Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson Statue

LAXG: Don Benito Statue

Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson Statue

In a busy, brightly colored plaza, you can find a statue commemorating Benjamin David Wilson, the “Founding Father of Alhambra.”

The statue of Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson seems a little out of place in Alhambra’s Renaissance Plaza. The statue stands in a somewhat odd location, an awkward distance from the center of the plaza, as if he’s put off by the colorful tile decorating the surrounding plaza and the bright lights of Edwards Cinema building behind him.

The bronze Wilson statue is dressed in a suit, complete with waistcoat and bow tie, and he stares intently in a southern direction, away from the mountain peak that’s named after him. Under his arm he holds three scrolls — which the informational plaque at his feet informs us are blueprints, presumably plans he had drawn up as the “Founding Father of Alhambra.”

Benjamin Davis Wilson, Don Benito to some, standing at Renaissance Plaza in Alhambra. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Story of Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson

Tennessee-born Benjamin Davis Wilson traveled to Los Angeles in 1841 as part of the Workman-Rowland Party (along with Jacob Frankfurt, the first known Jewish settler of Los Angeles). Wilson’s initial plan was to book passage on a boat to China, but this plan went up in smoke almost immediately when he wasn’t allowed to leave.

Don Benito

Undaunted by this, Wilson decided to earn Mexican citizenship and buy a tract of land that was part of Rancho Jurupa in what is now Riverside County. A few years later he married 15-year-old Ramona Yorba (Wilson was 33 at the time). Ramona was daughter of Bernardo Yorba, a wealthy Californio (a native Californian descendant of Spanish or Mexican settlers) who owned Rancho Cañón de Santa Ana — a huge land holding which comprised pretty much all of what is now Orange County (Yorba Linda is named for the family).

Wilson was named as alcade (the rough equivalent ot a regional magistrate or sheriff) of the Inland Territory and put in charge of “Indian Affairs.” It was said he was so fair in his dealings with the native Tongva that they called him “Don Benito.” No word on what they called him when he wasn’t around.

Benjamin Wilson — Lawman

In 1845, Wilson was called on by Governor Pio Pico to pursue a band of “renegades” from the Ute tribe accused of stealing horses and cattle from the ranchos in the area. Wilson rounded up a posse and made his way up Santa Ana Canyon into the San Bernardino Mountains.

As he traveled through the mountains, he noticed an abundance of grizzly bears in the area. Wilson, who previously worked as a fur trapper in Santa Fe, and his men took a little time out from their manhunt to kill and skin 22 bears. He christened the area Big Bear Valley, and it still carries that name today.

Wilson and his party eventually caught up with the horse thieves and dispatched them accordingly. For his trouble, Wilson was shot in the shoulder with a poisoned arrow.

Benjamin Wilson — Army Captain and Statesman

Wilson, despite his status as a Mexican citizen, switched sides during the Conquest of California and was named a Captain of the U.S. Army. It’s not exactly clear how all this happened, but Wilson came out on top.

California became a state two years after the end of the Mexican-American War, and Wilson stepped up to serve on the first Los Angeles Common Council. He was then elected as the second Mayor of Los Angeles in 1851, and ended up serving Los Angeles and California in a political capacity for years to come.

Benjamin Wilson — The Legacy

In 1863, Wilson bought Rancho San Pascual, a sprawling tract of land that included much of modern-day Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Altadena, San Gabriel, and … Alhambra. All this land was later sub-divided and developed, eventually growing into the communities of today.

The intense stare of Benjamin Davis Wilson. Photo from the author’s collection.

At one point he led an exploratory group into the San Gabriel Mountains (allegedly the first) to look for lumber, establishing a trail along the way. This journey resulted in Mount Wilson, home of the Mount Wilson Observatory, being named for him. He’s also the namesake for pretty much any Wilson Street in Los Angeles County.

Just around the corner — the Alhambra Main Street Clock

Sidewalk Clocks of Los Angeles

In the days of a more walkable Los Angeles, jewelry stores would install free-standing clocks on the sidewalks outside their storefronts. Today, only a few of these historic sidewalk clocks remain in Los Angeles.

Keep reading

Benjamin Davis Wilson Statue

Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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