Following the circuitous trail of the illustrious Patton’s

It’s been more of a challenge to tell the local story of General George S. Patton than I had previously thought. I think it would be easier if I had one of those enormous war room strategy maps to plot out the Patton family history. Sometimes I have trouble keeping all the characters straight. It doesn’t help that some of the history books hold contradictory information.

I started my original questioning with a trip to the San Gabriel Cemetery. 

I’m not intending to add much color to the General’s illustrious life, at least in terms of his military career. A general call “Old Blood and Guts”–a nickname he hated but his men loved, is a biographer’s dream. There is much written. Known for his explosive temper and shall-we-say colorful language, he was a leader for which myths and truth have mingled and persisted despite his death 67 years ago.

But there was a reason I decided to finally read a personal history of the Patton family. General Patton and his wife are buried in Luxembourg, but his grandparents, parents, sister and a few other family members I haven’t yet researched are buried half a mile from my home. When growing up I had always heard that Patton was born in neighboring Alhambra. In recent years, the city of San Marino has claimed him as their native son.

I assumed a kernel of truth was contained in each story.

Let’s start with the name.

The first George Smith Patton, the General’s grandfather, was a colonel in the Confederate States Army, killed at the Battle of Opequon. His son, born George William Patton, changed his name to George Smith Patton in honor of his father. Though given the name Junior, General George S. Patton was actually the third George Smith Patton.

But to get down to where was Patton born? My research says San Gabriel can claim him! Sort of…

Some of the records indicate he was born in “San Gabriel Township.” That term caught my interest. I’ve never heard that before.

Patton’s maternal grandparents were Benjamin Davis Wilson and his second wife Margaret Hereford. The Wilson name is very well-known in Southern California.

Benjamin Davis Wilson was a California statesman and politician. In 1851, Wilson was the second elected mayor of Los Angeles after California was made a state. Wilson’s name cropped up when I was studying early Los Angeles and the Water Wars, but I hadn’t yet made the connection to Patton.

There are many stories which describe Wilson as another very colorful and adventure-seeking man. He was also known for his kind treatment of the Spanish Native Americans. Don Benito, as he was called, became the first non-Hispanic owner of what was then Rancho San Pascual, which includes today’s towns of Pasadena, Altadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino, and San Gabriel.

You’ll have to take it from me that this was a very large Rancho.

I mentioned the Wilson name has a strong recognition factor. Yes, indeed! Mount Wilson, a notable peak in the San Gabriel Mountains is where the majority of television and radio transmission towers for the greater Los Angeles area stands as a monument to the man who took the first white man’s expedition to the peak hoping to harvest timber for making wine vats. The wood was of inferior quality for that purpose, but the Wilson Trail remains one of the most popular hikes to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains.

I wonder how many Southern Californian’s know that Mount Wilson was named after General George Patton’s grandfather?

I couldn’t help but notice a clear view of Mount Wilson taken from the foot of the Wilson/Patton burial plot.  The large marble obelisk measures almost 25 feet in height and is inscribed with the Wilson name. Looking north from that spot the television and radio transmission towers are easily visible.

Mt. Wilson

Wilson Obelisk

Wilson did live out his days in what is present-day San Gabriel and after that, understanding the property divisions gets complicated. I think it’s safe to say that each of the cities has a reasonable claim on some portion of the Patton family history.

Next to the cemetery, on what was once Wilson land, is one of the prettiest little churches in the area, the Episcopal Church of Our Savior. The General’s family were long time members and benefactors of the church, first built in 1867 with adobe and hand-made nails. It is told that Patton was baptized in this parish.

A beautiful bronze statue of General George S. Patton stands with his side arm in a dedicated space between the cemetery and the church.

But like I said, other cities claim him, too. So next post I’ll share another San Marino bronze and perhaps get a little deeper into the local history. There’s the arroyo which passes under the Rose Bowl and was once called Wilson’s Ditch, bringing water to the valley long before Mulholland and the infamous aqueduct, and I think I’ve figured out where the Patton family home was, right around the corner from the Huntington Library.

Wish me luck. You know I can get in trouble with my camera and private property.

Stay tuned…

46 thoughts on “Following the circuitous trail of the illustrious Patton’s

  1. Such history and excellent photos that go with the history. It’s amazing that there seem to be some gaps even though the generations aren’t really going very far back. But once you come across reports that differ from each other, it’s kind of challenging to find out what might be the truthful story.
    Great post. I enjoyed reading it! All the photos are very beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Debra.

    • I’m glad I can share some local history, Uta. One of the reasons I’m so interested in Southern California history is that going back just 100 years most of where I now live was nothing more than orange groves and vineyards. And now we are one of the most densely populated places in the entire world. It’s rather shocking, but very interesting to me. I keep digging to try to understand more. I’m glad I can make some of it more appealing with photos. It’s relaxing for me to get out and explore a bit! :-)

  2. Your Californian history posts are always so interesting and informative and also beautifully-illustrated, Debra. I can well understand why you said in your Writer’s Desk post that you are a researcher rather than a writer. You have the true researcher’s thirst for facts and connections. I look forward to the next installment. :-)

    • Thanks for commenting on the “researcher” part of me, Perpetua. I’ll share this with you since you were a librarian. At one time I really considered going back to school to get the credentials for library science. It was the research role I thought I would enjoy. Even as a very small child I would read thematically trying to fill in questions. I never went down that road professionally, but isn’t it fun that blogging has given me the chance to fulfill that part of my interest. I think that writing and sharing some of the stories helps me retain the information! The Patton story has been so large that I really have had trouble keeping everyone straight! :-) I hope you have a great weekend, my friend.

    • You’ve nailed it, Frank! The Patton family history is exactly like a puzzle to me. I fill in one piece and it leads me to further investigation. I thought I had a fairly good idea of the outline of this family’s imprint on SoCal, but I’ve since learned so much more. The General had an amazingly illustrious family. I’d love to meet some of his grandsons and hear from them what they remember being told. :-) Hope you have a good weekend planned, Frank. I always look forward to your Monday post and a little debriefing!

    • The church and cemetery setting associated with the Patton story are so beautiful, Nancy, and I’m glad the photos came out well. I spent a lot of time just walking around and enjoying the peace and quiet. :-)

  3. I love the photos and history lesson.. but what I would love to know.. has there never been an autobiography written about the General.?? If there hasn’t I’m surprised with so much referred to him in war books etc that I have read… the film Patton I watch with my father who was in the 2nd WW and a tank driver with the Pretoria Regiment.. at one stage in the movie my Dad got quite agitated as the film showed Patton entering a town before the British contingent… the reason for my Dad’s agitation.?? He was the second tank into that town before Patton… but then not all things in movies are 100% right… my Dad told me quite a bit about him..

    • What a fascinating story to think of you watching the movie Patton with your father…the better fact-checker, I’m sure! I think the General stole the limelight from a lot of soldiers and other military officers! What a larger-than-life man he was, and although very flawed, admirable in some ways, too. I have been thinking I’d like to see the movie again now that I’ve been reading some of the “facts” of his life. THe military strategies and complexities of the war campaigns aren’t all that clear to me, but the family history is interesting. They definitely left an amazing mark on the way Southern California unfolded. I think the General would have written an autobiography if he hadn’t died so suddenly after the war. He wasn’t a good writer and had trouble with reading, but he had enough ego, someone would have helped him! :-)

  4. I love visiting churches. The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour is one I would certainly want to spend some time in. I’m so glad you shared the pictures of the church, the cemetery, and the surrounding area and this glimpse into the General’s history. Patton seems to me to always be a bigger than life sort of character, full of flaws and genius. It will be so interesting to hear what else you uncover in your investigative pursuits. I really enjoy reading your historical posts about California, Debra, and how you take us far beyond the California of Hollywood. Thank you.

    • Thank you for making the comment about California history beyond Hollywood. I hadn’t really thought about that specifically, but I know that I have a sensitivity to the idea that even native Californians don’t know our history and comments are made that show me sometimes the richness is completely unnoticed. I guess I’m trying to do my part…and at the same time I don’t want overwhelm. I am going to a dinner meeting next Monday, Penny, and joining the San Gabriel Historical Society…I’ve been welcomed for my interest and told I am one of the “young” ones in membership. LOL! That should tell you something. But it’s time for me to get involved at the local level and I’m very curious to even learn their stated objectives. I’m not sure at all what I’m getting into! :-)

      You would indeed love this little parish. It’s so lovely and inviting. I took so many photos I may share more sometime. Thank you! :-) I hope your weekend is very nice. Did you ever get any snow?

