Don Benito Wilson

Don Benito Wilson Jacket

Don Benito Wilson: Mountain Man to Mayor fills a long-missing gap in the record of Southern California history. Published by Angel City Press, this biography documents the life of one of the most significant pioneers of Los Angeles.  The grandfather of Gen. George Patton, Wilson is almost unknown today except for the prominent local peak, Mount Wilson, which was named for him.  He is largely unknown today because, until now, no one has published his story.  This book corrects this oversight of history.

This book is significant for its account of the early history of Los Angeles, and more generally California and the West.  Many Southern California natives know more about the history of early New York and Washington, D. C., than about their own city.  Most would be hard pressed to name a single Los Angeles pioneer.  While Don Benito Wilson: Mountain Man to Mayor certainly fills an academic gap, it was written primarily as a page-turner for the general reader, a book that fills a gap in the wider public’s curiosity about the early days of what is today the second largest city in the U.S.

Benjamin Davis Wilson, known as Don Benito in pre-American Southern California, shaped Los Angeles and California history in a remarkable number of ways.  He:

  • Owned what is today Beverly Hills, UCLA, large parts of downtown Los Angeles, the City of Riverside, Culver City, Wilmington, Pasadena, Altadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Alhambra and parts of other cities and was one of the wealthiest persons in early Los Angeles
  • Set up American Government locally as the first county clerk of Los Angeles County.
  • Was the second mayor of Los Angeles.  He sat on the first year’s Los Angeles city council.
  • Was on the Los Angeles County board of supervisors
  • Was the state senator for everything between Tulare County and the Mexican border.
  • Led Americans in the first battle of the Mexican War, as a captain in the U.S. Army
  • Was in the first party of overland settlers to reach Southern California
  • Was a successful mountain man
  • Named the Bear Lake area, while leading the first group of non-Indians into the San Bernardino mountains.
  • Was the first Indian Agent in Southern California
  • Took Chief Cabazon prisoner at present-day Palm Springs while hunting down renegade Indians
  • Owned gold and silver mines in Southern (yes, Southern) California
  • Was president of the first railroad in Los Angeles
  • Was on the board of the first oil company in Los Angeles
  • Was one of the largest vintners in the U.S.
  • Was one of the largest citrus growers in the U.S.
  • Was the first to bottle sparkling wine (champagne) in California
  • Started the first manufacturing plant in Los Angeles
  • Played an important role in the development of the Los Angeles port.
  • Started the predecessor college to USC
  • Built a trail to the peak that bears his name today, Mount Wilson

Author Nat Read earned a history degree from Austin College and has written magazine and newspaper articles all of his adult life.  He spent three years researching Wilson’s life, reading every scrap in the collected papers of the subject and virtually every newspaper that Wilson would have read during his life in Southern California.  Read’s research took him to dozens of libraries, archives, museums and historical societies in California and as far away as Tennessee, the state of Wilson’s birth.

Don Benito Wilson: Mountain Man to Mayor tells the story of the West and Los Angeles through a single notable figure, who was born during the lifetimes of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and who died in a Los Angeles that present-day citizens would begin to recognize.  Wilson lived to see an urban core of telegraph lines, street lamps, brick buildings and street car rails in the street.   Through this remarkable life we see the existence of fur trappers and Indians in the vast, vaguely-mapped West and we learn of life in the tiny, dusty Mexican pueblo called Los Angeles, with its roving packs of dogs and its bull and bear fights.  We see a post-Gold Rush American village that was the wildest of wild West towns, the most dangerous city in U.S. history, a town whose murders among its few thousand souls were roughly the same number as for today’s Los Angeles County of ten million people.

This book was written as a must-read for Southern California residents, telling the little-known story of the early life of Los Angeles and its environs.  It is an ideal book for student assignments because of its span from the years of the unsettled West to the early success of American Los Angeles.

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