17 July 2010

Carbon Canyon and Rancho Santa Ana del Chino: Isaac Williams

Isaac Williams, associated with the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino for fifteen years, was born at Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, on 13 September 1799.  Although there were several Williams families in the area, most from Connecticut, it does not appear that any firm determination has been made about Isaac's background, nor is much of anything known about him until he made his way to New Mexico, by mid-1826. 

By then, Williams was already into his thirties, but it can only be assumed that he followed typical migration patterns in what was then the "Old Northwest" of the United States, in which immigrants moved from Pennsylvania into Ohio.  From there, many followed the Ohio River as it moved southwest for nearly 1,000 miles, with Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois on its north bank and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee on its south, until it empties into the great Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois.  To the north was the metropolis of the future American Midwest, St. Louis, and it is easy to imagine Isaac Williams winding up in that city before moving westward following the Missouri River to Franklin in Boone County at the center of what, in 1820, became part of the American union. 

The following year, trader William Becknell, noting that the newly independent republic of Mexico was open to trade and settlement by Americans and others in its remote northern departments (territories), developed a trail from Franklin to Santa Fé, New Mexico, which, naturally, became the great Santa Fé Trail (sorry, El Monte, your city motto and its claim of your burg being the end of the Santa Fé Trail is equivalent to people wondering who is buried in Grant's Tomb!)  Over the next decades, a number of future Los Angeles-area residents and contemporaries of Williams followed similar migration patterns through Franklin, to Mexico and on to California, including William Wolfskill (1798-1866), John Rowland (ca. 1797-1873), and William Workman (1799-1876), all of whom became near neighbors in the Los Angeles region. 

The earliest documentation obtained so far about Williams' tenure in New Mexico was that he received a license to trap beaver from the governor on 31 August 1826, along with John Rowland, Michael Robidoux (whose brother Louis later settled near Riverside), and Ewing Young.  Williams appears to have remained as a trapper until the fall of 1831 when he joined a party of some thirty-seven men, headed by Ewing Young, which headed to California. 

Upon arrival in early 1832, Williams settled in Los Angeles and worked as laborer while living in an adobe house he built on the east side of Main Street near today's Temple Street.  About 1834, he entered a trading partnership with Jacob P. Leese, an acquaintance of some time who was born fifty miles away in Pennsylvania from Williams.  The association seemed to have lasted about two years with Leese moving to San Francisco where he became a prominent resident.  The first Mexican-era census of the Los Angeles district, taken in 1836, shows "E. Isaac Williams", age 38, working as a comerciante or merchant and living next to a small group of extranjeros, or foreigners from America or Europe, numbering about fifteen or so.  A potential clue to Williams' otherwise little-known origins from Pennsylvania may come from that letter "E" at the front of his name.  Could this have been Ezekiel, the name of a Williams from the same area of Pennsylvania that one online genealogist has speculated was the father of Isaac?

Another interesting tidbit about Williams comes courtesy of chronicler Hubert Howe Bancroft, who noted in the 1880s that Williams "aided in '35 in removing the Indians from San Nicolás Island," this being one of the Channel Islands and the removal, one of many catastrophic events in native history, was well-known at the time and for years afterward.  Bancroft mentioned another notable fact about Williams:  he was a member of the first vigilance committee formed in California.  In 1836, a group of Californios, Mexicans, Americans and Europeans gathered at the home of merchant Jonathan Temple and decided to take the law into its hands to lynch adulterers who killed the woman's husband.  Bancroft also offered the interesting fact that Williams proposed in 1846 to build a fort at Cajon Pass, presumably to protect ranches like his own and that of his brothers-in-law at San Bernardino from Indian attack, though this was never fulfilled.  Finally, Bancroft noted that, after Williams moved from Los Angeles to Chino, "his house in town was sold to the city government," meaning that the adobe home he had constructed in 1834 became a "city hall" of sorts.  According to Bancroft, "Col. Williams [colonel because of his involvement in the American invasion] was one of the typical rancheros of southern Cal., enterprising, hospitable, and generally of good repute," though one has to wonder about the qualifying term "generally"!

In 1839, Williams married Maria de Jesús Lugo, daughter of Antonio María Lugo, becoming a Roman Catholic by baptism shortly before.  His baptismal name, Julián, became a common first name for a man, often known as Don Julián Williams.  After bearing him three children, Antonio María, Maria Merced, and Francisca, Maria de Jesús died in childbirth in 1842. 

Within two years, Antonio María Lugo acquired the land grant for Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and asked Williams to move out to the ranch, granting him an interest in the property.  In 1843, Williams petitioned for a "Addition to Rancho Santa Ana del Chino," consisting of some 13,000 acres on the north and west of the original grant.  Eventually, Williams secured full ownership of the entire Chino Rancho, comprising some 36,000 acres.  He lived in an adobe house built by his father-in-law on what is now Boys' Republic school and treatment community in Chino Hills.  The second Mexican census, enumerated in 1844, shows Julián Williams, age 44, at "Santa Ana del Chino" with his children, six-year old Antonio María, Merced at age 4, and Francisca at age 3.  There were fourteen other persons residing at Chino, including a few Mexicans or Californios, six Americans, and four persons with the last name "Aris," almost certainly what should have been "Apis."  See more below for the connection.

