Sharing History on Double Duty in West Covina and Chino Hills

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This doesn’t happen very often, but today was a day of doing double duty in giving presentations on regional history.  Early this afternoon, I was at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in West Covina, talking about the Workman and Temple families with NAIM, a support group for widowers.

That talk was a general presentation highlighting the several branches of the families, starting with the arrival in Los Angeles in 1828 of Jonathan Temple from Hawaii (after going there from his native Massachusetts.)  The talk went through his nearly forty years in the area, including his operation of the first store in town and ownership of the Temple Block in Los Angeles and the Rancho Los Cerritos in present Long Beach and surrounding areas.  Jonathan left the area for San Francisco shortly before his death in 1866.

In mid-1841, Temple’s half-brother, Pliny, arrived by sea (after a half a year of sailing) to meet Jonathan for the first time (the two were 26 years apart and the latter left Massachusetts before the former was born).  The visit became permanent and Pliny worked in his brother’s store for the remainder of the decade, half way through which he married Antonia Margarita Workman (adding the baptismal name of Francisco to make his moniker F.P.F.).

The members of NAIM, a widowers’ support group at St. Christopher’s Church in West Covina, heard about the several branches of the Workman and Temple families and their history this afternoon.

Margarita, with her brother José and parents Nicolasa Urioste and William Workman, journeyed overland from New Mexico to Los Angeles in fall 1841.  The family settled on Rancho La Puente, granted in spring 1842 to William’s friend and business partner John Rowland and regranted three years later to include Workman as a co-owner and grearly enlarging the rancho’s size.

From there, the families engaged in cattle ranching and agriculture, enjoying the enormously profitable fruits of the Gold Rush beef trade and weathering the floods and droughts of the Civil War years before the first significant growth period in Los Angeles took place in the late 1860s through mid 1870s.  Moving into business, including oil, railroads, real estate and banking, William Workman and F.P.F. Temple sought to capitalize on the good times.  Banking inexperience and mismanagement, exposed during an economic meltdown that caused a run on their business, led to a catastrophic failure in 1876.

Meanwhile, in the remaining years of the century and in the first decades of the next, the descendants of William’s brother, David, ascended to success in public life.  This included David’s sons Elijah and William Henry, who were council members and, in the latter’s case, mayor during the Boom of the 1880s late that decade and city treasurer through much of the 1900s.  William H.’s son, Boyle, was president of the Los Angeles city council for most of 1920s and his daughter, Mary Julia, was noted for her work in civil service and charitable endeavors.

Workman 1870 census
The 1870 census listing of William and Nicolasa Workman (#s 34-35) followed by some of the workers on their share of Rancho La Puente.

Finally, in the late 1910s, Walter P. Temple, the tenth of eleven children born to F.P.F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman, emerged from the Whittier Narrows area near El Monte with a fortune made from oil discovered by his nine-year old son Thomas.  Through the 1920s, especially, Temple parlayed his profits from petroleum into more oil prospecting and real estate development, with projects in Los Angeles, San Gabriel, El Monte, and Alhambra.  His biggest one was the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City in 1928.

Additionally, he extensively renovated and improved the Workman Homestead, which he purchased in late 1917, including the construction of La Casa Nueva.  Financial problems, eerily mirroring much of what afflicted his father and grandfather a half-century before, led to the loss of everything by 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression.

Discussing the ups and downs of the Workman and Temple families seemed to resonate with the group of seventeen club members, most of whom live on what had been the Workman portion of Rancho La Puente before it was lost to “Lucky” Baldwin by 1880.

Part of the approximately 75 persons who attended tonight’s presentation to the Chino Hills Historical Society on Isaac Williams and the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.

Tonight was another talk to the Chino Hills Historical Society, where about 75 people came out to hear the story of William Workman’s contemporary, Isaac Williams, owner of Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.  The two men had much in common: they were born two months apart in 1799; lived in Taos, New Mexico at the same time, engaging in fur trapping; were christened with the baptismal name Julián; and were near neighbors.

