THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
COL. CAVE COUTS
Thank you - Staff of San Diego Historical Society,
Lynn Wilson, guest authors, and submitters.
CAVE J. COUTS It may seem that we are
emphasizing "Old Cave", but he is just so
notorious or is it infamous in California History,
there is always something more interesting
to add to the newsletter.
TO TRIAL FOR TRYING TO STEAL COURTHOUSE ~
YESTERDAY IN THE WEST, BY Coyer, a free-lance
writer living in San Diego Nov. 17, 1985 ~ materials
submitted by Lucy Leon
Next, Bean decided to bring an accomplice
in on the scheme. He called upon the aid of an Army
officer with whom he had recently become friendly:
Lt. Cave Johnston (sic) Couts of the 1st U.S. Dragoons.
Lt. Couts seemed like a good choice as
partner since at this time he was already in legal
trouble with the Army. Before his arrival in San
Diego, he had been stationed in Los Angeles
and while on duty there operated a "gambling
den" with two civilians. The Army discovered
this operation and charged the lieutenant with
"conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentle man."
Since officers were at a premium in California,
the Army decided to delay Couts' trial until more
troops arrived in the area. (Couts finally faced a
court martial on Dec. 27, 1850, and was cleared
of the charge.)
To make Couts a partner in the courthouse
deal, Bean sold him part of the property for $2.50.
All this wheeling-and dealing took place on June
15, the very day Bean was elected mayor. He
had to carry out his plan fast while he still had
the powers of an alcalde.
Believing he now had full ownership of
the building and property, Bean then began
to bully the council members. His first act was
to take over the room used by the clerk and
throw out all of the papers and documents
stored there. When the council members
demanded an explanation for his actions,
Bean informed them that he now owned the
building and would do with it as he pleased.
He and Couts then proceeded to take
possession of the other officers for their own
use and, at the same time, Couts began
construction on a two-story frame structure
immediately next door. Bean intimated to
the council members that if they did not
accept his authority, he would evict them
all by December.
The council immediately began an
investigation into Bean's ownership of the
courthouse. They questioned Senora Amador
and fund that although she had sold the deed
to Bean, she thought he was acting on behalf
of the city. If she had known he was buying
the land for his personal use, she would
never have sold it.
The council then began checking the
past ownership of the lots and made a
surprising discovery - Senora Amador did
not have a legal claim to the property.
When Alcalde Alvarado sold the deed to
her husband, he failed to attach an official
seal to the document and did not use
stamped paper. He also neglected to
record the price of the property on the
deed, another infraction of regulations.
Besides all this, Amador never had
occupied or improved the land. All this
added up to the widow's ownership of
the tract being null and void.
Armed with this information, the
councilmen wrote up the results of their
investigation and on Aug. 20 submitted
them to court. Ironically, the document
lists the plaintiffs as the "Mayor and
Common Council of the City of San Diego"
even though the mayor, Joshua Bean,
was one of the defendants.
After reading the accusations, Bean
acknowledged that he knew Amador's
ownership of the land was null and void,
but pointed out that in that case the lots
reverted back to the city, and as mayor,
Bean could dispose of the property as
he saw fit. But Bean must have believed
Amador's claim was a valid one,
otherwise why bother to buy the deed
from his widow?
Next came a strange series
twists an turns in the legal battle. On
Oct. 1, the council decided to recognize
Bean and Couts' claim to the property,
drop their lawsuit against the two men,
and that both parties would pay their
own legal costs. But nine days later,
Bean and Couts suddenly changed their
minds and were willing to sign the deed
to the courthouse over to the city council.
The matter finally came to trial on
Jan. 7, 1851. Judge Olivers S. Witherby
decided in favor of the city council. Bean
and Couts not only had to relinquish their
claim to the property, but also pay all court
cost as well. Couts was allowed to keep the
building he had constructed next door,
which he turned into a successful hotel
know as the Colorado House.
The town hall/courthouse continued
to serve the growing community of San Diego
until its destruction by fire on April 20, 1872.
although the site of may court cases dealing
with theft, never again would the building
itself be the object of such a case.
CITY OF SAN DIEGO AND SAN DIEGO
COUNTY THE BIRTH PLACE OF
CALIFORNIA BY Clarence Alan McGrew,
1922, Vol 1. Sumitted by: Bill Mclaren
Colonel Cave J. Couts Page 491 was a
lieutenant in the one of the first expeditions
of American soldiers into the Southwest,
and after leaving the army was one of the
most enterprising and distinguished citizens
of San Diego County. His family has been
one of prominence in this section of the
state for many years.
