by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the aftermath of the Civil War, a major rush of settlers came to California including greater Los Angeles, which shortly experienced its first boom, developing from 1868 to 1875. Among the hordes who headed west were many soldiers and officers from the Confederate and Union armies, including some prominent officers. From the latter, there were the generals George Stoneman and William Rosecrans, the former settling near the Mission San Gabriel and going on to be a Golden State governor and the latter acquiring a large property south of the Angel City and serving two terms in Congress.
A lesser-known Union Army officer who migrated to Los Angeles in the late Sixties was Edward Bouton (1834-1921), but whose half-century of residence in the region was filled with interesting and notable aspects. Bouton was born in Avoca, New York, in the Finger Lakes district of the Empire State south of Rochester. He was educated in that area and then went to work for a merchant as a clerk and eventually owned the store, and expanded his interests to commission work shipping grain, wool and other products.
In 1859, he headed west and landed in Chicago where he had a partnership in a mercantile business, specializing in grain shipments on a commission basis. When the war broke out two years later, Bouton sold the business and used some of the proceeds to finance most of the establishment of Battery I of the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Regiment. Known as “Bouton’s Battery,” the company participated in the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee and he was commissioned as a captain.
Further engagements were the Siege of Corinth, the guarding of Memphis, General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign in central Mississippi and the Siege of Vicksburg and, at the end of June 1863, Bouton was promoted to colonel and picked to command the newly organized 59th Colored Infantry Regiment, comprised of African-Americans from the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment. It was assigned to the 1st Colored Brigade at Memphis from March 1864 and remained in that vital city.
A major part of the 59th’s efforts was its work at Guntown, Mississippi, during the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads in June, with Bouton leading some 4,500 Black and white soldiers on a 22-mile march to protect Union supply lines in the midst of a stunning Confederate victory against overwhelming Union forces. There were other campaigns in that state, including a Union victory at Tupelo in July and the fending off of a Confederate attack on Memphis in August.
Bouton was also recognized for his administrative and logistical skills during his service, including as provost marshal at Memphis, this requiring a great deal of coordination and oversight of military and civil activities. He remained with the 59th until war’s end and the regiment was mustered out at the end of January 1866, with Bouton breveted as a brigadier general in recognition of his service to the Union. It was stated that he was offered the command of American veterans to volunteer in México in the fight against French puppet, the Emperor Maximilian, while he was also offered a commission in the regular Army by generals Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, though he purportedly turned both down.
Proudly listing several quotes of acclamation from such leaders as the two Union hero generals of the war, Bouton, in a 1906 account published by him, offered the barest of details of his decades in California, merely recording that he headed west in 1868, purchased the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, 90 miles east of Los Angeles, raised sheep and speculated in real estate after 1882. There was much more to his story, however, including his connections to the Temple and Workman bank and, specifically, its president F.P.F. Temple.
When Bouton settled in this region in 1869, he acquired land on the Rancho Los Coyotes, which was on portions of Los Angeles and Orange county cities like Cerritos, La Mirada, Buena Park and Stanton, and ran sheep there. Within several years, he purchased an interest in the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo in the area around modern Hemet and San Jacinto and continued raising sheep. In the meantime, he lived in Los Angeles, first at “Roundhouse Point” on 4th Street near where Bunker Hill transitioned to what became Bellevue Terrace, then in what is now Chinatown where Castellar (now Hill) and Alpine streets met.
Bouton was also a prominent Republican figure at a time when the party was still unable to make much headway against the sheer dominance of the Democrats, who controlled local politics from the beginning of the American era onward. Still, he was a major figure in the county committee for the G.O.P. and another significant Republican was F.P.F. Temple, who ran for county supervisor in 1871 and then for county treasurer in 1873 and 1875 under the party’s banners of the “People’s Party,” “Reform Party,” and the “Independent Party.”
The connections between Bouton and Temple went beyond politics, however, including the general’s purchase of Los Angeles real estate with Temple’s son, Thomas, and a partnership at San Jacinto Viejo with a sawmill and wagon road project that was intended to supply a rapidly-growing greater Los Angeles with ample lumber for the construction of houses and other buildings. A recent post here went into some detail about these projects, which entailed a significant investment of Temple and Workman bank funds in the partnership between Bouton and Temple.
The featured object from the Homestead’s holdings for this post is a check from Temple and Workman, dated 4 November 1875, and made out by Bouton for “6 mos. Interest on Fowler’s notes” for $181.43 and stipulated to be “For A/c Rancho San Jacinto Viejo.” The specifics of this transaction are not clear, though there was a Hardiman D. Fowler, who farmed at the Los Nietos township in which jurisdiction was Bouton’s first sheep ranch, so, perhaps Fowler (a Confederate veteran, incidentally) borrowed money from his neighbor and then remitted some funds which were transferred to the San Jacinto Viejo account.
It bears noting that on 4 November 1875, the Temple and Workman bank was closed, following the panic that erupted at the end of August leading to the failure of the Bank of California, the state’s largest, in San Francisco and the resulting run on the two commercial banks in Los Angeles, Temple and Workman and Farmers’ and Merchants’, forcing both to suspend. While the latter reopened quickly, the former remained shuttered while F.P.F. Temple and his bank’s managing cashier, Henry S. Ledyard, desperately sought loans to reopen.
