Reading Between the Lines in Letters from Jeanette Friend de Temple to Laura González and Francisca Valenzuela, 1893-1894

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Among the many remarkable historical artifacts donated to the Homestead by the estate of the late Josette Temple, whose grandparents Walter P. Temple and Laura González began the construction of the amazing family house La Casa Nueva a century ago this summer, are family letters dating from 1842 and extending to our the end of the Museum’s interpretive period at 1930.

Obviously, we learn a great deal from these missives from family members, including the ups and downs they experiences and to much of which, hopefully, those reading them generations later can relate in some way. This certainly could be the case with the cache of correspondence coming from this gift and involving several letters written to Walter and Laura, as well as to her mother Francisca Valenzuela, from their sister-in-law, Jeanette Friend de Temple (1854-1928.)

Jeanette, commonly known as Nettie, was born in Van Buren County in the southeastern portion of Iowa, to Jonathan Friend and Amanda Woodworth. Her father was born in Illinois and was married to Susannah Holcomb there, though his wife died in 1846, leaving him with two surviving daughters, and, when news of the California Gold Rush was received a few years later, he headed to seek his fortune.

The Friend family enumerated (lines 32-36) in Butte County in northern California in the 1860 census.

When the 1850 census was taken, John Friend was in Butte County, where Oroville and Chico are now the principal cities, though he went back to the Midwest and, in July 1852, married Cynthia Amanda Woodworth. She was the daughter of John D. Woodworth and Susannah Williams and there became a very strong greater Los Angeles connection here, beginning with the fact that Susannah’s brother, Isaac Williams, migrated to Mexican-era Los Angeles and married Maria de Jesús Lugo, daughter of the prominent Californio rancher Antonio María Lugo.

Lugo was the owner of the Rancho San Antonio, which bordered Los Angeles to the southeast and encompasses such areas as Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, and other local communities, but he also received a grant, in 1841, to the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, east of Los Angeles in what became San Bernardino County. Williams was given the ranch by his father-in-law and built up a princely domain at Chino over the course of the next fifteen years.

Jeanette with her stepfather, mother, sister and half-sister, lines 20-24, in the 1870 census at Los Angeles.

Just after John Friend married Amanda Woodworth, her brother Wallace, headed to California and joined his uncle at Chino. In 1856, Isaac Williams died and Wallace headed into Los Angeles, where he became the business partner of William H. Perry in the Perry and Woodworth lumber company. By 1858, John D. Woodworth brought his family out to Los Angeles, where he became a postmaster, justice of the peace and farmer, including at San Gabriel.

Another Woodworth child, Alice, married Thomas H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, though Thomas died in the 1863 explosion of the steamer, Ada Hancock, and Alice, who then married schoolteacher Henry D. Barrows, only lived a few more years before dying in childbirth in 1868.

In the meantime, John and Amanda Friend were in Iowa briefly, including when Nettie was born, but they, too, migrated to California, but went to John’s former stomping grounds in Butte County, where he resumed mining in Oregon City, a town west of what is now Oroville Lake. They remained there until John died in August 1861 and the widow and her children, including Nettie, quickly came to Los Angeles to join her Woodworth family.

Arizona Star, 21 March 1882.

By the end of the year, and rather quickly by the mourning standards of the time (perhaps the Friend marriage was troubled?), Amanda married an engineer, James Gilday, at her brother’s Los Angeles house. Nettie was then seven years old and, notably, she was listed as Gilday in the 1870 census. How exactly she met Thomas W. Temple, the eldest child of Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of William and Nicolasa, and F.P.F. Temple is not known, but Los Angeles wasn’t that big a place.

Moreover, Thomas was a cashier at the Temple and Workman bank owned by his father and grandfather. Perhaps Nettie or members of her family were depositors and they met in the institution, though it could also have been through any number of social gatherings in the Angel City, which was undergoing its first major boom period during the late 1860s and first half of the subsequent decade.

Arizona Citizen, 7 April 1884.

