In the Shadow of the Mission

by Ted Howard, September 2009




Prologue – Graves at the Mission



When you think about it, the development of Los Angeles into one of the world’s great cities is pretty remarkable.  The area has no natural harbor like that of San Francisco to the north or San Diego to the south.  There is no great river present to serve as an avenue of trade and commerce.  The town of Los Angeles actually started some twenty miles from the coast.  The Los Angeles Basin is isolated from the areas to the east and north by rugged mountains and forbidding deserts.  The area also offered no plentiful source of fuel or water.  Nonetheless today just over 228 years after its founding, it is the second city of the most powerful nation on earth.


What was responsible for this transformation?  I believe a large part of the answer is found in the vision and drive of some remarkable Americans who came here and integrated themselves into the Spanish-Mexican culture and then built something new on top of it.  A number of these people and their families chose to live in a somewhat ill defined area called the San Gabriel Valley. 


The Spanish had their first look at the area of Alta California through the eyes of the explorers who sailed north from Baja California with the Portuguese captain, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, in three vessels.  He entered the current harbor area on October 4, 1542, almost exactly 50 years after Columbus’ first landfall. Cabrillo observed the smoggy haze from the fires the natives set in the grasses to chase rabbits and called the place Bahia de los Fumos (Bay of the Smokes).  Other than exploring the coast and the offshore islands up as far as Point Reyes, nothing really came of this expedition.


Likewise, nothing in the way of colonization came from the next exploration in 1602-03 by Sebastian Vizcaino (1550-1615).  He did name the bay Ensenada de San Andres.  Later the bay was renamed San Pedro.  We have no record of what the Tongva natives, who were members of the Shoshone family, thought of these visitors whom they met in their small plank canoes.  It is variously estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 Tongva were living here in domed huts made from branches and grasses.  They concentrated in villages sited near the small rivers or springs that were then surprisingly abundant in the semi-arid basin.


In 1769, the neglect of the Alta California region by the authorities in New Spain came to an end, probably motivated by concern over the approach of the Russian fur traders from the northwest. The Commandante-Militar Gaspar De Portola (1763-1786) led 64 men north from the new settlement at San Diego looking for the bay of Monterey which had been described by Vizcaino more than 65 years earlier.  He was accompanied by the Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi (1721-1782) who recorded the trek across the Los Angeles Basin between July 24 and August 8, 1769.  Crespi observed in his journal:


“This plain where the river runs is very extensive. It has good land for planting all kinds of grain and seeds, and this is the most suitable site of all we have seen for a mission, for it has all the requisites for a large settlement.”


Among other native settlements, they stopped at the Tongva Indian village of Yangna, which was located near the future Elysian Park and Plaza.  The expedition had the experience of several earthquakes while in the basin.  They also were the first white men to see what later was known as the La Brea Tar Pits. 


The expedition passed out of the basin, over the mountains to the north.  They ultimately were unable to identify Monterey, although they were there.  They continued north and discovered the great harbor that would become San Francisco Bay.  Then they retraced their path back to San Diego.  After a near disaster waiting for supplies at San Diego, a second expedition to find Monterey was launched with Portola going by land and Father-General Junipero Serra (1713-1784) proceeding by sea.  They were successful this time in discovering Monterey where Serra founded the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo on June 3, 1770.


In the following year, Fr. Serra decided to establish additional missions between San Diego and Carmel.  The third mission was San Antonio de Padua founded July 14, 1771 near the modern city of Jolon.  The next one to be established was intended to take advantage of Fr. Crespi’s observations.  The two priests selected by Serra for this task were Fr. Pedro Cambon and Fr. Angel Somera.  After first examining and rejecting a site on what eventually was the Santa Ana river, the party arrived at a site on what was then called Rio San Miguel on September 8, 1771 with 14 soldiers and four muleteers.  They erected a cross and named the site La Misión del Santo Príncipe el Arcangel, San Gabriel de los Tremblores.  It turned out that this site was prone to river flooding that ruined the newly planted crops.  A search commenced for a new site, which was found in 1775 four and a half miles to the north, nearer the mountains.  The mission was moved to its present site the following year under the direction of Fr. Antonio Cruzado who had assumed Mission leadership in 1772.


In 1781, 2 priests, several Indian neophytes and eleven families traveled some 9 miles west of Mission San Gabriel to found El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula at or near Yangna.  The pueblo was set up on 28 square miles and had an initial population of 44.


Original bell tower ruins

In 1796 Cruzado decided to replace the original crumbling adobe church with an ambitious cut stone brick and mortar edifice. It appears to have been modeled on a Moorish mosque in Cordova Spain that had been transformed into the city’s cathedral.  It was being built with an ambitious vaulted roof that started to crack as a result of the 1804 earthquake and was replaced by a brick and mortar roof, then a tile roof, and recently one with wood shingles.  The church was finished in 1806, a year after Fr. Cruzado’s death.  It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1812 that demolished the original bell tower.  It was never replaced although its ruined attachments are still visible.


The mission was both a religious and commercial enterprise for the Spanish crown.  During the original administration of the Franciscans it attained great wealth in terms of livestock, grain production, wines and tallow.  Although motivated by the best of intentions, the mission spelled the demise of the Tongva culture.  The Indians now took their name from the mission and were referred to as “Gabrielinos.”  The native converts, or neophytes, became virtual serfs, camping around the mission away from their village culture.  They were taught that the native ways were wrong.  Their healthy diet was changed to conform to European ideas, to their detriment.  The resulting weakness combined with the enforced close living conditions led to the spread of illnesses for which they had no immunity, such as small pox, tuberculosis, measles, and venereal diseases.  They died by the thousands.


In 1824 Mexico declared itself independent of Spain and decided that the Gabrielinos, along with the other mission Indians, would be freed from their virtual bondage.  Secularization of the missions was decreed and finally enforced by 1833.  Unfortunately this proved to be disastrous for both the missions and the Gabrielinos.  The former fell into decay and ruin, and the latter were not equipped to be independent farmers as intended on part of the former mission lands.  They were victims of a well-intentioned, but culturally arrogant, paternalism that taught them how to read music for religious ceremonies, but denied them the literacy that would allow them to deal with the new culture, because it was felt they were not equipped for it.  Economic wealth now became re-concentrated in the hands of the owners of the large ranchos.  The Indians, having lost their own culture scattered and died.   Twice, the best of intentions were ruinous for them.  Signs at San Gabriel Mission inform us that there are believed to be 6000 Gabrielinos buried on the grounds.  It was a terrible price to exact in the name of God.



It had to be the latter part of the 1950’s when my brother Jim and I began to accompany my Uncle John and my grandmother, Louise Ward Watkins, (you always used all three parts of her proper name) on annual visits to the cemetery at Mission San Gabriel. It was El Dia de Los Muertos, the evening of November first, and a tradition of the old Mexican culture that predated our mid-twentieth century, Pasadena way of living.  It was the eve of All Souls Day and the families of the dead would come to the cemetery and place flowers and candles on the graves of their loved ones.  One of the surplice-clad priests from the Mission would then lead a procession among the gravestones followed by chanting marchers. We didn’t get involved in that part, but we had our own little tradition to perform in the last row of graves.  They were located to the far right, just in front of the low concrete wall that separated the cemetery from the asphalt of a parking lot of Mission High.


There were three graves there that received our attentions, presided over by Grandma.  The white marble grave marker on the left was that of my grandfather, whom the family revered as “Pasy,” and the two to the right were of his parents.  Pasy died when I was less than two and his parents had died early in the century and were just names carved in stone to my brother and me.  Grandma would arrange flowers and we two boys would help stick the candles in the ground in some sort of creative pattern.  As it got dark we would light the candle pattern and then would recite the rosary.  As a junior seminarian, I was accorded the responsibility of leading this part, presumably because of my inferred greater piety and my knowledge of the names of the mysteries of the rosary.  As events would prove, Uncle John surely had more of the former characteristic, and I was known to mess up the names of the appropriate mystery on occasion.  But that has nothing to do with this story.


What are germane to this tale, are the memories I had of some of the nearby graves that didn’t get any attention on El Dia de Los Muertos.  They were located to the left of the three Watkins graves and had the name “Shorb” on them.  I understood from Grandma that these people were relatives of some sort and had a role to play in the building of California.  Now my grandmother was a great student of history and certainly gave me accurate detail about how these people were related to us, and what they had to do with earlier California.  These details became quite lost to me, however.  I did remember that one of the Shorbs was the daughter of someone called “Don Benito” Wilson, and he was the one that the mountain with the observatory and the television towers was named after.  I could clearly see that mountain over the block wall in the distance to the north with some lights twinkling on it.  There was something about he had two wives, one a Catholic, like us, and a second one a Protestant, like our other grandparents, the Howards (really step-grandparents, of course).  The daughter of Don Benito buried here had a particularly euphonious, yet incongruous name: Maria de Jesus Shorb. Two languages, two cultures, two religions - how did it all mix?  At the time, the solution to this puzzle was not of great, if any concern.  My brother and I were much more interested in the anticipation of a steak dinner that was to follow at the nearby “El Poche” restaurant than we were to solving cultural or genealogical issues.


