The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1983, Volume 29, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Researcher and writer on early San Diego history

Images from the Article

Don José Antonio Aguirre, a native of San Sebastian de Viscaya in Spain, went to live in the State of Louisiana as a youth of fifteen Years.1 Some time later, he moved to Mexico, where he went into business trading goods he had imported from Manila and Canton.2 In the course of his adventures, Don Antonio became owner of a hacienda in Tepic, but the Mexican government soon confiscated his hacienda, and Don Antonio became one of many men expelled from Mexico for remaining loyal to Spain.3 By 1826, he had returned to New Orleans, and two years later, had applied for citizenship in the United States. His Naturalization Paper was signed in the Parish Court for the Parish and City of New Orleans on January 29, 1831.4 At that time, Don Antonio (then thirty-two years of age) began to plan for a new and exciting future.

His first step toward this new future was to buy the American ship Dolphin in 1833. He changed its name to the Leonidas and sailed to San Blas (a town near Tepic) to register it under the Mexican flag.5 It was his plan to trade in the Mexican Province of Alta California, taking hides and tallow in trade for goods he imported from China and Peru.

Don Antonio was thirty-four years of age when he sailed into San Diego Bay. His hair and eyes were light brown and his skin was very fair. Don Antonio, often called “Aguirron” (big Aguirre) because of his large size, traveled with a servant of African descent, which distinguished him as an aristocrat and a man of the world.6

When the Leonidas was anchored near La Playa (the beach on Point Loma), Don Antonio rode by horseback to the little village below the Presidio of San Diego. At that time there were about forty adobe homes. The four largest homes belonged to the Pico, Estudillo, Bandini, and Argüello families. Don Antonio became close friends with members of these families; twice in the years to come, he became a son-in-law of Don José Antonio Estudillo and his wife, Doña Victoria Dominguez.

Don Antonio established a warehouse for storing hides and tallow at La Playa.7 From Peru, he shipped a variety of goods, including fine household furnishings. From China, he brought camphor wood trunks filled with silks and satins. He sold those trunks complete with their contents to the eager Californians.8 Don Antonio also purchased hand-embroidered shawls, which were much loved by the California women. He was allowed to purchase the shawls, but he never was allowed into the rooms where they were made.9 In those rooms, Chinese women and young girls stitched so carefully that one side of a shawl was equal in beauty to the other.

Another Spanish gentleman, Don Miguel Pedrorena, came to Alta California in 1835.10 He brought a consignment of goods on the ship Juan José, which had sailed from Lima, Peru. Perhaps at this time, the two Spaniards met in San Diego. Within a few years, they became partners in the trading business.

In January 1840, Don Antonio was living in a home in the Presidio of San Diego. He traveled one day to the Mission San Diego where he found that Padre Narciso Duran had been taken ill while visiting with Padre Vicente Pasqual Oliva. Don Antonio insisted that Padre Duran accompany him to the Presidio, where he could be nursed back to health, Padre Duran wrote to William Hartnell of Monterey that he thought he would have gone to his grave without the care given to him by Don Antonio.11

Don Antonio was unmarried when he arrived in Alta California. During 1840, Señorita María Francisca Estudillo, eldest daughter of Don José Antonio Estudillo, caused Don Antonio to think seriously of marriage and of building a home in Santa Barbara. It was to be more luxurious than any other home in that village, and he knew that at least one year would be needed to complete it.

Throughout the year 1840, Don Antonio kept exceptionally busy. He was gathering supplies in Peru for the house he was starting in Santa Barbara, and in addition, he had horses and cattle pastured on the Rancho los Alamitos in care of Don Abel Stearns.12 Also, Don Antonio had bought the Boston ship Roger Williams, and in March, had registered it in San Blas as the Joven Guipuzcoana (Maid of Guipuzcoa).13

After returning to Alta California from San Blas, Don Antonio anchored his new ship in the Port of Verba Buena (San Francisco). Before it could be loaded with tallow and sent to Peru, it was chartered by Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, who wished it to carry twenty-six foreigners to Mexico as prisoners.14 Traveling with Don Antonio and Captain Joseph Snook (Master of the vessel) were the two men sent to escort the political prisoners—Don José María Covarrubias and General José Castro, Military Commander of Alta California.15 This voyage kept the Joven Guipuzcoana away from California until September 1840.16

