All in the Family/Beyond the Grave Two-Fer: The Death and Funeral of David Workman, 1855

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The last two posts concerning the arrival of the David Workman family to Los Angeles in 1854 drew heavily from the 1908 reminiscence of William Henry, the youngest of the three sons in the family, of the trip.  Yesterday’s entry concluded with the statement that the joy of the October reunion of David and his brother William, owner of the Homestead, “was to be short-lived.”  This is where we pick up the story.

William Henry wrote that “In the 1850’s Northern California was devoted to [gold] mining, and the cattle and livestock to supply the northern market came entirely from the great ranches of Southern California.”  This included Rancho La Puente, where William Workman and John Rowland pastured thousands of head of cattle and sheep and reaped the benefit of high prices on that market to make his fortune.

William Henry Workman’s description from 1908 of the death of his father, David, in summer 1855.

His nephew continued that “in the summer of 1855, William Workman was sending a herd of cattle to the mining camps of the Mother Lode, and asked Father to act as his agent, overseeing the vaqueros and receiving payment for the cattle.”

In fact, David’s role as his brother’s representative dated back further than that.  The 22 February 1855 edition of The Southern Californian newspaper, published in Los Angeles, had a short notice that “Mr. David Workman left the Puente on Monday [the 17th], with five hundred head of sheep, en route for the mines.”

Because David and his family arrived just four months prior, it is likely this was his first trip taking his brother’s livestock to the gold fields.  For decades, however, he was a freighter, hauling goods in Missouri and to Mexico while a resident of the former, so he was highly experienced in transporting goods.

In his early summer trip, however, as William Henry told it:

One night, in Stanislaus County, as the party camped on the side of a mountain with the herd, Father discovered that a heifer was missing.  He mounted one of his sure-footed mules and felt no hesitancy in riding out into the dusk, in strange mountain country, to round up the animal.  He did not return.  When daylight came, the vaqueros found his lifeless body at the bottom of a 200 foot precipice, with a bruised and melancholy mule standing mournful guard above.

Continuing his narrative, William Henry wrote that the vaqueros found a group of Americans who assisted them in retrieving the body.  The statement noted:

They [the Americans] proved to be Masons.  When they saw on Father’s coat the insignia of their order, their kindness knew no bounds.  His body was taken to Stockton, then by ship to San Francisco and San Pedro.  On a gray November afternoon in 1855 his remains were finally laid to rest at the Puente, his eventful life at an end.

David, who was in his late fifties when he died, was a long-time member of the Royal Arch Masons, having joined the fraternal order in England.  William was a member of the Los Angeles Lodge #42 of the Free and Accepted Masons, as well.  As indicated in the reminiscence, it was a solemn duty of a Mason to do his utmost to assist a fellow member of the order when in need and this accounts for the statement that “their kindness knew no bounds.”

Los Angeles Star, 25 August 1855.

It is also notable that when the body was recovered and transported back to Rancho La Puente and the Homestead, it followed the same route and means used by David and his family just about a year prior.

Strangely, the date of the accident has been noted as being two different ones.  In the 25 August 1855 edition of the Los Angeles Star, a short article titled “Fatal Accident” reported:

We learn that Mr. David Workman of the Puente, was killed by being thrown from his horse in Stockton about the first of this month.  Mr. W. has been a resident of this county about one year, and in that short time has gained the respect and esteem of a large circle of friends and acquaintances.  Mr. W. leaves a wife and family to mourn this afflicting casualty.

More briefly, El Clamor Público in its edition three days later stated “Mr. David Workman, de la Puente cayó de su caballo en Stockton, y fué con tal violencia el golpe, que murió al instante [Mr. David Workman, of the Puente fell from his horse in Stockton, and the blow was of such violence, that he died instantly.]”

El Clamor Público, 28 August 1855.

Yet, a memorial later built at the old Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, beneath the Elysian Hills near today’s Dodger Stadium, and then moved to Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, gives his date of death as 27 June [the marker also gives his birth year as 1798, but later research done by John Sharpe, owner of a Workman residence in Clifton, England, found that he was born the prior year].  It is interesting that William Henry’s 1908 recollection does not give a date.