Colonel Couts was born near Springfield,
Tennessee, November 11, 1821, and in that locality
his parent also spent their lives. His early education
was supervised by his uncle, Cave Johnson, who
was a member of President Polk's cabinet as post
master general. At the age of seventeen he was
appointed a cadet in West Point Military Academy
and graduated in 1843, being commissioned a brevet
second lieutenant of the regiment of Mounted Rifles.
He was on frontier duty at Fort Jessup, Indiana, and
in 1845 was sent with a detachment of recruits to Fort
Washita in Indian Territory. In the meantime he was
commissioned second lieutenant of the First Dragoons,
and did frontier duty at Evansville, Arkansas, and Fort
Gibson, Indian Territory, until February 1847. He was
then mad first lieutenant of the First Dragoons, and
during the war with Mexico was on duty along the
frontier, passing through Mexico and Arizona to
California, crossing the Colorado River on Sunday,
November 26, 1848, it taking him three days to cross
his regiment. After confronting many obstacles and
enduring much hardship crossing the desert between
Colorado and the mountains, he reached Los Angeles,
with his command on Sunday, January 9, 1849.
Colonel Couts served about San Diego, Los Angeles,
and San Luis Rey to 1851. In 1849, he conducted
an expedition to the Gila River and was in charge of
the Boundary Survey between the United States and
Mexico, stationed at the junction of Colorado and
Gila Rivers or "Camp Calhoun." While on duty there
he was complimented by his superior officers in
dealing with the Indians and assisting the emigrants.
On August 1, 1849, he was elected a delegate from
San Diego in accordance with proclamation of Brevet
Brigadier General B. Riley, governor of California, to
form a state constitution or plan for a territorial government.
Until thirty years of age his life was that of a soldier,
but on April 5, 1851, he married Miss Ysidora Bandini,
daughter of Don Juan Bandini of San Diego. Colonel
Couts was fortunate in finding a companion and wife
with many of the noblest traits of her sex and her race.
Ysidora Bandini continued to live on the old homestead
at Guajome after the death of her husband until she
passed away in the spring of 1897, and showed marvelous
skill in managing the property through the trying years of
her early widowhood. She came of a family renowned for
physical and mental strength and beauty, and at the time
of her marriage she was regarded as the most beautiful
young woman in Southern California. He father, Don
Juan Bandini, was a prominent official under the Mexican
government, living at San Diego, where Mrs. Couts was
born. He was highly educated and early foresaw the
results of the war with Mexico and was one of the first
Southern Californians to ally themselves with the Americans.
Three of his daughters, one of them Mrs. Couts, made the
first American flag hoisted at San Diego. Mrs. Couts's
grandfather, Don Jose Bandini, was a native of old Spain
and an admiral in the Spanish Navy, being stationed on
the Pacific Coast, and was in command in Peru when Don
Juan, father of Mrs. Couts was born. The Bandini family
were originally Italian.
The October following his marriage Colonel Couts
resigned his commission as a first lieutenant in the regular
army, but soon afterward was appointed colonel and
aide de camp on the staff of Governor Bigler, accounting
for the military title with which his friends honored him.
Colonel Couts has been described as a man of com
manding figure, a little over six feet tall, straight, willowy
and active, a perfect horseman, making a splendid ap
pearance as a cavalry officer, and with the natural instincts
of a gentleman supplemented by a thorough education.
He was devoted to his family and in every transaction
betrayed a strict integrity, though he was also a congenial
companion, found of music and dancing, and a popular
figure in all social circles. The most interesting part of
his story is that which relates to the development he
instituted in San Diego County. He was one of the first
to discover that the climate and soil of that county were
adapted to all kinds of agriculture and horticulture. He
was the first to plant an orchard on a large scale with
the improved varieties of fruits, and for years his was
the only orange grove in San Diego County. About two
years after leaving the army he lived at old San Diego,
where he served a term as County Judge. In 1853, he
and his family, consisting of his wife and two children,
moved to Guajome. Guajome was an Indian grant
containing 2,219 acres made by the Mexican Government
to Andres, an Indian, and to his two sisters. It was
bought by Mrs. Don Abel Stearns of Los Angeles and
by her presented to Mrs. Couts as a wedding present.
