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Verdugo Views: The man behind the Dunsmore name

Verdugo Views: The man behind the Dunsmore name
Harriet ‘Hattie’ (left) and James Franklin Dunsmoor (right) were married in 1863 in Minnesota. They came to the Crescenta Valley area in the mid-1870s and purchased property in Los Flores Canyon, later renamed Dunsmore Canyon.
(Courtesy of the West Antelope Valley Historical Society)

Up in the Crescenta Valley, residents often see signs referring to Dunsmore, as in canyon, avenue, park, elementary school and even as in sediment debris basin. But who was the person behind all those signs?

Jo Anne Sadler, the valley’s resident historian, decided to find out. The first thing she found was that his name has many spellings. She’s seen it as Dunsmoor, Dunsmore and Dunsmuir. She says the correct spelling was Dunsmoor.

“While the Dunsmoor family only lived in the valley for a few years, they left their mark,’’ she wrote in the Crescenta Valley Historical Society’s newsletter, the Ledger, published in March 2011. “Frank and his wife Hattie’s lives are a rich history of 19th Century America and represent the character of the people who settled here.”

James Franklin Dunsmoor was one of many who came west after the Civil War. He grew up on his father’s farm in Minnesota and volunteered for three months of service as soon as the war began. The enrolling clerk misspelled his name as Dunsmore. Sadler noted that this wouldn’t be the last time.


He was injured very early in the war, then discharged and given a disability pension of four dollars per month. He later homesteaded in Minnesota, then joined a local militia formed during the 1862 Sioux uprising. He boarded with a family named Hoffman and married their daughter, Hattie, in 1863.

They established another homestead, this one in Todd County, and farmed for 11 years. Many of their 12 children were born on that Minnesota farm.

Dunsmoor’s parents and two of his brothers moved to Los Angeles in 1873 and Frank and Hattie soon followed. They traveled nine days by train from Minneapolis to San Francisco.

Sadler found a narrative by Hattie Hoffman Dunsmoor written in 1925. In it, she recounts their trip west on an emigrant car attached to a freight train. “We reached San Francisco on Christmas Day. Then we were two days and two nights on the water, coming down to Wilmington. We went to Los Angeles on the only railroad then in Southern California.’’


They found their relatives already established in Los Angeles. One brother had 10 acres between the river and the Southern Pacific depot. She wrote that the land was covered with willows and the Spanish people held celebrations nearby. “We watched them race horses and spear rings as the horses ran. They had beautiful silver-mounted saddles and bridles.’’

The other brother was on 8th Street, between Main and Los Angeles Streets. The elder Dunsmoors lived on Grand Avenue at 7th Street, next door to the Casanave Coffee Importing company.

James and Hattie moved out toward El Monte and after a year, relocated to our foothills, to a ranch in what was then Los Flores Canyon and is now Dunsmore Canyon. There James took up commercial bee keeping. Sadler found a record of them in the 1880 census, which describes him as an apiarist. Living with them were several children and a laborer named Foo Ching.

In 1882, Dunsmore purchased the land from the Southern Pacific Railroad, but then, just a year later, sold it to Benjamin Briggs. The land was later resold to George Le Mesnager and is now part of Deukmejian Wilderness Park.


Readers Write:

In response to a question regarding the Watson Family Photography Archive on East Glenoaks Boulevard [Verdugo Views, March 30, 2012] George Ellison of Special Collections at the Glendale Public Library, writes, “It is a collection of Los Angeles history. The Watson Brothers were actorsphotographers. They did some work for the Los Angeles Times and other Los Angeles newspapers. Delmar Watson put out three books, one being “Quick Watson, The Camera.” We have some information about them and their collection.