Thursday, July 24, 2014

Captain Max Von Strobel- The Mystery Behind Anaheim's First Mayor

Anaheim Public Library Archives
Like all good mysteries, there must be twists and turns at every step to engage your reader or audience. In my quest as a historical investigator, sometimes I have unearthed the most amazing mysteries that seem like they were ripped from the pages of the best mystery novels.

When I first started researching Maximilian Von Strobel's history, it was only because I was interested in writing about the first mayor of Anaheim. Little did I know that during the process of researching his life and death, that I would uncover a story so intriguing and shocking, that it is easy to imagine now why he was literally erased from Anaheim history so long ago.

As elusive as can be, Captain Maximilian Franz Otto Von Strobel seemed to pop up in only small spots in our history here in Anaheim. The fact that no one seemed to know much about his life or death, and most of the history books left him out all together, it piqued my interest even more. In 1987 Opal L. Kissinger and Elizabeth J. Schultz helped solve one mystery, what Max looked like. After coming into contact with a lady by the name of June Hord, they were able to acquire the only photograph known to exist today of Max Strobel. She also added what history she knew of his life which was mentioned in the article "Father of Orange County Loses Some Mystery" by Richard Buffum/Los Angeles Times (February 22, 1987).

The history that seems to be known is that Max Strobel was originally from Bavaria and had a huge list of talents or trades you could say. He was noted as being a soldier, engineer, cartographer, linguist and orator.  In the article I mention above, it is stated that before Strobel settled in Anaheim, he came west with John C. Fremont's second expedition and that he also traveled with William Walker in his insurrection of Nicaragua and later abandoned his military career.

Well, this information really started to make my head start spinning and I started to wonder what other secrets Mr. Strobel took to the grave with him.

We know that Maximilian Franz Otto Von Strobel came from Bavaria, was said to have been involved in many military operations, was very well educated in many trades and fields of work. It is also mentioned that he came from an aristocratic background in Europe. But Anaheim residents only know him as the first mayor of Anaheim.

It is claimed that Max came to Anaheim in the late 1860s. According to the Census records of the time 1870, Max reported his occupation as being a "Surveyor" and his real estate property as being worth $4,000 and personal property worth $250.00. This was a lot less than Theodore Rimpau's property values, which is listed on the same census page, showing the Rimpau real estate being worth $14,000 and his personal property being worth $8,000.

In 1870, Strobel was elected the first mayor of Anaheim and lobbied the State Assembly to create a new County to separate Anaheim from Los Angeles County.  His idea? That the southern portion of Los Angeles County, to which Anaheim was still part of, would now be known as Anaheim County- with Anaheim being the County Seat. Unfortunately, Los Angeles lobbied against the bill and its San Francisco interests supported Los Angeles' stand on the matter, virtually killing the bill and defeating Strobel.

It was soon after this defeat that Strobel became even more determined to separate Anaheim from Los Angeles, so he goes to the people, creating his own newspaper "The People's Advocate."  It is here that Strobel uses the means of the media to push his agenda, creating divisions in Anaheim. The newspaper only lasted a mere two years. He also came up with the idea for the Anaheim Street Car Company (horse drawn trolley cars) although he could not raise enough funds to get it started. The idea did remain in residents minds though, since Theodore Rimpau later helped get the ball rolling in 1887.

Literally no more mention of Strobel or his family could be found after his death in 1873. Even his death notice was very vague and no mention of a funeral or cause of death. It appeared as if he literally was forgotten as fast as the news spread that he had died. It seemed so strange, that a man who had put so much into trying to change the town, becoming mayor, running a newspaper and even his strange death could be wiped clean from Anaheim's history.

This made me wonder even more...
  •  What was it that they wanted to forget? 
  •  Why was Max left out of the history? 

Upon my further researching, I contacted a source of mine in London, England to try to find out just how Max Strobel died. The British archives online do not mention his death in the papers at all. Some records I found on our American archives state that he died in Anaheim while others say Amsterdam. So why the mystery in all of this? Well, according to what I found, Max was on business and was actually about to have a big meeting with British investors who were about to purchase not only Catalina Island, but southern properties in San Diego County, but Max never made it to his business meeting. Instead, he was found dead in his hotel room. There is no mention of how he died, or where he was taken for burial. I could not find any record of him being brought back to the U.S. so the location of his remains, remain a mystery.

