by Patricia Baker
Patricia Baker is a senior at the San Diego College for Women. She is a history major, and during a class in California history last year, she became interested in the old families in Californian history. She did research last summer on the topic, and plans to do further research in the field
in graduate school.
Born: Los Angeles, California
Home: La Puente, California
Activities: President, Young Republicans of USD
President, International Relations Club
Member, Delta Epsilon Sigma
Delegate, Model United Nations
In Florence on Sunday, April 26, 1478, a "young Florentine
coxcomb" murdered Guilliano Medici, the brother of Florence’s ruler, Lorenzo
Medici. Several months later this assassin was executed. The culprit? Bernardo
Four centuries later, in December of 1818, José Bandini, a
native of Andulacia, Spain, a lieutenant of the Spanish vessel, "Nymphia," at
the Battle of Trafalgar, transported troops on his ship, "Reina de Los Angeles,"
to Monterey to defend the city against the attack of the pirate, Bouchard.
On November 29, 1831, just thirteen years later, José’s son,
Juan, who had been born in San Marcos de Arica, Peru, on October 4, 1800, issued
a pronunciamiento, denouncing his allegiance to Victoria, the Mexican
governor of California,
In his pronunciamiento, Bandini stated: "Let
the rights of the citizens be born anew; let liberty spring up from the ashes of
oppression, and perish the depotism that has suffocated our security."
That night Bandini and fourteen other
San Diegans arrested Captain Argüello, Lieutenant Valle and Portilla and seized
the presidio. Bandini said of that night: "I presented my apology to Captain
Argüello playing cards with Lt. Valle, then a pair of pistols and marched them
off to prison where they found their commandant, Portilla, had preceded them."
Governor Victoria marched south to quell this uprising.
Victoria’s little army and the Bandini – led rebels met near the Cahuenga Pass
on December 6, 1831. Victoria was wounded. Following this battle, Victoria
resigned his post as governor and retired to the mission at San Gabriel to
recover. On January 17, 1832, he sailed to Mexico. California was rid of an
Wherever the Bandinis’ appeared, revolution followed. Juan
seems to have inherited the qualities of his fifteenth century counterpart,
Bernardo Bandini. At every meeting, revolt, or conspiracy Juan Bandini was one
of the leaders. Almost any reason was sufficient for Juan to incite revolt.
Victoria’s refusal to call the disputación had sparked the
revolt of 1831. A deeper reason was Victoria’s refusal to secularize the
Missions. Bandini pressured the next governor, José Figueroa, until he had
issued a decree on August 9, 1834 that the Franciscans would be deprived of the
management of the land and the Indians. Figueroa had initially opposed this
secularization, for he held that "the Indians were incapable of managing their
affairs in any orderly way" and that they "had no sense of the value of property,
and no wish to possess it for any reason except for gambling."
Because of his part in the secularization movement, Juan
Bandini won the title: Destroyer of the California missions.
In 1836 Bandini was back in the revolution-making business –
this time in opposition to Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. José Antonio
Carrillo returned from his post as territorial congressman in Mexico with the
news that his brother, Carlos, had been appointed governor to replace Governor
Alvarado, and that the capital had been changed from Monterey to Los Angeles.
Carlos had "a large and a magnificent presence," but he lacked force and
resolution in political matters and was "wax in the hands of his brother," José
Governor Alvarado refused to step down as governor, taut
Carlos took the oath of office as governor at Los Angeles on December 6, 1836.
In February Alvarado had still refused to resign. Therefore, Bandini and José
Antonio Pico took a group of San Diegans to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, because
there were only a few members of the band, Bandini had them dress differently so
as to make them appear as different persons when they went to stand guard.
The Bandini-Pico band was defeated at San Buenaventura by
the Alvarado forces and Carlos Carrillo was forced to resign. This defeat ended
the opposition everywhere except in San Diego. When reports of San Diego’s
continued opposition filtered into Santa Barbara. Alvarado sent a group of
twenty-six men, led by Castro, to San Diego, The band reached the Bandini home
at midnight on Christmas. Despite the gala celebration, the soldiers surrounded
the home and arrested the two Carrillos and two of the Picos, but Bandini and
José Antonio Estudillo escaped. This finally quelled the opposition in San Diego.
During the Mexican-American war and during the United States’ "Conquest" of California,
Juan Bandini supported the Americans. His three daughters are even credited
with making the first American flag that was raised in the Old Town Plaza on
July 29, 1846 -the day John Charles Fremont arrived in town. Juan supported the
Americans because he sought relief from the boredom that followed the cessation
of revolution and the resumption of his duties as a rancher.
