The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1971, Volume 17, Number 2
Linda Freischlag, Editor

By Katherine L. Wagner

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It is unfortunate that Don Juan Lorenzo Bruno Bandini has been remembered only for his political activities which formed such a minor part of his career. He came to California with the purpose and promise of receiving a grant of land. After a number of years he finally received his first grant of Rancho Tecate. Then, later, came the Jurupa and Rincon ranchos and Corte de Madera, a timber concession. His last grant was the Guadalupe Rancho which he later exchanged for the Tijuana Rancho. He was a man of many facets: rancher, miner, political figure, merchant, devoted father, and always a genial and hospitable host.

“He died,” recalled Charles Brinley afterwards, “without a struggle and went off as one sighs.”. 1 And so departed from this life Don Juan Lorenzo Bruno Bandini, native of Arica, Peru, “a gentleman so typically Californian, warm-hearted, genial and social … one who dispensed so large and generous a hospitality.”.2 A man who “possessed many very estimable qualities which endeared him to all who came within the kindly influence of his nature.”3

But in reality, death had not come so easily for the genial Don. Death had arrived slowly and painfully after many years of sickness. Throughout his personal corer spondence and in other contemporary letters are found frequent references to Bandini’s physical troubles. On one occasion he la mented “the sudden apparition of my illness I have been half-crippled due to my aches and pains.”.4 At another time he writes, “in light of my sickness in which I suffer desperate pains … I repeat that I am a sick man and any position I assume is painful.”.5 His son-in-law, Charles Johnson, writing from San Francisco to Abel Stearns in 1853, observed that “Don Juan has been here … and returned home on the Sea Bird last trip sick with the chills and fever . . . Don Juan is too old to come to such a place as this.”6 These recurring attacks of sickness left Bandini unable to work for days and often for weeks throughout the last two decades of his life.

This debilitating illness of an undisclosed nature was not the only torment suffered by Juan Bandini. Added to this was the mental anxiety of his desperate financial situation. Year after year since 1850, debts amounting to thousands of dollars had accumulated, haunting him constantly as he tried to maintain the necessary means to support his large family. By the end of 1858, Don Juan was in debt over $32,000 to his son-in-law Abel Stearns, alone. This amount included numerous cash loans, taxes, the often-cited 1851 mortgage to the French merchant Adolfo Savin, import duties on Bandini’s cattle brought into the country from Baja California, various court costs in land litigations and, not least of all, the very carefully computed interest due to Stearns on these loans.7

Kaleidoscopic Mexican politics were responsible for a major portion of Don Juan’s dilemma. The sudden and unexpected changes in laws-particularly in those concerning land ownership – by each new president or political party, created a demoralizing aspect for hacendados in Baja California. Here too, as well as in California, Bandini was continually harassed by the difficulties of defending his land grant titles during the fifties.

Originally a resident of San Diego, Don Juan had moved to the pueblo of Los Angeles late in 1837 after being appointed the Administrator of San Gabriel Mission. Soon after this, he petitioned for and was granted the ranchos of Jurupa and Rincon located along the Santa Ana River near the present day Chino and Riverside area. Within a few years he resigned his post as administrator. He then devoted his efforts to ranching and to a lumbering enterprise he had started in the San Bernardino Mountains upon receiving a timber cutting concession from the Mexican government. However, these occupations soon proved unsuccessful and Bandini returned to Los Angeles in 1843 where he became a partner in a merchandise business with Abel Stearns, who had married his daughter Arcadia several years before. In 1844 he served as sindico in the town ayuntamiento.

It was during this year that a “good prosspect for speculation” came to Bandini’s attention which proved to be an apparently excellent mining prospect in Baja California. Never being one to pass up a good opportunity, he resigned in the summer of 1845 from his newly-appointed post of Secretary in the Mexican government under Pio Pico, dissolved his Los Angeles partnership in the firm of Stearns & Bandini, gathered up a portion of the cattle from his Rancho Jurupa and headed south for San Diego.

Don Juan was no stranger to mining schemes. His father, Don Jose Bandini, denounced a mine on their Rancho Tecate as early as 1837 and even while developing the Jurupa and Rincon grants in the early forties, Bandini had speculated on the possibility of mines in that area, sending ore samples to Mazatlan for assaying. By October 1845, Don Juan had registered his new mine in San Diego?as was customarily phrased, “por oro, plata, cobre, o lo que Dios me quiera dar”?located at the place called Ensenada, naming it San Jose.8

Since the Indian uprising of 1839-1840, the northern section of Baja California?commonly called “La Frontera”?had become almost uninhabited. The missions were in ruins and few settlers cared to risk their livelihood in such a hostile country. In order to maintain the number of workers that he anticipated for this enterprise, it would be necessary for Bandini to have a source of supplies nearer to his intended mining operations than San Diego.