Williams was born near Scranton, Pennsylvania and migrated west through the Ohio and Misssissippi river routes to Missouri and then along the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico.  He was there a couple of years before joining a fur trapping expedition along the Gila River to the Colorado, at which point some of the group continued on to Los Angeles arriving in spring 1832.

Building an adobe house and store on Main Street, Williams settled in to life in the sparsely populated pueblo, where he remained for about a decade.  He participated in the removal of Indians from San Nicolás Island in 1835 and was part of California’s first vigilance committee, hosted at the residence of Jonathan Temple, the next year.  In 1839, he became a Catholic and married María de Jesús Lugo, daughter of prominent Californio Antonio María Lugo, grantee two years later of the 22,000-acre Rancho Santa Ana del Chino.

Isaas Williams 1850 census
The household of Isaac Williams on the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in the 1850 federal census, taken early the following year.

Williams became owner of the ranch soon after and received an addition to Chino of some 13,000 acres–managing a vast herd of cattle, horses and other animals, as well as conducting some farming.  When the Mexican-American War broke out and after Californios revolted and took back Los Angeles after it was seized by Americans, A group of Anglos gathered at Williams’ adobe house out of concern for their well-being.

In late September, a contingent of Californios, including two of Williams’ brothers-in-law in the Lugo family besieged the adobe.  There was some gunfire, fatally wounding a Californio and injuring some of the Anglos, but when the besieging party set fire to the tar-covered roof of the structure, those inside, first Williams and his children, surrendered.  The Anglos were kept prisoner through early January, being held in what became Boyle Heights and at Jonathan Temple’s home at Los Cerritos. before they were freed, thanks, in part, to the intercession of Workman and Ignacio Palomares of Rancho San José, a neighbor of Williams and Workman.

Williams returned to Chino and continued to enjoy prosperity, which was greatly enhanced by the Gold Rush.  Because his home, the site of which is now the Boys Republic school for troubled youth in Chino Hills, was on the main road from Los Angeles to the Colorado River, emigrants seeking the gold fields frequented his ranch.  Williams kept a guest register, now at the Huntington Library, that is a treasure (!) trove of fascinating information on the many migrants who stopped and stayed at Chino for about a year from summer 1849 to mid 1850.

Isaac Williams
Isaac (Julián) Williams (1799-1856) was born the same year and had the same baptismal name, as well as lived in Taos, New Mexico at the same time, as his near neighbor William Workman.

Included in the information were accounts of the trips taken by emigrants, the reception and assistance provided by Williams, and much else.  These are augmented by other visitors from the period and newspaper accounts, with the Homestead having editions of the New York Herald (11 March 1850) and New York Spectator (4 August 1851) that included letters written from Chino.

The former, penned just before Christmas 1849 includes a detailed description of the ranch and environs and is perhaps the first publicly published account of life on the ranch.  The latter mentions the arrival of Mormons, sent by Brigham Young to establish an outpost in the region.  A sale of the Chino ranch by Williams almost happened, but fell through, so the Mormons bought the Rancho San Bernardino, owned by Williams’ Lugo brothers-in-law, and founded the city of that name (Young, however, recalled the Mormons to Utah after several years.)

Just as the Gold Rush was ending and before the hardships of economic depression and the floods and drought that followed, Williams died in September 1856.  He left Rancho Santa Ana del Chino to his teenaged daughters, Merced and Francisca, who very soon after married John Rains and Robert Carlisle, Southern hot-heads who took control of their wives’ inheritance and wound up dying violently.  Those stories, however, will make up the next presentation on 17 September to the Chino Hills Historical Society (and have been part of the Homestead’s Curious Cases series of presentations)!

22 Dec 49 ltr from Chino Herald 11 Mar 50
Part of a 22 December 1849 letter, published in an 11 March 1850 issue of the New York Herald (and from the Homestead’s collection), describing the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino and surrounding area.

It was quite a day, sharing notable stories of our region’s history to two very different groups in nearby cities.  Outreach to people in our area is a core part of what we do at the Homestead and I’m looking forward to the next one in a couple of weeks, on 12 April, for the Orange County Historical Society, when I share county-related artifacts from the Homestead’s collection.

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