Thursday, February 4, 2016

Misión Vieja: The Ancestral Center of the Los Angeles Region

Before there was a Los Angeles and the vast metropolitan area that surrounds it, the Kizh-Gabrieleño Indians occupied a region that stretched west to east from the Simi Pass down to Las Flores Canyon along the coast to the San Bernardino Valley and from the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Empire and much of today's Corona area.

From north to south, the domain ranged from the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Mountains and part of the San Bernardino Mountains down to the ocean and through most of Orange County, terminating near Aliso Creek, Irvine and the Santa Ana Mountains.  Four of the Channel Islands off the coast are also part of the region, including Santa Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolás and Santa Barbara.  Three large valleys (San Fernando, San Gabriel, San Bernardino) and two spacious plains (Los Angeles and Santa Ana) are also within the tribal lands.

For thousands of years, these native peoples built a society that was adapted to their environment, of which the most precious resource, as is the case anywhere, was, of course, water.  While there were at least two other major watercourses that drained into the areas occupied by the Kizh-Gabrieleño, these being the Los Angeles and Santa Ana rivers, it is notable that the greatest concentration of village sites and, obviously, of numbers of people was tied directly to the San Gabriel River watershed, including the many creeks and streams that fed into it.

The central point of that system was what we now refer to as the Whittier Narrows, where the San Gabriel River over many, many generations scoured away a narrow space between the Puente and Montebello hills.  This pass was also memorialized in the name of a ranch within the Narrows area, Rancho Paso de Bartolo, which includes much of today's Whittier, the unincorporated area historically called Los Nietos and other adjacent locations.

The San Gabriel gathers its waterflow from three main branches in the San Gabriel (formerly known as the Sierra Madre) Mountains in Azusa Canyon, the north, west and east forks and empties down into its namesake valley.  Historically, the water actually was directed underground through sand, gravel and boulders for several miles and then emerged above ground in the vicinity of El Monte.

One of its main channels for a long period of time after the written record came into being after 1769 is what is now known as the Rio Hondo and that "Old San Gabriel River" actually veered west around the Montebello Hills and headed off towards the Pacific.

In 1867-68, during a particularly strong rainy season (something like the one we are now anticipating), the river shifted eastward, with an unintended assist from ex-Governor Pío Pico, owner of the Paso de Bartolo rancho, whose irrigation ditch became the start of a new channel when heavy water flow poured into the Narrows.  The river's route then took over the Los Coyotes Creek waterway moving southwest into the Pacific where the modern San Gabriel empties into the ocean where Seal Beach and Long Beach meet.  Our "engineered" San Gabriel seems to ensure that the current channel will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

The "Old San Gabriel River" became the Rio Hondo and because it channel still continued to flow southwest and then into a frequently rerouted Los Angeles River, any tributaries in the western San Gabriel Valley that flow into the Rio Hondo, such as Alhambra Wash, Rubio Wash, Eaton Creek/Wash and Santa Anita Creek/Wash.

While these westward tributaries were part of the old San Gabriel system, the modern version has a significant number of tributary streams (creeks and washes) that have deposited water into its channel coming from the east and northeast.  These include Big Dalton Wash, Walnut Creek and San José Creek.

Naturally, where there's water, there is abundant plant and animal life.  When the first Spanish expedition came through this region in summer 1769, diary entries noted the profusion of wild grapevines, Rose of Castile bushes, oaks, sycamores, willows and many other plant materials.  Bear, antelopes, deer, and many other animals were noted.  Obviously, with this extraordinary supply of water, food and other resources, the native peoples congregated where they could take greatest advantage of what was available to them.

Several large villages dotted the landscape of the Narrows, including Shevaanga, which appears to have been located along the west side of the Rio Hondo in an area now north of the 60 Freeway in a corner of Rosemead near Whittier Narrows Golf Course.  Others identified in sources are Houtgna, Isantcagna, and Wiichinga.  To the east at La Puente was 'Awiinga, and it was said that an Indian baptized as Mateo in 1774 was acknowledged as the chief of that village, but also of a wide ranging area embracing several villages, presumably within the Whittier Narrows region.

When the Spanish decided to establish a mission in the area, there were several possible sites identified in the diaries of the first exploration of 1769-1770, but the chosen location was in the Whittier Narrows, precisely because of the availability of water, plant materials and animal life, as well as the larger concentrations of native peoples the Spanish wanted to convert to Christianity and European ways of life, including as forced labor for the mission.

Although the first Mission San Gabriel site was established along the west bank of the old river just north of the pass, flooding forced its removal to a higher, drier location by 1775 at the current location.  The former site became known as "La Misión Vieja" or Old Mission, a name that remained until well into the 20th century.

About ten archaeological sites have been studied over the decades in the Whittier Narrows area and the work there, as well as what has been in the historical (ethnographic) record gives powerful testimony to the central importance of this region to the Kizh-Gabrieleño people of centuries and millenia past and to their descendants now.

It should be noted that the Spanish referred to the native peoples under their regime as Kichireños when the original mission site at the Narrows was in operation.  Later, at the current site, the term Gabrieleños was employed.  Accounts published in 1846 and 1856, however, make use of the term Kizh in reference to the natives, the descendants of which hold that the Whittier Narrows/Misión Vieja/Old Mission area is a central, sacred place of immense cultural and religious significance to the tribe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Basye Family of Misión Vieja

The last post concerned the family of Juan Matias Sánchez, co-owner of Rancho La Merced from 1851 onward.  Sánchez occupied and then expanded the adobe built by the rancho's original owner, Casilda Soto de Lobo, and ran his nearly 1,200-acre half of La Merced from there.

In 1856, Sánchez was joined by a nephew, Rafael Basye, who migrated from New Mexico.  Rafael was a son of Sánchez's sister Geronima and James Basye.  James was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky about 1802 and, as a young man, lived in Shelbyville, Illinois and then moved to Cass County, Missouri, southeast of today's Kansas City.

Apparently, though, James traveled on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico, where he married Geronima Sánchez about 1830 or so.  Rafael was born in 1832 and there were at least two other sons, Joseph (born in 1837) and Peter (1839), all of whom were born in New Mexico.  By about 1842, however, Geronima died and James took his three sons back to Missouri.  When the 1850 census was conducted, James, his three sons from Geronima, his second wife Elizabeth and their daughter and son together were residing on a farm in the Sixteenth District of Cass County.

This early 1900s map shows the Misión Vieja area, with the Montebello Hills at the left, the Rio Hondo [Old San Gabriel River] going vertically at the center, and the bridge along San Gabriel Boulevard crossing the Rio Hondo at the center.  Just below that, on the left of the river, is the Basye Adobe.  Click on any image to see the set in a separate window and in enlarged views.  All photos courtesy of the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
An 1889 biography of Rafael stated "he was born in New Mexico, 1 May 1832; but while a youth his parents located in Missouri, where Mr. Basye was reared as a farmer and stock-raiser."  The account continued, "In 1856 he crossed the plains to California, and located in Los Angeles County, where, in connection with his uncle, John Sanches [sic], he was engaged in sheep-ranching and wool-growing in the San Gabriel Valley."

A Basye family history published in 1950 stated that James Basye "went to California in about 1850 [and] from there in 1851 he took a steamer for home, carrying a large sum of money, said to be $65,000, but he was never heard from."  If true, this statement indicates pretty clearly that James was wildly successful digging for gold during the famed Gold Rush and was heading back to Missouri with his riches when he vanished.  The account continued that, "it is supposed he was drowned, murdered, or lost on the Isthmus."

Another early 20th=-century map with detail of the southwest corner of Rancho Potrero Chico.  Coming from the upper left to the lower right is San Gabriel Boulevard and, towards the lower left, is a small indication for Lincoln Avenue.  Just below San Gabriel and right of Lincoln is the location of the Basye Adobe.
As for Rafael's two full brothers, Joseph, at around 13 years old, went to California with his father in 1850, and then was left there at Vacaville with relatives.  When James failed to make it back home to Missouri, Joseph was left in California and, "lost track of his people," according to the 1950 Basye history.  He married and had a large family and spent his last years in Bakersfield, where he died at the end of 1919.

