The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

By Iris Wilson Engstrand & Thomas L. Scharf

Images from the Article

Some thirty miles north of San Diego, on the outskirts of the city of Vista, stands a beautiful and representative example of Spanish hacienda architecture. Amid a landscape of gently rolling hills, the spacious adobe residence of Rancho Guajome is a visable reminder of an era gone by—a time when much of California was divided into feudal-like estates and controlled by a select minority of Mexican and American rancheros. In past decades, faltering attempts have been made to preserve the steadily decaying ranch house so that it might once again serve as a symbol of united Hispanic and Anglo cultures. Now, this objective has been realized. Recently acquired by the County of San Diego, Guajome will become a living landmark of California’s colorful rancho period. Ideally it will reflect the proud heritage and determined ambition of its most notable owners, Cave Johnson Couts and his wife Ysidora Bandini.

A Southerner, born near Springfield, Tennessee, on November 11, 1821, Cave Couts often has been described as lean and handsome in physical appearance with a vigorous and aggressive personality.1 Several months before his seventeenth birthday, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. His appointment to this prestigious institution came through his maternal uncle, Cave Johnson, later Postmaster General under President James K. Polk.2 Not long after graduation in 1843, Second Lieutenant Couts was sent to Fort Jessup, Louisiana and from there to three other frontier posts during the next five years.3

After the close of the Mexican-American War in 1848, Couts came to California with a troop of soldiers under the command of Major Lawrence P. Graham.4 A keen observer and voluminous note taker, Couts recorded every aspect of the trip in a daily journal.5 Leaving from Monterrey, Mexico in June, 1848, the men marched across the Southwest for six months. Soon after arriving in California, Couts was assigned to Los Angeles and later Mission San Luis Rey. While at the latter post he saw the fertile valley which would be his future home. He noted:

Water is abundant and good. Several springs meet the creek, which runs into the Pacific about four and a half miles from the mission. The valley is separated from the valley of Santa Margarita by a chain or ridge of mountains, now covered with wild oats.6

In 1849 Couts reported to San Diego with a company of dragoons to assist the operations of the United States Boundary Survey then preparing to map the dividing line between Southern California and Mexico.7 It was here, at least according to legend, that Couts’ destiny literally fell into his lap.

Perched on the roof of her father’s house, Ysidora Bandini,8 along with her sisters, sat watching as Couts and his men marched into San Diego’s Old Town Plaza. Leaning over the edge to gain a better look, the unsuspecting Ysidora suddenly plummeted earthward. Not unlike a knight of yore the Yanqui soldier Couts reportedly made an abrupt charge, catching his lady in distress just in time.9 Though the circumstances of this first meeting are open to question, it is known that the couple continued to see each other. In fact, after completion of the boundary survey, Couts entered into business with Ysidora’s father, Juan Bandini, in whose home he had been living since his arrival in San Diego.10 Not only was Couts taken with the friendliness of Ysidora, he noted in his journal that he enjoyed the “unbounded kindness” of Doña Refugia Bandini, her sons and daughters.11 Couts married the lovely Ysidora in the Bandini house on April 5, 1851.12

The Bandinis were a prominent family in early San Diego society. Don Juan, who traced his ancestry back to Spanish and medieval Florentine princes, arrived in California from Peru in the early 1820s.13 His first marriage in 1822 to Doña María de los Dolores Estudillo, a member of another influential local family, had produced five children, including three beautiful daughters—Josefa, Arcadia, and Ysidora. The eldest, Josefa, became the wife of Pedro Carrillo, grandfather of movie actor Leo Carrillo.14 They settled on a rancho which encompassed the whole of present-day Coronado and North Island.” Arcadia, like Ysidora, married an American—the wealthy Los Angeles merchant and trader Abel Stearns. A child bride of fourteen, Arcadia nevertheless provided a successful match for the forty-year-old Stearns.16 It was Stearns who presented Rancho Guajome to Couts and his bride as a wedding present.17

Abel Stearns had originally purchased Guajome from two Luiseño Indian brothers, Andrés and José Manuel, for $550.00. The brothers, who had placed part of the land under cultivation and built a house, received the rancho as a land grant from Mexican Governor Pío Pico on July 19, 1845.18 In the early 1850s following California’s admission to statehood and during the hearings of the Land Claims Commission, a petition for approval of the grant was filed on behalf of Andrés and the heirs of José Manuel—his wife Salina and sister Caterina. By this time ownership had passed from their hands, but title was belatedly confirmed to them in August, 1858.19 The patent described the boundaries of the 2,219.41 acre rancho as follows:

One half of one square league in a square form, commencing at the initial point . . . so as to include the quantity of one half of one square league … starting at the boundary line of the Indian Felipe (of Buena Vista Rancho) which served both parties, extending North 5,000 varas, terminating at a high hill next to a lake, where the parties interested were instructed to set a proper land mark, thence East, then South, then West 2,500 varas, terminating in a deep ravine.20

The name Guajome, pronounced gwah-hó-may, comes from the Luiseño Indian word wakhavumi meaning frog pond. In the Luiseño story of creation, Wahawut was one of the “First People” who took on the appearance of a frog to cast a spell over the god Oiyot.21 The rancho land, located just five miles from the church of Mission San Luis Rey, was at first populated by Shoshonean speaking Indians who found it well supplied with ponds, lakes, and frogs. After secularization of the mission in 1835, the two Luiseño brothers continued to farm the land with their families. Since Guajome was small in comparison to other grants, its first Indian owners began to call it Guajomito or Little Guajome.22

On October 9, 1851, Couts resigned his commission in the United States Army and gave up the wayfaring life of a military man.23 Wanting to become a rancher and knowing that substantial profits could be made from selling cattle in northern California markets,24 he initiated construction of the adobe residence at Guajome. Although frequently supervising activities at the rancho, he and Ysidora lived temporarily with the Bandini family in San Diego, where Couts found time to participate in local affairs. He surveyed and mapped Old Town—giving the streets their present historic names25 and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the California militia.26 Nevertheless, Couts’ primary ambition lay to the north. Development of Rancho Guajome had become the driving force in his life.

