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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: When a Fight Over the Flag Turned Deadly in La Habra

Benjamin W. Elliott, a rancher from La Habra, earned the nickname "Walking" from residents by way of his reputation for always trekking around town. They considered him to be a bit of an odd man, a radical recluse even. But after a flap over the American flag turned into a deadly fracas, Elliott earned many other less flattering descriptions in the patriotic press like "disloyal," and "seditionist." 

In 1918, efforts remained afoot to popularize President Woodrow Wilson's march into the First World War among a reluctant American public. That included Liberty Bond drives. A man of certain wealth like Elliott was expected to do his part, but he patently refused the petitions of Eugene Young, a blacksmith in La Habra and enthusiastic bonds salesman. 

An April 10 exchange between the two men on the street quickly turned bitter. Not only did Elliott refuse to buy any Liberty Bonds, but in Young's mind, he profaned the United States with choice words. 

Young gathered a group of friends to confront him later that evening. They arrived to the rancher's home with an American flag in hand. The men planned to force Elliot to kiss it in penance for his unpatriotic indiscretions. 

But no such retraction took place. Instead, Young barged through the door and a struggle ensued between the two men. Elliott pulled a pistol and shot the blacksmith. Later, constable Harry Ashley and deputy Dove Lindsey arrived on scene to arrest Elliott. 

He refused to be taken in. A brief gun battle ensued in the struggle. Ashley fired first and struck Elliot, who returned fire but missed. Authorities took him to a local hospital and then off to jail. 

The shooting made headlines beyond Orange County, much of it drenched in patriotism. "Man Hurt for Resenting Insult to Flag Recovering" read a headline in Idaho's Twin Falls Times newspaper. The article reported that surgeons didn't give Young much of a chance of surviving. 

It turned out to be a prophetic prognosis. Three weeks after the shooting, Young died of his injuries. Two days later, all storefronts in La Habra closed on May 7 in honoring his funeral.

Elliott would never stand trial for slaying Young. What the Riverside Daily Press deemed a "technicality" proved to be self-defense; Elliott shot a man who forcefully entered his home and couldn't be charged. He did receive a 90-day sentence as well as a $200 fine on account of his "unpatriotic" remarks, and there still was an assault with a deadly weapon charge against him in the gunfight with Ashley. 

When the judge read the criminal complaint during a hearing, Elliott howled in protest. 

"What's that?" he asked, as recounted in the La Habra Star. "Me assault him with a deadly weapon! He shot at me. It was coldblooded attempt to murder. Both of them, all of them tried to murder me. I shot in self-defense." 

Attorney Clyde Bishop claimed that Ashley confronted Elliott with a man who'd been part of Young's patriotic posse in arguing against an increase in bail for his client.

The trial concluded with the judge handing Elliott down an indeterminate prison sentence of 1-15 years. While behind bars, Young's widow sued him for $70,000 in damages. The complaint claimed Elliott shot her husband "without provocation," but a jury dismissed the suit.  

After three years and seven months spent at San Quentin, Benjamin "Walking" Elliott walked out a free man. He continued to live in Orange County. 

The left recalls Elliot as having belonged to both the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World during his life. But he explained his anti-war views as having been based on his Quaker upbringing. Elliott died a quiet death at the age of 88 on January 28, 1950. 

His final resting place is at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton. 

- Gabriel San Román

Like what you're reading so far? To keep the Tallest Mexican in OC's Slingshot! newsletters going Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2. Follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook! Don't forget to tell your friends to join the San Roman syndicate by subscribing! 

Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

"My, oh, my, what a wonderful day!"

That was my reaction on the morning of June 25 when news broke about Disney retheming Splash Mountain. The log ride was based on the infamous film "Song of the South," but will return as a Princess and the Frog attraction.

Sure, imagineers keistered Uncle Remus, the star storyteller from "Song of the South," when debuting Splash Mountain more than 30 years ago, but the ride could never really get away from its racist roots--not with the Brer critters still speaking ersatz Black English and "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" being a derivative of the ol' "Zip Coon" tune.

And retheming Splash Mountain won't be enough on its own to rid the Happiest Place on Earth of its uncomfortable odes to racism. There are two more attractions that come immediately to mind. 

Whenever the park does reopen from the coronavirus pandemic, a ride on Peter Pan's Flight reveals more racism. During one quick turn on the floating ship, red-faced Indians appear in the attraction, an ode to the original animated film's horrific depiction of Native Americans. And while doing right by Indigenous people, it'd be easy to take down the wooden Indian on Main Street, too. 

Another cringe-worthy experience is the Jungle Cruise, one of Disneyland's original attractions. I'd been to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar without knowing anything about its namesake. After getting back on the boat ride for the first time in decades, my jaw dropped towards the end. 

"That's Trader Sam?" 

An animatronic African headhunter? Yikes! And that's after the skip with quips tells tourists to duck from spears being chucked at them!

With the Jungle Cruise poised to become a blockbuster hit (whenever movies return from the pandemic) there's already chatter that the occasion may provide perfect cover to reverse course on the ride's stereotypes. 

Let's hope! There's nothing really amusing about racism, after all. 

By the Bylines

For my monthly "Off the Page" column with Libromobile, I set books aside to check in with Federico Medina, my former OC Weekly colleague. Medina served as the alternative newspaper's last art director, one who added his talents as a photographer to the tasks at hand--including transforming me into Bob from Bob's Burgers for a cover about a year ago! 

Those were simpler times! 

These days, between pandemics and protests, Medina's braving the frontlines of it all. During a demonstration in Santa Ana, he even took a rubber bullet to the head. But that didn't stop Medin. When Black Lives Maatter protesters clashed with Trump supporters in Huntington Beach a week later, he headed back to the scene of history unfolding with a camera in hand. 

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