Gold, Guns and Growth Recap: F.P.F. Temple in the Southern Mine Region of Tuolumne County, 1850s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This afternoon’s third part of a series of talks on the history of the Workman and Temple families in greater Los Angeles, Gold, Guns and Growth, summarized many activities of the family during the fascinating decade of the 1850s. The decade began with the burgeoning Gold Rush in full ferment with miners poring through the Sierra Nevada Mountains range in expanding numbers as the 1840s ended and the new decade began. Ethnic conflict and violence was rampant, miners usually came up empty-handed or with little to show for their unrelenting toil, but there were other ways to make money, including supplying gold seekers and other residents with fresh beef and other products derived from cattle found in large numbers in southern California.

For several years, greater Los Angeles area ranchers like the Workmans and Temples realized significant income from the sale of cattle in the gold fields, with the six-week trek well worth the effort as prices for the animals, as with so many other goods, ballooned during the heyday of the rush. As noted in the presentation, the fortune realized during these years allowed the families to expand their houses, their ownership of land, and in many other areas.

William Workman, for example, took the opportunity late in 1850 to make his only trip back home to his native England, after nearly three decades away. Subsequently, the house and his wife, Nicolasa Urioste, built early in the Forties, was significantly expanded, as noted in yesterday’s post, and, after establishing El Campo Santo Cemetery, a few hundred yards east of the house, the family expended large sums enclosing the burial plot with a fine cast-iron fence and the cemetery with a brick wall including a cast-iron entry gate, which still survives, with British-made staves. In 1857, the Workmans began the construction of a Gothic Revival chapel, ornamented with gilt ceilings and stained glass windows, in the cemetery, a striking illustration of the wealth the family enjoyed.

FPF & JH Temple 2, ca. 1858
F.P.F. Temple and his son John Harrison, ca. 1858.

Jonathan Temple, a successful merchant of two decades when the Gold Rush burst forth, but also owner of the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos, capitalized greatly, as well. He sent his cattle north from Los Cerritos, but also owned a large property in Tulare County at which he stocked thousands more. From 1857 to 1865, Temple was half-owner of the massive Rancho El Tejon in the “Grapevine” north of Los Angeles and which was used a stop to rest and feed and water the herds before continuing the long drive north.

Temple, however, also invested heavily in México, where his son-in-law Gregorio de Ajuria had extensive business and political connections. Reputedly the owner of much land on the west coast of the country between Acapulco and Mazatlán, Temple took advantage of de Ajuria’s close ties to President Miguel Comonfort to contract in 1856 for the lease of the national mint. Despite the many upheavals in that counttry, including the brief French-controlled empire in the mid-Sixties and frequent changes in administrations due to constant turmoil, Temple retained the concession until his death in 1866, but his widow and daughter continued with the lease for more than a quarter-century afterward, when the mint was nationalized by dictator Porfirio Diáz in 1893.

Temple’s much-younger (twenty-six years) half-brother, F.P.F., worked in Jonathan’s store for several years after he settled in Los Angeles in mid-1841. In September 1848, about eight months after James Marshall set off the rush by finding gold at Sutter’s Mill, Jonathan wrote to their brother, Abraham, telling him of “the unequalled quantity of gold that has been found” and adding “nothing will be done but gold digging.” In fact, he continued, “Pliny [F.P.F.’s birth name] I think will go next spring and try his hand at gold digging.”

Springfield 1850s 2
Springfield, a Tuolumne County town that had up to 2,000 people during the heyday of the Gold Rush, was F.P.F. Temple’s local headquarters for a wide variety of enterprises he owned in the area. It is now a state historic landmark.

It appears that the younger Temple did make the trek to the southern mines, as he related in an 1877 interview that he worked for Jonathan until 1849. Additionally, Mrs. J.G. Eastman, who did considerable research in the southern gold mine area in the 1960s, found that F.P.F. got to the bustling area of Sonora and Columbia in what became Tuolumne County on 20 June of that year. While we don’t know if he realized any success from prospecting, we do know that Temple, along with his brother and father-in-law, began sending cattle to the area to provide beef for locals, but he went a great deal further than most Los Angeles-area ranchers with his investments.

Thanks to Mrs. Eastman and a ranger at Columbia State Historic Park, we have some very interesting information about F.P.F.’s wide range of activities in that region, extending to 1875. For purposes of this post, we’ll confine the discussion to the Fifties, which was, in any case, when the area was most active. On 17 June 1851, Temple filed a claim for 160 acres, a section of land, near Jamestown, about seven miles south of Columbia. By summer 1855, he owned 300 acres that was fenced and stocked with cattle near Springfield, which is about mile-and-a-half southwest of Columbia, and which was a booming town because its spring waters were popular with miners washing dirt to extract gold nuggets and dust.

