Friday, May 22, 2020

Head hunting

Henry William Head
For some strange reason, I've been contacted in the last week by three separate people from three separate places who are all researching the pioneer Head family of the Santa Ana/Garden Grove area. It seems that at least some of the interest is driven by 1896 state senate candidate Henry William (H.W.) Head's early involvement in the Ku Klux Klan rather than anything else the family may have accomplished after establishing themselves in Orange County. Sadly, H.W. Head's Klan membership in the years after the Civil War isn't much of a surprise, considering he was an old Confederate and of course a Democrat.

Head and some of his fellow Confederate vets were indeed among the rather broad coalition of many citizens (including Republicans and Democrats, Northerners and Southerners) who worked together over many years to win Orange County's independence from Los Angeles.

His son, Horace Caldwell (H. C.) Head, became one of Orange County's leading lawyers and served for a time as District Attorney. There's more than a little information about the family to be found. And for whatever reason, the Heads are suddenly a hot topic.

Before even more people ask, I figure I'll just post some of my advice on tracking down the Heads right here on my blog. But first, here's what H. C. wrote about his father in Dr. C.D. Ball's Orange County Medical History in 1926:

"HEAD, HENRY WILLIAM, was one of the pioneer physicians of the territory that is now known as Orange County. He was born in Obion County, Tennessee, on the first day of January, 1840. His father was a country doctor of the old school, his grandfather was a pioneer of the new territory of Tennessee, and his great-grandfather was a Virginian and a lieutenant in Washington's army of patriots during the War of Revolution.

"Dr. Head had just finished his academic training and had started to study law when the Civil War interrupted his studies. He at once enlisted and served four years in the Confederate Army, and was captain of his company at the end of the war. When he returned to his home his father asked him when he was going to resume his study of law. His reply was that for four years he had seen so much of human misery and suffering that he had determined to study medicine and do what he could to alleviate the ills of humanity. Accordingly, he entered Nashville Medical College, then one of the leading medical schools of the country, and which afterwards became and now is the medical department of Vanderbilt University at Nashville. He was graduated in 1868 and at once commenced the practice of medicine in his native county of Obion in Tennessee. There he was married and two of his children were born. His practice was extensive and laborious and the climate severe and unhealthful, so that in a few years his health was impaired, and in 1876, he moved with his wife and two children to California, locating on a farm about four miles northwest of Santa Ana. It was his intention to retire from practice and follow farming, but at that time there were very few doctors in the country and he could not ignore the call of affliction. His credentials were presented and he was duly licensed to practice his profession in this State (Certificate 478). For a number of years his chief occupation was the practice of medicine, with farming and activity in political and public affairs as side lines. There are grandparents now living in Orange County whose advent into this world was assisted by Dr. Head. There were no hospitals here in those early days, and like all the pioneer practitioners he had to be a combination of doctor, surgeon, oculist and dentist.

"Dr. Head retired from practice a number of years ago, and moved to Santa Ana, where he spent the last years of his life busy in peaceful contentment. He was blessed with a family of seven children and a number of grandchildren. On December 5, 1919, he passed to his reward. He was laid to rest in the old Santa Ana cemetery, beside the grave of his father, Dr. Horace Head, who was known to the early settlers as "the old Doctor," though he did not engage in practice after coming to California. 

"Dr. Head was a Democrat -- served one term (the 26th Session) in the State Assembly."

Anyway, what follows are some additional suggestions on where to look for more information about the Heads. Writing about them isn't in my top ten "things to do," but it seems to be so for other folks. And even if you don't give two hoots about the Heads, you may spot a few general resources that may be useful in your own projects. Here's a small smattering of potential resources for Head hunters,...

1)     Check the “mug books” for the area, including the two Orange County history volumes by Samuel Armor (1911 and 1921) and J. M. Guinn (1901), and the three-volume set by Adalina Pleasants.

2)      H. C. Head wrote a little pamphlet in 1939 entitled “The History of Garden Grove.” I’m not sure if it includes any info you’re looking for, but I believe they have copies at for sale at the Garden Grove Historical Society.

3)      Which brings me to my next point,… the Garden Grove Historical Society. The Head family was fairly significant to the town’s early history, so they may have something in their impressive archives.

4)      Local historian Dr. Leroy Doig also wrote a trilogy of books about the history of Garden Grove that may be working taking a look at. I’m not sure how/if he deals with the Head family.

5)      Horace Caldwell Head also wrote a 1942 booklet, About Some of the Heads. It seems the Orange County Historical Society has a copy (although it will be a while before those records are accessible again), as does the Sherman Library and the History Room at the Santa Ana Public Library.

6)      Writer Gustavo Arellano points out that a 1916 pamphlet entitled The Ku Klux Klan is also available to researchers in the Santa Ana History Room. In it, the pamphlet's author, Annie Cooper Burton, wrote, “...I have been most fortunate in having Captain H. W. Head . . . now a popular physician of Santa Ana, California, a former Grand Cyclops of one of the Nashville dens, to draw upon for material.” The pamphlet includes information about the Klan from Head ad a photo of him in his robes.

7)      Of course, the contemporary newspapers are usually one of the best resources. The Los Angeles Times is available on from their first issue on, and covers a good deal of Orange County-area news. also features the Santa Ana Register from 1906 through the beginning of WWII which might yield something. For earlier Orange County papers, I suggest the Santa Ana Evening Blade, which is available on microfilm at the Santa Ana Public Library. Many of the early Anaheim papers are also available at the Anaheim Heritage Center and shed light on some very early local history. Some of the early Anaheim papers are also digitized by an amazing volunteer at It'd also be worth checking Chronicling America and

8)     Historian Stephanie George rightly suggests contacting the Sherman Library, which "just accepted a huge personal research collection from our friend, the late Phil Brigandi, who may have kept a file on Head. Although the collection isn't processed yet, Phil kept immaculate files and Paul may be able to see what Phil may have kept, if anything. And, who knows, maybe the Sherman has something."

9)      Steph, who's also an amazing genealogist, additionally suggested checking the files at the Orange County California Genealogical Society's library in Huntington Beach.

10)     Also check in with the Civil War Roundtable of Orange County and see what they have in their files.

If you have more suggestions, dear readers, feel free to post them in the comments below.

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