The American control of California, however, did not restore
Bandini to his old position as revolutionary. He was faced, instead, with the
jota of maintaining his vast tracts of land which stretched from Tijuana to the
San Bernardino mountains. Seeking relief from boredom, Juan turned his boundless
energy to numerous wild business schemes. In 1850 Juan invested $15,000 to
build the Gila House, an inn and general store, to accommodate the gold seekers
traveling from Mexico to Sacramento. In December Juan borrowed $10,000 from a
French gambler at four percent monthly interest. When Bandini could not meet the
payments, the Frenchman gave him an extension, but required the mortgage on both
Bandini’ s home and store. In 1851 Bandini was surprised to discover that "all
of a sudden trade left entirely."
In order to pay his debts, Juan hurried down to Rancho
Guadalupe, near Tijuana, to market the goods from the Rancho. But to Bandini’s
amazement the Rancho had gone to seed and he hired a new supervisor and workers.
While Bandini was at the Rancho his son-in-law, Charles
Johnson, "took the occasion to describe the entire family crisis to Abel Stearns
-Don Juan’ s costly business schemes, the gambling proclivities of the don’ s
young sons, and the expenditures of Dona Refugia Bandini in preparing
one elegant fiesta after another even while feeling ‘awfully
downcast’ about money matters. Johnson estimated that a loan of $2,000 and
proper management could save the Bandini estate and even make it profit ‘hansomely’."
Stearns took over the mortgage and saved Bandini from bankruptcy.
However, when Juan ignored the repeated pleas of his son-in-law for
sanity and realism in his business endeavors, the Bandini sons-in-law withdrew
all financial help. They remained friendly towards Juan, but they carried
on family matters without his advice. This caused Juan to complain of having lost
respect. He no longer found himself the revolutionary of former days; instead,
he was merely the father of numerous children who had to bail him out of his
financial troubles, which were caused not only by his business failures, but
also because he was a pace-setter in the social circles. He was one of the early
California socialites and his wife often threw elegant fiestas which cost Juan
as much as $1,000.
The slender and darkly handsome man had introduced the waltz
into California in 1820. At every dance he was the master of ceremonies. The
Californians called him "Tecolero," for it was his duty to lead a woman, usually
the belle of the ball, onto the dance floor and the performance was always
The children, whom Juan charged with having lost respect for
him, were produced through his November 20, 1822, marriage to Marie de los
Dolores Estudillo, the daughter of one of San Diego’s founders, Captain José
The first son of Juan and Dolores, Alejandro Félix Rafael, died
at the age of fourteen on May 10, 1839. José Maríá, their second son, married
MaríaTeresa Arguello, one of the twenty-two children of Santiago Argüello.
Juan’s three daughters – Josefa, Arcadia, and Isidora – were
considered three of the most beautiful girls in California, In 1846, Josefa
married Pedro C. Carrillo, the son of Carlos Antonio Carrillo, Pedro studied law
in Boston, where he had been taken by Captain William G. Dana, the husband of
Pedro’s sister, María Josefa Petra del Carmen.
Pedro and Josefa were given the Peninsula de San Diego
Rancho, which included Coronado and North Island, on May 12,1846, by Pio Pico,
the Mexican governor, as his personal wedding present. The Carrillos had five
children, but the marriage does not seem to have been an especially happy one.
In February 1854 Cave Couts, Josefa’s brother-in-law, wrote Abel Stearns that
he had to pick up Josefa from the steamer as Pedro was "neglecting her most
grossly," and that they were considering suing f or divorce.
Juan José, the son of Pedro and Josefa, was educated at Holy
Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Juan, who had married Francisca Roldan on
October 7, 1868, moved his family to Santa Monica. There he worked as a
bookkeeper, railroad worker, a waterworks superintendent, a livery stable
owner, judge, and the city’s first mayor.
Juan José’s son, Leo, was a famous television star, who
played Pancho in the Cisco kid series. Leo’s brother, Jack, became a world famous
engineer – the builder of Idlewild Airport.
Juan Bandini met Abel Stearns in 1829. Stearns had been
exiled from California by Governor Victoria, taut due to a storm off the coast
of Catalina Island, Stearns had been forced to land at San Diego for repairs on
his ship. Stearns, the son of Levi and Elizabeth Stearns, and a native of
Lunenburg, Massachusetts, immediately joined
the anti-Victoria revolt that Bandini had been planning. As a result of their
collaboration, Juan and Abel became good friends and steadfast political allies.
In May, 1841, Abel married Juan’s sixteen-year old daughter, Arcadia.
Abel Stearns was always a good friend, a kind husband, but he
had a hot temper and violent prejudices. Because of his ugliness, he was known as
"Cara de Caballo," horse face. He was a shrewd business-man and soon
became one of the wealthiest men in California, In fact, the commerical life of
southern California revolved around Stearns. His warehouse, "La Casa de San
Pedro," was one of the four principal ports of trade in nineteenth century
Although Juan had arranged the marriage between Abel and
Arcadia, the marriage was a happy one. Arcadia was fond and proud of Abel.
