by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Among the remarkable items from a recent donation by Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis of about 150 photographs, mostly of her Temple ancestors, is a carte de visite studio portrait of Los Angeles surveyor Henry Hancock, which can also be called an “occupational” image. There are several notable elements to the photo, including the fact that such views showing a person with their vocation clearly shown through clothing, equipment or other aspects, is pretty rare. Also significant is that this may be an early 1860s image, which are also hard to come by for Los Angeles issued ones, and may have been taken by French artist and early photographer Henri Penelon, though it is unattributed.
Finally, there is the association of Hancock as an early surveyor in greater Los Angeles as well as his ownership of the Rancho La Brea, west of town and where the famous La Brea tar pits are situated. Hancock, in fact, did extract and ship asphaltum from his ranch to the city during his years at La Brea, but it was his widow Ida Haraszthy and son, G. Allan, who benefited enormously from the bounty that was under the surface there when oil drilling provided him a handsome fortune.
Hancock was born in Bath, New Hampshire, a town on the border with Vermont and near the White Mountains and the Franconia Notch. After attending the Norwich Military Academy in Vermont, Hancock studied law at Harvard University (where William W. Temple and Thomas W. Temple II also pursued that course of study.) Upon graduation in 1846, Hancock headed west to St. Louis and took up work as a surveyor, but, with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, he enlisted with the First Regiment of Missouri Volunteers and was a quartermaster as that outfit fought for the Army.
The regiment was part of the force commanded by General Stephen Watts Kearny and was involved in the taking of New Mexico. Instead of proceeding to California, however, it was sent to México proper. After fighting in Texas and Chihuahua state, the regiment returned to Missouri and Hancock then spent some time in his native New Hampshire. When the Gold Rush erupted, however, he finally did make it to California, taking ship from Boston and arriving in San Francisco in September 1849.
Hancock opened a law office, but also headed to the mines and was captured with his brother John in the 1850 federal census, actually enumerated at the end of January 1851 (because of California’s September 1850 admission to the Union, the census was delayed), on the American River, the watercourse along which gold was found by James Marshall at Sutter’s Mill almost exactly two years prior. Some accounts suggest that Hancock unearthed some $20,000, a large sum, in the diggings and used that to buy land in California, but in 1852 he settled in Los Angeles and was listed in the state census (commissioned because of a low count in the federal census) as an attorney.
It was a propitious time for Hancock to arrive in the Angel City as that fall a three-person commission came down from San Francisco and convened hearings, as mandated by the federal land claims act of 1851, for claims to land grants made under Spain and México. In subsequent years, Hancock had plenty of work making surveys, another requirement of the act, for claimants, including the owners of the ranchos Azusa, San Pedro, Palos Verdes, San Francisco (in present Santa Clarita and nearby areas), San Jose (Pomona and vicinity), and La Puente, among others.
Hancock was also able, in 1853, to secure a contract to make the second official survey in Los Angeles, following the Ord Survey of 1849 (paid for by Jonathan Temple). Submitted in 1857, the survey purported to cover the four square leagues, or just under 18,000 acres, embracing the city under the grant made during the Spanish period and included what were referred to as 35-acre “donation lots.”
In later decades, after his death, it was found that Hancock made significant errors in his location of boundary and other lines and he was accused of conducting an “office” survey, meaning that he was apparently not out in the field, but doing his work somewhere in a building in the city.
Questions about his accuracy and his intentions, though, were found in other quarters. For example, when he did the Rancho Azusa survey, Hancock got into a dispute with its owner, Henry Dalton, and the acreage wound up being significantly reduced and the situation was such that, in the 1880 census, the aggrieved Dalton told the enumerator that his occupation consisted of “Fighting for My Rights.”
In his 1857 survey for the land claim pursued by John Rowland and William Workman for their Rancho La Puente, there wound up being a problem with the southern boundary adjoining the Rancho La Habra. It is not known if the matter was based on his purported “office” surveying techniques or an accident with measurements or their recording in the field notes, but there was a resolution made to the satisfaction of the owners of the two ranchos.
Hancock appears to have taken interests in ranches in lieu of payment for his surveys and this looks to be how he acquired the Rancho La Brea from the Rocha family in 1860. For many Californios, losing parts or all of their ranchos to surveyos and lawyers was a bitter result of the land claims process in addition to the economic troubles that followed when the Gold Rush waned by the mid-Fifties and such problems as floods and droughts in the first half of the Sixties came.
Hancock also had interests at Rancho Cucamonga (where he founded the Cucamonga Cañon Canal Company in 1870), the Rancho Muscupiabe, granted to Michael White in 1843 an which was embroiled in controversy involving Hancock and his brother John when they were sued by former governor Pío Pico, who secured a judgment, and the Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, which adjoined La Brea to the west.
