“Michael White, the Pioneer” by H.D. Barrows 1896

Henry Dwight Barrows [1825-1914] was a founder and president of the Historical Society of Southern California and was also one of the charter members of the founders of the Society of Los Angeles Pioneers. He wrote about one hundred sketches of early pioneers of Los Angeles, most of whom he knew personally, having moved to Los Angeles in 1854, and considered Michael White to be a close friend. The following article for the Historical Society of Southern California was published in 1896, based on an interview conducted in 1881, but he knew White well [in fact, the transcription of Michael White’s oral history: "California all the way back to 1828. By Michael C. White. Written by Thomas Savage for the Bancroft Library, 1877. Introduction and notes by Glen Dawson; illustrated by Clarence Ellsworth," you know, the one I keep referring to – references this piece by Barrows throughout the footnotes] and so his information was probably not limited to one conversation.


Michael White, the Pioneer

By H. D. Barrows


One of the earliest English speaking settlers of the Los Angeles valley was Michael White, or Miguel Blanco, as he was known by the native Californians. Mr. White, whom I knew well and from whom I obtained the data on which this sketch is based in 1881, was born in the Kentish town of Margate, England, February 10, 1801.


He left home at the age of 14 on a whaler the Perseverance, William Mott master, and came out to the far away Pacific Ocean. He first touched the California coast at Cape St. Lucas in 1817. He sailed on different vessels along the Mexican coast etc till 1826, when he went to the Sandwich Islands the second time, having gone there in 1816.


In 1828, as captain of his own vessel, the Dolly, he engaged in the coasting trade, visiting Bodega, then occupied by the Russians, and from thence coming to San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Pedro, and San Diego, and then back to Santa Barbara where he went ashore to stay. Here he bought sixty-four horses which the Dolly, in charge of the mate, took to the Sandwich Islands.


Mr. White stayed some time in Santa Barbara and then left for Los Angeles, arriving there the last day of the year 1829. There was a revolution that year headed by Solis, an officer at Monterey, against Governor Echeandia. [José María de Echeandía, Mexican governor of Alta California 1825-1831] Solis and about sixty followers came down as far as Santa Barbara, where they were compelled to surrender to the regularly constituted authorities. The trouble was that Solis and his adherents could not get their pay for services etc. Echeandia, they said, having gambled away the money that should have come to them.


Mr. White told me that the only English-speaking foreigners he found here when he arrived were John Temple, George Rice, and Joseph Chapman. Temple and Rice had a store then near where the Downey block now stands. Mr. White said that Los Angeles at that time was a comparatively small place. There were only a few scattered houses besides the church near the Plaza, with a few huerteros, or persons having gardens here and there, on the lower or irrigable lands the San Gabriel Mission, being then, and for several years, after the center of population and activity.


Vicente Sanchez and José Antonio Carrillo were prominent Californians. Guillermo Cota and Alvarado each had houses north of First Street between Main and Los Angeles Streets. Juan Ballesteros lived nearly opposite and west of the property formerly occupied by the Sisters of Charity on North Alameda Street. Palomares lived just below the toma or dam. The bottom lands of both the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers at that time were like a Monte or Bosque, and as very little water was taken out of either river for irrigation, willows extended along their channels to a much greater extent than at present. Bears and wolves, as well as coyotes, were then very plenty in the valley.


Mr. White said that he was told that the Los Angeles River changed its course a few years before he came from Alameda Street to its present channel and that many years ago as he was informed it used to empty into the Cienega and find its outlet into the ocean in winter freshets by way of Ballona creek.


Mr. White informed me that at the time he came here, the San Gabriel Mission was one of the richest in California in cattle and vineyards and in money.


There were also large numbers of Indians under its control He said that it employed over one hundred Indian vaqueros to brand its cattle. Padre José Sanchez, a native of Spain, and a very well-educated friar, had charge of the mission at that period and until his death in 1833.


All accounts agree that Padré Sanchez was a very good man and a wise manager of the extensive establishment under his charge, which had been planned and built up largely by that other historical character Father Salvidea. [Father José Zalvidea] The mission then had several large vineyards and orchards and it made wine, brandy, olive oil and many other things for the use of employs and neophytes.


It also owned the mill el Molino, in after years owned and occupied by Colonel Kewen and now, I believe, the property of Colonel Mabery. This mill was built by Antonio José Rocha, a Portuguese, for the Padres.


Mr. White thought the Padres of San Gabriel mission moved from the old to the new mission about five years after the founding of the old in 1771. But they used a chapel or capilla at the new location and did not build the present church edifice till years after or, as he, thought till four or five years before he came, which would have been about 1824.


But Governor Pio Pico told me that he thought it was built in 1820. The capilla or chapel was on the north side of the square. The present mission church was built on the southeast corner of this square. On the east and south sides of the square, there were rows of adobe buildings which were used as dormitories or as store houses for wine oil etc.


The fathers lived in those on the south side and adjoining the church. When Mr. White came, he said there was a half-breed Indian by the name of José Maria living at what is known as the Chino Ranch. He was there in charge of the cattle belonging to the mission. As he had curly hair, he was called “el Chino” and that is how his place came to be known as the place or the rancho of el Chino, a name that it retains to this day.


Cucamunga was an Indian word. The ranch by that name was granted to Tiburcio Tapia. Victor Prudhomme married his daughter and became the owner. Colonel Isaac Williams was the former owner, and I believe grantee, of the Rancho del Chino. At his death it went to his heirs and was by them sold to Richard Gird.


Mr. White obtained a concession of 500 varas square just north of the mission, which contained inexhaustible springs of living water. This grant was just west of the Titus and Rose properties. Mr. White went there with his family in 1843, and lived there many years.


He married in 1831, a daughter of Sergeant Guillem [sic] who had been an officer under the King of Spain stationed at San Diego, and Doña Eulalia, his wife. The latter was the person who was reported to be the oldest woman in the world at the time of her death a few years ago, and about whom there was much talk in the papers. I knew Doña Eulalia very well, as I used to see her at one period almost daily some thirty five or forty years ago. From various data I believe she was not over one hundred years of age at the time of her death.


Colonel Warner, who knew her well and also knew many persons as I did who had been acquainted with her when she was a comparatively young woman, agreed with me that she could not have been much, if any, over one hundred years old. I remember that for some years before her death she sewed without glasses. She was of a kindly, genial disposition and was respected and beloved by all who knew her. There must be many of her descendants now living in Southern California.


Mr. White said he did not get any letters from his people in England for about eighteen years after he left home. The Californians in those times only heard from the outside world by the occasional Boston trading ships which used to come here “hide droughing,” and by whalers that would sometimes stop at some port on the coast on their way down from the North in the fall of the year. Mr. White sold his vineyard and orchard several years ago to Mr. L.H. Titus and moved to Los Angeles where he lived with his family till his death which occurred February 28, [1885].


Publications of the Historical Society of Southern California

. Vol. III. “Michael White, the Pioneer,” by H.D. Barrows. Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California, 1896. pp 19-21.




~ by ravenjake on January 1, 2010.

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