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96 Western American Literature A British Ranchero in Old California: Henry Dalton and the Rancho Azusa. By Sheldon G. Jackson. (Glendale and Azusa, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company and Azusa Pacific College, 1977. 265 pages, bibliography, index. $15.50.) On first inspection, a skeptical reader may well find in Sheldon G. Jackson’s new book the promise of a thoroughly deadening experience. First of all, it is developed from a USC dissertation, and proverbially, even competent doctoral dissertations have a habit of turning into mediocre books. Second, the work is in a sense “local history,” for most of it deals with the period of Henry Dalton’s residence (1844-1884) at or near Rancho Azusa, east of Los Angeles, and it is no coincidence that Dr. Jackson is Professor of History at Azusa Pacific College, which is co-publisher. The sincere but lumbering triviality of much local history needs no spelling-out here. And third, the title and sub-title seem to promise an uneasy blend of ingenuous­ ness and maudlin nostalgia. Luckily, the premonitions of disaster are unfounded. Jackson has written a sound book which is also a genuinely interesting book. Despite the unfortunate connotations, the title defines a meaningful subject. Azusa Pacific College was not founded until 15 years after Dalton’s death (Jackson was founded even more recently, of course) ; no debt is involved, and no veneration is shown. And if Jackson tries a little too hard to enliven his text (most notably in the Introduction), and if his style, like that of this reviewer, often betrays the slightly over-learned diction of the slightly over­ educated, nothing appears here that an interested reader cannot readily forgive. Sheldon Jackson cannot be compared with Mark Van Doren, the alchemist who turned a dissertation into pure gold, but his work here is at least 23 carat. That interested reader may be amused, however, that a solidly churchfounded , religiously oriented college should be co-publisher of the biography of a rogue such as Dalton, especially as its Professor of History, while making no moral judgments, tends to soften Dalton’s weaknesses. For Dalton was a rogue — runaway apprentice, “sharp dealer,” smuggler in both Mexico and what is now California, conspirator and possible double-agent in political affairs, and deserter of a Peruvian mistress who had borne him “several” children. He was not above playing on the vagaries of what amounted to dual citizenship for purely financial gain, and it seems possible that he changed religion for the same reason. As a student of theology (Th.B.) and a trained historian who must understand the implications of Nuremberg, Dr. Jackson could well show greater sensitivity in his “everybody-was-doing-it” argument. English-born Henry Dalton fled to South America at an early age, and through aggressive shrewdness and hard work made fortunes in both Peru and Mexico before settling in Southern California in the early 1840’s; apparently he made large sums in trading and ranching there as well. Reviews 97 But if he could make money rapidly, he could lose it equally rapidly. In the end, he lost even his great rancho, and died in something close to poverty. When, after more than four decades of petitions and legal proceedings, the Mexican government paid a large claim for goods furnished by Dalton for defense of California against the Americans, Dalton was long dead. Jackson shows convincingly that his subject’s final downfall was caused by a dishonest, politically motivated land survey, but one suspects that certain obvious character faults — arrogance, litigiousness, self-righteous stubborn­ ness, and a striking inner need to connive — helped bring him down in this and other instances. The truth is, Henry Dalton was a gambler, and if he “won big” at times, inevitably he “lost big” at others. Although he never held important public office, Dalton was intimately associated with many prominent Californians of both Mexican and American eras, as this book shows. Dr. Jackson’s painstaking research, especially in the Huntington Library’s Dalton Collection, throws much light on the relation­ ships between these people, Mexican, American, and British. This volume is the 17th in Clark’s “Western Frontiersmen Series,” which associates such...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 96-97
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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