Battle: Los Angeles, the science fiction action thriller, released over the weekend is already on its way to become another block buster. Well, my friends there have been other battles in Los Angeles, fictitious and otherwise….
The title of this blog cites makes reference to the first Xicano actor in a major science fiction movie. I’m referring to famed actor Edward James Olmos and how he played many years ago in my decision to write my soon-to-be published science fiction novel, LOM. Well, before you think Lechuga is playing a Hollywood game here and just name dropping to push his novel, please be assured, there is a connect here, and I shall elucidate on it but before I get to that I will ruminate over the Other Battles of Los Angeles–
Los Angeles proper and what is now called the Greater Los Angeles Area has been the site of a number of significant violent conflicts. If we take into account all the revolts and serious riots, perhaps we can get some insight into the hard truth of L.A.’s violent legacy, a city that for some mysterious reason has come to be known as the Gang Capitol of America. Lala Land the yahoos from Northern California call it. Ignorance creates a false sense of security and comfort sometimes.
There were the two Battles of the Cahuenga Pass, the first one in 1831, the second one also known as the Battle of Providencia in 1844. Both were in effect revolts on the part of the Californio gente de razon rebelling against their Mexican governors.
Not a few blood thirsty connoisseurs of military history have mocked the description of these engagements as battles but these incidents did involve two opposing groups of armed men, exchanges of gunfire even cannon fire. The first Cahuenga battle involved deadly lance dueling and gunfire. Governor Victoria was lanced in the face and two horsemen from opposing sides were shot to death. The second Cahuenga battle perhaps does have a farcical aspect to it. The only casualties after a symbolic exchange of cannonades were a horse and a mule.
All right, so Los Angeles has not seen battles between large armies or even groups armed with automatic weapons and RPGS, battles resulting in massive slaughter and destruction. The other battles of Los Angeles were smaller scale and the weapons used were not massively lethal and in some of these conflicts, the warrior’s concept of honor viewed in some circles as archaic–played a role.
Yeah, I know–for a generation that has experienced Afghanistan and Iraq and that weaned itself on violent video games like Black Ops these L.A. battles of old may not seem like a big deal. But, if you had been there trudging through the unpolluted dust of that time, you would see it very differently. I am sure that for the warriors participating in these smaller conflicts it was all blood, guts and sweat. Fear and exhultation. Death and life. It was real battle.
The war lovers out there might be a tad more impressed by the higher level of conflict brought to Los Angeles by the Mexican American War, even though initially the American occupation of the city, called the Siege of Los Angeles went unopposed. The peace didn’t last. The brutal and arrogant actions of the American garrison commander set off a revolt, and in September of 1846 a contingent of Californio militia and citizens forced the American occupiers to retreat from the city to a bluff overlooking the Pueblo. This came to be known as Fort Hill because the retreating Americans were forced to fortify their position there with sandbags and cannon.
Ironically, for the longest time the complex of buildings atop Fort Hill, (later renamed Fort Moore) housed the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
A Mexican Californio militia action that also took place in September of 1846—the capture and sequestering of American sympathizers came to be known as the Battle of Chino. Between the two sides there were five wounded and one dead. The prisoners were marched to the Californio’s main camp in Boyle Heights and almost executed for killing the one Californio but were later released because most were intermarried with Californio families.
The American attempt to retake Los Angeles met stiff resistance from the Mexican Californio militia led by General Jose Maria Flores in October of 1846 in what is called the Battle of Dominguez Hills Rancho. Fifty Californio Lancers fought two hundred Marines. The Californios did not suffer casualties while the American force suffered fourteen killed and two wounded. This is one of the few times in history U.S. Marines have been defeated in battle.
When the Americans returned in January of 1847 to retake Los Angeles, they were taking no chances. They came back with overwhelming force.