The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1969, Volume 15, Number 1
Rita Larkin, Editor

The Bandini Family

by Patricia Baker

Patricia Baker is a senior at the San Diego College for Women. She is a history major, and during a class in California history last year, she became interested in the old families in Californian history. She did research last summer on the topic, and plans to do further research in the field in graduate school.

Born: Los Angeles, California
Home: La Puente, California
Activities: President, Young Republicans of USD
President, International Relations Club
Member, Delta Epsilon Sigma
Delegate, Model United Nations

In Florence on Sunday, April 26, 1478, a "young Florentine coxcomb" murdered Guilliano Medici, the brother of Florence's ruler, Lorenzo Medici. Several months later this assassin was executed. The culprit? Bernardo Bandini.

Four centuries later, in December of 1818, José Bandini, a native of Andulacia, Spain, a lieutenant of the Spanish vessel, "Nymphia," at the Battle of Trafalgar, transported troops on his ship, "Reina de Los Angeles," to Monterey to defend the city against the attack of the pirate, Bouchard.

On November 29, 1831, just thirteen years later, José's son, Juan, who had been born in San Marcos de Arica, Peru, on October 4, 1800, issued a pronunciamiento, denouncing his allegiance to Victoria, the Mexican governor of California,

In his pronunciamiento, Bandini stated: "Let the rights of the citizens be born anew; let liberty spring up from the ashes of oppression, and perish the depotism that has suffocated our security." That night Bandini and fourteen other San Diegans arrested Captain Argüello, Lieutenant Valle and Portilla and seized the presidio. Bandini said of that night: "I presented my apology to Captain Argüello playing cards with Lt. Valle, then a pair of pistols and marched them off to prison where they found their commandant, Portilla, had preceded them."

Governor Victoria marched south to quell this uprising. Victoria's little army and the Bandini - led rebels met near the Cahuenga Pass on December 6, 1831. Victoria was wounded. Following this battle, Victoria resigned his post as governor and retired to the mission at San Gabriel to recover. On January 17, 1832, he sailed to Mexico. California was rid of an uncongenial governor.

Wherever the Bandinis' appeared, revolution followed. Juan seems to have inherited the qualities of his fifteenth century counterpart, Bernardo Bandini. At every meeting, revolt, or conspiracy Juan Bandini was one of the leaders. Almost any reason was sufficient for Juan to incite revolt.

Victoria's refusal to call the disputación had sparked the revolt of 1831. A deeper reason was Victoria's refusal to secularize the Missions. Bandini pressured the next governor, José Figueroa, until he had issued a decree on August 9, 1834 that the Franciscans would be deprived of the management of the land and the Indians. Figueroa had initially opposed this secularization, for he held that "the Indians were incapable of managing their affairs in any orderly way" and that they "had no sense of the value of property, and no wish to possess it for any reason except for gambling."

Because of his part in the secularization movement, Juan Bandini won the title: Destroyer of the California missions.

In 1836 Bandini was back in the revolution-making business - this time in opposition to Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. José Antonio Carrillo returned from his post as territorial congressman in Mexico with the news that his brother, Carlos, had been appointed governor to replace Governor Alvarado, and that the capital had been changed from Monterey to Los Angeles. Carlos had "a large and a magnificent presence," but he lacked force and resolution in political matters and was "wax in the hands of his brother," José Antonio.

Governor Alvarado refused to step down as governor, taut Carlos took the oath of office as governor at Los Angeles on December 6, 1836. In February Alvarado had still refused to resign. Therefore, Bandini and José Antonio Pico took a group of San Diegans to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, because there were only a few members of the band, Bandini had them dress differently so as to make them appear as different persons when they went to stand guard.

The Bandini-Pico band was defeated at San Buenaventura by the Alvarado forces and Carlos Carrillo was forced to resign. This defeat ended the opposition everywhere except in San Diego. When reports of San Diego's continued opposition filtered into Santa Barbara. Alvarado sent a group of twenty-six men, led by Castro, to San Diego, The band reached the Bandini home at midnight on Christmas. Despite the gala celebration, the soldiers surrounded the home and arrested the two Carrillos and two of the Picos, but Bandini and José Antonio Estudillo escaped. This finally quelled the opposition in San Diego.

During the Mexican-American war and during the United States' "Conquest" of California, Juan Bandini supported the Americans. His three daughters are even credited with making the first American flag that was raised in the Old Town Plaza on July 29, 1846 -the day John Charles Fremont arrived in town. Juan supported the Americans because he sought relief from the boredom that followed the cessation of revolution and the resumption of his duties as a rancher.

