Reading Between the Lines in a Letter From William Hickman to Ransom B. Moore, Los Angeles, 29 August 1877

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The scope and scale of F.P.F. Temple’s speculative enterprises during greater Los Angeles’ first boom, lasting from about 1868 to summer 1875 was, for the time and place, remarkable. Labeled by historian Remi Nadeau as one of the “City Makers” of the community, Temple transitioned from ranching and farming to business as the boom burst forth and his father-in-law, William Workman, who assigned power of attorney to Temple in 1868, was a silent partner in terms of providing funds to projects pursued by Temple and his many associates.

With oil, railroads, real estate and many other areas, the geographical reach of Temple’s endeavors was also quite impressive, ranging from downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando oil field at modern Santa Clarita to what is today’s Inglewood and Compton out to San Antonio Canyon near Claremont and Upland. Even further afield to the east was an ambitious plan to construct a wagon road in the San Jacinto Mountains where a saw mill could process enormous amounts of pine for use in the region.

That location has always been critical for access to Los Angeles from eastern points, with the indigenous people of the coastal plains and those of the great inland desert areas having both peaceful, through trade, and warlike interactions through the San Gorgonio Pass near today’s Palm Springs. This integral access point is flanked by the San Bernardino Mountains on the north and the San Jacinto range to the south and the imposing sentinels of Mt. San Gorgonio, in the former, and Mt. San Jacinto, in the latter, are notable signposts.

Los Angeles Star, 1 June 1875.

When the federal government sent out surveyors and others to investigate potential transcontinental railroad routes, including the 35th parallel one which was projected to terminate at the rudimentary port of San Pedro, the pass was recognized as crucial for future railroad use, even if not for the project at hand—in fact, the transcontinental wound up being built further north into the Bay Area.

The Southern Pacific Railroad (SP), subsidiary of the Central Pacific, which built the western half of the transcontinental line, long desired to build a route through southern California and then eastward from the Colorado River at Fort Yuma (now the city of Yuma, Arizona) eastward. Its plan was to build south from the Bay Area through the Central Valley and then southeast through Tehachapi Pass, south down Cajon Pass and then eastward into San Gorgonio Pass before making its way to the Colorado.

Fearful of being bypassed and ignored into a future of insignificance, leaders in Los Angeles lobbied intensely with Congress to approve a federal charter that required the SP to build through the Angel City before pushing east. In 1871, this was achieved and, while the SP was able to secure a subsidy, by a vote of Los Angeles County citizens in fall 1872, of some $600,000 and control of the sole local rail line, the Los Angeles and San Pedro, greater Los Angeles was able to get three routes built.

Los Angeles Express, 7 August 1875.

One went to Anaheim from Florence (South Los Angeles), a second went north towards San Fernando and beyond to meet the main line coming from the Bay Area, and the third headed east from the Angel City through the San Gabriel Valley, including the massive Rancho La Puente, owned by John Rowland and William Workman, and into what we now call the Inland Empire. By spring 1874, a Puente depot was established and then the next stop was Spadra, now the southwestern part of Pomona, while the next leg was to go to Colton, between Riverside and San Bernardino.

It was obviously understood that, as construction progressed further east toward San Gorgonio Pass, the need for local wood for the ties of the track was immediate. Even though Temple, who was a main negotiator for the SP subsidy in 1872, formed a competitor called the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad and which pulled off a remarkable coup in securing the Cajon Pass for its planned route to Inyo County and its then-booming silver mines just before SP surveyors could stake a claim for their bosses, he and others recognized a business opportunity with the SP as it made its way towards San Gorgonio.

Specifically, Temple; Henry S. Ledyard, the managing cashier of his Temple and Workman bank; Milton S. Hall; and William N. Monroe formed a partnership in the construction of the San Jacinto Wagon Road and the associated saw mill that would process pine trees in the lush mountains slopes between Palm Springs and Hemet. Hall was a railroad contractor for the Union Pacific, which built the eastern portion of the transcontinental, completing sections of railroad in Nebraska. Hall’s daughter Mary Jane married Indiana native Monroe, who was raised largely in Iowa and was a Union officer during the Civil War when they were wed.

Los Angeles Herald, 31 October 1875.