His solution was to petition Governor Pio Pico for the lands of the ex-mission of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de la Frontera which lay about seventy-five miles south of San Diego.9 This once prosperous and impressive development in the Guadalupe Valley had been founded by the Dominican Fr. Felix Caballero in 1834. During the aforementioned Indian rebellion, Fr. Caballero was driven from the short-lived mission and since that time the fertile valley had been abandoned and the building had fallen to ruin.

After a favorable endorsement from. the San Diego authorities, Governor Pico granted the five leagues of Rancho Guadalupe to Juan Bandini. Here he constructed his ranch house and corrals, planted orchards, set out vineyards, erected carpenter and blacksmith shops and filled the narrow valley with cattle.

To further strengthen his claim in the mining enterprise, Don Juan purchased from the owner Don Francisco Xavier Gastelum that portion of the Rancho of Ensenada de Todos Santos on which his mine was located.10

Within a few months Bandini discovered another “good prospect” located within the boundaries of the newly-granted Rancho Guadalupe. To this mine-a copper mine- he gave the name of San Antonio.11 It was to be in the copper mines of San Antonio that Don Juan lost a considerable fortune.

In order to facilitate the bringing of supplies and men to the mines and rancho, Bandini opened the first wagon road into La Frontera, incurring great expenses. This industry on his part furthered the development of that section of Baja California. In 1846, during the last months of Mexican rule, numerous grants for other lands in La Frontera were made by Pio Pico. Abel Stearns also acquired two ranchos there. His Rancho Los Vallecitos lay just north of Rancho Guadalupe and his Rancho San Rafael was situated to the southeast.

Although ill and deeply occupied with the affairs of the mines and rancho, at the request of Governor Pico, Bandini joined in the sessions of a new legislative assembly opened in Los Angeles on March 2 by Pico. On May 11, Don Juan delivered a long speech before the assembly denouncing General Jose Castro for his abuse of power and then was forced to return to San Diego sick.

In the south, Bandini still had the task of moving his household goods shipped from Los Angeles into the casa in San Diego since his wife Dona Refugio and his family were now joining him there. Also, there were numerous cattle still remaining on the Rancho Jurupa that must be moved to La Frontera where, incidentally, reports from the copper mines were increasingly favorable. “I am resolved to abandon all political activities,” declared Bandini at the end of May, “for I know that under present circumstances, no general gain can be secured and this is the only stimulus that should move a man of good will and a patriot.”12

However, in spite of his resolve, Don Juan did return to Los Angeles again, joining the assembly at the end of June only to leave once more on July 8 and return to San Diego because of his illness.

On July 29, 1846, the American flag was raised at San Diego. Friendly towards the Americans, Juan Banidini and his father-inlaw, Don Santiago Arguello, urged their countrymen to cooperate with the new government that hopefully would bring protection and prosperity. Some of the Californians had desired to declare California independent and others favored English protection. Aiding the American forces, Bandini supplied cattle and horses from the Guadalupe Rancho and, in San Diego, opened his home to the military officers.

However, after the first year of American occupation and in contrast to his earlier sentiments, it is apparent that Don Juan became somewhat disenchanted with the government he had optimistically endorsed. Returning to San Diego from his Rancho Guadalupe on June 7, 1847, he wrote bitterly to Stearns:

I can tell you nothing about general happenings for I know nothing. The only thing that I can see and that fills me with disgust and mistrust is that it seems that the Senores who have come to direct the affairs of the country are so unexperienced in the business, that first, they should have gone to school, and it would have been well had California not served as that school.

For I see that now we are in a much worse state than before. There is no government, no order, no security and in place of these precious guarantees, we have instead a public demoralization that can hardly be endured. The administration of Justice, since there is no one to attend to it, has become a torch to fire the most blind of passions. Liberty, the one guarantee the citizen can make use of in civil affairs, has become licentiousness. Thus, one sees in the towns nothing but drunkeness, gaming, sloth, and public manhandling of the opposite sex. In fine, my friend, everything threatens a complete destruction of decency, industry and morality.

And I ask myself, will the new protecting government always be like this? Are these the men who have come to direct the benevolent flow of administration? Is there any denial of such atrocious conduct? Every day I damn those who were guilty of not effecting the only remedy of Salvation which I foresaw in time and which I will ever demand, “Absolute Independence!”

From what I have said you can well imagine the state of my heart on seeing what is happening. Thus I make known to you the great desire I have of leaving this country, of selling what I possess, settling my affairs, and seeking other winds, which although less healthy for my body, may be more beneficial to my rest and peace of mind.13

Nevertheless, in spite of his disappointment, Don Juan continued in his occupations during the remainder of 1847. As the copper mines of San Antonio became more widely known, he endeavored to enlist the aid of James Alexander Forbes in San Francisco, hoping to form a large mining enterprise. Apparently nothing came of this idea, although in July 1848, Bandini was busy at Ensenada loading the Bark Tasso with one hundred tons of mineral rock to be shipped north to San Francisco.