Peter, the younger of the trio, left Missouri and went a short distance west over the border to Kansas, where, at age 23, he enlisted in the Second Kansas Cavalry for the Union Army during the Civil War.  He served as a private from April 1862 until his discharge from Little Rock, Arkansas, just a few days after the assassination of President Lincoln three years later.  Peter, who never married, worked as a farmer near present Kansas City and at Richland, near Topeka and Lawrence, before rheumatism led him to be admitted to the National Soldiers' Home at Leavenworth in 1887.  He was in and out of the home five separate times for stints as long as six years at a time.  During his last stay there, on 16 January 1904, he was walking along a Burlington Northern railroad track at night and was struck and killed by a train.

Whether Rafael had any contact with his brothers is not known, but, in the 1860 census he shows up as "Rafael Vasa" in the household of his uncle Juan Matias Sánchez.  He must have remained there for almost another decade, as he married Maria Antonia Alvitre, of a long-standing Misión Vieja family profiled in this blog previously, in 1869.

A circa 1890s photo of the Basye Adobe with false wood fronts, including the former Basye Store at the right, then called the "Pioneer Store" and "Old Mission Saloon" and run by Manuel Zuñiga, who was from a long-time early Misión Vieja family.  Standing at the center is Zuñiga's second wife, Lucinda Temple, from another Old Mission family.
Settling into an adobe house built by him and Jesús Andrade situated just off the west bank of the Rio Hondo, which until a massive flood in 1867 was the old course of the San Gabriel River, Bayse opened a general store, which catered to the Old Mission community.  He remained a merchant for the rest of his life until he died on 27 February 1887.

After Rafael's death, his widow and children remained at the adobe and continued to operate the store, which soon became managed by the eldest child, James.  By 1900, however, the Basyes left the adobe, which continued to house the "Pioneer Store" and "Old Mission Saloon", owned by Manuel Zuñiga, whose family resided in the Old Mission area from well before 1850 and who was married to another Misión Vieja native, Lucinda Temple when he ran the store and saloon.

Walter Temple, upper right, Laura Gonzalez Temple, upper left, and their four children, from left to right, Agnes, Walter, Jr., Edgar, and Thomas, next to the Basye Adobe about 1914.  In April 1914, Thomas accidentally discovered oil on the hills to the west of the house, which led to a lease with Standard Oil Company of California.  Two dozen oil wells were drilled, several proving to be gushers, and, after the Temples moved, the adobe became the lease headquarters for Standard.  Once the company vacated the building, sometime in the 1930s, it was razed.

In 1912, the adobe was purchased by Walter P. Temple, Lucinda's younger brother, after he decided to sell the 50-acre Temple homestead on the east side of the Rio Hondo.  Temple and his family resided in the Basye Adobe for five years and, when oil was found on land the Temples owned in the Montebello Hills just west of the house, the structure became the headquarters for Standard Oil Company of California for the Temple Lease.  It remained in use by the company until sometime in the 1930s, when it was torn down.

This is a detail of a Summer 1917 panoramic photo that showed hundreds of persons gathered near the Basye Adobe, which is barely visible behind the trees, for a celebration commemorating the first Temple oil well at the Montebello Hills.  John H. Temple, brother of Walter, who owned the wells, sports a large white mustache and wears in a suit and bow tie at the lower center.  For a brief time, he lived in the adobe while he managed a gas station owned by his brother at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard, just a stone's throw west of the adobe.
Meantime, the Basye family had a forty-acre farm about a mile or so northeast of their adobe and within the town of El Monte.  This property was owned by Maria Antonia Alvtire de Basye and, by the late 1880s, there were seventeen acres planted to wine grapes, an orchard and other crops.  Today, Basye Street in the area is a visible reminder of the family's quarter-section farm.

This fantastic image, probably taken in the 1920s from an oil derrick like those seen in the background, shows the Basye Adobe at the left while it was used as headquarters for Standard Oil Company of California and its Temple lease.  At the right is San Gabriel Boulevard heading to the northwest.  In the distance is a portion of the Montebello Hills.  Those with sharp eyes can make out, at the top right, the intersection with Lincoln Avenue.
In all, there were six surviving children of Rafael and Maria Antonia, including James, Rafaela, Thomas, Miguel, Edward and Isabelle.  The family remained in the Old Mission/El Monte area for many years and descendants continue to reside in the Los Angeles region.

As is often the case, there were some difficult times, much of it centered on the 1898 marriage of Rafaela Basye to Charles P. Temple, of the prominent Misión Vieja family, and her death very shortly afterward.  Her family blamed Temple for Rafaela's premature passing and, not long afterward, James confronted Temple after both had been drinking and the two men pulled out pistols and shot at each other.  Temple was wounded and James went on trial, but the case ended without a conviction and, it is said, the two men amicably parted from the courthouse.

Photographed in 1930 for a college term paper on the La Puente School District, which included the Old Mission area, the Basye Adobe appears to have been abandoned and was missing windows and other details.  It had served as headquarters for Standard Oil Company of California for the company's Temple Lease, but was torn down within several years of this photo being taken.
This wasn't the case three years later, in 1902, when Thomas Basye was in Temple's "La Paloma" saloon, run out of the old Temple family adobe in Old Mission.  Naturally, there was drinking and an argument and Temple shot and killed Thomas.  A dramatic and avidly-covered trial took place, leading to Temple's acquittal.

These incidents will be covered in this blog in more detail at a later date.  Another Basye-related post for the future will be about the original ledger from the family store, which has remarkably survived the decades, though the book is badly worn and damaged.  Its pages contain transactions with the early families of La Misión Vieja and will make for an interesting addition to this blog.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Sánchez Family of Misión Vieja

Juan Matias Sánchez was born in New Mexico in 1808 to Juan Cristobal Sanchez and Maria Margarita Silva.  Little is known of his life there, but, in his late thirties, he migrated via the Old Spanish Trail to the Los Angeles area, perhaps in a caravan in 1846 or 1847.  The earliest documentation of him in this region was his registration for a cattle brand, dated 20 September 1847.

Where he was keeping his cattle is not known, but it is likely it was on the Rancho La Puente, co-owned by John Rowland and William Workman, who had come from Taos, New Mexico in late 1841 and undoubtedly knew Sánchez well there. 

It may be that Sánchez moved to this area to take up work with Workman, because, in the 1850 federal census, which was actually taken early in 1851 because California statehood was not decided until September 1850, Sánchez was counted in Workman's household and his occupation given as "overseer." 

Juan Matias Sánchez (1808-1885), co-owner of the ranchos La Merced and Potrero Grande in the Misión Vieja area.  Photo supplied by Tim Miguel.
In other words, Sánchez was the majordomo, or foreman, for Workman's cattle, horses and other animals on the latter's enormous 24,000-plus half of La Puente.  This was a job requiring considerable skill in managing the vaqueros tending the animals and arranging for the shipment of stock to the newly-discovered gold fields in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, some 250 miles to the north.

In fact, Sánchez departed for the gold fields in 1849 to seek his fortune there, but apparently returned quickly realizing that the effort was not as productive as taking cattle there to supply the growing masses of miners and others who were flocking to California during the rush.

However, it is possible Sánchez did well in the fields, because in September 1850 he loaned his employer, Workman, 211 1/2 ounces of gold, which would have been worth several thousand dollars, a fortune for the time. 

The surviving receipt, dated 26 September, simply states that Workman declared himself "to be in debt to Don Juan Matias Sanchez the amount of 211 1/2 ounces in gold -- in troy weight, which amount I promise and oblige to give to the aforementioned Sanchez to his order the day he asks for it.  In February 1852, Sánchez acknowledged the receipt of 1500 pesos in silver, with another 500 paid up a little over a year later. 

When Casilda Soto de Lobo, grantee in October 1844 of Rancho La Merced in the Old Mission area, gave Workman 825 pesos as payment for a debt, Workman forwarded that amount to Sánchez--this also being in March 1853.

The reason this latter transaction is significant is because Señora Soto de Lobo borrowed $1225 from Workman in December 1850 and was obligated to return the money by early April 1851.  In lieu of this, Workman was given the option of buying the 2,363-acre rancho outright for $2,500.  On 30 April 1851, he exercised that option.  Shortly afterward, Workman's daughter Margarita and her husband, F.P.F. Temple, moved onto the ranch and built an adobe.