In the Indian language the word means "Home of the
frog." When Colonel Couts took possession of it in
1852, there was not a sign of a tree, and it was his
initiative and enterprise that later covered the tract
with orchards, among them several of the tropical
fruits, and as the "Chicomoya: or "Anona", "Marego," :
Auguacate" (alligator plant) and several others, also
vineyards and other groves. He put up a camp on
the land, made some willow poles and a few boards
taken from San Diego, and that served him while he
was building more commodious structures. As there
was no running water on the land he dug a hole with
a spade, and later enlarged that hole to a pone one
hundred feet in diameter and seven feet deep, which
had a constant flow of water, much of it used for
irrigation purposes. Colonel Couts was special Indian
agent, resigning on August 10, 1856, after having made
a full report to the Honorable Commissioner of Indian
Affairs and calling attention to the condition of the
"poor Indian," and making suggestions that, had they
been exercised, the Indians would not have been wronged
or, as might be said, practically exterminated by the
invasion of the white man. He also had the supervision
of a large number of Indians in and around San Luis Rey,
who loved and feared him. He commanded their services
and labors, and from the labor of three hundred Indians
constructed an immense adobe house built in a square,
containing twenty rooms, with a courtyard filled with
orange and lemon trees and varieties of flowers. The
same labor erected barns, stables, sheds, and corrals
and also servants' quarters, and finally a neat chapel
was dedicated to the worship of God. Perhaps due
to his military training, he had an almost infallible ability
in managing and controlling Indians. He instituted system
and order everywhere and visitors frequently knew
without being told that "Don Cuevas" as he was generally
called, was a military man. He also accumulated thousands
of cattle, hundreds of horses and mules and many sheep,
and purchased the San Marcos, Buena Vista and La Joha
ranches, besides about eight hundred acres of government
land adjoining his homestead. Altogether his estate
aggregated about twenty thousand acres. He was prospering
until the passage of the "no fence law," which practically
ruined him financially and he was compelled to sell his livestock
at a tremendous sacrifice. He was just beginning to recover
from this disaster when death came to him while at the Horton
House in San Diego, July 10, 1874. The tragedy of his useful
career was that he was not permitted to enjoy the fruits of his
toil and the expenditure of thousands of dollars in developing
what might properly be considered a paradise.
Colonel Couts was one of twelve children, his wife was one
of ten, and their own family consisted of ten sons and daughters,
namely: Abel Stearns Couts, who died in 1855, when nearly
four years of age; Maria Antonia, widow of Colonel Chalmers
Scott, of Los Angeles; William B., manager of the Baker
Estate Realty Company, of Los Angeles, Cave J. Jr., a civil
engineer by profession, living at Gujome in San Diego County;
Nancy Dolores, who died 1868, at the age of eleven; Ysidore
Forster Fuller, widow of the late Judge Fuller, of Los Angeles,
where she resides; Elena, Mrs. Parker Dear, of Alhambra;
Robert Lee, of Los Angeles, who died March 18, 1920;
John Forester, of San Diego , and wife Caroline, wife of J.B.
Winston, of Los Angeles.
CATTLE RANCHING, CATTLE BRANDS, AND
RANCHO GUAJOME, (excerpts),
By Rancho Guajome and other County Parks Staff, from the
office of: Alex A. Martinis, Director Dept. of Parks and Recreation
in San Diego, Ca; cattle brand impressions were donated by
Gregory J. Smith, Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk;
Submitted by: Lynn and Barbara Wilson
...The Rancho Period Cc ( Cave Couts's Brand CC shaped like
horseshoes one large one small)
During the Rancho period, circa 1825 to 1860, thousands of
cattle roamed freely over the hills and valleys of San Diego County.
Cattle provided some meat and leather for local use, but more importantly
made possible a steady supply of hides and tallow (fat). These were the
currency used in lieu of cash to trade with merchants on ships along
the coast. In this way rancheros were able to purchase household
necessities and luxuries that were unobtainable in the pueblos, or
Indian settlements.... On July 19, 1845, Governor Pio Pico granted
Rancho Guajome to Luisenao brothers Andres and Jose Manuel,
former neophytes at Mission San Luis Rey. Soon after, the
brothers sold the 2,219.4 acres (one-league) rancho to Abel
Stearns. Stearns was a wealthy Los Angeles rancher and merchant
who during the 1830's established San Pedro the principal
clearinghouse in Southern California for the hide and tallow
trade. In 1851, Stearns gave Rancho Guajome to his sister-in-
law Ysidora Bandini as a wedding present. Ysidora was the
daughter of Juan Bandini, a distinguished social and political
leader of San Diego. She had lived with Stearns' family and
run their household for several years. Within two years, Cave
Couts, Ysidora's husband, began construction of their residence
at the ranch. Cave and Ysidora resided in Old Town after their
marriage in 1851 until they moved to Guajome in 1853.
