by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Workman family, along with John Rowland and groups of Americans, Europeans and New Mexicans, migrated to this area from New Mexico in fall 1841. For a couple of months, they remained in Los Angeles while Rowland made preparations to travel to Monterey, the capital of the Mexican department (the official name of the territory) of Alta California, to petition Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado for a land grant to Rancho La Puente.
On 14 January 1842, Alvarado issued a provisional grant to Rowland, but required him to discover if local officials had any problem with the grant and to prepare a map, upon approval of which title would be formally issued. At the end of the month, Prefect Santiago Argüello repeated the governor’s orders, especially with regard to the map and in determining that the superintendent of Mission San Gabriel had no objection to the grant.
Rowland then hired Isaac Given, who was on the expedition with him, to conduct a survey and draw the map. The uncorroborated source for the claim that Rowland paid $1000 to Alvarado for the provisional grant, Given provided an interesting recollection decades later about how his survey was conducted. He noted that, though his assistants were instructed on the method of using chains to keep a straight line to measure from one location to the next, they failed to follow through very well. He continued:
Remonstrating against the loose mode of carrying chain, Workman rather churlishly remarked that to have the men do that work on foot, would cost more than the land was worth. In consequence of this original procedure, the survey failed close to a mile, which inaccuracy doubtless in after years caused the parties [Rowland and Workman] no little trouble and increased expense. A map was made, which with the accompanying field noted, were submitted to the governor.
Yet, Given’s less-than-stellar diseño was a rarity in even having surveyed lines, off though they were. Most maps of Spanish and Mexican-era land grants were simple renderings of the property and that’s all they needed to be, provided that everyone understood the boundaries demarcated on them.
On 8 February, Rowland wrote to Argüello that “having complied with what his Exc[ellenc]y the Governor of this Department orders in the decree of January 14 . . . I respectfully present herewith, and having finished the map of the place La Puente.” He then requested the prefect to forward the diseño to Alvarado so that Rowland could receive his final title and “that I may enjoy mt property with all security.” Argüello promptly sent the map north to Monterey.
Nine days later, the governor issued a new order to the prefect enjoining him to prepare “any reports . . . as to whether the land marked on the map is the property of any individual.” On the 25th, Argüello responded by passing the matter on to the local judge of the second instance (a Spanish civil law office), José C. Sepúlveda to determine if the surveyed land “belongs to any individual, and when this report is completed let the expediente [grant document] be returned” to the prefect.
The next day, Sepúlveda responded that the map was “in conformity to the land of La Puente, which place has not been known as the property of any person, since it has always been considered to belong to the Mission of San Gabriel.” He then concluded, writing, “Notwithstanding this is clear your Honor will determine what may be judged convenient.” With that, Argüello then ordered, on that day, that the “expediente pass to the Superintendent or Rev. Minister of the Mission of San Gabriel that he may present a report.”
The matter moved quickly on 26 February, as Father Tomas Esténega got right to the point:
The land of La Puente belongs to this community of San Gabriel, which occupies it with more than five hundred head of large cattle, and in no manner does this community consent that the land should be alienated since it is the only place which the Mission has for sowing [crops] and to support its cattle.
La Puente first appeared in the record in 1792 as a ranch under the supervision of San Gabriel. A granary was built of adobe just north of the main road through the rancho, this being modern Valley Boulevard, and due north of the Workman House. Ruins of the structure were still visible in the 1870s and reference to it are found on 1850s and 1860s state survey maps as “Mission Cranoras [Graneros].” Yet, the secularization of the California missions enacted by the Mexican government in the early 1830s effectively nullified claims to surrounding lands, most of which were granted to private citizens in succeeding years.
Reverend Narciso Duran wrote a letter on 21 February to the Minister of the Interior and Public Instruction in Mexico City, reporting that he’d been told by Esténega on the 13th that “this departmental government . . . just sold [note the word] a rancho belonging to the Mission of San Gabriel called La Puente, where the Mission was more than a thousand head of cattle and horses, in order to adjudge it an Anglo-American named Juan Roldan.” Duran continued:
I solemnly protest in the name of the neophytes [native Indians] of the Mission of San Gabriel, once, twice, and three times as may be customary in law, against the sale or alienation of said Rancho of La Puente . . . and particularly not to said Juan Roldan.
Yet, Argüello responded by observing “I believe it is not so much covered with stock . . . because at present it [the ranch] is rented by the Minister to a citizen of this place [Los Angeles.]” When Duran wrote Esténega criticizing Alvarado’s grant to Rowland, the governor indicted the former for the letter “which is full of contemptuous reproaches and insults against my person.”
Moreover, addressing an alleged remark by Duran that Alvarado’s friendships with extranjeros [foreigners] would make him a “victim” if foreigners took possession of California (American naval commander Thomas Ap Catesby Jones captured Monterey later in 1842 under the mistaken impression war had broken out between the U.S. and Mexico and quickly returned the capital to local authorities with profuse apologies), the governor lambasted the priest: “O Narciso! Treat me with the respect which the dignity of the post I occupy deserves . . . I must never be made to figure as a toy or puppet of your caprice and cavils.”
Tellingly, Duran also wondered in his missive to Esténega whether “Roldan was or was not the one styled traitor by General [Manuel] Armijo [New Mexico governor] in his latest report to the Government [in Mexico City.]” In fact, Armijo, also said to be the target of an assassination plot that allegedly included Workman as a conspirator, also fired off a letter to California officials when Rowland, Workman and their compatriots decamped for the coast, warning the two men were traitors who would “seduce and confuse” the residents of California.
On 28 February, Argüello wrote Alvarado and, in addition to disputing Duran’s assertions about the use of La Puente by the Mission, pointed out another interesting issue. That is, on the map submitted to the governor by Rowland, “although the adjoining ranchos are seen to be marked, they are beyond the line which marks the boundary numbered from 5 to 6.” This is the southern boundary in the Puente Hills separating La Puente from the Rancho Paso de Bartolo [modern Whittier] and La Habra [in today’s city of that name, as well as La Habra Heights]. Curiously expressing this as “all that is shown besides is no doubt from mere curiosity,” the prefect concluded by noting “your Exc[ellenc]y will more properly determine what should be your superior will.”
We’ll pick up the thread of the tale on 9 March, so check back for that!