by Paul R. Spitzzeri
William Workman lived in Taos, New Mexico for about five years when he entered into a common-law marriage with Nicolasa Urioste, a native of the pueblo. Workman, who converted to Roman Catholicism from his native Anglican religion in 1828, adopting the baptismal name Julián, was 30 years old and Nicolasa two years younger when their first child, Antonia Margarita was born in July 1830. How much longer before that the couple had been together is not known.
Nor is it known why they lived in a common-law relationship. Rebecca McDowell Craver in her 1982 book, The Impact of Intimacy: Mexican-Anglo Intermarriage in New Mexico, 1821-1846 analyzed the marriages of native Latinas and extranjero (foreign-born) Anglos in the Rio Arriba [upper Rio Grande] area including Taos. She found 122 marriages and common-law unions and found that three-quarters of Anglo men married Latinas in the region.
Of those located, a little more than a quarter were common-law and Craver noted that “it can be assumed that there were even more Anglo-Mexican unions not a part of the permanent record, because cohabitation and common-law marriages were both customary and socially acceptable in Mexican frontier society.”
She went on to write that “Hispanic folk practice accepted informal alternatives” to church marriages and that “these were financially practical in many cases because of the high fees charged by Rio Arriba priests for sanctifying a marriage.”
Craver quoted an American attorney as averring that a church marriage was a “luxury, only to be indulged in by the rich” and stated the price as $20, though another source, merchant Josiah Gregg, “reported that marriage rates sometimes reached as high as several hundred dollars.” She went on to observe that “the fee charged by the priest increased in proportion to the material circumstances of the parties involved.” She gave comparable prices of $2 for a day’s work; $1 for a bushel of wheat, $12 for a cow, and $1 for a sheep.
Manuel Alvarez, U.S. consul in Santa Fe and a friend of Workman and John Rowland, wrote a letter to American Secretary of State Daniel Webster and wrote of the fees for marriages. One such example was that of the January 1841 marriage of Rowland’s daughter Nieves to John Reed, for which the fee was $30, while another Anglo refused to pay the $52 asked by the priest for his nuptial.
Craver observed that “the center of this large-scale matchmaking” between Latinas and Anglo immigrants was in Taos, which was not only in a beautiful location but was an ideal supply spot for fur trappers and traders, including Rowland and Workman. She observed that twice as many marriages were performed at Taos as at the capital of the department, Santa Fe, despite the latter’s far superior numbers in population. Of nearly 90 intermarriages during the Mexican era, the vast majority were conducted at Taos.
The Workmans resided at Los Ranchos, the southernmost of the several separate villages under the broader area of Taos, near the Rowlands and William Gordon, an Englishman who later joined Rowland and Workman in their migration to California.
As to what motivated Latinas to marry Anglos, Craver speculated that attraction was obvious because fair skin was thought to be “a feature of beauty as well as a sign of class.” This concept was extended towards the idea that children would be lighter and “with improved social position.” Another lure could be a better economic standing, which could both improve the life of the woman, but also enhance the social prestige of the family.
In fact, Craver observed that “the majority of the Anglo-Mexican unions formed in north central New Mexico from 1821 to 1846 linked Anglos to Mexican women who came from families of lower economic status.” This isn’t to say that there weren’t marriages between extranjeros and ricos (upper class Latinos), but the latter were comprised of a small number of families, perhaps only 15-20 in New Mexico.
Yet, there was also a stated interest, according to some sources, of Anglo men seeking Latinas because of their personal attributes, economic and political connections, and that the parents of these women were generally very open to these unions. Finally, Craver felt that there was a willingness of Latinos in the Rio Arriba to have the women intermarry with Anglo men, partially because of the low population.
Interestingly, this involved an issue in which “few local pueblo Indians were assimilated into the Hispanic community” but “the Spanish population freely incorporated genizaros, Indians of nomadic tribes who had been captured or ransomed.” Whether Nicolasa Urioste was entirely Spanish, a rare example of a Pueblo/Spanish mestizo mix, or a Spanish/genizaro combination is not known.
