It Has a Nice Ring to It: A Temple Family Donation to the Homestead

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s always a pleasing to hear from descendants of the Workman and Temple families when they let us know they want to donate historical artifacts to the Homestead. Most of these are from local family members, though a few years ago, we were happy to receive the gift of an 1826 letter (said to be the earliest surviving missive from an Anglo in New Mexico) from William Workman to his brother David, by a descendant of the latter living in New York.

Recently, another donation reached us from afield, this time from the Pacific Northwest. Douglas MacDonald, a resident of the Seattle area, has been working on his family history and sent us a few artifacts that involve Temple family members from one coast to another. The most interesting also posed something of a mystery for Doug, though it appears it got sorted out after some communicating back and forth.

This beautifully ornamented gold ring with an inset of granite featuring veins of gold was given by F.P.F. Temple to, as best we can tell, his sister-in-law Cassandana Temple, whose great-great-grandson Douglas MacDonald donated it recently to the museum.

The artifact is a gold ring with an inset piece of granite [CORRECTION: thanks to Doug’s wife Lynda Mapes for pointing out that this is quartz] in which there are veins of gold. On the inside are the inscriptions “P.F.T.” and “C.B.T.” and it was quickly determined that the first set of initials were for Pliny Fisk Temple, or F.P.F. Temple, who married Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of the Homestead’s founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste. The second set, which, because of the script, could have been read as “A.B.T.” took a little pondering, but eventually it was agreed that the initials were for Cassandana Bickford Temple, the wife of F.P.F.’s brother, Abraham, who was eight years older and to whom he was very close.

While there is no way to be sure, it would appear that the ring was made from materials found in the California gold fields of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As discussed here previously, F.P.F. had involvement in two “gold rushes,” the first being a small one in Placerita Canyon north of Los Angeles, where the city of Santa Clarita is located.

Cassandana Bickford Temple
Cassandana Bickford Temple, from an album owned by her great-granddaughter Elinor Bancroft MacDonald.

That was in spring 1842 and we know that F.P.F. sent gold dust back to Abraham to sell at the United States National Mint in Philadelphia and then instructed his brother to use the proceeds for the family and to procure supplies and materials for personal and, apparently, business use—the latter involving their older half-brother Jonathan and his Los Angeles store.

Then came the inifintely bigger Gold Rush that followed James Marshall’s surprise discovery of the precious metal east of Sacramento early in 1848. The following year, it looks as it F.P.F. went to try his hands at mining, but he also began investing in property in the southern mines, specifically the Tuolumne County communities of Columbia (now a state historic park), Sonora, and Springfield, the latter being his local headquarters.

A circa 1910s pamphlet on the California missions and the Mission Play, which counted Walter P. Temple as an enthusiastic supporter, includng a substantial financial contribution to the 1927 theater built for it and which still stands in San Gabriel.

Over some twenty-five years, F.P.F. owned grazing land, slaughter houses, butcher shops and other property in that area and, for years, his nephew Thornton Sanborn, son of F.P.F.’s sister Lucinda, was his agent there before Sanborn came back to this area and was superintendent on the Rancho La Merced in the Whittier Narrows. A source of wealth for F.P.F. and his father-in-law Workman was the driving of livestock to these gold towns for the fresh beef highly valued by its residents and it appears this enterprise continued long after the Gold Rush waned. It was not until the mid-1870s, by which time Temple and Workman were invested heavily in Los Angeles business endeavors, including their bank, that F.P.F. sold off the last of his holdings in Tuolumne County.

So, the best guess is that the ring was made from material unearthed in those gold fields and sent back as a present to Cassandana Temple. She, in turn, would have left it to her daughter Ellen Temple Bancroft, who then left it to her daughter Elinor, Doug’s mother. Thanks to his generous donation, the ring has now made it back to California, at least 150 years later! But, there was also more to the gift.

A fragile birch bark letter written on 18 June 1929 from a camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York by Thomas W. Temple II to his cousin Elinor Bancroft, mother of donor Douglas MacDonald.

Doug also sent a pamphlet titled Franciscan Missions of California: Their History and Traditions With Synopsis of Mission Play and which was published, probably in the 1910s, in Los Angeles. As discussed here before, the Mission Play was performed at a theater near the Mission San Gabriel for about two decades with purported some two million people having seen it and it was a particular favorite of Walter P. Temple.