The discovery of gold in California in early 1848 acted as a powerful magnet attracting an ever increasing flow of adventurers to the mines of Northern California. Don Juan’s men were quickly drawn into this stream, leaving the mines of copper for golden diggings. Once more he saw his “fortune” slip through his fingers just as it seemed to be secure in his grasp.

As may well be expected, Bandini’s restless mind was not immune to the lure of gold. In the Spring of 1849 he also traveled north with two of his sons, trying his luck at the Stanislaus Placers. However, he soon realized that this occupation would be disasterous to his already poor health and he returned at the end of June to San Diego having at least profited well in the sale of his livestock in the northern mines.

Many of the goldseekers journeying towards California came by the Gila Trail and after crossing the Colorado River near present-day Yuma, Arizona, drifted to San Diego to take passage by boat, if possible, the remainder of the way to San Francisco. Perhaps these numerous travelers that crowded through San Diego suggested yet another idea for financial gain to Juan Bandini’s fertile mind. Early in 1850, he erected a large wooden building to be used as a hotel not far from his San Diego home. This two-story structure surrounded by verandas he named the Gila House. In August the San Francisco Daily Herald carried this notice:

For Sale or Lease ?The new wooden building known as the Gila House in the city of San Diego, 120 feet front by 62 feet deep, two stories high, with a capacious yard and out buildings; is now ready for occupation and will be sold with or without the lot upon which it stands or leased upon favorable terms. The situation is a delightful one, commanding the whole bay of San Diego at a glance, and offers rare inducements for investments of capital, as the growing importance of San Diego absolutely requires a well conducted Hotel for the convenience of strangers daily arriving there from all parts of the coast and for those who will undoubtedly make San Diego their watering place during the winter months. A fine well of pure water on the premises. For further particulars apply to Alfred Robinson.

The cost of erecting this hotel, which Bandini later wished “had never been,” was part of the reason that he borrowed a large sum of money from the French merchant, Adolfo Savin of La Paz on September 18, 1850. Don Juan was also investing heavily in city property in Old San Diego at the same time that William Heath Davis was promoting a New San Diego. Neither of these entrepreneurs were to profit in their respective ventures.

“By the last day of the month of February of 1851,” Don Juan promised, “I obligate and compromise myself to pay to the order of Adolfo Savin $10,800 in placer gold at the rate of $16.00 per ounce troy weight or in coin for value received in cash loaned in a friendly manner ….”14

Unfortunately, he couldn’t meet the note when due. It was extended to April at 4 per cent per month interest and Bandini gave Savin a mortgage on the hotel and his home in San Diego. The amount of the note with interest to July 1 would come to $12,822.90.15

In addition, before the authorities of Baja California at Santo Tomas, Juan Bandini in February 1851 renewed his registration of the San Antonio copper mines which had been shut down due to the uncertainties of the war and the gold rush. This may have been brought about by a small gold strike which occurred on the Rancho San Rafael which belonged to Abel Stearns at the beginning of that same year. In February it was reported that more than one hundred Sonorenos were at work on these new diggings.

In mid-April 1851, Don Juan left for his Rancho Guadalupe, hoping to round up enough cattle to sell in order to meet the mortgage payment. However, he found his ranch in a state of disorder and the cattle scattered. Very likely his vaqueros had once again succumbed to the lure of gold and had left. In short, at the plea of his new son-inlaw, Charles Robinson Johnson, who had married his daughter Dolores on January 16, Abel Stearns came to the rescue of Bandini and repaid Savin’s loan. Stearns also advised his father-in-law to abandon the copper mines and invest his capital in things more reliable, but to the optimistic Don Juan the diggings always seemed to be getting better and “fortune” was forever just around the corner.

At the end of 1851, a fore-runner of the numerous quasi-revolutions which were later to plague La Frontera was brewing at Santo Tomas between the rival political factions of Antonio Chavez and Francisco Xavier Castillo Negrete. With more foresight than he may have realized at the time, Bandini observed to Stearns, as a fellow landowner in Baja California, “I know that in similar circumstances, political upheavals are always causing unrest and speaking from experience, I know that it is usually the hacendados who pay. …”16

Thus, during the fifties, Juan Bandini was to suffer the buffetings of misfortune created by the war and gold rush, Indians and outlaws, filibusters and, most deadly of all, the constantly changing political situation in Mexico.