On 15 September 1852, Workman executed a deed transferring the La Merced ranch to F.P.F. Temple and Sánchez, so the transfer six months later to Sánchez of the 825 pesos paid over by Señora Soto de Lobo to Workman follows the trail, it appears, of that original loan by Sánchez to Workman.

Casilda Soto de Lobo built, probably in the summer of 1845, for herself and her children an adobe on a bluff at the base of the Montebello Hills facing east towards the Rio Hondo, the original channel of the San Gabriel River.  Shortly after she lost the ranch and Sánchez was given a half-interest in it, he moved into the adobe. 

Oddly, one of the Lobo sons, Juan, who had received his own cattle brand in 1846 for use at La Merced, went to the gold fields in 1849 and got himself into some trouble.  At Sonora, in what became Tuolumne County in the "southern mines," Juan Lobo executed a contract with a Charles Van Winel in which he borrowed $1,000 on promise of repayment and, in lieu of the latter, he promised the La Merced ranch.  In April 1851, Van Winel executed a foreclosure action in Los Angeles and, when it was revealed that Juan Lobo had no legal right to mortgage any property, he was thrown in jail and Van Winel had no legal recourse to recover his money.

Meantime, Sánchez began a common-law marriage with Maria Luisa Archuleta, a native of New Mexico, whose first husband Rafael Martinez, a brother of John Rowland's wife Encarnación, had disappeared during the Gold Rush when he'd left the area to search for gold and was never heard from again.  Luisa had three children with Martinez: Albino David, María del Refugio, and José.  The common-law relationship may have been because of the uncertainty of what had happened to Rafael Martinez.

Photo supplied by Tim Poyorena-Miguel.
In any case, Sánchez and Luisa Archuleta settled in the Soto adobe at La Merced and expanded it with a perpendicular wing--necessary because of the growing family that included her Martinez children and the five who were born to them between 1856 and 1867.  These included Tomás, Francisco, Luz, Juan Cristobal, and Julián.  Luisa died in 1873, not long after she and Sanchez had an official church marriage, which took place on 10 February 1872.

Notably, the four sons shared the same names as the first four sons of F.P.F. and Margarita Temple and the five Sánchez children were sponsored at baptism by William Workman, his wife Nicolasa, the Temples, and their two oldest sons, Thomas and Francis (that is, Tomás and Francisco.)  This represents the closeness the Sánchez, Temple and Workman families had as compadres and neighbors.

Sánchez added to his landholdings in October 1852 when he was granted all of Rancho Potrero Grande, excepting 172 acres previously sold, by its original grantee Manuel Antonio Pérez.  This property, which was north of La Merced, amounted to over 4,000 acres, though the deed was, for an unknown reason, not executed with the county until March 1878.

Sánchez quickly mortgaged his section of the Potrero Grande to Andrés Pico, brother of ex-governor Pío Pico and a hero of the Californio resistance to the American invasion of 1846-47, for $6,300 in October 1853.  The loan was due in May 1854 and repaid in full, perhaps with proceeds from the annual sale of cattle in the gold fields.  In March 1857, Sánchez sold 1/4 interests to his compadres Workman and Temple for $1,500 each, so that he retained a 1/2 stake in the ranch.

In 1863, Sánchez, Temple and Workman acquired a majority of the small Rancho Potrero Chico, which only totaled about 80 acres near the original site of Mission San Gabriel and adjacent to La Merced and Potrero Grande.  With these dealings, Sánchez eventually had a portfolio of well over 3,000 acres, a substantial estate for the period.

In the 1860 census, the first of two that recorded self-reported values for real estate and personal property, Sánchez claimed that he had $8,000 of each—this during an economic downturn brought about by the end of the Gold Rush and a national depression and then followed by flooding and drought that decimated the cattle industry.  A decade later, as matters improved significantly in the economic arena, Sánchez reported $30,000 in real estate and $15,000 in personal property.  It can be added that Sánchez was one of the largest wool producers in Los Angeles County—in 1862, he was twelfth on a list with nearly 5,000 pounds produced the previous year, but this was before the drought took full effect.

During the ups-and-downs of the Gold Rush, floods and droughts, the Civil War and other conditions of the 1850s and 1860s was the long quagmire involved in the land claims for California ranches secured under Spanish and Mexican rule.

Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was drafted in early 1848 to include an article preserving Spanish and Mexican era land grants, the U.S. Congress voted to remove that provision in approving the treaty.  Then, with the onset of the Gold Rush and a mass of migrants seeking gold and then land, disputes arose over those grants.

Consequently, Congress passed an act in March 1851, appointing a commission to hold hearings at which land grant holders were to present their grants, maps and witness testimony after which the commission would make a ruling.  Of the over 800 grants presented to the commission, over two-thirds were approved. 
The legislation, however, included a provision for either side (the government or the grantee) to appeal the commission ruling to a federal district court, with further appeals available to the United States Supreme Court.  Although the commission did its work quickly, claims in the courts dragged on so that the average claim took seventeen years to complete.

For Sánchez, there were two claims to make: for Rancho Potrero Grande and for Rancho La Merced.  The first was a breeze, as the commission quickly rendered its decision in his favor and the district court followed suit.  In 1859, seven years after filing his claim, the patent arrived from Washington, making Sánchez (and Temple and Workman, who owned half of the ranch after 1857) one of the earliest of the patent holders in the region.  La Merced was a different story, however.  The claim took over twenty years to be reconciled, with the patent not being issued until 1872.

Having a patent, however, was hardly a guarantee that ownership of a large ranch would be trouble-free.  In the early 1850s, several groups of settlers from the southern states migrated to the area and established communities like Savannah (a corruption of the native Gabrieleño name of Sivag-na), Lexington and El Monte.  In some cases, these new arrivals established farms on ranchos from the Mexican era and were labeled squatters by the owners of these ranches.

Potrero Grande turned out to be a flashpoint for the squatting problem.  Sánchez, Temple and Workman filed suit in the local district court to evict several dozen people who had taken up residence on the ranch.  In 1859, the year the land patent was received, the court ruled for the three men and against the squatters.  It was one thing, however, to get a judgment from the court and quite another to execute it and it is not yet known what happened in the aftermath of the case.

In 1874, however, another ejectment suit by Sánchez and F. P. F. Temple (William Workman deeded over his quarter interest to his daughter, Temple's wife, in 1862) was filed against several families who had also squatted on Potrero Grande.  It quickly became known that at least a few of them, including the Penfolds and the Newmans, were not going to yield their land without a fight.  In mid-January, Sheriff William R. Rowland and his deputies rode out from Los Angeles to serve a writ upon Bernard Newman, but were fired upon with one deputy, Pete Gabriel, being severely wounded.  Newman was arrested and tried in court and that event will be covered here in a later post.

Whether or not the land dispute of 1874 was fully resolved in the favor of Sánchez and Temple, another much greater challenge was just around the corner.

The late 1860s and early 1870s was a period of unprecedented growth and development in the Los Angeles area, as the population grew and the economy improved.  Sánchez's compadres, F.P.F. Temple and William Workman, launched headlong into business ventures during this boom period, including banking.  After 1871, their private bank, simply called Temple and Workman, was an active participant in development projects throughout the region, including oil, real estate and railroads, but it was also poorly managed.

In late August 1875, the economy collapsed due to stock speculation in Virginia City, Nevada silver mines, toppling the Bank of California, the state's largest.  The panic reached Los Angeles and fearful depositors flocked to the two commercial banks in town, Temple and Workman and Farmers and Merchants, to withdraw their money.  While the latter had enough cash in reserve to meet the need, Temple and Workman did not, closed for several months, and sought a loan to continue operation.  In early December, Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin offered to loan the bank $210,000, but insisted that not only Temple and Workman use their massive landholdings as collateral for the loan, but that Sánchez do the same, even though he had no involvement in the bank.

