Reading Between the Lines in a Trio of Letters to William Workman by Volney E. Howard, 1854-1861

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Volney E. Howard (1809-1889) was one of the more notable figures in Los Angeles for about a quarter century from his settlement at San Gabriel in the early 1860s until his death and, as an earlier post noted, he had quite a career before his relocation, going back to his early days as a lawyer, journalist and member of Congress in Mississippi, a period in Texas where a county is named for him, and his several years in San Francisco working with land commission dealing with pre-American claims for ranchos as well as his ill-fated attempt to combat, a militia general, the infamous 1856 Vigilance Committee in that city.

After ending his service as an attorney for the land claims commission, Howard, given his experience, took on work representing claimants. Among these were Aaron Pollard and William Workman, who presented a claim for the lands of the Mission San Gabriel with co-owner of the property, Hugo Reid (also owner of Rancho Santa Anita.) Just before Reid died in December 1852 and right before the claim process was initiated with a filing before the land commission at its sole hearing in Los Angeles, Pollard half of Reid’s half-interest.

Los Angeles Star, 12 April 1862. One of the partners was an early Jewish attorney in Los Angeles, Myer J. Newmark.

In the papers donated to the Homestead by the Josette Temple Estate and originally preserved by her great-uncle John H. Temple, is a letter from 29 September 1852 from Pollard to Workman, in which the San Francisco resident wrote, “I see by the archives that you are half owner of [the lands of] Mission San Gabriel.

Having purchased one half the interest of P[erfecto] Hugo Reid, I wish to advise with you on the subject, the time by law having passed for him to redeem, it becomes my property.” Pollard added that he had copies of original grant documents “which are at your disposal should you require them.

A tax payers notice taken out by Howard when he was Los Angeles County District Attorney, Los Angeles News, 6 March 1866.

On 15 July 1854, Pollard wrote again to Workman to say that he’d received a letter from the Rancho La Puente co-owner and reporting “I have communicated with Mr. V. Howard (late of the U.S. Land Com[missio]n and he accepts your proposition.” This was to give Howard an interest in the property in exchange for his representation in federal district court proceedings that were required according to the land claims process. Notably, Pollard continued “I have made the same arrangement with Mr. Howard, one quarter; and think it the best that can be done.”

In fact, attorneys representing claimants for land acquired under Spain and México often took interests in these claims in lieu of cash and the statement that giving Howard half the claim, leaving Pollard and Workman with a quarter each, was “the best that can be done” was a likely acknowledgment that it was better to give the barrister potential proceeds, pending court rulings, than cash up front without knowing whether the claim was actually going to succeed. This, in turn, entailed some risk for Howard and the other attorneys who struck these deals for obvious reasons.

A letter from Aaron Pollard to William Workman concerning the claim to the lands of the Mission San Gabriel, 29 September 1852.

The same day as Pollard’s missive, Howard penned a letter, probably sent in conjunction with the other, to Workman to say that he’d seen the latter’s communication of the 5th “in relation to the presenting of your claim before the U.S. Land Com. for the Mission of San Gabriel” and that “I have concluded to accept your proposition.” He added,

It is important for me to have the original grant at an early day so that we may close the testimony, as the [decision in the] case may be reached in a short time. I hope you will give the necessary order and direction.

On 16 February 1856, as the claim was still pending, Howard wrote Workman from San Francisco, saying “until after the decision of the [federal] District Court, I do not think it advisable to interfere in any way with regard to the Orange Orchard.” Without naming the individual involved, evidently considered a squatter by Workman, the lawyer advised, “if the present occupant chooses to retain possession let him do so, but, I would not encourage or dissuade him from so doing.”

A letter from Pollard to Workman, 15 July 1854.

Howard continued that the matter was “a question of title between us and the Priests” who were the spiritual fathers at what became a parish church after the missions were secularized over twenty years prior with lands associated with the institutions to become private ranchos. One such of these was La Puente, a former Mission San Gabriel ranch that was granted in spring 1842 to John Rowland, with Workman officially added as an owner three years later, but over the vociferous objections of the priests, who still claimed the land.

The attorney went on to inform Workman, I Hall contest the decision of the Com[missione]rs with regard to the Orchard, believing the title to be in us.” Obviously, the ruling of that body was to approve the grant made to Reid and Workman, excepting this orange grove, but Howard cautioned, “I do not think it best to rouse any opposition from the Priests at present.” He concluded that, once the state legislative session ended, he would head south with Joseph Lancaster Brent, a member of the Assembly from Los Angeles, “and try the case at once before the federal district court in the Angel City.

Volney E. Howard’s missive to Workman, also from 15 July 1854.

Curiously, Howard added a cryptic postscript that stated, “as to that gentleman of whom you speak in your letter to me, I will take care of him,” though the reverse of the document contains a note from James Gooche telling Workman, “Tell Frank [Workman’s son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple] I shall probably be down by the next boat and will then arrange with Hamilton.”

This latter appears to have been Henry Hamilton, who purchased the Los Angeles Star newspaper four months later, but who also had an orange grove at San Gabriel—maybe this was the “present occupant” Howard alluded to in his missive? Gooche was a 62-year old merchant and father-in-law of Howard and lived in the lawyer’s household until at least 1860 when they were residing in Oakland.

Another piece of correspondence from Howard to Workman, 15 February 1856.

The last letter in the set from Howard to Workman was from 22 April 1861 and was a brief note stating:

I regret that I have not been able to see you, but am called by urgent business in court to San Francisco. I shall be back in a few weeks when I will settle for the beef cattle. Please let F[eliz] Gallardo have another beef in May, and one in June.

The lawyer had just moved to San Gabriel, from where the letter was written, though it is not known whether he settled on the former mission land that he, Pollard and Workman were claiming. After all, even though the trio won rulings by the commission (albeit with the exclusion of the orchard) and federal district court, these decisions were overturned on appeal by the federal government to the United States Supreme Court in spring 1864.

The last of the trio of missives from Howard to Workman, 22 April 1861.

As for Feliz (Felix) Gallardo, he was born in México in 1826 and was living in Los Angeles by the mid-1850s. In late November 1856, he got into a gunfight (an all-too-common occurrence in the rough Angel City in those days) with Jesús Dominguez, wounding his adversary and earning him a conviction on an assault with the intent to commit bodily injury charge. He was sentenced the following month to a year at San Quentin an appealed to the California Supreme Court, though this was denied. Gallardo was registered at the state prison in April 1858, served his stint, and then settled at San Gabriel.

It is likely that Gallardo worked for Howard for some time during the Sixties, but then moved back to Los Angeles, where he was a constable at the end of the decade and then zanjero, or superintendent of the water ditch system, in the early Seventies, followed by a stint as a deputy for the system through almost the rest of the decade.

Los Angeles Herald, 15 May 1889.

As for Howard, while he was an orange grower at San Gabriel and also was an original investor in 1865 in the Pioneer Oil Company, the first in the region, a founding trustee, the same year, of St. Vincent’s College (now Loyola Marymount University) and a stalwart of the Democratic Party, he continued to practice law, including, for many years, with his son Frank.

With the revamping of the court system and the establishment of the county Superior Court, Howard secured election as a judge and served for several years during the first half of the 1880s. Age and illness led to his retirement and, upon his death in May 1889, General Howard was lionized as one of the best-known and respected Angelenos of the previous quarter century.

Los Angeles Times, 16 May 1889.

These documents are a few of the remarkable cache of papers donated to the Museum by the Josette Temple Estate and compiled in the late 19th century by John H. Temple, owner of the Homestead from 1888 to 1899. We’ll continue sharing more of these in future posts, so be sure to look out for those.

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