“All That Glitters in the Gilded Age” Preview: A Triple Tragedy for the Workman and Temple Family in Early 1892

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead’s series of Workman and Temple family history presentations, launched two years ago when the pandemic struck, is now in its seventh “episode” as we’ve followed them from their arrival in Mexican California and through each decade starting in the 1840s onward. This Saturday, we pick up the stories with “All that Glitters in the Gilded Age” which covers the last decade of the 19th century, known as the Gay Nineties as well as the Gilded Age, though there was plenty going on for a great many people that was not at all reflective of rising wealth and more leisure time as seen in innumerable films and television shows.

One of the aspects of the history of the Workman and Temple family that resonated with people is the ups-and-downs experienced by various branches and members over the century from 1830 to 1930 that is our interpretive period. This “triumphs and tragedies” component is relatable to many of us because we can often readily find comparisons in our own family histories.

For Saturday’s talk, out of a decade that featured no small amount of tribulations with financial insecurity and decline and the resulting loss of property, likely the most dramatic and heart-rending example of personal loss came in just a few weeks in late January and early February 1892 in the midst of an epidemic, one of many frequent ones, of influenza.

Los Angeles Times, 26 January 1892.

In this case, the triple tragedy involved Nicolasa Urioste de Workman, the 90-year old matriarch of the Workman and Temple clan from the eastern San Gabriel Valley, her 61-year old daughter Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, and Mrs. Temple’s eldest child, 45-year old Thomas, all contracted the highly contagious and virulent virus and died from its consequences.

The illness struck Mrs. Temple first and she passed away in the Workman House, owned by her son John H. Temple, in the early afternoon of 24 January and one report, reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle of two days later, stated that “another old-time resident has succumbed the grip, which yesterday carried off Mrs. A.M.W. De Temple, wife of the late F.P.F. Temple and the daughter of William Workman, at the age of 61.”

The Los Angeles Times of the same date, noted the malady was “la grippe” and that she was “confined to her bed but one week,” suggestive of a particularly vicious form of the sickness. The paper went on to state that “she was a friend, indeed, to the poor who were in need, rendered assistance to them in want and in her death the many hundreds of people who received from her ready hand will mourn her loss.”

With respect to “la grippe,” an 1899 article by Dr. Jacob E. Gilcreest in the Journal of the American Medical Association observed that “influenza, la grippe or epidemic catarrhal fever may be defined as a specific epidemic and contagious disease, caused by a specific bacillus. This disease spreads rapidly over wide districts of country, causing marked febrile symptoms, is often attended by serious complications and causes great and prolonged prostration of strength.” Gilcreest added, “It has been more prevalent since 1890 than during any previous decade, having spread nearly all over the country in 1890, in April and May, 1891, and in the winter of 1891-92.”

Los Angeles Herald, 6 February 1892.

About a week-and-a-half after her daughter died, Mrs. Workman passed away in the early morning hours of 4 February at the home of her daughter at the Temple Homestead in the Whittier Narrows. She may have been gone there to be nursed by her daughter, who then contracted the illness. The initial report in the Times was that she was the mother of former Mayor William H. Workman, though this was quickly corrected when it was realized that her son was Joseph M. Workman, who lived next door to his cousin (William H.’s mother, Nancy Hook Workman, died five years prior.)

The Los Angeles Herald of the 6th added that Mrs. Workman was also the mother of Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple “who died recently at Puente.” But, in an editorial on a separate page, the paper went into some of the earlier unfortunate history of the family:

The death of Mrs. Wm. Workman, at the ripe age of ninety, recalls a tragic episode in the history of Los Angeles. Mrs. Workman’s husband [well, her, too!] was one of the earliest [American or European] settlers in this valley. . . Mr. Workman and Mr. Rowland took up the Puente ranch, and there he and his family lived till he died. One of his daughters [the only]—who also died a few days ago . . . married F.P.F. Temple, a brother of Don Juan Temple. The Temple & Workman bank was started by the latter, the father-in-law putting in his share of capital, but taking no active part in the business of the institution. In 1876, when the bank finally collapsed, it carried with it not only all the immense estate and assets belonging to it, bankrupting many of our people, but the home and ranch of Mr. Workman were involved in the ruin. When Mr. Workman found himself bereft of the savings of a long and frugal life, and realized that he was thrown upon the world, by no act of his, penniless in his old age, he ended his troubles by suicide.

The piece ended by noting that Mrs. Workman lived her remaining days with her daughter at the Temple Homestead. The account was reprinted in the San Francisco Examiner, while, likely because of her advanced age (when a common expression of the time was that persons living to adulthood were generally hoping to achieve “three score and ten,” or seventy, years of life), news of her death appeared in many California papers and even one in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada (where Temple and Workman bank cashier Arthur Bullock later ended his days.)