Los Angeles merchant, Harris Newmark, recalled in his memoir that "Sánchez, who transacted a good deal of business with H. Newmark & Company, came to me for advice."  Newmark told the ranchero that "Temple & Workman's relief could be at best but temporary . . . and so I strenuously urged Sánchez to refuse [to include his land in the Baldwin mortgage]; which he finally promised me to do."  Notably, Newmark observed that "so impressive was out interview that I still vividly recall the scene when he dramatically said: 'No quiero morir de hambre!' — 'I do not wish to die of hunger!'"  Finally, the merchant mournfully noted that, "a few days later I learned, to my deep disappointment, that Sánchez had agreed, after all, to include his lands."

As Newmark, and surely many others, predicted, the Temple and Workman bank loan did not prevent disaster and the institution closed its doors permanently in early January 1876.  The merchant stated that "thus ended in sorrow and despair the lives of three men, who, in their day, had prospered to a degree not given to every man."

It took several years for the bank affair to be wrapped up in the courts and Baldwin received his foreclosure judgment by 1880.  Sánchez was then in his early seventies and, although Baldwin was known for his ruthlessness in business, he did show some compassion.

In 1880, Baldwin executed a deed to Sánchez for 200 acres of La Merced known "as the Juan Matias Sánchez House and Vineyard" as well as "lands under cultivation and improvements thereon," which was to remain the property of Sánchez.

Matilda Bojorquez de Sanchez (ca. 1860-1891), the second wife of Juan Matias Sánchez..  The original photograph was taken in the late 1880s by A.C. Golsh.  Courtesy of Dara Jones.
Shortly afterwards, Sánchez married again, to Matilda Bojorquez, who was still in her teens when she wed the 70-something ranchero.  The couple had three children, daughters Dolores and Rosa and son José Juan between 1879 and 1883.

Mindful of the future of the ranch and his second family, Sánchez issued a deed in June 1882, giving his young wife, Matilda, the 200 acres as well as to "her heirs and assignees forever."

A little over three years later, in November 1885, Sánchez, aged 78, died at his home, having lived a long and eventful life, though Newmark wrote that he "died very poor."  Whether this last statement was true or not, Sánchez did live much of his life in California as a wealthy and well-regarded ranchero.

In 1887, his widow Matilda sold a 1/2 interest in the 200 acres to Frederick Hall and Charles H. Forbes and then she married the latter's son, Agustin two years later.  The marriage lasted less than two years, as Matilda died in April 1891 in her early thirties as she was giving birth to twins, who also died.

In November 1892, Lucky Baldwin filed an action claiming the 200 acre property and won a judgment on Christmas Eve 1896.

The Soto-Sanchez Adobe, however, remained in the hands of the Bojorquez family until it was sold to the Lucky Baldwin estate in 1911.  Three years later, the Baldwin estate sold the house and the 200 acre property to Edwin G. Hart, a noted developer who founded the communities of North Whittier Heights (Hacienda Heights) and La Habra Heights, among others.  Hart subdivided the parcel through the La Merced Heights Land and Water Company. 

Also in 1914, oilman William B. Scott purchased the Soto-Sanchez Adobe, which, after his death in the early 1920s, was held by his family and, for years, his two children, Josephine Scott Crocker and Keith Scott, until the family donated the adobe to the City of Montebello in 1972 and the house became a historic site museum, managed by the Montebello Historical Society.

Two of the sons of Juan Matias Sánchez and Luisa Archuleta, Tomás (sitting on the stair rail at the right) and Francisco (standing just to the left of Tomás) with their wives, Masrgarita Rowland Sanchez (top left with the striped blouse) and Felipa Gonzalez (just over the left shoulder of Francisco) and other family and friends, including Juan Matias's nephew's son, James Basye (standing lower left,) ca. 1900s.  Courtesy of Dara Jones.
The Soto-Sanchez Adobe is one of the few remaining buildings that touches upon the story of the Misión Vieja community.  While Juan Matias may not be a familiar name to most people, his life serves as an interesting and notable element of the history of Old Mission and the Los Angeles region.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Temple Family of Misión Vieja

In 1851, shortly after foreclosing on Casilda Soto de Lobo on a loan that used the Rancho La Merced as collateral, William Workman, owner of half of the massive Rancho La Puente east of Old Mission, executed a deed that transferred the ranch to his son-in-law, F. P. F. Temple and to Juan Matias Sánchez, who had been Workman's foreman at La Puente.

While Sánchez moved to the Soto adobe on a bluff overlooking the Rio Hondo (then the San Gabriel River) and built a wing to the structure soon afterward, Temple and his wife, Workman's daughter, Margarita, began construction on an adobe home to the east of the river.  The Temples completed their L-shaped adobe the same year and it became the centerpiece of one of the more notable residences in the Los Angeles region and the headquarters of their half-share of the 2,363-acre La Merced ranch.

F.P.F. Temple and Antonia Margarita Workman, co-owners of Rancho La Merced.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California.
Pliny Fisk Temple was born in Reading, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, in 1822.  Named for a famed Congregationalist missionary who had done his work in Egypt and Palestine, Pliny was the youngest of his family of eleven children and was the son of Lucinda Parker and Captain Jonathan Temple.  After spending most of his youth in his hometown, Pliny decided at the age of eighteen to make the long journey to Mexican California to meet his oldest sibling, a half-brother, also named Jonathan.

The Temple brothers were twenty-six years apart in age, enough for Jonathan to be old enough to be Pliny's father, and the elder Temple left Massachusetts before the younger was born.  Jonathan sailed for what was then known as the Sandwich Islands (more commonly Hawai'i) within a couple of years of the arrival of Congregationalist missionaries from Massachusetts, who soon became dominant figures in the island kingdom.  As was often the case, missionaries were soon followed by merchants, who established their own power base in Hawai'i. 

While little is known about Jonathan Temple's years in the islands, it was recorded that he was imprisoned briefly for political reasons unstated and his stay was relatively brief.  In 1827, Jonathan left Hawai'i for San Diego, where he was baptized a Roman Catholic.  The following year, he migrated to Los Angeles, becoming the second American or European to live in the town (the first was an American, Joseph Chapman, who was a shipwreck from an Argentinian vessel captained by a French pirate named Bouchard--but that's another story!)

Shortly after settling in Los Angeles, Jonathan opened the pueblo's first store and over the years a small number of Americans and Europeans joined him in a small, but well-connected, community of merchants and traders.  When Pliny made his voyage from Boston, leaving in mid-January 1841, to Los Angeles, arriving about the first of July, his brother was owner of some prime property in the town, as well as the Rancho Los Cerritos, comprising much of today's Long Beach and nearby areas.

Pliny, it appears, intended only to visit for about a year before returning home, but found Los Angeles to be to his liking, so he remained.  Surviving letters from his family in Massachusetts indicate their concern for his well-being, but he adapted to life in Mexican California quickly.  Working as a clerk in his brother's store, Pliny was here less than a year when he began selling gold dust, through a brother back east, in Philadelphia from a March 1842 discovery at Placerita Canyon near today's Santa Clarita.

In 1845, Pliny was baptized (as Francisco, hence his new moniker of F.P.F.) and married at the same ceremony.  His wife was Antonia Margarita Workman, daughter of William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, the latter a native of Taos, New Mexico, where the Workmans lived prior to migrating to California in late 1841 as part of a group commonly known as the Rowland-Workman Expedition.  The couple lived in Los Angeles and their first two children, sons Thomas and Francis, were born during the late 1840s.  Pliny had no involvement in the invasion of California by American forces in 1846-47, though he did write home about it.

With the outbreak of the Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1848, Pliny left his brother's employment and ventured to the gold fields.  Eventually, though, he found another way to take advantage of what the Gold Rush had to offer, in terms of supplying fresh beef from Los Angeles-area cattle.  Namely, he developed a series of enterprises involving grazing lands, slaughterhouses and butcher shops in the Tuolumne County area near the towns of Springfield, Sonora and Columbia.  At the latter, now a state historic park, two surviving structures were owned by Temple, though his area residence was near Springfield.  For over a quarter century he maintained an active presence in the region.

The gift of half of La Merced from Workman in 1851, then, made sense in terms of Temple's growing involvement in the cattle industry.  Along with Workman and Sánchez, Temple made many thousands of dollars in annual cattle and sheep runs from the San Gabriel Valley to the gold country, and he even had an interest in ranch lands along the Grapevine north of Los Angeles to rest his herds on the long journey north.  While the Gold Rush peaked before 1855 and declined steadily afterwards, the Temples still had about 1,200 head of cattle on the ranch.

