Traveler: William Workman
When and Where: Traveled over the Old Spanish Trail in 1841 as one of the leaders of the Rowland-Workman Party
Submitted by: David Fallowfield, Cumbria, England
Relationship: William Workman was my 1st cousin, 5 x removed. I am descended from his grandfather, Thomas Workman (1694 -1763)
William Workman was born in 1799 at Temple Sowerby, Westmorland County, now called Cumbria, England. He was descended from a yeoman farming family. In 1818 his brother, David (b.1797) emigrated to the United States and went to the frontier in Missouri where he opened a saddlers shop in Franklin. In 1822, David returned to England for his brother, William, who accompanied him back to Missouri. These young men had inherited family money and had ideas of improvement. In 1825 William left Missouri and traveled with a caravan on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico. He settled in Taos and was for a time engaged in the Fur Trade. He also had a store outfitting trappers and was producing “Taos Lightening”, the local whiskey. Here he became partners with John Rowland. He took a common-law wife, Nicolasa, and they had a daughter and a son. He became involved in politics and was eventually denounced by Governor Armijo as a traitor. His life was in danger so he and John Rowland organized a group known as the Rowland-Workman Party. They left New Mexico in September of 1841 and followed the Old Spanish Trail from Abiquiu to Los Angeles.
In California, the partners were granted the Rancho La Puente. His daughter, Antonia Margarita, married F.P.F. Temple, which may have been the first marriage in Southern California of two people with Anglo surnames. In 1851, William returned to England for the first time since 1822 and visited his relatives, a brother and sister, in Clifton village. He also visited the Great Exhibition being held that year in London. Back in California he acquired more land and in 1868 with his son-in-law he founded the Temple & Workman Bank, which was the second bank in Los Angeles. The bank went bust in May of 1876 and on May 17 at his ranch William took his own life with his revolver. He shot himself in the head in the middle room of his home on the ranch. The Workman Home is now the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum.
Your interest: Before I learned of his life story, my three most important intellectual interests were California, American History and Freemasonry. William Workman’s life story combines all of these subjects, therefore, he immediately became of great interest to me.
Where did they settle: After arriving in the Los Angeles area, he and John Rowland applied for the La Puente Rancho and were successful. He subsequently built an adobe home there (later enlarged) in what is present-day City of Industry.
Unique story or fact: He became wealthy and traveled home to England in 1851. On his return to California, William eventually went into banking with his son in law F.P.F. Temple, which became his undoing as he was ruined by bad loans.
Sources: There were many sources but the two main ones were:
JOHN ROWLAND & WILLIAM WORKMAN Southern California Pioneers of 1841 by Donald E. Rowland, Arthur Clark Co & Historical Soc. of S. Calif. 1999.
The WORKMAN & TEMPLE FAMILIES of Southern California, 1830-1930 by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Seligson Publishing Incorporated, 2008.
Both books were published since I became interested in the Workman story. Both authors are Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA) members and long standing friends of mine.