During most of the year 1841, Don Antonio (now forty-two years of age) traveled up and down the coast of Alta California. On one of his visits to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, he found Padre José María Zalvidea greatly in need of financial help. Don Antonio advanced four hundred dollars worth of goods from his ship, agreeing to accept brandy and cowbells as payment.17 On another occasion, when Padre Zalvidea again borrowed from Don Antonio, the debt was repaid in liquids made at the mission. During this year, Don Antonio also did business with Padre Tomás Esténaga, who paid gold to buy clothes for the neophytes of the Mission San Gabriel.18

Late in the year 1841, Don Antonio married Señorita Francisca Estudillo. Her father was now Administrator of Mission San Luis Rey, and they may have been married by Padre Vbarra in the church of that mission.19 Soon after the wedding, Don Antonio left his bride with her family and returned to Santa Barbara to complete their new home. When everything was perfect, he planned to send a ship for his little “esposa.”

While Francisca was waiting at the Mission San Luis Rey, Bishop García Diego (the first Bishop of Alta California) arrived in San Diego. He had been ordered by the Pope to establish headquarters for the Catholic Church in that town. But Bishop García Diego found the village in a state of decline and unsuitable for a grand Episcopal See.20 Word of the Bishop’s displeasure with San Diego reached Don Antonio in Santa Barbara. A message was soon on its way to the Bishop, inviting him and his retinue to travel with Doña Francisca when she sailed north with her family. With his reply accepting Don Antonio’s kind offer on its way, Bishop García Diego happily anticipated his departure from San Diego. He planned never to return.

At eleven o’clock on the morning of the eleventh day of January 1842, the Joven Guipuzcoana was anchored in the rolling swells of the ocean near Santa Barbara. The Bishop and his retinue debarked first.21 After a sumptuous meal in La Casa de Aguirre, the Bishop and those with him would leave for the Mission Santa Barbara.

Doña Francisca and her family went ashore several hours after the Bishop had debarked. They rode uphill from the water until at last, Francisca saw her new home. This home, La Casa de Aguirre, was of whitewashed adobe bricks built in the form of a hollow square and roofed with tiles.22 Across the front of the casa was a wide covered porch, its roof supported by a row of ten fluted columns. A large door on the southwest side of the casa opened into the Aguirre store; the door near the right-hand end of the porch opened into the “sala” (living room). There were many windows in La Casa de Aguirre, each with small panes of glass which could be protected on the outside by hinged shutters. Much of the wood used for this house was mahogany shipped from Peru by Don Antonio. He had built the house with wooden floors on a raised stone foundation. A stone wall surrounded the grounds, enclosing the area of the well, fruit orchard, and flower and vegetable gardens.

A smiling Don Antonio led Francisca and her family across the front porch and pushed open carved mahogany doors near the left-hand end of the porch. With the doors opened, a passageway was revealed, and beyond the passageway could be seen the secluded court of the casa. Wide covered corridors extended from all four inner walls of the house, forming a square around an open area in the center of the court. Intricately hand-carved columns decorated the court and supported the roofs of the corridors. The open area in the center had a stone floor and a canopy which could be closed to shut out the sky. With the canopy closed, the court was converted into a great hall forty feet square. Exotic flowering vines grew in the garden, and wooden benches had been placed close to the walls of the shaded corridors. In days to come, Francisca would sit with her guests, admiring the flowers and listening to the songs of the native birds. This court of La Casa de Aguirre was reminiscent of patios in Spain. Not even La Casa Grande of Captain José Antonio de la Guerra, Commandant of the Santa Barbara Presidio, had a court such as this.

When Francisca had admired the details of the court, Don Antonio took her to see the nineteen spacious rooms of their new home. Most of the rooms opened directly onto the corridors of the court, and all of them contained the finest of imported furnishings. After showing these rooms to Francisca, Don Antonio led her to the “sala,” the room he had designed especially to delight her. There she saw a room some thirty feet in length with a floor of polished hardwood. Antique tables of rosewood or mahogany, and sofas with chairs that matched were arranged around the room. On delicately frescoed walls were tapestries, oil paintings, and large mirrors in ornate gilt frames. From the ceiling hung three chandeliers, their crystal pendants glistening in the candlelight, their images repeated in the mirrors on the walls. This room, the grand “sala” of La Casa de Aguirre, was the most beautiful room of all.

