Reading Between the Lines in a Letter from William W. Temple to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, 12 November 1880

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Among the many historic artifacts bequeathed to the Homestead by the late Josette Temple is tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s holdings, a remarkable copy letter from William W. Temple (1851-1917) to Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin and written on 12 November 1880. Before going into the missive, which is a handwritten copy of the original sent to the well-known San Francisco capitalist, and its extraordinary contents, it may be helpful to provide some background into the circumstances leading up to the writing of the document.

Temple, the third child of Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, and F.P.F. Temple, was educated at the private school at the Workman House at the Homestead before studying at the University of Santa Clara at its preparatory school (basically, a high school.) After a period in the early Seventies in San Francisco, including reading with the law firm of Williams and Thornton, and a brief return to Los Angeles, he traveled to Massachusetts, the home state of his father, F.P.F. Temple, a successful rancher, farmer, businessman and banker (then in partnership with father-in-law William Workman and Los Angeles merchant extraordinaire Isaias W. Hellman as Hellman, Temple and Company) to attend the prestigious law school at Harvard University.

Upon earning his degree in 1874, William then headed to London, where he took courses at the famous training ground for “barristers” known as the Inns of Court. He was there for about a year-and-a-half when the stunning news reached him of the suspension of the Temple and Workman bank, created after Hellman dissolved the earlier institution, which was followed by the arrangement after intense, prolonged negotiations by F.P.F. Temple for a loan from Baldwin. As F.P.F. wrote on 20 November 1875 to Workman when the deal was reached, the loan was “on rather hard terms” with respect to accrued interest and required payments, but he expressed hope that the bank would be saved as the institution reopened to great fanfare on 6 December.

William W Temple 2010.1.1.1
William W. Temple in 1869 while he was a student in the preparatory high school at Santa Clara College and perhaps a member of the state militia.

Meanwhile, William rushed back from England and, at age 24, with little practical experience aside from brief tenures with law firms in San Francisco and Los Angeles, was immediately thrown into a staggeringly complex and difficult situation. A notebook in the Homestead’s collection suggests that one of his first tasks was to research deeds for property owned by his father and grandfather and put down as collateral, or security, for the loan. There wasn’t much time for him to get acclimated to the issues much less adjusted to returning home as additional funds provided by Baldwin ($130,000 on top of the original $210,000 loan) were quickly withdrawn by depositors eager to close their accouunts—and, perhaps, open new ones at Hellmans’s Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank.

On 13 January 1876, Temple and Workman permanently closed and an inventory released a few weeks later showed that the bank was woefully managed. With most of the owners’ assets tied up as mortgaged to Baldwin’s loan, it became quickly apparent that creditors would not be recouping much from the remains. As for William, he was rapidly caught up in trying to represent his father and grandfather in bankruptcy proceedings as they sought to stave off further financial liability (and even as F.P.F. was taking office, in March, as Los Angeles County treasurer!)

Even the most experienced and hardened of attorneys would have been hard-pressed to meet the myriad challenges of this daunting task and William, despite several years of effort, for which he was likely not well compensated, was clearly intellectually and emotionally spent by the time Baldwin, patiently waiting as the interest accrued to the level that no one could pay back the loan, foreclosed more than three years after the bank’s failure.

1880 census Temples La Merced
The 1880 federal census enumeration of the Temple family at Misión Vieja, the community in the Whittier Narrows formerly part of Rancho La Merced and nearby ranchos. Counted on 18-19 June, just a couple months after F.P.F. Temple’s death, are his widow Margarita (listed as Antonia); the three youngest of their eight surviving children (Margarita, Walter and Charles); an adopted daughter, Andrea; Mrs. Temple’s mother Nicolasa Workman; Julia Davis Montigue, who lived with the family for years; and two Indian servants, a cook and a laundress. Julia Montigue’s mother and siblings were in the household below the Temples. William’s letter to Baldwin was written about five months later.

By 1879, when the foreclosure was finalized and Baldwin took possession of tens of thousands of acres of land in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles, including the Workman and Temple homesteads on the ranchos La Puente and La Merced (the latter being in Whittier Narrows), William decided to leave the area and went to San Francisco where he enlisted in the Army at the famous Presidio. He was stationed there when he wrote his letter to Baldwin and he made himself abundantly clear about where he stood on several issues.

The letter began with the statements that William received a visit from William W. Jenkins, a figure of some note in Los Angeles and who came to the Angel City from his native Ohio with his brother Charles and his parents, including step-father George Dalton, whose brother, Henry, owned the Rancho Azusa, bordering on the north the Workmans’ portion of Rancho La Puente. Jenkins was involved in a dramatic 1856 incident when, as a deputized constable ordered to serve a writ of attachment for a debt on Antonio Ruiz, the two got in a scuffle and Jenkins shot and killed Ruiz. A near-riot ensued, though Jenkins was acquitted of any wrongdoing.


