On Thin-Skinned SanTana Historians

Moxley fends off idiot Republicans; Nick Schou battles conspiracy loons; Vickie Chang gets the hipsters riled up. My petty, non-pedo-apologist fights? Local amateur historians.

My post last week about SanTana's missing segregationist history in a recent Images of America book about the county seat notched a snippy remark from author Roberta A. Reed, which I include in its entirety (and my response) to set up the point of this post. Take it, Roberta!


I am sorry that my book did not “add up” for you. I guess you got even by describing me as “antiquarian.” I assure you that I am several years away from qualifying for AARP.

Regarding the story of the Fremont school: I thank you for pointing that out, it is quite fascinating. Unfortunately, I was not aware of it, or I certainly would have included that. When you are trying to do research on 200 photos, on deadline, and work a real job 11-12 hours a day on top of it, sometimes you don't get to exhaust all sources of research as much as you like.

But we have to give you something to be critical of, don't we?

My response:

Roberta: It's easy to spin after the fact. Your book is very impressive in its thoroughness of obscure facts, names and other memories, things much more difficult to unearth that SanTana's segregationist past. All you had to do is speak with the Orange County Mexican American Historical Society, members of which donated some pictures to your collection, or leaf through the recent book dealing with the Logan barrio's past–Fremont Elementary's full past really isn't that difficult to find if you know how to look. But the stories an author or authors share in a history is telling of their priorities–and your response proves the point of my post.

In my forays as a wannabe Carey McWilliams, I get Reed's swipe a lot from others. My response: what's wrong with asking for a thorough telling of history and not a bunch of Gunkist memories?

Which leads me to the curious case of Henry Head–the nice guy to the left–and Paul Gillette.


Faithful readers will remember my spring story on Head, a county pioneer who also happened to be a Klan member. In the article, I made note that Head's bio as listed by Civil War Round Table of Orange County didn't list this tidbit. That prompted a response from Gillette, who wrote the piece:

The sources I used didn’t make any mention of his Ku Klux Klan affiliation. I can assure you there was no conspiracy on my part to try to “hide” his membership in the Klan in the 1870s. If you had tried to contact me or any other Round Table member before you wrote the article, I would have been more than happy to explain that to you. I was more interested in explaining the prominent roles that Civil War veterans played in the formative years of Orange County and the offices they held.

What didn't make it into the published letter was Gillette's demand for an apology for God-knows-what: showing him to be a convenient historian? I'm not sure what sources Gillette used for his Head write-up (actually, I know one: more on that in a bit), but I do know that either he's either not a good historian or a liar.

The best resource on the life of Henry Head is About Some of the Heads, a 1942 pamphlet written by his son, former OC district attorney Horace C. Head. The Santa Ana Library's History Room has a copy–has had one since at least 1989 (it's listed in a Orange County bibliography printed that year, which also states Corona del Mar's Sherman Library and Garden keeps a copy). In this small book, Horace is candid about his daddy's Klan days, saying the group's “only object was to preserve order and prevent lawlessness.” Part of that “order” came from the Klan's constitution, which Horace cites to include one of its tenets: members had to “oppose negro equality, both social and political.”

Fascinating stuff, no? I don't know about you, but if I was going to do a project on Henry Head, I'd read his son's efforts. Hell, if a high-schooler had to do a report on Head and knew about this book, he'd cite it. Which leads to the following scenario: either Gillette really didn't know about About Some of the Heads, which means he's a bad researcher like Reed, or Gillette read the tome but kept out the KKK part per his entry's whitewashing “focus.”

Speaking of citation, one book I know Gillette used is Samuel Armour's 1921 History of Orange County, California: with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present. How do I know? Included in this 1,600-page-plus encyclopedia is an entry on Henry Head with the following insight:

At the battle of Franklin, he came out with such torn clothes and so bedraggled and powder-stained that his own uncle did not know him.

Compare that with a passage from Gillette's entry on Head:

At the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, in November of 1864, Captain Head emerged from the struggle with such torn clothes, and so powder stained and fatigued, that his own uncle didn’t recognize him.

Plagiarism, or some divine cosmic universal creative impetus that makes writers more than half-a-century apart scribble nearly exactly the same way? Inquiring minds want to know!

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