After the Aguirres were settled in Santa Barbara, Bishop García Diego appointed Don Antonio to be treasurer of his fund for building the Episcopal See in Santa Barbara.23 But money from the Pious Fund (which the Bishop had planned to use) was confiscated in Mexico, and the Bishop’s plans all came to nothing.24 During this difficult time, Don Antonio loaned twenty-six thousand dollars (a considerable sum in those days) to the Catholic Church for use by the missionary fathers in Alta California.25

It was possible for Don Antonio to lend such a large amount of money because by then he had become one of the most prosperous merchants in California. In 1842, a French traveler, Count Eugène Duflot de Mofras, noted that Don Antonio and his friends, Commandant José Antonio de la Guerra and Padre Narciso Duran, exerted great influence in the country, especially among the Spaniards.26

Don Antonio and Francisca lived happily in Santa Barbara for ten months, and then sorrow came to La Casa de Aguirre. By the last week in October 1842, the time had come for the arrival of their first baby. Joyous expectation first turned into troubled concern, and then Don Antonio’s dreams of living with his family in La Casa de Aguirre came sadly to an end. Padre Narciso Duran performed the last rites of the Catholic Church for little Francisca, not yet eighteen years of age. She was the first woman to be interred in the crypt of the Santa Barbara Mission Chapel.27 Undoubtedly this was in consideration of Don Antonio, a good friend always to the padres.

For a few months only, the grand “sala” and court of La Casa de Aguirre had been used for fiestas and balls. It would never again be the same. Unable in his grief to remain in the casa, Don Antonio hired Don Agustín Janssens to manage his store and returned to the sea. He went to Santa Barbara between voyages, but never remained for long in La Casa de Aguirre.28

On November 11,1843, Don Antonio received his first rancho grant.29 He and Don Ignacio del Valle became equal partners of Rancho El Tejon (his share was 48,808 acres). This rancho contained a forest of oak trees and many Indians.30 Neither of the owners lived on the rancho. They chose instead to hire a “mayordomo” (ranch foreman) to be in full charge of the vaqueros needed to guard the cattle.

Don Antonio was in San Diego during March 1845, attending a little to business and a little to his personal affairs. Don Miguel Pedrorena had married Don José Antonio Estudillo’s second daughter, María Antonia, in 1842. In 1845, Don Antonio was becoming interested in the Estudillos’ third daughter, Señorita María del Rosario. She was then seventeen, beautiful, and dignified beyond her years. Don Antonio was thinking very seriously of rejoining the Estudillo family.

While he was attending to his business from San Diego, Don Antonio wrote to Don Santiago (James) Orbell, Master of the Joven Guipuzcoana, and to the supercargo of the ship, Don Gaspar Oreña.31 This letter was delivered to them in Monterey through the kindness of Don Cesario Lataillade. Three months later, Don Antonio was one of the witnesses to the marriage of Don Cesario to María Antonia de la Guerra, daughter of Don José Antonio de la Guerra, retired Commandant of the Santa Barbara Presidio.32

During this year, Mr. Thomas O. Larkin, United States Consul to California since 1843, wrote to the Secretary of State, James Buchanan, that Don Antonio was a man of much influence among the Spaniards and the clergy of California and that he enjoyed, but did not become involved in politics.33

Around the first of the year 1846, while the possibility of war hung over Alta California, Señorita Rosario Estudillo was preparing for her marriage to Don Antonio. Although he still owned the home in Santa Barbara, they would not go to live in La Casa de Aguirre.34 It held too many sad memories of her sister, Francisca. Instead, when they were ready, Don Antonio would build a home for them in San Diego.

