By Iris Engstrand
Among the most important leather-jacket soldiers—soldados de cuera—to arrive
with the first overland expedition to settle Alta California were two members
of the Osuna family. The younger of the two—Juan Ismerio de Osuna— was
born about 1745 in El Rosario [Sinaloa] and was part of the company stationed
at Loreto. He traveled to San Diego in 1769, probably with the first group under
the leadership of Fernando Javier de Rivera y Moncada, who had been
elevated to captain of the Presidio of Loreto in 1752 after serving ten years
in the Baja California capital. Juan Ismerio continued on to San Francisco
under Rivera and Portolá on July 14, 1769. He later traveled on February
11, 1770, with Rivera to San Fernando Velicatá, the only mission founded by
the Franciscans in Baja California, and then returned to San Diego with his
commander in July 1770. Juan Ismerio also spent much of his time as a soldier
in Loreto. In 1774 Governor Felipe de Barri sent him as a courier to both
Mexico City and to Alta California. In the 1780s he served both at the
Presidio of San Diego and with the mission guard at San Gabriel. Juan Ismerio,
listed as Español in the census, married Maria Ignacia Alvarado and together
they had six children, including Jose María. Osuna’s last child was baptized in
1788 at Mission San Gabriel. Juan Ismerio died in 1790.1
Juan Luis de Osuna, born in 1715 probably at El Rosario, married Ana María
Alvarado and they became the parents of José Francisco and Bernardo. Juan Luis
served as a godfather at Mission San José de Comondú on November 28, 1749, and
witnessed a wedding at Mission San Francisco Borja on September 6, 1762. He
was put in charge of Mission de Santa Gertrudis by Gaspar de Portolá at the time
of the Jesuit expulsion in 1768 and signed as a witness to Rivera’s inventory on
January 16 of that year. Juan Luis traveled to Alta California in 1769 with Rivera
and then on to San Francisco with the combined troops under Portolá and Rivera
that departed on July 14, 1769. He returned to Velicatá in February 1770 and served
as a godfather at Mission Santa Rosalia de Mulege in March 1773. Juan Luis died
sometime after 1774, last appearing on the rolls at Loreto on February 28.2
But the Osuna story does not begin in the eighteenth century—nor does it
end there during the early days of California settlement. In 1528, shortly after the
Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan became Mexico City, three Osuna brothers sailed
from their native Spain and made landfall at Veracruz on the Caribbean coast.
One brother settled in Mexico City while another journeyed north to open a
business in Monterrey, south of the Rio Grande. The third moved to Mazatlan but
his descendants had little business success. These two Osuna cousins eventually
moved to Baja California, joined the army under the Jesuits, and when the
Franciscans took over in 1768, became a part of the Portolá/Serra expedition to
Alta California in 1769.
The three branches of the Osuna family continued to live separately for almost
450 years until a chance encounter brought them together at San Diego’s Fiesta
200 celebrating the city’s 200th anniversary on July 16, 1969. In a quiet corner of the
Presidio Park grounds, the city’s official ambassador Ernesto Osuna, in the dress
of El Hidalgo de San Diego, shook hands with Felipe Osuna of Mexico City who
was in San Diego with his University of Mexico singing group La Estudiantina
At that occasion, Mrs. Stanley French of the San Diego Thursday Club, who
had sponsored the visit of the singers, began to ponder the possibility of their
relationship. She had heard the story of the three brothers while visiting with
Felipe in Mexico City. When the two men met in San Diego, both were wearing
Spanish clothing—one from the sixteenth century and one from the eighteenth
century—but had a strong resemblance to each other. After some discussion, they
realized that they had been living parallel lives unknown to each other since the
families had parted after arrival in Mexico so long before
An added dimension to the Osuna story is the family connection between
Alfred Osuna and the mayor of Tijuana Don Aciano Antonio Osuna. Born on the
Osuna family ranch in Tijuana, Alfred was brought by his father to San Diego at
the age of 9 for medical treatment. Their connections to San Diego were strong—
Alfred’s paternal grandfather, Juan María Osuna, was the mayor (alcalde) of San
Diego in 1834 and lived in the renowned Osuna adobe home in Rancho Santa
In addition, Alfred’s great-great grandfather José Guadalupe Estudillo was
county treasurer before being elected treasurer of the state of California in 1874.5
Alfred Osuna was the youngest of five children and never married.