Herald, 6 February 1892.

On 11 February, just a week after Mrs. Workman passed away, her grandson Thomas W. Temple, succumbed to pneumonia caused by the flu. Thomas was another key figure in the Temple and Workman bank disaster. Born in November 1846 and the eldest of the eleven children, eight of whom lived to adulthood, of Antonia Margarita and F.P.F., Thomas was groomed to a business career and an early endeavor was his becoming a partner in a tinware firm in Los Angeles.

When his father and grandfather established their bank in 1871, Thomas became a cashier, working daily alongside the manager, Henry S. Ledyard, while he also became widely known in Los Angeles social circles, during the city’s first boom, as “Lord Chesterfield” for his courtly manners and fine sense of fashion. He built a comfortable house on Third Street near Main, which was in the upper-end residential district in the Angel City at the time and was a founding trustee of the Los Angeles Public Library among other social activities.

Yet, when the bank failed and the inventory was released, it was revealed that Thomas was indebted to the institution to tune of tens of thousands of dollars, one of the many mismanagement matters manifested to the public when the document was covered in the press. Married shortly after the demise of Temple and Workman to Jeanette Friend, Thomas settled on some land that his mother owned near the family homestead and tried his hand at farming.

Herald, 13 February 1892.

During part of the 1880s, Thomas and his wife spent some years in México, though that time was also marred by tragedy as their young son died there. When the couple returned to Los Angeles, Thomas became a partner in companies that dealt in real estate and utilities in México and then he became the publisher of La Crónica [The Chronicle,] the long-running Spanish-language newspaper in the Angel City. Also involved in Republican Party politics, Thomas was running the sheet when he met his untimely end.

The Herald of 13 February (which happened to be the birthdate of F.P.F. Temple, who would have achieved his “three score and ten” had he not died in 1880 of a stroke due to the stress of his business failure) discussed Thomas, or “‘Tommy’ Temple, as he was familiarly known to old residents,” as his passing was “the third death in the Temple family during the past eight days”—actually, it was eighteen days.

After observing that he was of the family whose name graced the Temple Block and Temple Street, the paper added that Thomas “was for some years editor of La Cronica” and then briefly alluded to the troubles of the past:

The once extensive family estates and the interminable litigation to which their affairs gave rise have made the name known to everyone familiar with happenings in Los Angeles during late years. And there be many who will say, God rest his soul.

Thanks to the recent donation of the estate of Josette Temple, great-granddaughter of Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, and to its preservation before that by John H. Temple, then-owner of the Homestead, tonight’s highlighted object for this post is a document recorded on 15 April 1892 with Los Angeles County by John as part of the probate for his brother Francis, who died four years prior after owning the Homestead following the suicide of their grandfather William Workman.

The affidavit, sworn to notary public and attorney Charles Udell of Los Angeles, stipulated that John was one of the devisees in Francis’ will “in which . . . it is provided that the devisees of the Workman Homestead shall maintain Mrs. Nicolasa U. de Workman and Mrs. A.M.W. Temple during their life time.” John further attested that “both of said parties mentioned, died in Los Angeles County, California, in the months of January and February, 1892” as verified by attached documents.

This included a short note, dated 26 March, by Dr. R.T. Burr of Pomona, who confirmed that “I attended Mrs. A.M.W. de Temple during her last sickness from Jan. 18th to Jan. 24th, 1892” and that “she died from Pneumonia on Jan 24th, 1892.” Burr, incidentally, enlisted six years later as a surgeon with U.S. Army when it invaded Cuba during the Mexican-American War and remained in that country.

Also appended is the death certificate for Nicolasa Workman, completed by Los Angeles undertakers Orr and Sutch, and which showed that she died at 2:40 a.m. at “La Merced Ranch” and which listed her of the “Spanish” race. Benjamin F. Orr came to this area, settling in Orange, in 1875 and, a couple of years later, joined long-time undertaker Victor Ponet in business. William H. Sutch then became a partner and remained with Orr when Ponet left, but then departed by the end of 1892.

A physician’s certificate at the bottom of the document stated that Dr. Frederick P. Cave, a graduate of the University of New York City Medical Department, attended her for three weeks from 10 January to 3 February and the the cause of death was “Pneumonia & old age.” Cave, after a few months in Monrovia after arriving in this area from the east coast in 1888, set up a practice in El Monte, where, four years later, he opened the city’s first drug store. He also owned a walnut grove east of Puente and remained a resident of El Monte until his death in 1907.

So, hopefully, this brief discussion of the terrible tragedy that the Temples suffered during a flu epidemic in early 1892 will inspire you to join us on Saturday afternoon at 2 to hear more about the highs and lows of the Workman and Temple family during the 1890s. We certainly hope to either see you in person or via Zoom!

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