Benjamin Davis Wilson

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Benjamin Davis Wilson
Don benito wilson.jpg
Benjamin "Don Benito" Wilson
Photo ca. 1870
2nd Mayor of Los Angeles
In office
May 7, 1851 – May 4, 1852
Preceded byAlpheus P. Hodges
Succeeded byJohn G. Nichols
Personal details
Born(1811-12-01)December 1, 1811
Wilson County, Tennessee US
DiedMarch 11, 1878(1878-03-11) (aged 66)
San Gabriel, California
Resting placeSan Gabriel Cemetery
NationalityU.S. and Mexican citizen
Spouse(s)Ramona Yorba, Margaret Hereford
RelationsGeorge S. Patton (grandson)

Benjamin Davis Wilson (December 1, 1811 – March 11, 1878) was an American politician. He was known to the Native Americans as Don Benito because of his benevolent manner in his treatment of Native American affairs. Wilson, a native of Tennessee, was a fur trapper and trader before coming to California.

Detained in Southern California while attempting to obtain passage to China, Wilson decided to remain there. He married Ramona Yorba, daughter of Bernardo Yorba, a wealthy and prominent landowner, and purchased part of Rancho Jurupa in what would become Riverside County. Wilson was made Justice of the Peace for the Inland Territory and was entrusted with the care of Native American affairs. He was also commissioned to deal with the hostile Ute tribe over their cattle rustling and other crimes against the ranchers. His marriage to his second wife, Margaret Hereford produced a daughter Ruth who would later be mother to General George S. Patton Jr. commander of U.S. and allied forces during World War II.

Wilson became the first non-Hispanic owner of Rancho San Pascual, which encompassed today's towns of Pasadena, Altadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino and San Gabriel. Wilson was the second elected Mayor of Los Angeles for one term (1851-1852), Los Angeles County Supervisor 3 terms (1853, 1861, 1862-64) and served three terms as a California State Senator.

Life in California[edit]

Rancho Jurupa[edit]

Wilson came to California with the Workman-Rowland Party in 1841 seeking passage to China.

In 1842 Wilson bought a key portion of Rancho Jurupa from Juan Bandini, a section that would later be named Rancho Rubidoux. Encompassing most of present-day Rubidoux, California, as well as a significant portion of downtown Riverside, Wilson became the first permanent settler in the Riverside area.[1] In 1844 he married his first wife, Ramona Yorba, whose father Bernardo Yorba, was the prominent Spanish (Mexican) landholder of Rancho Cañón de Santa Ana.

Wilson gained esteem and was often asked to assist with Native American affairs.[2] Wilson accepted by becoming Justice of the Peace of the Inland Territory.

Big Bear Lake[edit]

In 1845 he was asked to pursue a band of marauding Native Americans led by an escaped neophyte from the San Gabriel Mission,[3] who stole horses from the local ranchers. The Indians drove the horses, numbering in the thousands, up to the high desert near Lucerne. In his pursuit, Wilson sent 22 men through the Cajon Pass and led another 22 into the depths of the San Bernardino Mountains. According to Trafzer, the resident Serrano let Wilson pass through their territory in pursuit of the raiders. Wilson, later sent his 22 men in pairs on a bear hunt, gathering 11 pelts. On their return trip to Jurupa, they gathered another 11 pelts. He named the place Big Bear Lake. The lake today is known as Baldwin Lake, after Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, while the name Big Bear Lake was re-applied to a reservoir built nearby in 1884.

Political activities[edit]

In 1850, Wilson was elected to the Los Angeles Common Council,[4] and a year later he became the second elected mayor of Los Angeles after California was made a state. He also served as a Los Angeles County supervisor (1853, 1861-64).[5] He was elected to three terms of the California State Senate.

Rancho San Pascual[edit]

In 1854 Wilson established Lake Vineyard, his own ranch and winery near modern-day San Gabriel, California. He came into possession of adjoining Rancho San Pascual (present day Pasadena) through a series of complicated land deals, which began with his lending money to the Rancho's owner Manuel Garfias in 1859. In 1863 Wilson and Dr. John Strother Griffin, who had also lent Garfias money — and with whom Wilson undertook many business deals in early Los Angeles, including railways, oil exploration, real estate, farming and ranching — bought the entire rancho property outright, and diverted water from the Arroyo Seco up to the dry mesa via an aqueduct called the "Wilson Ditch."

In 1864 Wilson took the first white man's expedition to a high peak of the San Gabriel Mountains that would be named Mount Wilson. He hoped to harvest timber there for the making of wine vats, but he found the wood inadequate. The Wilson Trail became a popular one or two-day hike to the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains by local residents for years to come.

Wilson about 1850

In 1873, Wilson and Griffin subdivided their land (with Griffin getting almost 2/3 of the property, but Wilson retaining some better land (east of current Fair Oaks Avenue), near his Lake Vineyard property). Griffin then sold 2,500 acres (10 km²) of his property to the "Indiana Colony," represented by Daniel M. Berry. In 1876, after the Colony had sold most of its allotted land and established what would become the City of Pasadena, Wilson began subdividing and developing his adjacent landholdings which would become the eastern side of the new settlement.


Wilson lived out his days in present-day San Gabriel. He gave several acres of property to his son-in-law James de Barth Shorb which he named San Marino. Other parts developed as Alhambra. Wilson's first wife died in 1849, after which time he married the widow Margaret Hereford. They would have four children of which one daughter Ruth would marry George Patton, Sr. and have a son who would become the World War II General George S. Patton, Jr. The Pattons would later purchase Lake Vineyard. Wilson died at the ranch in 1878 and was buried in San Gabriel Cemetery.[6] The last of his land holdings in the downtown Pasadena area were bequeathed to Central School on South Fair Oaks Avenue.

Mount Wilson, a metromedia center (television and radio transmission towers) for the greater Los Angeles area, is the most famous monument to Benjamin Wilson. Wilson Avenue in Pasadena and Don Benito School of the Pasadena Unified School District also honor his name.



  • Kielbasa, John R. (1998). "Flores Adobe". Historic Adobes of Los Angeles County. Pittsburg: Dorrance Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8059-4172-X..
  • Read, Nat B. (2008). Don Benito Wilson: From Mountain Man to Mayor: Los Angeles 1841 - 1878. Angel City Press. ISBN 978-1-883318-83-3.
  • Google Bookshelf, The Pattons
  • Wilson, Benjamin D. (1852). Indians of Southern California in 1852, ed. John W. Caughey (San Marino: Huntington Library,1952).

Citations and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Patterson, Tom. Landmarks of Riverside, and the Stories Behind Them. The Press~Enterprise Co., 1964, Page 19.
  2. ^ Wilson (1852)
  3. ^ Trafzer, Clifford. 2002. The People of San Manuel. San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Patton, California
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ "Supervisor Benjamin D. Wilson" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2009-05-27.
  6. ^ Benjamin Wilson Gravesite at Find a Grave