Otto Brant arrived in Los Angeles during the mid 1880s during a major real estate boom. He had made a small fortune in drilling wells for water irrigation in Texas with his brother Byron and came to Los Angeles to try his hand in real estate investment. Later he and a partner would found the successful Title Insurance Company. He and his wife Susan began a large family and early on hired a Chinese houseboy, Wong Joe . Wong Joe was an integral member of the Brant household and even played nurse "girl " to the Brant children . Here are some Brant family photos courtesy of Harry Brant Chandler.
Otto Brant in his younger years .
Otto Brant family circa 1905
The Brant house in Los Angeles .
"Old Joe"- Wong Joe , Houseboy for the Brants
Cook and nurse "girl" who raised the whole damn family and many of the neighbors Kids. "
Wong Joe's history with the Brant family was a long and deep one that stretched for many years. He became a trusted member of the family household .
Meanwhile, Jue Joe arrived in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley in 1893 after working on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Like Wong Joe, Jue Joe was employed as a houseboy. He was employed by Neils C, Johnson and Ann Wilden Johnson, pioneer homesteaders. Here is some information about the Johnsons and some pictures of Chatsworth and the San Fernando Valley in 1893 when Jue Joe arrived.
By the late 1880s most latecomers found it more difficult to find good farmland in
the valley. Most were consigned to seek out marginal land in the surrounding hills
for ranches and homesteads. Benjamin Porter had divided his “least desirable”
property into thirteen separate shares. Granger Ranch (which Porter named after
his ranch superintendent), the westernmost share and adjacent to Santa Susana
State Historic Park, eventually became part of the town of Chatsworth Park. In
1870, Niles and Wilden Johnson were among the first families to take advantage
of the Federal Homestead Act, to settle in the San Fernando Valley. The Johnsons
were applying for the land under the 1862 Homestead Act, which allowed an adult
United States citizen or naturalized citizen the opportunity to acquire free up to a
¼ section of a township (160 acres) in the public domain west of the Mississippi.
The claimant had to have improved and lived on the property for at least five
years, after which he paid a nominal filing fee; or was allowed to buy it after six
months for $1.25 per acre. Settling first in Brown’s Canyon, in 1874 they
relocated farther up the Santa Susana Pass Road and homesteaded in what is now
the Indian Hills Estates. Over the next twenty years, several other early pioneer
families established homesteads in the hills above Chatsworth, including the
Coffeen, Glasscock, Graves, Gray, Thrasher, and Iverson. By damming streams
and digging wells, these homesteaders were able to coerce crops from the rocky
soil. All of which contributed to the west valley’s economic growth, helping to
establish the Chatsworth area as an independent agricultural community. With the
opening of the Owens Valley Aqueduct in 1913, the City of Los Angeles offered
to sell water to Chatsworth and other towns in the San Fernando Valley only if
they would agree to be annexed. As a result, Chatsworth’s residents voted to give
up their municipal independence to the growing megalopolis. With a steady supply
of fresh water, the Chatsworth area would be noted for its orchards of oranges,
lemons, grapes, and figs, and eventually develop thoroughbred horse ranches
from SANTA SUSANA PASS STATE HISTORIC PARK
Ann Willden Johnson
Ann Willden Johnson defined what it meant to be a pioneer. Born in Sheffield, England, in 1845, Ann moved to the United States as a small child. Her family settled in a Mormon colony in Iowa and lived there for several years. In 1851, the Willdens followed Brigham Young and his Mormon disciples to the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Ann remained in Utah until she married Neils Christian Johnson and soon moved to California.
The Johnsons lived around the greater Los Angels area, and ultimately settled in Chatsworth in 1874. According to her autobiography, Our Pioneer Mother, as told to and recorded by her daughter, Leonora Johnson MacDonald, Ann was "the first white English-speaking woman in the San Fernando Valley." Ann did all that she could to develop a community in Chatsworth. In 1880, Ann assisted in establishing the first school in Chatsworth and served as the clerk for the Board of Trustees for several years. Ann also devoted much of her time to work and worship at the Methodist Church and Sunday School.
