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…

Six degrees of General George S. Patton

Do you know what a “Bacon number” is? It’s the number of degrees of separation between any Hollywood personality and Kevin Bacon, based on the films in which each has appeared.

Many years ago a game originated based on the concept of six degrees of separation, which contends than any two people, on average, are separated by no more than six acquaintance links. The Bacon number of an actor is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon.

Enter the Google boys! I love their quirky social contributions.

Type the phrase “bacon number” –hold the quotes–into the search bar, then type in any actor’s name, hit enter and the clever Google minds will fill in the calculation.

We just saw the movie Lincoln, so I entered Daniel Day-Lewis into the equation. Daniel Day-Lewis and David Strathairn both appeared in Lincoln. David Strathairn and Kevin Bacon appeared in The River Wild. So Daniel Day-Lewis’s Bacon number is 2.

Here’s one more. My current favorite television show is Downton Abbey. So what is Maggie Smith’s Bacon number? Maggie Smith and Sandra Bullock appeared in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Sandra Bullock and Kevin Bacon appeared in Loverboy. Consequently, Maggie Smith’s Bacon number is also 2.

One of my relatives had a minor role in the movie, Footloose, so I claim a personal Kevin Bacon degree of separation.

What does this have to do with General George S. Patton? Not much, except it’s my way of saying that if you live in my little quadrant of Southern California you can’t go anywhere without bumping into a name or place or person directly connected  to General Patton’s family. My guess is that very few Southern Californian’s really know the full extent to which the family names populate the history and founding of the region.

For many years I’ve walked past the Patton family plot in the San Gabriel Cemetery. My great-grandparents are buried in this cemetery. Does this then also connect me to General George Patton? (Once you start this game, it’s hard to stop).

In the next few posts I will break down just a few of the stories of how George Patton’s family leaves an indelible imprint on Southern California. As I’ve been reading a personal history of the family authored by General Patton’s grandson, Robert H. Patton, I’ve discovered that just like the “Bacon game” innumerable local landmarks and historical references connect through this illustrious family.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I sadly admit that before I started this little study much of what I knew about General Patton was limited to what I remembered of the 1970 movie, Patton, starring actor George C. Scott.

Which of course made me go back to the Google calculator.

George C. Scott and Sean Penn appeared in the movie Taps. Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon appeared in Mystic River. So…

You’ve got the idea by now.

I’ll be back with a little Patton history, so I hope you’ll travel with me.

How are General George S. Patton, the San Gabriel Mission and an old grist mill connected? Come take a field trip with me and I’ll explain.

Mark Twain said, “One of the most admirable things about history is, that almost as a rule we get as much information out of what it does not say as we get out of what it does say.”  

As I continue to study early California history, I uncover more stories connected  to early mission life, and the more I discover, the more I realize I now have additional research questions.

I suppose this is why historians often choose a particular era or even one single historical event and then dedicate their work to becoming experts. I have no design on fashioning myself into an expert, but I’m definitely hooked and have multiple areas of early California history begging for my attention.

This week I was able to stay very local, within five miles of my home, and take my field trip to another historic landmark. El Molino Viejo, or The Old Mill, a former grist mill associated with the operation of the San Gabriel Mission.

The mission was founded on September 8, 1771, dedicated to farming and self-sufficiency. One of the remaining mission structures is less than ten miles from current mission property, the Old Mill, built by the Tongva-Gabrielino Mission Indian laborers around 1816, as designed by Franciscan Father Jose Maria de Zalvidea.

Between 1816-1823 the Old Mission gathered water from an adjacent canyon and the mill was responsible for grinding enough wheat and corn to feed the mission inhabitants.

Be sure to read the story on the plaque and see how General George Patton recovered the millstones.

A surprise to many who live locally, the water that left the grinding area then flowed to what is now the very popular Lacy Park. The padres used the water that accumulated into a bog  for wool-washing, and as a tannery and sawmill.

In 1846, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor or Alta California sold the property and it is there that new stories open into the settling of the Pasadena area. I am working on those bites of history and will look forward to sharing them with you as I do a bit more local touring.

I hope you’ll enjoy photos of the current mill site . The mill is the oldest commercial building in Southern California and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped and maintained by The San Marino Women’s Garden Club, “The Diggers,” with specific attention devoted to native plants. This late in the season there isn’t much in bright color, but I’ll be going again in the spring to note the changes. It is really quite lovely as it is with natural brush, many fruit trees, wild grasses and succulents.

The birds, bees, butterflies and small animals are very much at home!

Part of my personal study is to better understand complex stories and find a way to share them without overwhelming amounts of information. My exercise in studying the historical record is indeed at least scratching the surface of what is “said and unsaid.”

Indigenous “Californians” date back some 13,000-15,000 years. It’s impossible to study the life and activities of the mission without acknowledging that all mission success was realized at the expense of the native Gabrielino-Tongvan people. Their story is much more complex than I can develop in a single blogpost, but there are 6,000 Indians buried at Mission San Gabriel Arcangel.  There is a lot to learn.

And as I share, I don’t expect others to remember all the details, but I hope it excites you enough to think about what little historical field trips you might make to better know your own local history. Be careful, though. It’s addicting.