Arcadia and Abel’s home, built in 1859 in Los Angeles, was called "El Palacio,"
and soon became the political and social center of Los Angeles. Abel died in San
Francisco in the Grand Hotel on August 23, 1871.
After Abel’s death, Arcadia married Robert S. Baker, a native
of Rhode Island, the founder of Bakersfield, and a sheep rancher. When Arcadia
died on September 15, 1912, she was one of the richest women in America.
If Arcadia’s life lacked romance, the life of her younger
sister, Isidora, made up for it. In 1846 the whole town buzzed with excitement
over the entry of the American army into San Diego. Isidora,Juan’s youngest
daughter, described by Lt. John McHenry Hollings worth as "the most perfect
coquette I ever saw," leaned so far over the balcony to watch the procession of
the American Black Dragoons, sent to protect the California missions,
that she fell from the balcony into the arms of Colonel Cave Johnson Couts.
Couts, "straight as an arrow, willowy and active, a perfect
horse-man, with the natural instincts of a gentleman… .the soul of honor….
jovial and genial, fond of jokes, music and dancing, was born near Springfield,
Tennessee, on November 11, 1821.
He was educated under the supervision of his maternal uncle,
Cave Johnson, who served as post-master general under President Polk and later
as president of the State Bank of Tennessee. Cave graduated from West Point in
1843 and gained fame for his bravery in the Mexican-American war.
After this spectacular saving of Isidora’s life, Cave
returned frequently to the Bandini home, and the "romance blossomed under the
language of the eyes, since they did not speak the same language at that time."
Cave served as a judge in San Diego for two years after his marriage. Then in
1853, the couple moved to Guajome Rancho, which had been given to them as
a wedding present by Abel Stearns, Isidora’s brother-in-law.
The family that grew up on this estate was a happy one. From
the letters that Cave wrote to Stearns it is apparent that he had the same
problems that any father has: their first child, Abel Stearns, died and Cave had
to send Isidora away from the ranch because "every plaything of Abilito that she
come across, she has a cry and had cried so much that her lips were swollen and
very sore." Nancy swallowed poison.
Cave died on June 10, 1874. Isidora died in Los Angeles on
May 23, 1897, in the apartment of her sister, Arcadia Baker. After Isidora’s
death, Guajome passed to Cave J. Couts, Jr., who had attended college in
Tennessee and had become a surveyor for the Southern
Pacific railroad. Cave junior "maintained the air of Spanish hospitality as much
as possible in the changing conditions of the Twentieth Century, and has
rightly been called the ‘last of the Dons’ in San Diego county." He maintained
the ranch until his death on July 15, 1943.
María Antonia, the second child of Cave and Isidora, married
Chalmers Scott on November 18, 1874. Chalmers Scott was a famous lawyer and
engineer. Maríá and Chalmers had eleven children. The blond Arcadia was reared
by Arcadia Baker, her great-aunt. Arcadia, therefore, led the life of a "fashionable
and sought-after belle" and studied piano in Paris under Paul de Reszke. In
1912 Arcadia Scott married John Jerome Brennan of Pennsylvania, whom she had met
during a brief visit to the East Coast. They "knew at first sight that they
belonged together." John Brennon became one of San Diego’ s famous judges. The
couple had two children Martita Antonia, who married Alfredo Bandini Johnson,
a descendant of Juan by his second marriage to Refugio Argüello, and John
Juan’s youngest child, Juan Bautista, counted as
a useless ranch worker by his brothers-in-law, Abel Stearns and Charles Johnson,
became managing editor of the Los Angeles Herald. His daughter, Arcadia,
married John T.Gaffey on June 1, 1887. John Gaffey was "a brillant and entertaining
Irishman with scholarly tastes and a leading San Pedro real estate owner. His
other daughter, Mary Dolores, married on June 22, 1887, W. Russell Ward, an
Englishman of the famous family of English book publishers. Dolores became a
favorite in Queen Victoria’s court.
In 1835 Juan Bandini married Refugio Argüello. Refugio was considerably
younger than Juan and she "resented the five children of his first
family and was extremely jealous of his first deceased wife." Juan and Refugio
had five children: Alfredo, Juan de la Cruz, Dolores, Arturo, and Margarita.
Dolores married Charles Robinson Johnson, a cattle
auctioneer and before his marriage a famous playboy. Arturo Bandini was quite a
scholar; he lived in a "simple Los Angeles home filed with books and manuscripts
– the quiet life of a scholar and collector." Arturo was the author of several
books, including Navidad, a description of Christmas in Old California,
His wife, Helen Elliott Bandini, too, was a scholar; she wrote a History of
Juan Bandini, who had helped put California on her feet and
who had played such a vital role in California’ s growth, died on November 4,
1859 in Los Angeles where he had gone for medical treatment. With his passing
California lost a spirited leader both politically and socially.