by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As noted in a recent post, the proceedings to finalize the land grant of Rancho La Puente to John Rowland (but not to William Workman as an official owner—more on that later) continued through February 1842 with efforts by Mexican California officials to certify that the land was not subject to other claims.
This, however, was countered by complaints by the priests at the former Mission San Gabriel, despite the fact that secularization, the process by which the missions were shut down in the 1830s by decree from the Mexican government, meant that La Puente was no longer a mission-owned rancho and was subject to a grant to a private citizen, such as Rowland (who was naturalized in New Mexico years before coming to California.)
The denunciations, as outlined in the late February post, were bitter on both sides, with the priests defending their use of La Puente and criticizing governmental officials and Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, who issued preliminary title to the ranch to Rowland in mid-January, firing off a mocking broadside against the Rev. Narciso Duran in retaliation.
The chain of communications for the month in the expediente, the docket containing the grant paperwork, ended with Los Angeles district prefect Santiago Argüello writing to the governor on the last day of February that La Puente was in fact rented to a citizen. Acknowledging Alvarado’s grant of 14 January, the prefect stated it was his “duty to respect this concession” and pointed out a small discrepancy of the boundary on the south side in the Puente Hills adjoining the ranchos La Habra and Paso de Bartolo (Whittier). He concluded with the note that Alvarado “will more properly determine what should be your superior will.”
On 9 March 1842, Alvarado issued permanent title to Rowland and it is interesting to note how these grants were worded:
Whereas Don Juan Roland, a Mexican by naturalization has petitioned for his personal benefit, and that of his family, the place known by the name of La Puente, bounded by [neighboring ranchos and the San Gabriel River] . . . the steps being taken and property enquiries made as required by the laws and regulations declaring it his property by these presents subject to the approval of the Excellent Departmental Junta [legislature] and to the following conditions
1st Neither the grantee nor his heirs shall divide or alienate the land which is granted to him; nor to impose upon any ground rent, entail, bond, mortgage, nor other encumbrance, though it may be for pious [religious] purposes, nor transfer it in mortmain [to a religious institution, meaning the Roman Catholic Church].
2nd He may enclose it without any injury to the crossing of roads and servitudes, employing it for such use or cultivation as may suit him, but within one year he shall build a house and it shall be inhabited.
3rd When the property is confirmed [by the legislature] to him he shall solicit the proper Judge to give him the juridical possession in virtue of this title, by whom the boundaries shall be marked, on the limits of which he shall put, beside the landmarks, some fruit trees or forest trees of some utility.
4th The land of which donation is made is four leagues (sitios de ganado mayor [literally “cattle sites”]) a little more or less as shown in the map attached to the Expediente concerning the same. The Judge who shall give the possession shall have it measured in conformity to the ordinance the surplus thereof to remain to the Nation for the convenient uses.
Wherefore, I order that this title being held firm and valid be registered in the proper book, and afterward delivered to the party interested for his safety and other ends. Given in Monterey the 9th of March 1842.
It is notable that the document made specific mention of not alienating the land to the Church, an obvious concern of those who enacted and carried out the secularization of the missions and who feared that land grants would be made for the purpose of immediately returning the property to the mission fathers.
Secondly, though this never happened because of the expense of doing so on a very large property (four square leagues comprising just under 18,000 acres), Rowland could fence the ranch in, but had to allow existing roads to be used by travelers. There was a one-year time limit, however, to build a home, but this was not done by Rowland as will be seen below.
Juridical possession was the time-honored tradition of establishing metes and bounds, in which a judge would visit the property and observe where “metes” or markers at the corners and the boundaries were legally established. It is interesting, though, to see that fruit and “forest” trees were specifically identified as required for these metes.
The reference to “cattle sites” as part of the size of the rancho is obviously a reflection of the fact that the region’s economy was entirely based on the “hide-and-tallow trade” in which those raw products from cattle were sold and traded to outsiders. The term “a little more or less” clearly gave the judge leeway to slightly alter the size depending on the physical layout of the property. Any remainder of significance was to revert to the state.
As mentioned in last week’s post concerning the land claims act of 3 March 1851, there was a concern expressed by Henry W. Halleck, California secretary of state in 1850 during the military’s administration of the newly conquered territory, that many land grants were not formally approved by the legislature as the grant here (and others) stated. To Halleck, this made the grants void and subject to rejection by the United States through its land commission hearing the claims of grant owners.
Once that commission began meeting, however, it took a more liberal approach to this and other matters and confirmed nearly three-quarters of the claims put before it. More on that, however, in future posts dealing with the Rancho La Puente land claim.
Rowland was in a particular hurry to get his grant to La Puente issued. Unlike Workman, who came to California with his wife Nicolasa Urioste and their two children, Antonia Margarita and José Manuel, Rowland left his family back in Taos, New Mexico. Consequently, by mid-April, he took to the road, joining a caravan of traders heading east on the Old Spanish Trail back to New Mexico. He then returned with his family and other settlers and travelers on the fall caravan, returning in mid-December 1842.
By then, the Workmans had settled on the ranch, building a temporary dwelling during the spring and then the first part of the adobe residence that still survives as part of the Workman House. Workman was also given some documents by the government that allowed him the right to use La Puente as if it was his land and we’ll ponder why in an upcoming post.
Next month, we’ll feature a rare and brief letter from Workman to Rowland that notes his family’s establishing the home they would occupy for the next thirty-five years. Then in July, we’ll discuss the second grant to La Puente in 1845 that expanded its size dramatically. Finally, we’ll have a series of posts in the fall to look at the long and confusing land claims process that took fifteen years for Rowland and Workman to get their claim confirmed and federal patent issued.