Monroe was working for his father-in-law in Nebraska when he met Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific and SP. Later, Monroe and Hall migrated with their families to California to work on SP construction projects in greater Los Angeles. While Monroe invested land in the southwestern corner of the Angel City off Adams Boulevard, he was occupied in working on the eastern line to Spadra and then the northern one to what is now Santa Clarita (as well as overseeing work in Alameda County near Oakland.)

Hall, meanwhile, also worked on supervising SP construction on the eastern line toward Colton and beyond to San Gorgonio Pass before he became president of the San Jacinto Wagon Road Company. The 1 June 1875 edition of the Los Angeles Star recorded,

A company has been incorporated with Mr. M.S. Hall, the well known contractor as president, to construct a wagon road from the [SP] station about ten miles east of San Gorgonia [sic] Pass to the extensive timber region in the San Jacinto mountains. This region abounds in the best pine and cedar to be found in Southern California . . . Several fine saw mills will be erected at once, and it is expected that all orders for railroad material needed for the Colorado river extension of the S.P.R.R., can be furnished from that quarter. A force of one hundred and fifty men are employed on the work. Messrs. Temple and Ledyard are interested in the enterprise.

The involvement of the “City Maker” and his bank cashier was not just personal, though they took interests in the recently acquired Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, which included the wagon road, constructed on what was sometimes referred to as “Hall’s Grade,” and saw mill lands, but it is also involved money being loaned to the wagon road and saw mill enterprises to the tune of nearly $90,000. E.Y. Buchanan, who was superintendent of the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad construction, became the supervisor of the building of the road and saw mill.

Star, 9 March 1876.

These were completed in the fall, although a sudden and catastrophic financial collapse in San Francisco, stemming from the bursting of a silver mine stock bubble relating to Virginia City, Nevada and which included the failure of the Bank of California, the Golden State’s largest financial institution, cast an enormous pall at the time. Still, a large quantity of trees were felled and large cords of wood processed at what was sometimes called the “Temple saw mill.”

The 31 October 1875 edition of the Los Angeles Herald noted that Hall secured a contract with the SP “for grading and laying of the track on the 200 miles of the . . . road Eastward from the San Gorgonio Pass,” and, as president of the wagon road company, he’d sent a boiler and a pair of engines as well as the equipment for the manufacturing of boards, shingles and laths to the mill site, which was projected to have a capacity of producing 100,000 feet of lumber daily.

As fall gave way to winter and production obviously slowed with snowfall, there was the worsening economic environment in Los Angeles. Temple and Ledyard were able to secure a loan for their bank, closed since the 1st of September, from San Francisco capitalist, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose massive sale of Virginia City silver mine stock helped precipitate the panic, so they could reopen Temple and Workman on 6 December.

Herald, 18 May 1876.

The relief and joy of the resurrected bank, however, was tempered by the reality that jittery depositors were in no mood to keep their accounts open and Baldwin’s funds, which eventually came to just a tick above $340,000, were drained out of the institution’s vaults within about six weeks and the bank closed on 13 January 1876. When the inventory of its books was completed a little more than two weeks later, an astounded community learned how badly managed Temple and Workman was and that Baldwin’s mortgage included most of the substantial real estate portfolio of the owners.

With respect to the San Jacinto project, Temple’s declared assets included 12,000 acres of the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, valued at $86,000, and half-interests in cords of wood and finished lumber totaling $7,500, as well as a 50% stake in the San Jacinto Wagon Road Company at another $7,500. That firm, moreover, had overdrafts at the bank to the tune of $89,414.65. Ledyard also had ownership stakes in the road and mill which he immediately turned over, as did Temple, to the assignees of the stricken institution, Daniel Freeman and Edward F. Spence.

Express, 16 November 1876.

Work stopped completely at the mill with the disaster and the 18 May 1876 edition of the Herald, which also reported that day on the terrible tragedy of the suicide of Workman at his Rancho La Puente house, briefly noted that “the Temple saw mills, in the San Jacinto mountains, have been sold” with the new owners, Moon and Bartholomew (other sources list “Moore and Gilbert” of Ogden, Utah), looking to reboot operations as soon as they could. Hall, meanwhile, was driven to bankruptcy by June and Temple followed him a little over a month later.

Creditors of the Temple and Workman bank met in early March and, among the many discussions about what could be expected to be salvaged from the debacle, there was talk about the San Jacinto projects. George E. Long, who later succeeded Freeman and Spence as assignee, visited the property and told the assemblage that there were 8 million feet of finished lumber and 3,000 cords of wood, but he advised that “the whole thing be sold, and not be carried on by the assignees and creditors.” He mistakenly asserted, however, that, as concerned the sizeable property of Temple and Workman, creditors “will get dollar for dollar, and leave Messrs. Temple and Workman a fortune.” In truth, almost nothing was paid out to those who were owned by the bank and Temple had almost nothing left.