When Jue Joe starting working for the Johnsons as their houseboy he was already 37 years old, the Johnson's had 10 children . The two youngest and probably still in the house were Oliver age 8 and Norman age 9 , the next youngest was Emma age 20 , and the oldest was Hanna age 32
Jue Joe probably in his 40's
Neils C. Johnson
Ann Wilden Johnson
Chatsworth Rail Station 1893
View of the San Fernando Valley circa 1893
The full text of this book is available for free on the internet archive as it's copyright has expired .
Chinese are a social people and Chinatowns have always served as a haven for area Chinese to meet with their countrymen and to develop friendships and speak their own language and eat and buy food and clothing and supplies from China. In the 1890s Los Angeles Chinatown was booming and thriving despite the rabid anti Chinese agitation of the times. Railroad connections allowed Chinese working in the greater Southland area to descend on Chinatown on their days off . I am sure that Jue Joe took that opportunity to travel from Chatsworth where he was probably the only Chinese man in the area to Chinatown Los Angeles on his days off.
Here are a few views of Los Angeles Chinatown in the 1890s.
I think that Jue Joe probably met Wong Joe in LA's Chinatown . They discussed who their employers were and what they did. Jue Joe probably told Wong Joe that his dreams were not to remain as a houseboy forever but to lease land and start farming potatoes so he could make enough money to go back to China . He probably mentioned to Wong Joe that he was looking for white landowners who might be willing to lease land for farming. Wong Joe probably mentioned that his boss ,Otto Brant was a big time real estate guy and could probably help Jue Joe with a farming land lease and offered to set up a meeting between Otto and Jue Joe. By this time Jue Joe had probably also accumulated a fair amount of money and kept it in the bank. Like other Chinese of the times he was beginning to thrive despite the difficulties of the times . Carey McWillams in his book , "Southern California -An Island on the Land", 1944 page 93. quotes a vistor to Southern California in 1898 :"John Chinaman is forging ahead rapidly in this country. The Chinese are doing the servant's work in hotels, boarding houses, private families , and on the farms they are leasing land, raising an immense quantity of vegetables, and have a monopoly on the huckster business (door to door vegetable sales ). It makes a New England man squirm to see them in lines at banks, depositing money and handling gold in quantities as easily and intelligently as if they were Wall Street brokers.... "
Jue Joe probably jumped at the opportunity of meeting Otto Brant . He was an unconventional man who throughout his life although speaking broken English and being illiterate was able to make friendships with powerful white men of the time , and forge relationships that would last decades. Jue Joe and Otto when they met were around the same age and although of vastly different life experiences and cultures were probably able to feel a common bond. They were both dreamers with a vision for big things for the future in their own ways. Otto at the time was probably interested in a man he could trust to use as a "straw man" in clearing of title for clients in his new Title insurance business and who was also willing to put up some of his own money for transactions and Jue Joe was in need of Otto's help to arrange for his leasing of land to start his potato farming business . I think it was the beginning of a strong relationship and friendship that would last until Otto's death in 1922.
Ps. a note on the name "Joe" . Jew Joe's real Chinese name is Jew Pan Soong in Cantonese. Chinese use the family name or surname first and the given name last. So Jew Joe's surname would be Jew and Wong Joe's surname was Wong .
Almost all Chinese given or personal names have two syllables, the first syllable would often change after a person married. Thus Jew Joe's Cantonese name before marriage was Jew But Soong and became Jew Pan Soong after marriage. Sometimes Chinese would shorten their given name and use only the last sylllable, thus Jew Joe would say that his Chinese name was Jew Soong. "Joe" was most likely an American personal name that he chose for himself after living here in the early years and then using on his first identification certificate. Many white folks would use Joe , or John, or Charlie in speaking with Chinese rather then using the Chinese's real given names which were difficult and hard to pronounce. Chinese often adopted these personal names used by the whites as their official given names on legal documents .This was especially true for those like Jew Joe and Wong Joe who had immigrated before stringent Exclusion acts were passed which required careful documentation of complete Chinese names on immigration documents.. In his later immigration documents Jew Joe always speaks of " Jew Joe " as the name by which he is known by the Americans. Likewise for Wong, Joe would not be his real Chinese name but an American nickname he chose for himself