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Monday, July 29, 2019

Mug Shots and Railroad Mythologies

In the early 1900s, the San Joaquin Valley—California’s geographical and agricultural center—was marked by the growth of community and opportunity brought about by the Southern Pacific Railroad’s longitudinal linkage of San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the valley. The movement of passengers and cargo into, out of, and through the valley caused its population and its agricultural industry to grow tremendously. In the years following the 1876 completion of the railroad connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the residents of the valley’s northernmost county, San Joaquin County, may have viewed the maturation of their community with mixed feelings. Some may have felt deep satisfaction with the prosperity and opportunity the railroad had afforded the county’s agricultural towns, while others—especially those who had helped settle the valley—may have had feelings of deep mistrust and bitter resentment toward the Southern Pacific Railroad, whose past strategies of obtaining land throughout the valley had caused loss of property and even life.

Much of the animosity between settlers and the Southern Pacific centered around events that occurred in Mussel Slough, Kings County, in 1880. Settlers had migrated to the valley throughout the 1870s, encouraged by the Southern Pacific to occupy land that had been given to the railroad company as a subsidy. The settlers set about improving the acreage surrounding proposed railroad tracks by building homesteads and developing agricultural and irrigation projects, confident that when ready to purchase the land, they would not be charged for the improvements they had made through their own labor. Instead, the settlers, expecting to pay two-and-a-half dollars per acre, were faced with prices set by market demand, sometimes reaching as high as twenty dollars per acre. The settlers banded together to fight this injustice while U.S. marshals began evicting settlers throughout the area. On May 11, 1880, a small group of men, including a U.S. marshal, set foot on the homestead of Henry D. Brewer and were met by an assemblage of settlers, gathered to thwart such evictions. While it is unclear how the gunfight began—it has been attributed to a skittish horse knocking the marshal down, quickly followed by the chaos of gun blasts—it resulted in the deaths of seven men. The shootout, which made national headlines, was significant not only for the high death toll, but also for how the incident played into the charged mythos of the outlaw West and a burgeoning national resentment of big industry’s subjugation of the common man.

In 1901, just over twenty years after the tragedy at Mussel Slough, Frank Norris published his California novel The Octopus, a scathing denunciation of the railroad’s actions in the San Joaquin Valley. The novel contains a retelling of the events of Mussel Slough as the natural, violent result of the railroad’s greed and ruthlessness in the valley. Norris’s sentiment, coupled with a turn-of-the-century societal tension between agrarian lifestyles and the growth of industry, bitterly reminded many of the valley’s residents of the earlier animosity between the settlers and the railroads. Many valley residents agreed with Norris’s description of the reviled company as “the iron-hearted monster of steel and steam.”

Police record for Victorio Yopez, Description and photographs of San Joaquin County prisoners, Vault 308, California Historical Society.  
It is through the lens of both these historical facts and their resulting cultural mythology that we recently viewed two volumes containing mug shots and descriptions of people arrested in San Joaquin County between 1902 and 1907. Each record includes a black-andwhite mug shot as well as information about the alleged perpetrator’s physical appearance, alleged crime(s), victim(s), and sentence. In particular, we were interested in the types of crimes that had taken place on the railroad, the suspects and victims involved, and the motives surrounding their crimes. Over the five years covered in the prisoner logbook, eight crimes were recorded as being committed against either a railroad company itself or railroad passengers and personnel. The descriptions of the crimes are dispassionate and provide no insight into motives or into the targeting of the railroad companies. In most cases the trespasses against the railroad companies were clearly crimes of opportunity, often recorded as petit larceny: an overcoat, blankets, and materials such as brass and iron were all recorded as burgled items. Punishment for the thefts varied, ranging from ten days in the county jail or a ten-dollar fine to three years’ confinement in San Quentin. One cannot help but wonder, though, about the motives in two of the more interesting crimes, both of which could have resulted in loss of life. A seventeen-year-old Swiss immigrant, Ernest Intergant, was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail for removing a railroad switch lamp from a Santa Fe Railway line on November 20, 1903. Although his crime was originally considered a felony—removing a switch lamp could cause derailment of the railcars, resulting in major loss of life or cargo—his sentence was reduced to malicious mischief. Two years later, on December 16, 1905, Victorio Yopez fired seven shots at several men seated in a Santa Fe railcar. The prisoner logbook records Yopez’s occupation as “R.R. [Railroad] Laborer,” which certainly provokes curiosity over the motivation for the shooting. Yopez was arrested the following day, pleaded guilty to the crime, and was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in Folsom prison.

