From Pittsburgh Streets

George T. Fleming. "Mexican names for local streets: Events of 70 years ago and parts taken by Pittsburghers are recalled: Interesting tales." Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 9, 1916, fifth section, p. 2. 85766354.

Events of 70 Years Ago and Parts Taken by Pittsburghers Are Recalled

THE long-continued disorders in Mexico and the prominence of that unhappy country in the news columns for the past five years, and especially during the past few months, are sufficient to call to mind that Mexican and Spanish names have been in use in the United States since the Mexican War in 1846–48, and that locally in our street nomenclature we have some such and for a good reason.

Naturally these names bring to light much interesting history, men, events and localities intermingled in kaleidoscopic and rapid action, the time dating back to our first troubles with the Republic of Mexico. Conditions then were much the same as now, calling especially for delicacy and finesse in the roles of the diplomatic actors.

On the North Side, in former Allegheny City, above the North Park, North Common formerly, is the plan of lots originally known as William Robinson Juniors Beuna [sic] Vista plan, recorded in plan book Vol. 2, part 1, page 61, being subdivisions of the original lots Nos. 179 and 180 of the plan of the reserve tract opposite Pittsburgh.

The date of record is July 20, 1854, and the surveys were made by Gen. Alexander Hays after he returnd [sic] from his overland trip to California, whence he had gone after his return from Mexico and resignation from the United States army at the end of the Mexican War, in which he served with signal ability.

Gen. Hays' Work.

Old biographies of Alexander Hays state that he engaged in civil engineering in Pittsburgh, that his education at the West Point Military Academy made him a skillful engineer and that, during the decade previous to the breaking out of the Civil War, 1861–65, the country was awakening to the importance of railroad construction and there was great need of the services of such men as Alexander Hays, George B. McClellan and others of the old Army who had served in Mexico and on the plains prior to that war and who turned their talents to that profession on quitting the Army.

Alexander Hays, his children state, gave the names to the streets in the Buena Vista plan, such as we know them—or once knew them—in order from east to west: Palo Alto, Resaca, Monterey, Buena Vista. The plan ended at Pasture lane, since Irwin avenue, on the west and began at Webster street, now Wolfrum, on the east, between the north line of the west common, now North avenue, and Jackson street, now Jarvella street, on the north Taylor avenue intervening, the latter now Tarleton avenue.

These streets are in the present Twenty-second Ward, formerly part of the old Second Ward of Allegheny.

Webster street was changed in name to Winters street and again to Wolfrum, and the street guide informs us that this street extends from Eloise street to Tarleton avenue.

It takes a street guide, a map or two and the city directory to get these street names right. While delving, comparing, estimating, guessing and deducing the necessary facts from the sources of supply one could take a car transfer to another downtown (two fares) and visit the locality, observe the street signs in the plan, hunt up a few of the oldest inhabitants, interview them and be reasonably right in his conclusions.

Now Eloise street—what was that?

You can get a clue in the first two letters—Ellsworth changed to Eloise on account of the duplication of the name in Ellsworth avenue in the Shadyside district.

All of which tends to show how easy it is for old timers to get the names of streets right in 1916.

The Buena Vista Plan.

But the Buena Vista plan began at Webster street and extended to Pasture lane. That is sufficient for a statement of its east and west boundaries. Gen. Hays surveyed it, Gen. William Robinson, Jr., owned the ground and had the plot surveyed.

North of Jackson street ("now Jarvella," put in conscience) was the holdings of the Campbell heirs, and this land was not included in the Buena Vista plan.

If Gen. Robinson did not name the plan, Gen. Hays suggested the name, or the two agreed on it. We know that Gen. Hays was for several years (Judge Parke says one, 1856) city engineer for Allegheny, officially known as the "Recording Regulator." But this was two years after the Buena Vista plan was surveyed and recorded.

The Buena Vista plan is sometimes referred to as New Mexico, on account of the street names in the plan.

One biography asserts that "the city authorities named these streets for the battles in which Capt. Hays had taken part."

There are two errors in this statement. When Alexander Hays resigned from the regular army at the City of Mexico in April, 1848, he was serving as first lieutenant in the Eighth Infantry, U. S. A., having been transferred to that regiment from the Fourth Infantry, to which he had been assigned on graduation from the Military Academy in 1844.