The American control of California, however, did not restore Bandini to his old position as revolutionary. He was faced, instead, with the jota of maintaining his vast tracts of land which stretched from Tijuana to the San Bernardino mountains. Seeking relief from boredom, Juan turned his boundless energy to numerous wild business schemes. In 1850 Juan invested $15,000 to build the Gila House, an inn and general store, to accommodate the gold seekers traveling from Mexico to Sacramento. In December Juan borrowed $10,000 from a French gambler at four percent monthly interest. When Bandini could not meet the payments, the Frenchman gave him an extension, but required the mortgage on both Bandini' s home and store. In 1851 Bandini was surprised to discover that "all of a sudden trade left entirely."

In order to pay his debts, Juan hurried down to Rancho Guadalupe, near Tijuana, to market the goods from the Rancho. But to Bandini's amazement the Rancho had gone to seed and he hired a new supervisor and workers.

While Bandini was at the Rancho his son-in-law, Charles Johnson, "took the occasion to describe the entire family crisis to Abel Stearns -Don Juan' s costly business schemes, the gambling proclivities of the don' s young sons, and the expenditures of Dona Refugia Bandini in preparing one elegant fiesta after another even while feeling 'awfully downcast' about money matters. Johnson estimated that a loan of $2,000 and proper management could save the Bandini estate and even make it profit 'hansomely'." Stearns took over the mortgage and saved Bandini from bankruptcy.

However, when Juan ignored the repeated pleas of his son-in-law for sanity and realism in his business endeavors, the Bandini sons-in-law withdrew all financial help. They remained friendly towards Juan, but they carried on family matters without his advice. This caused Juan to complain of having lost respect. He no longer found himself the revolutionary of former days; instead, he was merely the father of numerous children who had to bail him out of his financial troubles, which were caused not only by his business failures, but also because he was a pace-setter in the social circles. He was one of the early California socialites and his wife often threw elegant fiestas which cost Juan as much as $1,000.

The slender and darkly handsome man had introduced the waltz into California in 1820. At every dance he was the master of ceremonies. The Californians called him "Tecolero," for it was his duty to lead a woman, usually the belle of the ball, onto the dance floor and the performance was always beautifully executed.

The children, whom Juan charged with having lost respect for him, were produced through his November 20, 1822, marriage to Marie de los Dolores Estudillo, the daughter of one of San Diego's founders, Captain José Maríá Estudillo.

The first son of Juan and Dolores, Alejandro Félix Rafael, died at the age of fourteen on May 10, 1839. José Maríá, their second son, married MaríaTeresa Arguello, one of the twenty-two children of Santiago Argüello.

Juan's three daughters - Josefa, Arcadia, and Isidora - were considered three of the most beautiful girls in California, In 1846, Josefa married Pedro C. Carrillo, the son of Carlos Antonio Carrillo, Pedro studied law in Boston, where he had been taken by Captain William G. Dana, the husband of Pedro's sister, María Josefa Petra del Carmen.

Pedro and Josefa were given the Peninsula de San Diego Rancho, which included Coronado and North Island, on May 12,1846, by Pio Pico, the Mexican governor, as his personal wedding present. The Carrillos had five children, but the marriage does not seem to have been an especially happy one. In February 1854 Cave Couts, Josefa's brother-in-law, wrote Abel Stearns that he had to pick up Josefa from the steamer as Pedro was "neglecting her most grossly," and that they were considering suing f or divorce.

Juan José, the son of Pedro and Josefa, was educated at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Juan, who had married Francisca Roldan on October 7, 1868, moved his family to Santa Monica. There he worked as a bookkeeper, railroad worker, a waterworks superintendent, a livery stable owner, judge, and the city's first mayor.

Juan José's son, Leo, was a famous television star, who played Pancho in the Cisco kid series. Leo's brother, Jack, became a world famous engineer - the builder of Idlewild Airport.

Juan Bandini met Abel Stearns in 1829. Stearns had been exiled from California by Governor Victoria, taut due to a storm off the coast of Catalina Island, Stearns had been forced to land at San Diego for repairs on his ship. Stearns, the son of Levi and Elizabeth Stearns, and a native of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, immediately joined the anti-Victoria revolt that Bandini had been planning. As a result of their collaboration, Juan and Abel became good friends and steadfast political allies. In May, 1841, Abel married Juan's sixteen-year old daughter, Arcadia.

Abel Stearns was always a good friend, a kind husband, but he had a hot temper and violent prejudices. Because of his ugliness, he was known as "Cara de Caballo," horse face. He was a shrewd business-man and soon became one of the wealthiest men in California, In fact, the commerical life of southern California revolved around Stearns. His warehouse, "La Casa de San Pedro," was one of the four principal ports of trade in nineteenth century Western America.

Although Juan had arranged the marriage between Abel and Arcadia, the marriage was a happy one. Arcadia was fond and proud of Abel. Arcadia and Abel's home, built in 1859 in Los Angeles, was called "El Palacio," and soon became the political and social center of Los Angeles. Abel died in San Francisco in the Grand Hotel on August 23, 1871.

After Abel's death, Arcadia married Robert S. Baker, a native of Rhode Island, the founder of Bakersfield, and a sheep rancher. When Arcadia died on September 15, 1912, she was one of the richest women in America.

If Arcadia's life lacked romance, the life of her younger sister, Isidora, made up for it. In 1846 the whole town buzzed with excitement over the entry of the American army into San Diego. Isidora,Juan's youngest daughter, described by Lt. John McHenry Hollings worth as "the most perfect coquette I ever saw," leaned so far over the balcony to watch the procession of the American Black Dragoons, sent to protect the California missions, that she fell from the balcony into the arms of Colonel Cave Johnson Couts.

Couts, "straight as an arrow, willowy and active, a perfect horse-man, with the natural instincts of a gentleman... .the soul of honor.... jovial and genial, fond of jokes, music and dancing, was born near Springfield, Tennessee, on November 11, 1821.

He was educated under the supervision of his maternal uncle, Cave Johnson, who served as post-master general under President Polk and later as president of the State Bank of Tennessee. Cave graduated from West Point in 1843 and gained fame for his bravery in the Mexican-American war.

After this spectacular saving of Isidora's life, Cave returned frequently to the Bandini home, and the "romance blossomed under the language of the eyes, since they did not speak the same language at that time." Cave served as a judge in San Diego for two years after his marriage. Then in 1853, the couple moved to Guajome Rancho, which had been given to them as a wedding present by Abel Stearns, Isidora's brother-in-law.

The family that grew up on this estate was a happy one. From the letters that Cave wrote to Stearns it is apparent that he had the same problems that any father has: their first child, Abel Stearns, died and Cave had to send Isidora away from the ranch because "every plaything of Abilito that she come across, she has a cry and had cried so much that her lips were swollen and very sore." Nancy swallowed poison.

Cave died on June 10, 1874. Isidora died in Los Angeles on May 23, 1897, in the apartment of her sister, Arcadia Baker. After Isidora's death, Guajome passed to Cave J. Couts, Jr., who had attended college in Tennessee and had become a surveyor for the Southern Pacific railroad. Cave junior "maintained the air of Spanish hospitality as much as possible in the changing conditions of the Twentieth Century, and has rightly been called the 'last of the Dons' in San Diego county." He maintained the ranch until his death on July 15, 1943.

María Antonia, the second child of Cave and Isidora, married Chalmers Scott on November 18, 1874. Chalmers Scott was a famous lawyer and engineer. Maríá and Chalmers had eleven children. The blond Arcadia was reared by Arcadia Baker, her great-aunt. Arcadia, therefore, led the life of a "fashionable and sought-after belle" and studied piano in Paris under Paul de Reszke. In 1912 Arcadia Scott married John Jerome Brennan of Pennsylvania, whom she had met during a brief visit to the East Coast. They "knew at first sight that they belonged together." John Brennon became one of San Diego' s famous judges. The couple had two children Martita Antonia, who married Alfredo Bandini Johnson, a descendant of Juan by his second marriage to Refugio Argüello, and John Jerome.

Juan's youngest child, Juan Bautista, counted as a useless ranch worker by his brothers-in-law, Abel Stearns and Charles Johnson, became managing editor of the Los Angeles Herald. His daughter, Arcadia, married John T.Gaffey on June 1, 1887. John Gaffey was "a brillant and entertaining Irishman with scholarly tastes and a leading San Pedro real estate owner. His other daughter, Mary Dolores, married on June 22, 1887, W. Russell Ward, an Englishman of the famous family of English book publishers. Dolores became a favorite in Queen Victoria's court.

In 1835 Juan Bandini married Refugio Argüello. Refugio was considerably younger than Juan and she "resented the five children of his first family and was extremely jealous of his first deceased wife." Juan and Refugio had five children: Alfredo, Juan de la Cruz, Dolores, Arturo, and Margarita.

Dolores married Charles Robinson Johnson, a cattle auctioneer and before his marriage a famous playboy. Arturo Bandini was quite a scholar; he lived in a "simple Los Angeles home filed with books and manuscripts - the quiet life of a scholar and collector." Arturo was the author of several books, including Navidad, a description of Christmas in Old California, His wife, Helen Elliott Bandini, too, was a scholar; she wrote a History of California.

Juan Bandini, who had helped put California on her feet and who had played such a vital role in California' s growth, died on November 4, 1859 in Los Angeles where he had gone for medical treatment. With his passing California lost a spirited leader both politically and socially.