by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Last Wednesday, in my lightning fast appearance at a live broadcast of ABC7’s early morning “In the Neighborhood” segment on La Puente, I shared with host Sid Garcia, a La Puente native, a couple of historic artifacts from the Homestead’s collection. Today’s post highlights one of them.
As noted in previous posts on this blog, John Rowland applied for a land grant to Rancho La Puente in the first months of 1842, with it being made very clear in the petition in January that the grant was to be made to him for the support of his family. The grant was then approved by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado on 9 March.
At no time in the process was Rowland’s long-time friend and business partner William Workman mentioned—until, that is, the same day as the governor’s agreement to grant the ranch, or about 18,000 acres of it, to Rowland. Suddenly, a new petition was made by Rowland to Alvarado.
It was dated 9 March and the original document, donated over twenty years ago to the Homestead, includes this strange statement from Rowland:
I call attention to the fact, that in virtue of having petitioned for the place called La Puente and having now been a victim of an error for unknown reasons, I humbly include in the same petition Don Julian Workman in properly soliciting in connection with me in the action that has been started and ask that the aforesaid Señor Workman have access to right in the said place allowing us to divide it amongst the two of us, in perpetual ownership . . .
What constituted Rowland being “a victim of an error” is not known. Was he suggesting that his original petition, a transcript of which appears in the Rancho La Puente land claim docket from the 1850s, for the rancho included Workman’s name on it? That transcription not only does not mention Workman, but, as noted above, the document was very clear in stipulating that the ranch was for the use and maintenance of Rowland and his family.
This seemingly leads to two other possibilities. The first is that, after coming to greater Los Angeles in late 1841, Workman did not yet know what his plans were and elected to keep his options open. This explanation appears unlikely because Rowland was previously aware of the rancho, having purchased horses from it in 1834, and probably intended to seek ownership of La Puente before making the trek from New Mexico. Moreover, Workman was a compatriot and business associate of Rowland for at least fifteen years and may not have entertained the thought of living elsewhere, though the idea cannot be ruled out.
The other scenario involved political expediency. One part of this is an accusation that Workman was part of a plot to assassinate New Mexico Governor Manuel Armijo prior to coming to California. The other is that, in 1840, he and Rowland were named as part of a commission tasked to pave the way for the infiltration of Texans in New Mexico for purposes of seizing much of its territory. The two men, who may not have sought this honor, were not part of this entity when it was reconstituted in 1841, before they headed west.
Was Workman keeping a very low profile upon arrival, especially because Armijo sent a letter ahead of Rowland and Workman’s caravan warning California officials that the two, labeled as traitors, were plotting “to seduce and confuse” residents of the coastal department? Did some period of establishing relationships and ties need to take place before he and Rowland decided, on the day of Alvarado’s approval of the grant petition, to submit this addendum.
Whatever the motivations for the curious and unusual document, Alvarado immediately assented, merely stating, on the 9th: “Accordingly the power to divide the aforementioned land is given to this party as requested.” A little under two weeks later, on 21 March, official José Ramón Argüello responded that, having received Alvarado’s decree, he presented the document to the Judge of the First Instance (roughly equivalent to a county judge) “before whom is the granting of the legal instrument for the division of the place of La Puente for Don Julián Workman.
Once the division was legally conducted, the document was to be returned to be returned in the book of land titles kept by departmental authorities at Monterey. The local judge as Manuel Dominguez, owner of Rancho San Pedro and a future delegate to the convention for the first California constitution in 1849. On the 21st, Dominguez recorded that, as Rowland secured the
assent [that] was given on behalf of his children, heirs and successors . . . and his claim in which he wants the means to arrange to give to Señor Don Julián Workman equal rights in the place of La Puente . . . declaring that the aforementioned place is not found to be alienated nor pledged, that it is free from Church taxation, entailment, patronage, surety (or bond), and of other obligations . . . I grant to him equal right with all the ingresses, egresses, pasture lands, watering places, wood areas, lowlands, springs, rented lands, expanses, uses, customs, privileges and the rest of things that he has that exists according to law, renouncing all objections that could oppose them for the case of Don Julián Workman and his heirs and successors in a clear, perfect and irrevocable grant . . .
Additionally, Dominguez had it recorded that Workman “asks me to give him a copy of” the document. Other text in Dominguez’ statement refer, at length, to the legal solidity of the amended grant and Workman’s rights to the rancho, with witnesses Francisco Figueroa (later the first American-era treasurer of the city of Los Angeles) and Raimundo Alanis signing, as did Rowland.
Dominguez added that the original of the amendment document was properly recorded in official records and this was witnesses by Ignacio Coronel and José L. Sepulveda, other notables in the pueblo of Los Angeles. Finally, the written material concluded with an order to Rowland to pay 16 pesos and 4 reales to Coronel, who was Dominguez’ secretary, for copies of the document.
As noted in a post a little under a month ago, a new grant to La Puente, adding Workman’s name as official co-owner “through involuntary fault,” as Rowland expressed it was made by Governor Pío Pico, the last chief executive of Mexican-era California.
It turned out that the 9 March 1842 amendment, as superceded by the 22 July 1845 regrant, was not much of an issue in the proceedings engendered under the land claims process brought about by an act of Congress in March 1851. Instead it was the question of how much acreage was included in the grant that became the pressing matter for the federal government. We’ll pursue the land claims question with a series of posts beginning this October.