First Americans in Los Angeles, by Margaret Romer, 1924

“The first American to make his home in Los Angeles was Joseph Chapman. In the early Spanish days, California was as tightly closed to foreigners as China ever was. Spain jealously guarded her trade with her American colonies. Any outsider was put into prison, lest he should engage in trade and thus take away some of the profit that Spain believed to be rightfully hers.

Chapman came to California in a party of privateers headed by Bouchard. Legend has it that he was captured at Santa Barbara and condemned to death. The fair Guadalupe Ortega, of the prominent Ortega family of Santa Barbara, became infatuated with the young stranger and interceded in his behalf. For her sake, his life was spared. Fact, however, contradicts legend at this point. Chapman really left the Bouchard party of his own accord at Monterey and came south to lead an honest life. At Santa Barbara he was arrested and imprisoned because he was guilty of the crime of being a foreigner. After being held for some time, he was not only found to be a harmless man, but one of unusual ability and ingenuity as well. He was freed and invited to become a citizen. Soon after, he married the aforesaid fair Guadalupe Ortega and settled in Los Angeles. The Californians called him ‘Jose el Ingles.’

Chapman became a very close friend of Padre Zalvidea of the San Gabriel Mission, and there he made the first successful water-power grist- mill in California. All previous attempts had tailed, because of throwing water over the grain. The ingenious American overcame this difficulty through the use of bevel gearing.

About this time, the Plaza church was in course of construction. Chapman directed the preparation of the timbers that were used in the building. There were no large trees near Los Angeles. Logs had to be cut in the mountains and dragged and carried by Indians and horses to the Plaza. There they were cut to proper length, hewn into the desired shape, and finished. These same timbers were used again when the church was remodeled in 1861 and remain today a mute tribute to Joseph Chapman’s labors.

Chapman’s next enterprise was to oversee the construction of a schooner for the padres of San Gabriel. It was built in sections at the mission, hauled to San Pedro and there assembled and launched amid celebration and rejoicing. It was but the second boat ever built in California. It was used chiefly for otter hunting. In 1849, Joseph Chapman closed his book on an honorable and useful life.

In the ‘twenties’ John Temple and George Rice opened a general merchandise store in Los Angeles. Temple became the leading commercial and financial man in the town. He erected several buildings. In 1830 he married Dona Rafeala Cota, of one of the leading families. The following year his partnership with Rice was concluded and he continued to run his store alone. Temple street was named after him. He continued in a profitable and useful lite until 1866, when he died while on a trip to San Francisco.

Abel Stearns was another of the earliest American Pioneers. He was a business man and was much loved by the California people, who called him ‘Don Abel.’

On Christmas Day in the year 1828 the American brig ‘Danube’ was wrecked on the rocks at San Pedro. The crew were rescued and a few of them remained as settlers. Among these was John Groningen, a German. The Spanish people could not twist their tongues around the name so they called him Juan Domingo. He soon married a daughter of the Feliz family and thereby acquired a large vineyard at First and Alameda streets.

Now, Yang-na was the original Indian village, the predecessor of Los Angeles. Yang-na had become a place of filth, an eyesore to the town. Groningen purchased from the city the land on which it stood. He expelled the few remaining Indians and razed the village to the ground.

William Wolfskin, a Kentucky trapper, was one of the first to reach California overland. Previously all had come by sea. Wolfskin arrived in 1831 and soon married in the Lugo family and secured a large tract of land southeast of the city (now a part of it). At this time there were only a few orange trees in California. These were mostly on the grounds of the missions in the southern districts. None were raised commercially. Wolfskin conceived the idea of raising oranges for profit. In 1841 he set out two acres of oranges and thereby became the real pioneer orange-grower in California. By 1860 he had over 100 acres in oranges.

In 1831 also came Johnathan Trumbull Warner. He arrived overland from Connecticut. He soon became endeared to the hearts of the Spanish people, who called him Juan Jose Warner. He established the famous Warner ranch in San Diego County which later became a station on the old stage route that connected with the East over the old Santa Fe trail. Warner was one of the earliest advocates of the trans-continental railroad, and in 1840 made a trip East to urge its construction. In his later days he moved to Los Angeles, where he built a splendid residence on the east side of Main street, between Fifth and Sixth streets. Warner was prominent in California’s political and industrial life for a period of sixty years. He died at his Los Angeles home in 1895.”

-Excerpt and image courtesy of Archive.org, San Francisco Public Library, “Grizzly bear,” by the Native Sons of the Golden West; Native Daughters of the Golden West, “First Americans in Los Angeles,” by Margaret Romer, July 1924

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