Couts was a graduate of West Point Academy, Class
of 1843, and a shrewd businessman who would become an
important community leader in San Diego. His investment in
livestock paid him huge profits in his early years as a ranchero.
The cattle boom began in 1849, spurred on by the Gold Rush
and the forty-niners enormous demand for beef. As a result
of this demand, raising cattle became the principal activity at
Rancho Guajome and the other ranchos throughout the state....
The Rancho Guajome brand was registered to Ysidora Couts
on February, 1854. Like all rancheros, Cave Couts had to
contend with a number of threats to the Guajome herd. In his
business journal he recounted a number of calves and cows
that periodically died for reasons that were not explained.
Other deaths were explained. For example, as noted on Monday,
April 14, 1856, Couts had to cope with cattle rustlers: "Found
killed - Stolen - 2 Vaquilla [small cow]." There were also
naturally hazards. For example, on Monday, June 18, 1855,
he wrote, "Died - Vaca [cow] - Disease of head." One Saturday,
March 3, 1855, his entry red, "Died - Novillo [small bull] - Bite
of Snake." An entry made Saturday, October 18, 1856, recorded
another loss, "Bear Killed Cow of Soto in Canada [small canyon]
de los Alisoy"...
The boom continued for seven years before several
factors caused its demise...imports of sheep and eastern cattle,
brought down the market; a two-year drought; the flood of 1862,
and after 1872, rancheros were required to fence their herds.
Couts met the financial setbacks of these years by
selling a portion of his San Diego property. he avoided a
complete financial catastrophe during the lean years by turning
to agriculture. though his cattle and horses he added 2,000 head
of sheep. He supplemented these industries with orange groves
and vineyards. Diversification of his various industries enabled
Couts to recover his losses of earlier years and acquire vast
acreage in the County; cattle ranching was no longer the primary
activity at Rancho Guajome. In his last years Cave Couts suffered
the discomfort of an aneurysm of the aorta. A final attack caused
his death on June 10, 1874, at 53 years of age.
THE MAN FROM TENNESSEE
By William Glum
Opinionated, obstinate, egotistical, combative,
cocky, arrogant, these were just some of the
adjective used to describe one of San Diego's
more colorful personalities in the last half of
the 19th century. This American that was to leave
a lasting mark on San Diego was Lieutenant
Cave J. Couts of the First Dragoons. Born in
Tennessee in 1821 and
a graduate of West Point in 1843 he fought in
war as a dragoon (horse mounted infantry).
At the end of the Mexican-American War he
was assigned to a unit
of the United States Army, known as
Graham's Battalion, composed
of four companies of the First and Second
Dragoons. The Battalion
marched all the way from Monterey in north
central Mexico to
California by way of Tucson. There were 275
soldiers, 160 wagons,
205 teamsters and other workmen for a total
of 500 men in all.
One of the young lieutenants of the First
Dragoons was Cave J.
Couts who kept a diary of their travels.
Couts' diary relates the story of the Battalion's
difficult and disorganized march. They
followed the Gila Trail and crossed
the Colorado River in late November
1848. All along the way
they were passed by adventurers
headed for the gold fields.
He wrote in his diary, "This is all we
can hear, The Mines!".
Climbing up San Felipe grade in deep
snow the battalion arrived
at Warner Ranch on December 29, one
month after leaving Yuma
Typical of Couts reputation, he has little
to say that is complimentary.
He blames many of the problems on
the incompetence of Major
Graham, who had brought along a large
comfortable tent, a willing
mistress, and a goodly supply of liquor.
He calls Warner a rascal,
famed for his abilityto tell lies. After
leaving Warner's Ranch he
accused him of stealing his favorite
In June of 1849 the United States Boundary
Commission arrived in
San Diego to survey the international
border between United States and
Mexico. With the commission was W.H.
Emory, a survivor of the
Battle of San Pasqual and now a major in
the Topographical Engineers.
He was assigned to the commission as
astronomer and commander
of troops. Waiting in San Diego to accompany
and protect the
commission was Company A of the First
Dragoons, commanded by
Lt. Couts. The commission, composed of
civilians as well as military
personnel, with conflicting instructions
personalities, accomplished its mission
under extreme difficulties.
