Los Angeles Postmasters- (1850 to 1900)
BY H. D. Barrows.
Although California was declared by
proclamation at Monterey July 7, 1846, to be a part of the
United States, and was ceded to the United States by Mexico by
formal treaty February 2, 1848, a post office was not
established at Los Angeles until April 9, 1850. The following is
a list of the postmasters from 1850 to 1900, every one of whom,
except the first, I knew personally, namely:
J. Pugh, appointed April 9, 1850.
Wm. T. B. Sanford, appointed November
Dr. Wm. B. Osbourne, appointed
October 12, 1853.
Jas. S. Waite, appointed November 1,
John D. Woodworth, appointed May 19,
Dr. T. J. White, appointed Mar. 9,
Wm. G. Still, appointed June 8, 1861.
F. P. Ramirez, appointed October 22,
Russell Sackett, appointed May 5,
Geo. J. Clark, appointed January 25,
Geo. J. Clark, re-appointed March 2,
H. K. W. Bent, appointed February 14,
Col. I. R. Dunkelberger, appointed
February 3, 1877.
Col. I. R. Dunkelberger, re-appointed
John W. Green, appointed 1885.
E. A. Preuss, appointed 1887.
J. W. Green, 2nd term, appointed 1890
(died July 31, '91).
Maj. H. J. Shoulters, acting
postmaster about seven months, August, 1 89 1, to February,
H. V. Van Dusen, January 6, 1892.
Gen. Jno. R. Mathews, December 20,
Louis A. Groff, 1900.
Capt. W. T. B. Sanford, the second
incumbent, was a well-known and thorough going business man,
here and at San Pedro, in the early '50's. He was a brother of
Gen. Banning's first wife, and was also engaged with him in the
Mr. J. M. Guinn, our secretary, has
already furnished the society with a sketch of versatile Dr. Wm.
James S. Waite was for some years the
publisher (but not the founder) of the pioneer newspaper of Los
Angeles, "The Star."
Mr. J. D. Woodworth, who was
appointed by President Buchanan, was a native of Vermont, but he
came from Des Moines or Keokuck, Iowa, to Los Angeles. The
office under his administration was located in the one-story
adobe on the west side of Spring Street, nearly opposite the
Bullard block. Wallace Woodworth, for some years president of
our county Board of Supervisors, was a son of Mr. Woodworth; and
he died about the time of his father's death. The Woodworth
family were relatives of Col. Isaac Williams of El Chino rancho.
Mr. Woodworth was a cousin of Samuel Woodworth, author of "The
Old Oaken Bucket." In the '60's and '70's he lived near San
Gabriel Mission, where he had an orchard and vineyard, which,
later he sold to Mr. L. H. Titus, who died recently; and then
bought the Dr. Hoover vineyard, adjoining the Dr. White place,
near the river, where he died September 30, 1883, aged 70 years.
Dr. T. J. White was quite an eminent
physician. I think he came from St. Louis to Sacramento, which
district he represented in one of the first legislatures of
California. Later he moved to Los Angeles with his family. Col.
E. J. C. Kewen married one of his daughters, and Murray
Morrison, at one time District Judge here, married another
daughter. All are now dead except a son and daughter of Col.
Kewen, and young T. Jeff White, the third of that name. This
young man is a grandson of the old doctor, Thos. Jefferson
White, the distinguished pioneer of Sacramento and Los Angeles,
whom many old-timers will well remember.
Wm. G. Still was appointed postmaster
by President Lincoln, about the time of the commencement of the
Civil war. The office was located then in the one-story frame
building, belonging to Salizar, on the west side of Main Street,
between the Downey block and Lafayette Hotel (now St. Elmo).
Political excitement, I remember then ran high here; and a
secessionist gambler tried to assassinate Postmaster Still by
firing a pistol ball at him through the ^thin board partition of
I remember that Still, Oscar Macey
and myself were sent as delegates from this county to the State
Convention of the Union party, held at Sacramento in 1862.
Mr. Still had been a Douglas
Democrat, and he was a very intense Union man; but I recollect
that when the news first came that President Lincoln would issue
an emancipation proclamation as "a war measure," he remarked to
me somewhat excitedly that the President "had better leave that
slavery question alone." Later he thought better of President
Lincoln's wise action. I do not know from what State Mr. Still
came, or if he is still living.
Mr. Ramirez was a talented
Californian, a native of Los Angeles, who I think was educated
by old Don Louis Vignes. He spoke and wrote English and French,
as well as Spanish; he represented this county in the
legislature, and edited and published for several years, in
French and Spanish, a paper called "El Clamor Publico."
Russell Sackett, who was postmaster
for a brief period, was an attorney and justice of the peace.
Whilst I knew him quite well, I never happened to learn from
what part of the country he came, or anything about his
antecedents. I think he has been dead a good many years.