The article mentioned earlier in the L.A. Times stated that he was working as an agent for James Lick when he died. Perhaps he was, although the information I have found leads me to believe he was working for many other people as well.  For one, I found that Max was also working for a man known as John Forster (aka Don Juan), one of the largest land owners in California. It is mentioned that not only was Max Strobel in Europe in 1873 to sell Catalina Island, but that he was promoting the idea to have English settlers come over to San Diego County, (Rancho Santa Marguerita) to colonize in the very same way that Anaheim was started.

You see, Max Strobel was not who everyone thought he was. I don't think anyone really knew him completely. Yes, he worked as an agent in many transactions that I could find on record, but there was still more to him that many didn't know, and if they did, that is probably why they erased him from history.

I don't believe that Max died of natural causes that day on February 17, 1873 in his suite at the Threadneedles Hotel in London. No, I believe that Max's past caught up with him and that more than likely he was murdered. The last time his name had been mentioned in London papers was in 1855, causing a big scandal and many suspicions of him had been raised.


You see, about 15 years before he found himself in Anaheim, Strobel was mentioned in England's newspapers, suspected of working for the Russian Government as a spy in the United States.

Wait, it gets even more interesting...

Other records, which was documented testimony of Strobel himself during the trial of a man named Hertz, who was tried and convicted for recruiting men in the United States to enlist for service under the English Government, tells another tale.

You see, Strobel was hired to be a Captain in the new "Foreign Legion"  working for the British Government under the power of  Sir Gaspard Le Marchant, Lt. Governor of Novia Scotia.  His job was to recruit able bodied men in the United States, from the ages of  18-40 for an army that would be under the British command.

"They devised a plan of violating the national sovereignty of the United States."--("Papers Relating to The Treaty of Washington.") In fact, the whole idea was that they would recruit these men for a new army or "legion" that would travel within the borders of the U.S. or outside of the U.S. but acting under the command of England. The men were to be sent to Halifax under the guise of working on the railroads, but would then be enlisted and trained in the new military outfit assigned to them. They were promised to be paid $8 weekly, room and board, clothing expenses, and offered that if they give up 3-5 years of servitude to the crown that they could be given land in Canada or offered passage back to America or to their home country.

Of course this was treason, to turn against ones own country, so when the United States found out about this criminal behavior, many were arrested. I couldn't find out how on earth Max got away with this, but being that he openly testified in court, pretty much sealing the fate of Mr. Hertz, I think he was pardoned for any part he played in the whole thing.

The transcripts did more than tell me what Max was up to in 1855, but it also gave me a peek inside his head. You see, his literal word for word testimony was documented, and he answered a lot of questions.

By his own admission, Max Strobel stated that he was born and raised in Bavarria. He claimed that in 1849 he joined the revolutionists in Bavaria, working with the artillery. When Bavaria was defeated, he fled to Switzerland. He later traveled through France and England until 1851, when he secured passage to the United States in Havre. On May 13th he embarked on his journey across the Atlantic, arriving in June of 1851 to New York.

"I came to this country;  I was in New York several weeks, and then went to Washington, and there got employment in the Coast Survey Office. I was there until 1853, when I went out with the expedition to Oregon under Governor Stevens. I went up with him to Minnesota; I left his party out on the plains on Red River, and came back to Minnesota on the 7th of September, 1853, and came down to St. Louis, and started with Colonel Fremont on his winter expedition to San Francisco about this great Pacific Railroad. 

I have been assistant topographical engineer of Colonel Fremont. I left San Francisco on the 1st of May, 1854. I crossed the Isthmus, and came back with our Indians, and brought them up to Kansas again. From there I went back to Washington City, where I finished the maps for the works of Colonel Fremont, which I suppose are now before Congress.... I finished them in August 1854.

