Theory Is That County Supervisor Killed John Rains

By Mark Gutglueck
On Saturday, April 27 at 11 a.m., the San Bernardino County Museum will host an open house at the María Merced Williams and John Rains House to celebrate highly anticipated improvements, including a new roof, interior paint, entrance monuments, and parking lot improvements.
The historic site’s transformation will be highlighted with a red ribbon ceremony and open house which will showcase the significant investments that will ensure this site is protected and relevant for years to come. The open house will run until 1 p.m. and include site tours, frontier arts and crafts, historic demonstrations, and more.
John Rains, a former soldier, married the wealthy Maria Merced Williams after he arrived in California as a cattle and sheep driver in 1847.
Maria Merced Williams was the daughter of Colonel Isaac Williams, the owner of the Rancho Santa Ana Del Chino, a 22,193-acre portion of a Mexican land grant on what had been part of the San Gabriel Mission and what today is part of Chino and Chino Hills. Williams had wed daughter of Don Antonio Maria Lugo and sister of Jose Maria Lugo, Jose Del Carmen Lugo and Vicente Lugo, who, among them, owned the large San Bernardino Grant
Colonel Williams fought on the American side during the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Chino. He was rewarded with the sum of $80,000 for his contribution to the war effort after California was annexed to the United States.
In 1856, Williams died, leaving the bulk of his estate to his two daughters, Maria Merced and Francesca, who in 1857 married Robert Carlisle, formerly of Kentucky.
María Merced Williams and John Rains purchased the 13,000-acre Rancho de Cucamonga. In 1860, they commissioned the building of the Rains House by Ohio brick masons. Its flat roof was waterproofed by tar from the brea pits in Los Angeles. An open flume carried water from springs through the kitchen, into the patio, and under the house to the orchard, thereby providing cooling for the structure. The original house had an entry hall, a parlor, and three bedrooms in the front, with a patio area flanked by a dining room, a kitchen, a padré’s room, and two guest rooms.
John Rains built the Rancho into a successful business, entailing vineyards and a winery, as well as a stage station. His success with the Rancho allowed him to make investments elsewhere, including securing part ownership of the Bella Union Hotel in Los Angeles. In 1860, he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Rains’ abode became “the social center of the community.”
Meanwhile, John Rains’ brother in law, Carlisle, following a year or so of residence in Los Angeles with Francesca, returned to Santa Ana Rancho Del Chino. Robert Carlisle managed that holding with considerable efficiency.
By virtue of his popularity and business acumen, Robert Carlisle in 1862 was elected supervisor for the First Supervisorial District in San Bernardino County. He assumed office on November 17, 1862, succeeding Richard Varley, and four days later, on November 21, 1862 he was selected by his colleagues to serve as chairman of the board.
On the very day that Carlisle took office, November 17, 1862, his sister-in-law’s husband, John Rains, disappeared.
Rains had overextended himself with some of his business ventures and to hold everything together, he borrowed against his rancho. On that fateful day, November 17, 1862, John Rains departed for Los Angeles – a town which then boasted a population of some 4,500 – and an overnight stay at the Bella Union Hotel that evening before finalizing some further financing arrangements, including the signing of some loan and collateral documents the next day. He departed for the town of the Angels in a wagon pulled by a team of his best horses.
Rains never arrived at his intended destination.
On November 19, 1862, the team of horses found its way back to the rancho. They were no longer hitched up to the wagon.
The ensuing investigation into what had happened was led by Robert Carlisle, who took several missteps in doing so, including delaying the search for Rains by two days. On November 28, 1862 John Rains’ body was found near Azusa, amid cacti some 400 feet off the road. There were obvious signs that violence had attended his last minutes of earthly existence. According to the Los Angeles Star, it appeared as if he had been lassoed and yanked from his wagon perch. His right arm was mangled from the elbow down and its upper portion had been pulled out of its shoulder socket. He was shot twice in the back, once in the side and on the left side of his chest. Carlisle was likewise involved in the effort to find Rains’ killer and bring him to justice. Early on, his suspicion settled upon one of Rains’ ranch hands, Ramon Carrillo, who was twice brought before a court. Carrillo had an ironclad alibi, having been in Los Angeles and seen by multiple witnesses at the time Rains was thought to have met his grim end. The posse led by Carlisle also falsely pursued others, including Manuel Cerradel, one of Carrillo’s compadres, the only individual convicted of anything related to Rains’ death and its investigation. When deputies who came to arrest him as a suspect in Rains’ death at Carlisle’s urging, Cerradel flew into a rage and attacked the deputies. He was exonerated of anything related to Rains’ death, but drew a ten-year sentence in San Quentin for his violence against the deputies.
More than a few locals held abiding suspicions that Rains’ murderer was none other than Robert Carlisle. In utilizing the classic criteria detectives apply in ferreting out the perpetrators of crime – motive, means and opportunity – Carlisle comes across as a prime suspect.
On November 17, 1862, the day Rains disappeared, Carlisle was scheduled to be on hand in San Bernardino for his swearing in as one of San Bernardino County’s newly elected supervisors. He departed from Rancho Santa Ana Del Chino, ostensibly to keep his appointment at that honorific but never showed up. He was never able to adequately explain his whereabouts on that day.
During the weeklong search for the missing Rains toward the end of November 1862, instead of staying in the wild along the road to Los Angeles to maintain a thorough scouring of the places Rains might have been, Carlisle returned to his home where one evening he held a festive party.
Then there was the matter of his comportment toward his sister-in-law after her husband’s death. Carlisle hectored, bamboozled and bullied Maria Merced into granting him power of attorney over the Rains estate.
One theory was that Rains had been killed because of his secessionist sympathies, which Carlisle emphasized.
Carlisle, in looking after his sister-in-law’s affairs, became deeply involved in the settlement of John Rains’ estate. This led to a bitter dispute with the King Brothers of El Monte and Los Angeles, with whom Rains had business dealings, including shared ownership of the Bella Union Hotel. The King Brothers believed Carlisle had interferred with their business affairs in his management of his sister-in-law’s estate.
On July 5, 1865, more than seven months after he had left the board of supervisors, Carlisle was in Los Angeles to attend a wedding at the Bella Union Hotel. In attendance at the party was Los Angeles County Undersheriff Andrew King, one of the King Brothers, who had been San Bernardino County’s constable and whom Carlisle had accused of of indolence in the investigation of Rains’ murder. That night in the crowded saloon on the ground floor of the hotel, there was a heated exchange between the two men, including a fight in which Carlisle pulled a knife and slashed King’s arm. The next day, two of the King Brothers, Houston and Frank, came into the hotel to confront Carlisle. A gunfight ensued. Carlisle was fatally wounded, but not before he had himself shot and killed Frank King. Carlisle’s funeral was held in the Bella Union. Houston King was charged with the murder of Carlisle. At Houston King’s murder trial in 1866, he was acquitted.
The María Merced Williams and John Rains House is located at 8810 Hemlock Street, at the Vineyard Avenue exit from Interstate 10 in Rancho Cucamonga. The historic site is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free to the public.
The San Bernardino County Museum’s exhibits of regional, cultural and natural history and the Museum’s other exciting events and programs reflect the effort by the Board of Supervisors to achieve the Countywide Vision by celebrating arts, culture, and education in the county, creating quality of life for residents and visitors.
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