Sharing Some History of the Rowland and Workman Expedition of 1841 at the Old Spanish Trail Association National Conference, Riverside

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was an honor and pleasure to participate in the national conference of the Old Spanish Trail Association, held this weekend at Riverside, and to share some history of the Rowland and Workman Expedition of 1841. In a presentation Friday morning at Crestmore Manor, located along the west bank of the Santa Ana River, a short distance west of the Mission Inn, where some of the conference was conducted, a presentation was given called “One Trail, Many Paths,” which summarized the wide dispersal of members of the expedition throughout the Mexican department of Alta California.

This included those who went north, such as William Gordon, his wife Juana María Lucero and their children, who settled in what became Yolo County west of Sacramento; William Knight, who opened a landing nearby along the Sacramento River and then a ferry in Stanislaus County in the southern gold fields, southwest of the Tuolumne County towns of Springfield, Sonora and Columbia where F.P.F. Temple later had significant interests; and Thomas Lindsay, accounted the first Anglo settler of what became the city of Stockton.

Less recognized (with references in article and books as well as monuments and markers) were the families of Juan Manuel Vaca and Juan Felipe Peña, who settled on the Rancho Los Putos in what became the city of Vacaville. The adobe house built by Peña still stands and is part of a city park. Other northern settlers were Isaac Given and Albert G. Toomes, who missed the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, a wagon train which opened what became the California-Oregon Trail and arrived in the north a day before William Workman remembered his group making landfall in southern California, and headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico and joined the southern expedition.

Those who stayed in the south included Daniel Sexton, a colorful character from Louisiana, who settle in what became San Bernardino County, then in San Gabriel, and, finally, back east again in Colton; Michael White, who’d come to California in the late 1820s, married a daughter of the widely-known Eulalia Pérez de Guillen and then took the Old Spanish Trail east to New Mexico, where he was employed in Workman’s Taos store before taking part in the expedition and returning home; and Benjamin D. Wilson, who’d planned to go to China, but literally missed the boat at Monterey and headed back to Los Angeles, where he became a very prominent figure as a mayor of the Angel City, state senator and proprietor of the Lake Vineyard estate, part of which is now the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Jacob Frankfort’s brief listing in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s California Pioneer Register and Index, 1542-1848.

More of the genizaros (indigenous people who were “detribalized” by the Spanish) of Abiquiu, New Mexico, found homes in what became Riverside in the communities of Agua Mansa and San Salvador, including Lorenzo Trujillo, who was hired by Wilson as a trail master for the expedition. Among other families who settled in these places were the relatives of Encarnación Martinez, first wife of Rowland, including José Antonio and Santiago, who were experienced Old Spanish Trail travelers, including the 1834 purchase by Rowland of horses pastured on the Rancho La Puente, which he acquired in spring 1842. As noted above with Vaca and Peña, the importance of these Abiquiu genizaros and their knowledge and background of the Trail have been underappreciated.

When Rowland presented a list of expedition members to the authorities at Los Angeles, another of the travelers who represented a significant degree of diversity and who has not been as well-known as he should be was Jacob Frankfort. Part of the issue, as with many of those who were in the group, has been a lack of information, but, Frankfort, a tailor from what was then described as Germany, though there was no united country of that name until 1870 and some sources indicated that he was from what became Poland, holds the distinction of being the first Jewish resident of Los Angeles.

Rowland’s list, bearing a copy date of 29 February 1842, was filed in the departmental archives under the auspices of the “1st Justice of the Peace” and 35 years later it was unearthed as reported on by the Los Angeles Express of 8 August 1877. The paper reprinted the document as translated with Rowland informing officials that “each one [of the expedition members came] with his fire-arm, which is needed for defence on the journey.” He added

Those with families [specifically Workman, Gordon, Baca and Trujillo, among those named] have come with the intention of settling in this Department, and those who have trades, in pursuit of employment, and some of the others to see and examine this Department with the view of settling now, or of returning after they go back to their country.

The paper concluded with the observation that “the above is copied from the Spanish archives, and purports to be a list of the persons who came with the late John Rowland [he died in October 1873], who was Captain of the party, from New Mexico, at the date mentioned.”