Later, Jenkins resided along the San Gabriel River just south of the Temples and their Rancho La Merced homestead and became quite friendly with the family. When F.P.F. Temple died in April 1880, Jenkins wound up briefly becoming executor of the estate and descendants of his had, until quite recently, Temple’s metal deed box and some of his personal papers. William wrote Baldwin that “among other things [Jenkins] mentioned something concerning a deed from Mrs. Temple to yourself etc.” While this was not specified, it likely had to do with some property involving the foreclosure for which she signed away any interest in exchange for a deal regarding the homestead where she resided and William tersely explained:

I told Jenkins that I would have no dealings with him whatsoever and hope he will keep away from me. Concerning those [Workman and Temple] Homesteds, I am certain considering the assurances you have given and our agreement on the subject, that you will carry out your promises faithfully and honorably.

William went on to state that he felt that Baldwin “would not be the means of driving Frank away from his home or Mrs. Temple and the children from the Merced,” the former referring to his older brother Francis W. Temple, who was the winemaker for William Workman at La Puente and continued to live at the Homestead after his grandfather’s suicide four-and-a-half years earlier.

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With regard to the family homesteads, William told Baldwin that he denied any financial interest in the properties and cautioned the capitalist that “I hope we will not be disturbed in the peaceful and continuous possesion of a few acres of land sear and sacred to us by the most endearing associations.” He added that “Frank makes you most favorable propositions concerning Potrero Grande,” this dealing with a 4,400-acre ranch in what is now South El Monte that William Workman acquired and then, in 1862, deeded to his daughter, which meant that it was not included as collateral for the loan. In October, Baldwin sold the Workman Homestead, comprising the 75 acres including the house, El Campo Santo Cemetery and outbuildings, to Francis for $5,000, so some dealing appears to have been in the works.

Sadly, Margarita Temple, perhaps out of desperation having lost her husband of 35 years, decided to marry and well before generally accepted rules of etiquette about proper mourning. The 50-year old wedded Louis Linott, who was French and Latino and lived in San Gabriel, and it was likely even more concerning that he was not quite half her age. The marriage, however, did not last more than a couple of months, almost certainly because of the reaction of Margarita’s older children and William told Baldwin:

Mrs. Temple’s conduct to herself, her children and her friends has in no way been creditable, but at the same time while I hope never to see or speak to her again, I sincerely and heartily forgive her her faults and wish and earnestly hope that she may peaceably and quietly end her days in her old home.

He went to recommend to Baldwin, adding that he had no interest in the La Merced homestead, that “a deed be made to her of the Homestead for life, with remainder in fee simple [the main kind of ownership of land] to her sons and daughters Maggie [Margarita], Lucinda, Charley, an Walter.” These were the four youngest of the eight surviving (of eleven) Temple children, ranging from 8 to 20 years, but, as for the four eldest, aged 24 to 34, Baldwin was informed that “John, Tom, Frank and myself can take care of ourselves.”


The missive concluded with William’s admonition “that you will settle this matter without delay in a lawful, just and proper manner,” he signed himself “very respectfully your ob[edien]t s[er]v[an]t.” Baldwin did, in April 1881, sell the Temple Homestead of 50 acres to Margarita Temple for $3,000, though family lore has it that Francis took a train to San Francisco to confront the wily capitalist and force him to make the deal. As for William, he remained in the Army for several more years, spent some time in New Mexico after his discharge, and lived for years in México, not returning to California until some three decades after he wrote this letter.

The author of interesting essays about woman suffrage and the relationship of revolutionary México and the United States shortly after he came back to the Golden State, Temple’s health broke down and he spent much of his last several years in institutions, with support from his brother Walter. Just as the latter was readying to reap the rewards of oil found on land formerly owned by F.P.F. Temple and lost to Baldwin in the bank loan foreclsure, William died in a Los Angeles hospital in February 1917.

Four months later, Temple oil well #1 came in and, with the money that rolled in from royalties, Walter purchased the Workman Homestead. After renovating El Campo Santo Cemetery, which was mostly in ruins after a non-family owner desecrated the burial ground earlier in the century, and erecting the Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum, Walter had the remains of William, along with many other family members, reinterred in the new structure.


William’s amazing letter is reflective of a period of great turmoil, turbulence and tragedy for the Temples, coming after the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank, which devastated the family’s finances and other aspects of their lives and which engendered tremendous stress for the young lawyer who looks to have been overwhelmed by the experience. Particularly moving are his statements about his mother, who, understandably, was facing daunting challenges with three children at home, uncertainty about her homestead and other problems.

As we receive donations like that from Josette Temple’s estate and from other family members, we obviously learn more about the Workman and Temple families, including the peaks and valleys of their experiences. This letter is definitely descriptive of a downturn for them, but it is a valuable document nonetheless.

2 thoughts

  1. Excellent article. I remember this letter in one of the most memorable chapters of your book on the Workman and Temple families, which I first read 13 years ago. The letter captures all that the family went through at the time and it’s after effects. I enjoyed seeing excerpts of the original letter.

  2. Thanks Arthur for the comment and we’re glad you remember the letter from way back when and then got to see the scans of the original! As you said, we want to show the story of the family with their ups and downs because, hopefully, many of us can relate in some way to those experiences.

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