A year later, Temple acquired the extensive Dodge holdings in Sonora, 4 1/2 miles south of Columbia, and which included a house, the Sonora Market, a slaughterhouse, and a ranch five miles to the southwest (west of Jamestown) including stables and corrals. In June 1857, he acquired a frame structure in Columbia and a wooden building and two lots in Springfield. Over the remaining years of the decade, Temple purchased a Springfield meat market, a slaughterhouse west of town, and a house and lot along nearby Mormon Creek. He’d already made that town his headquarters. During the first several years of the sixties, the acqusitions continued, icluding more ranch land, slaughterhouses, meat markets, a bakery, and more stores in the above-mentioned towns, as well as in Saw Mill Flat and Shaw’s Flat, both roughly between Columbia and Sonora.

Sonora 1850s
The town of Sonora, named for miners who were among the first to arrive in the gold fields from that northern Mexican state, which has a long history of mining. F.P.F. Temple had extensive holdings in and around the town.

In the course of twenty years, according to Mrs. Eastman’s assiduous research, Temple owned a dozen meat markets, six or seven slaughterhouses, hundreds of acres of ranch land, and a few houses. She also unearthed a short statement made by Hubert E. Brady (1879-1951), a lifetime resident of Columbia, who wrote, likely from recollections handed down by his parents, about Mexican miners in the area, though he noted that “Jesus Ramon . . . never mined, he was a vaquero for Temple, the wholesale butcher of Springfield.”

Brady wrote that “herds of Mexican cattle from Arizona, Texas & Mexico were driven into California, pastured and fattened on the Plains of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and then driven to the different mining camps to slaughter” and added “Temple ran his cattle in Los Angeles county when first driven in, later moved them in and around where Oakdale now stands,” this town being northeast of Modesto and west of Knight’s Ferry, whose founder William Knight came with the Workman family from New Mexico in 1841. For years, F.P.F.’s nephew, Thornton Sanborn, helped oversee his uncle’s holdings in Springfield and later was foreman at the Temples’ Rancho La Merced, only returning to his native Massachusetts after the Temple fortune was wiped out with the failure of the Temple and Workman bank in 1876.

The narrative continued that “Temple married a Mexican girl, her people obtained a Mexican grant from one of the early Mexican Governors and she inherited what is know known as the City of Los Angeles, California. When Temple died in 1884 [1880] she went to Los Angeles, where she passed away, a Los Angeles Paper wrote her life history. John Morgan [another old-timer who lived from 1854 to 1945] says her name was so long he can’t remember it now, as a boy he got to know her quite well when he lived at Springfield from 1864 to 1867.” The information here, of course, is peppered with errors concerning Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple’s inheriting Los Angeles and she did not move to the city after F.P.F. died, but owned and lived on the Temple family’s 50-acre homestead on Rancho La Merced until her death in early 1892.

Columbia 1850s print
An 1855 lithograph of Columbia, now a state historic park. A couple of buildings that Temple owned, including a butcher shop set up as a display now for visitors, remain on Main Street just right of center.

With respect to the Temple ranch, Brady went on that “Jesus Ramon and other vaqueros herded the long horns on the table lands west of Springfield and cut out and herded in whatever cattle were needed for slaughter each day. Temple sold out to F.J. Schoettger of Columbia his businesses and Schoettger moved the slaughter house to Columbia, Ramong was left in his employ.” That sale was in September 1874, by which time Temple was a prominent banker and business figure in Los Angeles and likely decided to focus more of his efforts on development in the Angel City.

Another reason, though, was that the Gold Rush faded by the end of the 1850s and Columbia’s population, recorded in Mrs. Eastman’s research notes, indicates the dramatic change that came in following years. In 1850, just after F.P.F. made his first foray there, there were 100 residents, but, by the middle part of the decade, there were 3,000 people in town and 7,000 in outlying areas, such as Springfield. As the yield of gold dramatically declined, however, so did the population, which fell by a third to about 2,000 by 1860 and another quarter within a few years. There were fewer than 400 people in 1870, so it was small wonder that Temple divested of his local holdings not long afterward.

There are, however, a couple buildings left in Columbia that Temple owned with one of them set up as a display as a working butcher shop for visitors to the state historic park. For about a quarter century, he had a significant level of involvement in the prominent mining towns and settlements of the southern mines in Tuolumne County and it is a marked illustration of the fact that the Workman and Temple families were not only active throughout greater Los Angeles, but elsewhere in the state, as well.

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