperance advocacy], he was an upright Judge, a Christian gentleman and a man who sympathized in every respect with his fellow beings.”

Howard, who observed that Hayes, while in Missouri, “was distinguished there among such men as [Senator Thomas Hart] Benton,” added that he was “a man of very discriminating mind, and of acute intellect—a man capable of drawing nice distinctions and of pursuing principles to their origin with great accuracy, and with great industry.” Moreover, Howard observed that “the native [that is, Spanish-speaking Californios] population will mourn Judge Hayes . . . for . . . he has stood by their interests without any regard to compensation, and stood by them faithfully, always with perseverance, and generally with success.”

There are two documents included in this post, with the other being an affidavit, submitted by Hayes’ colleague, County Judge William G. Dryden, and dated 4 August 1856. The document concerned information provided to him by an informant about the purported threats made by the group of men gathered on Fort Moore Hill above the Plaza Church after Ruiz’ funeral. Because this sworn deposition is so instrumental in understanding more about the events of the aftermath of the killing and important to Hayes’ statement, we’ll start with that after discussing some of Dryden’s background.

He was born in 1807 in Richmond, Kentucky, but little is known of his early life, other than that his father was named David and, after his mother’s death, Dryden was sent to live with other relatives. An obituary stated that, in 1825, he migrated to New Mexico—in fact, William Workman did the same that year—with goods for trade and remained there for four years before returning home to Richmond. In early 1831, after requesting a letter of recommendation for a passport stating he was going to France, he made the trip to England, if not the former, to purchase machinery and recruit laborers for the manufacture of bags.

Los Angeles Star, 5 August 1877.

Soon after, he went back to New Mexico and then to Chihuahua, the northeastern Mexican state. In 1840, sailing from Matamoros in Coahuila state on the border with the recently independent Republic of Texas to New Orleans, the ship sank and Dryden was shipwrecked at Galveston. He became introduced to Texas President Mirabeau Lamar, who was planning an invasion of New Mexico and named Dryden as a representative to form a three-person commission in that Mexican department to pave the way for the conquest. Perhaps without their knowledge, Dryden appointed John Rowland and William Workman to that body, though they soon extricated themselves.

When the invasion failed miserably and with Rowland, Workman and many others on the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, Dryden headed to Chihuahua, where he was arrested and interrogated at length about his role in the Texas scheme and about the involvement of Rowland and Workman—this was conveniently omitted from his Los Angeles newspaper obituary. For several years he was in the Mexican Army and, when American forces invaded the country, he ended up as an interpreter for General (and future President) Zachary Taylor.

Following the war, he was arrested and jailed in Chihuahua and remained there until 1849 when he crossed the country to Mazatlán and then sailed to San Francisco. After a short time there, he migrated south to Los Angeles and, when the 1852 state census was taken, the 45-year old Dryden was working as an attorney. His years of residency in México and fluency in Spanish made him in demand as an interpreter and, from 1856 until his death in 1868, Dryden colorfully served as county judge, known for his profanity-laden outbursts and other behaviors a far cry from the carefully observed decorum of modern jurisprudence.

Los Angeles Express, 6 August 1877.

Dryden’s affidavit began with the statement that at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 22 July,

a Californian came to my residence . . . and told me that he had just learned that on that night, from after 8 o’clock an attack might be expected on the City of Los Angeles, by the Sonorians, in connection with the French and some Dutch; that there were about six hundred strong; and that, if I wished to save my life, I had better take his horse and conceal myself on some rancho . . . This Californian said that the object of the attack was to destroy all the Americans. The Californian did not say any thing about an attack on the jail.

Dryden insisted on not naming the information and it is interesting to see the reference to Dutch (German?) residents taking part in the formation of the group on the hill, as well as the claim that the total was 600 men. Also of note was the claim that there was no talk about storming the jail to seize Jenkins and lynch him, this having been reported in the press and mentioned below by Hayes.

Express, 6 August 1877.