There was another, much more modest appearing grave next to that of Maria de Jesus Shorb.  It is a flat marker with just the name “J. De Barth Shorb” and the years of his birth and death in 1841 and 1896, respectively.  I had a vague understanding that this Shorb was an important personage in the transitional era between the Southern California of missions and ranchos and the period of phenomenal growth that occurred right after the turn of the century.  Shorb roughly bridged the gap between the last Mexican governor, Pio Pico and Henry E. Huntington.  Huntington was known to me to be important in the story of Grandma’s family.  I was a little clearer on that.


Over the many years and changes that followed, our tradition of El Dia de Los Muertos was kept up to the late 1980’s.  Jim faded out first, losing any Catholic piety that he had quite early. “El Poche” was torn down. The solemn cemetery procession disappeared along with the cemetery pathways that gave up their place to new graves. Grandma became an invalid and was unable to participate after 1963.  When she died at the end of 1974, Uncle John was able to use his good offices to have her buried there, as she wished.  Interestingly, when Mary Stone Watkins was buried after the turn of the century, graves were dug much deeper than required now.  It was thus possible to place Grandma’s casket over hers.  We had a new headstone made to replace the white marble one Grandma had made for her husband, and Uncle John and I would make the same trip for many more years to decorate the same three plots that now held the earthly remains of four people.  Ultimately traditions give way to practicalities.  The Mission authorities found that because of vandalism problems, the cemetery would be closed down at 4 p.m. and that brought these yearly evening treks to a close.

As the years have passed, I’ve felt an increasing fascination with these families and their connection with my own.  My great-grandfather Watkins was associated with Wilson and Shorb; my great-grandfather Ward was associated with Huntington.   These were the giants that built the firm foundation on which modern Southern California stands.  We have changed so much that little visible remains of what they did, beyond family graves at the Mission, the nearby Episcopalian Church of Our Saviour, and elsewhere.  I wanted to find and record what I could.  This is the result of that search.



                                Joseph Lancaster Brent


Although my great-grandfather came to California in 1875, he was preceded by an uncle who was here almost 25 years earlier.  That uncle, his mother’s younger brother, had left California in 1861 to fight for the South in the Civil War and never came back.  He remembered the incredible opportunities that were here for those who were willing to pay the price.  He told his 29 year-old nephew about this and the young man set out in a wagon train on the perilous trek across the deserts and the mountains to make that new life.  The uncle was Joseph Lancaster Brent (1824-1905) and he was undoubtedly was one the most intriguing characters you will find in this era of fascinating personalities.  He was the eighth of the ten children of William Leigh Brent (1784-1856) and Maria Fenwick (1791-1836), my great-great-great-grandparents.  The Brent family could trace its lineage back to Jeffry de Brent in the time of the Norman Conquest.  J. L. Brent was born in Charles County Maryland and was educated in the District of Columbia at Georgetown College. He was trained as a lawyer and came to California from Louisiana in 1851 with a rather large collection of law books.  There was an immediate need in the new state for the services of a skilled attorney for the litigation that quickly sprung up over the various Spanish and Mexican land grants that created such a colorful quilt on old maps of the region.  California had just been admitted into the Union and this country was obligated by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo of 1848 to recognize the valid grants.  Judging by how often his name comes up, Brent was not only skillful, but also overwhelmingly successful in this work.  He acquired extensive land with his fees and as his fees, including ownership of the first Anglo-owned tracts in what is now Glendale, the area near Playa Del Rey that today includes LAX, and the area that is now South Pasadena.


Nor was the influence of this man limited to the courts He was instrumental in the organization and leadership of the Democratic Party in the state.  For the most part he enjoyed exercising this leadership from behind the scenes.  In the presidential election of 1852, he was selected as an alternate elector for Franklin Pierce.  He struck up an immediate and fast friendship with a fellow elector, John Alexander Watson (1821-1869).  The two men were both attorneys, had each fought in the Mexican War and were both originally from the same area in Maryland.  Brent had been involved in litigation to uphold the grant of Rancho San Pedro to the family of Manuel Dominguez.  Brent introduced his friend to Don Manuel’s daughter, Maria Dolores (1838-1924) and he was Watson’s best man when he married her in 1855.  The Watson family later formed the Watson Land Co. to develop the land.  Today this company remains as the largest commercial developer in the nation.


As the United States moved ever closer to the abyss of civil war, some of the same tensions that separated brothers in the East added to the intractable divisions between the northern and southern halves of this state.  This expressed itself in a division within the Democrat Party over the admission of Kansas as a free or slave state.  The so-far dominant Pro-Southern faction was under the leadership of Brent and Watson and its members were called “Chivs,” as a shortened form of “Chivalry.”  Its anti-slavery opponents were under the leadership of Senator David C. Broderick were called “Bolters” or “Brodericks.”  The Party was split wide open into these two factions, but Chivalry won the state elections of September 7, 1859.  A few days thereafter Broderick found himself challenged to a duel with the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, David S. Terry.  The senator wasn’t practiced with his weapon and it discharged into the ground.  Terry shot true, and Broderick was killed.  He became a martyr in death and Terry was discredited and the Chivalry faction was wounded.

A year later, the badly split Democrats, similar to what happened nationwide, saw a minority vote for Abraham Lincoln carry California’s electors.  The following year that same split allowed the Republicans to sweep their rivals from power in the state elections, breaking a monopoly Democrats had held since admission.  The political machine headed by J. L. Brent was finished.  On an even more ominous note, eleven southern states had passed ordinances of secession by early 1861.  Fighting between the two sections had erupted on April 12th when the artillery batteries of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on Ft. Sumter and forced the surrender of the garrison.


J. L. Brent felt duty-bound to leave all he had in California and offer his services to the new government in Richmond.  He went about the difficult process of liquidating his holdings over a period of many weeks, as he fell under the suspicion of the new Federal military commander, Edwin V. Sumner.  He was finally able to board a steamer to San Francisco in October 1861 to catch another vessel for the trip to New York.  During the latter voyage, he was ordered arrested for suspected treason by Gen. Sumner who was on the same passage.  He was imprisoned for a time in New York and Washington until December when he was released from his parole by order of President Lincoln.  Brent then made his way through the lines to the South and tendered his services to the struggling rebel government.


Magruder delays McClellan at Yorktown

According to official Confederate Army records, Brent started out as a volunteer on the staff of Gen. John B. Magruder.  On May 10, 1862 he was appointed a Major, C. S. A., and was made chief of Magruder’s ordnance.  At that time, “Prince John” was involved in the defense of the Confederate capital during Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s imaginative, but poorly executed Peninsular Campaign.  In the initial stages of that campaign when the Confederates badly needed to stall for time, Magruder distinguished himself by handling his small command in a way that convinced the timid McClellan that he possessed a much larger army.  In one instance he marched a single battalion through a clearing in a circle and convinced his opponent that he had a huge host to oppose him.  His artillery was also a key element in the plan of deception. These tactics delayed the Army of the Potomac’s advance at Yorktown a month, long enough to allow the Confederate commander, Joseph E. Johnston, to assemble the forces he needed to frustrate McClellan and finally halt him at the Battle of Seven Pines.  Johnston was wounded in that action and Robert E. Lee passed into the command of the Confederate forces protecting their capital.  Characteristically he handled his new army in a manner that deprived the numerically superior enemy the initiative and thoroughly unnerved McClellan.  Lee’s efforts were frustrated during the Seven Days Battle and the Battle of Malvern Hill by poor communications and the overly complicated organization of the army he had inherited.  McClellan, nonetheless, was thrown back on his base of supplies and forced to withdraw by nothing more than the aggressive maneuvering of the smaller army by a commander who was audacity personified.


In the aftermath of the campaign, Lee began the transformation of this inherited army into the famous Army of Northern Virginia.  Among the wholesale organizational changes that took place was that Magruder was offered, and accepted, command of the Texas Military Department of the Trans-Mississippi.  Brent went with him and early the following year the erstwhile attorney was to lead a singularly audacious exploit that had nothing to do with the handling of infantry, artillery or cavalry.  It was to be a naval battle on the Mississippi.


Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was, if anything, a very persistent military commander.  In the late fall of 1862, he had stepped off from Memphis with his large army and a substantial riverine naval force under Rear Adm. David Porter to capture the great Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.  This was seen as the chief obstacle to the complete Federal seizure of the Mississippi River and the separation of the Trans- Mississippi region with its great supply of foodstuffs from the east, which was being strangled by naval blockade.  The only connection that remained was the one hundred-mile stretch between a similar, albeit less formidable bastion at Port Hudson, Louisiana and the Mississippi fortress set on 200-foot high bluffs at a big loop in the river.  Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, supported by Adm. David G. Farragut’s fleet was stalled at Baton Rouge.  Sam Grant was the Department commander, and he seemed to be stymied by terrain, weather, and disease as much as by anything his opponent, Gen. John B. Pemberton did.  No matter what the cost or the degree of disappointment in failure, Grant and Porter kept trying something new.  In early 1863, Adm. Porter decided on a plan to cut off the flow of rebel supplies through this umbilical between the two fortresses by passing some warships down the Mississippi and through the gauntlet of the artillery batteries on the Vicksburg bluffs.  If he could accomplish this there was nothing between the two Confederate strongholds to defend against these vessels' guns and supplies could not safely flow for the Confederates.


Porter had a wooden steamboat named Queen of the West that had been turned into a ram by strengthening her bows with solid timbers and thickening her hide with layers of wood and cotton bales.  On the early morning of February 4th, the Queen made her run past the Confederate guns, taking twelve hits, but none in a vital spot.  Two days later Porter set adrift a barge loaded with 20,000 bushels of coal that miraculously made it unscathed past the batteries.  Now the repaired Queen and her nineteen-year old captain, Charles R. Ellet were ready to do some damage to the rebels.  This he proceeded to do, sinking all sorts of river traffic, destroying supplies and even burning some plantations.  In the next week he passed down to the mouth of the Red River and then went up this important supply artery to wreak more havoc.  On February 14th, however, his good fortune ran out when the Queen ran fast aground on a mud flat within range of some Confederate cannon.  They quickly put the ram’s machinery out of action and forced Ellet and his crew to abandon the steamer.  They then made a harrowing escape back up the Mississippi on a previously captured vessel, the Era No. 5, pursued by a rebel steamer.


In the meantime, Admiral Porter, delighted by the initial results of his strategy, decided to send a heavy reinforcement in the form of the pride of his fleet, the brand-new ironclad gunboat Indianola.  This vessel was equipped with 4 engines running both paddlewheels and screw propellers.  Her powerful armament included two massive, 11-inch smoothbores and a pair of 9-inch rifled cannon.  The South simply had nothing to match this-not even close.  To give her endurance and additional protection, the Indianola had a large coal-filled barge lashed to either beam.  The vessel safely passed the spectacular, but futile fire of the Vicksburg batteries during the night of February 13th.  Under the command of Lt. Cdr. George Brown, she ponderously proceeded downstream to link up with the Queen of the West which he still thought was in his navy.


On February 16th, Ellet was proceeding up river onboard the Era, now being resolutely pursued by a high-speed Confederate ram, the William H. Webb, a converted tug.  Ellet saw the Indianola bearing down on him.  So did the Webb’s captain and he prudently fled back down the river away from the armored vessel.  The Indianola now picked up Ellet and his fellow survivors and landed them on the west bank to work their way back to Porter.  In spite of the setback of the loss of the Queen, Brown still had the most powerful warship on the river and plenty of coal to operate her.

At this point on February 19th, Maj. Joseph L. Brent received Special Orders, No.49 from Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor that he was to search out the enemy gunboat and attempt to capture or destroy it. The Confederates were quickly salvaging the Queen of the West up the Red River where it as joined by the Webb fleeing from the Indianola.  Brent gathered some soldiers who knew nothing about handling a vessel and who quickly named themselves “Brent’s Desperados.”  They added two cotton-clad steamers armed only with rifleman and set to their daunting task.  Brown when he saw this small flotilla heading toward him reversed course as best he could, encumbered by the two coal barges.  He started back up river very slowly pursued by Brent’s little fleet.


Brent had determined to take on his much more powerful foe at night when his stronger gunnery would be impaired.  This engagement took place on February 24th, near Jefferson Davis’ plantation.  The big Union guns fired wildly and the Confederates used the only effective weapon they possessed, their rams, repeatedly in this nighttime melee.  Finally the Queen was able to hit the black monster in her lightly protected stern and she started taking on more water than her pumps could handle.  Brown ran his vessel hard onto the west bank of the river, which was held by the Federals, and hauled down his colors as the two cotton-clads came alongside to board the Indianola.  The two rebel steamers then quickly secured towropes to the ironclad and hauled her across the river before she sank in shallow water.  There the Confederates intended to repair this powerful warship and use her against her makers as they had so effectively done with the Queen of the West.


As far as I can tell this was the end of Brent’s participation in this story, but there was one more bitter twist for the rebels.  A salvage crew, under a lieutenant, was left in charge of the stricken vessel with orders to blow it up if threatened with recapture by the Federals.  At that time Porter had no other ironclads to send past the Vickburg batteries.  His men cleverly took some barges, lashed them together, and built some wooden upperworks on them with logs for cannon.  They then stacked up barrels to make it look like they were smokestacks and lighted tar pots at the bottom to make it look like the vessel had engines.  Then it was allowed to drift downstream past the batteries without harm.  As this concoction looked for the entire world to be an armored gunboat, the lieutenant proceeded to blow up the Indianola and destroyed her valuable weapons.  It was subsequently found that the dummy warship had a crude sign nailed to her starboard phony paddlebox: “Deluded people, cave in.”


Perseverance finally was to pay off for Grant when Vickburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, the day after the battle of Gettysburg ended in Pennsylvania.  The Trans-Mississippi was cut off forever from the rest of the Confederacy.  It was just a question of time and persistence.  Sam Grant had both in abundance, as Robert E. Lee was soon to experience in Northern Virginia.


The next record to be found about J. L. Brent was his appointment as a Colonel of Artillery with a date of rank of April 17, 1864.  After that he was ordered to report to Gen. E. Kirby Smith and he was to remain under his orders for the rest of the war.  In October he was recommended to be appointed a Brigadier General and he commanded a cavalry unit known as “Brent’s Cavalry Brigade,” made up of the 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 8th Louisiana regiments.


On May 12-13, 1865, a month after Lee’s surrender, his command was involved in the last battle of the war at Palmito Ranch, near Brownsville, Texas.  This battle was like the first one of the war in that it ended in a clear Confederate victory. A few days later, when Kirby Smith learned of all the other surrenders and the capture of Jefferson Davis, he sent Gen. Brent to help negotiate the terms of his surrender to Gen. Edward S. Canby.  This was accomplished and the document signed on June 2, 1865.  The long war was over.


After he signed his parole, Brent went to Baltimore where he again took up the practice of law until 1870.  He then returned to Louisiana and became a sugar planter.  He married Frances Rosella Kenner (1849-1928) and they had two children, Nanine and Duncan.  Brent served two terms in the Louisiana legislature and was a delegate to two Democrat Conventions.  He gave a seconding speech in 1876 for the nomination of General Winfield S. Hancock for President.  He kept up a lively correspondence with old friends in California like Don Benito and Jack Watson.  He authored several books on military matters.  He retired in 1889 and passed away at the age of 81 in 1905.  In an era of remarkable people, he led as varied and successful a life as any of his contemporaries.



In 1869 an interesting photograph was taken at White Sulphur Springs, Virginia that included some of the general officers from both armies.  Pictured in it are Robert E. Lee, John B. Magruder, Pierre G. T. Beauregard and Joseph L. Brent.  It is included here to show Brent with some professional soldiers that may have out-ranked him, but in whose company he had every right to be included.


There was resentment over Brent’s support for the Confederacy, which he felt precluded him from returning to California.  He did tell others including his young nephew, Edward Lancaster Watkins about the opportunities that could be seized out there and the men who could be of assistance in the quest for those opportunities.




Benjamin D. Wilson


 In the advice given by Brent to his young nephew were suggestions that among those he should seek out was Benjamin D. Wilson (1811-1878).  The career of this remarkable pioneer merits a more detailed examination.  “Don Benito” had arrived in the little Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula in 1841 in the famous Workman-Rowland party of 25 men, as the first large group of Anglo immigrants to enter this area.


The colorful history of his first thirty years includes being orphaned at age eight in Tennessee.  By the time he was 15, he had a business trading with the Indians near Yazoo City, Mississippi.  His health broke down in that climate and a doctor told him to leave or die.  He traveled to Missouri where he joined a fur trading company partially owned by Jedediah Smith. In 1835, after Smith’s death, he had his own fur trapping company in Santa Fe.  This was the end of the era of the mountain men personified by people like Smith and Jeremiah Johnson.  The fur bearing animals were disappearing and the fashion tastes that made the furs valuable had changed.  The remaining mountain men were pushed further west.  Wilson’s plans were to go all the way to China, as he came to Los Angeles for a sojourn.  His stopover turned out to be permanent.  He became interested in buying land.  A life-long Episcopalian, Wilson declined the necessary conversion to Roman Catholicism and refused to renounce his American citizenship.  This meant that he was not allowed to own property inside the boundaries of the Mexican pueblo.  He had to go outside its borders if he was to own land. Within two years, he owned the 3000 acres of Rancho Jarupa, in what is now the city of Riverside.