      • It is snowing as I write this and I am enjoying its beauty (while Tom is out shoveling, lucky gal that I am).

        Good for you, Debra, and good for the San Gabriel Historical Society. You and your respective youth, tee hee, will bring fresh eyes on history and I imagine some fundraising skills. I have always felt that the best place to make contribution and change is local.

        I wish you lived close by. One of the local historical societies, where our old house is, is having a tea with Jackie Kennedy next month. I’ve seen the historic interpreter before and she is great! I’ve almost got a table put together already. Just need to find a pillbox hat.

    • Thanks for traveling along, Meg. There are so many little pockets of history in every city, aren’t there? I know you’ve seen so many worldwide…and I get such a kick out of some of them right in my own home town! :-)

  5. Dear Debra, the fact that you illustrate your history sessions with us with photographs you’ve taken yourself makes your subject matter just that much more interesting. I’d never read that quote that was at the bottom of the statue of Patton. Did he say that himself?

    I’ve been away from reading and commenting on blogs for the past six weeks. Today I left a comment here and on your two previous postings. But I’m thinking that I’ve been missing some really interesting posts, so if you have any you’d especially like me to read, please do e-mail me or leave a comment on one of my blogs. Peace.

    • I don’t know the history on the quote at the bottom of the statue, Dee. I guess I just assumed he had said that. Now you’ll have me thinking about that and I’ll have to look it up! I know how busy you’ve been, and there is only one post I would love to share with you because of your interest in the history of Native Americans. I will send you that link for you to read when you have time. I’d like to get your thoughts. :-)

  6. Hi Debbie,

    If you have not already read the latest Huntington Library calendar ( Jan./Feb. ) issue, it has more info. regarding the Wilson/Huntington/Shorb,Patton families. Quite possibly George or Georgie as he was called was born at Lacy Park area. His father moved the family there in 1888 and called it Lake Vineyard. You may already know this but it is on the first page of the issue. I thought it was a funny coincidence reading your blog and then reading it in the issue. I am so enjoying your blogs especially this local history. I want to go over to the cemetery and see the Patton family plots. I have not been there since Jessalyn was with Jesse and I went and saw your great grandparents plots.

    P.S. The issue claims Wilson was the first elected mayor of LA.?

    Heather

    Sent from my iPad

    • That’s so funny, Heather. I didn’t read the Library issue…it’s probably stuck in my mail somewhere. I did learn about the Lake Vineyard property and it gets very interesting to see how property divisions changed over and over again. It’s way too much for me to keep track of. There is a home in San Marino that apparently is associated with Patton’s but when they lived there, I have no idea. I haven’t even started talking about the Shorbs yet. Fascinating family. The grandparents are more interesting to me than Patton himself, but I’m more interested in early Califonria history than 20th century. I’d love to walk around the cemetery with you…there are some other notables buried there, too. I’ll save that info for another post. :-)

  7. Every time I research history, I find conflicting stories. That’s part of the fascination for me – deciphering the myth from reality. In fact, I used to write a monthly column on it! Great info and, as always, wonderful pics. :)

  8. The grandson who is an honorary member of my Rotary Club is named for him, but he could not go by ‘George’ because he was afraid of thunder (or something), and the General did not like that, so he goes by ‘Pat.’

    • I would LOVE to meet Pat someday. I wonder if he has ever been to this little cemetery in San Gabriel. He sure comes from a long line of amazing people…I think the General is fascinating, but I am really taken with much of his grandmother’s family. Although, from what I’m reading, almost all of his ancestry was significantly interesting. :-)

  9. You do such thorough research that after reading these posts on the Patton family I feel as though I’m attending an adult education class. Thanks hey!

    I have a Bacon number with General Patton :roll: “Blood and Guts” was the name of the very first movie Mr F worked on.

    Did you see me raise my hand? I did not know that Mount Wilson was named after General Patton’s grandfather.
    Love your photos!

