Saturday, February 03, 2007

Officer C.A. May, End of Watch

Feb. 3, 1907
Los Angeles

About 1 a.m. on a dark corner at East Adams and South San Pedro, the hard, shabby life of William Ross ended when he said, “What in hell are you fellows up to?,” drew a pistol and shot plainclothes Officer C.A. May.

May and his partner, J.M. Hoover, were walking east on Adams when they encountered Ross, described as a “rather roughly dressed man.” Earlier in the evening, Hoover and May, who were working plainclothes as part of a crackdown on burglaries in the area, investigated an incident at 223 E. Jefferson Blvd., where L.C. Kelker had reported that two men were on his front porch.

The officers warned the two men to leave, but did not arrest them as there appeared to be no criminal intent, The Times says. One of the men started into the house, threatening to get a gun and “do” the officers, but May and Hoover left without taking any action.

Later that evening, May and Hoover encountered Ross and suspected he might have been one of the men they encountered outside Kelker’s home. May threw back his coat to reveal his badge and said: “We want to know who you are and what you are doing here at this time of night.”

Ross said: “What in hell are you fellows up to? My name is Ross and I live just around the corner.” Then he stepped back, drew a pistol and shot May in the shoulder or the chest.

He fired at Hoover, who ducked and shot Ross in the forehead.

Police found some papers on Ross’ body, a little money and newspaper clippings from the Herald, one about a suicide attempt by Mrs. Mary Ross of 383 or 583 Central Ave. over domestic problems and a legal notice of Mrs. Mary Ross suing William Ross for divorce.

May was taken to Clara Barton Hospital, where he initially showed progress, although doctors were unable to locate the bullet.

Investigators eventually found Ross’ room at the Good Samaritan Mission, a homeless shelter at Ord Street and San Fernando near the Plaza, but there were no stolen items or any other evidence that he had been committing burglaries. Police also learned that he had been employed at one time at Pacific Carriage Works, 122 S. San Pedro.

May was sent home to 2139½ S. Los Angeles St. to recover, but the wound became infected and he returned to the hospital. Doctors were unable to locate the bullet and May died Feb. 28, 1907, with his wife and two brothers at his side.

The Times says he “expressed remorse that it had been necessary for the officers to shoot the man, but he said it was a case of kill or be killed.”

As a National Guard member and a veteran who had served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, May was given military honors in a funeral at Pierce Bros. Mortuary at Flower and 8th Street. A funeral procession consisting of police officers and National Guard troops escorted his casket to 1st Street and Spring, where they boarded streetcars for the interment at Evergreen Cemetery.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

A Trip to the Zoo

Feb. 2, 1907
Los Angeles

Conditions at Chutes Park are so bad that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is making a second inspection to see whether operator J.B. Lehigh has made any improvements before his Feb. 20 trial on charges of abuse and neglect.

Chutes is nothing more than a mud-filled stockyards of suffering animals, The Times says. “The ‘park’ is a long puddle of filth, reeking with slime and mud. In the pen where three little does are confined, one of them so emaciated that it is literally hidebound, a thick green scum has formed over the stagnant pool of slime that occupies a good share of the particular part of the ‘park’ where these poor little animals are shut up.”

In answer to the question of what became of the birds, an attendant replied: “Dead.”

“They used to keep ’em in cages over by the entrance, but a few weeks ago they moved ’em all down [illegible] with the cockatoos and parrots and you can guess what happened. [Those?] great big birds just killed all the [illegible] off—that’s where the birds have gone to.”

“A patient zebra paced up and down the narrow path at one edge of his cage, which was the only dry spot in the pen, and a big, beautiful elk beat his horns helplessly against the bars of his small quarters. His coat was matted with filth and the mud was a foot deep in his pen,” The Times says.

Lehigh was found not guilty animal cruelty after witnesses testified that elk like to wallow in mud. “At times, it is in a manner necessary to their comfort,” The Times says. “Elk, said one old-timer whose beard hung to his waist, like to wallow and it does them good.”

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Strange Fruit

Feb. 1, 1907
Los Angeles

I was all set to write about Leroyxez, “The Human Pincushion,” being nailed to a cross promptly at 4 p.m. at Chutes Park, and then a story about lynching in the U.S. caught my eye.


Number of














Of the 73 victims for 1906, all but four were African American men, the exceptions being an African American woman and three white men, according to the wire story from the Washington Post.