“I do not wish to report to you anything about the chain of events of this Frontera,” he confided to Stearns, “for every day I watch the public administration of things become more and more complicated,” and Don Juan further prophesied that “there is such a knot being tied down here that only great difficulties will be experienced in untying it. It is not easy to foresee the end result. . . .”17 The owners of ranchos in La Frontera soon found their lands being regranted to others by each new political party.

Not only was Bandini obliged to defend his own titles in the Rancho Tecate and Rancho Guadalupe, but, as attorney-in-fact for Abel Stearns, he was constantly concerned with the Rancho Los Vallecitos and Rancho San Rafael and soon found the situation intolerable. He complained to Stearns about the impossibility of obtaining any cooperation from those in public office in La Frontera. “Everything is under the thumb of servility,” he reported, “it is impossible to expect any good from a country governed in such a manner.”18

One of the most troublesome problems to contend with was that of the changing laws concerning the ownership of land in Mexico. In 1853 and again in 1854, General Santa Anna ordered that all titles acquired by transfer of vacant lands made out since the year of 1821 be presented to the government to be revalidated. In 1855 the same General Santa Anna declared invalid all concessions of vacant land made by insurgent commanders. Several other decrees were made by various officials and then in 1857, President Ignacio Comonfort’s decree reaffirmed the prohibition that forbad foreigners from acquiring land within a zone of twenty leagues from the frontier boundary. He too declared the sales of land null and void since 1821 until they were ratified by the government. As United States citizens since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the United States in 1848, Stearns and Don Juan were foreigners in La Frontera.

Deeply discouraged and physically sick, Juan Bandini wrote that he had “decided to return to San Diego for my sickness was becoming worse each day and I feared being unable to travel should I remain there [Rancho Guadalupe] longer without treatment. I would like nothing better than to be rid of all property and leave that land for whose development I have sacrificed so many of my years, my health and a great part of my fortune, helping out in its hours of need only to be rewarded with ingratitude and the sufferings which its tyranny has made me bear.”19

A typical incident occurred in 1856 when Don Juan received a letter from an old acquaintance, General Jose Castro, now a political appointee at Santo Tomas. He informed Bandini that he was denouncing one of the idle mines of San Antonio and renaming it “La Esmeralda.” With customary politeness (indeed, there was no other choice) Don Juan replied that since he had desired that the mines be worked, and since this had been the main object of his settling in La Frontera since 1845, but which through misfortune he was now unable to continue, he would make no objection. He also reminded General Castro that the mine lay within the limits of his Rancho Guadalupe. “God grant,” he wryly commented, “that its richness match the brilliance of its new name!”20

By 1858 it was imperative that Juan Bandini make some move to lighten the stress under which he lived. On May 15 he made arrangements to exchange his Rancho Guadalupe for that of the Tijuana belonging to his father-in-law, Don Santiago Arguello. This ranch, just south of San Diego and adjacent to the boundary line, would be much more convenient for the sick man.

On June 17, 1858, Bandini, in a surge of his old optimism, confided that “within two weeks I shall be in Tijuana so as to start work anew to found ranches . . . for I am still young and soon to reach only my sixtieth birthday and you see that it is not yet time to rest.”21

Don Juan’s new home for the improvement of his financial situation was short lived when a relatively small but forgotten business transaction came to light adding impetus to his misfortunes. On October 3, 1857, on a generous but foolish impulse, Bandini had co-signed a promissory note to accommodate his son-in-law Charles Robinson, a nephew of Alfred Robinson. The note, executed by Johnson and Horace Allanson, his partner in a general merchandise business in Los Angeles, was for $2,500 in favor of Peter G. Ten Broeck of the same city. When the note became due, Johnson and Allanson were without funds and unable to pay, leaving Don Juan liable for their debt.22 This situation came to the attention of the astute Abel Stearns who, greatly annoyed, immediately wrote to his father-in-law appraising him of this latest financial blunder. “Why you signed so large a note for him,” declared Stearns in disgust, “I don’t know!” He also reminded Bandini not to forget that he was already in debt to him, Stearns, over $32,000.23

To cover his own interests and perhaps to try to save something for the family, Abel Stearns suggested that, as a solution to this indebtedness to him, Don Juan execute a mortgage to him for $15,000 on the Jurupa Rancho and another for $17,000 on Bandini’s San Diego property and livestock.

The seriousness of the situation brought Don Juan immediately to Los Angeles where he signed a mortgage on the Jurupa .24 He returned at once to the Rancho Tijuana but there was no delaying his misfortunes now. Upon his arrival he suffered such a severe attack of sickness that he later reported “estaba en duda [de] mi exsistencia.” He was so sick he was afraid he would die.25

Then, before he had recovered from this illness, a violent windstorm swept San Diego on October 2, 1858, and the Gila House, Bandini’s ill-fated hotel, was severely damaged. The south portico was torn away completely and the roof stripped of its zinc covering.

Several weeks after this latest disaster, Don Juan suffered another attack of illness. “I have succeeded,” he wrote to Stearns, “for the second time to recover from this sickness, whose seizure makes me suffer a great deal. The bearer of this [the letter] will be Doctor Arnavar whose knowledge I recommend . . . and whose every energy he devotes to my prompt and effective recovery for which I am most grateful. I beg of you, on my account, $100 as a small payment to him for his important services to me….”26

In spite of “Doctor” Arnavar’s efforts, Bandini continued in his sickness and even more distressing now, he was in desperate need of money to buy the necessary food to keep his family fed. Don Juan desired to leave La Frontera but felt that he should first try to sell the Rancho Tijuana. The pastures were poor and even the cattle were having difficulty in finding grass.

The first weeks of 1859 found Bandini in San Diego where on January 12, in his distinctive handwriting, he composed his last will and testament, covering four sheets of paper. Tying them together with a bit of blue cord, he placed the document among his personal papers where it would be found after his death.

The days were now occupied with routine affairs dealing with the ranches of Don Juan and Stearns. Toward the end of April, Stearns again mentioned the Ten Broeck note. He observed that Bandini had only paid $500 towards this debt. As it would cost as much or more to dispute the indebtedness in court, Stearns could see no other way than to pay it, possibly by selling some cattle to raise the money. The same advice was offered for other of Bandini’s debts amounting to four or five thousand dollars. “Sell some of your cattle and take care,” counseled Stearns, “not to sign promissory notes or become entangled in the debts of others in the future.”27

Don Juan’s son, Jose Maria, rounded up available cattle from the Tecate and Tijuana ranchos, and drove the herd to Los Angeles in hope of selling them. On April 21, Dona Refugio and the rest of the family took passage on the steamer Senator for Los Angeles, taking the family carriage and bedding.

By June 7, Bandini was also in Los Angeles. The cattle sales apparently were not entirely successful as he advised one of his creditors, the firm of Levi Straus of San Diego, that he would have to pay part of his debt in cattle. Even the Gila House was being dismantled bit by bit and the usable lumber sold when possible.

Don Juan stayed at the Rancho Los Alamitos belonging to Abel Stearns during July, being cared for by his son Juan Bantista and the majordomo Charles Forbes. The heat and confusion of Los Angeles were unbearable. Don Abel was constructing a two-story brick store building adjacent to his adobe “El Palacio,” an activity that surely added to the general din of the town.

By mid-August Bandini had returned to Los Angeles. He was becoming progressively weaker and it was important that necessary business details be taken care of quickly. On August 19, 1859, Don Juan executed a deed to Abel Stearns for all his cattle of all classes, description and ages in either Lower California or California, which was 2,000 head. He also claimed 300 head of horses and 300 head of sheep stock. The consideration involved was $35,000.28 A second deed bearing the same date was executed by Bandini to Stearns for the Rancho Jurupa; the amount involved was $7,500.29 A third deed “for value received” transferred Bandini’s mark and cattle brand to Don Abel also .30 The fourth deed executed on this unhappy occasion gave Stearns the old Bandini adobe fronting on the plaza in San Diego, whose blessing in 1829 was so vividly described by Alfred Robinson in Life in California (Lot 1, Block 41), and the site of the Gila House (being Lot 2, Block 93) .31 This day marked the nadir of Don Juan’s fortune.

A few days later the Los Angeles Southern Vineyard reported the arrival of R. H. Dana, Esq., of Boston, now a lawyer and well-known author, who was making a hurried visit to see the places where more than a score of years before he had been engaged as a sailor in the hide and tallow trade along the California coast. In Los Angeles he met many of his old friends: Henry Mellus and his brother Frank, John Temple, now a very rich merchant, and also J. J. Warner.

He dined with Abel Stearns, who had been one of the principal traders there when Dana sailed the coast in the Pilgrim and the Alert. Here he again met Juan Bandini of whom he had recorded the poignant passing glimpse in sunlight and in shadow in his classic Two Years Before the Mast. With regret, Dana found now only a specter remaining of the “slight and elegant figure in neatly made white pantaloons and jacket of dark silk” who had danced so gracefully on small feet in “thin morocco slippers” in those halcyon days long past. Of this final meeting, Dana recorded only that Dona Refugio, a beautiful young girl when they had first met, was still “handsome.”

The Autumn of 1859 was extremely hot. In Los Angeles the thermometer rose as high as 110 degrees in the shade at mid-day. On October 4, at sunrise, it had registered a newsworthy 80 degrees.

