Read All About It in the Los Angeles Express, 28 July 1874

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With the Homestead’s collection of historic regional newspapers being among the best sources for understanding our local history, this latest “Read All About It” post looks at three issues of the Los Angeles Express from the end of July 1874, as greater Los Angeles neared the peak of its first sustained and significant period of growth, starting about a half-dozen years earlier. Members of the Workman and Temple family were among those who actively participated in many areas of this boom and there is some content related to this in the Express.

The 28 July edition has, in the editorial page, a piece called “New Vitality,” which celebrated “the enthusiastic manner in which the principal business men of San Bernardino receive the Los Angeles and Inyo [Independence] Railroad project,” which was launched a few months ago with the company’s incorporation, including F.P.F. Temple selected as president of the enterprise, which sought to construct a narrow-gauge line east from Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley (and Temple’s father-in-law’s portion of Rancho La Puente), up Cajon Pass just west of San Bernardino, and through the High Desert into the Owens Valley of Inyo County and the county seat of Independence.

The paper noted that the response from the Inland Empire burg meant that “the enterprise is popular” and that “all it needs is a strong and intelligent effort to push it along with determination.” Moreover, the Express added,

When we say that the commercial independence and the prosperous business future of this city and county depend upon the building of this road and the inevitable extension to Southern Utah [some anticipated it would reach Ogden and link to the transcontinental line completed five years prior], we give utterance to a belief born of a careful study of the question, together with extended personal knowledge of the wants, resources and capacity of the region which this road is destined to open to us.

The paper continued that there was nothing more important than this and “taken in connection, with our opening harbor,” the construction of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad would affirm that “our geographical situation is perfect and impregnable” and the line “will open to us commercial possibilities of the largest magnitude and give us a commanding and independent transcontinental position.” Otherwise, the Express warned, “we shall always play second fiddle to San Francisco.”

The essay went on to ask “how any man interested in the business development of Los Angeles . . . can fail to take a deep and earnest interest” in the project, saying that that to do so “is an unaccountable mystery.” With the railroad connection and needed harbor improvements, “there would be no limit to the commercial possibilities of Los Angeles,” so “it is . . . a great duty which the people of this place owe to themselves and to those who will come after them to take an earnest interest in this important enterprise.” The time to act was now and to take the cue from their brethren in San Bernardino and the final question posed was “has not the time almost arrived when a candid consideration of all the facts in connection with this road out to take place, and a fair interchange of opinion be had between our people?

A special correspondent from San Bernardino contributed a summary of a meeting held in that city the prior Saturday regarding the L.A.& I. and subscription solicitations. Company Secretary Charles E. Beane, former editor of the Los Angeles News, opened the meeting by reviewing the project and asking for financial help from locals. James U. Crawford, the chief engineer, went over the route as well as its estimated cost and, in also urging support, “expatiated upon the general advantages which San Bernardino would derive, by making herself independent of Mr. Stanford’s exactions,” this referring to the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which dominated the Golden State’s railroads.

After several speakers offered their support, a preamble and resolutions were offered which included the statement that “the people of San Bernardino feel a deep interest in the construction of a railroad to the town of San Bernardino” and that five citizens would be part of a committee “to confer and act in concert with those now acting for Los Angeles.” The correspondent, subscribed as “S.B.,” observed that locals “have at last awakened from their Barbarossa-like slumber” and understood “the necessity of keeping pace in the onward march of improvements with their more enterprising neighbors,” as well as the importance of preventing a new town (which became Colton) from becoming a rival. The L.A.& I. was only partially realized, though a branch to the new coastal town of Santa Monica, and the ensuing financial depression in California, in 1875-1876, which included the failure of the Temple and Workman bank, led to the company being sold to the Southern Pacific in 1877.

Another area that was becoming important to the region and which had F.P.F. Temple as another prime figure in expending capital and energy was prospecting for petroleum, specifically in what was called the “San Fernando field” in the hills on the western edge of what is now Santa Clarita. The paper quoted a correspondent of its rival, the Los Angeles Herald, as noting that a visitor claiming experience with the oil industry in Pennsylvania, where America’s first wells were drilled in the late 1850s, stated that, after a couple of weeks of inspection, “there are better indications here than he ever saw in” that state.

Moreover, the wells drilled by a firm, likely Temple’s the Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, would have been worth a half-million dollars in the east. The missive noted that there were people on the sidelines waiting to see if there was any success with the current operation before beginning some of their own, as there was a feeling that “the reports are too good to be true.” It as posited, however, that

If they are all that parties who have visited them claim, they will add an immense source of revenue to Los Angeles county, as the market is unlimited, having all the Pacific Coast to supply, as well as China.

While Temple’s bank failure brought an end of this oil drilling project, which showed some signs of productivity, the Star Oil Company brought in a well nearby in 1876 that was successful and, in the 1890s, further work inaugurated what became “an immense source of revenue” as greater Los Angeles became an enormous oil producing area.

There was some notable legal news, as well, including a dramatic incident at Anaheim, where township constable Dye Davis sought to arrest José Moreno, purportedly one of the two men who attacked milliner Flora Eldridge on 19 May and demanded money from her. When she grabbed a knife wielded by one of the men, reports indicated, she was knocked unconscious and her purse found nearby when she came to. At the time, it was asserted that the robbers were emulators of the infamous Tiburcio Vásquez, who was captured in what is now West Hollywood around that time.

When Davis approached Moreno, it was stated that the latter “drew a large pistol, stating he would shoot,” leading the constable to pull out his pistol. Moreno, the account continued, grabbed the officer’s weapon while the latter demanded the former drop his gun. It was then stated that “Davis then shot Moreno . . . the ball taking effect below the heart” and, when Moreno fled, “Davis shot him again through the spine, killing him almost instantly.” The deceased reportedly fired off a shot to no effect and it was added that “Davis is one of those officers who never fail to bring their man, dead or alive.”

