Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
From the Homestead’s collection comes today’s highlighted artifact, a circa 1870s cabinet card portrait of Maria Guadalupe Zamorano de Dalton (1832-1914), a woman who had many interesting connections to Mexican and American California during her long life.
Born in Monterey to Agustín Vicente Zamorano and Maria Luisa Argüello, Guadalupe was part of the gente de razón, or upper classes, of the society of Californios in the far-flung department once called “the Siberia of Mexico.” Her father, who was secretary to Governor José María Echeandía, also served as a provisional governor of northern California. In 1834, Agustín acquired a printing press from Boston and became the first printer in California, producing letterhead, broadsides and several books. Today, a set of what many consider eighty essential books on California history are called the “Zamorano 80.”
Guadalupe was fourteen years old when she was introduced to British-born Henry Dalton, who spent years in south America and Mexico as a merchant before migrating to California, where he opened a store at Los Angeles in 1845. Guadalupe’s older sister married José María Flores, a controversial figure among Californios defending themselves against invading United States forces during the Mexican-American War.
Unlike many extranjeros (foreigners, mainly from Europe and the United States), Dalton aligned with Flores and supported his efforts against the Americans. This put him at odds with many, including Benjamin D. Wilson, who was captured at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino (in modern Chino Hills) with other extranjeros by Californios commanded by Flores.
According to Wilson, Dalton was to take the prisoners to Mexico but William Workman, Dalton’s southern neighbor at La Puente, “determined to defeat the villainous plot” by contacting leading Californios and arranging an attack on Flores’ headquarters, in what became the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Wilson claimed “Workman rushed into our prison” to free them, stating Flores was captured “and his and Dalton’s plot was broken.”
Guadalupe’s father died in 1842 and her mother followed five years later, by which time Guadalupe and Dalton were in love. Before their marriage, however, Guadalupe attracted a good deal of attention in Los Angeles, including that of John M. Hollingsworth, a lieutenant in the New York volunteer regiment of Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson, which arrived shortly after the cessation of hostilities in California.
On 4 July 1847, officers among the American troops stationed at Los Angeles organized a ball to celebrate America’s 81st birthday. Hollingsworth, in a journal published in 1923 (a copy of which the Homestead has in its collection), noted that he and Lt. George Stoneman, later a California governor and Pasadena-area orchardist, decorated the structure. The wives of the Californio generals Flores, José Antonio Carrillo, and Andrés Pico were present and it was decided to award a wreath made by Hollingsworth “to the Belle of the evening.” He wrote that a good deal of deliberation was had with “considerable difficulty” but “eventually it was awarded to the Sister of General Floris’ [sic] Wife, who may now be deemed as the Belle of the City of Angelos [sic].”
Ten days after the celebration, the Daltons were married at the Plaza Church in Los Angeles and remained together for thirty-seven eventful years and producing eleven children, of which seven lived to adulthood.
Henry Dalton’s mercantile career was successful and he was able to acquire over the years several San Gabriel Valley ranches, including Santa Anita, San Francisquito and Azusa. After living in Los Angeles for most of the 1850s, the Daltons moved out to the Azusa ranch.
Henry had a rocky life in the postwar years. He lost many cattle in an Indian attack as the animals were being driven to the gold mines. He tried to subdivide part of Rancho San Francisquito for a new town where El Monte later arose. He established a real estate lottery for Los Angeles town lots and San Gabriel Valley ranch land, including a planned town of Benton (named for the famed Missouri senator, Thomas H. Benton). He had longstanding claims against the government of Mexico from his years there and from the American military for supplies sold during the war. His various schemes often put him into financial distress.
On top of this, his land claim to the Rancho Azusa and others involved hiring surveyor Henry Hancock to draw up a map, but the result shifted boundaries and left Dalton with over 18,000 fewer acres than he claimed. Worse, much of the land he was given at Azusa was of poorer quality than what was excluded. Although there were subsequent surveys and reports on Hancock’s map, the federal government refused to intervene.
Dalton also borrowed heavily and had large mortgages that added to his debts. Later, he battled with squatters on his ranch and with wars over the precious resource of water that governed the lives of ranchers and farmers. Despite previous efforts by son-in-law, Luis Wolfskill, to extricate Henry from his mounting financial problems, by 1880, the situation was so dire that when the census taker showed up at the Dalton ranch house, the aged Henry gave his occupation as “fighting for his rights.”
The next year the family had to leave their substantial home and move to a small adobe on the remaining fragment of Azusa that Dalton received from the new owner of the ranch. Yet, the last year of his life saw a turn. A convent Henry owned in Mexico was sold and realized $15,000, lifting him out of penury.
The struggles over the years took their toll on Guadalupe. In 1875, when Henry left for Mexico to continue prosecuting his claim for the money he was owed decades before, son Winnall wrote “Mother suffers a great deal. She gets those choking attacks oftener than usual, the least thing will upset her entirely.”
That October, son Henry, who was fourteen years old, accidentally shot and killed a friend and the incident affected his mother greatly. Henry, Sr.’s diary mentions her “having suffered very severely” and being “in a precarious position.” When the deceased boy’s parents arrived and were grieving, this “brought on another attack on D[oña] Guadalupe.” A “hideous headache” was followed by relapses and other manifestations of physical and mental illness.
When Henry received his money from the Mexican convent sale, Guadalupe wanted to buy a house in Los Angeles and retire, but her husband refused. Upset, she stayed in the city for three months, claiming a debilitating case of asthma.
In early 1884, Henry Dalton died at age 80 in Los Angeles and Guadalupe survived him by thirty years. She used the convent funds to build a new home in Azusa that was four times bigger than the adobe the family had been living in. Debts of $19,000 owed by Henry to Luis Wolfskill went to Guadalupe because both Wolfskill and his wife, Luisa Dalton, died. Then, the Mexican government, after decades, decided to issue over $90,000 in bonds to satisfy Henry’s claims. Guadalupe sold them at a discount after an agent’s fees were deducted, leaving her about a quarter of that total, but, with the convent sale money, it was enough to live comfortably until her death in September 1914 just shy of her 82nd birthday.