The Temple Ranch from a stereoscopic photograph by William M. Godfrey, ca. 1870.  One end of the adobe house is at the left center, a water tower is in the center and some of the fencing that bounded the Temple portion of La Merced is in view.  The road in the foreground might be San Gabriel Boulevard.  Courtesy of Philip Nathanson, owner of the original photo.
Meanwhile, as his wealth grew, so did his residence and headquarters at La Merced.  Visitors in the late 1850s through 1860s described some of the Temple family's domain there.  For example, John Q.A. Warren, who published a livestock and farming magazine in San Francisco during the first part of the 1860s, spent some time at the Temple's home in 1860 and commented that "the mansion is adobe, built in substantial and comfortable style, and like the usual Spanish [?] houses forms a half-square 110 feet by 70 feet."  This reference to a "half-square" indicated that the adobe was L-shaped and, if a standard of about 20 feet wide is accepted, the house probably measured about 3,600 square feet, which was quite large for "usual Spanish houses," whatever that might mean!

As to the Temples' roughly 1,200 acre share of La Merced, Warren observed that there was "a large variety of fruit trees, pear, peach, plum, apricot, olive, figs, and English walnuts," with some 200 of the walnuts in the orchard.  As to field crops, there was corn, wheat, barley and rye.  Some of this was ground at a mill that was built by another man, but purchased by F. P. F. Temple in the 1850s and which, by 1860, had an inventory of corn meal and flour valued at $21,000, a small fortune for the time.  To irrigate the field crops, Temple constructed, in 1854, an irrigation ditch to run water from the San Gabriel River, a total of four miles through his property, both at La Merced and at the Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, which was adjacent to the northeast.

Typically, ranchos were so large that fencing them was cost-prohibitive and too labor intensive, at least until "fence laws" forced ranchers to put up barbed-wire fencing later on.  But, F. P. F. Temple had developed enough wealth to spend, according to one source, $40,000 in lumber from Phineas Banning of Wilmington so that he could fence in his part of La Merced.

As prosperous as the 1850s were, the following decade largely proved the opposite.  The decline of the Gold Rush and lowered demand for local beef (affected, as well, by imported longhorn cattle from Texas and other locales), a national economic depression in 1857 and the vagaries of the weather caused major disruptions in the Los Angeles-area economy.

A view of workers cutting beef near a zanja (water ditch) in front of the Temple adobe at Rancho La Merced, ca. 1870.  Copy provided by Philip Nathanson.
On Christmas Eve 1861, rainfall started that hardly let up for several weeks up through most of January 1862.  As this was roughly a 40-day period, the resulting inundation was called "Noah's Flood," and many cattle, crops, and some structures were washed away.  Much of southern Los Angeles County became an inland sea, as was a significant part of the San Joaquin Valley.  A short notice in the Los Angeles Star newspaper in January observed that, with their adobe home flooded, the Temples "effected their escape from the house on a raft."  In hindsight, it's amazing the building survived for as long as it did, because the area is now a restricted floodplain controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the Whittier Narrows Dam, just a short distance south of the adobe.

The El Niño effect (not known to locals, obviously) was then followed by La Niña and two years of devastating drought ensued in 1863 and 1864.  What cattle and crops were still left were ruined by the calamity, further driving the economy downward.  Eventually, though, as the drought ended and the Civil War concluded, Los Angeles experienced, in the late 1860s and early 1870s, its first significant period of population and economic growth.   While F.P.F. Temple continued to maintain his ranching and farming interests, especially increasing his investment in sheep-raising, he turned more towards business interests in Los Angeles and nearby areas.

With real estate, for example, Temple and El Monte resident Fielding Gibson purchased and subdivided, by 1867, a tract of land between Los Angeles and San Pedro that was initially known as Centerville and Gibsonville.  When a major part of the tract was purchased by George Compton in 1870, however, the developing community took his name.  Later, Temple became a major investor in projects with the Rancho Centinela, in what is now the Inglewood area, and the Lake Vineyard tract of today's Alhambra and San Marino, among others.

Temple was also heavily involved in local mining, in such places as Santa Catalina Island, the White Mountains of Inyo County and the mountains of southwest Kern County, while keeping some of his Tuolumne County properties until the 1870s.  He also was an early entrepreneur in oil drilling, concentrating his work in what was called the San Fernando field in the mountains in present-day Santa Clarita.  He built the first steam-powered refinery in California, part of which survives as a state historical landmark in Newhall, and did produce a small amount of oil through his Los Angeles Petroleum Refining Company, the product being used for gas lighting.

With lumber interests in the San Gabriel Mountains above modern Claremont and in the San Jacinto Mountains near today's Idyllwild, as well as a stake in the import and raising of eucalyptus trees (intended for lumber, the wrong "gum" was imported and the trees wound up being used as wind breaks for farmers) through the Forest Grove Company, Temple sought a place in the lumber industry as the area grew.

He also was invested in railroads, becoming a major negotiator to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad's line from the north through Los Angeles and then forming his own railroad, the Los Angeles and Independence, which was aiming to tap silver mines in Inyo County where he had a water and mining company actively working.  He was the first president of the line, but needing outside funding, Temple and his partners convinced Nevada senator John P. Jones to take a majority stock ownership.  Jones was building a seaside resort called Santa Monica, so the railroad constructed a line from Los Angeles to the new town before starting work east towards Inyo County that was only partially completed.

Members of the Temple family and household workers in the garden next to the Temple family residence at La Merced.  From an original stereoscopic photograph at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
To fund much of his projects, Temple and his father-in-law Workman got involved in banking.  They had a partner, the brilliant Los Angeles merchant, Isaias W. Hellman, and the firm of Hellman, Temple and Company opened, in 1868, the second bank in Los Angeles.  The enterprise was short-lived, though, because Temple and Hellman differed on loaning policy and other management questions.  While Hellman went on to found Farmers and Merchants Bank, run Wells Fargo and other San Francisco banks, and became the wealthiest man on the west coast, Temple and Workman opened their own bank in 1871, known simply as Temple and Workman.

The bank was popular, but often for the wrong reasons.  A genial and highly-popular man, Temple too easily loaned money to people who lacked the ability to repay and did not have proper collateral to collect on loans that were delinquent.  In addition, Temple was so busy with his many business projects and political ambitions (he ran for county supervisor in 1871 and county treasurer in 1873 and 1875, winning the last one), that he left day-to-day management of the bank to a cashier who did not properly administer its affairs.

When the overheated California economy, heavily dependent on silver mine stocks in Nevada, collapsed in late August 1875, the Temple and Workman bank faced a run by depositors and could not pay out due to low cash reserves.  It suspended business on the day of the county elections (at which Temple, ironically, was elected county treasurer) and remained closed for over three months.

Desperate for funds to reopen and save the bank, Temple finally secured a loan from Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, a San Francisco capitalist, who was acquiring Los Angeles-area real estate and saw that Temple and Workman, the two biggest local landowners, were in dire straits.  The loan was set up to be impossible to repay, but determined to avoid bankruptcy and shame, Temple signed on anyway, telling his father-in-law in a surviving letter that the loan was "on hard terms" but that everything would work out.

The opposite proved true.  After a grand reopening celebration in early December, depositors quietly closed their accounts and withdrew the borrowed funds.  Baldwin added $130,000 more dollars and then turned off the spigot.  In mid-January 1876, the doors of Temple and Workman closed for good and assignment proceedings began to sort our assets and liabilities.

A portion of the gardens at the Temple residence at Rancho La Merced, ca. 1870.  Copy provided by Philip Nathanson.
If the partners had declared bankruptcy when the bank first closed, they could have sold much of their assets to pay creditors and still been left with enough to live comfortably.  Their gamble with Baldwin's loan, however, proved to be a disaster.  Mismanagement was starkly revealed in the inventory of the books and it was quickly realized that with Baldwin holding a mortgage on most of the assets held by Temple and Workman, depositors would get almost nothing.