The statement went on that, at dusk on Wednesday, four Mexicans gathered on a street and “began to talk about the proceedings of the previous night: when one said, ‘we have sent about for all our friends, and for them to bring as many arms as they can.” Another added that “when it comes to the test, [I] will not run out of the Plaza; I am a lieutenant in this, and to-morrow morning we will meet again at 8 o’clock.” Dryden added that “the four or five nights afterwards, I could hear them when riding about the streets, singing their refranes [sic], the burden of which was if war” and he counseled, “considerable watchfulness should be observed at this time over said population,” concluding that “I have lived about twenty years in Mexico, and speak and write the language.”

In his essay, titled “The Great Mob (Los Angeles 1856),” Hayes began by noting that “a portion of the ‘Californian’ and ‘Mexican’ population of this city, attempted to complete an organization, back upon the hills, that overlook the jail, with the view of taking and hanging Jenkins, as they had done before with [David] Brown.” He added that, in that January 1855 lynching, following the legal execution of Felipe Alvitre, “they had been much caressed, as a ‘Committee of Vigilance,'” but, “in the present instance, they fell under the stigma that attaches to a mere ‘mob.'” The result was that they “have never recovered from it sufficiently even now to boast of their participation in it, like their more successful teachers in the time before, and more triumphant imitators since.”

Express, 7 August 1877.

The jurist suggested that, to most Americans, “they appeared to be much more formidable” than was discovered a few days later, “when an investigation could take place under the forms of law,” this being the hearing in Hayes’ court of Fernando Carriaga, the French-born reputed ringleader of the group. He did note that Dryden’s affidavit “does indicate that there might have been other consequences than the execution of Jenkins, if the possession of the jail and City had been quietly surrendered to a crown of drunken men of this class.”

Hayes then wrote that, after hearing Dryden’s statement in person, “I invited the County Judge to accompany me to a consultation . . . to visit the gentleman, or as many of them as we could find, of the Committee who seemed to represent ‘el pueblo,” since the funeral of Antonio Ruis [sic].” It was after dark and a patrol went through the Plaza, leading Antonio José Cot, a 72-year old native of Spain and a merchant, to warn, “it is very dangerous, they might be fired on from the corner of any of these streets,” though Hayes did not think Cot knew much about what was transpiring among the mob.

Express, 7 August 1877.

The judge went on to state that “the Rev. Anicleto [Anacleto Lestrade of the Plaza Church] knew nothing on the subject: nor did a single soul of the whole Californian population, except Judge Dryden’s informant.” Given this, Hayes “began seriously to consider the whole as an idle alarm,” when the gathering place was seen as the moon emerged. This led him to take his wife and three-year old son “to a place of safety, where numbers of families had already congregated.” Adding that the accounts of that night in the Star and El Clamor were “correctly related,” Hayes wrote,

It must be admitted that about midnight a deep apprehension of disastrous consequences did settle upon the minds of many of the people, particularly after the commencement of “hostilities” on the plaza. We never did ascertain reliably the number engaged in this movement. The truth is, they came—they saw—and left. On the hill they go so drunk that the original seriousness of their project had lost its influence upon them. A volume would be insufficient—this is a fact—to contain the rumors of a week.

As to what Hayes called the “Committee of Safety,” he said he “never went further than the armory” where the body “held its grave and thoughtful and talkative sessions.” Because, however, the jurist was “a rival of ‘Judge Lynch,'” he was not allowed in “this ‘holy of holies,'” Amid all of this melodrama, the judge added, “there should be a minute note made of “what foolish things sensible me can do,” especially as the overheated excitement “made of Carriaga a more ‘discontented Frenchman’ than we was before” and that it “irritated and outraged the better portion of the ‘Californians,” while “it made a sort of demi-god of ‘Bill Getman.'”

Los Angeles Star, 18 September 1869.

There is much more to this story, but we will pick up the thread of the tale in about a month with a new multi-part post on the criminal trial of Jenkins, so keep an eye out for that on or about 23 August.

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