by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In early January, I went to speak to the Harbor Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, an association of 35,000 members who are direct lineal descendants of those who fought in the Revolution. When I pulled into the parking lot of Alpine Village, a German-themed center in Torrance where the chapter’s meeting was being held, I searched my coat pockets for the thumb drive that contained my PowerPoint presentation on the Workman and Temple families, the subject for the talk and came up empty.
I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of presentations and that was a first, so I took out the Homestead’s laptop, hoping there was a PowerPoint file there that I could use as a last-minute substitution. On the desktop was my final Curious Cases talk, given a couple of months before. With profuse apologies and no little embarrassment, I went inside and let Jim Olds, the member who invited me, know the situation.
Fortunately, the group took the mix-up with good grace and my talk, “Shoot Away, Damn You! Judges of Los Angeles County, 1850-1875” seemed well received. Still, I was unhappy with my error and emailed Jim to again apologize and his response was to invite me back again to give the intended talk. That was tonight.
Traffic from the Homestead wasn’t too bad and I got down to Alpine Village within forty-five minutes, plenty of time for the meeting. I gave my presentation covering the lives of Workman and Temple family members including Jonathan Temple, who settled in Los Angeles in 1828 as just the second Anglo to live in the pueblo; Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman; their daughter Margarita and her husband F.P.F. Temple; their son Walter P., who owned the Homestead from 1917 to 1932; Elijah and William Henry Workman, nephews of William and Nicolasa (William Henry was mayor of Los Angeles in 1887-88 during the famed boom in the region and then city treasurer from 1901-1907); and William Henry’s son Boyle, who was president of the Los Angeles City Council for most of the 1920s, and his daughter Mary Julia, a rare example of a woman with a prominent public life in settlement house work with immigrants, Catholic charitable endeavors, and much more.
The talk appeared to be enjoyed by the twenty-five attendees, but there was a very interesting tangent that is the focus of this post. What was interesting and which I don’t remember from January is that each member is asked to briefly mention who their Revolutionary War ancestor was and from where they joined the cause. One member mentioned he was descended from someone who was in a militia from Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Another told the group he was descended from a Spanish soldier in California at the time the revolution was occurring across the continent and added that one of his Cordero family ancestors married a Workman.
To the first member, I mentioned that the father of Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple, who were half-brothers twenty-six years apart in age, also named Jonathan Temple, was a captain in a militia from his hometown of Reading in Middlesex County. As for the Cordero descendant, I had to break the news to him that his understanding that George Workman, a grandson of original Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, was married to María Encarnación Cordero, of Santa Barbara, was wrong. But, a little poking around this evening found some remarkable stories on this tangent that begged for some elaboration here!
George Workman was born in New York in June 1837 and was a plasterer and there is no known connection of the Workman family of the Homestead. He married Encarnación Cordero in Santa Barbara in 1876 and the couple had two daughters, America, born in 1877, and Georgia, born two years later, and a son Robert, born in 1884. The Workmans lived in Los Angeles from about 1879 to the early 1890s and Encarnación filed for divorce in late 1891. America was married in the late 1890s to detective John P. Elms and the couple had a son, but a divorce soon followed and the child remained with Elms. America then married a druggist, Edward C. Will, and lived in Marshall, Iowa until his death in 1909.
With an inheritance from Will of a few thousand dollars, America returned to California and enjoyed, according to news reports, some respite at Coronado Beach next to San Diego, where many well-to-do tourists came to enjoy the sun and sea. While there she met Ulysses S. Grant, Junior, the son of the famed Civil War general and two-term president of the United States.
The younger Grant was his father’s secretary at the end of the tumultuous Grant presidency, a lawyer and real estate investor who bought the landmark Horton House hotel in San Diego and replaced it with the U.S. Grant Hotel. He was a widower, his late wife being the daughter of a wealthy Colorado senator named Chaffee and who bore him five children, living in a mansion on Coronado when he met America Will, who was over a quarter century younger.