Wilson’s property now adjoined the great Rancho Santa Ana of Bernardo Yorba and brought him into contact with that family.  It wasn’t very long before Don Benito fell in love with Bernardo’s fourth child, the lovely Ramona.  She was only 16 when she married Wilson at San Gabriel Mission in 1844.  A little over ten months later, Ramona gave birth to a daughter whom she and her husband named Maria de Jesus after Ramona’s mother who had died two days after her birth.  She was nicknamed “Sue” or “Lublub.”  The couple had one more child, a son, John, before Ramona’s untimely death at age 21.


At the time of John Wilson’s birth the war between Mexico and the United States broke out.  Don Benito was given a commission as a lieutenant in the American Army.  He was captured by the Mexicans during the Battle of Chino and narrowly escaped a firing squad.  He actually was rescued later from a military prison in Los Angeles by a group of prominent friends.


The end of the war in February 1848 meant that Don Benito was no longer precluded from being a landowner in Los Angeles, since he was on the winning side that now largely made the rules.  He sold Rancho Jurupa, moved to Los Angeles, and became instrumental in the organization of both the county and the city of Los Angeles.  In the county’s charter election in 1850, he was elected chief clerk, which was the chief administrative officer. At this time the county of Los Angeles included Orange County and parts of San Bernardino and Kern Counties.  That vast area, however, only had 3500 people living in it.  In the city’s charter election in 1851, he was the first elected mayor of Los Angeles, population 1610.  In 1852 President Millard Fillmore appointed him Indian Agent for Southern California.


In his personal life, Don Benito retained the services of a recently widowed Margaret Hereford to act as governess for his two children.  Inevitably a relationship developed between the two and they were married in early 1853 in a San Jose Protestant ceremony.  This union produced three girls: Margaret (“Little Maggie” 1854-1857), who was carried away by diphtheria at age three, Anne (1858-1931) and Ruth (1861-1928), who would become the mother of General George Patton, Jr.


Wilson was now busy in politics and was elected to the first of two separate terms as State Senator in 1855.  He found himself in a rather lawless and violent time in the life of Los Angeles, which was of great concern to his new wife.  He decided to sell their home at Macy and Alameda streets and in 1854 bought the 200-acre Huerta de Cuate ranch near the San Gabriel Mission from the widow of Hugo Reid.  This became his Lake Vineyard Ranch, named from the body of water then situated where Lacy Park exists today in present-day San Marino.  This body of water, also referred to as “Wilson’s Lake,” had been the principal water source for San Gabriel Mission.  At Lake Vineyard Ranch Wilson raised marvelous vines that produced widely renowned and profitable wines. A lively state of competition developed among neighbors such as L. J. Rose and his “Sunny Slope” vineyard.


In January 1859, Don Benito acquired the 14,000 acres of Rancho San Pasqual for $1800 from Manuel Garfias.  A few months later he transferred an undivided half interest to his business associate, Dr. John S. Griffin.  This land was bounded on the west by the bluffs of the Arroyo Seco, on the east by Rancho Santa Anita, on the north by the mountains and on the south by the range of hills “near the road to Los Angeles.”  This included what are now Pasadena and Altadena.  Excluded from this were some 800 acres transferred to Joseph L. Brent to cover the costs of defending Garfias in the suit to confirm his American title to the grant.  This was later known as the Marengo Tract and included what is now largely South Pasadena.


In 1864, Wilson personally blazed a trail up to the summit of the mountain that would get his name.  He did this to get a supply of wood for wine and brandy barrels.  They brought the wood down by burro train, only to discover that it was unsuitable for wine barrels and had to be turned to other uses, such as orange crates and fence slats.


In 1868, Wilson donated land on which the Rev. Henry Messenger would build the Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel.  The church would take until 1872 to be completed.  The Wilsons provided a lot of assistance to the building, including letting Messenger live with them for a time.  They also provided the excellent fired bricks that have stood the test of time, with the result that this church is the oldest Protestant church in continuous service in California.  It would ultimately serve as the final resting place of many of the early Protestant pioneers, including the Wilsons, the Pattons and my own step-grandparents, the James Howards.


Don Benito was becoming increasingly troubled by the descent into alcoholism of his son John.  The young man had been seized by a habit that was more and more controlling his life to the great distress of his family.  In the midst of this, Wilson was being reluctantly recalled to political duty in response to the recognized need to get Los Angeles a harbor and a railroad connection. This would provide commercial access without dependence on San Francisco’s harbor monopoly and the Central Pacific Railroad’s approaching transcontinental connection with the East. A direct southern route would allow Southern California to really grow.  He followed his duty into a second run for the State Senate in 1869.  Winning that race would require that he take leave of his beloved Lake Vineyard.  He needed someone to manage it for him in his absence.  His daughter, Sue, was married and living in San Francisco.  She was homesick for the San Gabriel Valley.  It was worked out that her husband, J De Barth Shorb, would liquidate his wine business and return to Lake Vineyard to manage it for his father-in-law in September 1869.  That same month Don Benito was elected to a State Senate that was again firmly controlled by a Democrat majority.  This was the real beginning of the successful business collaboration between Wilson and Shorb that would prove beneficial for not only the two men, but for the entire Southland.


Relieved of his more domestic responsibilities, Don Benito could commit himself to the trials of absences in Sacramento and Washington that would be required to get the Los Angeles area its harbor and its railroad connection.  In September 1870 Wilson, at his own expense, left on an extended trip to the East combining personal and political business.  On the personal side he had a visit with his older brother and a chance to meet old friend J. L. Brent in Baltimore.  On December 3rd Don Benito’s only son, John committed suicide in a hotel room, finally quieting the demons of alcohol and depression that he could not control.  He was only 24.  His father didn’t learn about it for almost a month.  He wanted to go home to mourn his unfortunate son, but decided to honor his commitments to family, friends and constituents and press his efforts for the railroad and harbor.


In late January 1871, Phineas Banning joined Don Benito in Washington, D. C., to help in their joint interest in getting the harbor and railroad connection.  Wilson was indefatigable in committee meetings, lobbying and testimony to press the case for Southern California.  The efforts of him and his colleagues was finally crowned with success on March 2, 1871 when a appropriation bill was passed making Wilmington a “Port of Delivery,” with $200,000 voted for improvement of the harbor.  The Southern Pacific Bill also passed providing for a grant of public lands to enable the Southern Pacific connection with the Texas and Pacific Railroad to occur at the Colorado River “via Los Angeles.”  Although Wilson would not live to see either project completed, he was content with the sure knowledge that the Southland would be freed of dominance by the north.  He could now leave elective public office behind, his duty discharged.


Although he returned to his Lake Vineyard Ranch, things had changed.  There was the cloud of John’s suicide.  The house was now crowded with the Shorbs living there with their four children.  Wilson decided to move to Wilmington with his family to be closer to the harbor improvement project.  His new home was on property that adjoined the Banning property.  His partnership with Shorb was cemented in a formal partnership document for B. D. Wilson and Co. in early 1873.   Those two, along with Phineas Banning incorporated the Southern California Cooperative Warehouse and Shipping Assn. to warehouse freight for the harbor.


During this last era of his life, Wilson’s attentions were directed toward the harbor project, real estate development in the Wilmington area, and a school, Wilson College, which he had endowed with land and buildings on the abandoned U. S. Army base, named Drum Barracks.  Both Ruth and Ann Wilson attended the school.  He also still was involved in political and legislative matters, being proposed for the U. S. Senate nomination in 1875.




J. De Barth Shorb


Wilson’s great collaborator and son-in-law, James De Barth Shorb (1841-1896) was born in a distinguished Maryland family in Emmitsburg.  His father was a much-admired physician; Dr. James A. Shorb (1798-1867) and his mother the former Margaret McMeal (1801-1873). This couple would be my great-great-great-grandparents.  Shorb studied and had graduated from nearby Mount St. Mary’s College in 1859.  He had studied law in Baltimore after graduation.  I’m unaware of any role he took in the Civil War, although it appears he had southern sympathies, despite the fact he had two brothers serving in the Union Army.  His family witnessed the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s army after the Battle of Gettysburg with its almost endless train of wagons conveying the wounded toward the Potomac River and safety.  It was apparent that the Confederate cause was lost although the war would drag on for another year and nine months.  Shorb decided to go to California where his brother Joseph was a Union Army doctor.  He took a ship out of New York on December 24, 1863 and arrived in San Francisco about four weeks later.


