Monday, February 13, 2012

Tropico, California and the Emily Craig Murder

Awhile back I was doing some research to find out more information concerning Mary Griffith Stoutenburg's son, Walter Stoutenburg Rawlings when I came across his whereabouts in 1920. He was living in California and was married to Edna.

From the census image, I could determine that Edna was born in California between 1892 and 1893. Her father was born in Illinois; her mother, in California. As she would be 17 in 1910, I assumed that she would be single and living in California. Getting no where, I gave up looking and moved onto other persons of interest.

By chance, last week I found a record of the marriage in 1914 in Los Angeles County of Walter S. Rawlings and Edna Craig that included the identification of the parents of both parties. I learned that Edna's mother was Emily Hunter and her father was J. Craig. Since Edna was born in California about 1892 and was married at and living in Los Angeles County, I decided to look for her in the Census of 1900 and of 1910.

I felt that I had a the best chance of finding the given name of her father by searching for her in the 1900 Census as she was only 7 then. I found an Edna Craig who was born in June 1892 living at 743 Castelar Street in Los Angeles. (Castelar Street is now Hill Street.)

The head of household was 36-year-old John Snyder whose wife was 28-year-old Emily. They had been married 7 years. I assumed that this Emily was either divorced from J. Craig or that J. Craig was deceased. Later I learned that I was both correct and incorrect.

There were some things in this record that struck me as odd. First, the three children, of which Edna was the youngest, were recorded as lodgers and not the step or adopted children of John Snyder. His wife, Emily, was recorded as having no children and no children living in 1900. For whatever reasons, sometimes stillborns or infants dying shortly after birth are discounted. My initial inclination was she had no children of this marriage and that fact was what is recorded.

Finally, I was curious about Mrs. Snyder's parents' birth locations. They matched those of the children. I found it particularly odd that Emily's mother was born in California. If Emily Hunter was born about 1871, then her mother would have been born about 1850 or earlier. There were not very many woman of Northern European ancestry who were born in California before 1850. Until 1848, California was a Spanish terrritory.

I entered the information I found in the 1900 Census to my family tree, but added a note about my concerns. The next step, was to find Edna Craig in the 1910 Census. I found her living as a student at the Girl's Collegiate School on Adams Boulevard near Hoover Street. Either she or the school administration did not know where her father was born except that he was born in the United States.

She was the only student enumerated at this address. The others were employees of the school. Combine this with the oddities I noted in the 1900 Census, I began to wonder who Mrs. Emily Snyder really was. At this time, I don't know who she is, but I do know that she was not Edna Craig's mother because Emily (Hunter) Craig was murdered in 1894 by her estranged husband, John Craig.

My assumption, based on the 1900 Census, that Emily was either a widow or divorced was correct. Emily Hunter divorced John Craig shortly before he killed her. Two years after her own death, she became a widow when John Craig was hung at Folsom Prison in Northern California for murdering her and her parents.

The various newspaper accounts of the murder say that she was murdered at the Hunter Ranch in Tropico, California. She had taken her three children there to live with her brother, George. John Craig wounded his brother-in-law, killed his wife then looked for his children. A servant had managed to get the children safely out of the house and into hiding.

John Craig then went the home of his mother and father-in-law on Buena Vista Street in a suburb of Los Angeles and shot them dead. He unsuccessfully tried to kill himself.

Tropico, California
Having lived in Southern California for thirty-seven years, I had never heard of Tropico, California. At first only I found information about an abandoned mine, Tropico Mine in Kern County. But then I learned of a section of Glendale, California called Tropico.

A 1908 map of Tropico provided me with the names of the streets in the town, some of which sounded familiar. I compared the streets on the 1908 map with Google maps and was able to determine where the former town of Tropico was.

The Southern Pacific Railroad was on the west side of the the town. The Amtrak and Metro-Link trains both have a stop here, the Glendale Station. The north-south street names are mostly unchanged. They include San Fernando Road, Central Avenue, Brand Boulevard and Glendale Avenue. Los Angeles Avenue on the 1908 map was not a contiguous street. It terminated at Cypress Street and resumed a few blocks away at Tropico Avenue. Today the northern portion is Los Angeles Street and the southern extension is Gardena Avenue.

Many of the east-west street names are changed with Tropico Avenue the most significant. You will find it on Google maps under is current name, Los Feliz Road. Cypress, Laurel and EulaliaCerritos Avenue. Two streets north of Tropico (Los Feliz) whose names were changed are Wilkinson Court and Victor Court. They are now called Fernando Court and Palmer Avenue, respectively.

According to A History of California and An Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs, Volume 1 by James Miller Guinn (Los Angeles: Historic Record Co., 1915), Tropico was laid out as a town in 1887. Page 441 reads, "The San Pedro & Salt Lake road passes along the borders of the town, affording easy access to  the city (Los Angeles)." This was a railroad that connected Salt Lake City to San Pedro at Los Angeles Harbor.

The land around the town was divided in to lots for fruit raising of which the primary crop is strawberries. The Los Angeles, Tropico & Glendale Trolley was completed about 1905 providing a 20-minute ride to Los Angeles. I'm sure that many Angelenos would love to have only a 20-minute commute nowadays.

The town was incorporated in 1911. Tropico was annexed to Glendale in 1918. Over time most indication of its existence disappeared.

Look for the James Guinn book at Google Books

An aside:
Glendale is a city north of the downtown Los Angeles near Griffith Park. The University of California Santa Barbara Library has a photo of a building in Tropico, California. It is a lone building with what looks like tumbleweeds or other desert plants in the landscape. The photo was taken in 1978 by John S. Kiewit. The library subject is:

Tropico (Calif.)
Glendale (Calif.)

The building in the photo does not look like anything I have seen in Glendale. The vegetation looks more like desert than the vegetation of the very urban city of Glendale. I found a website that has several photos of buildings near the old mine site. Click on the photo on the right to see the gallery of photos. The photo at UCSB is very similar.

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