On the fourteenth of February, early in the morning, Señorita María del Rosario Estudillo dressed for her marriage to the tall and handsome Don Antonio.35 Señorita Rosario was a slender girl, small in stature, with long dark hair, fair skin, and dark brown eyes. As she dressed, Rosario carefully pulled on her long white silk stockings (size three) which had been extravagantly embroidered up the front in the most delicate of hand-made stitches.36 She put on her satin shoes, a petticoat with a flounce at the bottom, her wedding dress, and last of all, her veil of sheer silk cloth. When it was time, Rosario walked sedately from her room and down the covered corridor to the chapel of La Casa de Estudillo. Don Antonio was waiting with Padre Vicente pasqual Oliva of the Mission San Diego, and the two witnesses: Don Miguel Pedrorena and Don Santiago Argüello. Before these people and others who wished to be present, Padre Oliva proceeded with the ceremony. Then, when Don Antonio had become Rosario’s “esposo,” men of the village fired guns in salute, and the wedding fiesta began.

Five months later, the Americans came, and would ultimately conquer California. At that time, Don Antonio was one of the major landholders of Alta California. He owned one-half of Rancho El Tejon (48,808 acres); Rancho San Jacinto de Sobrante of 48,847 acres (granted in Rosario’s name); 44,000 acres of Santa Cruz Island; and 8,800 acres of the Rancho San Pedro on which he was pasturing 3,700 head of cattle.37 Altogether in 1846, Don Antonio owned 150,455 acres (a little more or a little less) of Southern California land. This amount of land far exceeded that owned by most other rancheros. In later years, he owned even more.

It appears that the Aguirres were living in San Diego during 1846 and 1847, possibly in La Casa de Estudillo with Rosario’s family. During 1848 and 1849, Don Antonio was in partnership with William Heath Davis in San Francisco.38 Don Antonio (and probably also Doña Rosario) was living with the Davis family until the summer of 1849. Doña Rosario was a cousin of Mr. Davis’s wife, María de Jesús Estudillo of Northern California. María de Jesús had lived with the Estudillo family in San Diego from 1832 to 1842, and the two girls were close friends.

During the summer of 1849, the Aguirres again were living in San Diego. Their first baby, Miguel, was born in La Casa de Estudillo (the home of his grandparents) on the twenty-fifth of August.39

Before the end of 1849, Don Antonio had sold his last ship, the Joven Guipuzcoana, to Reading and Company of San Francisco.40 Previously, sometime after January 1842, he had sold the Leonidas.41 Now, his days with the trading ships were over. Following the discovery of gold in Northern California, cattle drives to the mines had replaced the hide and tallow trades.

In 1850, Don Antonio began to build a new home in Old Town San Diego. He also went into partnership with Don Miguel Pedrorena, William Heath Davis, and three other men in starting a new town closer to the bay. Soon after the land for “New Town” San Diego had been purchased, the town was in mourning for Don Miguel, who had died suddenly on March 31, 1850.42 Don Miguel, forty-two years of age, was the second burial in San Diego’s El Campo Santo cemetery.43

Don Antonio and the other partners continued with the New Town plans. He also bought 8,877 acres of the Rancho Valle de las Viejas (located thirty-three miles northeast of San Diego) from Leandro Osuna and his wife, Francisca Marrón.44

In the year 1850, Don Antonio took some of the first gold from the northern mines to a jewelry shop in San Francisco. He had a very special gift in mind—a mantilla comb for Doña Rosario. It was to be decorated in the center with tiny flowers shaped from gold nuggets, leaves and scrolls were to be engraved on each side of the center decoration, and gold nuggets were to form a border around the outer edge. Eight teeth would be needed to hold the comb upright in Rosario’s dark hair. There was also to be a long gold hairpin attached to the comb by a fine chain. This pin would be used to hold the hood of Rosario’s black silk lace mantilla in place. In time, when the jeweler had done exactly as he had been directed, he inscribed Rosario’s initials on the back of the comb, and then, in very small letters below the initials, he imprinted the name of his shop—W. A. Woodruff, San Francisco.

When Antonio presented this special gift to Rosario, she saw a blue-green jewelry box irregular in shape and slightly higher at the back than it was in the front. When she opened this box, the shining gold mantilla comb was resting against a white velvet lining. Since her husband was one of the wealthiest men in California and had friends throughout the State, Rosario must have worn this comb on many special occasions. For years it was one of her most treasured possessions.

La Casa de Aguirre was completed in San Diego early in the year 1851.45 Before Don Antonio moved his family into their new home, he filled it with imported furnishings, some of them formerly used in the Santa Barbara house.46 In one bedroom, Doña Rosario used her Chinese bedspread of rosy red satin, brightly embroidered with butterflies (no two exactly the same) and flowers of every hue. The bedspread was edged with a long silk fringe of many bright colors.