Then I received a letter of recommendation from Mr. Benton, to the different directors of railroads to secure me a position as engineer. I went with this letter of recommendation or letter of introduction to Missouri.  I took sick there, and was obliged to leave the valley of Mississippi, and come back to Washington City. When I came back to Washington, I was engaged in the Pacific Railroad office, at that time established in Washington, and was at work there until the 1st of February."--- Max Franz Otto Von Strobel-

It was after these events that he claims he was contacted by Mr. Crampton, who was working for Mr. Perkins and Mr. Hertz.

England or Russia?

During my research, I found affidavits that were filed from several men, swearing of the knowledge of  Captain Maximilian Franz Otto Von Strobel of Bavarria as working as a spy under the command by the Russian Government. One of the men testifying claimed that any and all statements made by Strobel were lies and that men in the same region of Bavarria who were in the artillery unit claimed no such man ever served by the name of Strobel.

In fact, on October 26th, 1855 a man testified to this fact claiming:

"Captain Max Strobel is, and has been for some months past, in the pay of the Russian Government, and is made use of by Russian officials in the United States; and he says that the amount he (Strobel) receives for the same has been openly stated, namely, the sum of twenty-five dollars a- week."  --- M.A. Thoman.

" Major Henry Jacob Tack, of Newark, New Jersey, United States, swears that before the revolution in Baden he was an officer in the Bavarian Artillery-that he knew every man in the said artillery— that he understands thut Captain Max Strobel gave out that he was not in the Bavarian Artillery at all. The Major, however, has a recollection that there was a man of the name of Strobel in some other branch of the army, in a subordinate capacity, who lay under a criminal charge."--- Henry J. Tack. per Charles Edwards

So just who was Max Strobel? Russian spy? Bavarian criminal? Or was he just an opportunist, that took advantage of every job he was offered, selling his allegiance to the highest bidder.

So what happened to Strobel after this whole ordeal?  How does he always seem to slip away without being jailed or convicted? Who knows!


By the the time the whole Russian/British spy thing had blown over, Strobel was long gone and headed down to Nicaragua with another "soldier of fortune," William Walker. Walker was a one time journalist, turned militia man from Tennessee who rounded up an army "The Immortals"and traveled south to Nicaragua to support Francisco Castellon from the Democratic party in Leon, who was fighting against the Legitimist party in Granada.

It was in Granada where Walker ultimately overtook the city, proclaimed himself the new President, and took control of the country of Nicaragua. He ruled for several years as a dictator, upsetting neighboring countries, who heard that he was interested in expanding his empire. Led by Legitimist Nicaraguans and other military from various South American countries, Walker was forced out of the country, only to be captured in Honduras in 1860 where he was later executed.

It seems that the company that Max Strobel kept was very dangerous. Why these parts of his life story have been kept in the dark so long is a question we will probably never get an answer to. I am sure the people who knew this story were ashamed and thus the reason why his life story was left out of the Anaheim history books.

Perhaps Strobel tried his hand at a somewhat legitimate lifestyle when he settled in Anaheim. But it is hard to say, being that he was under the employment of a lot of very powerful men in the state when he died.  I personally think that when Max Strobel headed back to London in 1873, he was probably aware that the trip would be risky. He had testified against men who were under direct orders from the British Government to recruit an army within the United States. I am sure there were many people in London who did not forget that. So who killed him? How would there be any way to know? I am sure Max Strobel made many enemies in his lifetime, which leads to many suspects.

What I also find very odd is that only five months after Max's strange death, his wife, Mary Strobel died. The newspapers do not mention how, whether it was suicide, natural causes or murder. It does make me wonder though.

The probate records show that several people took parts of Mary's estate after she died. I also found records with the City of Anaheim mentioning Mary Strobel's estate being situated where the "Little People's Park" is. I am not certain if this is the same person, but it seems likely. Perhaps that is where their home was located originally. 

In the end, the father of Orange County, the man who created the idea for Anaheim to break away from Los Angeles will be remembered with this blog. And Max Strobel's life and death will still remain that ever elusive mystery that we just can't seem to completely reveal.

