Hell Hole of the West

63898-looking-south-west-on-spring-street-from-temple-block-1876El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles. Los Angeles. The wild, wild west indeed. Before the city, there was the ‘hell hole of the west’, the most violent place at the end of the Pacific Special. The place where everyone went when they had no place else to go. When you were driven out of everyplace else, you went west, just like Horace Greeley told you to. And once you hit Los Angeles that was the end of the road.

Los Angeles always attracted the outcast, the misfit, people on the run and people seeking change. There’s never been anything normal or ordinary about the city of Angels or the people who inhabit it.

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The first law in L.A. was a volunteer group of men who formed the Los Angeles Rangers in the early part of the nineteenth century. Unpaid, they lived off the largess of others for their equipment. The unit lasted roughly four years, then disbanded, leaving the already violent Los Angeles without a police presence. The county was overrun with bandits, gamblers, murderers and rustlers driven south by northern vigilantes. Vice of all kinds was not only legal, it was taxed.

To fill the void, the Vigilance Committee was formed in 1836. On October 13, 1854 Pinckney Clifford, a prominent businessman, was robbed and murdered by David Brown, a well-known bandit. The city Marshall jailed Brown, but the Vigilance Committee intended to take care of the killer. Mayor Stephen Foster intervened and convinced them to wait for the trial. But though convicted and sentenced to hang in January 12, 1855, his attorney convinced the California Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. Instead another convicted murderer, a half-breed Indian was hanged.

Now provoked beyond reason, the Vigilance Committee, led by Mayor Stephen C Foster (who resigned his position to lead the lynch mob) forcibly removed Brown from his cell and hanged him. When Foster ran for re-election he was voted back in as Mayor on a landslide. Only in Los Angeles, you say? L.A. was also the first major metropolitan city to recall a Mayor from office, but that, as they say, is another story.

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