by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For a brief period in the mid-1920s, the Valley Beautiful Association made substantial efforts to bring attention to the San Gabriel Valley through beautification, promotion, events and a publication, this latter known as The Valley Beautiful Magazine and which was described as a “Pictorial Historical Magazine” and “devoted to the beautification of Los Angeles and adjacent counties.”
Editor A.M. King, the secretary and field superintendent of the organization; its treasurer Frank M. Colville, who was associate editor, and publisher George Hillenbrand, a Monterey Park resident were the main figures in the journal, the November 1926 issue of which, the eighth of the first volume, was the “Pomona Special Issue.”
Among the contents devoted to the thriving citrus growing community perched on the boundary between the Valley and what later was denoted the “Inland Empire” was a meeting of the Association in Pomona. President W.A. Johnstone gave an address, “Historical Landmarks In and About Pomona” that was deemed “one of the most scholarly and informative papers” the uncredited writer had heard.
The summary of Johnstone’s address lauded
The comprehensive research into the archives and writings and legends of the early days, and their grouping with the present, ending with definite and practical plans for the preservation of those historical adobes and mementoes, furnished those present with a pageant-like view of the past, its importance and its threatened total extinction.
It was anticipated that the paper would be published in The Valley Beautiful Magazine in full and serialized in installments “for it is a valuable and most trustworthy and interesting and instructive treatise, which should be preserved.
Also on the agenda at the meeting was a talk given by Jonathan Tibbet (spelled “Tibbett” in the article) of Riverside, accompanied by a Mr. Martin, said to be Tibbetts’ friend and boyhood teacher on “personal reminiscences of the olden days.” It was added that Tibbetts “has a collection of Indian relics and Indian lore unequalled in the state” and invited Association members to visit his home and collection.
What was not mention was that Tibbet’s parents were among the first arrivals of settlers who established El Monte in the early 1850s after his father, Jonathan, Sr. made a small fortune during the Gold Rush near Placerville, took the family back to their home state of Ohio and then joined a caravan of settlers to southern California in 1853. By 1860, the Tibbets were in the San Bernardino Mountain mining boom town of Holcomb Valley near Big Bear Lake and then at Compton, newly founded by F.P.F. Temple and El Monte’s Fielding W. Gibson. Tibbet’s parents last lived in Santa Monica, having been dairy farmers for many years.
Tibbet, born in 1856 at the family home on Valley Boulevard in today’s Rosemead, moved to Riverside in the early 1880s not long after the town was established. He was a carpenter and mining broker, but it was also said he early in life established a rapport with local Indians. In fall 1919, Tibbet hosted a gathering of some 75 native leaders from many tribes at his Riverside residence and the Mission Indian Federation was launched.
Controversy attended the Federation and Tibbet over the years, including efforts by the group to utilize self-government in contradiction to federal oversight, whatever that entailed and whatever that meant for native groups. There were, however, also competing interests within the indigenous tribal groups about what the Federation was doing in its advocacy about such issues as water supply, reservation boundaries, and education for children outside the “Indian schools” like the Sherman Institute in Riverside.
In 1923, Tibbet was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for fomenting anti-federal government attitudes among Federation members. The charges were dropped soon afterward. Four years later, a native filed an action against Tibbet and other Federation officials for false arrest, claiming that, when he sought information on funds collection by the Federation from local Indians, he was detained unlawfully. There was no known disposition, when this matter was mentioned in a federal report a decade later.
That 1937 report claimed that Tibbet (said to have been a Midwestern newspaperman who arrived in California penniless, when he was actually a local and long-time resident of Riverside) amassed an $80,000 estate on the collection of dues and other funds from natives. He died in 1930 at age 74, having donated his large native collection to what is now the Pomona College Museum of Art. The Federation was taken over by Purl Willis, a San Diego County deputy treasurer and salesman H.R. Prather, who were accused of profiting from the association and inciting its members against the federal government’s oversight.
The Pomona landmarks meeting ended with an Association resolution calling for that city’s officials “to take steps at once to secure the acre of ground on which the old Palomares adobe stands . . . to use for a park and museum. The city’s mayor was in attendance and agreed to assist in that goal, which appears to have involved preservation of what is now known as Casa Primera, the first Palomares family home on Rancho San José and built in 1837.
Finally, it was reported that the next Association meeting would be on 26 November in San Dimas “where Jedediah Smith’s band landed exactly 100 years ago that night, the first overland American group to arrive in California.” The topic of the Smith centennial was also discussed in a reprint from the Automobile Club of Southern California’s journal Touring Topics by historian Phil Townsend Hanna on “California’s Debt to Jedediah Strong Smith.”