According to a Virginia news account, “the beautiful young widow found the embattled forces of the conservative Grant clan much more difficult to deal with than the elderly lawyer-financier.” Evidently, this was the case with the Chaffee family and both elements “determined to use every polite means to forestall a marriage.” However, America “armed only with her beauty, her cleverness and her tact,” won the battle.
Not only that, the article continued, the marriage ceremony was held quickly and it was reported that a prenuptial agreement was made that gave the new Mrs. Grant Junior the three million estate of her much older husband after his death. Moreover, “the completeness of America Will’s triumph is shown in the crowning clause of that prenuptial contract,” namely, that if she died before Grant, “several hundred thousand dollars of the Grant estate” was to go to her son, Fred Elms, “the one offspring of that first mistaken marriage.”
More tied to the Homestead and its history is a strange telling of America’s background, namely that her father, identified as “John Workman,” rather than George, was a “shrewd Yankee” who came to California “back in the forties or early fifties” and “saw the immense possibilities that lay in cattle grazing lands.” Never mind that America’s father, George, was born, at the earliest in 1838, and could not have been old enough to come to California and do what this article said.
This included the statement that he “immediately established in Southern California the ranching interests which were in due course to bring him a fortune.” To make this tale even better, it was averred that America’s father “wooed and won the grandniece of Pío Pico, greatest of the Spanish governors of California before the Yankee invasion” and that “the sole child of this union was America.”
Whether there was a connection between Pico and the Corderos as described, America, of course, had a younger sister, but that fact got in the way of a whopper of a story. This also included the claim that America’s “life story begins amid the luxury which the shrewdness of John Workman had made it possible for him to lavish upon his family.”
Not only this, but in the 1900 and 1910 censuses for all three Workman children, their father was listed as English, though it is quite clear from his own census and voter registration listings that George was born in New York (the Workmans did live in Azusa in 1890, but divorced with Encarnacion later marrying Thomas Deering before she died in Boyle Heights, while George lived in Placerville east of Sacramento and Scott’s Valley near Yreka in northern California in later life.)
What this all seems to indicate is that America Workman reconstructed her early life to indicate that “John Workman” was a prominent cattle rancher, linked to Pío Pico, so that this “life story” dovetailed with that of William Workman, who, of course, was a prominent cattleman at Rancho La Puente from the 1840s through the mid-1870s. Obviously, the dates are way off–William Workman was about forty years older than America’s father, but, in 1913, no one was likely to do much fact-checking!
Whatever the controversy involving the marriage of America to U.S. Grant, Junior, they remained together until his death at age 77 in September 1929, while the couple was stopped at a motel on the Ridge Route north of Los Angeles en route to San Diego. Notably, when Grant’s will was unsealed a couple of month later, it was discovered that he’d left only about $3,000 to America, having provided many gifts of cash to his children over the years. So much for the big windfall that appeared to be going her way when she married him sixteen years earlier!
When America Grant died in October 1942, an obituary had some interesting statements, including that she died in the U.S. Grant Hotel for years after her husband’s death and had to file suit in 1937 against the hostelry’s owner to remain there claiming that U.S. Grant, Junior’s trust had a provision that entitled her to free rent and hotel service for life. The court ruled in her favor and so she remained a resident there.
The article also noted that, when the Grants lived in Washington, D.C. for a couple of years in the early 1920s, she “became a friend of President Harding and [Secretary of the Treasury and prominent banker] Andrew Mellon.” It also reported that she and Grant traveled for six years after their marriage before settling in “luxurious rooms” at the U.S. Grant Hotel, where they “entertained many nationally prominent figures.”
In 1963, a genealogical reference book on the Workman family in America showed George Workman as a descendant of William Workman and gave some information on his family, including his daughter America’s marriage to Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. What made it easier, it looks like, to make this false connection was that William and Nicolasa Workman’s son, Joseph, did have a son George with his wife Josephine Belt. The problem for the alleged connection is that the latter George Workman was not born until 1879, which is after America Workman was born!
So, that was quite an unexpected diversion into our regional history, even if the actual connection to the Workman family of the Homestead was misconstrued. Of course, it has been an issue that, once something was in print, it became accepted as true. Today, though, it can simply be digitally published on a website (or a blog!) and be viewed as accurate.