Don Juan was now no longer in any physical condition to attend to his remaining business affairs and Abel Stearns took charge of the necessary correspondence. The news of Bandini’s fatal illness was becoming known to his friends along the California coast. From San Francisco, Joseph P. Thompson wrote that he had heard sad accounts of the health of Don Juan and wished it were possible to visit him. From San Diego “Doctor” Celestino Arnavar wrote to Bandini in a less consoling manner. He reported that in the town the main topic of conversation was that “Don Juan esta muriendose.” “Don Juan is dying.” Others, Arnavar stated, were commenting “Ah! que Don Abel, tan ingrato, todo le quito a Don Juan!” `Oh! that Don Abel, so ungrateful. He has taken all from Don Juan!”32

In the late afternoon of Tuesday, November 1, Los Angeles experienced an unusual and violent electrical storm. Thunder and lightning, accompanied by heavy rain, presented a lively contrast to the previous months of extreme heat. Unpaved streets soon melted into mud, and the intermittent rains that continued during the remainder of the week turned the newly-fenced plaza where the celebrated circus elephants from San Francisco, Victoria and Albert, were performing, into a near swamp.

Within the walls of the Stearns adobe little note was taken of these outside occurrences as the end was fast approaching for Don Juan. During the entire day of Thursday, November 3, Fr. Blas Raho seldom left the side of Bandini. All that night he stayed with him. During the early hours of the next morning, Friday, November 4, it became apparent that the end was approaching. Upon this knowledge, the grief of the ladies of the family became frantic, and Stearns and Dr. Griffin considered it prudent to keep them from the room.

Juan Bandini died at 4:25 A.M. Sadly, none of his immediate family were present. Only Charles Brinley, Dona Rafaela Temple, Ignacio Garcia, Doctor John Griffin and Fr. Blas Raho were near when the event occurred. “I think the old gentleman retained his intelligence almost to the last,” reported Brinley, “though some hours before he expired he could neither see nor speak-upon the Doc’s wishing to moisten his lips, he made a negative sign with his hand and head. In one so weak and emaciated the tenacity of life was remarkable .:33

On Saturday, November 5, the funeral”a large and impressing one,” according to Charles Brinley-took place, starting from “El Palacio” and proceeding to the Plaza church where Fr. Blas Raho conducted the Mass. No humble carreta, but a “new and appropriately ornamented” hearse rented from Perry and Woodworth and drawn by two horses, carried Don Juan’s coffin from the church to the Catholic cemetery on Eternity Street. A marble stone marker was placed on his grave on which was carved “To the Memory of Juan Bandini, Native of Arica, Peru, Born Oct. 4, 1800. . . .” The remainder of the inscription is not known as the stone was later broken in half .34

Fr. Blas Raho entered the record at the Plaza church in the second Book of Deaths, Number 628, p. 76, as follows:

JUAN BANDINI, En el dia 5 de Noviembre, di sepulture eclesiastica al cuerpo de Juan Bandini como de 59 anos de edad. Murio ayer despues de recibido los Santos Sacramentos.

Immediately after Bandini’s death, Abel Stearns sent a messenger south to the Guajome Rancho to advise Cave J. Couts, husband of Ysidora Bandini, of the event. Couts relayed the news to Jose Maria Bandini at San Diego along with the request that Jose Maria bring all Don Juan’s personal papers to San Diego from the Rancho Tijuana. This move was none too soon. Another revolution was brewing in La Frontera and within two weeks the Rancho Tijuana was invaded by revolutionists who took possession of the ranch house and seized the servants. The Rancho Tecate was also occupied by hostile forces. At a loss as to what to do, Jose Maria Bandini sought advice from Stearns and refuge in San Diego.

Charles Johnson and Juan Bautista Bandini brought the papers from San Diego to Los Angeles, including Don Juan’s will which Jose Maria had discovered among them. The will was filed in Los Angeles on November 23, before Probate Judge William G. Dryden after being presented by Abel Stearns on behalf of himself and Jose Maria and Juan Bautista as Executors. Saturday, December 10, 1859, at 10 o’clock, at the Court House in Los Angeles, was set for the hearing of the last will and testament which read:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, Creator and Supreme Legislator of the Universe, I, JUAN BANDINI, born in Peru, legitimate son of Don Jose Bandini and Dona Isidora Blancos, both deceased, and an American citizen, of the Apostolic Roman Catholic religion, resident of the Town of San Diego, County of the same name, State of California, in good health and of sound mind, wishing to be prepared in order to assure the good future which I desire for my family, I write this my Will, written by my own hand, and under oath that it is of my own free will, under the following clauses and forms:

I declare that I was married in San Diego, now the State of California of the American Union. My first marriage was with Dona Dolores Estudillo, born in Monterey, legitimate child of Captain Don Jose Maria Estudillo and Dona Gertrudis Horcasitas, deceased. By this wife I have had several children, those now living: Josepha, married to Don Pedro Carrillo; Arcadia, married to Abel Stearns; Ysidora, married to Don Cave J. Couts; Jose Maria and Juan Bautista, both over twenty-five, and both unmarried.

