by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The key event in this afternoon’s fifth installment of a series of presentations on the history of the Workman and Temple families was the terrible disaster of the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank during a financial panic in 1875-76. The story has been told here before of the poor management of the privately run institution and how this was not exposed until a silver mine stock bubble involving prospecting at Virginia City, Nevada burst in San Francisco, leading to the failure of the Bank of California, the Golden State’s largest financial institution.
The news was relayed south by telegraph and instigated a run on Temple and Workman and its only competitor, Farmers and Merchants, led by Isaias W. Hellman, the former partner of F.P.F. Temple and William Workman, and who made sure he ran a tight and well-managed business. So, while Hellman’s bank weathered the storm, Temple and Workman, after seeking loans for three months and finally obtaining one from Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, albeit “on rather hard terms” as Temple wrote Workman in late November 1875, could not forestall the inevitable.
In trying to survive, however, they took out just over $340,000 in loans with interest set so that there would be significant accumulations of it the longer the loan went unpaid. But, it was just a matter of five weeks from reopening before, on 13 January 1876, the doors permanently closed on the doomed bank, with the closure being the first major business failure in the city’s history.
Within a few months, William Workman, the devastated silent partner who was visited earlier in the day by a court receiver, committed suicide by shooting himself in his house. F.P.F. Temple, who took office as county treasurer in March (he was elected on 1 September 1875 when his bank went into a thirty-day suspension to try and fend off jittery depositors seeking their funds), suffered a series of strokes, the last of which ended his life in April 1880. Not only was the disaster terrible for the Workman and Temple families, but it was part of an economic downturn that lasted for nearly a decade.
Then there was the institution’s managing cashier, Henry Sheppard Ledyard, whose troubled life also came to a horrible end in November 1890. Born in Westminster Township, now part of London, Ontario, Canada, roughly halfway between Toronto and Detroit in 1843, Ledyard was the second of seven children born to Edward, a native of Wiltshire County, England, west of London, and Emilia, who hailed from Scotland, both of whom emigrated separately through New York in the early 1830s before winding up married in Canada by the end of the decade.
Nothing could be found of Ledyard’s early life, though, in 1869, he and his wife Caroline, sailed from New York to San Francisco, where he quickly found employment as a bank cashier (which institution has not yet been identified). In any case, his stay in that city was brief as he turned up in Los Angeles to become Temple and Workman’s head cashier, his subordinate was Temple’s eldest son, Thomas.
The first half of the Seventies was a period of rapid growth in the Angel City and F.P.F. Temple was not just Ledyard’s employer, he was also his partner in several business projects, including the Centinela townsite and subdivision in today’s Inglewood area; the first version of Alhambra through the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Association; the Cerro Gordo Water and Mining Company in the silver mines of Inyo County at the state’s eastern edge; and at Rancho San Jacinto Nuevo near modern Hemet and where the two had a sawmill processing trees from the mountains not far from today’s Idyllwild.
On his own, Ledyard pursued real estate interests, with several landholdings in Los Angeles, including homes on Third and Spring streets and then at Washington and Charity (renamed Grand Avenue), the latter being a five-acre property. In July 1873, he also acquired, for the princely sum of over $20,000, two mining tracts along the Colorado River in Mohave County, Arizona Territory. Like many people during boom times, Ledyard was angling to make his pile, but, as happens all too often, trouble ensued with that panic that broke out in late summer 1875.
Despite the recent death of his wife, Ledyard continued to run the counter at the bank and, when interviewed on 27 August by the Los Angeles Express about the financial crisis emanating from the north, he projected confidence and calm. He admitted that the troubles “will have a bad effect for a time in disturbing general confidence, and stagnating business,” but went on to say that “the Los Angeles banks are all sound” and when the reporter followed up about that, reaffirmed that “it could not be better.”
