Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dead French in L.A.: Lachenais Lynched By Vigilante & Barber Felix Signoret 1863


"In a previous chapter I have spoken of a Frenchman named Lachenais who killed a fellow-countryman at a wake, the murder being one of a succession of crimes for which he finally paid the penalty at the hands of a Vigilance Committee in the last lynching witnessed here.

Lachenais lived near where the Westminster Hotel now stands, on the northeast corner of Main and Fourth streets, but he also had a farm south of the city, adjoining that of Jacob Bell who was once a partner in sheep-raising with John Schumacher. The old man was respectable and quiet, but Lachenais quarreled with him over water taken from the zanja. Without warning, he rode up to Bell as he was working in his field and shot him dead ; but there being no witnesses to the act, this murder remained, temporarily, a mystery. One evening, as Lachenais (to whom suspicion had been gradually directed) , was lounging about in a drunken condition, he let slip a remark as to the folly of anyone looking for Bell's murderer; and this indiscretion led to his arrest and incarceration.

No sooner had the news of Lachenais's apprehension been passed along than the whole town was in a turmoil. A meeting at Stearns's Hall was largely attended; a Vigilance Committee was formed; Lachenais's record was reviewed and his death at the hands of an outraged community was decided upon. Everything being arranged, three hundred or more armed men, under the leadership of Felix Signoret, the barber Councilman in 1863 and proprietor of the Signoret Building opposite the Pico House assembled on the morning of December 17th, marched to the jail, overcame Sheriff Burns and his assistants, took Lachenais out, dragged him along to the corral of Tomlinson and Griffith (at the corner of Temple and New High streets) and there summarily hanged him. Then the mob, without further demonstration, broke up; the participants going their several ways. The reader may have already observed that this was not the first time that the old Tomlinson and Griffith gate had served this same gruesome purpose.

The following January, County Judge Y. Sepulveda charged the Grand Jury to do its duty toward ferreting out the leaders of the mob, and so wipe out this reproach to the city; but the Grand Jury expressed the conviction that if the law had hitherto been faithfully executed in Los Angeles, such scenes in broad daylight would never have taken place. The editor of the News, however, ventured to assert that this report was but another disgrace."

-- SIXTY YEARS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (1870)
   CONTAINING THE REMINISCENCES OF HARRIS NEWMARK
   EDITED BY MAURICE H. NEWMARK and MARCO R. NEWMARK




Felix Signoret (1825–1878) was a member of the Common Council, the governing body of the city of Los Angeles, and also of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in the 19th Century. He was the leader of a vigilante gang that carried out a lynching of a reputed murderer in 1863.

Personal  

Signoret was born in France on June 9, 1825, living in Marseilles before he came to the United States. He was married to Catherine Pagen, also of France. Their children were P. Josephine, Rose, Anna and Caroline, and possibly Louise and Felix P.[1][2] By trade he was a barber, later an apartment owner.[3][4][5]

The Signorets bought a parcel of land at 125 Aliso Street[6] in 1871 and built a "substantial brick house" about thirty feet wide with an area of nearly 1,800 square feet; the roof was "hipped on all four sides in mimicry of the fashionable Mansard shape. . . . By 1888 the Signorets . . . were long gone, and their genteel house was used as a brothel."[7]

In 1874, Signoret was building a new hotel at Main and Turner streets, north of Arcadia Street and "opposite the Pico House," also with a Mansard pitch, which the Los Angeles Star said would be the first such roof in the city.[3][8][9]

Signoret died on July 28, 1878, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.[2]


Public service  

Signoret was elected to the Los Angeles Common Council, the governing body of the city, serving from May 9, 1863, to May 5, 1864.[10] He was also a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1866.[11]

Lynching 

Signoret was the leader[12] of the last lynching to take place in Los Angeles, in 1863 — that of "a Frenchman named Lachenais" — who was suspected of killing a neighbor, Jacob Bell.[3][13]

Contemporary writer Harris Newmark recounted that:

A meeting at Stearn's Hall[14] was largely attended; a Vigilance Committee was formed; Lachenais's record was reviewed and his death at the hands of an outraged committee was decided upon. Everything being arranged, three hundred or more armed men, under the leadership of Felix Signoret, . . . assembled on the morning of December 17th, marched to the jail, overcame Sheriff Burns and his assistants, took Lachenais out, dragged him to the . . . corner of Temple and New High streets . . . and summarily hanged him. . . . The following January, County Judge Y. Sepulveda charged the Grand Jury to do its duty toward ferreting out the leaders of the mob, and so wipe out this reproach to the city; but the Grand Jury expressed the conviction that if the law had hitherto been faithfully executed in Los Angeles, such scenes in broad daylight would never have taken place.[3]


Other news of Felix Signoret

An article by Steve Harvey in the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 1984, stated that Signoret "led a lynch mob that hanged five people in Los Angeles in 1869–70 in the aftermath of a murder resulting from 'offensive remarks (made) about the newly organized French Benevolent Society.' "[15]

Location of Temple and New High Street Today:





References and notes  

1.^ Retrospect-GDS
2.^ Find-a-Grave
3.^ Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in California
4.^ "Mother of Felix McGinnis Dies Unaware of His Death," Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1945, page 9
5.^ "Los Angeles, 'Far Ouest' fran├žais?" Geneablog.org, March 20, 2008
6.^ [1] Location of Aliso Street on Mapping L.A.
7.^ Mary Praetzellis, "Mangling Symbols of Gentility in the Wild West," American Anthropologist,103(3):645-654 (2001), with sources cited there
8.^ Quoted in E.A. Brainstool, "Los Angeles in 1874," Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1924, page A-4
9.^ "Preferred Locals," Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1882, page 4
10.^ Chronological Record of Los Angeles City Officials,1850-1938, compiled under direction of Municipal Reference Library, City Hall, Los Angeles (March 1938, reprinted 1966). "Prepared ... as a report on Project No. SA 3123-5703-6077-8121-9900 conducted under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration."
11.^ Los Angeles County information sheet
12.^ E.A. Brininstool, "Historic Building Is Razed," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1927, page H-1 This later account by a witness, J.J. Mellus, related that the leader was a Bill Harper. The story is also quoted at [2] "The Lynching of Lashenais," February 1, 2010.
13.^ Photograph of the lynching
 14.^ More information about this venue is at [3] "Historic Downtown Theatres."
15.^ [4]

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