Smith, a fur trapper, led a group of compatriots into Mexican Alta California in 1826 and Hanna painted the excursion in typically romantic and one-sided terms. He stated:
A century has passed since Jed Smith trekked his weary way across the scintillating sands of the Mojave Desert to give California its first land contact with the then youthful and aspiring States of the Mississippi Valley and the Atlantic Seaboard. The flowers of the desert . . . the Indians to whon he traded baubles for furs and horses have, in the main, succumbed before the encroaching hordes of Americans who followed his footsteps into the land of eternal promise and perpetual fulfillment.
That, of course, is the victor’s vantage point, not that of the native Indians or the Californios. Hanna went on to exclaim that Smith’s life was “a captivating drama, replete with tragedy . . . an episode so important to the unfolding of the greater drama of the conquest and settlement of Califonria that it has left its impress most forcibly on the consciousness of all those interested in tracing the development of the Golden State.”
Contrasted to Cabrillo, Vizcaíno, Portolá and others, Smith “was a trader pure and simple” who “inflated the cupidity of the Californians and sowed the seed for trade between the United States and California and the ultimate annexation” of the Mexican department to the U.S., though that conveniently easy connection is not elucidated in Hanna’s piece.
“One of those restless human organisms that dot the pages of history with their deeds of high emprise and courage,” Smith, in the nine years between his leaving Cincinnati and his death after at the hands of Comances on the Santa Fe Trail between New Mexico and Missouri, wandered much of the rugged American West, but these “were not purposeless wanderings” but were efforts “to enhance his personal fortunes” and those of his compatriots. Still, Hanna again credited Smith with linkage to the future American colonization of California as if that, too, was planned.
When Smith and his men left the Great Salt Lake, twenty years before the coming of the Mormons to their Zion, in late August 1826, Hanna gushed that the trip southwest into California “provides a tale as thrilling and as full of incident as Alexander’s conquest of Persia or Marco Polo’s invasion [?] of the realm of Kublai Khan.”
He traced the troupe’s travels to Mission San Gabriel, where it arrived on 27 November and were welcomed warmly by mission fathers, though civil officials were alarmed, though Smith did receive a permit to travel through Alta California, which was resumed in mid-January 1827. Later that year, Smith returned to the coast, was arrested at San José, and freed on promise to leave the department within two months and this constituted the end of his California adventures.
Tangentially, in late 1827, a group of fur trappers led by father and son Sylvester and James Ohio Pattie left Santa Fe, New Mexico on an expedition that brought them to the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers where Yuma, Arizona is today on the border with California. While the Patties and some of the party continued on into California and significant misadventure, others of the expedition decided to return to New Mexico and one of these was William Workman, who’d settled in Taos two years earlier and went on to become a merchant with over fifteen years residence in New Mexico before resettling in the San Gabriel Valley on Rancho La Puente in the early 1840s.
Another article of note in The Valley Beautiful Magazine concerned a visit of The History and Landmarks Committee of the Alhambra Woman’s Club and the Ramona Woman’s Club of Monterey Park to “the ofd adobe homestead of Don Repetto,” situated on the south-facing hills of the latter town. King, the magazine’s editor, told the story of famed bandido Tiburcio Vásquez’s visit to the Repetto household, though he gave incorrect information (!) about the incident.
King claimed that the brigand chieftain forced Repetto to go into Los Angeles to get $40,000 in ransom money. He then stated that, after Repetto returned with the funds, Vásquez and his men were ambushed by friends of Repetto and others “who had been warmed [warned] by a servant who escaped during the night” so that “Vasquez and his entire band were wiped out, but no trace of the $40,000 in gold has ever been found.” In fact, that story of the lost gold led to the condition of “the dilapidated adobe which shows the sestructive searchings of hundreds of treasure hunters ever since that long ago massacre.”
Alas, King’s king-sized whopper of a tale was false in all its main particulars. Alessandro Repetto, an Italian emigrant who was married to one of the Alvitre family, long-standing residents of the Misión Vieja (Old Mission) community where the original Mission San Gabriel was established at Whittier Narrows and where the Temple family lived for decades, was surprised at his home by Vásquez and his gang in 1874.
News reports, however, said it was a nephew, actually Repetto’s son, who was sent to Los Angeles to fetch $800 from Repetto’s account at the Temple and Workman bank. When bank president F.P.F. Temple saw the frightened young man, he sent word for Los Angeles County Sheriff William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente grantee John Rowland. They instructed the youngster to return with the money while a posse formed by Rowland was to follow immediately behind and seize Vásquez.
Young Repetto, however, was so afraid for his father’s safety that he bolted ahead and warned the bandit of the approach of the sheriff’s men. Whether Vásquez got the $800 is not known, but he and his men scampered north from the house and into the plains of the San Gabriel Valley. A survey party working on a plot for a new town soon to be called Pasadena was robbed as the bandit gang made its way towards and then into the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, where they escaped.