In any case, it was still quite a while before the funeral took place.  A lengthy description of the “Obsequies of David Workman, Esq.” appeared in the Star of 17 November 1855 covering the ceremony, which took place the preceding Sunday the 11th.  The article began by noting that members of the Los Angeles masonic lodge gathered and then rode out to Lexington, now part of the city of El Monte, where they were met by members of the lodge there (William Workman and his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, later transferred their membership from the Los Angeles lodge to the one in Lexington, when the latter became a full and regular lodge.)

Los Angeles Star, 17 November 1855.

The group of Masons then rode out to the Homestead “to perform the solemn rites of the Fraternity over the body of their deceased brother, DAVID WORKMAN, Esq.”  What follows is not just an interesting account of a funeral in the early years of American-era Los Angeles and of Freemasonry mourning ritual, but of the Workman House and the newly established El Campo Santo cemetery.

The article went on:

A room in the upper portion of the building had been set apart for their [the Masons’] reception, whither they repaired, and shortly appeared in procession clad in mourning regalia, white aprons and gloves, crape upon the left arm, and a sprig of evergreen on the left breast of the coat, while the jewels of all the officers, together with the Holy Bible, Square and Compass, were shrouded in crape.  They were preceded by the Los Angeles Brass Band, and the procession, numbering about fifty Master Masons, marshaled by Dr. J[ohn]. B. Winston, was quite imposing.

While “upper portion” might read as a second floor, this actually referred to the northern section of the U-shaped Workman House, which was one-story, but had the existing main three-room core at the north and two long wings of 150 feet projecting to the south.  This is referred to in the next part of the article:

After marching to the opposite end [southern end] of the house from that in which they had formed, they entered the large room containing the corpse.  The coffin was decorated with the emblems and regalia of the deceased, who was a Royal Arch Mason, an many other not inappropriate family relics, and the whole appearance thereof betokened the presence of affectionate but bereaved relations.

The Masonic ceremonies then were conducted, after which,

The pcession then re-formed, the Masons first, the hearse, with four of the brethren in white sashes tied with crape as pall-bearers on ech side, then the mourners followed by a large number of sympathizing friends.  The ceremonies of the grave were marked with that solemnity and decorum for which the Fraternity is distinguished, and the occasion will long be remembered as one of more than ordinary grandeur in Southern California.

Once the body was interred in El Campo Santo, the mourners returned “to the house, [and] Brother W. Workman extended the hospitalities of his mansion to about two hundred ladies and gentlemen.”  By late afternoon, “the company bade a respectful farewell of the mourning family, and returned to their respective homes.”

Los Angeles Star, 17 November 1855.

David Workman’s body remained in the cemetery, which soon included a brick wall enclosing the roughly half-acre parcel and St. Nicholas’ Chapel, a brick structure with stained glass windows and gilt ceilings completed about 1860.  In 1876, William was buried with Masonic rites next to his brother.

In 1921, when William’s grandson, Walter P. Temple, completed the mausoleum that was on the site of the chapel, which was destroyed about 1903 by an owner of the Homestead who was not a family member, he reinterred the Workman brothers in crypts side-by-side.

The Workman family monument, first placed at the old Calvary Cemetery near the Elysian Hills and the moved to Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.  It is mistakenly assumed David is buried there, but his remains are at El Campo Santo at the Homestead.

There were efforts by David’s family to have his body removed from El Campo Santo and taken to Los Angeles so that his remains could be placed with those of his wife, Nancy, who died in 1887 and other family members, but the request was denied by the Temple family.

So, even though there is the Evergreen Cemetery monument with David’s name and dates of birth and death on it, his body continues to rest in the mausoleum at El Campo Santo.

Learn more about David Workman’s burial and the general practices of mourning and remembrance for the dead at our “Beyond the Grave” tours this Sunday.  For more information, here is the flyer.

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