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Congressional Serial Set: Succession of Intercourse, page 14 (1858)
English Newspaper Archives 
Papers Relating to the Treaty of Washington, 
Volume 1- By United States. Department of State (pgs 542-567)
Census Records,
LA Times archives (1987)
Daily Alta California, 


The Rea Family & Katella Ranch

The popular street known as "Katella" has been around almost as long as Anaheim itself. 
But, how did the street get it's name? Well, that is a story all on its own. Before I get to that, first let me take you back, way back to the beginning, so you can know the entire history of this beautiful name.

 The Rea Family

Rea Home, El Cajon, CA
Born in 1848, John Rea, was raised in his native country of Canada. Having contracted Tuberculosis in his early twenties, the weather in Canada seemed to worsen his condition making John yearn for a dryer climate. By 1873, John chose to leave his homeland and head south, to the United States. John chose to first settle in San Francisco, but soon he realized that had been a poor choice.

His next venture to find the right climate for his health was when he boarded a Steamer headed for Southern California. Arriving in Los Angeles, he had grown so ill that he had to be hospitalized for his conditions. An issue of the Orange Coast Magazine (1989) states that while John was hospitalized, he was asked by his nurse what he would like to eat. He asked for something he had only dreamed of at his prior homeland, strawberries and cream. It was said that once he had eaten the delicious treat, he realized that hard work and outdoor living would be the best thing for him. This epiphany of sorts, was said to have prompted him to join his brother in San Diego.

Rea Family
It was in San Diego, in an easterly town known as El Cajon, where John became a bee-keeper and later went back to Canada to marry his wife Margaret, and move her down to El Cajon to his farm. Their daughters were born in their small home in El Cajon. Kate, being born in 1876 and Ella in 1881. The family lived in their small house for many years, using whatever means they could to provide a living to the household.

Being that the home was situated near a stage coach line, many times they would offer meals to hungry travelers. This became a lucrative business move because it allowed them to save to purchase the very first grocery store in the city of El Cajon. In fact, there is a street named after John Rea right in town, Rea Street (also, the Rea Arts District is named after John Rea).

Katella Ranch

Rea Home (224 E. Broadway)
By the late 1890s, John chose to sell his property in El Cajon and move up to Anaheim. The economy had become crippled after the terrible disease to the vineyards, and John took the opportunity to purchase land at a good price. After moving the family to Anaheim, he chose to start a walnut orchard. Wanting to be creative and have have a memorable name for his ranch, John combined the two names of his daughters, Kate and Ella, thus creating "Katella." Not only the ranch was known for this name, but also the dirt path that crossed the property up to the school house took the name as well.
Although his ranch was located at present day Katella Ave., John Rea chose to move his family to a home closer in town, at 224 E. Broadway in Anaheim.

Rea Sisters
By the time the family had moved to Anaheim, his daughters were already teenagers, so they lived in Anaheim only a few years before both the girls and their mother moved to Northern California to attend college at the University of Berkeley.  While there, Kate earned her master's degree in education, and later came back to Anaheim to be a school teacher at the first Anaheim High School.

Kate taught at Anaheim High School from 1901-1904 and Fullerton Junior College until she retired in 1921, after her father died. She was very involved at the Carnegie Building when the Anaheim Public Library was opened. She also served as the first chairwoman on the Library Board and remained on the Board for 45 years. She was a member of the Ebell Club and other various groups and charities, and also helped start Anaheim's first PTA. Her sister Ella, married William Wallop on May 19, 1909. Unlike her sister, Kate never married, but instead threw her life into her work and taking care of her mother until she passed away in 1931.

What I found interesting is that the archives state that the home John Rea built at 224 E. Broadway was sold in 1919 to a former Anaheim mayor, Louis Miller. The home was then moved in 1922 to 125 W. Elm Street. Then in 2007, the same home was moved once again, now to the location at 129 W. Stueckle Ave.  The odd part about this, is that Ella Rea Wallop's obituary states that Kate (who was still alive) was living at 224 E. Broadway.  Does that mean that Kate moved back to the spot where her family home once stood? Interesting thought.

