Sharing History with the Sons of the American Revolution, Lake Forest

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After misunderstanding that I wasn’t supposed to be in Irvine for this evening’s talk to the local chapter the Sons of the American Revolution, but rather in Lake Forest, and then joking that I didn’t see any lakes or forests in what I knew historically was El Toro, I gave a presentation on the history of the Workman and Temple families.

There was added interest in this because tonight a new member of the chapter was inducted and it was Jason Temple, a descendant of the two families who has had an avid interest in the genealogy and history of his forebears.  This includes his direct link to the Revolution, Captain Jonathan Temple, who was in a volunteer militia in his hometown of Reading, Massachusetts.

As I gave the talk, one of the elements that struck me was the fact that his namesake son, Jonathan, Jr. (1796-1866) and William Workman (1799-1876) were contemporaries with a good deal of interesting comparisons and contrasts.  The former was from the oldest of the American colonies, while the latter hailed from the far north of England, and the pair came of age as relations between the two nations were still raw from the Revolution and would flare up again in the War of 1812.

Yet, as young men, Temple and Workman chose to do what most of their peers did not or could not: leave their homes and travel enormous distances to seek a better life.  In Temple’s case, he sailed from Boston to Hawaii in the early 1820s, following close on the heels of Congregationalist missionaries who went to the remotest place on earth in terms of one society’s proximity to another.

jonathan temple & wife & son in
Jonathan Temple, his wife Rafaela Cota, and their son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria, ca. 1850s.

At about the same time, in summer 1822, Workman left his home in the company of his older brother David and made a sea voyage from Liverpool to Philadelphia.  After some months visiting with their sister, Agnes Vickers, who lived in Baltimore, the brothers journeyed overland to David’s newly adopted hometown of Franklin, Missouri, situated on the western edge of the United States.

In 1827, Temple left Hawaii, where he’d worked as a merchant, and arrived at San Diego, in Mexican Alta California, where he ws baptized a Roman Catholic.  The following year, he settled in Los Angeles, becoming only the second American or European, after Joseph Chapman, to live in the City of Angels. Temple opened the first store in the pueblo, a remote outpost in what has been referred to as the “Siberia of Mexico.”  He quickly rose to wealth and prominence in the region and, in 1830, married Santa Barbara native Rafaela Cota.  Their only child, Francisca, was born the next year.

As for Workman, he left Franklin with a caravan along the recently opened Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico and settled in Taos.  He, too, was a merchant, but also was engaged in fur trapping.  In 1827, when Temple came to California, Workman was part of a trapping expedition led by James Ohio Pattie and which made its way along the Gila River through southern New Mexico and Arizona until that watercourse emptied into the Colorado River.  While Pattie and others ventured into California and no small amount of trouble with suspicious local officials, Workman returned to New Mexico.

In 1836, Temple was embroiled in local controversy in Los Angeles when he hosted California’s first vigilance committee, convened by Anglos and Californios to deliberate over the fate of a man and his lover who killed her husband.  As was usually the case, the vigilantes found the couple guilty and executed them in circumvention of local courts and laws.

That year, American in Texas revolted against Mexican rule and formed, for not quite a decade, an independent republic.  The following year, an internal revolt in New Mexico emanated from Taos and led to the overthrow and killing of the departmental governor.  Manuel Armijo led a successful counter-revolution and, also in 1837, Workman and his distilling partner John Rowland (the two made a powerful concoction called Taos Lightning) were arrested for smuggling.  The detention, though, smacked of politics, as it was repoted that the two men were forced to swear loyalty to the Taoseños.

Workman 1851-4
William Workman, in a detail of a photo taken in 1851 or 1852 and evidently by Mathew Brady in New York.

In 1841, Temple was visited by his half-brother Pliny, who was 26 years his junior and who was born after Jonathan left Massachusetts.  The visit, evidently intended to last a year, became permanent and the younger Temple returned just once to Massachusetts, nearly three decades later.  Pliny then went to work in his brother’s store.