Express, 16 April 1877.

When several attendees spoke in favor of selling the San Jacinto properties “lumber and all,” attorney James G. Eastman cautioned that “every man who had touched the San Jacinto had been ‘scotched’,” but, if there was something viable for that area as a key timber-producing area, he allowed, “it would not do to treat the matter lightly.” Positing the possibility of $40,000 being realized from a sale, Eastman proposed that “if an individual could take hold of the San Jacinto works and make money out of it, the assignees could at least do as well.”

One aftermath of the San Jacinto project was that Edward Bouton, who was another debtor to the bank and partner with Temple in the general ownership of Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, was able to marshal some partners for a new enterprise, the San Jacinto Fruit and Land Company. Other investors and trustees included John R. Brierly, Lewis Wolfskill (who’d owned the western two-thirds of Rancho San Francisquito, obtained from his father-in-law, Henry Dalton, with Temple and Workman and then sold that in October 1875 to Baldwin—more than a half-century later, Temple’s son, Walter, would buy a portion and build Temple City, now celebrating its centennial) and James McFadden of Santa Ana, among others.

Express, 11 August 1877.

A second outgrowth was the purchase of all that wood and finished lumber from the “Temple sawmill” by Hall and another investor, William Hickman. The material became useful for a new project, launched on the other side of the Pass. This was the San Gorgonio Fluming Company (SGFC), which appears to have been launched in spring 1876 and as the SP was continuing its grading work in the pass under the supervision of Hall and Hickman with 1,500 Chinese, Latino and Irish laborers. A core component of the contract was to build a flume to deliver lumber from Moore’s (or Water) Canyon, coming south out of the San Bernardino Mountains, to a new community that, early in 1877, was called Moore City for local rancher Ransom B. Moore.

The 16 April 1877 issue of the Los Angeles Express published a lengthy statement by Hickman on a “timber controversy” concerning rights in the San Gorgonio Pass and he asserted that

Relative to the wood furnished this marked by Col. Hall and myself: Not one stick of it came from the section of country where our flume is being built. It all came from the San Jacinto Mountains, and was bought by us from Temple and Ledyard’s assignees . . .

The larger question was about the SGFC dealing with private and public property rights in the area, including battles with Dr. William F. Edgar, who recently moved out from Los Angeles to a ranch there, as well as an indictment filed by a federal district attorney against the firm for purportedly cutting down pine trees considered to be on government land—though the charges were dropped in 1880, three years later, and Hickman claimed it was Edgar who filed a complaint to the feds leading to the legal action.

Herald, 12 October 1878.

Another interesting element to this was that, after a bill was passed early in 1877 by the state legislature allowing for the sale of desert lands that could be “reclaimed” by irrigation, the first trio of requests in the Los Angeles state land office were from Hickman, for 480 acres, Moore for the same amount, and James M. Gilman, for 320 acres. The 11 August edition of the Express included a brief notice that “Mr. Hickman . . . has just returned from San Francisco, where he secured an extensive contract with the Southern Pacific Railroad Company to furnish them with firewood, ties, posts and lumber.”

The paper continued that “he thinks that the flume can be run up to its full capacity on this order alone,” and that there was enough water coming down the 18-inch V-shaped device running some twelve miles to irrigate 2,000 acres, which “belongs to Mr. Moore, the lessor, and will shortly be utilized by that gentleman for irrigation purposes.” Just a little more than two weeks later, however, the letter from the Homestead’s collection that is featured in this post, was written by Hickman to Moore.

Express, 3 May 1879.

Dated 29 August and from Los Angeles, the missive begins with

I have accomplished nothing as yet, & can’t say what will be done. Scott, Worrell & Worsham had two days council & what they have determined o I cannot say, they all left here last evening, Scott, I think to San Bernardino & Worrell & Worsham to Orange. Worrell promised me positively to telegraph me this morning, whether they would take my stock [in the SGFC] or not but has failed to do so . . I did not want to see my Land & Water, but would take 5000$ for my stock, not quite 4 1/2 [dollars?] but to get out I would sell for hat figure & I think probably they will take it all.