In the latter part of 1864, there was what proved to be a premature oil rush in Southern California.  The Philadelphia and California Petroleum Co. was formed and bought up large portions of what is now Ventura County.  Shorb threw in with a group of former Marylanders in this company and was hired as the assistant superintendent and chief clerk.  He sailed down to San Buenaventura and trekked inland about 30 miles where the site was set up for California’s first oil well.  The venture was unsuccessful due to the fact that the technology of the day just didn’t permit drilling deep enough.  The oil was right there, as would be proven in due time.  However, Shorb did make acquaintance with the owner of the adjacent rancho, Ygnacio del Valle (1808-1880).  His Rancho San Francisco was the subject of a lengthy court contest by the Carrillo family that extended from 1846-1857 and was finally upheld through the skillful efforts of the energetic Joseph Lancaster Brent.  During their many happy chats, del Valle told young Shorb about his greatly admired friend Don Benito Wilson and his lovely daughter Sue.


On December 12, 1865, Shorb traveled to Los Angeles for the first time and made a call on Wilson at the Lake Vineyard ranch.  He was introduced to Sue and they were quite taken with each other.  He proposed in good time and was accepted.  On June 4, 1867 Shorb and Maria de Jesus Wilson were married in a Catholic ceremony at San Gabriel Mission.  The couple then stayed at the del Valle rancho before they went on to San Francisco to live.  In December Shorb entered a partnership with another man under the name B. D. Wilson & Co. as wine merchants, apparently without clearing the use of his name with his new father-in-law.  This turned into a source of some tension with Wilson when the latter heard that he might be liable for the debts of this business.  This concern was eliminated when the name of the business was changed to “Lake Vineyard Wine Co.” in 1869.


Don Benito had long told Sue that she could have land for her home in her own name.  At the time of the concerns over the business name, she asked him to redeem his promise.  This was 550 acres above and to the east of Lake Vineyard.  She asked for, and he gave her a deed to the property in her own name. This would now be known as “Sue’s Place."


As we have seen, the Shorbs moved back to Southern California later in 1869 and took up residence in Wilson’s ranch house which was located about where Euston Road and Patton Way now intersect in the present.  The families lived under the same roof for sometime until Don Benito took up residence near Phineas Banning in Wilmington in about 1873.


Lake Vineyard Ranch still belonged to the Wilson family and the house became rather crowded when they came for visits.  In 1877 there were now five Shorb children and J. De Barth wanted someplace they could call their own.  In 1877 Shorb laid the foundations for a Victorian style house on the ridge of “Sue’s Place.” It started out with two stories and a large veranda porch that looked South toward Wilmington where he could see vessels anchored in the harbor with Catalina Island beyond.  He named the new house “San Marino,” after his birthplace in Maryland.  Within ten years, Shorb added a third story to the house.  By this time, although the Shorbs had lost two children in infancy, they had six surviving youngsters with Ethel’s birth in 1880. 


Shorb remained very active in Democrat politics, vying with his neighbors, L. J. Rose and Gen. George Stoneman in such matters.  He also had an active rivalry with both these gentlemen as vintners, which helped to season the political disagreements.




Although Wilson and Shorb are esteemed as men of vision, their vision was not that of the city and surrounding area that we see today.  These men envisioned a pastoral vista filled with ranches, vineyards, orchards and comfortable houses.  They recognized the need for water, but they were convinced that the overweening need was for a way to get the bounty of this land out and the new inhabitants in for the subdivisions that the two men planned. There was also the practicality of building on the quality of the product of their vineyards and orchards.



Phineas Banning


The tale of the development of the harbor for Los Angeles is a lengthy one that centers on the person of Phineas Banning, often called “the Father of the Harbor.” He was born in 1830 in Wilmington Delaware, the ninth of eleven children.  He left home at thirteen to clerk at his brother’s law firm.  After eight years he went out on his own accompanying a new employer and a shipment of goods for the pueblo of Los Angeles.  The ship left Philadelphia and sailed to Panama.  They offloaded at the isthmus to trek across it and board a second vessel on the other side. Unfortunately, Banning’s employer came down with fever there and succumbed to it.  Phineas continued the trip alone and penniless. He arrived at the so-called port of San Pedro in 1851.  The harbor facilities consisted of a shack and a short dock owned by the Sepulveda family.  The waters in front of this wharf were very shallow and quite unsuitable for the docking of oceangoing ships.  These were required to anchor a mile or more out to sea, with passengers and freight having to be landed by small boats called “lighters.” This was dangerous, inefficient and expensive.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs was then compounded by the fact that there really was no efficient way to get goods and passengers to Los Angeles, 22 miles to the north.  Banning was a barrel-chested, sturdy young man and he took a job driving a mule team for a small concern called Douglas & Sanford, running back and forth to Los Angeles, which then boasted a population of 1600.  Before long, George Alexander took on Banning as a partner in his freight hauling business.  By 1854 they had 500 mules, 40 wagons and had added 15 stagecoaches to the business. They achieved success and expanded the business throughout the Southland and even as far as Mormon Salt Lake City and Santa Fe.  Phineas Banning  had become an important and compelling personality in Los Angeles at less than 25 years of age.


When a storm wiped out his landing at San Pedro, Banning got Don Benito, Shorb and three associates to put up the capital to purchase 2400 acres of mudflats north of San Pedro for a new port facility which was first called New San Pedro.  He later renamed the village that sprung up Wilmington, after his hometown.  It was six miles closer to Los Angeles, albeit up a muddy slough.


As the nation moved toward secession and war, it was recognized that the Los Angeles area was a hotbed of southern sympathizers.  It was decided in 1859 to set up a military garrison here to maintain control.  Banning was an ardent Unionist.  He and Wilson sold the land to the government for a dollar at Wilmington.  The facility was called Drum Barracks and a part of it still exists today as the lone example of a Civil War building in Southern California. Banning, of course, took on the job of supplying the Army garrison.

Banning’s contributions and loyalties were recognized when he was appointed a brigadier general in the California National Guard in 1872.  Although he equipped himself with a full staff, the Fourth Brigade existed otherwise only on paper.  He was thereafter customarily referred to as “General.”  In fact, he seems to have been somewhat vain about the title, as he insisted he be so addressed the rest of his life.


Banning saw that a railroad line was the best way to do the job of supplying the garrison and helping his own economic situation.  In 1865, Banning successfully ran for the State Senate and there pushed through legislation authorizing a railroad from the harbor landings to Los Angeles.  Banning and Wilson set out to build it - the Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad, all 22.25 miles of roadbed.  It was put into operation, as the first railroad in Southern California, in 1868 with the arrival of a small locomotive, the misspelled “Los Angelos,” that succeeded the little puffer named “San Gabriel.” The line still wasn’t finished, however, and it wasn’t until September 7, 1869 that it reached the terminal at the southwest corner of Alameda and Commercial streets.  Not surprisingly, its terminus was Wilmington, not San Pedro.


At this point the little railroad became a pawn in the power game to get Los Angeles the railroad connection with the rest of the nation.  As we have seen, the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 with the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point Utah.  Northern California now enjoyed access to the vast markets in the East.  How and when would the southern part of the state have such access?  Would it be Los Angeles or San Diego with its natural harbor?


The Texas and Pacific R. R. Co. was slowly building track west from El Paso, intending to ultimately connect with San Francisco.  The connection was to be accomplished by Charles Crocker’s Southern Pacific Railroad at the Colorado River.  The big question was the route this connecting line would take.  Wilson and Banning were determined that the line would not take the shortest route, but must go by way of Los Angeles.  What would it take to get the SP to do that?  In the negotiations with the Southern Pacific, Crocker wanted a payment equal to 5% of the total assessed value of all property in the county.  The price was a heavy one, but the promise of a rail connection was life itself for the community and so it was paid, and it included the franchise of the San Pedro and Los Angeles Railroad Co. which went under the aegis of the SP on December 18, 1874.  The new owners eventually extended the tracks to San Pedro, which allowed it to reclaim its ascendancy over Wilmington.

Banning built a beautiful Greek Revival home in Wilmington for his family in 1864.  The 23 room home is now a beautifully maintained museum on the 20 acres of Banning Park.  The General’s first wife was the former Rebecca Sanford, the sister of his first employer in Los Angeles.  Before she died of the complications of another childbirth, the couple had eight children of whom three boys survived childhood, William, Joseph and Hancock.  It should be noted that the middle youngster was named after Joseph Lancaster Brent.  He and his brothers later bought Santa Catalina Island and developed a tourist industry on the island.


After some years as a widower, Banning married for a second time, this time to Miss Mary Hollister.  She bore him three girls, two of whom survived childhood.  By all accounts Banning’s family life was happy and fulfilling for him.


Following Wilson’s and Banning’s successful efforts in Washington to have monies appropriated for the dredging of the harbor in 1871, work on the improvement proceeded.  By the beginning of 1874, a channel had been dredged that was 4 miles long, 45 feet wide and had a depth of 20 feet at low tide.  At the same time, the length of the first rock breakwater had extended a distance of 6700 feet.  Ocean-going vessels could now enter and tie up at wharves to unload cargoes at the trains.  Nonetheless the project was far from fulfilling the dreams of Wilson, Shorb and Banning.


