Cave Johnson Couts (1821-1874)

cavecoutsCave Johnson Couts was born near Springfield, Tennessee, November 11, 1821. His uncle, Cave Johnson, was [Postmaster General]* under President Polk, and had him appointed to West Point, where he graduated in 1843. He served on the frontier until after the Mexican War, and was then at Los Angeles, San Luis Rey, and San Diego from 1848 to 1851. In 1849 he conducted the Whipple expedition to the Colorado River.

On April 5, 1851, he married Ysidora Bandini, daughter of Juan Bandini, of San Diego. In October of the same year he resigned from the army and was soon after appointed colonel and aid-de-camp on the staff of Governor Bigler. In the Garra insurrection he served as adjutant, and at the court martial was judge-advocate. He was a member of the first grand jury September, 1850, and county judge in 1854. In 1853 he removed to a tract known as the Guajome grant, a wedding gift to his wife from her brother-in-law, Abel Stearns. Having been appointed sub-agent for the San Luis Rey Indians, Colonel Couts was able to secure all the cheap labor needed for the improvement of his property. His business affairs were managed with skill and military precision, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Southern California. He purchased the San Marcos, Buena Vista, and La Jolla ranchos, and also government land, amounting in all to about 20,000 acres. His home was widely celebrated for its hospitality. He entertained Helen Hunt Jackson while she was collecting materials for Ramona, and part of the story is supposed to be laid at the Guajome rancho. As Colonel Couts’s wealth consisted largely of cattle, the passage of the “no fence” law was a severe blow to him, and one from which he never fully recovered. He died at the Horton House, in San Diego, June 10 1874. He was over six feet tall, perfectly straight, and weighed 165 pounds. He was a man of good education, strict integrity, and gentlemanly manners. His widow continued to live on the rancho and manage it until her death.

Their children were ten, of whom nine lived to maturity: Abel Stearns, who died in 1855, aged nearly four years; María Antonia, who was married to Chalmers Scott, and still lives in San Diego; William Bandini, who married Christina, daughter of Salvador Estudillo, and is a farmer living near San Marcos; Ysidora Forster, who was married to W. D. Gray; Elena, married to Parker Dear and lived several years on the Santa Rosa rancho; Robert Lee; John Forster; and Caroline.

[from Smythe, William Ellsworth. History of San Diego, 1542-1908. San Diego: History Co., 1907. (pages 268-269)]

* Smythe incorrectly wrote that Cave Johnson was “Secretary of the Treasury under President Polk.”

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