Number of Lynchings


13 (down from 20 in 1905)











North Carolina


South Carolina










Indian Territory






Triple lynchings were conducted in Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri. The alleged crimes including stealing a silver dollar and stealing a calf (both in Louisiana), carrying a loaded pistol, petty robbery, improper proposals, miscegenation, criminal assault, assault and murder, attempted murder, murder and robbery, double murder, quadruple murder and quintuple murder. One victim was lynched for allegedly attacking three white women in one afternoon, the story says.

In the case of R.T. Rogers, one of three whites lynched in 1906, the mob chartered a train from Monroe, La., to Tallulah. His case had been in the courts for two years and eight months on charges that he killed a business rival.

J.V. Johnson, a white man, was lynched in North Carolina while awaiting a new trial after the jury deadlocked on whether he was guilty of killing his brother.

The third white man, Lawrence Leberg, “a tramp,” was hanged from a telephone pole in Las Animas, Colo., for allegedly killing a farmer who had befriended him.

“One victim was shot and the corpse burned; two were shot while they cowered in their cells, the mobs firing from outside the prisons; four were hanged and burned; two hanged and shot; 21 shot in the open; and 42 hanged,” The Times says, leaving us to wonder about the final victim.

There is no further information on the woman who was lynched.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On the Frontiers of Medicine

Jan. 31, 1907
Los Angeles

Showing once again that Los Angeles is out of touch with Sacramento, local health officials are fighting an education bill that would lift mandatory smallpox vaccinations for schoolchildren.

Vaccinations were opposed for several reasons in the Legislature. Assemblyman Sackett objected to placing the burden of enforcement on schools. Assemblyman Percival, a Christian Scientist, apparently objected to the measure on religious grounds. Other opponents said the only reason health officials supported the shots is to protect their jobs.

“People do not realize what the repeal of the compulsory vaccination law would mean,” says health officer Dr. Powers. “If that law were not in force here we should need five health officers in place of one.”

“Those who question the efficacy of vaccination would do well to look over the records of the local health office and compare the amount of contagious disease 15 years ago with what exists today,” Powers says. “Our population is five times as great as it was then but there has been no increase in smallpox. To repeal the compulsory vaccination law means to invite a scourge of smallpox to come north from below the Mexican border and sweep the state.”

The Times notes that Powers and his aides are watching trains and hotels for visitors from Chicago, which has been suffering epidemics of diphtheria and scarlet fever. The anti-vaccination bill was defeated in February 1907.

Read more about smallpox in Los Angeles here.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Stuck Fast

Jan. 30, 1907
Los Angeles

Recent rains have left the city’s streets in terrible shape, as The Times shows in a photo taken at 1st Street and Spring.

This wagon, pulled by a strong team, plunged up to its hubs in one of the potholes and the horses were unable to free it. “Under the whip and vociferous admonitions of their driver, they were helpless to pull it out from the stinking muck in which, hub deep, it stood,” The Times says.

The driver abandoned the wagon, The Times says, posing an obstacle to all other traffic.

“Street conditions in Los Angeles never were so bad as they are today under our new-fangled, high-salaried and pompous Board of Public Works. When we had a street superintendent it was sometimes possible to ‘get a move on.’ ”

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Monday, January 29, 2007

An Apostle of the Past

Jan. 28, 1907
Los Angeles

William Jennings Bryan stepped from the Owl train to be greeted by a long-waiting crowd.

“In appearance, Mr. Bryan has changed but little since he was last in Los Angeles,” The Times says. “In his manner, also, there has been little, if any, change, and he greeted his friends with the same fervor and showed the same remarkable talent for remembering names.”

From the Arcade Station, Bryan and his wife were transported by auto to the home of Nathan Cole on Pasadena Avenue. They took the Mt. Lowe railway and in the evening, he addressed a capacity audience at Simpson Auditorium in a benefit for the Lark Ellen Home for Boys.

At 47, Bryan was no longer the fiery orator of his youth, The Times says. Instead, he was a gentle idealist who “talked of the thousand little things that had found his favor on five continents, and a packed audience listened with almost breathless attention.”

“They liked the esthetic idealism of this older Bryan,” The Times says of the audience. “All along the many curving rows of seats, there was a leaning forward, as if to catch some word that had been lost, and a whispering sigh of regret.”

“In soft, sweet periods, reminiscent of ‘Gray’s Elegy,’ he lauded the age of belief, the age of dreams. Touchingly, he quoted from John Boyle O’Reilly, ‘For the dreamer lives forever, but the toiler dies in a day.’ ”

“William Jennings Bryan, making a simple discourse of so pretentious a subject as ‘The Old World and Its Ways’ showed himself still, as in the promulgation of strong beliefs that lie near his heart, the apostle of the past.”