Police record for Emma La Deux, Description and photographs of San Joaquin County prisoners, Vault 308, California Historical Society.  
Then there is the crime of Emma LaDeux (often spelled “LeDoux” in later published accounts), a thirty-year-old woman from Amador County, California, who attempted to take advantage of the Southern Pacific’s services in the San Joaquin Valley by using the railroad as an unwitting accomplice in her criminal activity. Among more than two hundred arrest records in the same San Joaquin County logbook, Emma’s stands out, not only because she is one of only three women or because her crime (poisoning her husband to death with morphine) is shocking in its premeditated violence, but because—unlike her contemporaries— she could just as easily be posing for a portrait, instead of a mug shot for a police photographer. The photograph reveals a young woman, head held high, her gaze veering slightly away from the camera. A scarf is wrapped around her long neck, and an elaborately decorated hat is perched fashionably at an angle on her neatly styled hair. Although she must have realized the severity of the charges she faced, her composure was unwavering before the camera.

On March 23, 1906, Emma LaDeux (aka Emma Williams or Emma McVicker) killed her third husband, Albert N. McVicker, in the lodging house where they were staying. Afterward, she stuffed his body into a trunk and arranged for it to be sent to the nearby Stockton station. The logbook does not detail the destination she had in mind for the body, but clearly the railroad provided the perfect opportunity to get it as far away as possible from the murder scene. Unfortunately for Emma, the untagged trunk sat too long on the station platform and the odor quickly alerted station workers that something was amiss. For three days she avoided the authorities before being arrested in Antioch by a local deputy sheriff named Shine. According to the Haggin Museum, which holds the trunk in its collection, Emma was headed to meet a Mr. Jean LeDoux, the man she had married a year before without first divorcing the unfortunate Mr. McVicker—adding bigamy to her list of punishable offenses.

After her arrest, she was brought back to Stockton to await trial. It might have been hard for jurors to believe that such a slight, refined-looking woman—at five feet two inches and 110 pounds—could have commited such a heinous crime. Nevertheless, on August 7, 1906, the jury found her guilty of murder in the first degree and the presiding judge, Joaquin County Superior Judge W. B. Nutter, made history by sentencing Emma LaDeux “to hang at San Quentin”—the first woman in California to receive the death penalty. Emma’s luck, however, may not have been all bad. An addendum to her arrest record, scrawled across the bottom of the page in red, hints at a potentially more positive outcome to her case: “Took an appeal and is still in appeal at this time—Sept. 12, 1907.” In the end, Emma spent two years in the San Joaquin County Jail before getting word that her appeal was successful, her death sentence commuted to life in prison. Nearly fourteen years from the day she killed her husband and sent his body off to the train station, Emma was released from San Quentin on parole and walked free.

San Joaquin County’s shift from a rural, agrarian community to a more industrialized, agricultural center brought about an influx of wealth and population that, in turn, led to an influx of crime—a common growing pain of newly developing communities. In fact, enough criminal activity took place on or against the railroad and its property that the Southern Pacific would eventually install its own agents to combat lawlessness on the rails. The San Joaquin County prisoner logbook provides a small glimpse of a wide range of crimes involving the railroad within the suddenly booming agricultural county, demonstrating only one of a myriad of geographic, economic, and cultural shifts caused by the railroad’s presence in San Joaquin County and in the greater San Joaquin Valley.

To learn more about the railroad’s industrial and cultural impact on California, please visit the California Historical Society’s exhibition Overland to California, on view from March 21 through October 20, 2019.
Written by Jaime Henderson and Frances Kaplan, California Historical Society

Monday, July 22, 2019

Peoples Temple Publications Department photographs now available online

The California Historical Society is pleased to announce that 4,467 slides and negatives from the Peoples Temple Publications Department Records have been digitized and are available for public viewing and research online. The photographs provide new visual documentation of Peoples Temple’s political, religious, and cultural activities, as well as daily life in Redwood Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Jonestown. This work was made possible by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The collection was processed by project archivists Isaac Fellman and Lynda Letona and digitized by Two Cat Digital of San Anselmo. 

