25 June 2016

The Battle of Chino as told by José del Carmen Lugo

One of the sons of Antonio María Lugo, the original grantee of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in 1841, José del Carmen Lugo was a co-owner of the Rancho San Bernardino, where the present county seat is located.  José del Carmen was born in Los Angeles in 1813 and was raised there, remaining in the pueblo until about 1839 when he moved to San Bernardino.

José del Carmen, in fall 1877, conducted an interview with Thomas Savage, who with a few others, traveled throughout California on behalf of historian Hubert Howe Bancroft, collecting material from Spanish-speaking Californios and Americans and Europeans with the express purpose of recording the history of California before and up through the American conquest of 1846-47.  Many of these interviews, which were recast in narrative form by Bancroft's associates, were published.  Lugo's was not, however, until the San Bernardino County Museum Association reprinted it in 1961.

Rancho San Bernardino was formally transferred on 21 June 1842 by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado to his granduncle, Antonio María Lugo, who acquired the 35,000-acre property for his three sons, José María, Vicente and José del Carmen, and for his nephew, Diego Sepulveda.  All built or remodeled adobe houses on the property--José del María in what is now Redlands, Vicente in today's San Bernardino, and Sepulveda in Yucaipa, where his home still stands as a state historic landmark.

As for José del Carmen, he took possession of structures built by the Mission San Gabriel as its furthest eastern outpost, or estancia, for cattle grazing, but which had been abandoned when the missions were secularized in the mid-1830s.  Remodeling the buildings, he established his home at what has been erroneously called the "Asistencia".   A 1930s re-creation of the property was built about a mile from the originals and is located in Redlands.

In 1846, when American forces invaded and seized Los Angeles, a garrison of troops were left behind and its young commander, Archibald Gillespie, imposed curfews, ordered arrests and otherwise alienated many Spanish-speaking Californios, though, notably, José del Carmen indicated that Gillespie "was a good friend of my father."

In any case, a revolt was instigated by Californios chafing at Gillespie's ham-fisted control and, though Lugo stated that "in truth, thee were only a few youths, practically unarmed", the word of the uprising was brought to him at San Bernardino.  Similarly, Benjamin D. Wilson, a prominent American who came to Los Angeles in late 1841 with a group often known as the Rowland-Workman Expedition, was summoned from the San Bernardino Mountains, where he was on a trip, to assist in the defense of the newly-conquered area.

Lugo recalled that Wilson sent a messenger to "advise me to enlist what force I could, because he was coming to my home to take me prisoner," which came as a surprise, Lugo said, because"I had done no harm to anyone, directly or indirectly."  He also said that one of his brothers told him "he was uneasy over the threat Señor Wilson had made toward me."  In his reply to Wilson, Lugo stated "it would be best for him to come alone to take me and not compromise others" and that he would not be "calling anyone to my assistance."

Wilson replied that he and others were on their way to Lugo's house, to which Lugo began gathering some twenty one men and weaponry to meet Wilson at his ranch at Jurupa near modern Riverside.  When arriving, however, Lugo found that Wilson had gone to the home of Isaac Williams at Chino, this being on what is now the grounds of Boys Republic here in Chino Hills, and he followed.

A scouting party of sorts sent ahead and approaching the Williams home at Chino met a man named Evan Callahan, who tried to fire upon them, but his pistol jammed, and Diego Sepulveda, Lugo's cousin and owner of the Yucaipa adobe mentioned above, knocked Callahan down with a blow to the head, but the American managed to make it to the house.  Two Latinos with Callahan were seized and both swore to assist Lugo.

Lugo then said that "an officer came to me ordering me to the Commanding General, Don José María Flores, in Los Angeles to join him with the force I had."  With this, Lugo sent a request to Flores for aid, being told that Wilson was joined by some fifty men at the Chino adobe, though he and his men surrounded the house and were positioned "on the road to Los Angeles," which was almost certainly what is now the 71 Freeway now runs north to south just east of Boys Republic.

When one of his young sons went to retrieve a hat blown towards the house by a strong wind, gunfire erupted, but Lugo stated that he waited overnight for help from Flores, which came in the form of thirty men led by Serbulo Varela and Ramon Carrillo.   A mixup over how to deal with a messenger who hurried from the house led to a movement of Lugo's men towards the structure, which had some kind of moat around it.  As a group of men attempted to breach the moat, one, Carlos Ballesteros, fell from his hourse and, upon climbing back on his horse, "was struck in the right temple by a bullet and fell dead."