Major Emory's records tell of a fight
between a major and a lieutenant
over the honor of a senorita. Lt. Amiel
Weeks Whipple, accompanied
by Lt. Couts, was to established the exact
point of the confluence of
the Gila and ColoradoRivers. Disputes
arose between Whipple and
Couts. Andrew B. Gray, a civilian engineer,
left the survey party to
lead the Collier party of immigrants to
In the desert hills Couts noted indications
of gold, "and certainly metal of
some kind abounds" . All along the desert
route they encountered immigrants,
many begging for food and in all states of
despair. So many were from
southern states that Couts was led
to comment that, "if any are left in
Arkansas, it is more numerously populated
than I had anticipated.".
While a member of the boundary
commission, Couts was a frequent
guest at the Casa de Bandini, where
he fell in love with Juan Bandini's
daughter Ysidora. They were married
in 1851. Ysidora's sister was
married to Able Stearns, a wealthy Los
Angeles rancher and merchant.
As a wedding present he gave them Rancho
Guajome. From that day
on Couts considered himself to be one
of the Silver Dons. He resigned
from the army and set out to make
the rancho a show place of
San Diego County.
An engineer, Couts quickly took charge
of his rancho, designing the
buildings to incorporate both traditional
American features. Construction was of
adobe brick and redwood.
Labor was supplied by mission Indians.
In typical hacienda style, the
living quarters surrounded an enclosed
courtyard. American features
included sash windows and
fireplaces. The first three rooms
were completed by 1853 and the
family moved in while work
continued on the remainder of the
house until 1855.
When finished, the building contained
20 rooms in four wings around
a central patio, 80 x 90. There was a
central fountain and in one of
the adjoining buildings was a small chapel.
Consisting of only 2,219 acres, the rancho
was small compared to the
typical Mexican land grants. Originally
granted to two Indians from
the San Luis Rey Mission in 1845, it had
long been used as an Indian
campground. The dominant feature is
a valley with a small pond,
fed by a seep in the upper end of the
valley. Guajome has been
variously translated as "frog pond",
"little frogs" and "tadpoles".
Couts soon acquired adjoining Buena
Vista Rancho to the north
and Los Vallecitos de San Marcos on
his south, expanding his
holdings to about 20,000 acres.
Couts, like many Southerners
who had come to California, had exchanged
cotton for cattle and
Negroes for Indians. Cattle ranching was
the main use of the
ranch, but drought, flood, and a smallpox
outbreak forced him
to find other sources of income. Using
cheap Indian labor he
turned to agriculture, planting grapes,
vegetables and fruit trees.
He had one of the first commercial
orange groves in San Diego
County. Judge Hay described Guajome
as a paradise. "In the
summer especially, when all the country
is dry, one feels that
Guajome is like an oasis in the desert.
The twenty miles leading
to it from Temecula, present no cultivation
at all...through the
thirty-eight miles toward the town of San
Diego, there are two
small vineyards -Buena Vista and
Encinitas- nothing more. All
is to the eye a dreary waste save
where nature has sown the grass
and wild oak and chance flower."
Ysidora loved to play the grand
lady and gracious hostess. Famous
guests included William
Seward (Lincoln's Secretary of State),
historian Hubert H.
Bancroft, and author Helen Hunt Jackson.
Ysidora and Cave Jr. are often considered
to be the model for
the rancho and family characters in
Jackson's famous novel
"Romona". Legend has it that Dona
Couts became so upset with
Mrs. Jackson's defense of Indian
rights she locked her in her
room over night and ordered her to
leave the next day.
CAVE COUTS AND THE LAW
Cave Couts name appears frequently
in the records of court
actions in San Diego County, on both
sides of the bench.
After the Indian uprising in the fall of
1851, when Chief
Garra's followers attacked Warner
Ranch and Warner Hot
Springs killing several Americans,
Couts was named a
Captain in the volunteer company to
defend the city.
Following Garra's capture he was
taken to San Diego,
where he was tried before a militia
court martial on charges
of treason. (How could an Indian
who was not in the military,
was not considered a citizen, be
tried in a military court for
treason took a little stretching of
he law.) Lt. Sweeny,
commanding officer of the regular
army unit in San Diego
refused to sit on the court martial
and would not let his
soldiers carry out the execution.
Cave Couts served as judge
advocate at the trial. Garra was
convicted and executed.
Another luckless troublemaker
was James Robinson, known
as "Yankee Jim." He was
accused of stealing a rowboat.
