Navigating a New Century Postlude Postscript: “Charges of a Very Grave Nature” against Charles P. Temple, 1904

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Having survived being wounded in an 1899 duel with his former brother-in-law James Basye, shortly after the death of his first wife (and James’s sister) Rafaela and then emerged acquitted of murder in the 1902 shooting death of James’ and Rafaela’s brother Tomás, Charles P. Temple, youngest child of Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, was not yet free of legal and public notoriety when he and his second wife Susie Castino walked out of the county courthouse in Los Angeles in early 1903.

Just over a year later and only six months after their only child, Charles P., Jr., was born, Charles and Susie were embroiled in a family crisis that was exacerbated in sensational media likely because of Charles’ previous personal legal difficulties. The Los Angeles Times of 8 March 1904 under the headline of “Officers Hunting Charles Temple,” reported that the resident of the “old Temple homestead, at the town of Old Mission” was sought “in order to serve papers upon him in a divorce suit brought by his wife.”

In this, ca. 1905-06 studio portrait, Charles P. Temple, upper left, holding his namesake son, while his wife Susie Castino is seated center. At upper right are Walter P. Temple holding his son Thomas W. II, while his wife, Laura González sits at right. Seated at left is Laura’s mother, Francisca Valenzuela.

The paper added, however, that “it was also rumored last night that charges of a very grave nature have been brought against Temple, in connection with something that was alleged to have taken place yesterday, and which it is said that Temple had a prominent part.” Details, however, were not provided and it was only said that officers were headed to Puente where he was last seen.

When the deputy sheriff was contacted for more information, all he would say to a reporter was “I know nothing except rumors concerning Temple’s actions” and would not admit to any purported crime or even that he was seeking Temple, much less that he’d been Misión Vieja, though he made some vague reference to the serving of the papers.

Los Angeles Times, 8 March 1904.

The same day’s Pomona Progress, however, had a headline blaring “WANTED FOR STRANGLING HIS CHILD” and began its coverage by declaring,

Charles Temple, who two years ago was acquitted on a plea of self-defense of killing his brother-in-law, Balse [sic], is now being hunted for by officers for the murder of his 18-months- old child on Sunday night. According to reports Temple had been drinking hard at Sam Rowland’s road-house at Puente on Sunday and at evening went to the home of his father-in-law, several miles north-west of Puente, took his child out of the crib where it lay asleep, carried it out-of-doors and killed it.

There were two claims concerning this alleged homicide, one that he strangled his son and the other “that he threw [him] down and discharged both barrels of his shot gun into its helpless body, killing it instantly, and then fled.” Moreover, the piece continued, it was stated that Temple was insane, though it was added that this was “such a popular plea in murder cases.” It should also be noted that Sam Rowland was Temple’s brother-in-law (being married to Charles’ sister, Margarita A. Temple) and arrested James Basye after the 1899 duel.

Pomona Progress, 8 March 1904.

The Progress offered its view that “any man would be liable to be about as insane as a wild beast after boozing all day, especially if he was a of a beastly disposition to begin with, as Temple seems to be.” It was noted that, when he killed his brother-in-law, he was “running a blind pig,” parlance for a bar, and the incident happened during a drunken battle. The piece ended with the judgment that “the fugitive is a ‘bad man’ all around.”

The story, though, ended here without any located coverage about what happened in the search for Temple and with the rumors of his murdering his son unfounded, but a little over two months later, he was arrested when Susie filed a criminal complaint against him and charged him with insanity. The Los Angeles Express of 12 May with the headline “Fierce When He Drinks,” stated that Susie told authorities that, in the three years since their marriage, “her life . . . has been rendered wretched by her husband’s cruelties.

Reference to Charles Temple’s recent acquittal in the murder trial involving his former brother-in-law, Tomás Basye, and shortly after the recent search for him amid the unfounded rumors that he’d killed his son, Times, 24 March 1904.

Moreover, the account went on, “all of them have been occasioned by over-indulgence in liquor, for when sober the man is said to be a generous and whole-souled fellow.” Susie was reported to have said that just a month or so after the wedding in 1901, Charles brandished a gun and threatened to kill her, while, on another occasion after the birth of their son, she was nursing the baby when Charles grabbed by the hair and dragged her upstairs.