By the end of 1853, Cave Couts had instituted a complete transformation of the rancho grounds. Having been appointed an Indian agent for the area, he was able to obtain assistance in this enterprise through the aid of some 300 Indian laborers living near the former Mission San Luis Rey.27 Since there had been few trees, Couts planted extensive orchards, bringing in many tropical fruits such as the Chicomoya or Anona, the Marengo, and the Aguacate or Avocado tree. 28 He started a vineyard and for years maintained the only orange grove in San Diego County. 29 Couts likewise set up one of the earliest irrigation systems in the county by enlarging and converting Guajome’s “frog ponds” into a network of basins and streams of running water. His laborers built barns, stables, sheds, and corrals for growing herds of cattle and horses. It was primarily through the sale of these animals that Couts managed to finance his operations. On occasion he even drove his cattle to market in San Francisco to obtain the highest selling price. Couts increased his holdings in this period by purchasing nearby Rancho Buena Vista and Rancho los Vallecitos de San Marcos, thereby becoming the owner of over 20,000 acres. 30 In short, he anticipated making Guajome the grandest, if not the most successful, of all the Southern California ranchos.

Couts’ lofty objectives for Guajome were best expressed in his stately ranch house. First started sometime in 1852, the twenty-two room home was not completed until late in 1853.31 An elegant dwelling, it harmoniously combined methods of architectural construction employed in both low, rambling Mexican adobes and the more elevated styles of American woodframes. The thousands of adobe bricks used in its building were made by Indian laborers. Exactly where the adobe was obtained is unknown since the rancho itself contains few large clay deposits.32 It is certain, however, that the majority of the roof tiles came from Mission San Luis Rey. Finding the mission abandoned and in ruin, Couts obtained permission from the diocesan bishop to take the site’s materials. To show his appreciation, he reciprocated by giving the church a substantial donation. 33 During construction of the hacienda, Couts maintained temporary living quarters on the rancho in a small wooden shack and frequently spent several nights a week there. Ysidora, at her husband’s request, remained in town because he wanted the home completely finished before letting her see it.

Couts designed the ranch house in the traditional Spanish-California manner with four wings connected at right angles surrounding a central patio approximately eighty by ninety feet. The patio was a pleasant place for walking or sitting with its well-cared-for gardens and fragrant orange and lime trees. All of the rooms faced the center of the patio and were protected by an eight-foot-wide roofed corridor left open on the opposite side. Much later the southern portion of this walkway was made into an enclosed veranda. On the northern wall, a gate led into the carriage courtyard. This was surrounded by three wings, making the entire house resemble a figure eight. Here were a blacksmith shop, a ranch store, tack room, foreman’s room, and an outdoor fireplace. A special stall sheltered a matched set of riding horses for Ysidora’s exclusive use. An additional wing, built later, adjoined the eastern side of the dwelling and housed the oven and kitchen. On the grounds, Couts erected a private chapel and dedicated it to his wife. He had reportedly obtained special permission for its construction from the Pope.34

The main house, with 7,680 square feet of living area, contained a dining room, study, pantry, the old kitchen, and eight bedrooms. Windows in the parlor faced a colonnaded front porch and took in a commanding view of the rancho. Most of the walls varied in thickness from two to four feet. Windows in each room, plus a series of air holes, provided for ventilation. Heat was supplied by individual fireplaces in almost every room.35

The interior was furnished and decorated on a lavish scale—even by present—day standards. Ysidora brought with her many elegant items from her father’s house, including china, silver, and what is thought to be California’s first piano. Imported from Europe, the stately instrument stood on delicately carved legs with a cabinet of lacquered and inlaid mahogany. Couts also owned an iron safe and used it to store his valued papers and personal diaries. The master bedroom, furnished with a massive hand carved four-poster bed, was also graced by marble topped tables and washstands. Just off the bedroom, in Ysidora’s sitting room, were brocaded chairs and sofas, and a large ornamentally carved Florentine mirror made especially for her.36

Throughout the house, the walls displayed a collection of contemporary oil paintings and treasured family mementos. In the parlor a hanging chandelier brightened the room with the reflected light of its polished crystal prisms. Everywhere the house boasted of the wealth and prosperity so often associated with the halcyon days of California’s rancheros.37

Day to day life at Rancho Guajome never lacked excitement. This was a certainty guaranteed by the eight lively Couts children. The first child, Abel Stearns Couts, had died in 1855 before reaching his fourth birthday. By this time, however, María Antonia Arcadia had been born in San Diego, and William Bandini (Guillermo Antonio) at Rancho Guajome. These were followed by Cave Jr., or Cuevas as he was sometimes called, Nancy Dolores (Ana Venancia), Ysidora Forster, Elena Francisca (Helen), Robert Lee (Roberto), John Forster (Juan), and María Carolina (Caroline).38 A frequent visitor to Guajome was Judge Benjamin Hayes39 and his son Chauncey. 40 Hayes found the Couts children “full of life and interest.” He recalled that one evening:

Poor Cuevas, the youngest son, whom [Couts] loves best, was “in Coventry” at our arrival. The father had just sent him to sit in the corner, for quarreling with little Nancy. Father and son both forgot the matter when Chauncey delivered him the marbles of a dozen colors brought from Los Angeles. Soon Billy and the sweet María Antonia joined Cuevas and Chauncey and I left them to their amusement under the porch. 41

Guajome was often a favorite overnight stopping place for travelers on their way to Los Angeles or destinations farther north. One such caller, and a former classmate of Couts at West Point, was General Ulysses S. Grant. The general’s visit, however, was cut short when he chose to make a showy entrance at supper one evening by riding his spirited stallion into the dining room. Doña Ysidora refused to put up with these shenanigans and politely but firmly asked the “Hero of Appomattox” to leave her home. 42 Another notable guest, with whom Guajome’s mistress could be more congenial, was General Lew Wallace. This well-known author of Ben Hur visited the rancho off and on and is said to have written parts of his famous novel while staying there. 43

In its heyday Rancho Guajome became a mecca for the social and cultural life of San Diego’s backcountry. At one time or another almost everyone visiting Southern California passed under the wide archway leading into the adobe’s carriage court. This was due in no small measure to the amicable nature of its owners. Couts, or Don Cuevas as his friends called him, was well respected for his hospitality and devotion to his family. He was a “congenial companion, fond of music and dancing, and a popular figure in all social circles.” 44 Doña Ysidora, who Judge Benjamin Hayes so ardently admired, seemed always at her best—”vivacious, mild, witty, intelligent.” 45 It is easy to imagine the beautiful, dark-haired Señora Couts dressed in a colorful gown of silk, strolling with guests through Guajome’s spacious corridors. Being in her presence during one of the many fiestas which took place at the rancho remained “upon the memory long after leaving.” 46

Cave Couts, Guajome’s cordial host, was also a man with a violent temper who did not hesitate to take the law into his own hands if he felt himself wronged. Twice in 1855 he received indictments from the San Diego County Grand Jury on charges of whipping two Indians with a rawhide reata—one of whom died as the result of his injuries. Couts later won an aquittal on grounds that one of the jurors was not an American citizen. 47 In 1863 he was again indicted, this time with his brother William B. Couts,48 on charges of murder. The case came about because of a smallpox epidemic which hit San Diego County early that year. When Couts, as Justice of the Peace, 49 tried to prevent burial of a neighboring ranchero who had died of the disease, trouble occurred. He sent his brother and two servants to the cemetery, which was on Guajome land, with an order to stop the funeral; when the party refused they fired into the crowd. One man died and two others lay wounded. Despite lengthy testimony on both sides, the charges against Cave and William Couts were dismissed on a technicality—the district attorney had not posted his bond of office. 50

Within two years Couts was involved in another murder. On February 6, 1865, he shot and killed Juan Mendoza, former majordomo at Rancho Guajome and a Mexican revolutionary. Mendoza, who had threatened Couts’ life on several previous occasions, came upon his ex-employer in Old Town’s plaza. He apparently tried to avoid a conflict, but Couts fired twice and Mendoza fell dead in his tracks. 51 Judge Hayes, serving as counsel for Couts, pointed out that the murdered victim was known to be a robber and troublemaker and his client had merely acted in self defense. Couts secured a third acquittal. 52

In addition to the problems which caused Couts such severe personal conflicts, the owner of Guajome also suffered a series of business reverses. The rancho’s carefree era of affluence was short lived. As early as the late 1850s, Southern California rancheros witnessed a marked decline in the cattle industry. The boom and bust period of the 1849 gold rush, with its high prices and skyrocketing economy, was fast drawing to a close. These unstable conditions were followed by a devastating drought in the mid-1860s that killed off much of the remaining herds. 53 A large number found themselves forced to liquidate their holdings by selling off huge tracts of land. 54 Couts held on to most of his property and converted in part to sheep ranching.55 Later, in 1872, the state’s passing of a no-fence law required ranchers to either enclose their herds or assume liability for damage to farmer’s crops. This law compelled Couts and others to dispose of their livestock at ruinous prices.56

By the Spring of 1874, the once undaunted Don Cuevas could no longer continue his ranching activities. Bothered by frequent and severe chest pains, he journeyed to San Francisco for medical attention. His illness, diagnosed as an aneurysm of the aorta, offered little hope of cure and Couts returned to San Diego. Shortly thereafter, probably as a result of the aneurysm’s rupture, he lost consciousness and was taken to a room at the Horton House.57 Two weeks later, on June 10, 1874, Cave Johnson Couts died at the age of fifty-two.58 His passing was marked by a well attended funeral and he was laid to rest in the enclosure of the unfinished Immaculate Conception Church in Old Town. Four years later, on July 6, 1878, his remains were removed to Calvary Cemetery in Mission Hills.59

By the terms of Couts’ will, ownership of Rancho Guajome passed to his wife and the couple’s eight children. Ysidora, however, was to have full control of the property during her lifetime. Couts directed that upon her death the property should “descend in fee simple in equal undivided portions to my said beloved children.”60 As a special gesture to the three youngest children, Robert, John, and Caroline, he gave a cash inheritance of $2000.00 each. Title to Rancho Buena Vista had been turned over to his eldest daughter, María Antonia, who married Chalmers Scott in November, 1874.61

With some help, Ysidora carried on the operations of the rancho for the next twenty-three years. The work could not have been easy, but she managed nonetheless. Like her husband, she too possessed an iron will and an indomitable spirit. She kept the ranch house and its furnishings intact and in good repair.62 In this later period, Rancho Guajome was visited by author Helen Hunt Jackson, United States Indian Commissioner, who was gathering material for her novel Ramona published in 1884. She apparently patterned the central character after Ysidora’s personal maid and Alessandro after a composite of the Indian workers. 63

On May 24, 1897, while on a visit to her sister Arcadia Stearns in Los Angeles, Ysidora died quietly in her sleep. One of her last wishes was to be buried beside “my dear husband” in Calvary Cemetery.64 She willed the contents of her private chapel to the Catholic Church at Mission San Luis Rey, her personal possessions to daughter Caroline, and the rancho to her children, as provided by Cave Sr.65

Although now divided among the eight Couts heirs, Guajome existed throughout the first half of the twentieth century as a unified whole. This was due to the foresight and care of Cave and Ysidora’s fourth child, Cave Johnson Couts, Jr. Born at the rancho on June 5, 1856, 66 “little Cuevas” grew up to embark upon a career no less illustrious than that of his father. Educated at St. Vincent’s Academy in Los Angeles and later at Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee, young Cave entered the field of civil engineering. At the age of twenty-three he became deputy city engineer of Los Angeles and not long after, one of the first engineers on the California Southern Railroad during its construction in San Diego County. In 1883, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Chalmers Scott, Cave Jr. traveled to Guatemala and El Salvador to work on the building of the Central American Pacific Railroad. Upon his return to San Diego in 1884, he was made deputy surveyor for the county and served in this capacity for over twenty-five years.67 During this time financial setbacks experienced by his brothers and sisters allowed Couts to slowly buy back their portions of Rancho Guajome, thus assuring its preservation.68

On January 14, 1887, in a festive ceremony at the rancho, Cave Jr. married Elizabeth B. Clemens.69 Lily Bell, as she was more popularly called, was a niece of writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. In the fall of that year, on October 15, the couple had their only child, Cave Johnson Couts III, nicknamed “Toots.”70 These early years together appeared idyllic. Couts constructed the distinctive second story loft above the ranch house’s southern elevation as a sun and sewing room for his wife.71 Nevertheless, the union proved a bad match. In March, 1897, Lily Bell filed a complaint against her husband charging in part that he had bestowed “… the attention and kindness due her upon others of his female acquaintances…” 72 After a bitter fight over custody of their son and division of the property, the couple obtained a divorce on June 24, 1897.73

Perhaps because of the marriage breakup and certainly as a result of financial difficulties, Couts neglected for a time the upkeep of Guajome.74 This is evident by a description of the rancho left by California writer and coastal explorer Smeaton Chase who visited Guajome between 1910 and 1911. He found the place “a particularly sad instance” of an unworthy fate:

The ruin of the Guajome seems more like the hideous decay of a murdered body than the peaceful dissolution which sheds over most ancient buildings that peculiar charm we can all recognize. Cans, bottles, and other refuse covered the floors and the broken chairs and tables of the rooms we entered; the fish pond was slimy and defiled; the fountain dry and shattered. But for a few flowers that bloomed in the dusty courtyard I could discover nothing of attraction. It was a relief to turn our backs upon the place. 75

As Chase rode back across the ranch he passed a great number of sheep and commented that the ugly, barren ground “served to complete the depressing impression.”76

An unusual plan, initiated by a group calling itself the Rancho Guajome Health Company, was put forward in this period to purchase the rancho and save it from further abuse. Directed by a Dr. L. A. Perce of Long Beach, its members proposed selling stock at $100.00 per share to acquire the property and turn it into a combined utopian colony and nursing home for semi-invalids “in search of health and renewed strength.” 77 Participants would live in rented cottages and pay for living expenses through the sale of agricultural products raised on the ranch. The adobe ranch house was to be renovated and made into club rooms, offices, and a library. Dr. Perce’s idea failed to achieve sufficient support and all that remains of the plan today are scattered copies of a lavishly illustrated brochure.78

Cave Couts Jr. rallied, however, and began his own refurbishing of Guajome. By the close of the 1920s he had completely restored the main house and chapel. Workmen covered much of the original adobe structure with wood and stucco, laid new walkways in the central patio, and repainted the home’s interior. In addition, Couts purchased and remodeled Casa Bandini in Old Town before opening it in 1930 as a hotel. Now a moderately wealthy man, he found time to become involved in a variety of civic projects and took special pride in the fact that he served as chairman for the committee to build the Mt. Palomar observatory.79

Locally known as the “last of the Dons,” Cave Jr. enjoyed playing the role of a latter-day ranchero. He tried to maintain a style of living at Guajome reminiscent of early California and loved to sit and talk of the “old days” and the activities of his famous pioneer father.80 In 1941, at the age of eighty-five, he consented to an interview for an article on San Diego being prepared by the National Geographic Society. He told reporters:


In the great drought of 1863 we drove both cattle and half-wild horses into the sea and drowned them—rather than see them die of thirst ….Hunting in my youth was our best fun …. We roped wild horses and shot everything from geese to mountain lions….