Though it was found abandoned
a short time later, Yankee
Jim was taken before a grand jury,
with Cave Couts as foreman.
The jury pronounced the theft a
capital crime, and the Court
of Sessions, after a trial, returned
a verdict, sentenced him to
death by hanging. [Editor's note:
Mr. Robinson's ghost is said
to visit the house built over his
hanging spot, because he said
he was innocent.] J Cave Couts,
himself was indicted by the
grand jury twice in 185l on charges
of beating two Indians
with a rawhide riata. One of them
was a boy and in his case
Couts was acquitted of a charge
of assault. In the other case
the Indian died as result of the
beating and Couts was charged
with manslaughter. Couts' attorney,
O.S. Witherby, won a
dismissal on the contention
that one of the grand jurors was
In 1865 Cave Couts was indicted
on a charge of murder. Couts'
attorney (Witherby again) was
successful once more in having
the indictment dismissed, this
time on the grounds the district
attorney had not posted his
bond of office.
Another indictment of Couts came in
1866. He was tried and
acquitted on a charge of murdering
his majordomo, Juan
Mendoza. Couts defense was that
he had discharged Mendoza,
who then threatened to kill him.
For months Couts stayed
away from San Diego while Mendoza,
armed with a six-shooter
and a knife sent challenges to
Couts from the town bars. After
several months Couts checked
into the Colorado House on
business. Mendoza confronted
him on the Plaza. Couts, who
had been wearing a serape, dropped
it to reveal a double-barreled
shotgun. Mendoza turned to flee but
was cut down with a blast
from both barrels.
Couts frequently filed lawsuits on
his own, generally in
disputes over land titles. Once in
1870, after Sheriff McCoy
had occasion to arrest him for
assault; Couts promptly filed
a civil suit against McCoy, but
lost in court.
Cave Couts died of an aneurysm
in 1874 leaving the Rancho
in the hands of his widow Ysidora
and son, Cave Couts Jr.,
who managed the property for his
mother. Ysidora remained
in the house until her death in 1897.
CAVE COUTS By James Armstrong
William Couts married the daughter of the
Honorable Cave Johnson, Postmaster General
under President James K. Polk.
Through the influences of Mr. Johnson, the
second son of William and Nancy was appointed
to attend West Point. he graduated the Point in 1848
and was assigned by the War Department to serve
on the Mexican border. Before the end of 1848,
Lieutenant Couts received orders to move his
company of soldiers to a pot near the Village
of San Diego, California.
While on duty near that village he met the
daughter of Don Juan Bandini, Upsidora (sic -Ysidora).
The Bandini's trace their ancestry to a line of Spanish
and Florentine Princes.
It was here, at least according to legend that Cave's
destiny literally fell into his lap. Perched on the roof
of the father's home, Upsidora leaned over the edge
of the roof to gain a better view of the marching soldiers,
suddenly plummeted earthward. Cave noting her distress
caught the girl just in time to prevent a fatal injury. After
the eventful meeting, Cave spent a great deal of time in
the Bandini home.
April 5, 1851, Cave and the lovely Upsidora were
married in the home of her parents. For a wedding
present the family gave them a 2,200 acre ranch.
Cave continued to serve in the army until his
enlistment expired two years later.
Now free from e duties of the army, he was able
to devote full time ranching and building a new
home. They named the ranch and new home
Rancho Guajoma". Today, it is owned by San
Diego Count and plans are to restore it to its
original state of beauty.
Their home was often a favorite overnight
stopping place for friendly travelers. U.S.
Grant, a former classmate at West Point,
stationed there before the Civil War, another
notable friend General Lew Wallace, author
of Ben Hur" visited often and it's reported he
wrote much of his famous novel while a guest.
General Lew Wallace was a Major General in
the Union Army during the Civil War. Before
the war, he practiced law. He was selected by
the army to serve on the court martial that tried
the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
He also presided over the court that convicted
the superintendent of Anderson Prison for
cruelty to Union soldiers under his care.
Helen Hunt Jackson was a welcome guest
and spent much time horseback riding on
the ranch. It was here she found local
color for her famous novel, Ramona.
Many western movies have been filmed
on this ranch, the most noteworthy was
Duel In the Sun.
Cave Johnson Couts Jr.
