“Díaz is the Rock on Which the Republic of México Rests”: Walter P. Temple’s Travels Through México, June-December 1894

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the Homestead’s collection, there are many historic artifacts that, on their own, seem tangential and fragmentary and two examples, being the featured objects for this post, are, at first glance, of this class. They are a receipt and envelope, dated 13-14 October 1894, and made out to Walter P. Temple, while he was in Silao, a city in the state of Guanajuato, northwest of México City, during a trip in our southern neighbor lasting almost half the year.

Temple traveled with J.E. Graham of Downey, who appears to have been a former classmate of Woodbury Business College (now University), from which the latter graduated in 1891, and he followed two older siblings who had some extensive experience in México. Walter’s eldest sibling, Thomas (1846-1892), spent a couple of years in the early 1880s residing in Hermosillo, Sonora, while another older brother, William (1851-1917), lived in México City for an extended period of time between the 1880s and about 1910.

Growing up on the Temple Homestead, a 50-acre remnant of the Rancho La Merced, which was obtained in 1850 by Walter’s maternal grandfather, William Workman, by foreclosure of a loan made to the property’s grantee, Casilda Soto de Lobo and then deeded to Juan Matias Sánchez, the former foreman for Workman at Rancho La Puente, and Walter’s parents, Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, Walter must have known a good deal about his brothers’ years in México.

He may well have also been aware of the extensive interests his uncle Jonathan (1796-1866) had in the country, including ownership of large tracts of land on the Pacific coast between Acapulco and Mazatlán and, most notably, the lease to the national mint, a concession obtained in 1856 and held after his death by his daughter, Francisca Temple de Ajuria, until 1893, when it was nationalized by dictator Porfirio Díaz.

Having completed his education (it is not known if he graduated from Woodbury after finishing high school at St. Vincent’s College, which evolved into Loyola Marymount University) and then inheriting, with his younger brother Charles, the Temple Homestead upon the early 1892 death of their mother, Walter likely felt that, being in his mid-Twenties and with enough funds saved up to do so, the time was at hand to spend some time in México and absorb elements of his Latino/Hispanic heritage. He was raised as a fluent Spanish speaker and being well-educated with an interest in public affairs, the trip probably was something of a capstone for his broader education.

There were actually grander plans hatched by Temple and Graham, as noted in a 28 May 1894 article in the Los Angeles Herald, which reported that,

An old time Spanish social and barbecue was given in honor of Walter P. Temple at the Temple ranch yesterday. Mr. Temple and his business partner, J.E. Graham, leave on Wednesday [the 30th] for a two years’ tour of Mexico and the Central America states. Among the guests, numbering in all about sixty, were some of the best-known Spanish families of this and the adjoining counties.

As has been noted elsewhere, the use of the term “Spanish” was a common one to delineate and distinguish the variations of class among Latinos in greater Los Angeles at the time, with the insinuation being that “Spanish” was, being more European, preferable to “Mexican.” Walter’s direct ancestral connection to México was distant, as his maternal grandmother, Nicolasa Urioste de Workman, was a native of Taos, New Mexico, and likely had indigenous and Spanish/Mexican roots, though how far back the Urioste (the surname is a Basque one, from the northeaster part of Spain) family went in that frontier department of New Spain (as México was known when she was born in 1802) is not known.

In any case, the adoption of identity is an obviously complex, shifting and nuanced one, especially for someone like Temple, who carried an English-language surname and a pedigree based on it that once had enormous cache in Los Angeles, though this had been basically dissipated by 1894, nearly two decades after the collapse of the Los Angeles bank owned by Walter’s father and grandfather. There is no question, however, that Temple identified strongly with certain elements of his Latino/Hispanic heritage throughout his life and this trip certainly was an expression of that.

Among the guests identified by the Herald were his sister-in-law, Anita Davoust Temple (who was married to Walter’s older brother, John, and who had French and Latino ancestry, including from the prominent Dominguez family); her sisters; Carolina Sánchez, wife of Bernardo F. Rowland of the Rancho La Puente; members of the de la Osa and López families of San Gabriel; and Carlos Cruz and his wife Julia Davis, who was raised with the Temple family and whose indigenous mother (a Luiseño from what became northern San Diego County) was a close friend of Nicolasa Workman.

The “major domo,” or master of ceremonies, for the event was Samuel P. Rowland, the younger brother of Benjamin, the siblings being the eldest children of Thomas (son of John, co-owner of La Puente with William Workman) and Zenobia Yorba, of the prominent family in what developed into Orange County and whose inheritance of part of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana included the land sold to William H. Spurgeon, who founded the city of Santa Ana.

Acting as host was Samuel’s wife and Walter’s sister, Margarita Temple de Rowland (1866-1953), and it was noted that she “extended the hospitality of the ranch to the guests. The account concluded that,

The tables were spread in the walnut grove adjoining the house, and were spread in a manner that would have satisfied the most exacting of the old Spanish dons, lavish as they were in their hospitality. An orchestra and vocal music furnished entertainment during the dinner and for the old fashioned Spanish dance which closed the fiesta.

While it would have been great to have known more about the event, including the food, how and by whom it was cooked, the names of the musicians and singers, and more, it was evident that this fiesta was a reflection of lingering traditions from pre-American California, in which the hospitality of the Spanish-speaking population, particularly the ranchero elite, was widely known and celebrated.

What was intended to last for two years was pared down to about six months—one wonders if the continuing national depression, which began the prior year, had an effect on those plans—and Temple and Graham returned to Los Angeles on 13 December, with the duo checking into the Hotel Nadeau after disembarking from a train at the Southern Pacific’s Arcade station.

Before returning to the Temple Homestead, however, Walter sat down with a Herald reporter, whose feature in the paper’s edition of the 16th was titled “As A Traveler Sees Mexico.” The piece began with the observation that there rumors of war between México and its southern neighbor, Guatemala, adding that the dispute “may seem trivial to cold-blooded people of the north” who would not relate to “what the hot blood of these swarthy people to the south may lead them to when international disputes arise.”

Continuing with the dismissive take on Mexicans and Guatemalans, the unnamed journalist continued that “it takes only two men, one with a rusty sword and the other with a breech-burnt gun, to start a first-class revolution anywhere south of the Texas border” It was further noted that a Mexican ship was purportedly waiting for orders to deliver weapons and ammunition at a border location, while another rumor suggested that a ship was to be purchased in San Diego for use by the Mexican government in military operations, should they ensue.

Los Angeles Herald, 28 May 1894.

This led to the statement that,

W.P. Temple, a native of this city [technically, the county, he being born at La Merced], a representative of one of the oldest established and most influential families of Southern California, returned on Friday from an extended trip through Mexico. This gentleman, a highly educated and intelligent observer, has noted the political situation throughout the republic with special reference to the impending war.

It was added, though, that Temple believed that a conflict would not arise between the two countries, adding that the matter was a dispute over some 100 miles of border and he was confident that Díaz would employ his “excellent judgment” as a way to defusing tensions and fomenting a peaceful solution acceptable to both sides.

Temple then opined that the dictator of most of 35 years from the mid-1870s to 1910, “is a wonderful man” and brushed aside rumors of revolution against him, claiming “it will not be while Diaz lives, and in my judgment it will never be.” Calling the autocrat “pre-eminently a peaceful man,” the 25-year old, who, naturally, formed his opinion on a limited time spent in México, gushed that the man who ruled the country with an iron fist “is now the rock on which the republic of Mexico rests.”

Herald, 16 December 1894.

The assessment continued, though, with acknowledgment that the aggressor in the brouhaha was México and that Guatemala “simply disputes” claims to the borderlands that were in contention. Temple commented that “American interests in Mexico,” which were substantial and of grave concern to made opposed to Díaz, “are unfavorable to war, and have a weight, especially with the president.” Beyond the implication there, he continued that those interests “would preclude the possibility of an overthrow after the death of Diaz.”

The article noted that Temple and Graham took a train from Los Angeles to El Paso and then headed south into México via the Mexican Central Railway, built by “American interests” and connecting Ciudad Juárez and the nation’s capital, tough the duo passed through the states of Aguascalientes to San Luis Potosí before proceeding to Guanajuato and Guadalajara in Jalisco. Three weeks were spent in the capital city before the two traveled on the Mexican National, another American-built rail line, northward through Saltillo and Monterrey before reentering the United States at Laredo, Texas, southwest of San Antonio.

The piece went on to state that “Mr. Temple visited all the principal points in the republic and met many of the principal figures of Mexican life, with whom he was able to secure an introduction and by whom he was cordially received through his high standing and learning.” Another item in the Museum’s collection is a letter of introduction for Temple and Graham from Los Angeles County Sheriff John C. Cline, dated 30 May 1894 on the eve of their departure, but it may be that William Temple, provided he was in México at the time, was useful in this regard.