Remarkably, Temple was not asked to resign his office as county treasurer and served his two-year term without incident, although a deputy was assigned to conduct day-to-day work.  Having declared bankruptcy, six months after the bank's failure, Temple had the dubious distinction of being the county's only bankrupt financial manager while in office.

He was also beset by tremendous stress, suffering a series of strokes from within months after the bank's failure and continuing until his death in April 1880 at age 58.  Though some sources claimed he died in a sheepherder's hut on a corner of the ranch, this was not the case.  He still retained possession of his 1851 adobe house and a substantial brick French Second Empire home built around 1870.

Just before Temple's death, Baldwin, having waited over three years to allow interest to accumulate, foreclosed on his mortgage in 1879, with the required sheriff's sale held early the next year.  Baldwin did allow Temple's widow to purchase the family's houses and 50 acres surrounding them and Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple remained the owner of what was called the "Temple Homestead" for over a decade afterward.

The family held on to the land, growing crops and raising animals and selling off other lands that were in her name and not subject to Baldwin's mortgage.  In early 1892, the flu carried off Mrs. Temple, her mother and her oldest child within two weeks.  Ownership of the Temple Homestead passed to her two youngest sons, Walter and Charles, both in their early twenties.

A circa 1900 view of the houses at the Temple Homestead at Misión Vieja.  The building at the left is the same adobe house shown in earlier photos with the addition of a wood second-story and other additions.  To the right is a ca. 1870 brick French Second Empire residence.  This photo was taken when the adobe was leased to winemaker Giovanni Piuma, whose sign is atop the roof at the left.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
The two leased out the old Temple adobe to Italian winemarkers, Piuma and Briano, and continued to farm--Charles owned the northern half of the spread and opened a club called "La Paloma."  Wild and prone to drinking, Charles was involved in several notable incidents, including a duel with his brother-in-law after Charles' young wife died suddenly not long after the marriage.  A few years later, and newly remarried, Charles got into a dispute with another brother of his first wife and shot him to death.  While he was acquitted of murder charges and freed, Charles soon sold his interest in the Homestead to Walter and left the area.

Walter, now full owner of the property, continued to farm and worked at other jobs, including as a teamster and insurance agent, among others.  Struggling often financially, he frequently borrowed money, using the Homestead as collateral, though he didn't lose the property.  In 1903 he married Laura Gonzalez, who grew up in the Misión Vieja community and was a household worker for Walter's brother, Francis, at the Workman Homestead.  Walter and Laura even had a secret romance as teenagers and did not marry for over 15 years.  Between 1905 and 1910, they had five children, four living into adulthood.

Then came a staggering stroke of good fortune.  Walter Temple sold the Homestead in Fall 1912 and bought a similar sized property just to the west at the northeast corner of the Montebello Hills and some land next to it that was also adjacent to the Rio Hondo,  An adobe house, built in 1869 and lived in by the Basye family (later to be profiled here), was occupied by the Temples.

It has been speculated that Temple acquired his new spread because a friend, Milton Kauffman of El Monte, worked for oil companies and knew that attention was being given to places near the newly-developed fields of Fullerton and Whittier, such as Montebello.  Remarkably, Temple lacked the funds to buy the 60-acre property outright, so borrowed from its owners.  These happened to be the daughters of Lucky Baldwin, who foreclosed on the same property over thirty years before from Temple's father.  Maybe the barren Montebello Hills didn't seem a likely place for a fortune, so loaning Temple the money seemed as much an act of charity as anything else?

In any case, in Spring 1914, Temple's oldest child, nine-year-old Thomas, was playing on the hillside above the family's house when he breathlessly ran down to tell his father he'd found oil.  Sprinting back up the hill, Walter verified that a pool of water that was bubbling, smelling like rotten eggs and turning black, was, indeed, crude oil.  For those that remember the old television show, "The Beverly Hillbillies," here was "The Montebello Hillbillies"!

The Walter and Laura Temple family at the middle of the first row at a barbeque celebrating their first oil well at Montebello, July 1917.  Behind the dense thicket of trees is the Basye adobe, built in 1869, which was the Temple family home.  From an original photo at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
There is another story, reported in a local newspaper, that oil was also found by crews driving piles for a new bridge along San Gabriel Boulevard as it crossed the Rio Hondo within yards of the Temple's home, but the one involving a kid's stumbling on a pool of "a-bubblin' crude" sounds more interesting.

Whatever happened, the Temples executed a lease with Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron) in 1915.  The already-rich Baldwin daughters, Anita Baldwin Stocker and Clara Baldwin, did the same and a test well on their land in the Montebello Hills in 1916 proved to be a producer.  The following year, Temple well #1 was drilled and, in late June, a gusher was located, just yards from the Baldwin test well.  At age 48 and after a quarter-century of owning parts of Rancho La Merced within the Old Mission community, Walter Temple and his family were on their way to wealth.

As Standard Oil moved aggressively to drill more wells and extract crude from the small, but significant Temple lease on the Montebello Oil Field, the Temples decided to move.  They lived for a time in Monterey Park (known then as Ramona Acres) before buying a substantial home in Alhambra.

The Basye Adobe became the headquarters for Standard Oil at the Montebello field and Temple built a gas station at the southeast corner of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue.  He also erected two historic monuments at the southwest corner of the same intersection.

Walter and Laura Temple with their children (left to right) Walter, Junior; Agnes; Edgar and Thomas, October 1919.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
The first, put up in 1919, was in honor of Joseph Kauffman, his business partner's brother, who died in the Argonne Forest in France at the end of the recently-concluded First World War.  This cenotaph, said to be the first private memorial to a World War I soldier in the state, was moved to Temple City in 1930 and remains there today, along with one of two cannons that were said to have been unearthed by Temple from the Rio Hondo and to have been used during the American invasion of California in 1846-47.

The second marker was placed in 1921 to commemorate the founding of the Mission San Gabriel.  As mentioned here before, the marker misleadingly states the mission was founded on that spot, which is a small flat piece of ground beneath a steep hillside, not exactly a location for a mission complex, which was almost certainly across San Gabriel Boulevard a short distance to the northwest.  This monument, a protected state historic landmark, is still in its odd location next to the hills, where an occasional oil well is still in operation, though there have been plans, so far not much beyond the discussion stage, of developing the Montebello Hills into housing tracts, shopping, schools, parks and so on.

Walter Temple kept ownership of his sixty-acre oil lease property throughout the 1920s. About two dozen wells were drilled, some of them producing and a few becoming gushers.  Well number 9, completed in Spring 1919 was, for a time, the most active well in the United States, according to newspaper references, churning out some 30,000 barrels a day for a spell.  The Montebello field, however, proved to be a short-lived major producer and the Temple wells slowed down considerably by the mid-1920s.

Temple went on to build office buildings, post offices, movie theaters and other structures in Los Angeles, Alhambra, San Gabriel and El Monte and developed the Town of Temple, changed to Temple City in 1928.  He was an investor or owner of oil projects in Mexico, Texas, Alaska and many places in California, including Ventura, Huntington Beach, Signal Hill, and Whittier, but did not realize anywhere near the results he had at Montebello.

Finally, he bought the Workman Homestead near La Puente, which had been whittled down to 75 acres, the family home and cemetery and some outbuildings and owned by two of Walter's brothers in the late 1800s before passing to other ownership.  In 1917, the week he bought his Alhambra residence, Walter and his wife purchased the Workman place.  Over the following decade, the ranch was extensively renovated and a large Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, a showplace of adobe construction and all manner of decorative tile, woodwork, stained and painted glass, and wrought iron was constructed.

Charles and Walter Temple, their wives Susie Castino (front center) and Laura Gonzalez (front right) and their two sons, Charles, Junior and Thomas (in their father's arms), with an unknown woman, probably at Santa Monica, ca. 1906.  The Temple brothers jointly owned the family homestead at Old Mission from 1892 to about 1903.  From the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
All of this activity quickly drained the family's finances, however, and, by 1926, money was borrowed from a bank.   If this sounds familiar, so will the outcome.  As the economy worsened with the onset of the Great Depression, Temple was unable to salvage any of this holdings.  He lost the oil lease property and the Workman Homestead by the early 1930s.  Pioneering, probably, the concept of Americans living "on the cheap" in Baja California, at both Ensenada and Tijuana, Temple developed cancer and returned to Los Angeles, where he died in 1938.

