By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
HUGO REID MUST BE HERE SOMEWHERE, BUT I'M HAVING TROUBLE FINDING him. He died December 12, 1852, in Arcadia, California, at the age of 41, and was buried two days later in downtown Los Angeles -- "in the Pueblo's old Catholic cemetery," according to Susanna Bryant Dakin's A Scotch Paisano: Hugo Reid's Life in California. But when I arrive at the Pueblo's Old Plaza Church, where Reid's funeral service was held, I find that the cemetery that once adjoined the church is now a vacant lot of tule-like grasses enclosed by a fence. A sign proclaims that the site will soon be a center for artworks and performances celebrating Mexican culture and history. That's all very nice, but where is Hugo? What did they do with his body? And why, you may ask, should anyone care?
I'm on the hunt for great drama -- source material that might make a good play -- and in the process I've developed a serious Hugo obsession.
Hugo Reid, the son of a shopkeeper, grew up in Cardross, Scotland, and was known as an animated storyteller and singer, fluent in English, Spanish, French and probably Latin. One year into his studies at Cambridge, evidently upset after being jilted by a girlfriend named Victoria, he impulsively boarded a ship for South America at age 18, never to see Britain again. In 1832, after a few years teaching schoolchildren and managing a mercantile shop in Hermosillo, Sonora, Reid boarded a northbound brig in Mexico for a trading excursion and ended up traveling from the beachhead at San Pedro to the lazy, flat-topped adobe-and-breaPueblo of Los Angeles. He eventually made his home in the San Gabriel Valley.
Among Reid's many controversial exploits, which include being charged with and acquitted of incitement to revolution (against Mexico), and being charged with and fined for smuggling (glorified tax evasion), his most famous is marrying an aristocratic Gabrieleno Indian, coincidentally named Victoria. A beautiful widowed Catholic convert several years older than Reid, and the daughter of a Comicrabit chief, Victoria held an esteemed position with the San Gabriel missionaries. Before marrying her, Reid had to convert to Catholicism and obtain a hard-earned blessing from Governor Juan Alvarado. Their wedding was among San Gabriel's wildest and most scandalous parties of 1837, with aguardiente(brandy) flowing all night and dancing till dawn.
Thirteen years later, Reid had abandoned his family for adventures at sea, run three different trading enterprises into the ground and succumbed to tuberculosis, leaving Victoria distraught, impoverished and insane. Even so, he earned a prominent place in Los Angeles society during the final days of Mexican jurisdiction and was an elected delegate to the California Constitutional Convention in Monterey, when the state government was being conceived.
On a Web site I learn that for commercial purposes, near the turn of the last century, the inhabitants of the Old Plaza Church cemetery were relocated to a "new" Pueblo cemetery on North Broadway. But that was paved over in the '30s, again for commercial purposes. The inhabitants of the "new" cemetery were evidently relocated to L.A.'s largest Catholic cemetery, New Calvary, on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A.
I call New Calvary and am told that there is no Hugo Reid on the property. Which leads me back to the rectory of the Old Plaza Church. Archivist Mercy Erazo has no idea who Hugo Reid was, but generously looks up the church's death records, which run through the calendar year of 1852. No entry of Reid's funeral exists.
I find Hugo's seeming evaporation from history strange and disconcerting, given the man's fame in his own era (a "pillar of society," says Dakin). If Reid had lived in, say, Boston or Philadelphia -- cities that clutch their past -- he certainly would be easier to find. Is this yet another indication of how L.A. disregards its own history? True, there's the Hugo Reid School in Arcadia, and the Hugo Reid Adobe (one of his houses), reconstructed but still standing on its original site in what's now the L.A. County Arboretum in Arcadia. But that's about it.
"Oh, sure, Hugo Reid," says Monsignor Francis Weber of the San Fernando Mission rectory when I call on the phone. "He married an Indian girl, you know. They're both out in San Gabriel, buried in the mission. Why don't you check there?"
Of course: San Gabriel, Reid's old stomping grounds, and the center of the Gabrielenos' torturous life in the 19th century. Reid was a passionate defender of Indian rights and a student of their traditions. He not only learned their Tongva language but wrote a landmark treatise about indigenous tongues and customs, The Indians of Los Angeles County, the starting point for what little history we have of them, as they wrote down almost nothing about themselves.
So why has Hugo's legacy become as sketchy as the Indians'? Through his marriage, he obtained thousands of acres of Victoria's land (enabling him to become a rancher), most of which he squandered in those disastrous business investments. If he hadn't died in poverty, if he'd only been as lucky as Lucky Baldwin, who purchased Reid's Arcadia estate, he might have a city and a hillside named after him as well.