    • I love the way you have a Bacon number, too, Rosie! How cool! I think Mr. F probably has many Bacon numbers if we sat down and did the connecting! :-) I hope I’m keeping the Patton family history interesting to those who don’t live around here. You’d be amazed at how much interesting information I’m leaving “on the cutting room floor.” I don’t want to be so intense that people are saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t sign up for this class.” LOL! But you’d be amazed, I certainly was, at how many Pasadena and general vicinity landmarks are named after members of his family. I’ll be sending you an email soon suggesting a little field trip you might want to do with me. Stay tuned…

    • Thank you for commenting about the mystery solving, CCU. I’m finding that part the most enjoyable. Sitting down and writing about it without including too much overwhelming detail is a little challenging to me because I’m discovering so many trails that interest me. And funny about Sherlock…my husband can’t get enough of all the different Sherlock series and movies. Even the really old ones. :-) Thank you for stopping by. I really appreciate it.

    • The little church is so beautiful and the serenity on the grounds is very appealing. The cemetery is not a part of the church, but the grounds connect and it is so quiet and peaceful. Lots of beautiful trees and very surprising for being right in a residential neighborhood. I grew up on a street that connected right into the cemetery/church and spent hours and hours walking on the grounds even as a child. I liked quiet even then! :-)

  10. I’d no idea that Patton’s family was so connected to your area. In most families, having a son become a General would be the claim to fame. With the Patton/Wilson clan, George was just one of many. Interesting stuff, Debra, and thanks for doing the research. Looking forward to the next installment.

    • I’m so glad you commented as you did, John. I am mostly interested in early California history during the rancho days and as the land grants changed from Mexican control to the early pioneers, and Patton’s family, from every direction, were instrumental in early political life and set the stage for some very interesting movement. I’ve found so much detail I would love to share, but I am afraid I’d overwhelm everyone with too much California! LOL! I’ll go forward a little bit and hope that anyone who is interested in the Patton family might one day read some of the books I’m finding interesting. I think we all probably have great history lessons under our feet in our own towns if we just had the time to dig. Thank you for showing interest…I do laugh sometimes when I think of the times I launch into one of these conversations with a friend and I see their eyes glaze over. Ha! I really should have been a history professor. I’d have a captive audience! :-)

  11. Fascinating post, Debra. I love the bronze. It’s a golden pat of the world, isn’t it? I am sitting with snow laid in the garden, shivering, just looking at the light behind all your history. Looking forward to the next instalment!

    • The day I took the photo of the General’s statue it was indeed a golden day, Kate. California’s nickname is the Golden State, and we have some beautiful sunshine. It has been raining for about four days now, and we need it badly, possibly heading into a drought. When I read about the cold, rain and snow you experience I am equally amazed at that. I will tell you truthfully that I’d steel myself to be a bit more weather-resilient to experience beautiful English landscapes and to accompany you on some of those amazing castle and history locations. Since I can’t do that, I do luxuriate in “kind” weather. :-)

  12. OH, you are such a curious George. Someone is digging some roots, it is very endearing. So why were they buried in Luzemberg again and far from their other relatives?

    • The Patton’s were buried in Luxembourg, Rommel, to be in the military cemetery where so many of his men were buried. He died in Germany following a car accident. I have had an interest in his family for a long, long time, but have only recently taken the time to dig a bit and put the story together.

  13. Most intriguing. I have, of course, heard of General Patton, and I have also heard of Mount WIlson. I had no idea there was any connection, though!
    Funny, I heard a fascinating story today related by one whose mother had been General MacArthur’s driver when he was in UK.
    A day filled with General interest! :)

    • You mention the story about General MacArthur’s driver…those WW II Generals were certainly very large historical characters, yet I am learning how little I know! I am enjoying sharing, and thank you for your interest. As you say, your General interest! :-)

    • Thank you, Otto. This is the first time I’ve ever really studied local history and I am amazed at how many of the stories interconnect and create one large story of early Los Angeles. I’m letting the photos guide me in what to share, and that’s such an enjoyable way for me to share! Thank you!

  14. Fantastic history of Patton, that I certainly never knew. My father graduated from West Point in 1945 and of course never met the general, but always admired him. So, it’s great to read your blogs about his life. Thanks for all the research! Karen

    • I wonder what your grandfather would have had to say about Patton, Eva. The General was such a controversial, yet strategic leader and for a young man, as your grandfather would have been, graduating from West Point just following the end of the war, he must have heard many stories and formed strong opinions. I’m sure he had an interesting career, too. I am enjoying the research as I explore family stories. I’m so glad you’re interested. Thank you, Karen.

  15. Pingback: Summer started with a field trip…back to the bubbling methane. | breathelighter

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