He accompanied Temple to San Francisco to make the rounds seeking financial relief and was there when the Baldwin deal was reached. When the bank reopened on 6 December, the Express reported that “for one person who called upon business, at least a dozen were engaged in the pleasant task of congratulating Mr. Temple” adding that
Mr. Ledyard, who so long has stood behind the counter with an imperturbable good humor and courtesy, turning a smiling and unwrinkled front upon anxious depositors during the suspension of the Bank, was also the recipient of many attentions.
That unflappable demeanor, however, could not hide what Ledyard must have known: that the bank was in dire straits. Indeed, the closure came and, when assignees Edward F. Spence, a banker and future mayor of Los Angeles (1884-1886), and Daniel Freeman, a partner in the Centinela plan and owner of that large ranch, undertook the inventory of the bank’s affairs, the shock that was felt when it was released to the public, was palpable.
Not only was the institution badly run, so that, for instance, basic indexing of the books was halted just a short time after it opened, and loans and overdrafts were accumulated by what the Los Angeles Star bluntly called “an unparallelled array of dead beats,” but Ledyard was found to be a debtor, as were F.P.F. and Thomas Temple, to the bank to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
Still, at a creditors’ meeting in early March, the Express reported, attorney Anson Brunson, who, with his partner Jackson Graves, handled a great many cases of creditors suing the bank’s owners, told those gathered that Ledyard “was an honest man; that he had used the capital [he handled] for the benefit of the bank; that he had assigned all of his property; and that he had enough to pay all his indebtedness and leave him afloat.”
This did not stop, Temple, however, from both filing a civil action against Ledyard, but issuing a criminal complaint of embezzlement. This appears to have stemmed from the use of $16,000 of bank funds for unstated business purposes, perhaps those mining tracts in Arizona. While Temple sat for a couple of days of intense examination by the district attorney and Ledyard’s defense counsel, it turned out that the three-year statute of limitations had expired. The judge, however, also ruled that there was insufficient evidence in the matter.
By summer, Temple and Ledyard, as partners and individuals, declared bankruptcy, though the latter was able to find employment as a clerk in the federal land office, thanks to the fact that a future brother-in-law, was one of the agents. Later in 1876, a sheriff’s sale disposed of Ledyard’s five-acre home property and other holdings, though whether he was able to remain “afloat” beyond treading water is unknown.
In 1877, he married Gertrude R. Mellus, whose mother was descended from the Guirado family of the Los Nietos area in modern Downey, Santa Fe Springs and surrounding areas and whose father was Henry Mellus, a native, like F.P.F. Temple, of Massachusetts. The couple remained in Los Angeles for just a short time, however, as, by 1880, they were residing in San Francisco (Ledyard’s father and several siblings were in the Bay Area by then, as well), where Ledyard worked in a bank.
Within a couple of years, he was a clerk (though not handling money directly) at the Bank of California, where was reconstituted by Baldwin and other capitalists, and remained with that institution for several years. In September 1887, however, the San Francisco Examiner reported that, on the 20th, Ledyard failed to appear at the bank for work and then did not return home that evening. The police were called, but he was not located for several days until he turned up at the Alameda Swimming Baths where “he was straying aimlessly about, and when addressed it was discovered that he was out of his mind.”
Three more years went by and, in August 1890, a man filed a recovery suit in the San Francisco Justices’ Court concerning a $200 note he executed for Ledyard and George Frier, who was married to one of Ledyard’s sister and who’d worked in banking. Ledyard promised to have funds garnished from his wages at the Bank of California, but no money actually was applied to the debt.
The following month, perhaps to escape from his obligations, Ledyard and his wife wound up at the newly established town of Redondo Beach, southwest of Los Angeles. There he and Getrude’s brother, Fred Mellus, opened a real estate and insurance business in a new brick building. On 2 November, it was reported that Gertrude, after thirteen years of marriage, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter. A little more than two weeks later, tragedy struck.