Look at that big scar on my left hand. A lion did that. When I was hunting, as a boy of ten, a lion grabbed my dog. I shot the big yellow cat. As he rolled over, I tried to pull my dying dog away from him—and he grabbed my hand.81

A little over a year after this story was published, on July 15, 1943, Couts died at the rancho in the same bed in which he had been born.82

The will of Cave Couts Jr. provided that Rancho Guajome would pass to Mrs. Ida Richardson as a life estate —because of her loyalty and faithful service.83 Mrs. Richardson, who moved to the rancho in the 1920s as a housekeeper, became the constant companion and helpmate of Couts. She was the mother of his two youngest children, Belda Richardson, who died in 1971, and Earl Richardson, final heir to Rancho Guajome, the place of his birth. Cave Couts III, who died in 1948,84 received land and a house in San Diego, a one-half interest in Guajome after the death of Ida Richardson, certain personal property (including the gold watch presented to Cave Couts by Cave Johnson at West Point), and one-third of his father’s stocks and bonds. Belda and Earl Richardson were also granted a life estate of Guajome, $5,000 in cash (which at the time of the will was for their education), most of the furnishings and equipment at the rancho, a one-fourth interest each in Guajome, and a one-third interest each in stocks and bonds.85 During his mother’s lifetime, and after her death in November, 1972, Earl Richardson maintained Guajome as a working ranch.86

With the passing of Cave Couts Jr., a series of efforts were made by local, state, and national groups to acquire Guajome and preserve the adobe ranch house in its original condition. Bills introduced both in the state legislature and the national congress to purchase the site and restore the buildings either became bogged down in committee or rejected because of the high expenses involved. Not until the summer of 1973, when the County of San Diego sought by condemnation to obtain the ranch house and 165 acres of the original grant, were positive results achieved. The county was ordered by the court to pay $1,021,840 to Earl Richardson for title to the historic rancho.87

To look at Casa Guajome today is to marvel at its enduring beauty and at the same moment to be amazed at its excellent physical condition. Much of the house is in need of repair, but for a residence approaching 125 years of age it has withstood time and periods of neglect remarkably well. Built in an era free of building codes and permits, the home gives lasting testimony to the skilled workmanship of its creators. County plans to restore the adobe will not alter its splendid architectural design. Preservation of the grounds and buildings as a public park will allow the house to remain as it once stood, silhouetted against a backdrop of green hills uncluttered by modern development. Present and future generations, looking toward the past, can profit from the legacy of Rancho Guajome. Hopefully, they will understand. and enjoy the lessons of history such a landmark can provide.



1. Couts was described as “a tall commanding figure, a little over six feet in height, weighing about 165 pounds, straight as an arrow, willowy and active,” in History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, California (San Francisco: Wallace W. Elliott and Company, Publishers, 1883), p. 196. Couts was the third of twelve children born to William and Nancy Johnson Couts.

2. Cave Johnson, born in Robertson County, Tennessee on January 11, 1793, practiced law for a time in Clarksville, Tennessee, served as a circuit judge in 1820, and in 1829 began the first of seven terms in Congress. Johnson received his appointment as Postmaster General on March 5, 1845. Record of the Johnson Family prepared for Cave Johnson Couts by his Uncle Cave Johnson, Nashville, Tennessee, 1858, MS Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California. As Postmaster, Johnson was apparently responsible for introducing the use of adhesive postage stamps. Johnson corresponded frequently with Couts and once told him, “. . . you will have every opportunity of study and of qualifying yourself to become a useful citizen—and you should care for little else.” Letter from Cave Johnson to Cave Couts, July 9, 1838, Cave Couts Collection, Huntington Library. This Collection, consisting of some 16,000 pieces, contains the personal and business papers of Cave Johnson Couts and his son Cave Jr.

3. George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy (New York: Van Nostrand, 1868), Vol. II, p. 98. A series of letters written to Couts from his family while he attended West Point are contained in the Couts Collection at the Huntington Library.

4. Major Lawrence Pike Graham was born in Virginia, but unlike many of his contemporary officers, entered the army without a West Point education. During the Mexican War, Major Graham distinguished himself in several early battles. On the march to California, however, his constant drinking was highly offensive to the young Cave Couts. Graham’s military record is in Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903), Vol. I, p. 468.

5. See Journal of Cave Johnson Couts from Mexico to California, 1848 – 1849, MS, Huntington Library. Most of this manuscript has been published as Cave Johnson Couts, Hepah California! The Journal of Cave Johnson Couts from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico to Los Angeles, California, During the Years 1848 – 1849, ed. by Henry F. Dobyns (Tucson: Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society, 1961). In all of his writings, Cave Couts illustrated his fine literary capabilities and an enduring sense of history.

6. Journal of Cave Johnson Couts from Mexico to California, 1848 – 1849, MS, entry for April 10, 1849, p. 68.

7. See Lewis B. Lesley, “The International Boundary Survey from San Diego to the Gila River, 1849 – 1850,” California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. IX (March, 1930), pp. 3 – 15; and Thomas L. Scharf, “Amiel Weeks Whipple and the Boundary Survey in Southern California,” The Journal of San Diego History, Vol. XIX (Summer, 1973), pp. 18 -31.

8. There is some discrepancy in the spelling of Yisdora’s name. It should probably be spelled with an “I”, since the handwritten Spanish “I” looks like an English “Y”. The name appears here with a “Y” since Ysidora herself apparently adopted that spelling.