Many people are unaware of when Kate died, and where she is buried. Her sister Ella was buried at
Loma Vista Memorial, in Fullerton in the Mausoleum. However, Kate was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale under her legal name "Ellen Kate Rea"-- (Born: March 21, 1876- Died: February 24, 1972) Why her real name is very rarely mentioned, any information on her death and why she was buried so far from Anaheim, I guess is a mystery for us all. Hopefully, one day I can find out and you can bet I will write about it here.

E. Kate Rea, 1970
The  next time you drive around Anaheim and you see the street sign "Katella," please take a second and remember that it once was known for the walnut ranch owned by Mr. Rea and his family. Remember that the street was once just a small dirt path that crossed the property up to the old school house.  Do not forget that its humble beginnings started in the mind of an eager man who came to California to start life anew and lived the American dream to the fullest. This path witnessed Anaheim in its early beginnings, only to become the large street that remains today. Think of who it was who started that name, and the family legacy they have left Anaheim for generations to come.

All photos from Anaheim Public Library Archives Collection
Orange Coast Magazine, 1989
Early Anaheim-(Book)
Great California Registers
Census Records,
Birth and Death Records,
San Diego- El Cajon History
Anaheim History (APL Archives)
Obituary Notices
Loma Vista and Forest Lawn Cemetery

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Early Anaheim Libraries

Carnegie Building
Sitting on Anaheim Boulevard, looking just as lovely as the day it was constructed, sits the Carnegie Building. Erected in 1908 and opened on New Year's Day of 1909, the Carnegie Building has withstood World War I, the Great Depression, the earthquake of '33, the flood of '38, World War II and so much more. It stands today as archaic reminder of the beauty and class that Anaheim and its residents once had. Designed by the Griffith Park Observatory architect, John Austin, and constructed by Kuechel and Rowley, the Carnegie Library shows a distinguished character that time cannot seem to diminish.

What many people do not know though, is that this was not the first library in Anaheim. Originally, Cornelius Bruce, proprietor of the Candy Kitchen that was once located at 106 East Center Street (now Lincoln Avenue), first offered the back of his store as the first Public Library in Anaheim. It acted as the Public Library for several years until the city decided it was time to expand.

It was not until 1906, when the city clerk of Anaheim sent a request to Andrew Carnegie, to secure funds to build Anaheim a proper library. It took around five months before Carnegie's secretary, James Bertram contacted Anaheim's city clerk with the good news. Upon agreeing to the terms of their grants, Anaheim was to receive $10,000 in order to build their beloved library.

Candy Kitchen
After receiving monies collected by all of Anaheim's residents, the property located on the corner of Los Angeles Street and Broadway was purchased for $2,400.00 from owner, William Koenig. The groundbreaking and cornerstone laying of what would become the Carnegie Building and Anaheim's first official library was done on November 21, 1908.

By New Year's Day of 1909, the library was officially opened!

The Carnegie Building remained Anaheim's library for over fifty years, until it became obvious that the building was just not large enough to accommodate the need for more books and visitor access according to the expansion in Anaheim's population.

Elva Haskett

By 1962, the city had built the Elva Haskett Branch at 2560 West Broadway. Named after Elva Haskett, a library staff member hired in 1925 who later became Anaheim's first children's librarian. It seemed that one location was not enough for the city, so by December 5, 1963, the property that originally housed the Theodore Rimpau house, was now the new Central Public Library located at 500 West Broadway. The Carnegie Building later housed city offices and then later became the Anaheim Museum and now, MUZEO.

Although the Central Library hasn't been around as long as the Carnegie Building, it has seen it's share of Anaheim residents and has become a familiar site to both the older and younger generations alike.

Elva Haskett Branch

Central Anaheim Public Library

 From the meager beginnings in the back of a candy store, to a distinguished and most beautiful structure as the Carnegie Building and then finally an even larger, and more modern design, Anaheim's libraries are all very special in their own ways. Of course Cornelius Bruce's Candy Kitchen, now only exists in our imagination via the wonderful photos in the Anaheim Public Library archives, one can only imagine the fun it must have been!