To protect her fair complexion, Rosario used a dainty parasol of red satin which was embroidered with a life-size dragonfly and tiny multi-colored flowers. A piece of finely carved ivory formed the tip of the little parasol. Sometimes Rosario carried a different parasol, all black, which had a handle that was hinged in the middle.

In a mahogany wardrobe or in a trunk in her bedroom, Rosario kept her beautiful dresses, embroidered Chinese shawls, beaded purses, fans, gold jewelry, silk stockings, and silk lace mantillas. Don Antonio bought her anything she desired, all of the very finest quality.

For dining, the Aguirre’s table in the “comedor” was set with Dresden china and a silver service made of Chinese coin silver. The silverware was in the shell pattern, with extremely heavy forks. Don Antonio bought service for thirty-six, and among the extra pieces, he had included a large silver soup ladle.47

Soon after they were living in their new home, Don Antonio hired the artist, Leonardo Barbieri of San Francisco to paint in oils the portrait of his beautiful Rosario. Mr. Barbieri lived with the family while Doña Rosario posed for this painting.48 She wore a black dress trimmed in black lace, black lace mitts, a cameo set in gold on her right wrist, and a long, heavy gold chain with a lady’s watch at the end. The watch was attached to her dress at the waist. Doña Rosario held a delicate fan as she sat in a chair upholstered in a soft shade of red velvet. This Spanish señora was then twenty-two years of age. Don Antonio paid the sum of five hundred dollars for the portrait.49

Dona Rosario was awaiting the birth of another baby while her husband was busy developing New Town. In La Casa de Aguirre, on August 6, 1851, Rosario gave birth to a baby baptised with the name of María de los Dolores del Rosario.50 Padre Oliva had gone from the Mission San Diego by July 1846, and Padre Holbein of San Diego Parish baptised Dolores on the fifteenth of August. Her godparents were Don José Antonio Estudillo and Dona Victoria (her grandparents).

On January 17, 1853, Don Antonio bought the Rancho Nuevo y Potrero belonging to the estate of Don Miguel Pedrorena for ten thousand dollars in gold coin.51 It was the twenty-second of August before the deed was registered by the Recorder of San Diego County. At that time, Don Antonio owned over 208,000 acres of rancho land, La Casa de Aguirre of Santa Barbara, La Casa de Aguirre of San Diego, and quite a large number of unimproved lots in San Diego’s Old Town, New Town, and La Playa.

During the year 1853, New Town slipped into a decline. The beginning of a depression, New Town’s lack of good water for drinking, and the shortage of expected settlers caused problems the promoters of New Town could not overcome. However, the wharf in which Don Antonio had invested twenty-five thousand dollars (the first wharf in San Diego) continued to be used by the sailing vessels and steamships which were traveling along the California coast.52

A second son joined the Aguirre family on the first of August 1853.53 He was named José Antonio after his father. Padre Holbein baptised this infant on the eighteenth of August, naming the baby’s uncle, José María Estudillo, and his aunt, María de los Reyes Estudillo, as the godparents.

Little José Antonio, born in 1853, died the third of February 1855, at eighteen months of age. Padre Holbein had been transferred from San Diego by then, and the padre residing in San Juan Capistrano attended to Catholic services in San Diego whenever he could. The death of this baby was not entered into the church register until Padre Bagaría arrived in town on the tenth day of July 1856.54

Another son was born to Doña Rosario and Don Antonio in 1856.55 He was named José Antonio for the little son who had died the year before.

Don Antonio sold his undivided half interest in Rancho El Tejon to Don Juan Temple on the twentieth of August 1857, for twelve thousand dollars.56 Don Antonio was forced to sell his share in the rancho because he had signed a note for Don Santiago Argüello, one of his good friends, who could not pay.57

In 1857, Padre Juan Molinier came to serve the San Diego Parish as the resident priest. He was given a room in the home of Don Antonio and Doña Rosario.58 Dolores Aguirre remembered a carriage which was often driven into the court of La Casa de Aguirre to pick up the padre. A dog sitting on the seat of the carriage held the reins in his mouth as the carriage pulled into the yard.59

In the village of San Diego, there were two chapels: one in La Casa de Estudillo and one in La Casa de Aguirre. There was no church, since both the presidio church and the church of the Mission San Diego were in ruins. No doubt, Padre Molinier often spoke with Don Antonio about the need for a church in San Diego. In 1858, Don Antonio made the decision to buy some property close to El Campo Santo on the New Town Road for use as a church. He signed the deed on the third of February, paying three hundred and fifty dollars for Lot I, Block 26 (Couts Map of 1849) and the building with a wooden floor which had been constructed in 1850 by John Brown. Don Antonio included this floor and other useful items in his church.