What is known is that William and Nicolasa were certainly together as a couple by 1830 when their daughter was born and this was followed a little under three years later when their son, José Manuel, was born. Notably, baptismal listings for both children do not list a name for the father, a likely indication that the relationship between the parents was common-law. A church-sanctioned union would have led to William’s name being included as the father.
After about a dozen years together, the Workmans ventured west to California, leaving New Mexico in early September and arriving in greater Los Angeles two months later. They settled on Rancho La Puente in spring 1842, built the adobe home that is the core of today’s Workman House, and settled in to life raising cattle and farming on their extensive domains.
They then decided by late 1843 to have a church-sanctioned marriage, planning theirs in conjunction with Benjamin D. Wilson, who traveled to California with them, and his betrothed, Ramona Yorba, of the prominent Californio family. As was required by the Roman Catholic Church, the couple went through the formality of a diligencia matrimonial, or a marriage investigation.
This process involved determining the eligibility of marriage and included the interviewing of witnesses who knew the couple and the certification of the priests at, in this case, Mission San Gabriel. In the case of William and Nicolasa, the investigation was conducted under the auspices of the Reverend Tomás Esténega, who’d protested the grant of La Puente to Rowland a year-and-a-half or so prior.
The Workmans’ investigation is in the Homestead collection, though it is in very poor shape, with lost pages, missing and cut sections, extensive staining and dirt and other issues. Still, it is one of the very few documents concerning the family before the American era.
The document includes a statement by Esténega, in which it was recorded that
D[on] Julian Workman, native of Calai [Clifton?] within the nation of England and Scotland, the legitimate son of D[on] Tomás Workman and Maria Luz [Lucy] Cook, the father of Calai and she of London . . . [wishes to enter into?] matrimony with Nicolasa Gonzales, a daughter of parents not known, native of New Mexico.
At the bottom of the page is Workman’s partial signature, with most of his first name missing, due to a loss in the document. Elsewhere, Nicolasa’s name is written by the priest and then an “X” is just below it and to the right, indicating her inability to write. This is hardly a surprise as many women and men were illiterate.
Notably, Nicolasa’s surname is listed as “Gonzales” rather than Urioste. In her children’s baptismal listings her last name is shown both as Urioste (for Antonia Margarita) and Valencia (for José Manuel.) So, it is not known where the name “Gonzales” comes from, though it is interesting that this is the surname of Laura, the wife of her grandson, Walter P. Temple.
Among the witnesses interviewed were Manuel d’Olivera (who was a Portuguese resident of Los Angeles), Luis Castro (who was also illiterate and used an “X” next to his name), and Rowland. As an example of a standard question posed by Esténega, Rowland was asked if there was any impediment he could see to the marriage of his long-time friends and if he could verify their commitment to matrimony. Naturally, Rowland answered in the affirmative. Having been asked five rote queries, Rowland then signed his name afterward as “Juan Roland”.
At the end of the document is a statement dated 26 December 1843 from Santa Babara certifying that the couple were free to marry within the bounds of the Church and this is followed by another statement that partially reads “the aforementioned matrimonal proceedings are approved and as well instructed according to law” with “the corresponding license and authorization for this marriage” issued by the priest “provided there is no legitimate impediment to the marriage.” There was also mention of “thirty pesos for expenses” being due for the investigation.
Nothing is specifically known about the actual ceremony on 19 February, but we can assume that with the two couples wed within the stone church at San Gabriel, a fiesta was held with the friends and family of the quartet that joyously celebrated the future lives of the four. Unfortunately, Ramona Yorba Wilson only lived a few years, dying in 1849 at just age 20, leaving a son and daughter. In 1853, Benjamin Wilson married recent arrival Margaret Hereford and the couple had three daughters, two living to adulthood.
As to the Workmans, they remained together for over three decades until William’s sad demise by suicide in May 1876 after the failure of his Temple and Workman bank. Nicolasa lived on for over fifteen years, residing in the Workman House for most of that time, but passing away at age 90 at her daughter’s home in early 1892, during a flu epidemic that took the life of Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple and her eldest child, Thomas W. Temple.
There is a great deal unknown about how William and Nicolasa started their relationship, the nature of it during their years in New Mexico, and why they decided, after about fifteen years together, to go through a church marriage on this day 177 years ago. Who knows if more information will be found someday that will fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle?