Reading Between the Lines While Working the Land: A Letter from Nicolasa Urioste de Workman to Richard Garvey, 21 November 1880

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Documentation about Nicolasa Urioste de Workman (1802-1892) is so rare that the wife of William Workman, co-owner of the Rancho La Puente, is almost a shadow person. There are no no known identifiable photographs of her, references to her can basically be counted on two hands and, yet, she lived almost the entirety of the 19th century. She was born in Spanish-era New Mexico in the pueblo of Taos and, quite likely, had at least some indigenous ancestry (her having her two children baptized in the church in the Indian pueblo there is certainly indicative if not definitive.)

She became the common-law wife of William, an English-born merchant and distiller, by the late 1820s and bore and raised the couple’s children, Antonia Margarita (1830-1892) and José Manuel (1833-1901). In fall 1841, she and her family braved the arduous journey west along the Old Spanish Trail through harsh, forbidding landscapes to Los Angeles and then set up a primitive home on La Puente until the adobe house, still with us at the Museum, could be completed in 1842.

Los Angeles Herald, 7 December 1879.

We know that she ran a household in almost complete anonymity for decades, although it is telling that, when her husband decided, having made a small fortune in cattle ranching during the Gold Rush years, to build a small, but handsomely decorated, brick chapel in the family’s El Campo Santo (also still at the Homestead), he named it St. Nicholas’ after his spouse. A letter from a great-niece who may never have met the couple claimed that William couldn’t speak Spanish, which seems impossible given that he lived about a quarter century in Mexican territory and had Latino friends, employees and others in his circle, and Nicolasa did not understand English—which does seem more plausible—, but are we to believe husband and wife only spoke through interpreters or used hand signals?

In any case, after close to a half century together and almost 35 years at Rancho La Puente, a terrible tragedy struck the couple when the Temple and Workman bank collapsed in Los Angeles and the estates of William and son-in-law F.P.F. Temple (Margarita’s husband) went into receivership. When William committed suicide on 17 May 1876, one account stated that he’d been visited by the receiver earlier in the day, which seemed to suggest that Workman believed that the financial ruin which loomed was likely to soon become a reality. Whatever the circumstance, Nicolasa was left, at 74 years of age, a widow amid an overwhelming amount of uncertainty.

Los Angeles Express, 2 October 1880.

It is unclear how much of her time was spent at her long-time house at La Puente and how much with her daughter at the Temple family homestead on Rancho La Merced, some six miles west. When the 1880 census was taken, for example, Nicolasa was enumerated in the Temple household, though she may have been there for a visit. A letter several years later by her grandson Walter to his beau and (much) later wife, Laura González, clearly stated that Señora Workman was residing at her home at La Puente on the 75-acre homestead owned by another grandson, Francis W. Temple. When she died in February 1892, during a flu epidemic that claimed the lives of her daughter and the eldest of her grandchildren in a three-week span, she was with her daughter, but that may have been for medical attention and convalescence.

How Nicolasa was provided for financially is also somewhat hazy, though it seems obvious that family members took care of her after her husband’s tragic death. Despite the almost complete disaster that beset the family economically, some land was set aside, mainly through bequests from William Workman to Margarita. At the end of 1879, the latter conveyed a life estate (apparently with the intent that the property would revert back to Señora Temple after her mother’s death—though, as noted above, the latter died just days after the former) in 100 acres of the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, adjacent to La Merced in what is now South El Monte, to her mother.

The enumeration of the Carrasco family on the Nicolasa Urioste de Workman property at Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo in the 1880 federal census, with the neighbors being the James D. Durfee family.

In early October 1880, Nicolasa conveyed a deed of trust “to secure payment for services and advances by grantee” to William W. Jenkins, a family friend who was briefly the executor of F.P.F. Temple’s estate and of his minor children Margarita, Walter and Charles. It appears that, in remuneration for this work, Jenkins received the deed of trust instead of a mortgage. A little over a year later, the featured artifact for this post, which came as part of a recent donation from the estate of Señora Workman’s great-great granddaughter Josette Temple, was created.

