Roundup: March 11 2020




Roundup Synopsis

Given that we are all members (or fellows) of a historical society, interest was high in March when Bruce Merritt came to the Corral to explain the founding of another society, albeit one with a bit of a different bent than our own. The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California was founded in Los Angeles in November of 1895 by Col. Holdridge Ozro Collins and U.S. Attorney George Jules Denis. The Society of Colonial Wars already existed in New York at the time of the founding of the California chapter, when a few enthusiastic newcomers sought to bring what was quickly becoming a national tradition out West to legitimize themselves and their city as truly American. Though the current state of the Society of Colonial Wars bears little resemblance to its configuration at founding, we Westerners were treated to a bit of the colorful history of its early members, and a glimpse into the motivations behind its origins. The Society of Colonial Wars in California sprang up in Los Angeles during what Mr. Merritt termed “the Golden Age of lineage societies.” This “Golden Age” came about in the latter half of the nineteenth century as three forces that had been growing within America converged to spur a flurry of society foundings. Patriotism was growing as Civil War wounds healed, anti-immigration sentiments prevailed as more now came from China and Eastern Europe, and Anglophilia was in vogue amongst the upper crust due to the glamour of some very high-profile marriages between American elites and British nobles. Societies spread like wildfire as people sought to not only rub elbows with the elites, but to preserve an American culture which they felt was being threatened. The group which responded to these forces in Los Angeles—Colonel Collins and associates—were about as diverse in background as a bunch of wealthy, middle-aged white men could be in 1895. There were former Confederates alongside Unionists, a Republican U.S. Attorney and one from the Democrats, as well as judges, politicians, speculators, and even a reverend for good measure. Among the men who came together to found the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California, you’ll find names like Otis, Huntington, and Rindge. Less remembered are the likes of Motley Flint, who was shot dead in court for his involvement in a ponzi scheme, or Reverend Alexander Merwin, who built schools and churches for the Latino communities of Southern California. This early society was chock-full of characters. Today, the society bears little resemblance to its early form. It has become more focused on historical preservation, while dropping the anti-immigration and elitist attitudes which colored its early days. Though still male-only, the society now has several, lecture-focused, co-ed, public events each year. Mr. Merritt indicated that there is talk amongst the Society of Colonial Wars about incorporating more Spanish colonial history into their future efforts. If not, we Westerners will be there to pick up the slack! — Alan Griffin


Photos from the Roundup