Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
An unexpected and surprising twist to the aftermath of the lynching of Jesús Romo, the accused in a robbery and attack on William and Rebecca Turner at the Workman Mill store in early June 1874 came with news published in two Los Angeles newspapers on the 10th.
The Los Angeles Herald, which had more detailed information about the affair than its contemporaries, reported that “F.V.C. Mondran, Secretary of Governor Pío Pico, last night brought to the Herald office the following letter, written in bad Spanish, and addressed to “Señor Don Pío Pico” and that there was a postmark from El Monte.
Interestingly, the paper surmised that “it is most probably the production of one man, and was written and forwarded without the knowledge of the citizens who captured El Gordo. ” It also observed that the name subscribed with the letter, “Monte Vigilantes”, “is new, and is the first intimation we have received that a Vigilance Committee exists in the county.” In fact, the article continued, “it does not exist, except in the imagination of the author of the letter.”
The document, dated the 8th, and reprinted in full by the Herald, read:
We have heard that you intend to spend your money and use your influence in order to punish the Vigilantes in behalf of the murderer ‘Gordo.’ If it be so, you have not the principles of a man and in morality you are worse than he was because you ought to know better. El Gordo is not, nor shall he be the only one meriting such a condign punishment. It is necessary that you have your eyes wide open, because we are still ready to correct the atrocities that day after day are happening.
If, by chance, some one of the Vigilantes has a bad end by your hand or your influence or the friends of the late Jesús Romo, may God forgive you and the friends and relations of the dead man for the consequences.
Neither one nor two will pay the debt. As soon as we begin, God alone can see the end.
Those who have until now been your friends,
The Los Angeles Express, in its edition of the 10th, reported that Pico “has received a foolish letter, written by some anonymous party, who signs it ‘Monte Vigilantes.'” Remarking that the missive accused the ex-governor of seeking the punishment of those who hung Romo and quoting from the document, the paper stated that “whoever wrote this letter . . . has betrayed a reprehensible desire to stir up bad blood in this county.”
Noting that Romo’s brutal crime could not have engendered sympathy, the Express observed “the fact, however, that the law was violated in his summary and extra-judicial punishment may raise a party of sticklers for ‘law and order.’ who may try to pursue his executioners to the extent of the violated statute.”
It continued that the executioners “knew they were liable to the effects of a judicial inquiry, and were willing to stand the legal consequences” and that the county grand jury “is now, we understand, investigating the matter.”
As to the letter, the paper concluded by stating “this thing of trying to embitter class prejudices on a subject so utterly devoid of all the elements of worthy sympathy had better be left severely alone.”
Another editorial from the Express on the 10th, titled “A Bad Argument,” claimed that “the Mexicans and Native Californians, who are now active in trying to punish the executioners of Jesús Romo, advance the argument that if the latter had been an American he would have been handed over to the law.”
The paper went on to assert that “the history of lynch outbursts on this Coast shows that no respect has been paid to nationalities in its dispensation.” When it came to lynching, it went on, “the place of birth, color or previous condition of the offender” were irrelevant.
For the Express, if Romo was white, the same result would have resulted and concluded by stating:
Indeed, he would not have evoked what little sympathy may be derived from those who measure crime with tenderness in accordance with the ignorance or lack of opportunity of the persons committing it.
Rebecca Turner in her 1920s memoir, My Story, published in 1960 offered another version of the events involving ex-governor Pico. She claimed:
The hanging of the Mexican aroused considerable protest from members of his race, especially from old Pío Pico. In an open letter which appeared in the newspaper, he declared the youth was an innocent boy who had worked for him, that taking his life was unjustified and called aloud for vengeance.
This explanation is clearly without foundation–none of the three major dailies carried an “open letter” from Pico or referred to one published elsewhere (there was a Spanish-language sheet, La Crónica). Moreover, it was established that Romo did work for Pedro Verdugo before the incident, though it is possible Romo could have worked for the ex-governor previously. Finally, it is hard to imagine Pico calling for vengeance.
As to the identity of “Monte Vigilantes,” Rebecca explained that, as well:
Walter Drown, with all the spirit of his dauntless father, accepted the challenge. In his reply he asserted that the man was a cold blooded murderer. Only one life had been lost, (that of the child) but if through any outbreak on the part of the Mexicans, another American should be killed, God alone knew where it would stop.
This statement aligns nearly completely with the text of the published letter of “Monte Vigilantes,” and, of course, Rebecca stated, as noted in an earlier post here, that Drown, along with Frederick Lambourn, half-owner in the store with William Turner, and El Monte merchant Jacob Schlessinger were the vigilantes who lynched Romo.
Rebecca then ended her coverage of the affair by simply asserting: “And that was the end of it.” It wasn’t, however, quite the end. The last post on the Workman Mill incident and lynching of Jesús Romo comes tomorrow.