Williams was memorable enough as a businessman, rancher and hospitable ranchero to merit a significant mention in the autobiography of William Heath Davis of San Francisco, Seventy-Five Years in California.  Davis visited Williams at Chino in June 1847 to receive payment for goods sold by the former to the latter exactly a year prior and said of him that "Isaac Williams was one of the best types of the early settlers who came from east of the Rocky Mountains to settle here."  Williams was physically imposing:  "he was a man who stood at least six feet in height, of large frame, muscular and without much flesh [fat?].  He was of commanding appearance, with a pleasant countenance.  I do not think he had an enemy in Los Angeles County or in southern California."

Davis' visit came on a hot day, with the temperature reading 100 degrees in the shade and was treated to a amply-supplied dinner with more than twenty persons at the table.  To Davis, Williams was every bit as generous as the Californio ranchers who treated guests with great attention and courtesy.  It also turned out that Davis came to Chino during a matanza, a roundup of animals for slaughter, in this case about two thousand head, a huge amount.  Davis described the boiling of fat or tallow, which product was exported for the manufacture of soap and candles.  Indeed, Williams informed Davis of his intention to start wagons for the rude port of San Pedro withina couple of days and expected to have several thousands of dollars of hides and tallow for Davis' ship there.  The merchant estimated that the annual income enjoyed by the Chino ranchero was $30,000, a princely sum for the day.  Notably, according to Davis, Williams "gave as one reason of his coming here that he wanted to see the setting sun in the furthest West."

It was at this house, in late September 1846, that the well-known "Battle of Chino" occurred during the Mexican-American War.  In the aftermath of the American invasion of the Mexican department of Alta California, a cadre of Americans and Europeans gathered at the Williams home for safety.  These included many persons known to Williams in New Mexico as well as California, including John Rowland, Benjamin D. Wilson, Pauline (yes, Pauline) Weaver, Michael White, David W. Alexander and others.  A force of Californios (native Spanish-speaking Californians) was sent out to force these men to surrender themselves and surrounded the structure.  Finding the inhabitants to be unwilling to yield, the Californios set fire to the roof of the structure, at which Williams, noting that his Lugo brothers-in-law were in service with the Californios, appealed to them for surrender.  

Indeed, one of these brothers-in-law, José del Carmen, gave a 1877 interview to Hubert Howe Bancroft.  In his description, Jose del Carmen Lugo noted that one of the Californios with him in the siege of the Chino adobe was Ramon Carrillo, later to figure prominently in the drama surrounding the death of John Rains, husband of Williams' daughter, Merced.  After a member of his force was killed by the Americans holed up in the house, Lugo ordered the building set afire.  Shortly after the flames rose, Lugo saw his nephew and nieces, the children of his deceased sister, crying out to him and he secured their removal from the house and they were placed in Carrillo's custody.  A short time later, the trapped Americans and Europeans surrendered and Lugo ordered them marched to Los Angeles.  On the way, they stopped at Rancho La Puente and the home of William Workman.  Nearby lived Workman's friend and ranch co-owner Rowland, who was one of the prisoners, as well as a nephew of Rowland, Joseph Perdue.  From La Puente, the force marched to Los Angeles, specifically the Paredon Blanco settlement just east of town in what is now Boyle Heights.   There, the prisoners were turned over to Ignacio Palomares, co-owner of Rancho San José (now the Pomona area) with Ricardo Vejar, who was in the besieging Californio force at Chino.  According to Jose del Carmen, his father, Antonio Maria, arranged for the release of the prisoners within a few months after securing a promise that none of them would be involved in the fighting between Californio and American forces.  Jose del Carmen served as alcalde [mayor] of Los Angeles in 1849 and also served part of the same year as Justice of the Peace.

To some, notably Wilson, Williams' act was treachery and Wilson stated that it was the intercession of William Workman and Ygnacio Palomares that led to their freedom.  Williams later filed a claim with the American government that he was owed $133,000 for animals, supplies and other items taken by soldiers in the invasion, but this claim was disallowed.

In the postwar years, Williams became widely-known for providing lodging, food and supplies to immigrants coming into the Los Angeles region and, more broadly, California from the "southern route" that brought migrants from Fort Yuma through San Diego and up through the interior highway by modern Escondido, Temecula, Lake Elsinore and through the Chino Rancho.  Indeed, in 1850, the New York Herald newspaper featured a letter from a recipient of Williams' hospitality.  Others, including Benjamin Hayes, a future attorney, judge and chronicler of early Los Angeles, benefitted from the largess of Williams and wrote about it.  A guest book kept at the Williams adobe survives and is part of the collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino with a list of 667 persons who signed the book appearing in the 1951 compilation of Chino history, The Break of Day in Chino, amassed by Edwin Rhodes.  Yet, when a resolution was put forward in the California legislature in 1851 commending a few men for providing assistance to migrants, Williams' name was stricken from the document before passage.  Benjamin Wilson, a Los Angeles mayor and state senator, was said to have harbored a grudge against Williams since the surrender at Chino and to have led the effort to remove his name from the resolution. 

According to Bancroft, Williams advertised in 1847 in California's first newspaper, the Californian, published in San Francisco, for men to build an adobe fence around his Chino rancho.  While some men did set to work making the wall, the discovery of gold in northern California the following winter meant that "the men all ran away to the mines in '48 just before the work was completed."

In 1851, some of the visitors entertained by Williams were offered an exceptional opportunity to buy the rancho, though it is not recorded why Don Julián wanted to sell the Chino Rancho and what he intended to do afterward.  Then, Williams changed his mind and rescinded the offer, leaving his guests to find another place to purchase and establish a town for their brethren in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Their backup plan was to buy, from Williams' in-laws, the Lugos, the Rancho San Bernardino, where the town of that name was established as a Mormon colony.  In 1852, a movement to carve a large new county out of the massive Los Angeles County was successful and among the board of commissioners to develop the project was Isaac Williams, whose rancho occupied the southwestern corner of the new San Bernardino County, today still the largest county in size in the United States. 

On 13 February 1851, census taker John Evertsen arrived at Chino to conduct the 1850 federal census [it was done late because California was not admitted to the Union until the previous September.]  Evertsen enumerated Williams as a 51-year old grazier [cattle rancher] with a property value $10,000.  His daughter Merced was 12, Francisca was 10 [the son Antonio Maria having died sometime between then and 1844], and another daughter, also Francisca, born to another woman, was 5.  There were eleven other men, all laborers, including ranch overseer Robert Clift, a 30-year old Englishman, except for a physician, George Sturges.  One laborer, Santiago Cruz, had been in Williams' employ in the 1844 census.  Clift, a Mormon, later served as the first San Bernardino County Sheriff, occupying the office from 1853 to 1857, when he was succeeded by Williams' future son-in-law, Joseph Bridger, who was Sheriff from 1857 to 1859, married Williams' daughter Victoria in 1864, and was ranch manager of Chino from 1865 until his death in 1880.

Sometime in the 1850s, Williams's sister, Samantha and her husband John D. Woodworth migrated to Los Angeles County from the Midwest (Samantha was born in Ohio about 1810-1812, so it appears that Isaac spent at least part of his childhood there, as his still-to-be-determined parents moved west from Pennsylvania.)  Isaac employed his nephew, Wallace Woodworth, to be ranch foreman in about 1853.  Woodworth later went on to marry a Lugo and founded a prominent lumber business with William Perry that lasted until Woodworth's death in the early 1880s.  A son built a home in Bell Gardens, on former Lugo land on the Rancho San Antonio, in 1924 that is now a city landmark.

A beneficiary of the great demand for fresh beef in Gold Rush California that made so many southern California rancheros wealthy, Williams enjoyed the boon during the first half of the 1850s.  Just as the Gold Rush was tapering off and imported Texas longhorns, a far superior breed of animal to the local type, were capturing the beef trade, Williams died, passing away on 13 September 1856, just days before his 57th birthday.  One of the stranger aspects of early southern California civil law was the fact that, having lost his wife Maria de Jesús Lugo in 1842 while she gave was giving birth to the fourth child, Williams engaged in relationships with two cousins, aged 13 and 14 (Williams was 47) connected with famed Indian chief, Pablo Apis, of Temecula and fathered children with both!  Williams also had a daughter, Manuela, with a California woman and this daughter married William R. Rowland, of the Rancho La Puente, who later was a two-term sheriff of Los Angeles County and a wealthy oil magnate through his Puente Oil Company. 

It appears that Williams found many laborers for the Chino Rancho from among the Indians who claimed Apis as their chief and this "special relationship" was continued by John Rains, Williams' son-in-law through marriage to Merced, until Rains' murder in 1862.  When his two surviving children by Maria de Jesús Lugo, Francisca and Merced claimed the lion's share of the significant Williams estate, a challenge to probate ensued that revealed publicly that Williams had several illegitimate half-Indian children.  The battle was an unusual and contentious one, but the daughters by the Lugo marriage prevailed.  The probate in dealing with the Williams estate was easily the most complicated of the era locally, because of the various children and the effort by the legitimate daughters to keep his estate in their hands.

The photo of Williams comes from Edwin Rhodes' The Break of Day in Chino, published by Rhodes in 1951.  Other information on Williams comes from Hubert Howe Bancroft, Pioneer Register and Index and William Heath Davis, Seventy-Five Years in California.  There is an interesting description of the Chino Ranch from a March 1850 issue of the New York Herald, written the previous December by a correspondent only giving his initials.  It also lauded Williams for his great hospitality to travelers.

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