A group of laborers and their children at Santa Anita Ranch, ca 1886. Image: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

The Melting Pot of Laborers at Santa Anita Ranch

The research continues for the Leimert Park neighborhood series, and in the process of looking at history through a chronological lens, it's fit to mention that the lands we now know as Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills were once the property of one Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin. The myth behind the man is largely due to his penchant for finding success in nearly every business effort he pursued.

In the coming days a full profile will detail the man behind the myth -- including his journey from Indiana to California via covered wagon, his innumerable love affairs, and the mistress that aimed for his heart, and missed. As tends to be the case, the road to history is lined with fascinating revelations, and for this Production Note we extend an honorable mention to the multicultural labor force employed on Lucky Baldwin's massive Santa Anita Ranch.

Baldwin purchased the 8,000 acre ranch from businessman and historian Harris Newmark in 1875. (Newmark's text "Sixty Years in Southern California" is frequently cited in excavations of early L.A. history.) Speaking of historical texts, it's worth mentioning that C.B. Glasscock is one of two authors to have written about Baldwin; his colorful biography of the great tycoon is in the spirit of Newmark's anecdotal style, and also sans references. The work, "Lucky Baldwin: The Story of an Unconventional Success," had this to say about the Santa Anita labor force:

Mexican, Chinese and white laborers were employed and housed at the ranch. Chinese labor was paid one dollar a day, Mexicans twenty-five dollars a month and board, white Americans up to thirty-five a month and board ... A great deal of work could be done under such a wage scale, and Baldwin saw to it that a great deal was done.

Lucky Baldwin with employees ca. 1888

Interestingly, there is no mention of the African American contingent of laborers, of which there were many, as evidenced by the images in this post. In another academic work on the life of Baldwin, titled "Elias Jackson Lucky Baldwin: A California Visionary," author Sandra Lee Snider cites a Los Angeles Herald article from 1886: "E.J. Baldwin has sixty Negroes en route from North Carolina to work on his great ranchos."

According to Snider, the North Carolinans were employed in the stables as trainers, jockeys, exercisers, coachmen, and house staff. Mexican employees, whose numbers would increase during harvest season, also lived on the ranch and most frequently worked as field hands. The above quote from Glasscock's biography of Baldwin would suggest that he was a generous employer; however, further on in the text the true nature of Baldwin's business practices are revealed:

Employees upon the ranch, the majority of whom were Mexicans, were virtually in a state of peonage. They were given shelter, permitted to raise a few chickens and occasionally a pig on food obtained without charge from the ranch, but were seldom paid in cash, and then only a fraction of the wages that might be due. Instead of cash they had charge accounts at the general store ...There were no regular pay days.

In October of 1871, a dispute between rival Chinese factions erupted in a riot on Calle De Los Negros, now portions of Los Angeles Street, after an Anglo rancher was killed in the crossfire. After news of the death spread, a frenzied mob of white men stormed the Chinese enclave, wreaking havoc along the way. More than 18 Chinese were hung by the mob that day. According to Harris Newmark, the uncontrollable mob was "made up of the scum and dregs of the city."

In 1880, a new wave of anti-Chinese sentiment was reached with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law denied a path to citizenship, the right to start a family, and prohibited the entrance or departure of Chinese and Chinese Americans. The act would not be repealed until the onset of World War II, when China became an ally of the United States. After the massacre of 1871, many Chinese moved towards the San Gabriel Valley, away from the Pueblo. Leonard J. Rose, for whom the city of Rosemead is named, owned a portion of Santa Anita Ranch, and his autobiography includes a few lines about a more welcoming experience:

The arrival of a dozen Chinos (Chinamen) created quite a commotion amongst the native laborers, but it was purely curious and not resentful. The two factions soon fraternized and had a fine time trying to teach each other a few words of their respective languages, of which mixture they made a fine jargon.

Lucky Baldwin's daughter Clara Baldwin Stocker (right) playing croquet with guests (and Chinese servant) ca. 1894

There is no mention of Lucky Baldwin attempting to create a melting pot ideal amongst his laborers. More than likely, the decision to hire such a multicultural labor force was merely a shrewd business decision, allowing him to pay low wages, and even then only when he was pressured by insurrection.

The following photos, meant to feature the bounties of life on the ranch, inadvertently offer us a glimpse at the laborers that helped convert this abundance into profit.

An 'exerciser' atop the thoroughbred Volante ca. 1886. Image: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

A horse drawn carriage outside the cottage ca. 1889. Image: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

Lucky Baldwin is in the carriage to the right accompanied by a group of horsemen on the track ca. 1907. Image: Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

A worker plows the fields at Santa Anita Ranch ca. 1886

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Associate Producer, Departures
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