In March 1885 Phineas Banning was visiting San Francisco on business when he was tragically run down by an express wagon.  It would be left to others to see the harbor project to a conclusion after overcoming more obstacles, natural and political.


The project actually wouldn’t be finished until 1912.  By that time, the original trio of dreamers, Wilson, Shorb and Banning would be gone.  But this project that they had the vision, energy and persistence to put in motion had its own momentum.  A scheme by a new Southern Pacific Railroad Co. president, Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900) to turn Santa Monica into the port had to be weathered, and was, with the assistance of Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), publisher of The Los Angeles Times and Sen. Stephen M. White (1853-1901).  In 1899 Congress voted the money for a new San Pedro breakwater rather than the one that would have benefited the Southern Pacific off Santa Monica.  The mile-long pier built by the railroad into Santa Monica Bay and called “Port Los Angeles” was abandoned and demolished.


At last the completion of the first phase of the new outer breakwater and the annexation of San Pedro and Wilmington into the city limits in 1909 assured that Los Angeles would be a major port city itself.  This was a deep-water facility that would eventually eclipse the importance of a San Francisco that had so long treated the southern city as a poor stepchild.  Los Angeles would be poised to step completely out of the shadow of her northern neighbor.


But thirty-seven years before that point could be reached, the original trio of visionaries assembled the instruments to transform the dreams into a reality.  Among the tools was the young man who came here at the urging of his uncle, Joseph L. Brent - E. L. Watkins.



Edward Lancaster Watkins


On his gravestone at Mission San Gabriel, E. L. Watkins’ year of birth is given as 1848.  Actually he was born two years before that since we know his father died in 1846.  He was the only child of William Henry Watkins (1804-1846) and Mary Brent (1817-1889).  Mary, as we have seen was the sister of the remarkable lawyer-soldier Joseph Lancaster Brent.  I have not been able out find out that much about her, other than that she was born in St. Martinsville Louisiana and died in New Orleans. William Watkins died the year the War with Mexico broke out.  The family was living in Macon Georgia when E. L. was born and William died.


We know that William’s parents were Tobias Watkins (1780-1855) and the former Mary Simpson (1783-1852).  Although they lived and passed away in the national capital, originally they had come from a county to its east.  Anne Arundel County contains the state capital, Annapolis.  The Watkins family can trace its roots in that county in a line back to Frances Watkins who was born there in 1621.  She married John Watkins who was one of the three sons of Thomas Watkins to come here from Wales.  Frances, whose maiden name has not come down to us, would have been among the first European-Americans born here following the founding of Jamestown in 1607.


When the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, Frances and John Watkins’ great-great-great-great-great-grandson, E. L., was 15 years old.  He had been born in Macon Georgia, but it appears that he and his mother returned to her home state after the death of his father.  I have found no record of E. L. Watkins having served in the Civil War; perhaps he was too young.  We can infer he had Southern sympathies.


Although some family lore has E. L. arriving in Los Angeles as early as 1867, that appears to be improbable because of his age at that point and the likely need of his widowed mother in a South prostrated in defeat. A confirmation of a later arrival is found in a story in the L. A. Star on May 23, 1875 that a nephew of Gen. J. Lancaster Brent, Edward L. Watkins had come to town:


“Watkins comes from New Orleans to make his home here.  He is a young gentleman of education and business training, but nothing at present being offered.  He has gone to work for Col. Wilson out at Lake Vineyard.  Instead of waiting for the iron to get hot before he strikes, he is going to make it hot by striking.  This is the kind of pluck that is certain to win.”


E. L.’s pluck was to earn him responsible positions in the harbor project, transportation, mining and winemaking. He initially proved himself to his employers with hard work on the harbor project.  When Banning became quite ill for 18 days with a fever, it was E. L. who stayed by his side until the danger passed.  He was also on close terms with Don Benito who had moved from Lake Vineyard to a new dwelling in Wilmington in 1873.  This move was partly to allow him to be closer to the harbor project, but it also served as a change of scenery from the sad associations with John’s suicide.

In March 1878, Don Benito was visiting at Lake Vineyard when he took ill during a walk with E. L.  Later that night, he seemed to become a good deal more ill.  Sue Shorb was summoned and came accompanied by E. L. early in the morning to see her father.  They tried to make the sick man as comfortable as they could without much success.  He finally went to sleep with Watkins sitting by him.  He passed away peacefully in that sleep on the morning of March 11th.  He was 66 years old.


Wilson’s funeral and burial at the Church of Our Saviour was thought to have the largest attendance of any yet held in Los Angeles.  The pallbearers had the names of the great families from the pioneer period of Souithern California: Pio Pico, Leonard J. Rose, Ygnacio Sepulveda, David Alexander, Volney Howard, Luther H. Titus, Senator Antonio Coronel and Henry Hamilton.


J. De Barth Shorb now fully succeeded to the position and responsibilities left by his father-in-law.  Watkins became much more involved in the improvement of the winery business.   Starting in 1881 Shorb initiated design work for a complement to the vineyards about which he was rightly proud.  In 1883, he had completed construction of the world’s largest winery complex with a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons.  The business was named the San Gabriel Wine Company with Shorb as its president and E. L. Watkins as its vice-president and superintendent.


Shorb introduced E. L. Watkins to his visiting niece, Mary Margaret Stone (1851-1901) from St. Mary’s County Maryland.  Her father was Francis J. Stone (1826-1889) and her mother was J. De Barth Shorb’s older sister Maria Francinia (1826-1892).  The Stones of Maryland were and old and very distinguished family.  Mary and E. L. were married June 14, 1882 at San Gabriel Mission.  This marked the beginning of a close association of the Watkins family with the Mission.  


E. L. and the new Mrs. Watkins made their home at what became 34 South Granada Ave. in Alhambra.  They would both live here the rest of their lives.  This community was a subdivision created in 1871 by Shorb on 1000 acres of Don Benito’s land to the Southwest of Lake Vineyard and named at the suggestion of Ruth Wilson.  It was the first development in which water was piped in through iron pipes rather than ditches, a J. De Barth Shorb innovation.  The lots were sized at 5 to 10 acres.   E. L. came to this community seeking country living, far removed from the bustle of the city.  Eventually the city came and surrounded him.


A horse railway, the Alhambra & Ramona Street Railroad Co. was incorporated on June 2, 1887 to run along Shorb Ave. and Boabdel to the schoolhouse.  It then proceeded west on Mission to the Southern Pacific depot, a distance of two miles.  Directors included both Shorb and Watkins.


In 1889 there was a modest gold and silver strike in the Sierras in which Shorb had an interest.  The Mojave Mining and Milling Co. was incorporated with Watkins, again, as one of its directors.  Unfortunately the metal strike there was rather modest.


The thriving wine industry was devastated by a mysterious blight that destroyed the vines and ultimately resulted in the industry moving north to counties such as Napa and Sonoma.  The buildings of the San Gabriel Wine Co. were sold in 1903 to Alfred Dolge who had the financial backing of a newcomer, Henry E. Huntington.  Huntington was anxious to support the growth of industry to attract more immigration.  Dolge was brought here to set up felt manufacturing business and a model industrial town in a 20-acre area set aside for this.  The felt business was not very successful, but it endured for many years as the Standard Felt Co. in the old wine storage facility.  The subdivision called “Dolgeville,” did not work out as intended and became a shantytown.  It was finally incorporated into the city of Alhambra in 1908.  Other industry was attracted, however, and there were purchasers for many of the modest-sized single family residential lots in Alhambra.


E. L. and Mary produced four offspring, the eldest of whom was Edward Francis, usually called “Frank.”  He had a brother, William, who fought and was disabled by poison gas in the First World War.  Of their two sisters only one, Brent, had any children.  His name was Bob North and he would be my mother’s only first cousin.   The other sister, Mary, was involved in some sort of scandal related to a homicide charge in the death of a lover.  She was acquitted in a criminal trial, but left this country and moved to Bolivia after marrying W. A. Pickwood.


Mary Stone Watkins passed away in 1901 and was buried at the Mission.  Her husband continued to live in the Alhambra house until his own passing at the age of 73 in August 1919.  He was buried alongside his wife at the same cemetery under a simple flat marker.  He had seen the transition from the ranchos to the burgeoning metropolis.  He was there when the influence passed from the Wilsons and the Shorbs to the new power of a nephew of Collis P. Huntington who sold his interest in the Southern Pacific Railroad and concentrated on the development of the Los Angeles area.  This man would accomplish his vision by the acquisition of large tracts of undeveloped land and the building of a vast interurban electric railway system to provide the access to that land.  He was also responsible for the development and consolidation of the sources of the electricity necessary to power the rail system and light Southern California.  His name was Henry E. Huntington.



