Excerpts from California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 - Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark.
Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark (http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/calbk:@field%28DOCID+@lit%28calbk023div37%29%29)
About the twenty-first of October a "war" broke out near Nigger Alley* between two rival factions of the Chinese on account of the forcible carrying off of one of the companies' female members, and the steamer California soon brought a batch of Chinamen from San Francisco, sent down, it was claimed, to help wreak vengeance on the abductors. On Monday, October 23d some of the contestants were arrested, brought before Justice Gray and released on bail. It was expected that this would end the trouble; but at five o'clock the next day the factional strife broke loose again, and officers, accompanied by citizens, rushed to the place to attempt an arrest. The Chinese resisted and Officer Jesus Bilderrain was shot in the right shoulder and wrist, while his fifteen-year-old brother received a ball in the right leg. Robert Thompson, a citizen who sprang to Bilderrain's assistance, was met by a Chinaman with two revolvers and shot to death. Other shots from Chinese barricaded behind some iron shutters wounded a number of bystanders.
News of the attacks and counter-attacks spread like wild-fire, and a mob of a thousand or more frenzied beyond control, armed with pistols, guns, knives and ropes, and determined to avenge Thompson's murder, assembled in the neighborhood of the disturbance. While this solid phalanx was being formed around Nigger Alley, a Chinaman, waving a hatchet, was seen trying to escape across Los Angeles Street; and Romo Sortorel, at the expense of some ugly cuts on the hand, captured him. Emil Harris then rescued the Mongolian; but a detachment of the crowd, yelling "Hang him! shoot him!" overpowered Harris at Temple and Spring streets, and dragged the trembling wretch up Temple to New High street, where the familiar framework of the corral gates suggested its use as a gallows. With the first suspension, the rope broke; but the second attempt to hang the prisoner was successful. Other Chinamen, whose roofs had been smashed in, were rushed down Los Angeles Street to the south side of Commercial, and there, near Goller's wagon shop, between wagons stood on end, were hung. Alarmed for the safety of their cook, Sing Ty, the Juan Lanfrancos hid the Mongolian for a week, until the excitement had subsided.
Henry T. Hazard was lolling comfortably in a shaving saloon, under the luxurious lather of the barber, when he heard of the riot; and arriving on the scene, he mounted a barrel and attempted to remonstrate with the crowd. Some friends soon pulled him down, warning him that he might be shot. A. J. King was at supper when word was brought to him that Chinese were slaughtering white people, and he responded by seizing his rifle and two revolvers. In trying one of the latter, however, it was prematurely discharged, taking the tip off a finger and putting him hors de combat. Sheriff Burns could not reach the scene until an hour after the row started and many Chinamen had already taken their celestial flight. When he arrived, he called for a posse comitatus to assist him in handling the situation; but no one responded. He also demanded from the leader of the mob and others that they disperse; but with the same negative result.
About that time, a party of rioters started with a Chinaman up Commercial Street to Main, evidently bent on hanging him to the Tomlinson & Griffith gate; and when Burns promised to attempt a rescue if he had but two volunteers, Judge R. M. Widney and James Goldsworthy responded and the Chinaman was taken from his tormentors and lodged in jail. Besides Judge Widney, Cameron E. Thom and H. C. Austin displayed great courage in facing the mob, which was made up of the scum and dregs of the city; and Sheriff Burns is also entitled to much credit for his part in preventing the burning of the Chinese quarters. All the efforts of the better element, however, did not prevent one of the most disgraceful of all disturbances which had occurred since my arrival in Los Angeles.
On October 25th, when Coroner Joseph Kurtz impanelled his jury, nineteen bodies of Chinamen alone were in evidence and the verdict was: "Death through strangulation by persons unknown to the jury." Emil Harris's testimony at the inquest, that but one of the twenty-two or more victims deserved his fate, about hits the mark and confirms the opinion that the slight punishment to half a dozen of the conspirators was very inadequate. At the time of the massacre, I heard a shot just as I was about to leave my office, and learned that it had been fired from that part of Chinatown facing Los Angeles Street; and I soon ascertained that it had ended Thompson's life. Anticipating no further trouble, however, I went home to dinner.
When I returned to town, news of the riot had spread, and with my neighbors, Cameron E. Thom and John G. Downey, I hurried to the scene. It was then that I became an eye-witness to the heroic, if somewhat comical parts played by Thom and Burns. The former, having climbed to the top of a box, harangued the crowd, while the Sheriff, who had succeeded in mounting a barrel, was also addressing the tumultuous rabble in an effort to restore order. Unfortunately, this receptacle had been coopered to serve as a container, not as a rostrum; and the head of the cask under the pressure of two hundred pounds or more of official avoirdupois suddenly collapsed and our Worthy Guardian of the Peace dropped, with accelerated speed, clear through to the ground, and quite unintentionally, for the moment at least, turned grim tragedy into grotesque comedy.
Following this massacre, the Chinese Government made such a vigorous protest to the United States that the Washington authorities finally paid a large indemnity. During these negotiations, Chinese throughout the country held lamentation services for the Los Angeles victims; and on August 2d, 1872, four Chinese priests came from San Francisco to conduct the ceremonies.
* The riots took place on Calle de los Negros (Negro Alley), which later became part of Los Angeles Street in 1877. Calle de los Negros was situated immediately northeast of Los Angeles's principal business district, running 500 feet from the intersection of Arcadia Street to the plaza. The unpaved street took its name from the dark-complexioned Californios (pre-annexation, Spanish-speaking Californians) who had originally lived there. Once home to the town's most prominent families, the neighborhood had deteriorated into a slum by the time Los Angeles's first Chinatown was established there in the 1860s. Today the location is part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.