The Rodeo de las Aguas, which Hancock acquired with Benjamin D. Wilson in 1854, embraces Beverly Hills and surrounding areas, though, at the time, it was a somewhat low-value property, suitable for some farming and stock grazing and decades away from becoming premier residential region of movie stars, capitalists and other well-to-do denizens. By the early 1860s, however, Hancock was in his own dire economic straits and lost his share of Rodeo de las Aguas to William Workman after borrowing money from the Homestead founder and being unable to repay the loan. Workman held on to the land for several years before selling it, presumably for cash to invest in the Hellman, Temple and Company bank in which he was a co-owner with son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple and merchant Isaias W. Hellman.
During the later 1860s and early 1870s, Hancock was subject to other adverse legal proceedings concerning property he owned in Los Angeles and involving such prominent figures as Mathew Keller and Prudent Beaudry. Eventually, he was basically down to his holdings at La Brea and, in the 1870 census, his self-declared personal property value was just $500, while he claimed $5,000 worth of real estate, a modest state of affairs.
A former elected county surveyor and member of the state Assembly (having narrowly defeated Andrés Pico in the 1857 campaign by just 46 votes out of over 2,700 cast) and a Union Army major at Camp Drum in Wilmington and an encampment in El Monte where Confederate sympathizers were particularly active, Hancock, in early 1865 married Ida Haraszthy. She was a daughter of Count Agoston Haraszthy, was from Budapest, Hungary and who traveled to the United States in 1840 (writing books published in his homeland of his travels) and settled in Wisconsin, where Ida was born.
The Haraszthy family came to California in the Gold Rush year of 1849, but digging for the precious metal was in their plans as Agoston intended to plant a vineyard near San Diego, where he served as county sheriff and a member of the Assembly. The family lived for a time on the San Francisco peninsula, where Agoston tried growing grapes, but found their sweet spot in Sonoma County, where he established the still-operating Buena Vista Winery. In 1869, Agoston went to Nicaragua to develop an interest in a sugar plantation but fell into a river and vanished.
Meanwhile, in early 1865, Hancock married Ida and, when the census was taken fiv years later, the couple resided in Los Anglees with her younger ster Otélia and their next-door neighbor was Thomas W. Temple, who was associated with the Hellman, Temple and Company bank at the time. The couple probably first lived in an 1856 adobe house built by Hancock amidst a 70-acre vineyard before that property was lost to Keller in a foreclosure a few years after Henry and Ida wed—this building was later publicized as the headquarters for John C. Frémont when he was in Los Angeles after its 1847 seizure during the Mexican-American War.
The Hancocks then moved to La Brea, where Henry began accelerating his aspahlatum production and shipments to Los Angeles. During the seventies, the couple had two sons, George Allan (1875-1965) and Bertram (1877-1893), but, by the time the 1880 census was taken, Ida and her sons (the latter died of typhoid fever while returning to California with his mother and brother after attending the World’s Fair at Chicago) were living in San Francisco and Ida’s marital status was checked of as “widowed” (the original mark under “married” was crossed out as if she’d changed her mind about what to tell the enumerator!).
Henry, meanwhile, was listed in the census at the La Brea ranch house, then part of the Ballona Township, and, curiously, was living with Ida’s sister Otélia. Also notable was a report in a Los Angeles newspaper that brother Arpad spent the Christmas holiday at La Brea, so it may be that the separation of Henry and Ida occurred shortly afterward and it is tempting to woner if a tryst with Otélia was involved.
Whatever transpired with the family, Henry died in early 1883 at age 60 after several weeks of illness. His obituary focused on his early years in Los Angeles with nothing said about the least two decades or so of his life. The superior Court did adjourn in his memory on the day of his death and a resolution by fellow attorneys like Cameron E. Thom (a former district attorney and then mayor), Salisbury Haley and Henry A. Barclay paid tribute to Hancock to his military service, but added:
by his integrity and ability, [he] made himself a conspicuous ornament [in court] . . . and the State loses a pure and upright man, able and energetic in his profession, one who at a loss to himself was ever willing to devote his time, energy and learning to redress the wrongs and injuries of others.
The photo shows Hancock standing in profile at the right with a pencil and notebook in hand, while a man at the left, perhaps his assistant and later successor George Hansen, has his hands on the tall tripod on which is the theodolite, or optical measuring instrument, that was a standard tool of the trade. It is interesting to see the branches laid on the floor in front of the two men and what looks like part of a thick tree trunk and other branches behind them.
While Hancock’s reputation as a surveyor came increasingly into question after his death, he was a notable figure in Los Angeles for several decades and this extremely rare occupational photograph of him and Hansen (if the identification is correct) is a remarkable and valued addition, thanks to Ruth Ann’s recent donation, to the Homestead’s photograph collection.
The museum does have another studio portrait of a surveyor in its collection, this being of Los Angeles County Surveyor and Los Angeles City Engineer Harry F. Stafford.