In November, when it was completed, the little church could be seen for miles around. A cross had been placed on each end of the building at the peak of the red tile roof, and two bells hung from a framework of poles close to the south end of the building.60 Many times in later years, Dolores Aguirre de Pico (wife of Don Francisco Pico, married in 1884 by Father Ubach) told her daughters that Don Antonio had spent six thousand dollars to build this church.61

Padre Molinier wrote into the church records on November 22,1858, that he had blessed the new church before a large number of people of different religions, and had dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin. He wrote into the entry that it had been given by the most Christian Don José Antonio Aguirre for the greater glory of God and for the good of the faithful of San Diego. At that time, Padre Molinier wrote that after Don Antonio’s death, his body would rest within the church. The dedication was followed by supper in La Casa de Aguirre, at which time, it is said, both sentiment and wine flowed freely.62

This new church was not the only excitement in the Aguirre household. Before the dedication, on the twenty-first of September, Doña Rosario had borne another son. Padre Molinier baptised the new baby on the twenty-fourth of September 1858, with the name of Martin Geronimo.63 His brother, Miguel (nine years of age) and his cousin, Victoria Pedrorena (fifteen years of age) were the godparents.

Don Antonio made out his will on the thirtieth of June 1860.64 At that time, he declared that he was suffering from a “fuente” (possibly a sore that would not heal) on his left leg. He stated that Doña Rosario was to be the guardian of their children, for she had been helping him as a loyal wife and lovely mother, protective of her children. She was also to be the executrix of his estate. Among the Declarations he made, he stated that he was keeping his animals on the Rancho San Jacinto; that he was owner of the Potrero of San Jacinto; that he owned houses in Santa Barbara and San Diego; that he and Rosario had seven children, four of them living; that he was in business with Don José Antonio Argüello and Don Pedro Porta; and that Rosario was to be sole owner of the San Diego house with all of its furnishings. He did not mention by name the Valle de las Viejas, but that rancho was still listed on the tax assessment records for San Diego County in 1862 under the name of Rosario Estudillo de Aguirre.65

One month and one day after writing out his will, Don Antonio, a man of sixty-one years, died at six o’clock in the morning in his San Diego home.66 Padre Molinier was there on that day, the thirty-first of July 1860, and made arrangements for Don Antonio to be buried in the Confessional of the little adobe church he had donated to the town. He rests there still under a marble slab inscribed in Spanish: “He was a benefactor of the poor and received the blessings of God and Men.”

On the day of Don Antonio’s death, Doña Rosario Estudillo de Aguirre gave birth to a daughter. Padre Molinier baptised her with the name of María Antonia on the same day.67 This little baby, born into a house of grief, always seemed sad during the sixteen months of her life.68 On the twenty-fifth of November 1861, little María Antonia was buried in El Campo Santo.69

By the end of 1861, Doña Rosario was living with her four children on the Rancho San Jacinto Viejo, where her mother, Doña Victoria Dominguez de Estudillo, had built an adobe home.70 From that time on, no members of the Aguirre family lived in Don Antonio’s casa, the home he had furnished with luxurious items from China and Peru.

For twenty-seven years, Don Antonio had made his home in Alta California. During that time, he lived within the high adobe walls of the San Diego Presidio, in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and in Old Town San Diego. He was the owner of two trading ships, a warehouse at La Playa, a store in Santa Barbara, and two homes that were considered mansions in their day. He was one of the major landowners in California and a leader in starting the first New Town San Diego. Don Antonio was noted as a man of influence in California.

But perhaps more importantly, Don Antonio was a man known for his kindness to others, a man called “Santo Aguirre” because of his generosity to the poor.71 He was sincere in his faith and always generous to the padres of the Catholic Church. When there was no church in San Diego, Don Antonio gave a church to the people of the town.

Little recognition has been given to this Spanish pioneer of dignity, integrity, wealth, and influence. Perhaps now Don José Antonio Aguirre may be given a rightful place in the history of San Diego.


Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, Mrs. Gilbert Pico Harrison (daughters of Dolores Aguirre de Pico) and Miss Anita Aguirre and Mr. Martin M. Aguirre (children of Miguel Aguirre) have contributed invaluable information and pictures for this article on their grandfather.

This biographical sketch of Don José Antonio Aguirre has been taken from a more complete story of his life to be found in the author’s manuscript tentatively entitled, Spanish Pioneers of California: the Story of a Land and Its People (1769-1866).


1. Miss Anita Aguirre, interview in San Jacinto, October 1979. Information taken from Aguirre’s Naturalization Paper, January 29, 1831.

2. William Heath Davis, Sixty Years in California (Title Page missing from this copy of the original edition), p. 363.

3. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in San Jacinto, July 1980.

4. Miss Anita Aguirre, interview in San Jacinto, July 1980. Information taken from Aguirre’s Naturalization Paper.

5. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, Vol. IV (San Francisco: The History Company, 1886), pp. 13, 104.

6. Earle Crowe, Men of El Tejon, (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1952), p. 45: Agustín Janssens, Life and Adventures in California of Don Agustín Janssens, with a Preface by William H. Ellison and Francis Price (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1953), p. 24.

7. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, August 1980.

8. Clarence A. McGrew, “City of San Diego and County of San Diego,” American Historical Society, 1922, p. 61.

9. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, August 1980.

10. Davis, Sixty Years in California, p. 625.

11. Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, Missions and Missionaries of California, Vol. IV (San Francisco: J. H. Barry Company, 1908-1915), p. 170. Duran to Hartnell, January 7, 1840. This letter includes the information of Padre Duran’s illness and that Aguirre had his home in the Presidio of San Diego.

12. Robert Glass Cleland, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, Second Edition (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1951), p. 253. Stearns to Aguirre, April 9, 1840.

13. Bancroft, California, Vol. IV, p. 104.

14. Ferdinand Morris, “The Journal of a ‘Crazy Man ” (The Narrative of Albert Ferdinand Morris), ed. Charles L. Camp, California Historical Society, Vol. 15 (June, 1936), p. 128.

15. Bancroft, California, Vol. IV, p. 12, n. 16.

16. Ibid.. Vol. IV, p. 15.

17. Agustín Janssens, Life and Adventures, p. 107.

18. Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, San Gabriel Mission (San Gabriel: n.p., 1927), p. 192.

19. Registers of the Missions San Diego and Santa Barbara do not list this wedding. Mission San Luis Rey, where Francisca’s father was Administrator, is the next logical place. However, that mission’s records are missing, so the exact wedding location cannot be verified.

20. Msgr. Francis J. Weber, ed., Queen of the Missions, p. 88. Bishop García Diego to Governor Alvarado, April, 25, 1842.

21. Alfred Robinson, Life in California, (Oakland: Joseph A. Sullivan, 1947), p. 123.

22. Sources used for description of La Casa de Aguirre: John R. Southworth, Santa Barbara and Montecito (Santa Barbara: Oreña Studios, 1920), pp. 124-25; Clarence Cullimore, Santa Barbara Adobes, (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Book Publishing Company, 1948), pp. 84-90; Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, August 1980; Mrs. Gertrude Pico Harrison, interview in Riverside, August 1980.

23. Engelhardt, Missions and Missionaries, Vol. IV, p. 257.

24. Carlos Antonio Carrillo, Exposition Addressed to the Chamber of Deputies of the Congress of the Union, trans. and ed. Herbert Ingram Priestly (San Francisco: J. H. Nash, 1938), p. VII. The Pious Fund was confiscated on February 8, 1842.

25. Msgr. Francis J. Weber, ed., Documents of California Catholic History, (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1965), p. 154.

26. Duflot de Mofras, Duflot de Mofras’ Travels on the Pacific Coast, Vol. II, trans., ed., and annotated by Marguerite Eyer Wilbur, with a Foreword by Dr. Frederick Webb Hodge (Santa Ana: The Fine Arts Press, 1937), pp. 193-94.