He died at the age of 90 in 1994.6
One of the most prominent members of the Osuna family
who achieved considerable fame during her lifetime was Felipa
Osuna, the granddaughter of Juan Ismerio de Osuna.7
In 1806 his son Juan María married Juliana Josefa
López at Mission San Diego.8 Their second child, Maria Felipa
de Jesus Catarina Osuna, was born in 1809 and grew up among
the rancho families of San Diego. In 1834, Felipa Osuna married
Juan María Marrón, grantee of Rancho Agua Hedionda, located near El Camino
Real between today’s Oceanside and Carlsbad. Marrón had been a seaman and
trader who settled in San Diego around 1821 just as Mexico was fighting a war
for independence against Spain. Felipa’s father, Juan María Osuna, had received
Rancho San Dieguito in the early 1830s and, as mentioned above, became the
first elected mayor of the Pueblo of San Diego in 1834. Her husband, Juan María
Marrón became the administrator of the former mission of San Luis Rey and was
elected mayor (alcalde) of San Diego in 1846.9
While living at the ranch, Felipa Osuna became concerned
about the health and welfare of Father Jose Maria Zalvidea, a
Franciscan missionary with 40 years of service in California.
Felipa and her husband took care of the padre during his final
years with their own funds.10 Like other ranch families, the
Marrón Osuna family owned a lot and small frame house in
Old Town. Theirs was at the northwest corner of Congress and Twiggs streets
opposite Casa de Cota. In the first official county census of 1860, Felipa’s real
estate is shown valued at $2,000 and her personal estate at $1,000.
According to local lore, Felipa owned the first carriage brought to San Diego.
Having transportation from the ranch, located near Carlsbad, made it possible
for her to visit relatives and attend church in Old Town.11
The references to the men of the Osuna family in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s
History of California, Volume 1 1542-1800, are numerous and listed according to
generation. These are: Juan Ismerio (1), Juan Luis (2), Miguel, tailor (3), José Joaquin,
(3), José María (4), and Juan Nepomucena (4).12 Since Bancroft’s history was written
during the 1880s, many more generations of Osunas have been found living in
present-day San Diego and the Baja California region. Individual stories are
found in later volumes.
1. Harry W. Crosby, Gateway to California (San Diego: Sunbelt Publications, 2003), Appendix
A, p. 161. Juan Ismerio’s children are listed as José Joaquín, María Josefa, José María, María
Francisca, Juan María and Juan Nepomuceno.
2. Ibid., pp. 161-162. See also pages 112 and 113.
3. “Family Reunited at Fiesta,” The San Diego Union, August 16, 1969.
4. A later showplace owned by Bing Crosby.
5. Estudillo, a prominent Old Town resident, was a City Trustee at the founding of Balboa Park
6. Obituary, Alfred Osuna, Member of a Pioneer family, 90, The San Diego Union, January 8, 1994.
7. Juan Ismerio’s wife Maria Ignacio Alvarado is listed in the Census of 1790 of the Presidio of
San Diego as española from Loreto, a widow, 28, with four children, españoles, José María Osuna,
12; Francisca Osuna, 7; Juan María Osuna, 6; and Juan Nepomuceno Osuna, 3.
8. Julian López was the daughter of Francisco López and Maria Feliciana de Arballo.
9. Winifred Davidson, “New Tales of the Old Southwest,” The San Diego Union, May 8, 1938,
devotes several columns to the life of Felipa Osuna de Marrón.
10. Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, trans. and eds., Testimonios: Early California
through the Eyes of Women, 1815-1848. pp, 145-160. See also “The Oldest Resident of Old Town
in 1878.” Vol. 55, The Journal of San Diego History, 2009: 231-244.
11. Davidson, “New Tales of the Old Southwest.”
12. Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: the History Company, 1886), Inhabitants of
California, 1769-1800, p. 740.