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, 



  1. Well done you, Jaime. You found extra facts on top of what l managed to find, but more importantly you have put a truly professional article together from the flimsy facts,. Still some mystery about this guy, eh?
    I can only say again. Well done.