Captain George Johnstone Clarke was
for many years a prominent citizen of Los Angeles. He served two
terms as postmaster of this city, that is, from 1866 to 1873,
and also for a long period as notary, conveyance, and as school
trustee, etc. His first post-master's commission is signed by
Andrew Johnson, and is dated January 25, 1866, and his
second-term commission is signed by U. S. Grant, and dated March
At the commencement of his term the
office was located on Main Street between the Downey block and
the Lafayette, now the St. Elmo Hotel, the same place where it
had been administered by his predecessor, Wm. G. Still;
afterwards it was removed to the Temple block, on the Spring
Street side, near the middle of the block, where it remained to
the end of his incumbency, and till the appointment of his
successor, H. K. W. Bent.
Capt. Clarke, was a native of New
Hampshire. He was born on the 13th of July, 181 7, at Northwood.
The family name of his mother before marriage was Johnstone.
Young Clarke went to Australia in 1842, and came from there to
California in 1850. Soon after arrival in San Francisco he
bought 160 acres of land in Hayes' valley. He and Thomas Hayes,
after whom the valley was named, were intimate friends, and had
close business relations. From San Francisco he went to San
Jose, and later to San Pablo and Russian River. At one time he
ran a small steamer belonging to Col. Harasthy, between San
Francisco and the Embarcadero on Sonoma creek; and also to
Petaluma, where he first met his future wife. Miss Sarah Finley,
to whom he was married in 1859. He came to Los Angeles County in
1862 and prospected for mines at Soledad. The next year he
brought his wife here; and a company was formed, of which he was
superintendent, for working the Soledad copper mines. Afterwards
he was interested with James Hayward, son of Alvinza Hayward, in
working the Eureka gold mine at Acton in this county. If I
mistake not, he served with Judge W. G. Dryden and the writer of
these lines on the school board sometime in the '60's. I
remember he built a fine two-story residence, where he lived
several years, on a lot which fronted on both Fort (Broadway)
and Hill streets, on a portion of which the Slauson block, below
Fourth Street, now stands. His house was then well out of town,
and was a sort of landmark, as there were comparatively few
residences in that neighborhood at that time.
During his later years he lived on
lower Main Street, near 21st street. In 1864 a convention of the
Union party was held in this city; and as a member of that
convention, I remember very distinctly that Captain Clarke, as
delegate from the Soledad precinct, was the first speaker to
urge the recombination of Abraham Lincoln; and that he was very
urgent and outspoken in his advocacy of the importance of such
recombination as bearing on the prosecution of the war for the
preservation of the Union.
Capt. Clarke and Col. Charles H.
Larrabee sent to China (and, it is believed, were the first) to
bring to California mandarin orange trees (two kinds), which
were widely propagated by budding, by Mr. Garey and others. Col.
Larrabee and Capt. Clarke also introduced into California at the
same time. Pomelo and Loquat trees. Capt. Clarke was an ardent
Republican, a faithful official and good citizen. He was genial
and what the Spanish call "corriente" m his ways; he was easily
accessible to all; and was generally well liked.
Capt. Clarke died August 2, 1890.
Mrs. Clarke is still a resident of this city. They had no
All of the foregoing are supposed to
have deceased. All incumbents since Capt. Clarke, except Mr.
Green, are still (June, 1900) living.
Mr. Bent, who served as postmaster
under President Grant's administration, is a resident of
Pasadena. He is a native of Wey-mouth. Mass., where he was born
October 29, 183 1. He came to Los Angeles in October, 1868.
I assume that the reputation of Mr.
Bent and of the other incumbents, his successors, who are still
living, are generally well known; and. therefore, it is hardly
necessary for me to go very fully into details here concerning
them. I believe Mr. Bent's efficiency as a public official was
universally conceded by the community whom he served, from 1873
For many years the post office at Los
Angeles has been one of constantly growing importance, both
because of the phenomenal growth of the city in population and
because this office has practically been a distributing office
for Southern California and Arizona. Before the railroad era the
mails were largely carried over stage routes, on which the mail
matter could not be worked preparatory to final distribution (as
now can be done on postal cars), thereby throwing an immense
amount of work in the former period on the local office. Under
Mr. Bent's administration the efficiency of the postal service
which radiated from Los Angeles, was greatly increased in many
respects. Mr. Bent served one or two terms as a member of the
city Board of Education. He is at present a resident of
Col. Isaac R. Dunkelberger was
appointed by President Grant February 3, 1877, and re-appointed
by President Hayes in 1881. Col. Dunkelberger is a native of
Pennsylvania, born in 1832. He was one of the first, if not the
first man to enlist in that State in the Civil war. His
regiment, the First Penn. Volunteers, was ordered to Baltimore
at the time of the attack on the Massachusetts troops, and while
there he received a commission as second lieutenant in the First
Dragons, afterwards the First U. S. Cavalry, the same regiment
which so distinguished itself in Cuba in the late war between
the United States and Spain. Col. Dunkelberger was in thirty-six
pitched battles, and in innumerable skirmishes. He was twice
wounded, once through the left shoulder and left lung, his
wound, at the time, being thought to have been mortal. His
sufferings from this 'terrible wound during the last thirty odd
years, from abscesses, which continue to recur at intervals to
this day, have been most excruciating. His left arm is
After the close of the war he went to
New Orleans with Gen. Sheridan, who there relieved Gen. Butler.