That summer, Workman, his wife Nicolasa Urioste (their common-law relationship began just before Temple married Rafaela Cota) and their children José Manuel and Antonia Margarita, fled New Mexico, which was steeling for an invasion by Texas prior to which Workman and Rowland were briefly named agents of Austin to pave the way for the so-called Texas-Santa Fe Expedition.  The two men quickly disassociated themsevles from the scheme and took to the Old Spanish (it was actually neither, having opened just a decade or so before) Trail to California.

1842 was a year in which the Workmans settled on the Rancho La Puente, a 17,000-acre land grant given to Rowland and which was nearly tripled in size three years later by Pío Pico, who became governor earlier in 1845 by challenging the current chief executive, Manuel Micheltorena, and assuming office when the latter fled after a military standoff near Cahuenga Pass.  The next year, Temple purchased Rancho Los Cerritos from relatives of his wife.  Both men became cattle ranchers of significance in the region during the heyday of the hide-and-tallow trade in the waning years of the Mexican era.

It was that same year when Pliny Temple, who was baptized first and took the name “Francisco”, married Antonia Margarita Workman and brought the two families together.  Shortly afterward, war erupted between the United States and Mexico and hostilities came to Alta California in summer 1846.

Though an American, Temple found himself caught in the middle as invading forces used his Rancho Los Cerritos as a staging ground for local operations, while his wife, Rafaela Cota supplied materiel to the Californios who fought vigorously to defend their homeland.  American forces seized Los Angeles in summer 1846 and then surrendered the town to Californios enraged by draconian rules and regulations laid down by the garrison commander.

1842 diseno page 2 detail granary
A detail of the early 1842 diseño or survey by Isaac Given of Rancho La Puente.  The road at center is Valley Boulevard and below that is “Arroyo San José” or San José Creek.  The Puente Hills are at the bottom.  The Homestead would be just below the curve in Valley Boulevard where there are several markings indicating a Mission San Gabriel granary.

Workman, though, being British, had a prominent role between the two sides, arranging for the release, after several months’ confinement, of Americans and Europeans, including Rowland, who were captured at the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino in modern Chino Hills, by Californios in fall 1846.

In early January 1847, Workman met with Navy Commodore Robert F. Stockton at Mission San Juan Capistrano and arranged an amnesty for Californios preparing for battle against Stockton who marched up from Los Angeles.  The final conflict of the war in California followed on the 9th along the Rio Hondo near the Montebello Hills with the Californios yielding and retreating.  The next morning, Workman and two others brought out the white flag of truce as the Americans entered Los Angeles.

The war was immediately followed by the staggering developments of the Gold Rush and Temple and Workman found that the cattle they stocked in large numbers on their substantial ranches at Los Cerritos and La Puente were immensely valuable for fresh beef.  Whereas Temple did what most local ranchers did in sending animals in large droves for quick sale, his half-brother and Workman went steps further by investing in grazing land, butcher shops and meat markets in Columbia, Sonora and Springfield in Tuolumne County.

The boom times of the Gold Rush waned by the mid-1850s, but Temple found another endeavor to invest in, namely his lease of the national mint of Mexico, arranged through connections his son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria had with one of the many presidents of that country.  Temple was reputed to have large tracts of land between Acapulco and Mazatlán on the west coast of the nation, as well.

He also became a prominent developer of new business buildings in Los Angeles, following his construction of a two-story adobe building before 1850 with brick structures in 1857 (the first of what became the four-building Temple Block) and the Market House in 1859, though this latter was unsuccessful as a commercial building and became the courthouse and city hall.

1877 Los Cerritos detail
A detail of an 1877 map showing most of Rancho Los Cerritos between the “Old San Gabriel” or Los Angeles River at the left and the newer course of the San Gabriel, created from flooding a decade earlier, at the right.

During that time, F.P.F. Temple and William Workman began acquiring other ranchos in the San Gabriel Valley, including a quartet (La Merced, Potrero Chico, Potrero Grande, and Potrero de Felipe Lugo) in what is now the Whittier Narrows area.  The 1850s was when the Workman House was enlarged with 150′ long wings built to the south, while, as noted in last night’s post, St. Nicholas’ Chapel, was built at the end of the decade.