Physically, there is little left of what the Temples had at Misión Vieja.  The Mission San Gabriel marker still stands in its lonely little corner.  Yellow metal markers dot the oil fields indicating where the Temple wells once stood.  A palm tree east of Rosemead Boulevard and south of where San Gabriel Boulevard meets Durfee Avenue indicates where Walter and Laura built a simple wood-frame home in the early 1900s. 

And, on Durfee, outside Rancho La Merced and just inside Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo, stands the local headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the floodplain on which the Temple Homestead once stood.  A few of the buildings date back to the 1930s, when the site was the Temple School, originally La Puente School, opened in 1868 on an acre donated by F.P.F. Temple.

The Temple family history at Old Mission was lengthy and significant, as was the case with many other families, more of whom will be discussed here in the future.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Lobo Family of Misión Vieja

It was uncommon for Spanish and Mexican-era land grants in California to be made to women, but it did happen in the case of Rancho La Merced, granted by Governor Manuel Michetorena to María Casilda Soto de Lobo in 1844.  Señora Lobo was born in Los Angeles in 1799 to Guillermo Soto (1751-1819), a solider with the Spanish army who had just arrived in the pueblo the previous year with his wife, Juana María Pérez (1772-1832).  A major arterial roadway, Soto Street, in Boyle Heights and surrounding areas is named for this family.

By 1820, Casilda married José Cecilio Villalobo (a.k.a. Lobo), who was born in 1785 in Los Angeles to Maria Beltran (1756-1792) and Juan José Villalobo (1741-1792), with Juan José being among the soldiers recruited to accompany the original 44 pobladores from Mexico to the newly-created village of Los Angeles in 1781.  The family, including seven children, appeared in the first census taken of the community in 1790 (there were only 31 families in Los Angeles then,) at which time Juan José had retired from the military and was working as a muleteer, but both of Cecilio's parents died soon after.

Cecilio and Casilda had at least eight children, of whom only a few survived childhood and had their own families.  Among them were Juan José, Jr. (1816-1854), who married Saturnina Féliz in 1836.  Saturnina came from another early Los Angeles family, whose patriarch was her grandfather José Vicente (1740-1809).   He came to Spanish Alta California with the famous Anza Expedition of 1775 and then was, like Juan José Villalobo, an escort for the founders of Los Angeles.  Their shared connection might explain why their children married.  Vicente Féliz was a chief administrator in Los Angeles during the 1780s and 1790s before he retired from military service and received a land grant called Rancho Los Féliz, now largely comprised of the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles and Griffith Park.

Another son, José (born in 1820) married María Dolores Verdugo, whose family owned the Rancho Verdugo in the present-day Glendale area.  Finally, there was Felipe Santiago (1821-1850), whose wife was María Presentación Alvitre, of the family profiled on this blog's most recent post.  Her parents were José Claudio Alvitre (1811-1861) and Maria de la Asunción Valenzuela (1808-1861) and her grandparents were Sebastian Alvitre and María Rufina Hernández.  Because Sebastian Alvitre and Juan José Villalobos, grandathers of Felipe and Presentación, were from the same hometown, Villa de Sinaloa in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, this might explain how they became married.

This ca. 1920s aerial photograph looks down on the Old Mission community.  The Rio Hondo flows from the top center to the lower left.  At an angle at the center and going to the lower right is "Temple Road," now San Gabriel Boulevard, leading to Siphon Road with Durfee extending north and east.  San Gabriel Boulevard leaves the Rio Hondo at the center and curved upward towards the top.  What was called "Valley Road" and is now Rosemead Boulevard comes up from the bottom center and ends at San Gabriel Boulevard.  Lincoln Boulevard heads south from San Gabriel Boulevard along the base of the Montebello Hills and the Soto-Sanchez Adobe, then owned by oil magnate W. B. Scott, is towards the lower left corner, just to the right of a dark spot. Most of the left half of the photo consists of the Montebello oil field and is largely within Rancho La Merced.  To the upper right across the Rio Hondo is the roughly 90-acre Rancho Potrero Chico and then east of that much of Rancho Potrero de Felipe Lugo.  At the extreme lower right is a section of Rancho Paso de Bartolo.  Click the map to see it in a different window and in a larger view.
The connection to Rancho La Merced also could be tied to the Alvitres, because Sebastian moved out to what was then called the Rancho Nieto, a vast land grant given to the family of that name in the 1780s (in fact, the Nieto and Verdugo rancho were among the first three land grants when they were issued in 1784) after some troublesome stays at the pueblos of San Jose and Los Angeles.

After Cecilio Villalobo died around 1836, perhaps not long after he and his family were counted the first Los Angeles district census, it might be that his widow and children moved out to Misión Vieja.  Notably, although one of the sons, Juan José was enumerated in the 1844 census as living in "Angeles" with wife Saturnina and their children, none of the other family was to be found.

This was striking because it was that same year that the grant of La Merced to Casilda Soto de Lobo was made.  As noted in the post on that rancho, Casilda and her family built an adobe house that forms one part of today's Sanchez Adobe historic site in Montebello and occupied it and the ranch for about five years.

Things changed rapidly, however, when Casilda borrowed a little over $2,000 from one of her neighbors, William Workman, co-owner of the Rancho La Puente east of La Merced.  The loan entailed interest, which was common enough in Workman's experience, but not likely in that of Señora Soto's.  At any rate, she was unable to repay the loan and, at the end of 1850, Workman took possession of the ranch, which had been used as collateral.

Interestingly, California, seized by force from Mexico by the United States in 1847, had just been admitted as the 31st state in September and a census was quickly organized and conducted early in 1851.  When the census taker came through Old Mission he found Casilda living with her son Juan and daughter-in-law Dolores Verdugo and their two children, as well as with son Felipe Santiago and his wife Presentación Alvitre.  The adjacent household consisted of her son Juan José, who notably was listed as Villalobo, his wife Saturnina Feliz and their four children.

Tragedy struck within a few years as Doña Casilda and two of her sons, Juan José and Felipe Santiago died in the early 1850s.  When the 1860 federal census was conducted, the latter's widow Saturnina was still at Misión Vieja with four children, ranging from three to ten years old.  Moreover, nearby was Dolores Verdugo with her five children, who were three months to twelve years old, though for an unknown reason, her husband Juan Lobo was not counted.

At some point afterward, the Lobo family left Misión Vieja.  Juan José and Saturnina's son, Felipe, left for San Juan Capistrano where he lived for several decades, married Marcelina Gutierrez and had a family.  Presentación Alvitre de Lobo headed east and settled in what later became the Walnut/Pomona area, close to what was the settlement of Spadra, about where the 57 Freeway and Valley Boulevard come together at Cal Poly Pomona.

Eventually, other members of the family made the Pomona area their home, as well, including her daughters Inocencia and Magdalena and sons Felipe, Jesús, Porfirio and Pablo, some of whom lived for a time at the city and county limits near Reservoir Street close to Chino.  Jesús, whose wife María Francisca Fraijo came from a family that owned where Irwindale later developed, lived for a time in downtown Chino, his mother Presentación also being in their household in 1900, before relocating to south Pomona.  Pablo was, for a while, an employee on the Diamond Bar Ranch, which was created in 1918, and he was one of a about a dozen workers there when the census was taken two years later.  By 1930, he was living with his mother on Hamilton near White in south Pomona and close to Jesús.

Unlike the Alvitres and other families, as will be discussed in subsequent posts, the Lobos did not live particularly long at Misión Vieja, living there for perhaps a couple of decades or somewhat more.  But, because of the fact that Rancho La Merced was granted to Doña Casilda, they should be remembered as among the community's earliest and nost notable residents.

UPDATE, 11 December 2014.  Thanks to a question on another post from this blog, it has been learned that Juan (or perhaps his brother Santiago) Lobo may be one of the Californio heroes in the Battle of San Pascual, which took place near San Diego at the end of 1846 during the American invasion of California in the Mexican-American War.