My mother grew up in Anaheim in the late 50's and early 60's and the Carnegie Building was and still is a wonderful memory of her childhood. From reading the books, running around downstairs (barefoot) during the summer months with her friends, to enjoying the activities the library offered to the kids, this place will forever be sealed in her mind as a place of happy memories.

Students in Carnegie Building, 1960
My own memories of the library as a child was going to the Central Library on Broadway, to check out a book or two, maybe even renting a VHS tape of Alice in Wonderland or Sleeping Beauty. I even recall watching Dumbo there once in the early 80s with my mom and the staff giving out popcorn. As an adult, my very first investigation into the death of Enid Rimpau led me to this very library to the upstairs room where Anaheim history was kept. My grandfather, George MacLaren (who was a member of the "Friends of the Library" and a former President of the Anaheim Historical Society), often referred me to the library whenever I had questions about any history related stories.

In the end, Anaheim's libraries may very well have been the catalyst that inspired me to become the investigative writer that I am. I have always been fond of books, and even more fond of history. I am very grateful that Anaheim has kept their records, photos and history archived for historians, such as myself, who continue to dig for more information on Anaheim's past.

It really comes full circle when you realize that Anaheim's libraries are not only a part of its history, but Anaheim's history is also very much part of Anaheim's Public Library!

(Copyright 2014-J'aime Rubio)

All photos thanks to Anaheim Public Library Archive Collection!

Friday, July 18, 2014

James Smith Gardiner- Anaheim Physician and Post Master

A native of  Glasgow, Scotland, James Smith Gardiner came into the world on November 5, 1840. Born to parents William Gardiner and Mary Bisket, Gardiner traveled with his family and eight siblings to New York around 1853. After arriving to New York, the family settled in Tennessee.  

By the time that James was 22 years old, he enlisted in the military, serving as a Private in the 37th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry.  His unit fought conflicts from Atlanta to Murfeesboro, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Sadly, during his service he was stabbed by a Union sympathizer and had to be relieved of his duties, although records state he did receive the Southern Cross in 1903 for his service. After the war was over, James returned home and attended Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1865. 

When James was 29 years old, he moved out west to California to open a practice in Anaheim. While in Orange County, James met the lady who would become his wife, Maria Keener Tarver, (in photo to the right). She was recently widowed and mother of one young child.

After the pair were wed, they had two daughters of their own, Mary Ella and Nancy.  At the age of 8, Nancy died, and is buried at the Anaheim Cemetery.

As the book "Tam Blake & Co." states: " The Anaheim histories suggest that, like so many American doctors in the late 1800s, his services were often repaid with 'hay, wood, pork and promises,' very seldom in hard cash.  However, Dr. Gardiner, who also served as postmaster in Anaheim, is best remembered as the man who performed the first Caesarean operation in Orange County. On this occasion, he was paid in coin- twenty-five dollars."

James & Maria
Although some records state that Dr. Gardiner passed away on November 8, 1905, the Anaheim Cemetery records state that his death date was actually November 9th, 1905, and his burial was on the 11th.

Dr. Gardiner and his wife and young daughter are interred at Anaheim Cemetery.


Anaheim Public Library Archives Notations: 
" Residence of Dr. and Mrs. James Smith Gardiner, located at 312 North Lemon Street, Anaheim; image shows front view from Lemon Street with seven figures standing in front of house identified, from left to right, as Richard L. and wife Ella (née Gardiner) Coons (daughter of J.S. and Marcia [SIC] Maria Gardiner) standing on the front porch; standing outside white picket fence around front yard are Miss Mollie Rector, August Backs, James Smith and wife Maria J. (née Tarver) Gardiner, and Mrs. Renz; a windmill tower and vane are visible at far right."

(Copyright- J'aime Rubio, 2014)

Anaheim Cemetery Veteran Records
Anaheim Public Library Archives (Photos)
"Tam Blake & Co."- Jim Hewitson (1993)
OCGS Civil War Veterans Project
Census & Marriage records.