The Peoples Temple Publications Department Records contain a wealth of imagery depicting the demonstrations, rallies, and events organized by Peoples Temple. Before the mass migration to Jonestown in 1977, the Temple pursued an ambitious program of political action: defending leftist activists, getting out the vote for candidates for local office, working with mainstream media, maintaining relationships with other faith organizations, organizing cross-country recruitment trips, participating in rallies and demonstrations, and building alliances with celebrities and politicians. Photographs in the collection were taken by the Publications Department to support these activities.

Newly digitized photographs reveal the connections between Peoples Temple and local, regional, national, and international political and activist networks, situating the Peoples Temple movement within the 1970s context of urban politics, radical activism, communalism, internationalism, and Black Power. We hope that the online publication of these images will support a new generation of scholarship on Peoples Temple and Jonestown.

Teacher in school, circa 1976-1978; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; California Historical Society.
Peoples Temple choir, 1974-1975; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; California Historical Society.
Spiritual Jubilee, 1976 May 23; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; Box 21; California Historical Society
Dennis Banks benefit, circa 1976; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; California Historical Society.
Demonstration at International Hotel, 1977; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; Box 24; California Historical Society
1976 summer trip: Peoples Temple members in Chicago, 1976; Peoples Temple Publications Department Records, MS 3791; California Historical Society.

Written by Marie Silva & Isaac Fellman, California Historical Society
Funding to process the Peoples Temple collection provided by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Uncovering remarkable documents through Teaching California

The California Historical Society often relies on scholars in the field to illuminate new areas of collection and research. When exploring primary sources for our new Teaching California project, we came across two remarkable documents from our manuscripts collection that will soon be incorporated into our growing set of K-12 instructional materials. The first, a Spanish diary entry from California’s Mission period, and the second, a Chinese newspaper published in San Francisco shortly after the Gold Rush, both offer an insight into the daily lives of those living and working in two significant periods of California’s history. Below, we hear briefly from the two scholars who helped us translate these documents, including why these particular sources are important to them.
Diary entry of Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada at Monterey on October 3, 1774; Fernando Rivera y Moncada diary, 1774-1777, MS Vault 48; California Historical Society.
The first document, highlighted for fourth graders studying the Mission period, is one of many brief, daily entries by Rivera y Moncada, the Spanish military commandant of Alta California, 1774-1777. Written a few years after the second Franciscan mission and presidio in the Californias was established in present-day Monterey county, the diary includes a list of soldiers, craftsmen, and other non-native people living in California at the time.

Rose Marie Beebe, Professor of Spanish based at Santa Clara University, California, undertook the translation of the 18th century Spanish-language document. She wrote about the entry’s significance:

“On October 3, 1774, Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, commander of the Monterey Presidio,
reported that the native peoples had started a large fire to the west of the fort. He knew what they
were doing: “They set fire to the field so that new growth will sprout up from the ashes.” Yet a
number of soldiers went out to extinguish the fire. They did so, Rivera wrote “to preserve the

Rivera’s remarks dramatically highlighted the different forms of food production that were present in colonial Alta California. The Spanish introduced European-style agriculture and were concerned that the crops that they had introduced into the region would not be able to grow in a charred landscape. The indigenous people, however, had lived for centuries from the food provided by the natural environment. They understood that fire was an important means of rejuvenating the soil that produced the fruits, berries, acorns, and other sustenance on which both they and the other living creatures with which they shared the California environment depended. Europeans were quickly exposed to this indigenous method of resource management. For example, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed into San Pedro Bay in 1542 and was greeted by thick fires onshore, causing him to name the place La BahIa de los Humos-- the Bay of Smoke. He may well have been witnessing a series of controlled burns. As contemporary scholar M. Kat Anderson has written, “Fire was the most significant, effective, efficient, and widely employed vegetation management tool of California Indian tribes.” (M. Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 136). Rivera’s diary demonstrated that over 200 years later, Europeans in California still did not fully understand the ecological wisdom that was an essential part of the indigenous Californians’ way of life.”

