by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This second of two parts of a post focusing on a Temple and Workman bank check issued on 16 September 1872 by the institution’s president, F.P.F. Temple, on the account of his silent partner William Workman for $200 directed towards Joseph Walter Drown, continues the story of Drown from where the first part left off last night.
In that initial portion, we discussed the tragedy that occurred in February 1853 when the nine-month old Drown was on the steamship Independence off the west coast of the lower section of Baja California, México, when the vessel foundered on rocks at the Isla Santa Margarita and then caught fire. Of 400 passengers, almost 40% lost their lives, including Drown’s mother Adeline Dickey, who clung to ship debris while her husband, Ezra, swam with their son to shore and then returned for Adeline, who, however, drowned in the meantime.
A grief-stricken Ezra took little Walter to greater Los Angeles, where Adeline’s family, residing in El Monte, was waiting for them. The little one lived with his grandparents while his father, feted with a dinner and drinks soon after arrival in the Angel City, embarked on a legal career that included two stints as Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Ezra, whose adventures in Fairfield, Iowa, where he met and married Adeline and was a lawyer, prosecuting attorney and militia general, were, according to a friend, tarnished with unethical and illegal behavior, seems to have been popular and respected during his years in Los Angeles. When he died on 17 August 1863 at San Juan Capistrano, while at the end of his tenure as the D.A., however, he left little behind for his son.
It is not known how William Workman became associated with Drown. Perhaps it was when the Dickey family, who moved to San Bernardino in 1856 with Walter in their household, resided at El Monte, just a short distance west from Workman’s Rancho La Puente. Maybe Drown represented Workman in legal proceedings during his decade in practice in the Angel City. Whatever the connection, Workman became the legal guardian of the 11-year-old Walter, who moved in with the wealthy rancher and his wife Nicolasa Urioste not long after his father’s death.
At the time, the Workmans had a private school at their house, though that portion of the residence does not survive, having been razed when the structure was significantly remodeled by 1870. His teacher was likely Frederick Lambourn, who also served as the foreman for Workman’s more than 24,000 acres of the substantial La Puente ranch, which was nearly 50,000 acres.
At age 16, Drown was sent north to Santa Clara College, the Jesuit institution where some of the sons of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple were educated, including William, who was at the school at the time Drown began his education there for what was probably the equivalent of high school. While he was at the school, F.P.F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman welcomed their tenth of eleven children, Walter, perhaps named for Drown.
In 1871, Drown graduated from Santa Clara and returned to La Puente where, according to a 1920s biographical sketch likely provided by his wife for a regional history by journalist, playwright, California poet laureate and member of Congress John Steven McGroarty, best known for his immensely popular, but patently paternalistic, Mission Play at San Gabriel, he became the superintendent for Workman’s portion of La Puente, including management of the winery just south of the Workman House where the Homestead Museum Gallery is situated now. It seems very likely this check was issued to pay Drown for his work as ranch foreman.
Drown, the account continued, was given 2,000 acres of the ranch, likely in the vast plain to the north of the Homestead that is roughly bounded on the south by Valley Boulevard, on the north by Interstate 10, on the east by Azusa Avenue and on the west by Interstate 605 and the San Gabriel River, on which he planted wheat in 1874. It was stated that drought ruined the crop, though, and nearly bankrupted the young man.
That year, Drown figured prominently in an incident at William Workman’s grist mill, situated at the base of the Puente Hills near the San Gabriel River in what is part of the City of Industry. Lambourn, who may have been replaced as superintendent of Workman’s ranch by Drown for the purpose, went into business with the miller William F. Turner in operating a store at the Workman Mill.
In early June, Jesús Romo, a former employee of neighboring ranchero Don Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California and a compadre of F.P.F. Temple and Workman, attempted to rob the store and, while Turner was showing him a pair of boots, Romo attacked him by trying to cut his throat. Turner managed to wrestle free and ran to his adjacent house to get a gun, but was passed by his wife, Rebecca, who was sprinting toward the store with the pistol when she heard her husband cry out.
In the confusion and chaos, Rebecca tried to fire the weapon at Romo, but her finger was caught in the hammer. She dropped the gun and ran back toward her house, but Romo grabbed the pistol and fired, with a bullet lodging in her shoulder. In addition to the injury, Rebecca who fell to the ground, also lost her unborn child.
A manhunt ensued as Romo took refuge in the dense growth of trees and other plant material along the banks of the river. When he was found, and was wounded during the capture, the local constable for El Monte Township began to take him to Los Angeles, but a small group of masked men stopped him and seized Romo, taking him to a nearby tree and lynching him in what was one of the last of its kind recorded in the region.
Rebecca Turner’s memoir, published in 1960 in a very small run, revealed that the vigilantes were Jacob Schlessinger, an El Monte merchant, Lambourn (whose close ties with the Turners were manifested in his cursing Romo as he pulled the hanging man’s body downward to hasten his death—and then went on, in 1875, to win election to the state assembly, with some voters perhaps aware of what he had done and approving of it) and Drown. In her recollections, Rebecca spoke very highly of Drown. More on the Romo lynching can be found in a multi-part post on this blog.
In 1875, Drown sold what he could of the equipment and the little that survived of his wheat crop, but, after five years as foreman for Workman, the situation drastically transformed in the face of the failure of the Temple and Workman bank in early 1876 and the subsequent suicide of Drown’s aged guardian that May.
It may be that Drown took over the Workman Mill store, as Turner and Lambourn ended up opening a wholesale mercantile establishment on Aliso Street in Los Angeles, though it is not entirely clear where the La Puente enterprise was situated. All we know is that in its 19 March 1877 issue, the Los Angeles Express briefly reported that “the store of Mr. J.W. Drown, situated on the Puente Ranch, about one mile from the schoolhouse, was burned to the ground.” The La Puente School, later Temple School, on the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, is just a short distance west, perhaps close to two miles, so the Mill site may be the likeliest one for the store mentioned in the article.