Henry Edwards Huntington



(Go into HEH and then connect him to GCW and then the story of EFW and LWW)





George C. Ward


My mother’s maternal grandfather was the son of James Ward (1826-1908) and Elizabeth Ennis (1846-1928).  George Clinton Ward was born January 9, 1863 during the Civil War in a staunchly Unionist family in Westchester County, New York.  His father James was a railroad conductor and farmer.  He, in turn, was the son of another set of my great-great-great-grandparents, James Ward (1796-1885) and Ann Banta (1800-1878).  He was the grandson of Col. Peter Ward (1755-1812) and Nancy Mead (1760-1806).  When George was a small child he moved with his parents to Boonville New York in the northwestern part of the state.  He graduated from Boonville’s Union School and then attended Andover College where he took the course in civil engineering.  He then studied civil engineering under his uncle, John M. Whipple.


Ward’s qualities as a fine civil engineer were soon recognized and he was appointed superintendent of the Black River Canal.  In his adopted community, his qualities were recognized by his election as a town supervisor.


On September 15, 1886 he married Katherine Louise Schweinsberg who was described in the newspaper story of the wedding:


“The bride is a lovely young lady, of rare musical ability and for some time has been a member of the Presbyterian Church choir…”


The couple was still living in Boonville when their only child, a daughter, Louise Whipple, was born March 18, 1890.  Ward came to the attention of railroad and shipbuilding baron, Collis P. Huntington whom we earlier saw trying to promote Port Los Angeles at Santa Monica.  He hired Ward to be the chief engineer of his Raquette Lake Railroad in the Adirondack Mountains.  The family moved to Utica so George could perform his duties there.


In 1900, Collis lay dying at Raquette Lake.  He told his nephew and protégé, Henry E. Huntington, “Stick to Ward; you can trust him.”  He died shortly thereafter on August 13, 1900.


After Collis Huntington’s death, his nephew took his mentor’s advice and hired Ward as the Superintendent of his London Water Works in Washington Courthouse, Ohio.  The Ward family moved there in 1902.


In 1905, Huntington lured Ward to California with the promise of a better job, assistant general manager of Huntington Land and Improvement Co (HL&I).  This company was the main vehicle for all of Huntington’s vast land development and transportation activities.  Ward also was assigned the job of buying right of ways for the expanding street railways.  The trackage expanded from less than 100 miles in 1900 to almost a thousand miles ten years later.


In 1908, Huntington selected Ward to oversee his newly incorporated San Gabriel Valley Water Company whose purpose was to provide water for the new subdivisions being opened by its parent company HL&I.  In 1910 Ward succeeded George S. Patton, Sr. as general manager of HL&I.


Also in 1910, Huntington incorporated Pacific Light and Power Company (PL&P) to replace an earlier company of the same name.  This reorganization was carried out for the purpose of acquiring the capital to go forward with one of the world’s greatest engineering feats-the massive Big Creek hydroelectric project.  George Ward was put in charge of this immense undertaking as Director of Construction.  He was also installed as Executive Vice-President of PL&P.


The design that had been proposed for the project sought to make the maximum use of a 4000 foot drop that the Big Creek River makes over a distance of 6 miles before it empties into the San Joaquin River 40 miles northeast of Fresno.   Because of the immediate need that PL&P had for the generating capacity, speed of the construction was paramount.  This meant that a railroad to haul the work crews and all the materials and equipment had to be built to the construction site.  This was done from a junction with the Southern Pacific midway between Clovis and Friant to the site of what was to be called Powerhouse No. 1 at Cascada (renamed in 1926, “Big Creek”).  This was a mainline distance of 55.92 miles over very steep and winding terrain.  The independent railroad set for this purpose after construction had begun was named the San Joaquin & Eastern Railroad and George Ward was its president.  Given the obstacles of terrain that were faced and overcome by Ward’s crews, it is amazing that the line was built in its entirety between February 2 and July 10, 1912.


With the railroad complete, work on the hydroelectric project itself could proceed in earnest.  The plan was to construct 3 concrete dams to close off egress of the water from the basin.  This would create a reservoir or artificial lake.  The water would then be taken from the lake by steel pipes and a tunnel to a height of 2100 feet above Powerhouse No. 1.  There it was taken through a pair of Krupp steel penstocks to the powerful Pelton waterwheels, which in turn operated two 23,500 h.p. electrical generators.  Water leaving this powerhouse was diverted by a fourth concrete dam into a four-mile tunnel to another set of penstocks 1860 feet above Powerhouse No. 2 with identical waterwheels and generators.


The power generated by this unprecedented equipment was then to be sent to the Eagle Rock Substation of PL&P via 241 miles of two three wire aluminum circuits, supported on separate, but parallel, lines of steel towers.  These lines were to be operated at the record high “pressure” of 150,000 volts in order to transmit the 40,000 (later 60,000) kilowatts of electricity into the PL&P system.


Construction and financial problems delayed the intended completion of the project in July 1913.  However, in November there was a boiler room flooding at the PL&P Redondo Steam Generating Plant that slowed the supply of electricity.  To address this emergency, power from one of the Powerhouse No. 1 generators was sent out over the untested transmission lines and provided the missing power to the Pacific Electric system about one hour after the crisis arose.  Before the end of December the other three generators at Big Creek were on line and the power generation capability of PL&P was more than doubled.  It was truly a startling accomplishment in its time, but something that could not be done today in the current regulatory and environmental climate.

Even this was not enough to satisfy the burgeoning need more electrical power for the Los Angeles area.  Plans were entertained to further develop and exploit the potential of Big Creek.  It was to fall to a new organization to carry out the expansion, however. 


In 1914 before that could occur, Ward was tapped by Huntington to carry out negotiations for the purchase by PL&P of Ventura County Power Company as an additional outlet for Big Creek power.  New power lines were strung from the PL&P substation in San Fernando through Chatsworth, Santa Susana, Moorpark and the Simi Valley to Saticoy.


On May 26, 1917 the great merger of PL&P and Southern California Edison occurred after lengthy negotiations that started in 1915.  Edison’s President, John B. Miller, remained as president of the new organization, but many PL&P executives assumed responsible positions.  George Ward became Edison's Vice President of Construction.  Henry Huntington became Edison’s largest shareholder with 38% of the stock.


Just a few weeks before the merger was finalized, the first enlargement of the working capacity of big Creek had begun by raising the heights of the original dams in April 1917.  By raising the dams by 35 feet each, and building a fourth dam, the capacity of the lake, now named Huntington Lake, was to be doubled.


This was just to be the beginning of the enlargement plans.  The new work called for construction of three more powerhouses, as well as the enlargement of the first two.  The crown jewel of the great expansion was the drilling of a 13.5-mile water tunnel to divert water from the south fork of the San Jaoquin River under Kaiser Ridge into Huntington Lake.  This water would come from a reservoir created behind a new multiple-arch dam at Florence Meadows.


The digging of the tunnel was carried out at six headings using three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week.  The crews competed with one another to excavate the greatest distance with each other and with the European crews digging the Simplon Tunnel under the Alps.  The final linkup was accomplished on February 8, 1925, almost two years ahead of schedule.  The work was originally named the Florence Tunnel.  It had a carrying capacity about five times greater than the Los Angeles-Owens River Aqueduct.  In 1936, the tunnel was renamed with this inscription:


















LENGTH 67,620 Feet




The great expansion of the Big Creek Project was essentially completed by 1929.  At that point the powerhouses could produce some 360,000 kilowatts of power.  In order to carry that additional power the transmission lines’ voltage was raised from 150,000 volts to 220,000 volts without any interruption of service.


Today Big Creek generates more hydroelectric power than the more famous Hoover Dam.  Through upgrades and further expansion, it now consists of 7 components of which 6 are power generating with nine powerhouses and 23 generators.  The total capacity has been raised to 1,014,900 kilowatts.


George Ward also headed up the urgent project to increase the generating capacity of Edison’s Long Beach Steam Plant.  This project was given this high priority due to a serious drought that had cut the hydroelectric generating capacity by early 1924.  In a precursor to the twenty-first century, there were state-ordered conservation rules in effect for some 144 days.  There was, of course, a lot of attention being paid to the progress at Big Creek, but there was also public interest in the building of Plant No. 2 at Long Beach.  This was to be the first modern high-pressure steam plant on the West Coast.  Construction began on January 15, 1924 and was finished in an unprecedented 303 days.  The 77,000-kilowatt plant ironically went on line four days after the water and power shortages were declared over.


A lesson was learned by Edison and it went forward with further expansion of the Long Beach Steam Plant.  Plant No. 2 received a third turbo-generator and Plant No. 3 was built.  Total output for the eleven generators at Long Beach was upped to 419,000-kilowatts, which then made it the biggest power resource on the system.


In the early twenties, George Ward was in charge of a survey of the Colorado River to survey it and locate potential dam sites for a potential development of that waterway as a hydroelectric system.  He identified the future locations for both the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams.  Edison of course was not involved in the development of the Colorado River project, which was built by the federal government during the height of the Great Depression.