From thence he was ordered to San Francisco, and from there to
Arizona. In 1876 he resigned his commission in the army, since
when he has resided in Angeles. Col. Dunkelberger married Miss
Mary Mallard of this city. They have six children.
Of Mr. John W. Green's nativity and
arrival in California, I have been unable to obtain information.
He was first appointed by President Arthur, in 1885, and served
as postmaster of Los Angeles till 1887, being succeeded by Mr.
Preuss; he was again appointed in 1890, and served till his
death, which occurred July 31, 1891.
Edward Anthony Preuss was born in New
Orleans June 7, 1850, of German parentage. When he was three
years old his family moved to Louisville, Ky., where he lived
till 1868, when he left, via Panama, for California, arriving at
San Francisco May 31, and at Los Angeles soon after. He had
learned the drug business with his uncle, Dr. E. A. Preuss, in
Louisville, and he came with him to Los Angeles, remaining in
his employ some time here and later in the employ of Dr. C. F.
Heinzeman. In 1876 he engaged in the drug business on his own
account. During this time, from 1876 to to 1885, he had
successively as partners, John H. Schumacher, the pioneer, C. B.
Pironi, and C. H. Hance. In 1885 he sold out his interest to
Mr. Preuss was appointed postmaster
by President Cleveland in 1887, and served till July i, 1890,
when President Harrison reappointed John W. Green, who had been
the immediate predecessor of Mr. Preuss. The post office during
Mr. Preuss' incumbency was located on the west side of North
Main Street, southwest of the Plaza Catholic Church; and
afterward, on S. Broadway, below Sixth Street, in the Dol block,
now known as the Columbia hotel. In 1877, Mr. Preuss was married
to Miss Mary Schumacher. They have one son, Kenneth, now a man
Mr. Preuss gives some interesting
statistics concerning the phenomenal business of our local post
office in the boom that culminated in 1887. From August 1 to
December 31, of that year, a period of five months, over 39,000
forwarding orders and changes of address were received at the
office, which handled the mail of 200,000 transients annually.
He tells of the double rows of people which, on the arrival of
the mails, extended from the approaches of the post office,
nearly to the Catholic Church. He says it was very difficult to
get the department at Washington to furnish sufficient force to
handle the business of the office at that time.
On the death of Mr. Green, Maj. H. J.
Shoulters became acting postmaster in August, 1891, serving till
February, 1892, or about seven months. Maj. Shoulters, who is
now assistant postmaster under the present incumbent, Judge
Groff, is a native of Montpelier, Vt., born in '42. He came to
Los Angeles in '84. He was in numerous battles in the Civil war,
including the Wilderness campaign, where he had a leg smashed.
He was elected city treasurer in 1892 and served two years.
Henry Van Dusen was born in Albion,
N, Y., July 15, 1842, and came to Los Angeles in 1885, and was
appointed postmaster by President Harrison, January 6, 1892, and
served four years. He enlisted in the nth U. S. regular infantry
at the commencement of the Civil war, was in five battles, and
lost his left arm in the battle of Gaines' Mills, January 27,
Gen. John R. Mathews was appointed
postmaster of Los Angeles December 20, 1895, by President
Cleveland, and served some-thing over four years. He is a native
of St. Louis, born in 1848, and came to California in 1883.
Prior to his appointment as post-master, he served as State
Senator and Brigadier General; and in each and every public
position, he proved a very efficient official. He labored
diligently and successfully to improve the postal service of
this office and section. During his incumbency, full railway
postal service for Southern California was secured, and some
twenty-seven additional local and mounted carriers, clerks and
station men were ordered.
The present force of Los Angeles post
office is: Clerks, 41; carriers and collectors, 62; clerks at
stations, 12; railway postal clerks, 46 - total, 161.
The increase in business of the
office in the four years of Gen. Mathews' term, is indicated by
the following brief showing: Receipts of the office, 1895.
$177,911; receipts of the office, 1899, $228,417 - Increase,
Judge Louis A. Groff, the present
incumbent of the Los Angeles post office is a man of wide
experience, having been Commissioner of the General Land Office
under the administration of President Harrison, and he also
served in other offices of trust and responsibility. He was only
lately appointed postmaster of our local office by President
McKinley. We have every reason to expect that he will maintain
the high standard of efficiency which the office had attained
under his predecessors. Judge Groff, I believe, is a native of
Source: Annual publication of the Historical Society of Southern
California and Pioneer register, Los Angeles, Part I. Vol.