At the start of the year, she continued, she was visiting her parents near Puente and he followed her and attacked her with a knife and, when she escaped, screaming as he fled, he fired his gun at her. In the intervening months, Susie added, Charles often threatened to kill her and their son, while she also stated that he was not only a confirmed alcoholic, but also was using opium. The insanity allegation was referenced by Charles taking chickens into his room and forcing them to drink with him, including his forcing liquor down their throats if they did not imbibe on their own.

Express, 12 May 1904.

In addition to noting that he was acquitted in the murder of Tomás Basye, “though the evidence was very strong against him,” the Express recorded that Charles was formerly “possessed of considerable property left him by his father, but this has all been dissipated with the exception of about seventeen acres.” As noted in a recent post, the lands included some of the Workman Mill property which William Workman deeded his daughter Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple and which she, in turn, divided among several of her children, as well as the 50-acre Temple Homestead, which went to the youngest Temple siblings Charles and Walter on her death in early 1892.

Not quite a week later, however, the Times of the 18th reported that a hearing was held by the county lunacy commission in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Curtis Wilbur. It was reported that “when the possibility arose before the eyes of Mrs. Charles Temple of having her husband sent to the insane asylum she weakened, and went back upon the complaint which she swore to.”

Times, 18 May 1904.

It was noted that Temple was the son of an Angel City pioneer and “father of the Los Angeles water system,” which was something of an exaggeration, though F.P.F. was a founder of the private water company formed in 1868 and which had a 30-year concession to provide the life-giving fluid to the increasingly thirsty Angel City. Moreover, the account added “the Temple boys are all good looking, with the faint touch of the Spanish type that marks their mingled parentage, and Charlie is the best looking of the lot, and that despite his confession that he drinks like a fish.”

Under examination by Judge Wilbur, Temple plainly recounted, stated the Times,

that he had been drinking pretty heavily at times, and had felt the DTs [delirium tremens] coming on. Judge Wilbur asked him if he could tell, and he said he he had diagnosed the thing so close that when the parrots with cerulean whiskers and the piebald monkeys were about to make their appearance he knew it.

When, though, Temple professed to only consuming a moderate amount of the devil’s drink, Wilbur was not having any of it and wanted a more precise definition of what Charles thought “medium” constituted. Smiling, Temple replied, “Oh, well, half a gallon or a quart of whisky.” It was then that Susie told the judge that “when she had her husband arrested, he was under the influence of liquor” and then, when sober, he was “kindness itself,” but the opposite when drunk.

Times, 18 May 1904.

Dr. Henry G. Brainerd, a member of the commission and a pioneer neuroscientist, opined, “well, we’re all somewhat inclined to be that, though Wilbur countered, “yes, but we don’t all get drunk.” Walter Temple testified that his younger brother did drink a great deal, but added “he carried his load manfully, for . . . Charlie was always ready to talk business.” He continued that his brother was begged several times to quit drinking, but always fell off the wagon.

An attendant at the hospital (perhaps the county facility) where Charles was confined since his arrest, told the commission that he was inebriated when checked in “but that since he got over it he has been all right save [for] nervousness.” Charles told Wilbur,

The fact is, Your Honor that if I touch a drop it arouses the appetite and I want just a little more, and that again makes me crave a little more. But I will do my best to refrain from taking any at all.

With that, the matter was dismissed based on Susie’s decision to drop the charge “and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Temple went off happily together.” For the moment, the divorce filing was still active and “really the husband is liable for any trouble he may occasion her, as he was enjoined from interfering either with her or the baby in any way.” The piece ended with the observation that Charles played with his son before the proceeding began and Susie “did not appear to bear her husband any particular malice.”

The funeral of Charles P. Temple in the cast-iron fenced plot at El Campo Santo Cemetery (with the John Rowland tombstone behind the casket), fall 1918. When Walter P. Temple completed the mausoleum adjacent to the plot in spring 1921, the remains of Charles and other family members were reinterred there.

The marriage did hold for the next fourteen years, though Charles continued to struggle with alcoholism during at least part of that time, as mentioned in letters from his sister Lucinda and her husband Manuel Zuñiga, Charles’ business partner in the enterprise at the Basye Adobe at the end of the 19th century.

