The tradition continues. UC Riverside professor Armando Navarro wrote in his 2004 release, Mexicano Political Experience in Occupied Aztlan: Struggles and Change, that Flores “demonstrated potential for creating an insurgent social movement.”

In No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border, authors Justin Akers Chacón, Julian Cardona and the noted Los Angeles social historian Mike Davis say of Flores, “Traditionally characterized as mere desperadoes, [they] were, in fact, social bandits or even guerrilla chieftains.”

Only one scholar has ever publicly repudiated such thinking about Flores. San Francisco attorney John Boessenecker also dabbles as a historian on the West, having authored multiple books and the introduction to a reissuing of Reminisces of a Ranger. He provides one of the most thorough retellings of Flores in the 1999 book Gold Dust & Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes, complete with citations and criticism of the anti-Mexican vigilante atmosphere that pervaded Los Angeles during the 1850s. But he blasted Chicano scholars for their rose-colored perception of Flores and others. “Such assertions distort the truth,” wrote Boessenecker. “While it cannot be denied that many Hispanic outlaws had been mistreated by Anglos . . . it is unscholarly and irresponsible to label them as heroes today simply because a minority of Californians saw them as such a century ago.

Illustration by Mark Andresen
Juan Flores: Hero, Villain & 
Ladies' Man?
Illustration by Mark Andresen
Juan Flores: Hero, Villain & Ladies' Man?

“The evidence is clear,” Boessenecker concluded, “that they were pillagers, not patriots.”

*     *     *

The next time you drive north on Highway 101 during the day, slow down just before the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and glance up to your right. You’ll see a grove of trees among new buildings, part of downtown Los Angeles’ current redevelopment boom. Somewhere on the property is the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial, one of the largest bas-relief military monuments in the country. This is also where, on Feb. 14, 1857, Juan Flores was hanged by a mob. According to eyewitness Harris Newmark in his Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853-1913, there were so many people on hand to witness the lynching “that it is hardly too much to say that practically every man, woman and child in the pueblo was present, not to mention many people drawn by curiosity from various parts of the state who had flocked into town.”

There is no marker commemorating Flores. But Scripps College professor Ken Gonzales-Day directs people to this site on his downtown Los Angeles walking tour, in which interested folks can visit places where Latinos were lynched. It sprang up as a side project of his well-received 2006 book, Lynching in the West: 1850-1935. Besides Flores, seven other men died at the hands of mobs where the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial now stands.

Gonzales-Day's book places special emphasis on Espinoza, whose role he attributes more to racialized fiction than facts. “The romantic, sexualized Mexican woman is very popular in stories of those days, as opposed to the dirty greaser,” Gonzales-Day says, noting census records give her age as 16 at the time of Flores’ Capistrano sojourn. “It’s about racial desire, of Mexicans crossing the boundaries.”

Gonzalez-Day also couldn’t find records of Flores stating any political views. “I don’t have enough info to see him as a revolutionary, so that leaves him as a victim, in my opinion,” he says. “Everyone has a right to due process, even if we know he’s guilty.”

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

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