by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Because the “Beyond the Grave” tours, during which we discuss mourning and burial rituals over the museum’s interpretive period of 1830 to 1930, are coming up in a couple of weeks, here is a special combination post with the “On This Day” series!
For nearly a half-century, John Rowland and William Workman were friends, business partners and neighbors and, on this day 144 years ago, Rowland passed away at his home just a mile or so east of Workman’s residence.
The following day’s edition of the Los Angeles Herald had a long and interesting obituary of Rowland, giving some substantial details of his life, albeit with some questionable statements about his history. Still, it is a rare example of information about someone the paper called “eminently a home man” who “seldom absented himself from his home and family.”
As to Rowland’s origins, the obit stated that he was eighty years old and a native of Pennsylvania. The four censuses that enumerated Rowland have some notable variances to that statement.
The 1850 federal census, conducted in the first part of the following year because of California’s admission to the Union late in 1850, listed Rowland as 52 years old and from Pennsylvania. Just a year-and-a-half later, the sole California state census completed in summer 1852, showed Rowland as 53, but from Maryland. The following federal censuses of 1860 and 1870 also gave his birthplace as Maryland, but his ages were 62 and 68, respectively. Wishful thinking perhaps that he got younger as he got older!
It turns out that the most cited location of his birth is near Port Deposit, Cecil County, Maryland, along the Susquehanna River in the northeastern part of the state just a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border. It may be that Rowland lived in both states during his early years and there were plenty of Rowlands in that part of Maryland, including a Rowlandsville and a Rowland Island in the middle of the river north and east of Port Deposit.
Rowland’s family migrated in the first years of the 19th century to Morgan County, Ohio, settling in the Bristol township near modern McConnelsville, southeast of Columbus. Today only 200 persons live in Bristol.
In the early 1820s, Rowland set off west and almost certainly took a very common migration route through Cincinnati and over to St. Louis. From there, Rowland made his way to the central part of the brand new state of Missouri and joined a caravan leaving Franklin, Missouri on the newly opened Santa Fe Trail for Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He arrived in the latter and then settled in Taos in 1823 and may perhaps have left Franklin just before William Workman arrived there the same year after migrating from England with his brother David, a resident of Franklin since 1819, and spending several months with their sister Agnes in Baltimore.
As did most Americans and Europeans in Taos, Rowland engaged in fur trapping, with an early indication of his activity in this area coming in the winter of 1824-1825 and evidence of trapping continuing for some years afterward.
The obituary states that “previous to, and in 1824” Rowland was working in this vocation “as far west as Green river” which is in central Utah. There, the account continued, his group was attacked by Indians and Rowland “having lost all his property found his way to Taos in a destitute and penniless condition.” This story, if true, highlights the hazards Anglos trappers had in infiltrating territory of native aboriginal Indians.
The obit suggests that it was this incident that led Rowland to settle down into business in Taos. He became a miller and ground grain into flour and sometimes traded the latter, including illicitly. In 1825, he married Encarnación Martinez of Taos and the couple raised a family in the town while Rowland pursued his trapping and milling business. Encarnación died in 1851 here on Rancho La Puente and Rowland married El Monte resident and widow Charlotte Gray the following year.
In spring 1825, Workman arrived in Santa Fe and soon went up to live in Taos. Owner of a store in the pueblo, he and Rowland became friends and partners in the distilling of a whiskey called Taos Lightning. Both men became naturalized Mexican citizens soon after an 1828 law was passed permitting foreigners to do so. Generally, Rowland seemed to have done very well, the obituary stating “he had accumulated a handsome property.”
Yet, there were significant political issues in New Mexico, internal and from outside forces. In 1837, a revolt from Taos spread to Santa Fe and unseated and killed the departmental governor and it was said the Taoseño rebels forced Rowland and Workman to swear loyalty to its new regime. However, Manuel Armijo led a counter-revolt, crushing the Taos upstarts. That year, Armijo had Rowland and Workman arrested on smuggling charges, which might have been a political move because smuggling was rampant.