Of the four battle names Alexander Hays served only in the opening battles of the war, Palo Alto and Resaca—or in full, Resaca de la Palma. In this battle Hays, then a second lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry, was wounded and sent home on recruiting service, and did not serve again under Gen. Zachary Taylor at Buena Vista and Monterey, or with Gen. Winfield Scott's army in any of the engagements in the march up to and the capture of the City of Mexico. These battles were Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, and at the gates of the City of Mexico.

Service in Mexico.

Lieut. Hays, however, did not miss good fighting. He arrived at Vera Cruz with his recruits in time to join Gen. "Joe" Lane's expedition with a train of supplies for Scott's army, and had a most thrilling service, aiding in the relief of Puebla, where our Pittsburgh companies, the Duquesne Greys and the Jackson Independent Blues, were part of the besieged garrison.

However, these facts are more pertinent to a biography of Alexander Hays, not a captain in the regular army until August, 1861, when so nominated by Abraham Lincoln and assigned to the Sixteenth Infantry, U. S. A. This assignment Alexander Hays did not accept because of recruiting and commanding the Sixty-third Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and his subsequent services in command of a brigade and a division, ending with his death in action in the Wilderness, Virginia, May 5, 1864.

The battles in which Gen. Hays was engaged in both wars are chiselled on his magnificent monument in the Allegheny cemetery, erected by the soldiers of his command in the Civil War. Monterey and Buena Vista do not appear on the monument.

Alexander Hays regretted the fortune of war that separated him from his former classmates and comrades in the Fourth Infantry, Ulysses S. Grant, James Longstreet and others who subsequently obtained fame.

Recently, among the effects of his deceased daughter, Mrs. Martha Black, of Sewickley, there were found several letters, written by him after the battles of Monterey and Buena Vista, in which he speaks with deep sorrow of his West Point comrades slain in those battles.

In the biography of Gen. William Robinson, previously referred to in these articles, and attributed to Judge John E. Parke, the statement is made that Gen. Robinson named the plan "Buena Vista" and the streets after the battles in Mexico. This land Gen. Robinson inherited from his father.

Descriptive Names.

The name Buena Vista in plain English means "fine view." Palo Alto signifies "the tall trees," Resaca de la Palma, "the ravine of the palm trees." Monterey, from its Latin appearance, may be taken as signifying "the King's mountain." This deduction is strengthened by the meaning of Molino del Rey, "the King's Mill."

From sometime in 1844 until shortly before the opening of hostilities with Mexico, Gen. Taylor's small force of regulars was known as the Army of Observation. When it had assembled at Corpus Christi, Tex., it became the Army of Occupation and when it crossed the Rio Grande it was the Army of Invasion—the first invading army in fact.

The battles of Palo Alto and Reseca [sic] de la Palma were fought on this side of the Rio Grande on what is now and then claimed to be Texas soil, the Mexicans claiming the Nueces River.

Gen. Taylor's men in the Army of Occupation were all regulars. He had seven troops of the Second Dragoons, four batteries of light artillery commanded by Maj. Ringgold; five regiments of infantry, the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth, and one regiment of artillery acting as infantry.

Gen. Taylor's forces numbered but 2,228 officers and men; the Mexicans, according to the admission of their officers, 6,000 regular troops and at least 3,000 undisciplined troops drawn at random from the country.

Lieut. Alexander Hays served in Company K of the Fourth Infantry. The officers were: Captain, George W. Allen; first lieutenant, J. H. Gore; second lieuteant [sic], Henderson Ridgeley; brevet second lieutenant, Alexander Hays. He was the lowest rank officer of the company.

Famous Men in War.

Ulysses S. Grant was second lieutenant of Company C, under Capt. George A. McCall of Pennsylvania, subsequently major general of volunteers and in command of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps in 1861–1862. James Longstreet was brevet second lieutenant in Company F. James S. Woods of Pennsylvania, classmate of Hays, was brevet second lieutenant of Company I.

The regiment was commanded by Col. William Whistler, John Garland was lieutenant-colonel, William Cobbs major and Charles Hoskins adjutant.

Other subalterns serving in the regiment who attained high rank in the Union Army in the Civil War were First Lieut. Henry Prince in Company F, Second Lieut. Christopher C. August in Company G, Second Lieut. Henry M. Judah in Company H, and Capt. Lorenzo Thomas in Company I. Civil War veterans will readily perceive that young Alexander Hays had good soldier comrades.