According to Richard Griswold del Castillo's 2003 article in The Journal of San Diego History, "one Californio solider recalled that Juan Lobo, a twenty-three year old vaquero from Mission Vieja, led the main Californio assault on Kearny's forces."  The footnote for part of the article cites a 1973 University of San Diego master's thesis and a manuscript in the papers of Benjamin Hayes, a longtime Los Angeles County District Court judge and later a San Diego resident.

Yet, the thesis, written by Sally Cavell Jones, lists the soldiers who fought under General Andrés Pico at San Pascual and the name on the list is "Santiago Lobo," not Juan.  Juan did have a younger brother, Santiago, whose age in the 1850 federal census (actually, taken in early 1851), was given as 21.  If this is true, Santiago would only have been 16 or 17 years old at the time of the battle.

In any case, there may not be any further available information, but this does raise intriguing questions about whether members of the Lobo family of Misión Vieja were heroes of the Californio  resistance against the American invaders during this highly-controversial war, the first of American imperialism.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Alvitre Family of Misión Vieja

Among the earliest European-derived families to settle in the Misión Vieja community were the Alvitres.  Moreover, members of the family continued to live at Old Mission until about the time that the area was declared a federal flood zone and residential uses of the neighborhood were ended in the mid-1900s.

The origins of the family in Spanish Alta California date to Sebastian Alvitre, a soldier and native of Villa de Sinaloa, Sinaloa, México, who was among the original nine landholders in the pueblo of San José in 1783 (the town was formally organized in 1777, but it does not appear that land was issued until the later date) and who received, as did the others, two lots in the town. 

It is evident, though, that Alvitre had been in the department for some years before as Hubert Howe Bancroft, who compiled a massive history of California in the 1880s, noted that "Alvitre was a pioneer soldier of the earlier years."  In the first volume of Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769-1850 it was stated that Sebastian was a "Soldado de Cuero [leather-jacket soldier] of 1769 Portolá Expedition."  If this is true, then he was part of the first land-based expedition by Europeans in Alta California, and Alvitre would have camped with the party in what became Misión Vieja at the beginning of August 1769. 

It turns out, though, that Sebastian's years in San José were turbulent.  According to Bancroft, "Sebastian Alvitre had proved unmanageable at San José and after four or five years of convict life at the presidio had been sent to [Los] Angeles for reform."  It was not stated what he had actually done to warrant being thrown into the abogado (jail) at the pueblo, though undocumented sources offer that Alvitre had relations with an Indian woman that put him in the crosshairs of authorities.

Bancroft followed this with a statement often made about early California, namely that "the settlers were not a very orderly community," and this seemed especially to apply to soldiers, who were widely known for their mistreatment of Indians at the missions and elsewhere in the department.

As noted by Bancroft, Alvitre came south and arrived in Los Angeles about 1786, when the lands of the pueblo, founded five years earlier, were redistributed among the original settlers (there had been 44 in 1781), save one who had left, and twenty new residents, among these being Alvitre.

Apparently, matters still continued to be problematic for Alvitre in his new home, as Bancroft cited a 1791 report of Governor Pedro Fages, in which that official "tells the tale of three or four incorrigible rogues, Alvitre and Navarro of Angeles, and Pedraza, a deserter from the galleon, whose scandalous conduct no executive measure has been able to reform." 

Again, no specifics were provided as to what Alvitre might have done to anger the governor, but Bancroft did write, citing official reports of the era, that "Sebastian Alvtire of Los Angeles and Francisco Avila of San José were usually in prison, in exile, or at forced work for their excesses with Indian women and with the wives of their neighbors."

The historian went on to note that "Concubinage and all irregular sexual relations were strictly prohibited and the authorities seem to have worked earnestly in aid of the friars to enforce the laws."  These included "warnings, threats, exposure to husbands, and finally seclusion in respectable houses with hard work," though, as seen above, exile to another part of the department took place and there were others put in irons, in the stocks, or whipped.

In any case, it does appear that Alvitre finally settled down, as about 1795 he was married in Loreto, Baja California, to María Rufina Hernández, and the couple bore their first child, Jacinto, in that mission community.  By 1798, the family had moved back to Alta California and it appears that Sebastian was stationed at Mission San Gabriel, where the remaining eight children were born.  These were Juan José (1798), José Gabriel (1801), José Antonio (1803), María Dominga (1805), José Vicente (1807), María Florentina (1808), José Claudio (1811) and María Dolores (1814).

This detail of a ca. 1920s map of Rancho Potrero Chico (or Potrero de la Misión Vija) shows the portions owned by Pedro Alvitre and Timoteo Repetto, both of whom descended from Juan José Alvitre, an original grantee with his brother-in-law Antonio Valenzuela (whose wife was Dominga Alvitre) of the rancho in 1844.  Courtesy of Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.
Having been dismissed as an "incorrigible scamp" by Bancroft for his wayward years at San José and Los Angeles in the 1780s, it might well be that Alvitre's later years were more on the "straight and narrow" and he remained at Mission San Gabriel until his death in February 1817.  As those who died there were buried under the old stone church until about 1850, it is assumed that his last resting place is there.

As to the nine children of Sebastian and Rufina, a few died as young adults, including José Gabriel, who passed away in late 1830; José Vicente, who died in September 1828; and María Dolores, whose death occurred in November 1832.  Of the six others, José Antonio, appears to have joined the military and moved north.  He was married at Mission San Juan Bautista in central California and, though he did live in Los Angeles in the 1830s, he spent most of his later life at Monterey where he died in early 1862.

The remaining Alvitre children settled in the general Old Mission area in subsequent years.  For example, in the 1836 Los Angeles district census most of them were counted in the Rancho Santa Gertrudes place name listed in that enumeration.  Juan Crispín Pérez, whose father was about the same age as Sebastian Alvitre and from the same hometown of Villa de Sinaloa, México, had been, according to Bancroft, a part-owner of that rancho, part of the enormous Nieto grant of 1784 that was late subdivided, since 1821.  In 1835, Pérez was grantee of the Rancho Paso de Bartolo (which, after 1851, was the property of Pío Pico).  More importantly, he was the majordomo (foreman) for the remaining Mission San Gabriel lands not taken by secularization of the California missions in the 1830s, and served in that position from 1841 to 1845.

In that 1836 census, Jacinto with his wife Lugarda Moreno, Juan José with his spouse Tomasa Alvarado, Dominga, who was the wife of José Antonio Valenzuela, Florentina, the spouse of Manuel Antonio Pérez, and José Claudio and his wife María Asención Valenzuela, were all at Santa Gertrudes, although where exactly has not been (and may not be) determined.

Eight years later, though, the 1844 district census, showed a definite change.  The place name Misión Vieja was delineated and its residents consisted solely of the Alvitre family.  These included Jacinto and Lugarda; Juan José and Tomasa; José Claudio and Asención; and Dominga and Antonio Valenzuela. 

Notably, at the end of that year, on 9 December, Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted to brothers-in-law Antonio Valenzuela and Juan José Alvitre the Rancho Potrero de la Misión Vieja de San Gabriel also known as Rancho Potrero Chico, a very small grant of under 100 acres. 

This was after the district census, so it seems obvious that, perhaps with Juan Crispín Pérez as majordomo at San Gabriel, his influence might have brought the Alvitres to the Old Mission area and then helped secure the land grant. 

A few months later on 8 April 1845, under new governor Pío Pico, Manuel Antonio Pérez (known on the document as "Manuel Antonio, an Indian," perhaps associated with Mission San Gabriel) received a grant to the Rancho Potrero Grande, just north and west of Potrero Chico, which was over 4,400 acres.  Manuel Antonio was married to Florentina Alvitre, the remaining sibling, and they may have been living on that property before the grant, which might explain why they weren't in the Misión Vieja place name in the 1844 census.

So, from at least 1844 (and perhaps earlier), the Alvitre family were directly associated with the place name of Misión Vieja.  For a century, they remained in the area, where they farmed and ranched, raised families, and experienced the ups and downs of life that most families do.  There were some dramatic incidents involving some members that will be touched upon here subsequently, but it bears remembering that it was a large family and everyday events do not get recorded the way dramatic ones do. 

In any case, the Alvitres deserves remembrance  as an early family of the Old Mission community.

Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry.