San Francisco History

Our First Families

Mrs. Kate Cousins picture
Mrs. Kate Cousins
Ellena Estudillo picture
Ellena Estudillo
Mrs. H.C. Miller picture
Mrs. H.C. Miller
Mrs. J.J. Cousin picture
Mrs. J.J. Cousin


Descendants of the Dons Who Once Owned All Alta California.

Back of “the days of old, the days of gold, the days of ‘49,’” lies a realm of romance, of legend and tradition, with the chime of angelus ringing in the vacant land and the song of herdsmen loitering in the still air. A bit of history here, a story handled down there, evidence in an occasional lingering lawsuit involving an ancient Spanish or Mexican grant—these constitute about all the busy “nickel chasers” of to-day know of the dons and senoras, the caballeros and senoritas, who owned this land before the cry of “gold” set the “gringoes” to knocking at the Golden Gate.

In society to-day the vivacious flash of dark eyes or that intonation which gives an evanescent melody to the Anglo-Saxon tongue is all that remains to suggest the welcoming portals, the open doors, and the wide hospitality of those who peopled the haciendas in our “long ago”—the “first families” of a gracious land.

Davis, in his “Sixty Years in California,” gives much insight into the lives of the people of that former day, when the herds of elk were almost as numerous as the herds of cattle, and when the sea otter in San Francisco bay were hardly less frequent than the salmon. The bits of history which he relates are strange enough to give some standing to the Indian legend that in the not so very long ago there was no “Golden Gate,” but that the bay found its outlet through the Santa Clara and Salinas valleys. The fact that the Farallones de los Frayres are known to be shifty on their bases may give scientific corroboration to the Indian tale.

But whether the rock spine was split by “drastic lift of pent volcanic fires” or yielded to the wand of some Indian Moses little concerned the people who clustered about the Presidio of Yerba Buena, or let their fat cattle roam the fat lands of their realm upon the “the world’s extreme.” Still less does the question of geological formation worry the brilliant women who now live in that land and carry the memory back to the romantic days of the guitar and the bull fight, the fandango and the baile, the contra-dance, and the lassoing of the old grizzly.

In 1838 the following were the principal families residing about the bay of San Francisco: At the Mission Dolores were Francisco de Haro, then Alcalde and married to the daughter of Don Jose Sanchez; Francisco Guerrero, afterwards Alcalde and sub-Prefect; Tiburcio Vasquez, Dona Carmen Cibrian, Candelario Valencia, Jesus Valencia and Don Jesus Noe. Don Jose Sanchez was at Buri Buri, where he had 8,000 cattle and many horses. His sons were Jose la Cruz, Francisco, Manuel, Chino and Ysidro. Captain Prado Mesa was in command at the Presidio, and resided there with his family.

At the Rancho Pinole, near Martinez, was Teniente Ygnacio Martinez and family; at San Pablo, Don Joaquin Castro, with his mother, Dona Gabriella de Castro, and his brothers, Antonio, Gabriel, Victor and Jesus Maria; at San Antonio, Ygnacio and Antonio Maria Peralta and their families; at Temescal, Don Domingo and Vicente Peralta; at the Rancho San Leandro, Don Jose Joaquin Estudillo; at the Rancho San Lorenzo, Francisco Soto and Guillermo Castro and family; at the Rancho Moraga was Don Joaquin Moraga; at the Mission San Jose, Jose Jesus Vallejo, brother of General Vallejo; at Milpitas, Don Jose Crisostimo Galindo, James Alexander Forbes, a Scotchman, who acted as British Vice-Consul, and was married to one of the Galindos, and Jose Maria Alviso; at Agua Caliente, Don Finjencio Higuera and family; at the Pueblo San Jose, Don Antonio Sunol of Spain, the Bernal families, Don Jose Maria Amador, Don Dolores Pacheco, Don Antonio Maria Pico and Don Luis Peralta, the latter nearly a hundred years old.

At Santa Clara were Dona Soledad Ortega Arguello, widow of Governor Don Luis Arguello, and owner of the Las Pulgas rancho, and Don Ygnacio Alviso. At Lachryma Montis, Sonoma, was General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, commander-in-chief of the forces of the department. He had sixteen children, many of whom are still living. These were the result of his union with Francesca Benicia Carillo, and among them were Mrs. General Frisbie and Mrs. Dr. Frisbie of Vallejo, Mrs. Arpad Haraszthy, Mrs. Attila Haraszthy, Mrs. R. Emperan of Sonoma, Mrs. James Harry Cutter of San Francisco, Dr. Platon Vallejo, Andrenico Vallejo, Ulla Vallejo and Napoleon P. Vallejo. At Sonoma was also Salvador Vallejo, brother of the General.

Nicholas Higuera lived at Napa, and so did Don Joaquin Pina and Caystano Jutrez. At Santa Rosa were Dona Maria Yynacia Lopes De Carillo, with her stately daughters, Juana and Felicidad. Dona Carillo was the grandmother of ex-Governor Romualdo Pacheco and mother-in-law of General Vallejo. At San Rafael lived Timothy Murphy, Ygnacio Pacheco and Domingo Sais. At Read's ranch resided John Read, wedded to a daughter of Don Jose Sanchez and Captain William Richardson and family owned all the land further than the eye could see about their adobe hacienda at Sausalito. His beautiful daughter, Senorita Mariana, was one of the belles of the country.

These families intermarried and the sons frequently took wives from the leading families of the South. They were of pure Castilian blood, proud and ceremonious, but splendidly courteous and hospitable. Comparatively few of their descendants now retain the wealth of their ancestors, but in beauty, bearing, courtesy and hospitality they retain all the traits of the old Dons and Donas. Among the most notable of the female descendants are those who portraits are herewith presented [see note at end of page].

Mrs. Manuel Torres, the belle Mariana, daughter of Captain Richardson, was born at the Presidio and is now sixty-seven years old. She resides with her husband who came to California in 1848 from Peru, at 1814 Steiner street. In her youth she was a famous horsewoman and rifle shot, beating the soldiers of the Presidio both at the target and in the field. Captain Richardson acted as pilot for incoming vessels, and his daughter thought nothing of rowing a boat from Sausalito to Yerba Buena even in the roughest weather. She tells many tales of the pursuit of herds of elk and of the lassoing of bears, and when nine years of age made the trip from Los Angeles to Yerba Buena on horseback in twenty two days. She says that in the '80s at the Presidio it was the custom to set fire to oak bark and bury it in ashes to preserve fire from day to day, matches being scarce. On one occasion the fire went out, and as there were no matches to be had, Mrs. Richardson and her daughter had to go three days without cooked food, until Don Pedro Castillo, Customs Inspector, happened to call and struck fire for them from a flint. Manuel Torres had a large cattle ranch at Bodega, represented Marin County in the legislature, and set up the first sawmill on the Russian River.

Captain Richardson came to California as captain of a ship in 1822 and settled at Sausalito, obtaining a grant of 19, 571 acres. He married Marie Antonia Martinez, daughter of Lieutenant Ygnacio Martinez, then Commandante at the Presidio. He built his adobe hacienda not far from the shore between what are now called New and Old Sausalito. This was burned many years ago.

Mrs. F.E. Beck, whose husband is in the Anglo-Californian Bank, is Captain Richardson's granddaughter, and has inherited the beauty and vivacity of her Spanish ancestors.

Mrs. H. Clay Miller of Sausalito and Mrs. Frank V. Bell of this city are daughters of Magdalena del Valle, a sister of Don Ygnacio del Valle of Los Angeles, owner of the great Camulos rancho, since made famous by Helen Hunt Jackson as the home of "Ramona." They are cousins of ex-Senator R. F. del Valle, the popular statesman of Southern California. Both are handsome and vivacious, excellent conversationlists and skilled in housewifery.

Dona Josefa Estrada de Abrego of Monterey is a half-sister of the late Governor Alvarado and has many of that fomous man's qualities of mind and heart. In 1842 Commodore Jones, who captured Monterey described her as one of the most beautiful and intelligent of her sex. Though seventy-eight years of age she is still noted for her charities and hospitality, and her children comfort her declining years. Her eldest daughter, now deceased, was the lovely Mrs. Joaquin Bolado, mother of Mrs. Gaston M. Ashe of this city. Her eldest son is I.M. Abrego of Oakland, and her youngest daughter Mrs. Webb of Salinas City.

