Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This edition of “Read All About It” highlights the Los Angeles Weekly Express issue of 9 October 1873. While there were three English-language daily newspapers in town, the Express, the Herald, and the Star, each had weekly versions that summarized “all the news fit to print” during the preceding seven days.
In contrast to the daily versions, the weekly edition of the Express had almost no advertising, except for some front page ones for medicinal products of dubious efficacy and value!
One large ad was for several “medicines” issued by the firm of Radway and Company of New York. Founder Dr. John S. Radway died three years previously at only 45 years of age–begging the obvious question of whether he used his own products and, if so, why it didn’t seem to help him. After all, his “Perfect Purgative Pills” and “Sarsaparillian Resolvent” [product names supreme!] promised to cure just about that could ail a person, based on the above list of troubles claimed to be cured by the products!
As to the news, there was a great deal covered, including a timely matter of what was going on with greater Los Angeles vineyards and wine-making. One article reported on a visit to the property of Benjamin S. Eaton in the foothills below the San Gabriels near a new town in 1873, then called the “Indiana Colony,” but soon to become Pasadena. Eaton Canyon is a well-known area with a county park and hiking trails.
The piece reported that Eaton, who settled on the property in 1867, had about 50 acres of red clay soil on which he grew grapes in a “thrifty condition” and which did not require irrigation, wells being sufficient for the purpose. His still and presses were capable of producing about 80 gallons of product per day, but he limited output to brandy that added vigor to his sweet wines and was known locally for a fine port.
Meanwhile, there was a problem as an article titled “The Grape Stall” discussed at some length. While major producers Kohler and Frohling (discussed in recent posts here on regional wine-making) were keeping production rolling, it was reported that “Red tape and Federal taxation” were to blame for the lack of pressing of recently harvested grapes among the area’s winemakers. Presumably, this included William Workman, who was among the county’s producers. The solution, said the Express, was to petition Congress to loosen “the heavy and absurd restrictions which now hamper and throttle this business.”
As Los Angeles was in the full throes of its first significant population and development boom, another question had to do with water supply and, specifically, irrigation (which Ben Eaton didn’t have to concern himself about, according to the paper.) A piece titled “Our Water Supply” covered a paper delivered to the San Gabriel [Valley] Farmer’s Club, to which members of the Workman and Temple families belonged.”
Questions raised in the presentation concerned how to adequately and fairly distribute water, which was limited to local supply contingent on good rainfall while drought was a frequent menace, while the need for better irrigation planning and development was emphasized. The article noted that some believed that the limit of available water was already reached, while others disagreed. The call was made for a state superintendent of irrigation to deal with these difficult questions, but the timeliness of this artcle has ramifications today, even though we’ve built massive engineering marvels to deliver water throughout the state.
Another interesting piece in the paper was a tour of the “Aliso Quarter” or “Old Aliso,” an area of town just to the north and east of downtown along the Los Angeles River. An important new development in the section of town was the building of a bridge, the first and only covered bridge in greater Los Angeles, for Aliso Road to surmount the river. This span, completed by A.M. Shannon for $2,100 allowed for easier travel out to the San Gabriel Valley, but also for the creation of new subdivisions like East Los Angeles (now Lincoln Heights), which was created in 1873, and Boyle Heights, which was created two years later.
The Homestead is extraordinarily fortunate to possess an original stereoscopic photograph taken just after the bridge’s completion.
Other news in the paper came from meetings of the county Board of Supervisors and the recently formed Chamber of Commerce, as well as reports on the construction of Southern Pacific railroad lines (the line to Rancho La Puenete would be completed the following spring) and improvements at the harbor at Wilmington. For boomtown Los Angeles, an editorial on “Wholesale Trade” offered the hope that:
We look forward to the day—not too far distant, either,—when Los Angeles will become the legitimate commercial depot of an area of country larger in territory than that which forms the present immediate tributary to San Francisco . . . our commercial destiny is to become the great mercantile mart where the wants of our vast tributary territory will be supplied in gross.
With the current boom two years from the inevitable bust, it would take a few more decades before Los Angeles could justifiably claim the mantle earnestly desired in the editorial, but the thinking was well established and some of the core components (georgraphy and climate, fertility of soil, an improved harbor, a better transportation system, etc.) were in the offing in 1873. William Workman and F.P.F. Temple were among local leaders looking to participate in the “upbuilding” process.
Finally, appropos of our upcoming “Curious Cases” presentation centering on the notorious bandido, Tiburcio Vásquez, there were two separate pieces in the Express about him. This was because, in August, the bandit and his gang killed three men in a botched robbery in the town of Tres Piños near Hollister.
One article reported on an examination in a court in Salinas of three men purportedly from Vásquez’ gang. One, Abdon Leiva, testified at great length about what occurred at the scene. Leiva, whose evidence was later significant in the murder trial of Vásquez, which took place after his May 1874 capture near Los Angeles, turned state’s evidence against his boss because he alleged Vásquez seduced his wife.
The other article pointed out
The bandit Vasquez is becoming about as famous in these parts as the celebrated Joaquin Murietta . . . should he continue to elude the search of the Sheriffs and special detectives, and his ubiquitous exploits receive the proper attention from popular chroniclers, he will soon rank with Robin Hood . . . and the other famous heroes of the road.
If only the paper knew just how prescient this prediction would be, as later “chroniclers”, mainly from the 1960s onward, have referred to Vásquez as a “social bandit,” making lawlessness an act of rebellion against racism by Anglos in California.
Notably, the article also claimed that a posse formed by Sheriff William R. Rowland went out to scour what is now known as Vásquez Rocks near Santa Clarita and that the bandit chieftain was actually encountered and that “a long-range conversation” took place with him. While the piece said his hiding place was “impregnable,” it also concluded by noting that “if Vasquez is really there . . . he is unde such close surveillance as will ultimately lead to his capture or surrender.”
We’ll be talking about this at length during the Curious Cases presentation on the 22nd of this month and there may be room still left, so, if you’re interested in the story of Vásquez, contact the museum at 626.968.8492 to see if there are seats available or get on the waiting list.