It’s the stuff that Western films thrive on. The bandit-bullies try to intimidate the reluctant hero and push matters too far. The Gary Cooper/Alan Ladd character in the spring of 1858 was a survivor of the Industrial Revolution in England.
English-born Walter Murray grew up in the harsh London streets described in the novels of Charles Dickens. He became apprenticed to a prominent barrister in London. Recognizing that the social class boundaries of English professional life limited his aspirations, he joined a lottery to emigrate to America.
Once in New York, he enlisted in Col. Jonathan D. Stevenson’s 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers and sailed for California by way of Brazil, Peru and La Paz. After a stay in Santa Barbara, he departed for the gold fields, then settled in San Luis Obispo in 1853. Pío Linares, the San Luis Obispo leader of Irishman Jackie Powers’ Santa Barbara-based gang, had intimidated the local population for much of the 1850s. He heard that Murray, his onetime attorney, was convening a meeting of leaders to deal with the unrelenting epoch of violence in San Luis Obispo. Linares’ gang shot out the windows of Murray’s home on upper Monterey Street without injuring the occupants.
Shortly after, Murray and more than 140 other citizens formed a Committee of Vigilance. Within several months the murderous reign of the bandit gang of Pío Linares on El Camino Real between Monterey and Santa Barbara ended either in shootouts where Murray was wounded but the bandidos were killed or at the end of a noose nearby the juzgado (jail) at the Broad Street end of the Old Mission.
San Luis Obispo entered an era of relative social tranquility, albeit beset by the worst drought in recorded history.
By the late 1860s, prosperity returned as the Steele Brothers and others introduced dairy farming into the region. Walter Murray was elected state assemblyman in 1858, county treasurer in 1859 and district attorney in 1867. In 1873, he was appointed judge of the 1st Judicial District, which encompassed the three counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
Through his friend Romualdo Pacheco Jr., he became associated with the Republican Party. In 1868, the first newspaper in San Luis Obispo, The Pioneer, was founded. Its views were seen by Murray and Pacheco as appealing to “unreconstructed Copperheads,” pro-Southern Democrats. Murray founded and edited The Tribune in 1869 to present an alternative voice.
During the spring of 1875, Murray was a candidate for election to his judicial post and preparing to visit his aged parents in England. He began to suffer from serious bouts of “gastritis,” probably appendicitis. By early October, his appendix ruptured while he was in the Tribune office on Mission Plaza. He was taken to the nearby Cosmopolitan Hotel, where he died.
The Masonic Order prepared a grand funeral and monument for Murray.
The monument still stands in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. During Halloween 1961, the monument and part of the base were vandalized.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., the Masonic Order’s King David Lodge will hold a ceremony honoring Murray at his newly restored gravesite in the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Elks Lane and Higuera Street.
The public is invited.
Dan Krieger is president of the California Mission Studies Association.