It was not until some time later in 1874 that Vásquez was captured in what is now West Hollywood by another Rowland-organized posse. He was taken north to face trial in San José for murder and was executed by hanging in spring 1875. King, however, was hardly the only local to tell tale tales about the Repetto gold.
In later years, Thomas W. Temple II, who found oil when just nine years old in the nearby Montebello Hills, claimed that there was a connection between his “black gold” and the money allegedly buried by Vásquez, as the latter’s location was known by a little boy who died with that secret, while another little boy, Thomas, found his version of gold decades later.
Another interesting feature in the magazine is “Pomona’s Prophetic Poet,” concerning the colorful Patrick C. Tonner, best known for being the namesake of Tonner Canyon, where the Tres Hermanos Ranch is now subject to future management by the cities of Chino Hills, Diamond Bar and Industry.
Specifically, the journal reprinted an 1869 poem of Tonner’s that appeared nearly three decades later in the Pomona Times and was a paean to the beauty of the “Sweet San José” the name of the ranch and township that, six years later, included the formation of the city of Pomona. The poem has twenty-one stanzas, so here is a small sample:
Great orchards clad in golden robes,
Fair fields in robes of green,
With lillies lifting lovely lobes,
Of dram and yellow sheen,
Surround us here on every side—
As though all nature came
To bring her tributary gifts
To grace the Angels’ name
But not alone the City fair
Whose grandeur glads my view
And boasts with pride its beauty
Are all my praises due
For, fairest lands surround it,
And stretching far away,
From vine-clad fields of Anaheim,
To old San Pedro Bay
But San Jose, sweet San Jose,
Thou Mountain valley fair,
Begirt by half a hundred hills,
Enthroned mid beauty rare,
Shall see thy towering domes arise,
Where [Louis] Phillips herd his sheet
And orange orchards yet shall stand,
Where [Ricardo] Vejar’s mustangs sweep.
The flocks of Palomares,
Must seek some distant field,
His hog-trod rich cienegas,
The golden wheat shall yield,
And all those glorious uplands,
Where rabbits burrow now,
Shall thrill beneath the Saxon’s trod,
Behind a Yankee plow.
Of course, the inevitable yielding to Anglo-Saxon dominance pervades Tonner’s poetry in the early years of the first sustained growth boom to sweep greater Los Angeles during the late 1860s and into the mid-1870s.
This leads to the last article of note, “Pomona’s Early History Rich in Romance,” which heralded Tonner’s “prophetic lines” concerning the transformation of that area from a “barren valley inhabited only by nomadic Indians” to sheep grazing under the Mission San Gabriel and, Palomares and Vejar and their Rancho San José, leading to “the present era of modern municipality.”
The Palomares and Vejar era is painted as one in which “life went along with scarcely a different ripple to mark one day from another.” Cliches abound of “soft twinkling of guitars” and “plaintiff [plaintive] Spanish love songs” heard during “great gala days of feast and sports” as if no real work was ever done at San José.
Then came the “vigorous” Englishman Henry Dalton, who represented the “first inroad of the coming commercialism and acquired the Addition to Rancho San José from Luis Arenas that extended west to the San Gabriel River. Nothing was said, however, of Dalton’s many financial problems, his failed townsite on what became the Rancho Azusa, his loss of land to a faulty, designed or otherwise, survey, and his fruitless court battles to reclaim that property.
Cyrus Burdick, who came to the area in 1870, and partners Alvin Meserve and the Reverend C.F. Loop, who arrived three years later, all bought land from the Palomares family and instituted intensive agriculture. In 1875, a syndicate including such familiar names as Garey (spelled in the article as Garvey, who was a Monterey Park-area notable), White, Holt, Towne, Thomas and others established the town of Pomona, the name of which was bestowed by a contest and who was the Roman goddess of fruit—appropriate given the dominance of oranges in the city’s economy in later years.
The new community got off to a rough start and this was attributed in the article to two years of drought, which did ravage the region in 1876 and 1877, and the lack of available water. Rancher Louis Phillips, who was actually a supporter of the fledgling burg, was said to have retorted, “I’m going to run my sheep over where your town is” when he was asked to dig artesian wells to supply the community.
Left unmentioned in the time when “sore trouble followed for Pomona” was that the “Town-To-Have-Been” was financed by the aforementioned syndicate with loans from the Temple and Workman bank and the failure of that institution in early 1876, just months after the town was founded, was also a major factor in its foundering. It was not for several years, when C.T. Mills, founder of Mills College in Oakland, and Moses L. Wicks of Los Angeles formed a new company and rebooted Pomona, which benefited from the massive Boom of the Eighties which burst forth in 1887.
Pomona was about a half-century old when this special edition of The Valley Beautiful was published and the issue is an interesting one for its interpretations and promotions of local history back in late 1926.