In fact, when a new theater was completed in 1927, Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman, was on the board of directors for the Mission Play Association and it was reported that Temple was, along with Henry E. Huntington, the art collector, rail titan and real estate tycoon, the largest single financial supporter of the building, which still stands.

AET and Bancrofts Manomet Cape Cod Massachusetts summer 1926
Agnes Temple in her swimsuit and cap with Edward Bancroft and four of his children at Manomet, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summer 1926.

By our standards, the paean to the Franciscan missionaries for their devoted labors in christianizing and civilizing the benighted indigenous California Indians is badly out of touch with what we now know to have been the reality for the native people, but, unfortunately, those legions of attendees likely thought they were learning the true history of the mission period. There was a revisionist version of The Mission Play produced at the theater several years ago, however.

Then there is a remarkable letter, in two senses, from Thomas W. Temple II, who later became the historian of both the mission and the City of San Gabriel and the protector of much of that romanticized history, to Doug’s mother, Elinor Bancroft. One is because it was written from a New York summer camp in mid-June 1929 just after he graduated from his arduous labors earning his coveted juris doctorate degree from the prestigious Harvard Law School and right before he returned to the Homestead after three years away in diligent study. The other is because it is written on very fragile and brittle birch bark, a novelty for a Californian experiencing a taste of summer in the Adirondacks!

WPT Jr TWTII EAT likely in Mass late 1920s
Walter P., Jr., Thomas W. II, and Edgar A. Temple while in Massachusetts, where they attended school, late 1920s.

The missive to “My dear No No” (the Temples were fond of cute nicknames–he was known as “Tonchy,” for example,) informed her that Thomas had “never seen a more restful spot” and he was lulled to sleep by the music of birds and frogs while enjoying hikes with friends. He assumed that the Bancrofts were “having a dandy time at Manomet,” a town on Cape Cod Bay, southeast of Boston, where we know the Temples previously visited with their relations.

Thomas also mentioned he received a telegram from Luis P. Fatjo, who married Thomas’ sister Agnes that November, imploring him to return home, but, he wrote Elinor, “I’m so in love with this country and I hate so to leave the East, that I’m afraid we shall make him wait awhile.” It appears that native southern Californian even handled the often brutal winters of New England well enough! The letter then ends with an assertion that Elinor was in “for the big shock” when Thomas returned for a last visit, admitting that “I know he’s [a third-person reference] been a very bad boy,” but he asked for his cousin’s forgiveness.

TWTII at Temple lease Montebello 1926
Thomas at the Temple oil lease near Montebello, 1926.

Unfortunately, no one could foresee the much greater shock to the world when, just over four months later, the Roaring Twenties came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in New York that ushered in the Great Depression. While Walter Temple’s finances were long in straitened circumstances and taking bonds out to finance real estate projects could not staunch the fiscal bleeding, his children appear to have been largely ignorant of just how dire the situation was when they all returned home from their respective schools (Agnes graduated from the then all-girls Dominican College near San Francisco) in summer 1929. In less than a year, the Homestead was leased to a boys’ military school and then lost in 1932 as waves of bank failures worsened the Depression.

In addition to the trio of historic artifacts, Doug also kindly provided copies of photographs from one of his mother’s photo albums and, while some were ones we’ve seen before, there were quite a few others that were new. Included was a different pose to a 1926 studio portrait of the Temples taken before they went to the East Coast to enroll Thomas and his brothers Walter, Jr. and Edgar in their respective schools (the younger boys went to Dummer Academy, now Governor’s Academy north of Boston), aside from a couple of others with which we were familiar; snapshots of the Bancroft and Temple families at Manomet, including a couple with Agnes at the beach; some photos sent to the Bancrofts from California, including a couple of the Temple oil lease and former homestead location at Whittier Narrows; and others.

Temple portrait 2 1926
Edgar, Agnes, Walter, Sr., Walter, Jr., and Thomas, 1926.

This gift and the copies of the photos are another welcome addition to the Homestead’s collection of Temple family artifacts and they, along with the other objects, help us to better tell the story of the Workmans and Temples during our interpretive period of 1830 to 1930, so we are very grateful to Doug for sharing these with us.

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