William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles

By Catherine Mulholland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The City of Angels
1877

A PUEBLO OF 9,000 SOULS

Ella Deakers was not the first to find Los Angeles unprepossessing. “A queer little Spanish town, ” young author Margaret Collier Graham reported to her parents in Keokuk, Iowa, shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles in 1876 with her consumptive husband. “There is not much to say of this wonderful city of the Angels, ” she wrote. “We have been walking around nearly all day through the narrow streets full of strange Spanish and Chinese faces, passing long rows of low adobe houses swarming with dusky children and reeking with foreign odors. ” Yet beyond the “squalor and nastiness, ” she also saw “groves of green trees, orange, fig, walnut, and acres of grape vines. ” 1

What greeted the Mulholland brothers when they rode into town in January 1877, in addition to depression, drought, and their relatives' straitened circumstances, was a settlement in the grip of a smallpox epidemic. By February 9, fifty-three cases had been reported, the majority in the “Spanish quarter, ” where resistance to receiving the new Jenner vaccine was high. The editor of the Los Angeles Daily Star called for the ouster of the city's health officer, charging incompetence, while also offering readers such health tips as the claim that because Jews did not eat pork, they were less subject to bilious attacks and, therefore, less apt to suffer from smallpox. By May, after the city had spent $21,000 to fight the disease, including funds for the Sisters of Charity to maintain one of the pest houses, the epidemic subsided. 2

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