The first half of the 1860s, however, were extraordinarily challenging for Temple and Workman.  The so-called Noah’s Flood, in which heavy rains pounded greater Los Angeles for some forty days, killed many cattle and other livestock and destroyed crops.  This manifestation of what we know as the El Niño effect was followed La Niña and it is estimated that four inches of rain fell two consecutive years.

The consequences were horrendous.  Workman reportedly slaughtered 2,000 head of cattle in 1863 as the animals starved for lack of water and food, but found an unlikely lifeline when his friend William Wolfskill discovered ample water and grass at the northern base of the San Bernardino Mountains near modern Apple Valley.  This enabled him to survive the terrible conditions of the period.

Temple, however, did not find much respite.  He’d already closed his store in 1856 as his Mexican investments developed and he spent more time out of the area, traveling to the East Coast and to Paris, where his daughter settled after Gregorio de Ajuria fell out of favor in Mexico City.  Likely viewing Los Angeles as a lost cause in the dire days of deluge and drought, Temple sold Los Cerritos for just 50 cents an acre and decamped to San Francisco, though he died shortly afterward in May 1866, having lived the threescore and ten years often cited as the expected lifespan of the age.

Workman lived exactly a decade longer and withstood the difficulties of the first half of the Sixties to expand his agricultural endeavors at La Puente to great success.  As Los Angeles underwent its first sustained period of growth by the end of the decade and into the first half of the 1870s, Workman joined his son-in-law in oil, real estate, and railroad development and the pair engaged in banking to finance these projects.

LA County Courthouse Temple
A photo from the Homestead’s collection showing Jonathan Temple’s Market House, built in 1859 (not 1850), but long used as the county courthouse, as indicated.

Unfortunately, the two didn’t let their first partner, the young and extraordinarily talented merchant Isaias W. Hellman, manage their Hellman, Temple and Company into the success that it should have been.  Instead, the partners split after not quite two-and-a-half years in early 1871, with Hellman forming Farmers and Merchants Bank with ex-governor John G. Downey and building it into a local financial powerhouse.

Undaunted, Temple and Workman opened their own private bank later in the year.  Questionable loaning practices, poor or non-existent bookkeeping and other managerial shortcomings were disguised while times were good, but, when the state economy flatlined in summer 1875 due to a burst Virginia City, Nevada silver mining stock bubble, the bank could not sustain a run by depositors.

Seriously weakened by a four-month suspension, the stricken institution reopened after a loan was made with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, a beneficiary of stock sales from the Nevada silver debacle and who was hungrily eyeing the extensive landholdings of the bank’s owners.  The borrowed funds were quickly and quietly withdrawn by depositors at the end of the year and into the new one and the institution failed in mid-January 1876.

The dire results of an inventory revealed the mismanagement of Temple and Workman and it seemed clear to Workman that he was irrevocably ruined.  After a court receiver visited the Workman House on 17 May 1876, an aged, bewildered and bereft Workman shot himself in despair.

Temple Block Payne detail ca 1872
Another image from the museum’s holdings and taken by Henry T. Payne about 1872 shows three of the four buildings comprising the Temple Block, along with the east elevation of the Market House.  The building second from left was built by Jonathan Temple in 1857, while the one in the foreground and the one to its left (along with one behind that cannot be seen) were built by F.P.F. Temple after he bought the property from Jonathan’s estate in 1867.  The building in the foreground housed the Temple and Workman bank, the name of which is on the sign at the roof.   The street at the left is Main, the one at the right is Spring and to the right and out of view is Temple Street–today, the site is Los Angeles City Hall.

His death was a stark and striking symbol of the end of greater Los Angeles’ first boom period and it also marked a dramatic end to a generation of Los Angeles figures like Workman, Temple, Abel Stearns, Alexander Bell, Pío Pico and others who were born as the 18th century ended and the 19th century began and were prominent from roughly 1830 onward.  Tonight’s talk was, in part, a reminder of that era as reflected through the lives of contemporaries Jonathan Temple and William Workman.

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