There was one other Edison project that George Ward would be responsible for building and is worthy of note.  Consistent with the phenomenal growth of the Southland, Southern California Edison had grown so much, it needed a larger headquarters.  It was the height of the Great Depression when the company laid the cornerstone on June 5, 1930 for the world’s first all-electric building. The fully air-conditioned building at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue was completed on March 30, 1931 in time for a gala celebration coinciding with the 35th Annual Stockholders Meeting.  Ultimately the further growth of Edison’s service area would lead to another move and the sale of this remarkable building.  It now serves as a Mellon Bank headquarters and office building.  It is dwarfed by the skyscrapers that now mark downtown Los Angeles.


On August 24, 1932 George Ward became Edison’s President at the age of 69.  Tragically, after only a little more than one year in office, he slipped and fell on the polished terrazzo floor of the new Edison headquarters building, breaking his hip.  Pneumonia resulted and he died at the age of 70 on September 11, 1933.  The naming of a mountain near Lake Huntington for him, as well as a lake and the Ward Tunnel posthumously honored his accomplishments.

My great-grandmother Ward survived her husband by 16 years and continued to reside at their home at 1711 South Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena.  Although not evident in the photograph I have here of her, she has been described to me as someone who had a sharp sense of humor. She was quite a small woman who was chauffeured around in a Cadillac automobile.  She had a pet parrot, “Polly,” whose care passed on to my grandmother when “Mamaw” passed away at the age of 83 in 1949.  She now rests beside her husband in a crypt in the main mausoleum at Forest Lawn, Glendale.




Edward Francis Watkins


Edward Francis (“Frank”) Watkins was born March 25, 1883, nine months and eleven days after his parents’ marriage at the Old Mission. He was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith at the San Gabriel Mission on May 14, 1883.  He grew up in the valley named for the Mission that would prove a central anchor in his life.  He was two years older than his cousin Georgie Patton. As youngsters, the cousins used to ride their ponies to school through the orange groves whacking away at the ripening fruit with wooden swords. It is believed that on one of these forays, Frank sustained a fall and suffered an unsuspected injury that cost him a kidney and eventually shortened his life.


 As a young man, Frank aspired to be a Catholic priest.  He attended college at Santa Clara.  After completing his undergraduate work, he entered the seminary there.  The premature death of his mother and financial difficulties of the family caused him to abandon his studies to come home and earn money for the family.


Frank Watkins was the manager of the Golden State Fruit Company.  The 1905 Alhambra City Directory shows that he was Superintendent of the Alhambra Water Department.  This was part of Lake Vineyard Land & Water Co.  San Gabriel Valley Water Co. acquired it in 1907.  We have already seen that Henry E. Huntington acquired SGVW the following year.


Undoubtedly through the efforts of his father-in-law, Frank Watkins joined the Construction Department of Southern California Edison in 1923.  In 1927 he became Edison’s Manager of Purchases.  He remained in this position for the rest of his life.  At about the time he took on this position, his wife entered public life.  He accepted this departure from society’s usual norms with great grace.


Frank was a devout and active Catholic layman, serving as the Treasurer of the San Gabriel Mission.  My grandfather died before I was two years old, so I didn’t really know him other than as a tall, austere man in old black and white photographs.  He appeared to be very much loved by his children, particularly my mother, whom he lovingly called “Bella.”  He spoke fluent Spanish and was president of the Spanish-American Society that included many of the great Hispanic names from California’s past and met in Los Angeles, to memorialize and celebrate a fading heritage. 


Frank Watkins was an expert on wine and was sometimes described as a “wine doctor.”  This meant he knew the art of treating wine that had been damaged so as to save it.  I recall a story about how a large cache of apparently spoiled wine had been discovered at the “Lucky” Baldwin estate in Arcadia and he was called to save as much of it as possible. I understand that his efforts were remarkably successful.



Louise Ward Watkins


My beloved grandmother was born on March 18, 1890 in Booneville, New York.  She was the only child of George C. Ward and his wife, the former Katherine Louise Schweinsberg.  Louise was a very bright young lady who was spoiled by her adoring parents. Private tutors at first had charge of her education.  She did attend a conventional high school when her father was working at Washington Courthouse, Ohio.  In 1905, Ward’s collaboration with Henry E. Huntington brought his family to Southern California.  LWW then attended Huntington Hall in Los Angeles.  In 1911, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.  Louise then went to the law school at U.S.C. in 1913, but dropped out after her first year to marry Frank Watkins on October 14, 1915. My Aunt Katherine, the first of their seven children was born in Alhambra in 1917.  She was followed in, roughly, two-year intervals, by Rose Mary, George, Arabella, John, James and Charlotte.

An otherwise brilliant and accomplished woman, Grandma’s judgment and timing when it came to financial matters was abysmal her entire life.  Where she excelled was in community and political affairs.  She was president of the Friday Morning Club of Los Angeles.  She served as a member of the State Planning Commission until 1941. She was chairperson of the Commission of Parole Reform.  She was President-General of the National Society of the Daughters of the Union.  She headed up the Japan-America Society.  In 1938 she ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the U. S. Senate.  She was a brilliant public speaker, much in demand throughout the 30’s and 40’s, both in person and on the radio.




Arabella Huntington Watkins


My mother was born April 27, 1923 and was named after Henry Huntington’s wife, Arabella, who was also the widow of Collis Huntington.  I think my grandmother thought that this honoring of the childless Mrs. Huntington might cement an advantageous relationship with my mother, but the elder Arabella died soon thereafter and was buried in a magnificent mausoleum her husband built on the San Marino estate.


My mother attended elementary school in Linda Vista and Mayfield.  She long complained of being a victim of “progressive “ educational theory.  She felt that this primarily disadvantaged her in reading and spelling.  Nonetheless, she proved to be very gifted in mathematics.  In spite of this facility, she felt that she did not receive enough parental support to fully develop her gift.


Mother’s high school career was very peripatetic, ending up in graduation from Santa Fe New Mexico’s Brownmore in 1940.  Before that, she attended South Pasadena High for three months and then went to the nuns at Marymount.  It was during her short sojourn at South Pasadena that she fatefully met Ted Newton and a romance developed that I believe my grandmother made a determined effort to break up.  It seems that her schooling was moved further and further from this influence.  Arabella was every bit as willful and determined as her mother and the relationship with Ted Newton continued.


After graduation from Brownmore my mother apparently started undergraduate studies at Dominican College in the fall of 1940.  As far as I can tell she finished her first year there, but the following summer the romance with Ted Newton took a fateful turn. There was a violent automobile accident with Ted Newton driving, in which my mother badly fractured one of her legs in August 1941.  I understand that my father was at fault for the accident and that there was alcohol involved.  The accident led to a lengthy hospitalization, which saw mother released in a leg brace in October.  The day of her release, she was watching a pick up football game with Ted, when a stray kick hit her leg re-cracking the femur.  She was still confined to bed when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7th.  My mother heard the radio report of the raid and told my grandmother, but true to the strained relationship of these two, Grandma wouldn’t believe it until she drove to the offices of the Pasadena Star News to confirm the report.


The heavy medical expenses incurred as a result of the broken leg led to a lawsuit against the Newtons.  This didn’t deter the young lovers, however, and they eloped to Nevada where they were married June 10, 1942.  This ended the lawsuit and brought me along shortly thereafter.  I can’t imagine that LWW was pleased, but then there was not a lot that her daughters did that was really pleasing to the mother they preferred to call “Thuds.”






Theodore Randolph Newton


Now, I know very little about my father’s background.  I don’t even know the name he was born with.  He took the name of his mother Beverly’s second husband, Arthur B. Newton and would never tell me anything about his real father.  He and his sister “Chick” were raised at the Newton home at 2175 Orlando Road in San Marino.  By all accounts, life in this family was somewhat strange.  I understand that “Chick” was mentally unbalanced. She and my grandmother lived together at 760 Winthrop Road, San Marino, until Grandmother Newton died. Ted attended Pasadena’s Polytechnic School, where I gather the gregarious young man was quite popular among his peers.  Among his classmates was a much quieter and reserved fellow by the name of James H. Howard, Jr.


After graduating from the grammar school at Poly, Ted attended a prep school and then went to South Pasadena High School where he met the pretty and popular Arabella Watkins.  Other classmates included Jimmy Howard, Bob Brokaw and Dick Sheehan.  Consistent with the youth of that era, the group enjoyed dancing, partying, drinking and smoking, probably too much.  After high school Ted took a course at Curtis Wright Engineering Institute.  He was hired as a production engineer for Douglas Aircraft.



The war, of course, had a profound effect on the members of my parents’ generation.  My father entered the army in February 1943 and became an air cadet, and then a P-38 fighter pilot.