by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Friend of the Homestead Michael Patris of the Mount Lowe Preservation Society recently made a very generous donation of the highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection for tonight’s post: a billhead of Workman and Brother, saddle and harness makers of long-standing in Los Angeles and which is made out to William S. Chapman and dated 16 October 1871.
This is an item that fills a gap in the Museum’s holdings relating to the core business of the brothers Elijah H. and William H. Workman, nephews of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman. Saddle and harness making and repair was the trade of their father, David, something he may well have learned as an apprentice in his hometown of Clifton, England and then carried on with when he settled in Franklin, Missouri in 1819.
Three years later, David returned to visit his family in England and enticed William to join him in America. The brothers worked together in David’s saddlery until William struck out on his own in spring 1825 by taking the recently opened Santa Fe Trail for New Mexico, though his vocations included fur trapping, ownership of a store, and distilling.
One of the more interesting tangents of the story of David Workman while in long residence in central Missouri was that one of his apprentices followed William’s example in 1826 and headed for New Mexico—but, by doing so, he violated the law and David was obligated to advertise for the miscreant’s arrest.
Evidently, the master wasn’t all that concerned about getting his apprentice back, though, because he advertised for the minimum required by law: all of one cent. The young man was Christopher “Kit” Carson, who became a legendary trapper and scout, and a resident of Taos, not far from where William resided for about sixteen years.
David, whose business enterprises included trade as far south as Chihuahua in northern Mexico, ventured to California during the Gold Rush and quickly learned that selling goods was a safer and more stable way to make money. In 1852, he returned after spending some time with his family in Missouri and opened a store in Sacramento. Unfortunately, a fire ravaged most of the city and destroyed David’s business. He headed south to Rancho La Puente to commiserate with his brother and William, thirty years after David did the same, encouraged his brother to join him.
In 1854, David, his wife Nancy Hook, their three sons Thomas, Elijah and William (all with the middle name Hook), and Joseph Workman, William Workman’s son, traveled “across the plains” with a lengthy stop in Utah, where Mormon president Brigham Young tried to get the family to settle. After landfall in northern California, the group headed south by ship and, at the port of San Pedro, William Workman was there to greet the party and lead them to La Puente.
David soon began leading cattle and sheep drives for his brother to the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada Mountains but, on one of those long jaunts in late June 1855, he went after a stray animal and, in the darkness, slipped down a steep ravine and was killed. His widow and sons soon afterward moved to Los Angeles to begin life anew.
Thomas, the eldest, joined the enterprising Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral”, whose New San Pedro, renamed Wilmington (after Banning’s Delaware hometown), was a growing enterprise. Thomas was Banning’s chief clerk, but was killed in an 1863 explosion of a small steamship heading out to a larger craft from Wilmington.
The youngest, William Henry, found work as a “printer’s devil,” or an apprentice for a couple of the newspapers published in Los Angeles, but he also appears to have done some reporting and writing, including, purportedly, a piece that had to be printed in time for shipment to San Francisco by steamer but was penned by the young man before the event, which was the dramatic circumstance of the hanging of Felipe Alvitre, followed by the lynching of Dave Brown, both convicted murderers, in early 1855.
Middle son Elijah carried forward with the saddle and harness trade and, in fall 1857, opened up his own business in Los Angeles in the newly completed two-story brick business building of Jonathan Temple on the west side of Main Street. He was the second saddlery in town, following Samuel C. Foy, who opened his shop in 1854, and was joined the following summer by William, with the Los Angeles Star referring to “Billy,” as he was widely known as “one of the most popular young gentlemen in town, and as the sales department wis to be under his particular charge, purchasers will find the utmost satisfaction in dealing with him.
With the genial Billy as the public face and the more reserved Elijah handling the manufacturing and purchasing, and the brothers became successful. When Foy and his brother decided to close their business in early 1865, they sold their stock, tools and other materials to the Workman Brothers, who moved from Temple’s Block to the Foy stand on Los Angeles Street.
Elijah, however, disbanded the partnership when he went back to Missouri in early 1867 to marry, and Foy and his brother decided to take over their old shop. But, when Elijah and his bride returned to Los Angeles in fall 1868, he and Billy resumed their partnership and opened up a new business, located in the Lanfranco Building, formerly the What Cheer Hotel, on the east side of Main. This was just in time for the onset of greater Los Angeles’ first significant period of growth, which lasted through the mid-Seventies.
In early 1870, the Los Angeles News devoted a lengthy article to the Workman Brothers business, congratulating them for showing “what perseverance, energy and strict attention to business will accomplish.” The paper added that,
Commencing with little else than hands for capital, these gentlemen have successfully striven until they now control one of the most extensive houses in Southern California.
Moreover, the News continued, “the warerooms fronting on Main street are a museum of articles used in the saddlery and harness business” and the business grew so rapidly, with eight employees and orders coming from as far as Montana, Baja California and Arizona, that they needed to enlarge their store. The paper reported later in the spring that a new addition of nearly 600 square feet with two stories and a cellar with more manufacturing and sales space.
So, by the time this invoice was generated, Elijah and William were prosperous in business, but also politically involved. Both served on the Board of Education and Common [City] Council and had fine houses on large properties. William who married Maria [pronounced Mah-eye-ah] Boyle in 1867, lived on her father’s Paredon Blanco estate on the east side of the Los Angeles River and, when Andrew Boyle died in September 1871, the couple took over its management.