The $181.43 would hardly be much help at the time, given the need for well into six figures, but it seems likely that Temple and Workman called whatever receivables it could during this challenging period. A little over two weeks after this check was presented, F.P.F. Temple wrote to his partner and father-in-law Workman that he’d obtained a loan from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin “on rather hard terms.” The $210,000 was subject to a complicated interest payment plan, but the institution did reopen, finally, on 6 December, with great hopes that it could survive.
The problem was that depositors, quietly, withdrew the borrowed funds to close their accounts and two subsequent additions by Baldwin of roughly $100,000 and $30,000 could not stem the outflow of cash. Temple and Workman closed permanently on 13 January 1876 and a subsequent inventory, revealing mismanagement and poor business practices all around, also showed that Bouton was a debtor to the institution of some $17,000. He and Temple, moreover, were sureties for Los Angeles city treasurer James J. Mellus, a fellow Republican, who deposited $23,000 of municipal funds that were lost.
When a lawsuit, filed by the City and stretching over three years, sought to force the sureties to make good on their funds put up to guarantee Mellus’ management of his office—he was forcible removed in March 1876—Temple, who took office as county treasurer thanks in no small measure to Bouton’s Republican Party work to get him elected and served his two-year term through March 1878, and Bouton claimed insolvency to avoid being held liable for those monies. When the matter was resolved in court in 1879, they were able to evade having to cough up funds.
It appears, moreover, that Bouton was able to shield the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo stake he held by simply transferring it to his wife, Margaret, but another problem arose over the terms of his purchase from Nancy Wakefield. Though he made a deal to pay her over three installments, he evidently only made good on the first and then claimed that his financial struggles kept him from paying further. Yet, he still ran large herds of sheep at San Jacinto Viejo, even as the sawmill and wagon road projects were abandoned and water and land companies he formed to develop the ranch were also stalled.
In July 1879, Bouton and a partner were riding through the ranch with $18,000 with which to acquire some 9,000 head of sheep when they were accosted by three masked men. The pair were tied up with chains and Bouton was being marched to a cabin where he was to be held until he yielded money to be paid to Wakefield when he managed to wriggle free and shot and killed the two men who were guiding him to his prison. A third man walked up unaware of what had transpired and Bouton gunned him down, as well, while two other men, injured by the sharpshooting veteran managed to escape.
At first, reports were that the incident was one of a general highway robbery, but then it was revealed that one of the men killed was Wakefield’s son and it was reported that he sought $5,000 to make good on the transaction involving his mother and Bouton. A coroner’s inquest (San Jacinto was part of San Diego County until Riverside County was created in 1893) determined that the killings of the three men by Bouton was one of self-defense and the two escapees, who were apprehended a short time later, were released when no complaint was filed against them.
Bouton remained in Los Angeles through the lean economic period of the late Seventies and early Eighties, identifying as a real estate agent in a voter registration in 1884, but reaped some benefit during the great boom that came during the 1887-1888 mayoral administration of William H. Workman, nephew of the late banker. He acquired interests in land throughout Los Angeles and south of town, including the Nadeau tract of what is now the Florence-Graham area and at a ranch where his efforts to drill artesian wells created what was termed “Bouton Lake” and which appears to have provided half the name of the modern city of Lakewood.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Bouton built a new house in the southwestern portion of downtown Los Angeles and sold his former residence north of the Plaza for what was the first location of the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. He also had mining interests along the Colorado River and the Arizona/California border, but he was largely known for his Civil War service, specifically his involvement at Shiloh and his command of the guard at Guntown. In 1898, as the Spanish-American War took place and amid a massive burst of patriotism, Bouton was chosen commander of a veteran volunteer group offering its services, though they were not needed.
In 1906, he self-published the 107-page Events of the Civil War, focusing on Shiloh, Corinth, the Mississippi campaign, recollections of Grant and Sherman, “Bouton’s Battery,” and some of his history. Bouton died in November 1921 at the age of 87 at his house, the site of which is now part of the Los Angeles Convention Center campus. An obituary in the Los Angeles Times included quotes from General Henry Halleck, President Abraham Lincoln’s Army chief of staff after being removed as commanding general in favor of Grant and who knew Bouton well from Corinth and other battles, as well as Grant and Sherman.
Halleck was said to have praised “Bouton’s Battery” as the best he’d seen and credited it with saving 1,000 men at Shiloh. Grant’s quote was that “I consider General Bouton one of the best officers in the Army,” while Sherman’s was “he was the most daring brigadier we had in the West.” When Bouton sold some Los Angeles property in modern Chinatown in the early years of the 20th century, it was reported that Sherman, sitting on the porch of the house, advised his friend to hold onto the land as Los Angeles was to become a great city—accordingly, it was reported that Bouton did quite well on his investment.
Bouton, whose first wife died in 1891 with the couple being childless, married a Swedish native, Else Johansson, a few years later and they had a son, Edward, Jr., later a lawyer and real estate operator. He was interred at Inglewood Memorial Park in the mausoleum and, while long forgotten today, is something of a notable character on various fronts in greater Los Angeles over much of his more than a half-century in the region.