Drown appears to have stayed at La Puente subsequently, though his appointment as a precinct judge and inspector for county elections at Old Mission, or Misión Vieja, the community in which the La Puente School was located and where the Temple family had lived since the early 1850s, might indicate that he either resided in that area or traveled there from the Workman Homestead to serve in those capacities.
In September 1876, Drown married Isabella Kelly, a native of Grass Valley in the upper reaches of the gold country northeast of Sacramento. Their first child, Martha Josephine, was born at the La Puente Ranch in September 1877, though she died at just 13 months, while a second daughter, Alice, was born there at the end of 1879. When the federal census of 1880 was conducted, the Drown family resided in a separate household next to that of Francis W. Temple, who also helped with the operation of the Workman winery and then stayed on to run it while the status of the Workman estate was being worked out.
In 1879, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who loaned $340,000 to the Temple and Workman bank with La Puente and other landholdings as security or collateral, finally foreclosed on the loan after the interest accumulated to the extent that, at some $550,000, it was all but certain that no one could redeem it. A few months after the 1880 census was conducted, Francis Temple arranged with Baldwin to buy 75 acres including the Workman House, winery and other buildings, El Campo Santo Cemetery and other aspects in what was called the La Puente or Workman Homestead.
In the early Eighties, however, Drown moved to Los Angeles and became the foreman for another William Workman, this being William Henry, nephew of the late La Puente rancher. William H. Workman was the prime founder several years earlier of the Boyle Heights community across the river from downtown Los Angeles and had an extensive estate of vineyards and orchards, the earliest of which were planted by Esteban López and Tomas Rubio in the 1830s and then expanded by Andrew Boyle after 1858. Workman, married to Boyle’s daughter Maria (pronounced Mah-rye-ah), was also a prominent figure as a several-term member of the Board of Education and Common [City] Council and a long-time saddler with elder brother, Elijah.
While Drown was long associated with Workman in managing the estate, the McGroarty biographical sketch also stated the worked in sales for eleven years for Lambourn (who lived in Boyle Heights) and Turner’s wholesale grocery business. For a couple of years, he also had a real estate partnership with Charles A. Bell, also of Boyle Heights (Bell made news in town when, in 1890, he vanished after absconding with county funds while an assistant assessor).
When Workman ran for mayor in 1886, as Los Angeles and its environs were in the early stages of the great Boom of the Eighties, he was criticized by opponents for his purportedly pro-Chinese hiring of farm workers at a time when anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant and virulent. To deal with this attack on his campaign, Workman had Drown issue a statement to the Angel City press, published just before the election in early December in which the latter attested:
I have been Mr. Workman’s foreman for five years. Mr. Workman has uniformly instructed me to get all the white men I could and to employ them in preference to anyone else, and I have only employed Chinamen upon the place when it has been obsolutely [sic] necessary to do so. Had I not done so Mr. Workman’s crops would have perished . . . For instance, I have found from personal experience that a white man who endeavors to irrigate vines and trees to any great extent runs the risk of becoming seriously ill . . . Mr. Workman has two Chinamen employed to do this kind of work.
Drown offered the editor of another Los Angeles newspaper the opportunity to be paid a fair wage for doing irrigating at Workman’s place if he wishes “to test the accuracy of my statement in this regard.” Workman secured election and was mayor in 1887 and 1888 (terms were not four years until the mid-1920s) during the peak years of the boom while, perhaps due to his long-time boss’ influence, Drown served for a few months as the interim superintendent of streets in the Angel City in 1888-1889.
In 1892, however, Workman, who served as a parks commissioner (he being instrumental in the development of Hollenbeck and Westlake parks), tested the waters for a second run at the chief executive office. When he was challenged by other hopefuls in the city’s 9th Ward, including Boyle Heights, there were accusations that Drown, as purported henchman for Workman, played hardball with opponents in a local Democratic party canvass.
Drown, described by the Los Angeles Herald of 11 November, as “a large and powerful man” and as “The Voluble Mr. Drown,” appeared before a police commission meeting, because a couple of off-duty officers were said to have been hired by Workman to protect his interests at the canvass, and “talked very rapidly and very plausibly in [on] behalf of the officers, who he said had done all in their power to preserve order” at the contentious confab.
The remaining seven years of Drown’s life appears to have been spent quietly, perhaps his years with Lambourn and Turner comprised the end of the Eighties and through most of the subsequent decade. In August 1899, Drown died of heart failure at age 47 and was survived by Isabella and two daughters and two sons. Little was known about his connection to the Workman and Temple family until the mid-1990s when a grandson, also named Walter, came to the Homestead with a question.
He mentioned to me that he was told that great-aunt was buried at El Campo Santo, but that he knew nothing more about it, other than the general location. It so happened that, when I first started working at the Homestead, there was a fragment of a tombstone from one of the graves in that northern portion. When I retrieved it from storage, all that was visible were several letters that appeared to be most of the name “Nettie” and part of a “D” for the last name and a partial date and Walter Drown excitedly confirmed that this, indeed, was his relative, the eldest child, Martha, who died in 1878, as the 1910 census recorded that Isabella had five children with four then still living.
Later donations from Temple family members have included photos of Isabella Drown and a baby, an 1865 document for William Workman’s sale of Ezra Drown’s law books for the benefit of his son, and, more recently, this check. These “fragments” of history are part of a larger story of some interest for our local history going as far back as 1853 and are testaments to how historical objects can be interpretive tools for us to learn more about our area.