Hickman hoped to sell his stock and pay debits, asking Moore to “tell the boys to hold still a few days” as “I am doing my best & will have the money to pay them all before I leave here.” This included Johnny Hughes who was at Gilman’s Ranch and the correspondent added “I will pay those notes if I have to sacrifice all of my stock.” There was some bad news in a “Nota Bene” at the end as Moore was told that “I rec[eive]d [a] Telegram from San Francisco & my Desert Land man has flew the track,” which may have meant that a potential buyer backed out, though it is not clear.

The reference to paying “the boys” probably refers to employees of the SGFC, as a Christmas Eve 1877 reference in the Express noted that attorneys for the company’s workers that, while Winfield Scott, mentioned in the above quote and who was a company official, asserted that lawsuits pending by employees were being appealed to the state supreme court, this was not true and “the flume is now advertised by the sheriff of [San Bernardino] county to be sold” in January 1878 under three foreclosure orders.

California Legal Record, 1879. From Google Books,

The firm, though, continued to exist, even if marginally, with directors elected in March, including E.W. Worsham, also mentioned above, as treasurer, and Hickman as a director, while Los Angeles attorney John D. Bicknell became president. In early June, an assessment was made of $1.25 per share and this was followed two months later by a delinquent stock notice, with the names of Hall (listed as “Hull”), Hickman, Scott (and three other Scotts), A.S. Worrell, E.W. Worsham and Hickman appearing.

The latter trio, however, had large amounts of stock that were delinquent on assessments, while Hall only had two shares and Hickman just three—it seems apparent that a deal was struck after the letter was penned so that Scott, Worrell and Worsham purchased almost all of Hickman’s stock while they kept a minimum to remain part of the company. In May 1879, the last located reference to the SGFC was another delinquent notice, with additional names like Bicknell, secretary Welwood Murray and a few others, including Hickman’s five shares of stock (he may have picked up Hall’s two shares). The fact that the assessment dropped from $1.25 to 30 cents per share was likely indicative of the coming of the dissolution of the firm, which never did deliver much wood by the flume.

There was, though, one more tie (!) between Hickman and the Temple saw mill came with a notice posted by him in the Herald of 12 October 1878, in which he declared,

I hereby notify the public that the wood, ties, posts and shakes advertised by G.E. Long, as assignee for Temple & Workman’s estate, have been bought by me, from the agent of Spence and Freeman, whilst they were assignees of said estate, and I have a written contract or bill of sale of said property, and any person buying said property will do so at their own risk, as I shall certainly contend for the property.

Whether Hickman did contest for the material generated from the San Jacinto mill or Long was able to find a buyer without a challenge was not located. In any case, this letter is an interesting artifact related to F.P.F. Temple’s myriad business enterprises, the collapse of the Temple and Workman bank, the effort to build a viable lumber endeavor at San Gorgonio Pass, and the general history of what was soon changed from Moore City to Banning.

That community’s moniker derives from Phineas Banning, the “Port Admiral” of what is now the Port of Los Angeles and who ran sheep in the area during that period—he was a friend of Welwood Murray, which explains the change of name. A store in the hamlet was built by the SGFC, while part of Gilman’s Ranch, where a Cahuilla village was situated and where the first Anglo dwelling was established in the 1850s, is a historic site there and is widely known as the scene of the tragic tale of Cahuilla Indian “Willie Boy.” Banning remained underdeveloped until the next big boom came in the 1886-1888 period when William H. Workman, nephew of the late bank owner, was mayor of Los Angeles.

When the Morongo Reservation was established to the east, Hickman’s land featured in the federal acquisition of tracts—he purportedly wanted $10,000 for his property, but an Indian agent reported that it could be had for a fifth of that, though a deal was apparently not reached at that time. The Morongo tribe, however, did win a lawsuit against him concerning the control of water rights in their domain.

As for Hall’s son-in-law, Monroe, he served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1880-1882, was then sent to Texas to oversee more SP construction work, including from San Antonio to El Paso and a line to Durango, México. In 1884, he and his family returned to Los Angeles and Monroe purchased 275 acres and 160 acres from another seller. Teaming up with Spence, a recent mayor of Los Angeles, Bicknell and James F. Crank, later a streetcar line builder, Monroe built his namesake town of Monrovia. Because the Museum’s holdings include some great early photos of that town, we’ll revisit Monroe and his community in a future post.

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