It is a 21 November 1881 letter from Nicolasa to Richard Garvey, though, because she was illiterate and signed with an “X” as was usual for those who could not write, the document looks to have been penned by her grandson John H. Temple, while it was witnessed by Edwin Beswick. All of these figures resided or owned property in close proximity to one another as the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, as mentioned earlier, was located just northwest within several hundred yards of the Temple homestead.

The 1882 Los Angeles County Directory shows “Jesus Carasco” as well as Garvey, both with his personal ownership of 2,677 acres and the more than 34,000 acres he managed as receiver of the former Workman and Temple estate, though that role ended a few years prior.

John H. Temple, for example, had a 160-acre tract given to him by his mother where the Whittier Narrows Nature Center is today on the east side of Durfee Avenue. Located near the Durfees, who acquired some of the land from the Temples in the late 1860s, was Beswick, a native of England who’d lived with his family in Massachusetts before migrating to this area and acquiring some land on Potrero de Felipe Lugo on which to farm. As for Garvey, more on him below. Then, there was mention of the farmer renting Mrs. Workman’s 100 acres, Jesús Carrasco, a native of Hermosillo, Sonora, México, who lived with his wife and several children on the tract.

The document is a simple request to “please deliver to John H. Temple or order [that is, another representative] one hundred centals [pounds] of corn due me as rent on the land farmed by Jesus Carrasco, and whose crop you claim to have bought.” It was added that Carrasco was occupying the 100 acres, or a part of it, “under a lease from me and your purchase of the crop does not injure the lease.” Moreover, the missive concluded, “I look upon the crop as responsible for the rent and do not worry as to who may the claimant of it.”

Garvey’s story, generally and related to the Workman and Temple family, is quite notable, as well, with a good deal of information on him available thanks to a lengthy biography, for which he paid and almost certainly dictated or wrote, in an 1889 Los Angeles County . He was born in County Mayo, Ireland in the northwest corner of the Emerald Isle and the account stated that the Garveys were long-time farmers renting from an English landlord, an all-too-common occurrence then. His father died and then the massive crop failures of 1845-1846 led to the horrible Potato Famine.

Garvey’s family, unable to pay the rent on their farm, were evicted and the sketch noted that the suffering that followed “none of the family care to recall.” Migrating, as so many Irish did in desperation, to the United States was the only viable option and the 12-year-old Garvey was sent ahead on his own, arriving in 1849 at Savannah, Georgia, “penniless and ragged.” Due to the kindness of a Jewish customs house keeper, the boy was taken in and provided a job and, even with just a $3 per week salary, Garvey was able to save enough to send for his family. They landed in New York in 1852 and the 14-year old was there to be reunited with them and the Garveys soon ended up in Cleveland.

Garvey’s photo and signature from the 1889 Los Angeles County history.

The account noted that Garvey “has never forgotten the sufferings of himself and family during his youth” and retained a deep hatred of English land laws, so much so that he long hoped for a war between America and England so that some measure of retribution could be had, while he also donated consistently for Irish charitable relief. Meanwhile, he continued to support his family for six years in Cleveland before he decided to undertake another long migration, this time across the country.

He wound up at Fort Leavenworth, where an Army expedition was formed for a potential war against the Mormons in Utah, the result of years of tension between the Latter Day Saints and the federal government. He was hired as a cattle drover for Lieutenant Winfield Scott Hancock, who was the supply quartermaster for the 6th Infantry, and then took charge of one of the supply wagons. Yet, when it was found at Fort Bridger in southwestern Wyoming that the contents were stolen by subterfuge, Garvey was discharged from the service even though it was known he was not guilty of any involvement. He then walked to Salt Lake City, purchased a horse and supplies and headed on, joining an emigrant on the trail to San Bernardino, from where the 20-year old continued his journey to Los Angeles.

Express, 5 August 1878.