Under the heading of “Further Particulars,” it was learned that Moreno, in fact, was not killed and was expected to recover. Eldridge was called to identify him as one of her attackers, but it was also recorded that, the prior day, Moreno was observed in front of the woman’s residence and, she recognizing him, called for Davis. As the constable approached the suspect, Moreno told him that “he was a gentleman, and would go with him like a gentleman, but he must let go of him.” This done, Moreno leapt back and drew his gun, leading to the wounding as noted above, but it was also added,

There was intense excitement in Anaheim when the facts became known, and if the man had not been mortally wounded, as was popularly supposed, he would have been strung up the by the mob. As it is, if he recovers, a large party declare that he will not be permitted to depart from town alive.

In its edition of the 29th, however, the paper reported that a resident of that area contacted it and offered a lengthy statement that Eldridge could not be certain of Moreno being one of the attackers because of the lateness of the day and dim light as well as the “mental excitement and physical agony” she experienced. While the Express believed that she was very capable of identifying those who robbed and hit her, it did express concern about “extra-judicial action,” that is, lynching, and called for the “slow, discriminating eye of the law . . . to scrutinize fully and carefully al the facts.

Beyond this, the paper had questions about the incident between Davis and Moreno, stating “we are not prepared to say that the Constable was justified in pouring two deadly shots into the body of the man he was arresting” and, even if Moreno drew a gun, it opined that Davis should not only have acted in self-defense but “to do the least harm possible to the man he was to arrest.” It added that “an officer has no right to force a man he is about to arrest on suspicion of crime into a position in which he may shoot him down with impunity.” The paper continued that “a peace officer, of all men, is supposed to only use his extreme power in an extreme case,” but if his actions elevated the situation to that level, it deserved scrutiny.

Not only this, but the Express offered that “there is the strongest motive in the world or the Constable to prejudice the case of Moreno and make him odious to public opinion” and it continued that “it is evident that there can be no justice for an innocent man, wrongly accused, and with strong circumstances weighing against him, under such popular conditions as this state of things would evoke.” Moreno, it was now reported, was expected to succumb to his wounds and it was anticipated that “a severe and searching judicial investigation” would be undertaken. On the other hand,

If . . . Moreno should recover, and he should be hanged without trial, the crime would be one of the most flagitious and indefensible ever laid at the door of an unthinking and irresponsible mob.

This situation took place not quite two months after Jesús Romo, who was accused of robbing the store at the Workman Mill, a few miles west of the Homestead, stabbing its proprietor, William Turner, and shooting his wife, Rebecca, who then miscarried, was lynched by three men, Mrs. Turner later identified as Turner’s partner, Frederick Lambourn, William Workman’s ranch foreman (and soon member of the state Assembly); Walter Drown, whose guardian was Workman and who was raised by the Temple family; and El Monte merchant Jacob Schlessinger.

The San Quentin State Prison register listing for Los Angeles County convicts José del Carmen Lugo, Librado Corona, and Dolores Ruiz, 8-10 August 1874.

It is also to compare the circumstance of the Anaheim shooting with the July 1856 killing in Los Angeles of Antonio Ruiz by deputized constable William W. Jenkins, something recently covered in a six-part post here and which we’ll follow up with a new post in a few weeks regarding Jenkins’ trial, at which a key question was whether he had the power to kill Ruiz in the course of his duties as defined by state law. In any case, there was nothing located further about the Anaheim matter, including whether Moreno lived or not, while Davis later resided in Los Angeles.

The paper also had a brief report about the sentencing of 27-year old José del Carmen Lugo, who was not the prominent son of the Californio luminary Antonio María Lugo but may have been a relative from Santa Barbara, to five years at San Quentin for manslaughter in the August 1872 slaying of Ramon Silvas at the Verdugo ranch in modern Glendale (Lugo served not quite four years and was discharged in June 1878). Sent to the state the next day was 18-year old Librado Corona, said to be one of the members of the Vásquez gang who robbed Alessandro Repetto of what is now Monterey Park, and who was released in May 1879, just a month shy of his five-year term.

Finally, it is interesting to see the “School Census Returns of Los Angeles County, from the Census Marshal Reports June 1874,” which showed that there were 9,787 children under the age of 17 years in the county. Of these, 27% were under 5 years old, with 8 being Native American and 11 African-American. Those who were between 5 and 17 years and “will be counted in apportionment of public funds” for schools included 58 Indian and 60 Black children. Of these, the indigenous children included 33 boys and 25 girls, while the African-American children included 37 boys and 23 girls, but none of the Indian children were in school, while 32 of the Black children did.

This left 7,006 “white” children, but there was no distinction made between Latinos and Anglos, which was true generally of the censuses conducted each ten years. What was stated was that the number of boys was 3,528, or 50.3%, and the total population of girls was 3,478, or 49.7%. More than 3,000 of the children did not go to school and it would be very useful to know how many of these were Latinos or Anglos. Of the 56% who did attend, 86% went to public school and only 538 attended private ones—most of these presumably the Roman Catholic institution for girls run by the Sisters of Charity as well as St. Vincent’s College (though it enrolled students from grammar through high school age) for boys.

A future “Read All About It” post will look at the editions of the Express for the 29th and 30th of July, so we’ll look at publishing this next year at this time.

2 thoughts

  1. Nothing really changes. People will be people. Thank you for the interesting ride into back to the future.

  2. Hi Marian, thanks for the comment and we’re glad you enjoyed the post and trip back in time!

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