Rowland, Workman and Wilson

Now those of you who are familiar with the history of Southern California may have noticed something odd: that virtually everybody who came over on the Workman-Rowland Immigrant Company of 1841 got rich, got towns named after them and generally went on to be super-successful. So why was it that Michael White, who was positioned to really enjoy greatness, got left behind?


Here’s the official line from the Old Spanish Trail website. Now bear in mind that although the Spanish Trail had been in use for a long time, the Santa Fe-to-Los Angeles portion was brand new:


In late 1841, the Rowland-Workman expedition was the first group consisting largely of emigrants to enter California from an eastern-based land route by traveling on the Old Spanish Trail. While its co-leaders John Rowland and William Workman settled on the La Puente rancho and became well-known southern California residents, there were others in the group who also became prominent, including Lorenzo Trujillo, founder of the Agua Mansa settlement near present Riverside; Benjamin D. Wilson, politician, rancher and agriculturist in the western San Gabriel Valley; William Knight, whose Knight’s Ferry and Knight’s Landing are place names in the gold country of the Sierras; and Manuel Vaca, for whom Vacaville, near San Francisco, is named. The Old Spanish Trail Association, based in Colorado, is leading efforts to have the National Park Service recognize the trail as a National Historic Trail.


It bears noting that Rowland and Workman had made themselves very unpopular with the New Mexican authorities by supporting the American invasion of Texas and the call for Texan Independence. They were accused, rightly or not, of treason, and had to get out of town fast.


Here are the real heavy hitters from this group of immigrants:


John Albert Rowland (April 15, 1791–October 13, 1873) was born in Maryland. Rowland, a surveyor, moved to Fernandez de Taos, New Mexico, then a province of Mexico, and become a fur trapper. In 1825, Rowland became a Mexican citizen and married María Encarnación Martínez. In Taos, Rowland established a friendship with William Workman which developed into a business partnership. William Workman and John Rowland were seeking to escape accusations as traitors by Governor Manuel Armijo of New Mexico.


On September 6, 1841, some 25 immigrants joined the group and left Abiquiú, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe. Because of the size of the caravan, they did not suffer from attack from hostile Indians. Due to desert conditions the trip was made in the fall when there was feed for the animals to graze on, as well as water-holes along the trail. The Workman-Rowland Party arrived in Southern California, on November 5, 1841.


In 1842, Rowland received a preliminary grant, in his name only, of 11,740-acre (48 km2) to Rancho La Puente. However, in 1845, the grant was extended to 48,790-acre (197 km2) and made permanent in both Rowland and Workman's name. In 1851, they decided to split their property, with Rowland taking about 29,000-acre (117 km2) on the east and Workman receiving the 20,000-acre (81 km2) on the west. Their land division was officially sanctioned in 1867.


William ('Don Julian') Workman (November 17, 1799–May 17, 1876) was born in Westmorland, England, and emigrated to the United States in 1816. He lived in Missouri, then Fernandez de Taos, in a province of Mexico that later became New Mexico. He ran a general store at Taos. He married Maria Nicolasa Uriarte (April 19, 1802–February 4, 1892). He and Nicolasa had two children, Antonia Margarita Workman and Joseph Manuel Workman.


In 1841, they removed to Southern California. William Workman and John A. Rowland organized the first wagon train of permanent Eastern settlers. The Workman-Rowland Party, which was headed by William Workman arrived in Southern California, on November 5, 1841. Workman and Rowland purchased the 48,790-acre (197 km2) Rancho La Puente, out of a portion of which was later carved the city of La Puente. Workman developed a portion of the rancho and began building a home on the property in 1842. In 1850, Workman purchased Rancho La Merced.


Benjamin Davis Wilson (December 1, 1811 – March 11, 1878) was a California statesman and politician. He was known to the Native Americans as Don Benito because of his benevolent manner in his treatment of Indian affairs. Wilson, a native of Tennessee, was a fur trapper and trader before coming to California.


Detained in Southern California while attempting to obtain passage to China, Wilson decided to remain there. He married Ramona Yorba, daughter of Bernardo Yorba, a wealthy and prominent landowner, and purchased part of Rancho Jurupa in what would become Riverside County. Wilson was made Justice of the Peace for the Inland Territory and was entrusted with the care of Indian affairs. He was also commissioned to deal with the hostile Ute tribe over their cattle rustling and other crimes against the ranchers.


Wilson became the first non-Hispanic owner of Rancho San Pascual, which encompassed today's towns of Pasadena, Altadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, San Marino and San Gabriel. Wilson was the second elected Mayor of Los Angeles for one term, Los Angeles County Supervisor and served three terms as a California State Senator.


Wilson lived out his days in present-day San Gabriel. He gave several acres of property to his son-in-law James de Barth Shorb which he named San Marino. Other parts developed as Alhambra. Wilson's first wife died in 1849, after which time he married the widow Margaret Hereford. They would have four children of which one daughter Ruth would marry George Patton, Sr. and have a son who would become the WWII General George S. Patton, Jr. The Pattons would later purchase Lake Vineyard. Wilson died at the ranch in 1878 and was buried in San Gabriel Cemetery. The last of his land holdings in the downtown Pasadena area were bequeathed to Central School on South Fair Oaks Avenue.


Mount Wilson, a Metromedia center for the greater Los Angeles area, is the most famous monument to Benjamin Wilson. Wilson Avenue in Pasadena and Don Benito School of the Pasadena Unified School District also honor his name.


OK, well, so far so good. Now notice that Michael White’s estimate of around 100 settlers got downgraded to 23 on the list. That is because women, children and Indians didn’t count, at least as far as the Mexican authorities were concerned. They also weren’t concerned with folks who were born Mexican, like Manuel Vaca and Lorenzo Trujillo, but foreigners and naturalized citizens had to be accounted for.


Now, most of the people in the Rowland-Workman party did not die rich and famous. Looking over my list of the 18 or so "losers" just made me kinda tired, so I won't subject y'all to it right now. BUT – these three guys keep coming up, so you need to know the players.


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~ by ravenjake on January 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “Rowland, Workman and Wilson”

  1. I'm interested as to whether you're going to plumb the issue of how the key players' feeling toward pre-Civil War sectionalism affected their dealings with each other's business, social, and private interests after they reached California. The Wilson-Patton "axis" is clearly aligned with Confederacy and its social values. And several other early power brokers in L.A. were Southerners. Please don't omit these important considerations in parsing the lives of these early American emigrants in California.

  2. This is very good as far as it goes. I especially like the pictures. I'm researching my hometown of Colton, California where many New Mexicans settled (Agua Mansa). Seems all the sites talk about the same people and come up with all kinds of reasons why the rest are left out. I imagine it's mostly because too much is lost in archives somewhere, although I understand that New Mexico is supposed to have had really good archives and genealogies. Possibly most of the families lost connections with those who went to California. Seems too many historians decide which nationalities are worth remembering, and unless you happen to be of that nation, all is forgotten. Even then, it seems hard for them to share as though they are afraid the only use others will find for the information will be negative. There are good and bad in all nations…

  3. Lynn, you're absolutely right, but you've gotta be the change you want to see in the world. One of my new friends at the Family History Center (no, I'm not a Mormon, but I sure like their tenacious archiving) turned me on to this site: which gave me access to some of those old census records (watch how the names in your town change from 1850-1870) and I'm also fond of this one (the Early California Population Project): And – keep checking back in with your findings – history belongs to everybody!!!!

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