Thomas was previously married, his first wife being Maria Refugia Martínez, a relative of Encarnación Martínez, who was the first wife of John Rowland, Rancho La Puente co-owner with William Workman. The couple were married at Mission San Gabriel in 1866, but Refugia died in childbirth fewer than three years later. Before their marriage, Thomas had a daughter, Zoraida, out of wedlock with María Petra Bermudez, but it is not known if he was involved in her life at all.

In the early 1870s, Thomas was a prominent young figure in the Angel City, with his banking position augmented by service as a founding trustee of the Los Angeles Public Library and his social connections such that he was known as “Lord Chesterfield” for his manners, bearing and dress. Yet, when the Temple and Workman bank failed in early 1876, the inventory that followed revealed he was in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars to the institution.

Despite the calamity and just less than two weeks after the terrible tragedy of his grandfather William Workman’s suicide in May 1876, Thomas and Jeanette were married in San Mateo, south of San Francisco. After living in Los Angeles for nearly two years, Thomas was given some property by his mother, whose landholdings were not included as collateral for loan made by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin to the stricken bank, and her built a house on the tract, located on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo close to the Temple Homestead on the adjacent Rancho La Merced.

Thomas’ efforts as a farmer, though, lasted just a few years and he declared bankruptcy in the summer of 1880, just after the death of his father. Once that proceeding ended, he and Nettie had a son (whose name is not yet known) and the couple then headed to Tucson, Arizona, which had many connections to Los Angeles and where Thomas had a mine in the nearby Tyndall district.

The Temples, however, headed south to Hermosillo, Sonora, México after also visiting the adjoining state of Chihuahua to investigate further mining and real estate opportunities. Thomas first opened an exchange, mining and commission business in Hermosillo, considered returning to banking there, but also operated a clubroom.

After a couple of years there, he and Nettie returned to Tucson, where Thomas set up a concern for mining, cattle sales and land dealing and, at some point during these years, tragedy struck the Temples when their young son died. By mid-1885, the couple was back in Los Angeles, where Thomas got involved in real estate and utility development companies doing business in México before he became, early in 1886, a proprietor of La Crónica, the long-time Spanish-language newspaper in the Angel City.

He remained in this occupation, while also dabbling in Republican Party politics, including a run for city clerk, until his death from the flu in early 1892, during which time his mother and grandmother also succumbed to the virus, which was then in a pandemic stage. Nettie, a widow in her late thirties, decided to move to San Francisco, where her younger sister Emma Jamison once resided, but was then living elsewhere.

It was from there, on 29 December 1893, that she wrote to Laura González and her biological mother Francisca Valenzuela, then living in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and began by telling them that “beleiving [sic] you both to be almost the best friends I have on earth, I am going to ask you to help me out of my trouble. I am out of work & my room rent is due.”

She asked the two to contact her late husband’s younger sister, Lucinda Temple de Zuñiga, then living with her husband, Manuel Zuñiga, in an adobe house at the Misión Vieja, or Old Mission community, near the Temple Homestead, that also served as a store, saloon and billiard parlor, for a small loan.

Nettie told Laura and Francisca that she made, at most, a dollar a day, and begged them to tell Lucie not to say anything to “the boys,” meaning Walter and Charles Temple “because they do not like me. In a postscript, Nettie, who signed herself as “Josefina,” perhaps her Spanish equivalent for Jeanette, said she asked for the confidence of the mother and daughter “because I know you both loved Tomas too.

She also asked, “Have you ever been to his grave?” located at El Campo Santo Cemetery at the Homestead, adding “How I hope you have,” and went on to request “a long letter & tell me all, for you can imagine what my life is alone.” Nettie concluded by saying her rent was $8 a month “the cheapest room I can get in a respectable family” and observing that “I know Lucie still loves me, for she loved Tom.”

On 8 January 1894, she wrote Laura and Francisca again reminding them “I wrote to you telling you what trouble I was in & asking you to tell Lucie and ask her if she would help me pay my rent for my room for this month.” She continued that she’d been promised a job for the next month, but reiterated “tell her not tell the boys, because they do not like me & might be angry with her if they thought she helped me.”

She again appealed to the two women for sympathy by saying, “Pancha [a nickname for Francisca], you & Lorenza [Laura’s name in Spanish] can think how hard I must struggle to live & it comes very hard for me to ask a favor, but I would rather ask it of Lucie than any one else—she understands me.”

Asking them to reply quickly, she noted “I can only send you both my love for I am too heartsick to write” and implored, “Help me Pancha if you can” because “I do not write to Lucie, because Manuel might get it and blame Lucie” and added, “Tell her all.” She requested them to ask Lucinda for five dollars and that she would pay it back “if I ever earn it over my room rent & what I need to eat.” Nettie signed herself, “your loving and heart-broken friend.”

In 1893-1894, Nettie lived in the Tenderloin section of San Francisco and those years were hard for many Americans because of the terrible Depression of 1893, and the situation was still dire when she wrote another letter to Laura and Francisca. this one dated 5 November 1894 (which happened to be the 43rd anniversary of the arrival of the Rowland and Workman Expedition in greater Los Angeles.) She’d moved to a room on Montgomery Street, where the iconic Transamerica Pyramid building now stands.

Penned on the letterhead of the Pacific American Company, which issued a journal “Devoted to Military & Naval Affairs, the Grand Army of the Republic [the Union Army during the Civil War] and American Interests in the Pacific,” though it is not known if she worked for the firm, the letter began with Nettie telling the two “Don’t think that because I write to you when in trouble that that is the only time I think of you.”

She went on, “No, I consider you both among the truest friends I have on earth” and added that she wished they were in San Francisco because “there is enough to see without ever spending a cent to entertain you a month or so.” Having said this, however, Nettie continued, “It is such a struggle for me to make enough for me to live, that I hardly ever go out in the evening.”

Then she turned to the reason for the correspondence, prefacing again with “I know that Walter and Charlie do not like me, but tell them how I am placed & ask them if they won’t send me ten dollars to help me to get back to my Mother’s.” Cynthia Amanda Gilday ran the Euclid Villa on Seventh Street, between Main and Los Angeles streets, and Nettie told her correspondents “she will give me a home if I can only get there and “may be if Panch asks them they will.” She solicited Laura and Francisca to “do me this favor” and “I will never forget it.”

Continuing that she prayed for succor and would “do nothing but watch the Post until I hear from you,” Nettie asked for a reply, “even if they refuse me, but I hardly think they will, for their Brother’s sake that is gone.” If ten dollars was not possible, she would take any amount “& I will starve myself to earn the rest.”

She requested news of the family and asked to have her love sent to Lucinda, the other Temple daughter, Margarita Temple Rowland, and Anita Davoust, the wife of John H. Temple, owner of the Homestead. Concluding by asking for photos of everyone she mentioned, including Laura and Francisca, Nettie once again begged, “do what you can to help me, I am so friendless.”

Whether or not any more money was sent, the financially struggling widow (it was hard, of course, for single women to make it on their own in these difficult years) did not relocate to Los Angeles and remained in San Francisco for more than a decade. When she did migrate back to the Angel City, it was in late April 1906 and the reason will be discussed in tomorrow’s post, which continues with more of Nettie’s letters, this time to Walter Temple and Laura González, who were then a married couple of about two-and-a-half years. So, please, check back with us about this time tomorrow!

2 thoughts

  1. Sad to read Nettie’s letters over and over asking for succor, which vividly revealed how a poor woman was struggling financially. It also highlighted the importance of our current social service systems, which can, if not being abused, well protect people from living in dire conditions unless they voluntarily so choose.

    Couldn’t wait to see the Part II post. As to the reason of her departure from SF in late April 1906, I guess she was forced to leave after the mid-April earthquake.

  2. Thanks, Larry, for your comment and we hope the wait for the second post was worth it! These letters are certainly notable for their content of Nettie’s struggles as a widowed woman trying to cope during tough economic times, as well as for other reasons.

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