27. Rudecinda Lo Buglio, “Mission Santa Barbara Burials,” Antepasados, Los Californianos, 1978-79, Vol. III (San Francisco: P.O. Box 5155, 94101), p. 26.

28. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, July 1980.

29. Rose H. Avina, Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in California, Thesis, University of California, 1938 (R & E Research Associates, 4843 Mission Street, San Francisco, 94112, reprinted 1973), p. 75, #283.

30. Crowe, Men of El Tejon, p. 44.

31. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, January 1981. Aguirre to Orbell and Oreña, March 4, 1845.

32. Archives, Old Mission Santa Barbara, Marriage Register of the Santa Barbara Presidio, #274.

33. George P. Hammond, ed., The Larkin Papers, Vol. IV (Berkeley: University of California Press for the Bancroft Library, 1953), p. 323.

34. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, November 1980.

35. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, Mission San Diego Book of Matrimony, #2046, February 14, 1846. Copy furnished by Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, Archivist.

36. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, February 1981.

37. Davis, Sixty Years in California, p. 598.

38. Ibid., p. 505.

39. Mr. Martin Aguirre, interview in San Jacinto, October 13, 1979.

40. Julian Dana, Sacramento, River of Gold (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1939), p. 217.

41. Last mention of the Leonidas was for December 1841.

42. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, Mission San Diego Book II of Deaths, #2. Miguel died March 31,1850, buried by Padre Holbein April 1,1850. Information from Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, letter July 17, 1981.

43. Ibid. Entry #1 was Juan Adams, November 7, 1849.

44. Winifred Davidson’s Notes dated 1935, San Diego History Center Research Archives. The deed was dated May 10, 1850, Deed Book 2, p. 13, San Diego Recorder’s Office.

45. H. M. T. Powell sketch of San Diego done early in 1850 does not show the Aguirre house. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico was told by her mother, Dolores Aguirre de Pico, that she (Dolores) had been born in La Casa de Aguirre August 6, 1851.

46. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, January 1982.

47. Mrs. Gertrude Pico Harrison, interview in Riverside, January 1982.

48. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, July 1980.

49. Ibid.

50. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, St. Joseph’s Church Book of Baptisms, Book 3, #53. Copy furnished by Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, Archivist.

51. San Diego County Deeds, Book 4, pp. 163-66.

52. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, July 1981.

53. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, St. Joseph’s Church Book of Baptisms, Book 3, #19. Copy furnished by Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, Archivist.

54. Ibid., St. Joseph’s Church Book of Deaths, July 10, 1856.

55. U.S. Census, San Diego County, 1860, p. 2. The younger José Antonio Aguirre is listed at four years of age.

56. Crowe, Men of El Tejon, p. 46.

57. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, November 1981.

58. U.S. Census, San Diego County, 1860, p. 2. Padre Molinier is shown living with the Aguirres.

59. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, September 1980.

60. Mrs. Gertrude Pico Harrison and Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, January 1982. They each have a piece of tile taken from the original roof of the Little Adobe Chapel.

61. Mrs. Gertrude Pico Harrison and Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, September 1980.

62. San Diego Herald, November 27, 1858, p. 2, col. 1.

63. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, St. Joseph’s Church Book of Baptisms, #60. Copy furnished by Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, Archivist.

64. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, August 1980. Copy made of Aguirre’s will.

65. San Diego County Tax Assessment record for Rosario Aguirre dated May 3, 1862. San Diego History Center Research Archives.

66. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, San Diego Parish Book of Deaths, #84, July 31, 1860. Copy furnished by Sister Catherine Louise La Coste, Archivist.

67. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, St. Joseph’s Church Book of Baptisms, p. 24, July 31, 1860.

68. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, June 1981.

69. Archives, Diocese of San Diego, San Diego Parish Book of Deaths, #89, November 25, 1861.

70. Miss Ruth Margaret Pico, interview in Riverside, September 1980. Doña Victoria had been a widow since 1852. She had moved to the rancho in 1860.

71. San Diego Union, August 3, 1936, obituary of Dolores Aguirre de Pico, San Diego Public Library, California Room.

THE PHOTOGRAPHS are courtesy of the author and the Aguirre Family.