Independence Day, 1847: How Los Angeles Celebrated Its First Fourth | KCET
Independence Day, 1847: How Los Angeles Celebrated Its First Fourth
One night every July, explosions boom across the Los Angeles Basin, but they provoke little alarm.
Elsewhere, the rumble of fireworks might recall the artillery fire of an approaching army or the “shock and awe” unleashed by cruise missile and F-15. Such sounds of war, however, are unfamiliar to Los Angeles, a city that cannot remember when it last served as battlefield. No enemy army has marched on Los Angeles for more than a century and a half, stirring Angelenos with its thunderous cannon. When one last did, in 1847, the enemy carried the Stars and Stripes.
Gunfire greeted the rising sun on the Fourth of July, 1847. High above Los Angeles, in a fort occupying the city’s commanding heights, Lieutenant John W. Davidson lofted the Stars and Stripes up a 150-foot pine flagpole. A 13-gun salute answered the cheers of 700 armed troops. If dawn hadn’t roused the residents of newly conquered Los Angeles, the cannons surely would have.
Los Angeles was a town under military rule. The oft-reenacted ceremony marked the first official Independence Day celebration in California since American troops had marched into the ciudad of Los Angeles on January 10, 1847, following a series of pitched battles with native Californio forces. Though the Capitulation of Cahuenga had paused hostilities in California, a state of war still existed between the U.S. and Mexico.
In April, rumors raced through town of an imminent counter-invasion by an army of 1,500 Mexican troops. American forces scrambled to build an adobe fort on the city’s high ground. Amid the hasty construction, American commander Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson issued orders for a July Fourth ceremony “which should animate the heart of every lover of freedom.”
A proper display of the American standard was a prerequisite, so Stevenson dispatched gardener Juan Ramirez to the San Bernardino Mountains to fetch timber suitable for a flagpole. On June 18, Ramirez, his army of Indian laborers, and a small military escort returned from Mill Creek with 20 yoke of oxen and two pine tree trunks in tow. Carpenters spliced the trunks together to create a flagpole 150 feet tall.
After the sunrise flag-raising, the ceremony resumed at 11 a.m. Armed troops again paraded around the fort, this time for the benefit of an assembled crowd of Spanish-speaking residents. The soldiers named the half-completed fort after a fallen comrade, Captain Benjamin Daviess Moore. A 21-gun salute followed a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and the thunder of artillery fire echoed through town.
The Mexican counter-invasion never materialized. War officially ended the following year upon ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Army decommissioned Fort Moore in 1853. And yet in many ways Los Angeles remained occupied territory even after the last soldier departed. Law institutionalized the power relations between conqueror and conquered, and frontier violence enforced them.
No Independence Day celebration since has stated the realities of the American conquest so directly as on Los Angeles’ first Fourth, and fireworks long ago took the place of cannon. But thunder still booms across Los Angeles each July Fourth, a faint echo of the city’s martial past.
An earlier version of this article, updated and expanded here with additonal images, appeared on July 2, 2013, on Los Angeles magazine’s City Think blog.
Halloween 2020 is not canceled. It’s just a little different this year. Whether it’s established attractions or inaugural events that might become future Halloween standbys, here are five great ways to scare up some extra spooks this October.
Universal CityWalk and Cal State Northridge were announced as the latest venues that will serve as vote centers for Los Angeles County residents to cast their ballots in the November election.
Pointing again to younger residents as driving forces behind coronavirus case numbers, Los Angeles County's public health director warned that large and small gatherings are a continued major source of COVID-19 transmission.
The closure of migrant learning centers in the southern province of Ranong has driven hundreds of Burmese children into work.
- 1 of 373
- next ›
Griffith Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. Its founder, Griffith J. Griffith, donated the land to the city as a public recreation ground for all the people — an ideal that has been challenged over the years.
During World War II, three renowned photographers captured scenes from the Japanese incarceration: outsiders Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams and incarceree Tōyō Miyatake who boldly smuggled in a camera lens to document life from within the camp.
Prohibition may have outlawed liquor, but that didn’t mean the booze stopped flowing. Explore the myths of subterranean Los Angeles, crawl through prohibition-era tunnels, and visit some of the city’s oldest speakeasies.
Although best known for designing the homes of celebrities like Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra, the pioneering African-American architect Paul Revere Williams also contributed to some of the city’ s most recognizable civic structures.
As recently as a century ago, scientists doubted whether the universe extended beyond our own Milky Way — until astronomer Edwin Hubble, working with the world’s most powerful telescope discovered just how vast the universe is.
- 1 of 5
- next ›