Californian blazes a trail to formerhome of Wild West pioneers …

Date: Friday 26th May 2017
Karen Wade and John Sharpe outside the former home of the Workman brothers at Clifton.
Karen Wade and John Sharpe outside the former home of the Workman brothers at Clifton.

A GUESTHOUSE at Clifton, near Penrith, which was once the family home of Wild West pioneers David and William Workman welcomed a special visitor this week, when Karen Wade, recently retired director of the Workman Museum in California came to stay.

Karen has been telling visitors to the homestead museum in Los Angeles about William Workman for 30 years, but this was the first time she was able to stay in the brothers’ former home, which became Whitrigg House Guesthouse just over three years ago.

She said it felt “fabulous” to walk in the early footsteps of men who went on to be hugely influential in the political evolution of the United States, with William blazing the trail west ahead of even the legendary frontiersman and scout Kit Carson, who as a teenager worked as the cattle farming brothers’ apprentice in Missouri.

They were even the first owners of the island of Alcatraz, San Francisco, which went on to become the world famous “inescapable” prison.

Whitrigg House, which is today owned by guesthouse proprietors Mike Taylor and his partner, Robbie Wilcock, who also live in the village, was originally owed by the Harrison family in the 1700s. They left it to the Workman brothers before they embarked on their remarkable adventures.

The brothers left for America in 1822, and William in particular had a rollercoaster of a ride, making and losing his fortune during the Gold Rush and the Depression. He blazed the trail west on the Spanish Trail to New Mexico after making political enemies in Missouri, and went on to set up one of the first banks in LA. Its later collapse and bankruptcy led to him committing suicide in 1876.

David’s family fortunes fared somewhat better, however, and his son, William Henry, went on to became a mayor of California.

Historian John Sharpe, Clifton, who researched the brothers’ history and wrote a book about them, following a chance meeting with some of their descendants, who were tracing their family history in the village more than 20 years ago, said: “What these two did in the West was far more than John Wayne ever dreamed of.”

Karen added: “At the museum, we tell people about their struggles and link that to life today, because in essence, I’m a futurist, and we have to know our history to shape our future.”

While William is understood to have made the trip home once — a mammoth six-month journey when his sister became gravely ill, and one he ultimately did not complete before her death — descendants of the Workman family have never forgotten Clifton and many have been to visit the area where their ancestors grew up.