At this, as some of his men gathered some grass in the area, Lugo "ordered the grass thrown on the roof of the house and set on fire."  Notably, his men went to "an Indian village near at hand, and they had a fire outside it."  He went on to say that
I went at full speed amid the bullets that were coming from all directions.  I rode hugging the sides of the hourse and crouching low to keep a bullet from hitting me.  During this onrush of the horse, stretched alongside as I was, I reached down and seized a blazing stick with which I returned at full speed to the house.  I set fire to a corner of it and ordered that the same be done to the others.  I then went at full gallop to make the circuit of the house and enter it by the main door.
While this was transpiring, Lugo reported that he heard the cries of three of his nieces and nephews, children of his deceased sister and Williams, crying for him, so he had his men rescue them and two female servants.  Diego Sepulveda entered the home from a back entranc and the Americans and Europeans surrendered, including Williams, Wilson, John Rowland of Rancho La Puente, and many others.

Lugo stated that he had his men extinguish the flames, searched the home and found some men hiding, and then had the three children delivered over to Williams, telling his brother-in-law, "he should thanks me for saving his children, but neither he nor they gave any sign of thanks afterward."
Interestingly, while the boy died shortly after, "the girls are still living and care nothing about their uncle."  These were Francisca, who later married Robert Carlisle and owned Chino, and Merced, who was the wife of John Rains and owned Rancho Cucamonga.  Carlisle and Rains were Southerners who had grisly ends, as has been discussed here before.

After the fire was put out and the home's contents, which had been removed, returned, Lugo started for Los Angeles, but stopped at La Puente to allow the prisoners to rest at the adobe home of William Workman, which still stands at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry.   There Lugo was loaned a horse by Workman, who said "that Ramon Carrillo and Serbulo Varela were not willing that John Rowland should be permitted to talk there with his wife."  So,
Don Julian and I betook ourselves to where the prisoners were and called Mr. Rowland out so that he could talk with his wife.  He conversed as long as he wished, and we then continued the journey to Los Angeles.
At a place called Paredon Blanco (White Bluffs), where Flores maintained a camp--this now the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the bluffs overlook the Los Angeles River.  Lugo stated that "in the affair at Chino we took forty or fifty prisoners and a great many firearms with ammunition."

Later, after providing services to Flores in Indian areas from Temecula to San Diego, Lugo stated that he was ordered to "take charge of the foreign prisoners who had been left under guard and take them to the Rancho Chino, guarding them until further orders,"  These included Williams, Rowland and a few others, though, apparently, not Wilson.  Lugo then said that "my father, shortly afterward, asumed responsibility for a part of them and these were given their liberty on their word of honor to engage in no acts unfavorable to the country while the war was in progress."

Lugo then observed that "I continued in charge of the prisoners until January 8, 1847, when I was ordered to set them free and remain there with all the men of the country I could enlist, since Flores and his forces would come to Chino within a few days."  Lugo then had about forty men under his command.  According to Wilson, Workman and Ygnacio Palomares of Rancho San José, now the Pomona area, secured the freedom of the prisoners.  The following day, an American force, which had marched from San Diego, engaged the Californios in a battle along the San Gabriel River and, taking the field, went into Los Angeles.

When Flores, who had retreated east to Rancho Cucamonga and then headed to Chino on his way to Mexico, suggested Lugo join him, this was rejected.  Lugo disbanded his small force as the war was essentially over.  He assisted John C. Fremont, who commanded a volunteer force of Americans and then assumed a contested role as military governor in California, by recovering some of the horses left behind by Flores in his hurried flight.  In 1849, Lugo served as the alcalde (basically, mayor) of Los Angeles, as well as justice of the peace.

Two years later, Rancho San Bernardino was sold to Mormon colonists sent by Brigham Young to establish a community in the region.  The Mormons came very near to buying the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino from Isaac Williams, but a deal fell through, and the Lugos and Diego Sepulveda were able to complete a sale.

As to Lugo, he ended his 1877 interview by stating "up to the year 1853 I was in good circumstances . . . [but] I had the misfortune to loan my signature as bondsman for other persons in whom I had confidence . . . and I had to sacrifice my property and even the house in which I lived to meet these obligations."  His days as a prosperous member of Californio society were over.

Although some sources list his death as 1868, 1870, or after 1880, Lugo was still residing in Los Angeles in the 1880 census and his property in "Sonoratown" between the Plaza and the Elysian Hills was referred to in newspaper ads in 1882.  His wife, Rafaela Castro died in 1883, but Lugo's death date has not been established.

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