by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It’s a beautiful spring day, but I didn’t mind being indoors this afternoon because of sharing history with back-to-back presentations for the Homestead and for Boyle Heights Community Partners. The topics had quite a parallel, with the first one for the museum discussing the Workman and Temple families in 1860s Los Angeles and the second for the BHCP concerning Andrew A. Boyle and his years between 1858 and 1871 living at Paredon Blanco (White Bluff) on the east bank of the Los Angeles River in what became, a few years after his death, the neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
With respect to the Workman and Temple families, Boyle and other residents of greater Los Angeles, the Sixties did not begain auspiciously and the first half of that decade was one of immense devastation and destruction due to deluge and drought. In other words, an El Niño condition hit the region at the end of 1861 and into the first month of the following year during which estimates are that up to about 50 inches of rain fell in the space of several weeks. Imagine that, given that our so-called “normal” is about 15 inches and the last two years we’ve only had about four each.
Beyond this, there was no flood control at that time, so much of California, including the massive Central Valley and our Los Angeles basin was literally underwater. Because of a sparse population, the loss of human live was not necessarily numerically great, but thousands of cattle, on which the local economy largely depended, were killed. That cattle economy was already in dire straits because of the end of the Gold Rush, lower demand for beef cattle and competiton for what was wanted with imported longhorns, among other factors. The drought was a staggering blow to an already reeling industry.
Then came the La Niña counterpart, in which drier conditions result. In 1863 and 1864, estimates are that some four inches a rain fell each year, but, unlike now, where we import water from other sources, locals had to rely on what was available to them in the immediate area. Those cattle that were left after the flooding of 1861-62 were subject to horrific conditions with little to eat or drink. John H. Temple, a grandson of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and who was a boy of seven and eight at the time, remembered his grandfather shooting cattle in the corrals to save what he could of the hides for sale and that some 2,000 animals were slaughtered.
Others, however, were saved when, in 1864, William Wolfskill, a longtime friend of the Workman and Temple families, inadvertently found grass growing just off the north slope of the San Bernardino Mountains north of modern Big Bear and Arrowhead lakes in the lower Mojave Desert and invited the Rowlands, Temples and Workmans to send their cattle with his to pasture. This undoubtedly kept the financial misery from worsening considerably and, after well over a year, with the drought over, the animals were brought back.
William Workman still had up to 5,000 head of stock for several years more, but he greatly expanded his agricultural production on his nearly 25,000-acre half portion of Rancho La Puente. Most of this was dedicated to wheat and John H. Temple recorded that some 5,000 acres north of the Homestead in what is now West Covina and Baldwin Park were planted to this crop, which did not require irrigation, and the headquarters of the Wheatfield Ranch, as it was known, was in the western extreme of the San José Hills.
There were other field crops, including barley and corn, that were raised, but the other major cash crop were wine grapes, something the Workmans began growing in the 1840s. While they expanded their vineyards over time, the big change in the mid-Sixties was the construction of three brick wineries just south of their home. Unfortunately, we don’t know how widespread the sale of the wine produced at the Homestead was, though it has been said that some was sent back to Boston, near where Workman’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, was from. At that time, a grist mill was built at the southwest corner of Workman’s ranch near where San José Creek, which usually had water year-round, emptied into the San Gabriel River.
Another major change during that last half of the Sixties was the end of the arduous land claims process, by which the federal government required proof from ranch owners of a legitimate grant under Mexico or Spain and approval by a commission, followed by a federal court, of the claim. The feds automatically appealed each successful decision for the claimant, sometimes as far as the United States Supreme Court, as the policy was to free up as much land as possible for income settlers to California.
In the case of La Puente, Rowland and Workman had to hire a Washington lawyer, in addition to the great expense of local attorneys and the cost of required surveys, to pursue their claim in the nation’s capital. This resulted in the issuing of a patent in April 1867, nearly fifteen years after they filed, whereas F.P.F. Temple and Juan Matias Sánchez of Rancho La Merced had to wait twenty years for their patent. These were on either side of the average of seventeen years, during which the Gold Rush ended, the flood and drought happened, people died and property was divided among heirs, lawyers took payment in land, and other conditions existed which led to the loss of many ranches. By 1870, most of the ranches in greater Los Angeles were well on their way to being broken up and subdivided into small farms and towns.
While the Workmans maintained their vast domain through the Sixties, son-in-law F.P.F. Temple, while a sucessful rancher and farmer, became increasingly more attuned to the small, but growing, business community in Los Angeles and was very eager to take part in the boom that was underway. In 1865, he and a partner bought a large tract on the Rancho San Pedro and developed what became Compton. A few years later, Temple joined the Los Angeles Water Works, a private distributor of Los Angeles River water to the town, and the Los Angeles Woolen Mill Company, which formed as sheep raising became very popular.
As Temple entered more into business activity, he centered his own building in Los Angeles in the Temple Block, which his brother, Jonathan, owned and developed over the course of roughly thirty-five years. Jonathan, long a prominent Angeleno, left for San Francisco not long before his death in 1866, selling his 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos to Flint, Bixby and Company (sheep raisers of long-standing) for pennies on the dollar. After his death, Jonathan’s widow, Rafaela Cota, sold the Temple Block to her brother-in-law for $15,000 and F.P.F. began adding new structures to it in 1868.