It was early 1859 and, remarkably, he was recognized in the Angel City by the clerk of Hancock, who was quartermaster for Southern California and Arizona and who hired Garvey to operate a government store house and then arranged for the young Irishman to deliver mail in the district. As there was aggressive mining along the Colorado River on the Arizona side, Garvey learned the business, including from George Hearst (father of the famous publisher William Randolph Hearst) and for some twenty years had mining activities in Arizona, Nevada and the Holcomb Valley north of what became Big Bear Lake in the mountains above San Bernardino.

The 1889 sketch went into some detail concerning the many dangers attended to Garvey’s early years in the Southwest including battles with Indians, which forced him out of Arizona, and noted that, thanks to Hearst, he was able to sell an interest in an Arizona mine for a handsome $18,000. At Holcomb Valley, he ran a quartz milling operation that he sold, in 1872, for $200,000, but continued other mining ventures there for years afterward. It was also through Holcomb Valley that he met and became an agent for Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who was beginning to invest in greater Los Angeles properties.

Herald, 11 February 1879.

In late November 1875, months after purchasing the Rancho Santa Anita, Baldwin loaned a substantial sum, eventually totaling just above $340,000, to the ailing Temple and Workman bank and, when a banquet was held in early December to celebrate the institution’s reopening, Garvey was one of the guests. While the account stated that Garvey, through his work for Baldwin, became receiver of the Temple and Workman estate in 1876, news accounts show that he was not appointed by a federal judge in San Francisco until 1878, though he may have been selected in Los Angeles to handle the estate earlier, because the sketch noted, “the closing up of the gigantic affairs of that establishment, with its liabilities of over $1,000,000, was the work of two and a half years.”

Due to his connection with Baldwin, who foreclosed on his loan in 1879, Garvey was able to acquire one-eighth of the Rancho Potrero Grande and a quarter of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, both, of course, formerly held by Workman, Temple and their compadre Juan Matias Sánchez, who Baldwin insisted be part of the loan. With a property of some 4,400 acres, including public land purchased by Temple in the 1860s that was included in the mortgage for the Baldwin loan, Garvey established, in 1880, the “Tessa-Dick Ranch,” the first part of the name being that of his wife Tessa Mooney, formerly of Cleveland. She died, however, after under two years of marriage and just after giving birth to their son, Richard, Jr., and Garvey never remarried.

Herald, 22 October 1880.

There was a rift with Baldwin that emerged at the end of the receivership with the controversial and cantankerous mining magnate claiming that Garvey collected rents on the former Sánchez, Temple and Workman ranchos without authority and Garvey retorting that he carried out his receivership duties only accepting payment for himself to which he was entitled by law. Still, Garvey prospered, growing wheat and barley and raising cattle, horses and mules on his ranch. In Los Angeles, he built a commercial building at 9th Street where Main and Spring streets meet (this is a block from where Walter P. Temple was part of a syndicate that, in the 1920s, built two office buildings.)

The county history biography grandiosely concluded that

Mr. Garvey is, in the fullest sense of the words, a self-made, self-educated man, who, coming a poor boy from the old world, has splendidly illustrated the possibilities of the new, to those possessed of energy, combined with practical business qualifications and a determination to succeed.

Though he lived for a time in New York City, Garvey’s later years were spent living in a house south of Westlake (later, MacArthur) Park, where he died in December 1930 at the age of 92. In the City of Monterey Park, Garvey Ranch Park includes some of the “Tessa-Dick Ranch” house as of the city’s historical museum and an observatory built by Richard, Jr. The Garvey name is best known for the street that runs from the northwest corner of Monterey Park through El Monte and then, because of the construction of Interstate 10, in segments on either side of the freeway to the eastern limits of West Covina.

Los Angeles Times, 17 December 1930.

As to Nicolasa Workman’s 100 acres, there is the term “land rich and cash poor” and it, along with all of the property left by her husband to their daughter, which she divided among or left to her children, was eventually sold, though the exact location has yet to be determined.

Leave a Reply