9. Philip S. Rush. Some Old Ranchos and Adobes (San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, 1964), p. 19. Ysidora and her sisters are credited with making the first American flag raised over San Diego’s Old Town Plaza. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 197.

10. One business venture concerned an Artesian Well Company founded by Couts, Bandini, Charles R. Johnson, and Albert Jay Smith “. . . for the purpose of boring an Artesian Well, on the Beach of San Diego, and for that purpose create a capital stock of Four Thousand Dollars, each partner of the firm furnishing his proportion of the same, that is to say, One Thousand Dollars each.. ..” Articles of Agreement Regarding the Artesian Well Company, San Diego, December 1850, MS, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

11. Journal of Cave Johnson Couts from Monterrey, Mexico to California, 1848 – 1849, MS, entry for September 3, 1849, p. 71.

12. Certificate of Marriage, Cave Johnson Couts and Ysidora Bandini, April 5, 1851, Deed Book C, p. 376, County Recorders Office, San Diego, California.

13. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: The History Company, Publishers, 1886), Vol. II, pp. 709 – 710; and William E. Smythe, History of San Diego (San Diego: The History Company, 1908), Vol. I, pp. 164 – 166. A recent article, based largely on the reminiscences of Mrs. Arcadia Bandini Scott Brennan, is of additional interest. See Merle Clayton, “The Bandinis, Grandees in an Era of Grandeur,” San Diego Magazine Vol. XXI (May, 1969), pp. 52 – 56, 104 and 106. For a short summary of the Bandini family see also Patricia Baker, “The Bandini Family,” The Journal of San Diego History, Vol. XV (Winter, 1969), pp. 23 – 27.

14. For a romanticized history of the Carrillo family see Leo Carrillo, The California I Love (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1961).

15. After three years of trying to raise cattle on barren Península de San Diego Rancho, Carrillo sold it for $1,000.00 in silver. See Cecil Moyer, Historic Ranchos of San Diego (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1969), p. 95.

16. Due to the special circumstances of Stearns’ marriage he presented a petition to the Prefect of Los Angeles requesting that “. . . to avoid the ridicule which the differences in ages might arouse among thoughtless young people, she being fourteen years of age and I forty … I petition your Worship graciously to dispense on my behalf with the three proclamations or at least with two, obligating myself to contribute to charity whatever you impose.” Petition to the Prefect of Los Angeles by Abel Stearns, April 29, 1841, MS, Stearns Papers, Huntington Library.

17. Bancroft, History of California, Vol. II, p. 770. Abel Stearns, a native of Massachusetts, arrived in California in 1829. He died without heirs in 1871.

18. Transcript of Proceedings of Land Case No. 145 S. D., André al. Claimants vs. United States, MS, The Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California. See also Eugene B. Drake, Jimeno’s and Hartnell’s Indexes of Land Concessions, From 1830 to 1840; Also, Toma de Razon, or Registry of Titles, For 1844 – ’45; Approvals of Land Grants by the Territorial Deputation and Departmental Assembly of California, From 1835 to 1846 (San Francisco: Kenny and Alexander, Booksellers, 1861), pp. 14 and 42; and Ogden Hoffman, Reports of Land Cases Determined in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco: Numa Hubert, 1862), p. 66.

19. 1st Book of Patents, p. 87, County Recorders Office, San Diego, California.

20. Transcript of Proceedings of Land Case No. 145 S. D. and Rush, Some Old Ranchos and Adobes, p. 19.

21. Constance Goddard Du Bois, The Religion of the Luiseño and Diegueño Indians of Southern California (Berkeley: University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 1908), Vol. VIII, No. 3, pp. 69 – 186. See also Friar Geronimo Boscana, Chinigchinich: An Historical Account of the Origin, Customs, and Traditions of the Indians of Alta-California, in Alfred Robinson, Life in California During a Residence of Several Years in that Territory (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Publishers, 1970 [First published, 1846]).

22. Tom Hudson, Three Paths Along a River : The Heritage of the Valley of the San Luis Rey (Palm Desert : DesertSouthwest Publishers, 1964), pp. 167 – 168.

23. Cullum, Biographical Register, Vol. II, P. 98.

24. Letter from Cave J. Couts to Abel Stearns, July 12, 1852, Stearns Papers, Huntington Library.

25. Couts named the streets after a number of historical figures. For example, Whitman, for murdered Oregon missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman; Taylor, for Mexican War hero General Zachary Taylor; Riley for the United States military commander of California General Bennett Riley; Jefferson for President Thomas Jefferson; Hancock for Declaration of Independence signer John Hancock; Conde for Mexican General Pedro Garcia Conde; Juan for his father-in-law Juan Bandini; Congress and Hortensia for two ships frequently docked at San Diego’s harbor. For a good survey of Couts’ activities in early San Diego see Lyle C. Annable, The Life and Times of Cave Johnson Couts, San Diego County Pioneer, Unpublished Masters Thesis, San Diego State University, 1965.

26. Cullum, Biographical Register, Vol. II, p. 98.

27. Letter from Benjamin D. Wilson to Cave J. Couts, June 13, 1853, quoted in the San Diego Herald, June 23, 1855. In a letter to Wilson, August 15, 1853, Couts asked if Indians could occupy San Diego’s deserted mission during the rainy season. Wilson Papers, Huntington Library.

28. Clarence Alan McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California (Chicago: The American Historical Society, 1922), Vol. II. p. 492. William Wolfskill of Los Angeles advised him to plant grape vines.

29. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 196. As an interesting sidelight, Jonathan Trumbull Warner, who owned Rancho San José del Valle and Rancho Valle de San José, recommended that Couts treat his orange trees with the following prescription to rid them of insect pests: “To one barrel of soap-suds add a common sized bucket full of guano and syringe weekly for a month or two.” Letter from J. J. Warner to Cave J. Couts, January 22, 1862, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

30. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 197; and McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County, Vol. II, p. 492. For an excellent summary of all San Diego county ranchos see Moyer, Historic Ranchos of San Diego.

31. McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County, Vol. II, p. 492.

32. Earl Richardson, personal interview at Rancho Guajome conducted by E. Alan Comstock and Thomas L. Scharf, November 23, 1973.

33. Cloyd Sorensen Jr., “Cave Johnson Couts and La Adobe Casa del Rancho Guajome,” in Brand Book No. II, The San Diego Corral of the Westerners (San Diego: The San Diego Corral of the Westerners, 1971), p. 106.

34. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 197.

35. E. Alan Comstock, Appraisal of Rancho Guajome Consisting of 360 Acres and an Adobe Ranch House in San Diego County for Earl Richardson, Date of Value May 12, 1972, Exhibit in County of San Diego vs. Select Homes, Case No. 333377, Superior Court of San Diego.

36. Personal interview at Rancho Guajome, November 23, 1973.

37. Ibid.

38. María Antonia (b. 1853) married Chalmers Scott of Los Angeles; William (b. 1854) married Cristina Estudillo and became manager of the Baker Estate Realty Company of Los Angeles; Cave Jr. (b. 1856) married Lily B. Clemens; Nancy (b. 1857) died at the age of eleven in 1868 (see San Diego Union, December 19, 1868); Ysidora (b. 1860) first married W. D. Gray and later Judge Fuller of Los Angeles; Elena (b. 1862) married Parker Dear of Alhambra; Robert (b. 1864) married Susan Thompson and moved to Los Angeles; John (b. 1866) married Susan Irene Gurnett; and Caroline (b. 1868) married John Bandini Winston of Los Angeles.

39. Judge Benjamin Ignatius Hayes was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 14, 1815. He graduated from St. Mary’s College and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1839. Hayes first came to California in 1850 and settled in Los Angeles. His ability to read and write Spanish soon gained him the position of county attorney for Los Angeles and in 1852 district judge. After the death of his first wife, Hayes married Adelaida Serrano and lived for a time in Old Town, San Diego. He died in Los Angeles in 1877. See Judge Benjamin Hayes, Pioneer Notes From the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849 – 1875, ed. by Marjorie Tisdale Wolcott (Los Angeles: Privately Printed, 1929).

40. Chauncy Hayes was to become a pioneer business and legal leader of Oceanside, San Diego County. Leland Ghent Stanford, San Diego’s Legal Lore and the Bar (San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, 1968), p.69.

41. Hayes, Pioneer Notes, p.223.

42. Arcadia Bandini Scott Brennan, “Memories of Early California,” n.d. Typescript in the John F. Forward. Sr., Memorial Library and Museum, Title Insurance and Trust Company, San Diego, California.

43. Lewis Wallace was born in Brookville, Indiana, on April 10, 1827. During the Mexican-American War he left his Indianapolis law practice to recruit volunteers. In the Civil War Wallace joined with Union forces and obtained the rank of general. Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, he became a member of the court that tried the persons charged with the conspiracy. It was probably in the years 1878 – 81, when Wallace served as governor of New Mexico Territory, that he made his visits to Guajome. He died at Crawfordsville, Indiana on February 15, 1905. See Lew Wallace, Lew Wallace: An Autobiography (New York: Harper Brothers, 1906).

44. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 196.

45. Hayes, Pioneer Notes, p. 223.

46. Ibid., p. 144.

47. Sorensen, “Cave Johnson Couts,” p. 102, and Richard F. Pourade The Silver Dons and the Pioneers who Overwhelmed California (San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1963), p. 211.

48. William Blount Couts married a daughter of Santiago E. Arguello. Between 1855 – 58 he served as San Diego’s County Recorder and Clerk, in 1858 as Postmaster, and in 1861 as Justice of the Peace. Smythe, History of San Diego, Vol. I, p. 269; and Marjorie T. Wolcott, “The House Near the Frog Pond,” Touring Topics (December, 1928), p. 41.

49. San Diego Herald, September 9, 1854; Couts also served as a Judge of the Plains during much of his career. See Leland Stanford, “San Diego’s Judges of the Plains,” Journal of San Diego History, Vol. XV (Fall, 1969), pp. 27 – 32.

50. Hayes, Pioneer Notes, p. 283. See also Cave J. Couts File and Early Cases in San Diego File, San Diego County Law Library.

51. Report of Coroner’s Jury on the Body of Juan Mendoza, February 6, 1865, Couts File, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum, San Diego, California. See also Annable, Life and Times of Cave J. Couts, pp. 183 – 184.

52. People vs. Cave J. Couts, Case No. 174, Superior Court of San Diego County, California. In his book San Diego’s Legal Lore and the Bar, Leland Stanford casts doubt over Couts’ character as a whole: “In this hero’s shadow, however, lurked nepotism, arrogance, quarrelsomeness, questionable husbandry, and possible wrongful subjugation of Indian proteges over whom, as federal sub-agent for such natives in his area, he held autocratic power.”