Below is Beebe’s English translation of the Moncada’s diary entry:

October 1         Señor don Juan Soler: Have three fanegas1 of beans and eight of corn sent to
the escolta2 at San Antonio. Because they have run out of lard and meat, send
them the same amount of rations of ham given to the men here, that is, five
ounces per ration. With regard to the cost [of the food] and the sacks [for
transporting the food], you and the corporals can come to an agreement on that.
And, if you should deem it necessary to notify me about any issue, I shall not
hesitate to intervene in whatever manner is most appropriate. Monterey, October 1, 1774. Rivera

[October] 2
Sunday             Nothing to report.

[October] 3       A large fire was set west of us. It was burning the countryside and was drawing
closer to the presidio. Soldiers, young men, and even I, went out and managed
to extinguish the fire, not because the homes were at risk, but rather to preserve
the fields. The gentiles3 have a bad habit of creating this kind of work for us.
After their seeds have all been gathered and because they have no animals to
take care of, their main concern is their bellies. They set fire to the fields so
that new growth will sprout up from the ashes. It is also a way to catch rabbits
that are trying to escape from the dense smoke.

1 One fanega is equivalent to about 1.6 bushels.
2 The escort or squad of soldiers assigned to protect a missionary at a mission.
3 Non-baptized Indians.

The Golden Hills News. May 27, 1854. California Historical Society, Chinese in California Virtual Collection, Newspaper Collection, Box 2.
For seventh graders, Teaching California authors chose this Chinese newspaper from our collections for an inquiry set exploring San Francisco as a Site of Encounter. The front page of the May 27, 1854 edition of the Golden Hills News features both Cantonese language characters and one column of English text. The publisher's welcome note in English reads: "Merchants, Manufacturers, Miners, and Agriculturists, come forward as friends, not scorners of the Chinese, so that they may mingle in the march of the world, and help to open America an endless vista of future commerce."

Roland Hui, an independent historian based in San Francisco who helped with the English translation, had this to say about this special document:

“The Golden Hills' News is a very special newspaper. In the words of the famed historian Him Mark Lai, it was the first Chinese-language weekly in the world that embodied all the ingredients of a modern newspaper. And for me to play a part in sharing this treasure with a wider audience is extremely gratifying. In doing the translation, I had a fun time trying to figure out the original English names of places, people, and ships from which the Chinese versions were transliterated. The contemporary issues of the Daily Alta California helped me ascertain most of them. For those few that I could not find any reference, it will be hilarious to know how widely I missed the target.”

Below is an excerpt from Hui’s English translation of the Chinese portion of the newspaper:

[Front page, Purpose of the Newspaper] The purpose of publishing a newspaper is to promote commerce, provide knowledge, convey public sentiments, and communicate government regulations. Now, California is the meeting place of people from all over the world, and various countries have published their own newspapers except the Chinese. Therefore, although there are many Chinese merchants, they lack the skills to run their businesses, have limited general knowledge, and are powerless to make decisions. They do not fully understand business conditions, and are easily manipulated by tricksters; they are ignorant of government regulations, and are bullied by those with evil intensions. It is a pity that they, despite having years of experience, are struggling in their business and facing so many obstacles. This has prompted me to start this Golden Hills’ News, and use the Chinese language to describe daily happenings about Chinese and American business and government and legal affairs. It will be published every Saturday, so that people will know what is going on. If you have business news, we can advertise it here. That way, business will flourish, knowledge will expand, public sentiments will be felt, and government regulations will be understood; and to the Chinese this is by no means a small benefit. - Mr. Howard 
Food prices: 
Coffee: 18¢ per pound 
Fine salted pork: $27/per large barrel 
Medium salted pork: $22, $23 per barrel 
Fine salted beef: $18, $20 per large barrel 
Medium salted beef: $20 per barrel 
Fine ham: 20¢ per pound 
Fine bacon: 15¢, 16¢ per pound 
Manilla fine sugar: 7¢, 8¢ per pound 
Lard: 15¢, 16¢ per pound 
Fine Chinese sugar: 9¢ per pound 
Second-rate Chinese sugar: 8¢ per pound 
Fine black tea: 50¢, 55¢ per pound 
American fine sugar: 12.5¢ per pound 
Chinese rice: 5¢, 6¢, 6.25¢ per pound 
Carolina Rice: 6¢ per pound 
Manilla rice: 3¢, 3.5¢ per pound 
In this city, barbarians of different nationalities bully the Chinese too much. From now on, if a Chinese is harassed, beaten, or cheated, he can report it to Mr. Howard so an English notice can be translated and sent to all countries. Chinese do not have to suffer mistreatments in silence. Mr. Howard is located at 163 Clay Street, upstairs. 