Three years later, the independent Republic of Texas announced a commission of three men in New Mexico to assist with trade and the interests of Texas in New Mexico. This prelude to an invasion known as the Texas-Santa Fe Expedition included Rowland and Workman being named as members of the commission, though they claimed they were not asked nor were interested in such a role. The obituary stated, “Mr. Rowland was without any cause whatsoever, suspected by the New Mexican authorities of being in some manner privy to, and abetting the invasion.”
It was this “ban of suspicion” that led Rowland, Workman and other Americans and Europeans in New Mexico to head for California via the Old Spanish Trail on what is often called the Rowland-Workman Expedition. Shortly after leaving Santa Fe, the group stopped in the pueblo of Abiquiu and a large group of New Mexicans joined the enterprise. Another interesting piece of information from the obituary was
So suspicious had the New Mexican authorities become of Mr. Rowland that the Governor of that Territory procured a New Mexican who came to California with Mr. Rowland to be the secret bearer of a letter to the Governor of California cautioning him against Mr. Rowland
In fact, Armijo did write a letter warning California authorities against both Rowland and Workman, accusing them of trying to “seduce and confuse” the Californios with their arrival on the coast. Still, the Herald wrote that Rowland “was both respected and esteemed by the people” of New Mexico “as well as by the traders and trappers” there.
Yet, the paper’s coverage of Rowland’s more than thirty years in greater Los Angeles mentioned only a few meager details. One was his obtaining of the Rancho La Puente grant, which was in Rowland’s name only (Workman’s reputation, including rumors that he plotted to kill Armijo, may have forced him to keep a very low profile in his first years in California). After living in an adobe house for a little over a dozen years and a few years after the death of Encarnación and his remarriage to Charlotte Gray, Rowland built a brick Greek-Revival home that is the oldest surviving brick building in southern California and owned by the La Puente Valley Historical Society.
Another was Rowland being taken prisoner at the so-called “Battle of Chino,” during which, in the midst of the Mexican-American War in September 1846, some two dozen Americans and Europeans took refuge at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino home of Isaac Williams. Discussed in a recent post on this blog, the “battle” led to Rowland, who was said to have been wounded in the leg, and his compatriots being held in what is now Boyle Heights near Los Angeles until Workman and Ignacio Palomares, of what became Pomona, freed them.
Otherwise, the paper intimated that, Rowland, being “by nature of an unassuming and retiring disposition,” was a homebody, stating that he never visited “either Monterey or San Francisco” during his three decades in the region.
It is not entire true, though, that Rowland completely shunned public life. In early 1845, he assisted Workman in commanding a small force of Americans and Europeans comprising part of an armed force to back up Pío Pico’s challenge of Governor Manuel Micheltorena, which led to Pico become the last governor of Mexican California. He ran twice for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, though lost both campaigns. He participated in political rallies in Los Angeles for the dominant Democratic Party during the Civil War. And, he was the head of a group of wine and brandy makers who protested against excise taxes on their products in the late 1860s.
Yes, he was less conspicuous in the political, social and business worlds than Workman, but that also meant that, whereas Workman endured a spectacular banking failure that ruined his financial empire just a couple of years after Rowland’s death, Rowland’s conservative approach to business ensured that he left nearly all of his half of La Puente, almost 20,000 acres, to his family. To this day, a small segment of the ranch is held by his descendants.
The Herald obituary observed that Rowland “was universally esteemed by all who became intimate with him, and thus had opportunity to become aware of his many good qualities as a man, a friend, a neighbor and a citizen.” A reflection of this might be represented by the impressive marble tomb and headstone in which Rowland’s remains repose in El Campo Santo cemetery at the Homestead.
A little tidbit about the monument was located in the Herald‘s edition of 2 July 1875, nearly two years after Rowland’s death, in which it was stated,
there was shipped yesterday a fine slab of marble to Mrs. [Charlotte] Rowland of Puente, by F.C. [actually Jacob] Miller, from his marble works. It is intended for the mausoleum of a late citizen of Puente.
By “slab,” the paper undoubtedly meant the large cover of the burial chamber in which Rowland’s remains were interred and on which is his name, date of death, and stated age of 82 years. This latter, by the way, is in contradiction to all those censuses, which gave his ages as several years younger, and to the obituary, which gave his age as 80, and fixes his birth year as 1791.
The “Beyond the Grave” tours will be offered on Sunday the 29th and for more information, check out this link to the event flyer.