El Palo Alto, "The Tall Trees," was a point about six miles from Fort Brown, now Brownsville, Tex. The fort, then under command of Maj. Jacob Brown, who had 500 troops, had been beseiged for a week by a large force of Mexicans. It was the intention of Gen. Taylor to relieve Brown when he marched his little army from Point Gabel, his base.

He heard the booming of Maj. Brown's 18-pounders and knew that Brown was sorely pressed. After a march of eight miles Taylor halted. This was on the evening of May 7, 1846. At noon the next day the Mexican army was reported in his front.

In these days of modern arms and ammunition it is well to remember that Taylor's infantry were armed with flint-lock muskets loaded with paper cartridges, known as "buck and ball," containing three buckshot and a bullet. They were close-range guns and to be effective the whites of the eyes of the opposing forces should be seen.

Gen. Taylor had the advantage in artillery with some 12-pound howitzers and the two 18-pounders, these heavy guns being drawn by oxen.

Taylor in Danger.

Gen. Taylor was supposed to have been been [sic] in great danger. His position was not unlike Gen. Pershing's today. This danger, exaggerated by rumor, was spread far and wide. An actual war had not been seriously apprehended. Not so much as today.

It is also well to remember the part that Texas played in the causes of the war and also that the Democratic party was in power in 1846, with James K. Polk president and that the war idea was unpopular in the North on account of the irrevocable opinion that it meant the conquest of territory solely for the extension of slavery.

Remember, also, that Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania, in fact, no part of the country, furnished any volunteers until long after Palo Alto and Resaca had been fought. Our home troops did not leave here until December, 1846, and January, 1847.

To return to hostilities: Gen. Arista, commanding the Mexican army, crossed the Rio Grande about May 7. The action at Palo Alto began about 2 o'clock in the afternoon of May 8 and ended at dark, when the Mexicans withdrew from the field.

The story of Palo Alto has long since been written. The old street name perpetually with us and so for 62 years is a continuous reminder of former perilous days on the Rio Grande.

The old school of the Second Ward, Allegheny, that stood so long at North avenue and Palo Alto street, had in its years of existence thousands of pupils, and it may be taken for granted that each pupil learned thoroughly the story of the street name and those names of the nearby streets telling of combats in Mexico. We can readily believe that pupils who studied in the old North Common School of the Second Ward under David Dennison, principal prior to 1860; James E. Stevenson, during the Civil War; George T. McCord, E. P. Still and John T. Daniel, subsequently, were good historians as far as their course went, and especially good in United States history.

The battle of Resaca de la Palma was fought May 9, 1846. Gen. Taylor had no reinforcements. The night of May 8 was passed with some anxiety by the small body of Americans, for many prudent ones among the officers believed it good policy to either return to Point Isobel [sic] or await reinforcements before again engaging the enemy.

Gen. Taylor listened to the opinions of his most reliable officers and then determined to advance. Conditions opposite Matamoras [sic] were demanding his urgent aid. The moral effect of a retreat would be great at the commencement of a war, both on Mexican and on the United States troops.

Mexicans Are Pursued.

The fighting at Palo Alto had been such as to give him perfect confidence in his troops—well disciplined regulars then paid $7 a month.

Day dawn showed the Mexicans had abandoned Palo Alto for a stronger position nearer the center of action at Matamoros. Taylor's little army came up to the Mexicans in the Resaca de la Palma, a better and more proper name of which would be La Resaca del Guerrero, "the Ravine of the Warrior." This position affored [sic] the Mexicans a natural defence against Taylor's approach along the only road.

The ravine curved across the road and was flanked by masses of prickly plants, aloes and undergrowth matted into impenetrable thickets known as chapparal [sic].

Taylor's infantry began the action by skirmishing; the artillery hammered the center of the enemy's line, and after it had been severely harassed, the flying dragoons under Capt. May by a dashing charge completely broke the enemy's lines and opened the way to Matamoros.

The resaca, or ravine, was four or five rods wide, with water at the lower end so deep as to be almost impassable. The enemy's batteries commanded the road, a narrow strip that afforded the only approach to Fort Brown.

The enemy was well entrenched also. Great preparations were made for a feast in honor of an easy victory, fully expected.

Before night the Mexicans were in full flight, and the garrison at Fort Brown relieved, but not before Maj. Brown, its gallant commander, had been killed. His name is perpetuated in Brownsville, Tex., the site of his fort.

