The Land Grant to Rancho La Puente: January 1842

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

About two months after arriving in the Los Angeles area from New Mexico, John Rowland sent a petition to Juan Bautista Alvarado, governor of the Mexican department of Alta California, requesting a land grant to Rancho La Puente.  It is notable and a mystery as to why his friend and business partner, William Workman, who brought his wife Nicolasa Urioste and children Antonia Margarita and José Manuel, while Rowland came alone, did not join in the petition.  A recent post here talked about the political reasons that may have been part of the matter.

In any case, Rowland, in the undated document, wrote Alvarado that he was a naturalized Mexican citizen and was married to a Mexican woman, with whom he had four sons and three daughters and

desiring the repose of my family and their well being, which is the chief object of my cares, [I] have come to establish myself in this department and to attain the same I need a tract of land on which to put my property and which I can cultivate for the support of my said family, and as there is in the ex-Mission of San Gabriel a vacant place at La Puente  . . . I beseech your Exc[ellec]y that you will be pleased to grant me in property the land which I solicit which may be four leagues a little more or less.

Mexican land law, dating from the 1820s, allowed naturalized foreigners like Rowland to own land in the country and it is interesting that the petitioner specified four square leagues, amounting to just under 18,000 acres, as the area within La Puente, a ranch of the former mission, as what he wanted.

A portion of a transcription of John Rowland’s petition for a grant to Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado to about 18,000 acres of Rancho La Puente, January 1842.  California Private Land Claims, Docket 160, General Land Office, National Archives, deposited at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

A little under a decade prior, the Mexican government enacted the secularization of California’s chain of 21 missions, freeing up considerable land held by these religious institutions for private ownership.  A fascinating document, owned by the La Puente Valley Historical Society, and dating to 1834 showed that Rowland sent an agent out to California to buy horses that were located on the Rancho La Puente and owned by one of the prominent Sepulveda family.  So, Rowland was aware of the ranch about seven or so years before he made the journey west from New Mexico.

On 14 January, Alvarado issued his reply, decreeing

In conformity with the solicitation of the party, the place called La Puente . . . is granted to him.  Wherefore the party shall present himself with this decree to the Prefecture of the 2d District and to the Superintendent of the establishment of San Gabriel, that they may interpose no obstacle to his occupying the place, of which not knowing the extent it has, the party shall make an exact map and shall in due time remit it to the Government with this decree that it may issue to him the corresponding title.

This preliminary grant would have been free, although Isaac Given, who traveled to California with Rowland, Workman and others, later claimed that “for the consideration of $1000.00 paid in hand, this obliging official [Alvarado], without hesitation, granted all the applicants [sic] wanted.”  Moreover, Given added that when Alvarado was asked about the alleged graft or bribe, he’d answer “Why gentlemen, you never offered my anything.”  Given’s claim, however, can’t be corroborated or substantiated.

Alvarado’s provisional grant (marginal order) of 14 January 1842 from the same docket.

Meanwhile, another who came on the trip west, Benjamin D. Wilson, later a Los Angeles mayor, state senator, and successful farmer and orchardist, wrote in a recollection that “Mr. Rowland had obtained from the priest at San Gabriel, and from the Prefect of the Second District, certificates stating that there was no objection to the granting of Messrs. Rowland and Workman, the Ranch of La Puente.”  Yet, we know that Workman was not included in the grant.  Moreover, there were objections from the fathers at San Gabriel, but more on that in a future post.

As to the prefect’s approval, that was obtained on this day, 31 January 1842, when Santiago Argüello, presiding at Los Angeles, recorded:

The party having presented himself to this Prefecture as directed by the Superior Marginal Decree of his Exc[ellenc]y the Gov[erno]r of this Department dated Jan[uar]y 14 of the present year in which is granted to him the place called La Puente, let him present the said Superior decree to the Establishment of San Gabriel, who shall not oppose any obstacle to the occupation of the place granted [italics added].

Argüello added that a map needed to be drawn, as well, but the wording in italics in the quote must have been in error, as it implies that the priests at the mission would support preventing Rowland from taking possession of La Puente.  It seems obvious that the prefect meant that the fathers “shall not oppose the occupation” of the ranch!

A portion of 2nd District Prefect Santiago Argüello’s statement on 31 January 1842 concerning Rowland’s meeting the terms of Alvarado’s order.

So, while Argüello was willing to sign off on the deal, the priests at San Gabriel, despite the secularization of the mission, had other ideas.  Check back in late February for more on these protests!

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