Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson

What might the future hold for an 8 year old orphan living in Nashville, TN in 1819?

Who could have imagined that he would, after a series of adventures and near-death experiences, become a very colorful figure in our nation’s history and “one of the great landholders in Southern California”?

By the age of 15 he was a fur trapper and trader at Yazoo City, MI. At the age of 22 he joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and traveled to Santa Fe, NM. At the age of 24 he formed his own fur trapping enterprise in Santa Fe, NM.

Captured by Apaches and sentenced to death, he escaped. “Nearly naked and without food” he managed to make the 100 mile journey to Santa Fe, NM while being chased by Apaches. A few years later when others were killed in the riots in Santa Fe, his life was saved by an Indian chief.

In 1841, he help organize a wagon train of settlers and became “one of the first pioneers ever to have crossed the American continent”.

In 1843, at the age of 32, he bought the 3,000 acre Rancho Jurupa for $1,000 dollars. This ranch became Riverside, CA.

In 1844 he was “seriously mauled by a grizzly bear”, and then while tracking it down “barely escaped death during another savage encounter” with the grizzly. In 1845 he named Big Bear, CA after he and companions lassoed and killed 22 grizzlies there.

“Don Benito” Wilson played a key role in the Mexican War of 1846-1848 (“barely escaped a Mexican firing squad”) and in California’s statehood. He was elected the first mayor of Los Angeles, CA, served in the CA Senate, and helped to found Pasadena, CA. The San Gabriel Wine Company he built became the largest in the world.

He first married Ramona. She was the daughter of Don Bernardo Yorba, who owned Rancho Santa Ana and other haciendas. Most of Rancho Santa Ana became Orange County, CA, and one of the haciendas became Yorba Linda, birthplace of President Nixon.

By his second wife, Don Benito was the grandfather of World War II hero, General George Smith Patton, Jr.

Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson is summarized as “a pioneer, beaver trapper and trader, grizzly bear hunter, Indian fighter, justice of the peace, farmer, rancher, politician, horticulturist, vintner, real estate entrepreneur, and one of the great landholders in Southern California”.

You can never know what an 8 year old might accomplish. More details about Benjamin Davis “Don Benito” Wilson’s life can be found in “Patton, A Genius For War” by Carlo D’Este.

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