I declare that my first wife having died, I married for the second time at San Diego in the year 1835, Dona Refugio Arguello, born in Santa Barbara, legitimate daughter of Captain Don Santiago Arguello and Dona Pilar Ortega, who are still living. And by my present wife, Dona Refugio, I have up to the present, five children, who are: Dolores, married to Carlos Johnson; Marguarita, unmarried, over 21 years of age; Juan de la Cruz, unmarried, over 21 years of age; Juan de la Cruz, 20 years old; Alfredo, 10 years, and Arturo, 5 or 6 years old.

I declare that God, through His goodness, wished to give me properties. These I give voluntarily to my children mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs whom I recognize as my legitimate heirs. But before each one can dispose of the properties, the following instructions must be observed by my Executors, which I shall name.

First, when God, through His infinite mercy takes my soul, if my death should take place near my family in San Diego or any other town, I want to be buried without any pomp, but with a simple and humble funeral, in the place where my aforementioned family chooses. Second, after my death, my Executors will take possession of all my property, give an inventory and a valuation of its intrinsic value and they shall try to conserve it until the payment of my debts, which I recognize, without forgetting that my wife and children depend on my estate as their only source of maintenance until they can enjoy it in full.

In the next seven paragraphs of instructions Bandini listed his debts and requested that they be paid as soon as possible. Of the remainder of his capital, he wished one-fifth set aside for the expenses of his funeral and “the simple grave marker” that he desired. From the remains of this fifth part he made a small gift to the Catholic church in San Diego, and gave an equal amount to the widows, and orphans. He then designated $100 to have masses said for the souls of his parents, brothers, wife and his own. If anything remained of the fifth, he wanted half of it for the education of his grandchildren, the other half to be divided between his wife and children. Bandini then continued:

Tenth, my property today consists of the rights to, which by just title I acknowledge, the lands of Jurupa, San Bernardino County, of seven leagues, of which a league and a half I sold to Don Benito Wilson, within the landmarks which I described in legal papers. Those rights which assisted me in the Rancho Tijuana through exchange which I made with my father-in-law, Don Santiago Arguello, for the Rancho Guadalupe of six leagues, according to title. The property by equal right to the Rancho Tecate of five leagues and all the improvements which exist in the aforementioned ranchos. The personal property-3,000 head of cattle with this brand ; about 400 horses, mules, wild and tame, with the same brand. Houses and lots in San Diego and also my claims against the Government of Mexico which are absolutely just and ought to be validated, the loans as well as the losses through unjust persecutions and other events which came to me through the hands of the border authorities of Baja California where I legally had my estates and all my interests. All the necessary documents will be found in order in a small trunk which I have reserved for that purpose.

Eleventh, in order to carry out the dispositions of my will, I name as my Executors, Don Abel Stearns, and my sons Don Jose Maria and Don Juan Bautista, whom I consider trustworthy and to whom I entrust all my property and who are obliged to carry out these dispositions.

The next two paragraphs instructed the executors of his estate what to do if any of those named were unable to serve. Bandini then concluded:

I sincerely implore my children to continue in the respect they should have toward religion as Christians, the love that they must have amongst themselves as brothers, that they must avoid all kinds of disputes, that they behave as gentlemen towards all, not to forget that as citizens they have certain obligations to their country. And, last, always to bear in mind that their father goes down to his grave without any worries because he trusts his sons to follow the example that he gave them, and that they will remember the ashes of a father who loves them very much and blesses them. Finally, I revoke and annul all my other wills and testaments that have been made up to now, this being the only legal one. In witness whereof, I sign and seal with my own hand this one, today, the Feastday of San Arcadio, the Twelveth of January, 1859.

Juan Bandini

In the Probate Court of Los Angeles County Joseph R. Gitchell testified that the last Will and Testament of Juan Bandini was signed in his presence and in that of the other witness, H. Mannasse, and that the said Bandini was of sound mind and memory at the time of signing and was under no undue restraint or fraudulent misrepresentation.35

Because of the revolution in La Frontera, it wasn’t until April 9, 1860, that the appraisal and inventory of Don Juan’s personal property at San Diego was made by Frank Ames, R. E. Doyle and George A. Pendleton. There were few personal goods left as the following inventory will testify:

Three (3) Looking Glasses @1. $ 3.00 
Five (5) Tables @1. 5.00
One (1) Dining Table 2.00
One (1) Safe 10.00
Ten (10) Pictures @1. 10.00
Twenty-four (24) Chairs @2. 48.00
One (1) Sofa 20.00
Two (2) Chairs @8. 16.00
One (1) Candelabra 5.00
Two (2) Curtains and Fixtures @2.50 5.00
One (1) Secretary 10.00
One (1) Couch 5.00
Three (3) Bedsteads @5. 15.00
Two (2) Washstands @1. 2.00
One (1) Cooking Stove 5.00
One (1) Lot of Crockery 5.00
One (1) Lot of Sundries 5.00
Total Appraisal $171.00

Jose Maria Bandini, Co-executor, swore that the inventory contained a true statement of the entire personal estate of the deceased Don Juan Bandini that had come to his knowledge and possession in the County of San Diego. He petitioned that this property be set aside for the use of the widow and minor children in the old Bandini adobe at San Diego.36

For Don Juan, even death seemingly failed to bring repose. Forty-two years later his daughter Arcadia had his remains removed from the old Catholic cemetery in Los Angeles and re-interred in the new Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. Here too, a few years later, his body was once more moved and given burial in a newly constructed family vault.37 Requiescat in pace.


1. Brinley to Couts, Nov. 5, 1859, Couts MSS, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

2. Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California (The Knickerbocker Press, New York 1916), p. 255.

3. Thompson to Stearns, Nov. 17, 1859, Stearns MSS, Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.

4. Bandini to Stearns, Jan. 13, 1848,* Ibid.

5. Bandini to Stearns, Feb. 27, 1853,* Ibid.

6. Johnston to Stearns, June 7, 1853, Ibid.

7. Statement of Account, Jan. 28, 1856, Box 74, Ibid.

8. Bandini to Juez., Oct. 16, 1845,* Box 89, Ibid.

9. Expediente for Rancho Guadalupe, Nov. 12, 1845, copy in Box 89, Ibid. Original document in the National Archives, Washington, D. C.

10. Gastelum to Bandini, Dec. 18, 1845, Box 89, Ibid.

11. Bandini to Juez., Feb. 20, 1846, Gaffey Coll., Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif.

12. Bandini to Stearns, May 29, 1846,* Stearns MSS.

13. Bandini to Stearns, June 7, 1847,* Ibid.

14. San Diego County, Deed Book 0 (translations), p. 326.

15. Johnson to Stearns, May 26, 1851, Stearns MSS.

16. Bandini to Stearns, Jan. 21, 1852,* Ibid.

17. Bandini to Stearns, Aug. 8, 1852,* Ibid.

18. Bandini to Stearns, June 17, 1856,* Ibid.

19. Bandini to Stearns, June 17, 1856,* Ibid.

20. Bandini to Castro, Dec. 1, 1856,* copy, Ibid.

21. Bandini to Stearns, June 17, 1858,* Ibid.

22. Los Angeles County, District Court Case 646, Ten Broeck vs Allanson and Bandini.

23. Stearns to Bandini, July 20, 1858, Stearns MSS.

24. Bandini to Stearns, July 27, 1858, copy in Beattie MSS, Huntington Library.

25. Bandini to Stearns, Aug. 11, 1858,* Stearns MSS.

26. Bandini to Stearns, Oct. 25, 1858,* Ibid.

27. Stearns to Bandini, April 22, 1859, Ibid.

28. Bandini to Stearns, Aug. 19, 1859, copy in Gaffey Coll., Library, UCLA.

29. San Bernardino County, Deed Book D, p. 436.

30. Los Angeles County, Book 3 Marks and Brands, p. 129.

31. San Diego County, Deed Book 1, p. 335.

32. Arnavar to Bandini, October 7, 1859. This letter is in the possession of Margaret Gaffey Mel, great-granddaughter of Juan Bandini.

33. Brinley to Couts, Nov. 5, 1859, Couts MSS.

34. Los Angeles Times, Sept. 24, 1944. Picture and story concerning the top half of the original gravestone. A publisher named Harry Iles had bought the piece of broken marble to use in his print shop next to the old Los Angeles Times building. In the dynamiting of 1910 the tombstone was the only thing that survived the destruction of Iles’ shop.

35. Los Angeles County, Probate 152, Juan Bandini. Translation of the will is by Thomas Workman Temple II, San Gabriel.

36. Ibid.

37. Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles, Calif. Old office records indicate that in 1902 all remains of those of the family who had been buried in the old Catholic Cemetery on North Broadway were removed to the New Calvary Cemetery to Sec. F. A large vault was later constructed and the remains of twelve of the family (among which are Juan Bandini, Dona Refugio, Abel Stearns, Arcadia Stearns de Baker and Robert Baker) are now interred there.

Note: * Those items thus marked were translated by Thomas Workman Temple II, San Gabriel.

Katherine Wagner, lives in Sierra Madre, California. She is greatly interested in California history, particularly the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.