Elijah had a “suburban” property on Main Street between 10th and 11th with Spring Street the western limit. His comfortable home was surrounded by a panoply of exotic and common plantings for which he was widely known and he also was a benefactor in landscaping the historic Plaza and Central Park, opened in 1866 and, a little more than a half century later, renamed Pershing Square.
The billhead records transactions between 24 November 1870 and 6 October 1871 and its was generated ten days after the latter date. Purchases included a headstall and rein set, two whips or lashes, a yoke, and a “plain riding Bridle,” among other items and the grand total was $23.00 (on the reverse is a pencil inscription which seems to indicate that $7.50 of the items was for Chapman’s personal use and the remainder for his ranch.)
William Smith Chapman, Jr. was born in 1833 in Alabama, the son of Coziah Beck and William Smith Chapman, who was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, of which his father was president, and a lawyer and cotton plantation owner (meaning he owned slaves). The elder Chapman died when his namesake son was young and the widow managed the plantation and raised her family, which included an older son, Alfred Beck Chapman, an 1854 graduate of West Point and U.S. Army officer who served in several pre-Civil War posts in California, including briefly at Fort Tejon, north of Los Angeles. Alfred resigned his commission when the Civil War erupted, took up law and then moved to Los Angeles in 1861, marrying the daughter of prominent attorney and judge, Jonathan R. Scott.
William, Jr., meanwhile, was also trained in the law, graduating from the University of Alabama and, when the Civil War erupted, he joined the Confederate Army, serving from 1862 to 1865 and mustering out as a captain after the South’s defeat. He was married in 1857 to Katherine Lettice and the couple had three sons, two born in Talladega County, Alabama and the youngest in late 1866 soon after the Chapmans came to Los Angeles to join William’s brother Alfred.
Alfred quickly became a prominent attorney in Los Angeles, especially in partnership with Andrew Glassell and George H. Smith, who were also Southerners, though the former came to California in 1853 and practiced in San Francisco and Sacramento, though he left the law when he refused to swear loyalty to the Union during the war and ran a lumber mill at Santa Cruz. At war’s end in 1865, he migrated to Los Angeles. Smith was born in Philadelphia, but raised in Virginia and was a Confederate army colonel. After the war he was briefly in Cuba and then Mexico before he came west and was in San Francisco for a short period and, finally, settled in Los Angeles in 1869. He was married to the widow of George S. Patton, a Confederate colonel who died in 1864, and their grandson was the famous World War II General George S. Patton.
Glassell, Chapman and Smith quickly developed a thriving practice in a growing Los Angeles and among their clients were William Workman and F.P.F. Temple. The firm especially did well with real estate cases and the names of Glassell and Chapman are most identified with the town of Orange, which land they received from representing the Yorba and Peralta families in the division of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. Alfred Chapman, who was Los Angeles County District Attorney in the late 1860s, also acquired a large portion of Rancho Santa Anita and this became his home ranch, with the present residential community of Chapman Woods being on this tract.
William S. Chapman was not as prominent as his brother, but he managed a large citrus ranch, as Alfred did, Not long after this billhead was generated, though, he experienced a wave of personal tragedies. The first son he and Katherine had died in 1863 while William was fighting for the Confederate Army. In 1872, a son, Jenkins, died at just nine years of age, following four years later by both Katherine and another son, Thomas, who was also nine. There were two daughters and a son who survived into adulthood, but William died in November 1881 at age 48.
As for the Workman brothers, their partnership continued for several more years after the creation of the invoice. Billy was becoming more involved with his father-in–law’s estate, which was subdivided in 1875 as the neighborhood of Boyle Heights. He also continued his political involvement and, in October 1877, after nearly twenty years in business together, including a few brief periods when the partnership was ended, the firm of Workman Brothers dissolved.
Billy continued his political rise, serving as mayor of Los Angeles during the famous boom years of 1887 and 1888, being a member of the city’s parks commission, and, for much of the first decade of the 20th century serving as city treasurer. He continued managing his real estate holdings over the years and died in 1918 at age 79.
Elijah continued on with the saddlery business for several more years after he and Billy ended their partnership. In 1882, he joined forces with Manuel Montijo, who’d developed his own saddle tree, and the two men built a manufacturing plant on Aliso Street near where U.S. 101 goes through downtown Los Angeles today. Elijah, who was already twice widowed, however, was married a third time to Gilla Corum, a consumptive, who died of her malady shortly after Elijah and Montijo opened their business in 1882. Perhaps because of the grief of his loss, though it might also have been a business decision, Elijah left the enterprise shortly afterward.
As Los Angeles grew southward, he also decided to subdivide his Main Street property and moved to his brother’s community of Boyle Heights and lived there for over twenty years. He maintained a much lower public profile than Billy and died in 1906. The Workman Brothers saddlery (interestingly, the name of Workman & Brother on the billhead is not found in other sources and even the signature at the bottom reads “Workman Bros.) was, however, the starting point for the two young brothers to develop an impressive and profitable business and they also became among the most prominent political figures in Los Angeles from the 1860s and for several decades thereafter.
Thanks to Michael’s donation, we have a tangible object with which to share the story of the brothers Elijah and William H. Workman.