In the garrison serving with him were Lieut. John Fulton Reynolds, killed at Gettysburg, and Braxton Bragg, later a lieutenant general commanding an army of the Confederate states in the Southwest.

Gen. Taylor occupied Matamoras [sic] May 18, 1846. He would have taken the place on the night of May 9, but had no pontoons with which to cross the Rio Grande.

Recruits for Taylor.

Soon recruits flocked to him and volunteer regiments began to arrive and he was more than busy recruiting, arranging his forces and gathering the material for his campaign, culminating in the battles of Monterey and Buena Vista.

Lieut. Alexander Hays was wounded at Resaca but thought lightly of it. However, it soon incapacitated him. However a dashing soldier such as he "naturally found his way into the dispatches and in several books published after the close of hostilities he is mentioned by name in the accounts of the battle. these accounts are most interesting.

Lieut. John A. Richey, Fifth Infantry, subsequently killed by guerrilas [sic] while carrying dispatches, wrote home and his letter was widely published. He said:

A short time after the battle began several of us became separated in the brush, and started forward with a few men we could collect at the moment, to take a battery of the Mexicans that was blazing upon us. We dashed forward into the ravine across the stream which ran through it, and clambering up the opposite bank, rushed across the openings of the chapparal [sic] towards the battery. While passing through, I got separated for about 10 minutes from Lieuts. Woods and Hays; when I rejoined them, they had captured the cannon; they had dashed onward upon the enemy attended by only one man. The cannoneers immediately turned and fled. Before doing so they had set fire to the priming-tube, the gun being loaded. The match was about to ignite the powder when Lieut. Woods knocked the priming off with his sword.

In the meantime some Mexicans ran to the mules attached to the piece by a long pole, and endeavored to drag it off. Hays, perceiving their intention, sprang forward and snapped his pistol at them. At the same moment Woods caught hold of the driving reins.

By this time our party was reinforced and moved forward along the road, firing all the time and driving the enemy before us. We proceeded in this way with about 20 men. Woods now separated from us, and we were joined by Lieuts. Augur and Cochrane of the Fourth.

Deeds of Valor.

Our little party was composed of men belonging to every regiment in the army. We advanced a great distance in front of the main body and were surrounded on all sides by the Mexicans. Capt. Barbour soon joined this bold party.

It was on this occasion that Lieut. Cochrane fell, when immediately afterwards it was charged by the Mexican lancers. Corp. Chisholm shot the Colonel who led the charge. As the officer fell, the corporal was seen to hand him his canteen of water—and but a moment afterwards Chisholm himself was lying dead.

This is a graphic and concise account of a thrilling battle episode. Woods fell at Monterey in the assault on the enemy's entrenchments.

The views presented today are from wood cuts—or old prints, so called, made in 1848. Zachary Taylor succeeded Polk as President, but died after a year in office. Fremont, "the pathfinder," and first presidential candidate of the Republican party, is commemorated (or was) in a North Side street not far from the Buena Vista plan.

It is evident all the history that can be evolved from the names in the plan cannot be presented today, but must be left for subsequent stories.

A letter from Alexander Hays to his niece, Anna Pearson, daughter of Judge John J. Pearson of Mercer, Pa., later judge of the courts of Common Pleas of Dauphin county for many years, has been preserved. It reads:

Division Del Norte, General en Gefe.
Camp near Fort Brown (Texas),
May 17, 1846.

Dear Anna: I have just finished writing to your father, and write this in hope it will draw some return from you. Remember, I am far from home, and that a letter would be almost equal to seeing your dear little face. Aunt Annie writes often, and in her last letter said she expected you to visit her, which I hope your father will permit you to do soon.

I need not tell you of all the hardships of a poor soldier's life, for it will not afford you much interest, but if you feel any, ask father to read you my letter.

If I had time I might give you some account of this country, which would be interesting, for it is truly "a land of sun and flowers," but you will find hereafter, and feel with me, that "there's no place like home."

I think of you often, and wish you to remember me. Give my love to mother, grandmother, Aunts Susan, Marg and Margaret and to all my friends. Good-bye. Your uncle,

In this letter he says nothing about his wound, although it was written nine days after the engagement at Resaca.

Annie, referred to, is Mrs. Hays, formerly Annie A. McFadden of Pittsburgh, to whom Alexander Hays was married in this city, February 19, 1846, but back on duty in Texas one month later. The letter to Judge Pearson was lost in the course of years.