Temple added, however, that “in the City of Mexico I met Judge Ygnacio Sepúlveda, well known in Los Angeles. He is living in one of the finest houses in the city.” Sepúlveda, an Angel City native, was a lawyer and Superior Court Judge before moving to México and becoming one of the principal counselors and advisers to Díaz. In fact, we are planning on a dual set of presentations in January by Paul Bryan Gray on Sepúlveda and his cousin, teen newspaper proprietor and lawyer Francisco Ramirez, of which more will be available on our website soon.

As an example of his analysis of conditions in the county, Temple was quoted as saying, “the industrial condition of Mexico is miserable” because “the property is held in large areas by a few people,” adding that only 5,000 of the 65,000 residents of the state of San Luis Potosí had a reported income, with remainder being “peons, having no employment, living in idleness and squalor, without pride or hope, as miserable and downtrodden a people as exist on the face of the earth.”

He turned to his fascination with burial customs in Guanajuato, but did so by explaining the variations in how the rich, the middle class and the poor (the peons, again) were interred, including the fact that the middle class rented grave space and, if payment was lacking, the sexton merely removed the remains, dried them in the sun for a few days and then placed them the indiscriminate piling of bones in a catacomb. He added that the ground in which remains were placed was such that bodies became mummified “as perfectly as those of ancient Egypt.”

With respect to the namesake capital city of the state, Temple discussed its progressiveness, including the recent completion of a $500,000 theater, mining operations involving an American consul and others from the United States, and a new reservoir. Discussing Silao, he recorded staying on a hacienda nine miles from town and added that it “is in many respects like the Santa Anita ranch,” owned by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose foreclosure on a loan made to the Temple and Workman bank made the San Francisco capitalist one of the the largest landowners in Los Angeles County.” With its ranch house, gardens and lake, the hacienda bore similarities to the San Gabriel Valley ranch, except “the great race horses are not there as at Santa Anita.”

Moving on to Guadalajara, adjudged to be “the second city in commercial importance,” Temple advised that “any American with capital and ambition can do well there,” though he cautioned that residents were more inclined towards the French and Germans because these “are uniformly more polite” whereas “the pushing American seeks the chances and makes the money” without making the effort to fit in, including “basking in the sunshine with wine and cigarettes, possibly charming senoritas near by.”

In Veracruz, Temple observed, land could be purchased for $4 or $5 an acre, except from taxes for a decade, and were suitable for raising coffee, sugarcane and tobacco, while he recorded that there were some 75 American colonies in operation, though “the only drawback is the inadequate means of transportation.” At México City, he recorded it as having 350,000 residents, of which 250,000 were “peons;” it is staggering to note that it now has well north of 9 million people with some 22 million in the metropolitan area, close to 20% of the population of the country. Temple noted that it had some beautiful edifices, such as the Castle of Chapultepec, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the national museum, while he mentioned that “Monter[r]ey is the most Americanized city in the republic.”

The article ended rather abruptly and it can be assumed that Temple provided more information about his jaunt that didn’t make it into the final edited version. Fifteen years later, his brother William returned to Los Angeles, with Díaz, despite Walter’s declarative claims, tottering on the edge of being overthrown (Sepúlveda, too, headed back to the Angel City after losing his position of power, influence and wealth).

After the stunning 1917 discovery of oil on land Walter purchased from the Baldwin estate and which was lost by his father in the aftermath of the bank failure, he and his wife Laura González, who he married in 1903, took their four children for a several weeks’ trip through México in summer 1922. This jaunt provided the inspiration for the planning and construction of La Casa Nueva, which took five years to build and which contained several decorative references to México in carved plaster and wood, as well as in stained and painted glass.

Not long after Walter moved to the Homestead from Alhambra after Laura’s death and, in 1924, the recently widowed Eulalia Delgado, who migrated from Irapuato in Guanajuato in search of employment, began to work for Temple as a household laborer. Soon, she brought her mother, Guadalupe Garcia, whose husband (and Eulalia’s father) had also just died, and her three children, to live and work at the Homestead.

In 1966, Walter’s son Thomas W. II, traveled extensively through México to conduct genealogical and historical research on early California families, following this a few years later with a trip to Spain, where, underwritten by the Yorba family, he continued his endeavors. The Temple family’s involvement in México in various ways over more than a century reflect aspects of their Latino/Hispanic heritage with Walter’s 1894 trip a notable example.

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