For intervals, when the Zuñigas were living in the copper mining boom town of Clifton, Arizona, near Tucson, Charles joined them, though, in the 1910 federal census, he, Susie and Charles, Jr. were living at Santa Monica. When Walter P. Temple became the remarkable beneficiary of an oil fortune from wells drilled on his Misión Vieja property just west of the Basye Adobe, where he lived after 1912, Charles may have received some financial assistance.

A military school portrait of Charles P. Temple, Jr., ca. 1920.

The revenues from the oil production began in summer 1917, but Charles only lived another year or so longer, dying in Glendale in October 1918. While Walter was owner of the Workman Homestead, the 75-acre ranch was leased to a Japanese farmer named Yatsuda and nothing could be done on the property until that contract expired on the first day of 1919—excepting Charles’ funeral in what remained of the desecrated and largely destroyed El Campo Santo Cemetery, the restoration and improvement of which was one of Walter’s priorities when he took actual possession of the ranch.

Walter also took on the responsibility for completing the education of Charles, Jr., who was 15 when his father died. The young man was sent to military school and the University of Southern California dental school while living with his mother in the Venice area of Los Angeles. When Charles, Jr. graduated and got his license to practice he moved to Ventura where he was supported in opening his practice and where he lived until his death in 1960, while Susie, who remarried, stayed in Venice until she died in 1952.

Charles P. Temple, left, and second wife Arvella Valla, right, with Charles’ cousins, Agnes and Thomas Temple at the south porch of the Workman House, ca. 1928.

This three-part post is certainly not meant to sensationalize the personal and legal travails of Charles P. Temple as the 19th century closed and the 20th century began, but to note that virtually any family has members who have serious problems and major issues and that these are part and parcel of its history. One of the most relatable and notable aspects of the story of the Workman and Temple family are the ups and downs it experienced over the Homestead’s interpretive period of 1830 to 1930.

6 thoughts

  1. I read about my family and wish I could have known my grandma and grandpa Temple. History comes alive

  2. Hi Ruth Ann, we’re glad that the stories of your family history come alive for you and thanks again for your support. Obviously, there is much more to come, including next year’s centennial of Temple City!

  3. “Fierce When He Drinks. . . . . when sober, he was “kindness itself,”
    Comments and newspaper reports like this certainly play directly into the national debate about Prohibition that was happening during this time.

    Alcoholism as a condition, was unknown then (and barely understood today) but the 19th century understanding that if, perhaps, if we can just keep alcohol away from everyone, then maybe we can save folks like this(?) Leads directly into the adoption of the 18th amendment.

    You didn’t mention the cause of death for Charles in 1918. Was it alcohol related?

  4. Hi Jim, thanks for the comment and the second part of this post noted that the California Anti-Saloon League sought to target Charles Temple’s La Paloma Club after his killing of Tomás Basye as part of its efforts to curb alcohol sales and consumption as much as possible—a campaign also highlighted in some posts on this blog concerning the League and its work leading to local restrictions and, finally, national Prohibition. The notion of alcoholism as a disease is important, as you note, as well. As for Charles’ death, no obituary was located, so, unless a death certificate is found, the cause is not yet known, though it may very well be that alcoholism as a contributing factor.

  5. Yes, the ASL! Go, Wayne Wheeler!

    What surprised me was the political overtones (opinions?) about alcohol that were included in what were ostensibly news pieces, and over several years. Some of the statements were right out of the ASL or WCTU propaganda, but unless you are familiar with that prohibition material (as most 21st people are not) you would not recognize it and perhaps they were hoping that the 19th century readers wouldn’t readily recognize the source either.

    Today it is Fox news vs CNN. Supposedly unbiased news reporting, but really not much more than veiled commentary and opinion pieces. It was interesting to see this identical press behavior happening many decades ago, and will probably happen long into the future.
    The First amendment forever!

  6. Hi Jim, the term “yellow journalism” may not be used anymore but it has, as you note, always been there and always will be and we now have the electronic/digital/virtual/viral permutations of it. Thanks for the comment.

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