53. Much of the correspondence between Couts, his relatives, and fellow rancheros concerned the drought. See especially letter from Juan Bautista Bandini to Cave J. Couts, Rancho Los Coyotes, February 18, 1863, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

54. Robert Glass Cleland, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California, 1850 – 80 (San Marino : The Huntington Library, 1951), pp. 111 – 112.

55. Letter from Cave J. Couts, February 8, 1863, to Abel Stearns, Stearns Papers, Huntington Library.

56. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 197.

57. George McKinstry, Jr., M.D., noted in his diary on June 3, 1874, that Couts was “very sick.” McKinstry file. San Diego History Center, Serra Museum.

58. Certificate of Death, Cave Johnson Couts, filed June 18, 1874. Couts File, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum; San Diego Union, June 11, 1874.

59. San Diego County Recorder, “Deaths 1849 – 1880, Campo Santo Old San Diego, Book A-1” 19 and 24; San Diego Union, June 13, 1874.

60. Last Will and Testament of Cave Johnson Couts, filed June 23, 1874, Estate of Cave J. Couts, Case No. 25, Superior Court of San Diego County, California.

61. History of San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, p. 194. Chalmers Scott, born in 1845, came to California from New Orleans with his parents in 1854. He later traveled and studied in Europe, practiced law in New York, and served as a special correspondent for the New York Herald on a trip to China. Scott moved to San Diego in 1870, resumed his law practice and became a judge. His marriage to María Antonia Couts produced eleven children.

62. Inventory of Couts Family Personal Property, MS, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

63. Letter from Cave J. Couts, Jr., to S. L. Harritt, July 24, 1924, Couts Collection, Huntington Library. See also Helen Hunt Jackson, A Century of Dishonor: The Early Crusade for Indian Reform, ed. by Andrew F. Rolle (New York: Harper and Row, 1965 [first published in 1881]).

64. Last Will and Testament of Ysidora Bandini Couts, March 30, 1896, Estate of Ysidora Bandini Couts, Case No. 1627, Superior Court of San Diego County.

65. Ibid.

66. Census Reports, Couts File, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum.

67. Carl H. Heilbron, ed., History of San Diego County (San Diego: The San Diego Press Club, 1936), Part III, pp. 177-178.

68. Legal Papers of Cave Johnson Couts Jr., 1895 – 1920, MSS, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

69. Certificate of Marriage, Cave Johnson Couts Jr. and Elizabeth B. Clemens, January 14, 1887, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

70. Heilbron, History of San Diego County, Part III, p. 205; Legal Papers, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

71. Personal interview with Earl Richardson, November 23, 1973.

72. Elizabeth B. Couts vs. Cave Johnson Couts, Complaint filed March 23, 1897, Superior Court of San Diego County, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

73. Legal Papers, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

74. One of Couts’ financial problems concerned the Ranchito Gold Mine in Julian which he bought in 1895. First thought to be the site of a rich vein of ore, the mine soon played out. Couts tried unsuccessfully for many years to sell it, but received little more than debts and disappointment.

75. Smeaton Chase, California Coast Trails (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913), pp. 39 – 40.

76. Ibid., p. 40.

77. The Rancho Guajome Health Company (Long Beach: Tribune Print), p. 1, Guajome File, San Diego History Center, Serra Museum.

78. Ibid.

79. Cataloguer’s Summary to the Cave Johnson Couts Collection, p. 2, Couts Collection, Huntington Library.

80. Escondido Daily Times-Advocate, December 30, 1964.

81. Frederick Simpich, “San Diego Can’t Believe It,” National Geographic Magazine, Vol. LXXXI (January, 1942), p. 80.

82. San Diego Union, July 16, 1943.

83. Last Will and Testament of Cave J. Couts dated December 5, 1936; Grant Deed filed on July 20, 1942 in Book 1368, p. 383, County Recorders Office, San Diego County, California.

84. San Diego Union, August 22, 1948.

85. Last Will and Testament of Cave J. Couts, December 5, 1936.

86. See “Guajome, Link to Our Vanishing Yesterdays,” The Southern California Rancher (December, 1943), p. 3.

87. County of San Diego vs. Select Homes, Inc., a California Corporation; Ida Richardson, aka Ida K. Richardson; Earl Richardson, et at., Parcel 71-0915-B (Amended), Final Order of Condemnation filed September 24, 1973; Judgment in the amount of $1,021,840.00.


Iris Wilson Engstrand, Associate Professor of History at the University of San Diego and editorial consultant for the Journal of San Diego History, specializes in the field of early California. She is the author of William Wolfskill: Frontier Trapper to California Ranchero (1965), a contributor to the Mountain Men Series published by the Arthur H. Clark Company, and has most recently translated from Spanish and edited Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792 (1970), by José Mariano Moziño. Dr. Engstrand has also written articles on the wine industry in California and Spanish exploration in colonial Mexico.

Thomas L. Scharf, a native of North Dakota, received his B. A. and M. A. degrees in history from the University of San Diego with a specialty in California and the Southwest. He is the author of “Amiel Weeks Whipple and the Boundary Survey in Southern California,” in the Summer, 1973, issue of the Journal of San Diego History, and is currently working on a full-length biography of Whipple.

The authors wish to express their thanks to Mr. E. Alan Comstock of the Comstock Company, San Diego, for generously giving them his time, research materials, and personal photographs concerning Rancho Guajome.