The National Geographic Magazine Feb. 1942
Unique link with the Spanish past in San
Diego County is Senor Cave J. Couts. His
West Point father, Lieut. Cave Johnson Couts,
marched here with the 1 st Dragoons in 1848,
mapped the line of march, and married into
the Spanish Bandini family, which had build
the rambling Guajome (Place of the Frogs)
ranch house, best surviving example of a
hacienda home from the days of the dons.
The house was given to his wife as a wedding
present from her father. This Guajome ranch
house plainly tells the story of colonial life.
With its own saddle and blacksmith shops,
shearing shed, private chapel, and outdoor
oven that can bake 100 loaves at once, this
house also has a semitropical patio choked
with fruits and flowers, and musical with
Built for Indian defense, its thick adobe
walls have high "airholes" instead of windows,
and its ancient tiles were made long, long ago
at near-by mission San Luis Rey.
"In the great drought of 1863," said Senor
Couts, "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 rode wild horses
and shot everything from geese to mountain
"Look at the 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.
Still in use here is the first iron safe ever seen
in California. Made by hand, and locked with
a giant key, it was brought here from Peru by
Jose Bandini, once Spanish Admiral at Lima.
His son Juan founded the California Bandini
The People vs. Cave J. Couts--a chapter from
Stranger Than Fiction Vignettes of San Diego
History…by Richard W. Crawford (San Diego
Historical Society, 1995). Mr. Crawford's book
"Stranger Than Fiction" has the Couts family is
mentioned in several chapters. You can order
a copy through the San Diego Historical Society
web site or via Amazon.com.
Early Monday morning on February 6, 1865,
Cave Johnson Couts prominent rancher, judge,
and politician, from San Luis Rey, stood inside
George Tebbetts' butcher shop in Old Town.
While talking with Tebbetts he noticed a
former employee of his, Juan Mendoza,
stroll across the plaza and enter the
Minutes later, Couts watched again as
out of Franklin's and into the street.
"That man has
threatened my life on sight!" he exclaimed
as he picked
up his double-barreled shotgun and strode
out to confront
Mendoza. "Don't shoot him!" Tebbetts yelled,
but Couts raised his gun and fired.
The shot flew wide and Mendoza
ran for his life. From thirty yards away Couts
fired again and Mendoza fell, killed instantly
by a round of large shot. The shooting of
Juan Mendoza stunned the people of San
Diego. Couts was a respected man and
popular with the community's elite. But the
act of killing an unarmed man
in broad daylight, in front of several
witnesses, could not be ignored.
The local justice of the peace,
John Compton, ordered Couts jailed. By
Thursday, however, friends had posted
$15,000 bail and Couts was released.
Months passed. Finally in June, 1866,
the Grand Jury indicted Couts for murder.
In October, trial began in District Court.
Old Town San Diego in 1874
Testimony revealed what many had known
all along: Mendoza was no innocent victim.
Weeks before the shooting he had been
dismissed by Couts after a dispute over
wages. Afterwards, Mendoza swore
publicly that he would kill the rancher at the first
opportunity. Mendoza's past deeds
suggested that the threat was not an idle one.
Forty-six years old at the time of his death,
Mendoza had led a violent career, mostly in his
native Mexico. As the corrupt alcalde of a mining
district in Baja California, he was infamous for
extorting money from the population--"particularly
Americans". Later, as the leader of a band of
revolutioniaries, he allegedly murdered nearly a
dozen people after robbing them of goods and
When it became too hot for Mendoza below the
border he came to San Diego, where his wife,
"an estimable and useful woman," found
employment with Mrs. Couts at Rancho Guajome.
Mendoza was hired as Couts' mayordomo. Trial
witness Eugenio Morillo, a long-time acquaintance
of Mendoza, recalled that he was a violent man
with "the face of an assassin." When asked
Mendoza was the kind of man to carry out a
murder threat, Morillo replied: "he was,
certainly, he would be apt to get you before
you got him."
Based upon the testimony of Mendoza's
character and probable intentions, the jury
accepted the shooting as a pre-emptive act
of self-defense. Newspaper reporter Rufus
K. Porter recounted the trial's outcome in
correspondence to the San Francisco Bulletin:
The General [Volney E. Howard] made a very
eloquent appeal to the jury, and reviewed
the testimony very ably. The discharge of
Col. Couts was received with much applause
and the verdict of "not guilty" pronounced righteous.
DEATH OF COL. CAVE COUTS a Clarksville, TN Newspaper
Died, in San Louis Rey, Cal. on the evening of June 10th,
1874, Col. Cave J. Couts, in the 53rd year of his age. Mr.