The next day, there was a trip to Santa Catalina Island for the Bryans and 100 guests, followed by banquet hosted by local Democrats. Before leaving for Salt Lake City, he addressed the students of Polytechnic High School and attended a reception at the Chamber of Commerce.

Eighteen years later, Bryan and Clarence Darrow met in Dayton, Tenn., for the Scopes Monkey Trial. He died two days after the trial’s conclusion.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Most Remarkable Man

Jan 28, 1907
Los Angeles

“If my career seems strange to you, it seems stranger and more incredible to me,” Gen. Homer Lea once said. And indeed it was, for Lea’s life was the tale of a poor and badly handicapped boy’s adventures as a leader in an exotic foreign land.

His 1912 obituary in The Times begins: “His great work finished, the pitiful, wasted little body of the American boy who overthrew the tattered old Chinese empire lies silent in his home in Ocean Park. Gen. Homer Lea died yesterday.

“Thus ends one of the most extraordinary careers of modern times. Of a physique that would seem to have made a military life impossible, Homer Lea will pass into recollection and annals of men as one of the greatest—if not the greatest—military geniuses American has ever produced.”

A Jan. 28, 1907, article in The Times notes that despite the physical strain of taking part in the recent city elections, Lea has written several articles on the Chinese Exclusion Act for various magazines and adds that his first novel, “The Vermillion Pencil,” a critical work about Christian missionaries in China, is about to be published.

Who was Homer Lea? It’s a little difficult to tell.

“So much rot and twaddle has been written about him that I want to set down the simple facts as I know them and as he told them to me,” Carr said in Lea’s obituary.

Lea’s disabilities kept him from taking part in athletics, but he had a keen mind, Carr says, and took part in the debating societies at Los Angeles High School. Upon graduating in the Class of 1897, Lea went to Stanford with the intention of becoming a lawyer.

“He told me, one day long afterward, that he came to see in the course of his studies in Stanford that all the great careers of the world have been carved out with swords,” Carr said. “He decided that somehow and somewhere he would carve out such a career for himself. The obstacles did not daunt him as they would have another man. Nature had set him a very early lesson in the way of overcoming terrible handicaps.”

First, Carr says, he remembered reading about turmoil among the rulers of the Chinese empire. The next thing he knew, Lea was a prominent guest at Chinese banquets in San Francisco. “Then he slipped away and went to China,” Carr says.

There were many adventures. But with the empress, whom Lea opposed, securely on the throne, he fled to the United States. Carr says: “We all remember how he reappeared in Los Angeles after the Boxer rebellion and became the ‘man of mystery’ of this continent. He carried a little military ‘swagger stick’ which was beautifully engraved with a dragon and with an inscription denoting its presentation to ‘Lieutenant Gen. Lea’ by some Chinese viceroy.”

Lea spent the next six or seven years in study. “Every day he was to be seen out on the lawns of Westlake Park on an Indian rug, poring over works of strategy,” Carr says. “None of us knew what he was doing and to tell the honest truth, few believed in him. It was too incredible; to see the boy who sat next to you at school as the lieutenant-general in an Oriental army is altogether too violent an assault upon human probabilities to be taken at one dose.”

The skepticism was soon dispelled, however. An imperial prince arrived in Los Angeles and “reported for duty to Gen. Lea like a district messenger boy.” Carr says, “Later, when Kang Yu Wei, the former prime minister of China, came to Los Angeles, it was the same.”

“About this time, one of the most remarkable events ever seen on the Pacific Coast took place in Los Angeles Chinatown. Nearly all the young Chinamen cut off their cherished queues and formed themselves into an infantry company. It was drilled every night behind an enclosure in the Chinese quarter,” Carr says.

Lea and Kang soon left for a trip around the world, meeting with President Teddy Roosevelt, and then went to Europe.

Lea returned to Los Angeles and began writing “The Valor of Ignorance,” intending to “show that war with Japan is certain to happen some day and that the United States is utterly unprepared for such a conflict,” Carr says.

Carr reminisces about a breakfast he had at the Lankershim Hotel with Lea a year before the military leader’s death. Their third companion turned out to be Sun Yat Sen.

Lea left for China shortly after that, only to return with a fatal illness.

“In the course of newspaper life one gets to know many men of many manners,” Carr says, “but I have never known a more lovable, kindly, simple-hearted gentleman than Homer Lea.”

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