Reports varied as to what happened on 20 November, with one stating that Ledyard went out with young Samuel Hamilton, the son of Gertude’s sister, Adelaide, for what was said to be rabbit hunting. Armed with a rifle, he, one account said, managed to elude his nephew and went into a barn owned by the Redondo Beach Land Company. Another account said that the two were busy with some unstated work in the structure.
What transpired when the young man testified at the coroner’s inquest was that Samuel found Ledyard asleep on some sacks. The Express noted that Hamilton woke his uncle up “and after looking around a moment stepped behind a bale of sacks, about five feet high.” He then heard a gunshot and rushed to Ledyard’s side. The fatally wounded man had tied a string to his finger and attached it to the rifle’s trigger, placed the weapon on the ground so that the muzzle was against his chest, and fired, sending the round through the left side.
He told his nephew to quickly give him a kiss and then died very quickly and it was also stated that Ledyard had been drinking considerably of late because his wife had been confined for the past two weeks to her bed—this suggests that their daughter died very soon after birth and that Gertrude was either physically or mentally (perhaps both) in distress. There were also statements that financial worries were praying on the mind of the unfortunate suicide.
The Los Angeles Times opened its account by stating,
Henry S. Ledyard lived 50 years and then concluded that life was a failure. After an existence of over a half century [he was actually 47], during whch time he followed various vocations and encountered many rough knocks, he concluded to end the chapter himself.
Neither the Express or the Times made any mention of Ledyard’s past with the Temple and Workman bank, but their contemporary, the Herald did. In its account, which varied considerably from the coroner’s inquest findings, the paper noted “Ledyard was one of the tellers in the ill-fated Temple and Workman bank, the suspension of which will still be remembered by some of the older residents [the Boom of the 1880s had just ended, during which tens of thousands of people settled in Los Angeles] of the city.”
The day after the suicide, the Herald added much more, saying that
The violent death at his own hands of Mr. H.S. Ledyard, recalls an eventful and disastrous period in the history of Los Angeles. In 1876, when the Bank of California suspended and [President William C.] Ralston drowned himself [accounts at the time suggested he had a stroke during his daily swim in the Bay and drowned], a monetary panic spread all over the state. Mr. Ledyard was at that time the chief teller of the Temple & Workman bank of this city. It was a popular institution, and may of our people had their all in it. [After providing some details of the bank’s failure . . .] Old William Workman, finding that, through no fault of his, for he had never set foot in the bank, his whole fortune had been swallowed up in the disaster, fell into a deep melancholy, and in a moment of aberration killed himself in the same way that Ledyard has just done [while Temple was, it continued, in a few months [actually four years] “released from the burthen of his sorrows by death”] . . . Many of the depositors who had been ruined by the failure became hopeless wrecks, and the whole country was so seriously affected by the disaster that it took several years for it to recover.
The article ended by claiming that if Ledyard had not worked at the bank, he “would now be a prosperous and happy gentleman,” as if he had nothing to do with the abysmal management of the institution. There were many times when the magnitude of the bank’s collapse were talked about in these terms, which is why the event was covered in some detail in today’s talk as something of watershed moment for Los Angeles and its first significant and sustained period of growth from the late Sixties through the mid Seventies.
As for the unfortunate widow, Gertrude Ledyard never remarried. She remained in the Los Angeles area for several years, but wound up in Alameda, where Ledyard’s father lived until his death in 1903 at 92 years of age, and, in the 1900 census, was recorded as a “divine healer” in a house with others of that profession. In 1920, she was in Fresno, where she was a housekeeper for a family, though, by mid-decade, she’d returned south and spent the rest of her life in Glendale, where she died at age 81 in 1938.
The series of talks on the history of the Workman and Temple families will continue with a look at their lives during the 1880s, including how “Lucky” Baldwin sold small portions of the family ranches back to them and how the nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman rose to be mayor of Los Angeles during the famous boom, along with other stories. There is no date set yet, but be sure to check our website for further details.