Frankfort’s listing in the 1844 Los Angeles district padron, or census, as transcribed in the Southern California Quarterly for its December 1960 issue.

The next record of Frankfort is in the 1844 departmental padron, or census, in which he was listed as “Jacobo Frankfort,” age 43, with residence in “Angeles,” and the profession of sastre, or tailor and a birthplace of Alemania, or Germany. There was one other German native in the region, this being “Juan Domingo,” or Johann Groningen, who was shipwrecked at San Pedro in 1828 and remained in Los Angeles for thirty years. At the time the census was taken there were 52 extranjeros of foreigners in the Los Angeles district.

In 1845, Frankfort, who clearly had some significant financial ability and acumen, was cited as being owned $400 by the late Rafael Gallardo. A 14 October 1846 document from ship captain John Paty recorded that Frankfort, noted as residing in Los Angeles, held a $700 note from Paty and that the document was received by William Heath Davis, a Hawaiian-American merchant in San Francisco.

The connection with Davis may have led Frankfort to travel to Hawaii, perhaps as an agent for the merchant, with his return recorded as taking place on the brig “Eveline” on 1 September 1847 after 27 days at sea. The brief entry on him in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s California Pioneer Register and Index, 1542-1848 stated that Frankfort was “up and down the coast ’47-8” and that, upon his return from Hawaii, he was successful in “obtaining a lot at S.F.,” perhaps, again, due to his relationship with Davis.

Whether Frankfort resided in San Francisco or merely invested in the property there, he operated his tailor shop in the two-story adobe building constructed in 1845 by Alexander Bell, a Pennsylvania native who came to the Angel City three years earlier, on the east side of Los Angeles Street, south of Aliso Street, just southeast of the Plaza. The relationship with Bell, whose nephew Horace became the entertaining tale-spinner of the well-known Reminiscences of a Ranger (1881), was also personal as, when Bell married Nieves Guirado on 11 May 1844, one of his witnesses was the 41-year old Frankfort, who testified that he knew Bell since 1842, when the latter settled in the pueblo just after the former did.

Frankfort listed on line 2 of the 1850 federal census at Los Angeles by enumerator John R. Evertsen on 18 January 1851. This was the last located record of Frankfort, not quite a year after he came to the Angel City.

As the 1850s dawned, Bell sold the structure to Francis Mellus, who was married to Adelaida Johnson, niece of Bell’s wife, and it has been stated that Frankfort loaned Mellus $700 towards the purchase of the edifice. When the 1850 federal census was taken—and this was early in 1851 because of California’s admission as the 31st state in the Union in September 1850—census marshal John R. Evertsen recorded, on 18 January, that Jacob “Frankford,” listed as age 40 though he was likely closer to a decade older and a tailor from Germany, resided in the Bell household.

It was just about a year-and-a-half later that the State of California, dissatisfied with the low count of residents from the federal returns, conducted its sole census, but Frankfort was nowhere to be found in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the Golden State. If he did move to San Francisco, as some sources suggest, there is no census record to attest to that and it may be that he died in this period of the early fifties. In any case, scanty as the evidence is about his decade or so in Los Angeles, Frankfort’s status as the earliest Jewish resident of the town (there were seven others recorded in the 1850 enumeration) is certainly noteworthy.

A couple of other notable, and little-known, tidbits shared in Friday’s talk concerned Sexton and Rowland and the origins of the expedition of 1841. Sexton occasionally wrote letters to newspapers and one that he sent to the Los Angeles Times and which was published in its edition of 2 July 1891, offered his explanation:

in the year 1841 about the 25 of June on the other side of Santafee new mexico i knocked a yeutau [Ute?] indian down with my fist it caused an indian fighte whitch caused Roland willson wirkeman and Gorden to come to California for theay was afeard to stay in new mexico enny longe.

Without questioning Sexton’s assault on the indigenous person, it hardly seems credible that the incident would lead to the departure of Rowland, Workman, Wilson and Gordon, along with others to California.