Couts was the brother of our esteemed townsman, John
F. Couts. We copy the following biographical sketch from
a California paper:
"Colonel Cave Johnson Couts was born in Springfield
Tennessee, in the year 1821. He sprung from one of the
oldest and must respected families of the South. he was
a nephew of Cave Johnson Postmaster General under
President Polk's Administration. Col. Couts graduated
at West Point Military Academy in the class of 1841.
Among his classmates were General grant, General
Alexander and others who have since distinguished
themselves in the United States army. After leaving
West Point Lieut. Couts was assigned to the famous
old Second Dragoons, which at that time and up to
the time of the breaking out of the civil war was considered
the model regiment of the army. His first duty in the
service was at Fort Jessup, and net we hear of his taking
an active part in the Mexican war. As soon as the
difficulty with Mexico was settled, he was assigned to
command an escort detachment to the United States
Boundary Commission. Most of the members of the
Commission arrived here via the Isthmus, but Lieut.
Couts' command marched overland, arriving on this
Coast in 1848. he was then stationed respectively at
Los Angeles, San Luis Rey and San Diego. He obtained
the title of Colonel by reason of holing a commission,
with rank of Lieutenant Colonel, on the staff of the First
Brigade, California Militia, in 1856. Whilst stationed at
Oldtown he me and wooed Ysidora, daughter of Don
Jose Bandini. Shortly after his marriage to this lady he
resigned his commission and located at Guajome in this
county, where he at once commenced building his house.
colonel Couts, with his young bride, devoted his time and
energy to the improvement of their new home, and to-day
it is perhaps the most beautiful country seat in Southern
California, certainly in San Diego county, surrounded with
its orange groves and other varieties of semi-tropical trees.
About six months ago it was discovered that he was
suffering from aneurysm of the aorta and enlargement of
the heart, which disease steadily progressed until his recent
return from San Francisco when the tumor rapidly increased,
and for the past week he has been suffering fearfully from
congestion of the lungs which reduced his strength up to
the moment of his death. For the past few weeks he had
been fully aware of his condition, and knew he could not
survive long, but he bore his sufferings with the courage
of a soldier, and breathed his last with calmness and
Colonel Couts was a man possessed of all the
traits of character which go to makeup the gentleman
of the old school; True, he was impulsive but his
extreme generosity and unbounded hospitality
balanced that to more insignificance.
He was quick to resent an offense and would as
quickly forgive an enemy. No one entitled to the
slightest consideration, ever passed Guajome
without, being solicited to partake of the royal
hospitality of his mansion. He leaves a widow and
eight children, and a large circle of friends, who loved him
dearly, to mourn his early demise."
1 John (Franklin???) Couts,
+wife Leah Stark
2 William H. (Henry) Couts,
+wife Nancy Johnson
3 Cave Johnson Sr. Couts
4 Abel Stearns Couts
4 Maria Antonia Couts
5 Arcadia Bandini Scott
+John Jerome Brennan
6  Marta Antonia Brennan
+Alfred Bandini Johnson Sr.
7  Alfred Scott Bandini Johnson Jr.
7 Carlita Maria Johnson
*2nd Husband of  Marta Antonia Brennan:
+William Fleming McLaren
7  Alfred Scott Bandini Johnson Jr.
7 William F. Jr. McLaren
6 John Jerome Brennan
4 William Bandini Couts
4 Cave Johnson Jr. Couts
4 Nancy Dolores Couts
4  Ysidora Forster Couts
+George Judge Fuller
*2nd Husband of  Ysidora Forster Couts:
4 Elena Helen Couts
4 Robert Lee Couts
+Sue V. Thompson
4 John Forster Couts
+Susan Martin Gurnett
4 Maria Carolina "Caroline" Couts
+John Bandini Winston
3 William "Willie" Blount Johnson Couts
+Maria Refugia Concepcion Arguello
4 Catherine Johnson Couts
+Josiah Elmer Shaffer
5 Louis H. (Wylie) Shaffer Shaffer
5 Maria Delia Shaffer
5  Maria Antonia Eugenia Shaffer
*2nd Husband of  Maria Antonia Eugenia Shaffer:
+John H. Harrigan
4 Albert Henry Couts
+Lydia Ida Citerly
4 George Allan Couts
+Adela Francisca Arguello
4 James Couts
4 Charles Thomas Couts
+Charlotte Marie Patterson
4 Thomas Henry Couts
4 William Bandini Couts
4 Cave Couts
4 Maria Antonia Couts
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