That same year, he and father-in-law Workman entered into what looked like the perfect business arrangement with the brilliant young merchant, Isaias W. Hellman, one of the first Jews to settle in the Angel City. Not long after the first bank, Hayward and Company, was launched, Hellman, Temple and Company opened its doors in fall 1868 in the newly completed Pico Building, erected by ex-governor Pío Pico, better known for his Pico House hotel further north on Main Street. With Hellman using his abundant abilities as managing cashier, the bank should’ve been a roaring success, building lasting wealth for Workman and Temple. That story, however, awaits the next presentation in this series!
In the meantime, William and Nicolasa Workman’s three nephews rose to prominence during the sixties. After their father, David, died driving stock to the gold mines for his brother, the three young men and their mother moved into Los Angeles. The eldest, Thomas, went to work for Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” of Wilmington, and was the head clerk for the powerful capitalist’s enterprise. In April 1863, however, a squall tipped over the small steamer in which Banning, Workman and many others were on as they were being taken to a larger craft when the boiler exploded. The Ada Hancock disaster claimed the lives of many people, including young Tom Workman, who had a promising career ahead of him.
His younger brothers, Elijah and William Henry, were already owners of a successful saddlery and harness business, which continued to grow over the years and the pair also began to become quite well-known in political circles, as well. Whereas Thomas was a Republican, as his boss was a leader in that party, Elijah and William Henry were staunch Democrats. The former served on the Los Angeles Common (City) Council at the end of the sixties, while the latter was ascending within the Democratic Party and would attain great heights in subsequent years and decades.
William Henry also elevated his financial position significantly when, in 1867, he married Maria (pronounced Mah-rye-ah) Boyle, the only child of Andrew A. Boyle, proprietor of a boot and shoe store and manufacturer of wine and brandy on his property at Paredon Blanco (White Bluff), a section of town on the east bank of the Los Angeles River. Boyle’s story formed the basis for the second talk to Boyle Heights Community Parrners and a notable one it is.
Boyle, who was just seventeen, joined a revolutionary force that was anhiliated by Mexican forces at the Battle of Goliad. Wounded, Boyle was spared when a Mexican general, who promised Boyle’s sister to save him, took him and arranged for a parole. The young man wound up in New Orleans where he became a merchant, operating in Mexico and other areas around the Gulf. One of the few documents located for him in that period was an early 1850 registration for transporting a slave by ship and, while it is assumed, he owned the 40-year old man, the context is not known.
He was born in 1818 in Ireland as Andrew Aloysius O’Boyle, but came to the United States in his early teens after his father left for America to seek work and then his mother died, leaving the children to head for the U.S. to (unsuccessfully) find their father. Some of the O’Boyle brood joined an Irish colony in Mexican Texas called San Patricio de Hibernia (St. Patrick of Ireland), situated near modern Corpus Christi. They had not been there long when Americans and Europeans launched a revolution against Mexican rule that led to the formation of the Republic of Texas.
Married to Elizabeth Christie, a native of British Guyana, and with whom he had daughter Maria, Boyle was on one of his frequent voyages and was carrying thousands of dollars with him when the ship he was on sank in the Gulf of México. News reached New Orleans that there were no survivors and his devastated wife fell into a fever and died just before an elated Boyle returned home. Distraught after the tragedy, Boyle decided to take up an offer to sell a consignment of boots and shoes in San Francisco, leaving his daughter in care of his wife’s family, while he made the trip to California.
As noted in a recent post here, Boyle kept a diary for most of his journey in the early months of 1851 from New Orleans via Havana to Chagres, Panama and then across the isthmus to the Pacific coast and another steamship trip along the coast. The pocket diary, donated to the Homestead some fifteen years ago, is full of interesting anecdotes and impressions for the journey, though Boyle ran out of paper just as California was being reached. Still, it is a remarkable artifact of a journey many thousands of gold seekers and others, like Boyle, took at the time.
Little is known of Boyle’s years in San Francisco and, though his boot and shoe store burned a couple of time, he seems to have done well for himself. He sent for his daughter and sister-in-law (letters to and from father and daughter survived with the diary) to join him in California. Soon after, in 1858, the trio migrated to Los Angeles and Boyle bought land in Paredon Blanco from Petra Varela, widow of Esteban López, who was granted the land by the ayuntamiento, or town council, nearly a quarter century ago.
Inheriting vineyards planted by López, Boyle continued with the raising of wine grapes and, after five years, issued his first vintage under the Paredon Blanco. He sold the product out of his boot and shoe store located at Main and Arcadia streets just south of the Plaza and about where U.S. 101 runs through downtown now. Meanwhile, he built a brick house on the bluff at Paredon Blanco. Boyle was somewhat prominent in community activities, including service on the Common Council, but, at just 52 years, he died in February 1871.
Notably, the Democratic-leaning Los Angeles Star had a glowing obituary, while the Republican organ, the Los Angeles News, noted that, while he had many friends, he’d made a number of enemies with his “impulsive disposition.” Also importantly, Boyle, widely known for his surviving of the Battle of Goliad, dictated his reminscences of that event just before his death and these were published in the two aforementioned papers after his demise.
Within five years, William Henry Workman, who built a significant level of wealth from Paredon Blanco, in addition to the saddlery and harness business he ran with Elijah, paid tribute to his father-in-law with the formation of Boyle Heights, a story to be picked up with the next two talks for the Homestead (slated for mid-September) and the BHCP on 16 May.