Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Barton Massacre of 1857, Part One

On this date in 1857, the two weekly newspapers, the Star and El Clamor Público, in the little frontier town of Los Angeles (population somewhere around 4 or 5,000), reported that late news had arrived in town the day before of the massacre of Los Angeles County Sheriff James R. Barton and three members of a posse that he brought with him as he hunted bandits that had committed murder and robberies in the mission town of San Juan Capistrano at the southern reaches of the county.

For about a month prior, a group that came to be known as the Flores-Daniel gang rode down from the north and allegedly committed a series of crimes in Los Angeles before heading down to San Juan.

Said to be the principal figure, Juan Flores escaped from San Quentin prison on 8 October 1856 with Juan Gonzalez and another man and promptly made his way down the coast, assembling a group that appears to have been about ten or so persons, including purported co-leader Francisco "Pancho" Daniel.  As stories proliferated of their activities, however, the rumors ballooned the number significantly higher, into the dozens or much more.

In any case, the gang established themselves at San Juan, robbing several stores (those of Manuel Garcia, Henry Charles, Michael Krazewski, and George Plugardt), killing Pflugardt, and taking a group of horses from a San Diego man named Lopez, among other crimes.

When the news of Pflugardt's death reached Los Angeles, with the detail that the gang casually ate a dinner while the store owner's body lay on the floor, Barton, recently elected as sheriff after several years as Los Angeles's marshal, gathered up his little posse, and headed south.  The other members of this party included Los Angeles constables William Little and Charles Baker and volunteers Alfred Hardy, Frank Alexander and Charles Daly.

From the Los Angeles Star, 24 January 1857.
Barton and his crew stopped at the Rancho San Joaquín, owned by the Sepulveda family, to rest and resupply, but were sternly warned by the family that the gang was of a much greater number and that Barton was woefully undermanned.  A man reputedly of great courage, but also headstrong, Barton ignored the advice and proceeded towards San Juan.

News reports were spotty, because of the late arrival of the slaughter, but Barton and his posse saw a lone rider alongside the road and split into two, with one group pursuing the rider and the other continuing along the road.  As that highway dipped into a natural depression in the landscape, the attack commenced.  The battle was short and disastrous.

Barton, Little, and Baker were killed at the site of the confrontation, while Daly, who was inexplicably riding a mule and was somewhat removed from the battle scene, attempted to flee, but was overtaken after a few miles, and killed.

Alexander and Hardy managed, with their fleet horses, to make it back to San Joaquin and shelter, at which point the bandit gang, which had been hot on their heels, wheeled about and rode back to San Juan.

From El Clamor Público, 24 January 1857.  Thanks to Paul Bryan Gray for providing microfilm of the newspaper.
While Alexander rode to El Monte to alert the citizens there of the disaster, Hardy proceeded to Los Angeles to share the news.  In the next post, more details of the massacre and the early response will be detailed, so check back soon.

Meanwhile, today's Curious Cases event on the Barton massacre at the Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, is booked full (though you ,might call 626-968-8492 to see about stand-by status), but, for those who are interested, there will be a second offering of the participatory program at the monthly meeting of the Orange County Historical Society on Thursday, 11 February.  For more info, click here.

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