People from different countries who come to America and wish to become Americans can first go to court and take an oath. The court will issue a paper which can be renewed every two years. With that they can go to the hills to dig gold and do other things without having to pay for a license. If you wish to learn more, please visit Mr. Howard upstairs for a more detailed discussion.

Our Teaching California collections team has been busy researching and preparing documents like these over the past year, including working with our partners at the California History-Social Science Project to carefully incorporate over 60 primary sources from our collections into the project’s instructional materials.

Excitingly, we are creating newly-digitized copies of these primary sources for inclusion in Teaching California, and teachers will find these documents and more when we launch the project website later this year (more details to come). In the meantime, visit for more details about the project, and follow along here on our blog for more updates.

We look forward to uncovering more stories as we dig deeper into the primary sources in our collections!

The California Historical Society is working in partnership with the California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP) at UC Davis to establish and implement Teaching California: a free and expansive online set of instructional materials to support the State’s new K-12 History-Social Science Framework. This post comes from Kerri Young, Teaching California Project Manager. You can reach out to her at

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Teaching the Important, Honest, and Troubling History of Native California

This blog is reposted from the California History-Social Scient Project's blog. The original post can be found here. 

Editor's Note: As we travel around California, one of the most frequent concerns we hear from teachers is that they don’t feel prepared to teach students about the history of California Indians. Elementary teachers have explained that they don’t know enough about pre-contact California, especially the history of indigenous people in their local area. Eighth-grade teachers reflect that their current resources are incomplete and don’t fully document the perspective of native peoples during the 19th Century. And high school teachers often remark they don’t have anything on native history after 1900. We’ve heard these concerns and in response, we’ve brought together a new team of scholars and members of native communities to design a workshop specifically focused on teaching the history of California Indians. Historians Shelley Brooks and Michelle Lorimer will lead the workshop, aided by the important scholarly contributions of Benjamin Madley, Steven Hackel, Clifford Trafzer, Khal Schneider, and Gregg Castro. This workshop will debut at our new Framework Conference series, which starts on September 10 at UC Irvine. Read below for a special blog post about the workshop, and learn more about the Framework Conference series here.

Native Americans on Alcatraz Island during the 1969-1971 occupation to reclaim native land. 
In West Sacramento last month, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to apologize for California’s treatment of its Native population. As the governor explained, “That’s what it was, a genocide. No other way to describe it. And that’s the way it needs to be described in the history books.” In our new workshop, “Highlighting Native Californian History through the Framework,” we hope to guide teachers through this important, honest, and troubling investigation of California’s history.

California’s History-Social Science Framework calls for more complex examinations of California Indian history across grade levels and time periods. Our workshop will focus on ways to incorporate the history and culture of Native Californian peoples into lessons at both primary and secondary levels. Lessons that explore California Indian history provide teachers with unique opportunities to connect students with local history and contemporary Native communities that, historically, have been frequently misrepresented and not consulted in public representations of their groups.

Teaching about the history of California Indians also allows students to explore interdisciplinary themes that span the various fields of social and behavioral sciences, including history, geography, economics, civics (political science), anthropology, religious studies, and psychology. Investigations that focus on the lives of Native Californians both before and after foreign contact highlight important historical thinking strategies. Students learn to understand diverse perspectives, evaluate historical evidence, recognize continuity and change, assess cause and consequence, and unpack ethical considerations of the past.

We will investigate the experiences of Native peoples during transitional times in California’s history—guided by the major instructional shifts in the Framework. We will use inquiry to investigate primary source content from pre-contact, the California mission era, the Gold Rush, and the modern civil rights era. Teachers will receive classroom-ready materials for grades 3 (local history), 4 (California history), 8 (19th-century U.S. history), 10 (modern world history), 11 (modern U.S. history), and 12 (government). Many of these resources will come from our partnership with the California Historical Society and our shared Teaching California project, which will debut later this year.

Written by Michelle Lorimer, Ph.D., an historian and lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino, Shelley Brooks, Ph.D., and Beth Slutsky, Ph.D., who are both  Program Coordinators at the California History-Social Science Project.