Los Angeles Times, 2 July 1891

It is true that the guias or travel permits for the first two were issued in July and August, but there is evidence of preparations to leave for the coast as early as April when Simeon Turley, a Taos competitor of Rowland and Workman in the distilling of liquor, wrote to a brother “Roland and Workman is Selling whiskey at half price to Sell out to gowe to Californe.”

In order to depart in early September, there was roughly half a year entailed in the preparations undertaken by the two men to dispose of property (including that “Taos Lightning”), gather supplies and material, coordinate with others accompanying then, and applying for those permits, among other efforts.

A main factor in their going to California was the purported connection of Rowland and Workman to efforts culminating in the disastrous “Texas-Santa Fe Expedition,” which was an invasion thinly disguised as a trading enterprise emanating from the independent Republic of Texas. The nation, established in 1836 after a revolt against México, insisted that its western boundary in New Mexico should be the Rio Grande, although the principal towns there, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, were all on the eastern (or Texas) side of the watercourse.

After having been named commissioners of his government by President Mirabeau Lamar, on the recommendation of his advisor, William G. Dryden, later a highly colorful lawyer and county judge in Los Angeles, Rowland and Workman quickly distanced themselves as “commissioners” in the effort to pave the way for the Texan invasion. This incurred the wrath of New Mexico Governor Manuel Armijo, whose 1837 arrests of the two for smuggling was almost certainly revenge for their support of Taoseño rebels who overthrew and killed Armijo’s successor—though Rowland and Workman were said to have been forced to swear loyalty to the usurpers.

Los Angeles Express, 8 August 1877.

In any case, despite the two having received their guias, Armijo decided to warn authorities in California about Rowland and Workman’s assumed efforts to “seduce and confuse” the Californios on arrival by having a letter sent to the coast. While this was long known to have been the case, what was found in an obituary after Rowland’s death on 14 October 1873, is particularly interesting on multiple levels.

The Los Angeles Herald of the 15th, in its tribute to the longtime Rancho La Puente co-owner, recorded that “from some circumstances that transpired at the time of the invasion of New Mexico under the command of Col. Cook,” which foundered in the vast spaces as the “expedition” headed west allowing the New Mexicans to easily arrest the perpetrators, “Mr. Rowland was without any cause whatever, suspected by the New Mexican authorities of being in some manner privy to, and abetting the invasion.”

The article continued that as Rowland learned that he was “under the ban of suspicion,” “he resolved to search for another home for himself and family.” This led to the expedition of late 1841 and his acquisition of a grant to about 18,000 acres of La Puente “for himself and his long-time friend, Mr. Wm. Workman.” It was then noted that Rowland returned to New Mexico, retrieved his wife and several children and headed back to California, being joined in this second excursion by David Alexander, a close friend of the Workmans and Temples.

Yet, the Herald added,

So suspicious had the New Mexican authorities become of Mr. Rowland that the Governor of that Territory procured a New Mexican who came to California with Mr. Rowland to be the secret bearer of a letter to the Governor of California cautioning him against Mr. Rowland.

Rowland’s list to Los Angeles officials contained the names of just three Latinos: Vaca, Trujillo and Ygnacio Salazar (“and servants” the document included.) If this account is correct, which of the three is could have been is a mystery that will likely never be solved—however, Vaca and Trujillo came with their families and Salazar came with a servant, an interesting situation as no other such arrangements were to be found on Rowland’s document, so pure speculation might pinpoint Salazar as Armijo’s agent even though it may be possible that he or the others were unaware of the contents of what was almost certainly secured with the governor’s seal. Notably, one source, though uncorroborated, suggested that Workman was involved in a plot to assassinate Armijo prior to leaving for California.

Los Angeles Herald, 15 October 1873.

This year marks a quarter century of involvement with the Old Spanish Trail Association, starting from participation in the formation of a local chapter in a meeting held at the Mission Inn in 1998 and including presentations at conferences and articles published in the organization’s Spanish Traces. Taking part in the gathering at Riverside was a great anniversary commemoration, especially as the Homestead is now a certified site with the Association and the National Park Service, which administer the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, for future collaboration regarding this important aspect of southwestern American history, as well as that, for the Homestead, of the Workman family.

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