Mrs. Jose Ramon Estudillo was Senorita Gumesinda Arrellanes before she married the eldest of the famous Estudillo family which owned the San Leandro rancho and laid out the town of San Leandro, for so many years the county seat of Alameda county. She is now one of the grande dames of Santa Barbara, affable, cultured and specially hospitable.

Mrs. Colonel Baker of Los Angeles was Arcadio Bandini, a member of one of the families which formed an interesting group about the Presidio of San Diego in the '80s. In addition to the Bandinis there were Governor Pio Pico, the Estudillos, the Santiago Arguellos, the Alvarados, the Marons, the Machados, the Ybarras, the Seranos, the Carillos, the Lopez and Fitch families and others of almost equal station. Mrs. Baker's first husband was Don Abel Stearns, of the great Stearns rancho, and she was famed far and wide for her great beauty. Her father, Don Juan Bandini, a native of Peru, was a man of decided ability and fine character. Colonel Baker is a man of great wealth and splendid attainments. The town of Bakersfield was named for him.

Mrs. Captain Wilcox of San Francisco was Maria Antonia Arguello, daughter of Governor Don Luis Arguello of the rancho Las Pulgas, where the fashionable suburbs Menlo Park and Belmont now are. There in the early days roamed over 4,000 head of horned cattle and 2,000 head of horses. Mrs. Wilcox is a splendid representative of a splendid family.

Marie Vallejo de Cutter, the wife of James H. Cutter, cashier of a prominent grain and shipping firm, is the youngest of the sixteen children of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, perhaps the most famous of all the early Californians. She was born at beautiful Lachryma Montis, educated at the Catholic institution at Benicia, was wedded in 1878, and is the mother of two handsome children. Of unusual beauty, even among a beautiful race, her sprightly conversation, ready repartee and charming hospitality make her one of the most popular of hostesses. She has adorned her home with paintings from her own brush, and many of her artistic ideas have been carried out at Lachryma Montis, which was left as a legacy to herself and her sister, Senora Ricardo de Emparan.

Senorita Ellena Estudillo is an excellent representative of the younger generation of the Spanish-American families. She is the daughter of Vincente Estudillo of San Luis Obispo, a brother of Jose Ramon Estudillo of San Leandro. She plays charmingly upon the guitar and during a visit to Martinez last year gave an exhibition of her skill as an equestrienne by carrying off the first prize at the Contra Costa county fair.

Mrs. George W. Davis is another grandaughter of Captain William Richardson, and inherits all the charming traits of that fine family. She is the wife of George W. Davis, who was for twelve years County Clerk of Marin County, and who now holds a responsible position with the Southern Pacific Company in this city.

Mrs. William E. Dargie was, before she married W.E. Dargie, proprietor of the Oakland Tribune, Erminia Peralta, a daughter of the great house of Peralta, which owned all the land where Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley now are. Their possesions extended to the San Leandro creek, and upon them roamed thousands upon thousands of horses, cattle and sheep. The family, unlike many others, has retained much of its wealth. Mrs. Dargie is one of the most beautiful women in the exclusive Oakland society of which she is a leader. She is a talented musician, and one of the most hospitable entertainers in the city over the bay. She is ever to the front in works of charity, and has hosts of friends and admirers among both rich and poor.

Mrs. Charles Cushing was Senorita Dolores Estudillo of the San Leandro Estudillos, a family famous for its handsome women as well as for its great possessions. It is not too much to say that she has all the peculiar charms of her people.

Mrs. Adela Vallejo de Frisbie, widow of the late Dr. Frisbie, was another daughter of General Vallejo, and in her bright conversation tells many charming tales of the days when her great father, beloved of all, gave away what are now principalities, only to die a comparatively poor man. Mrs. Frisbie was well educated, as were all the Vallejos, and her accomplishments are at once substantial and entertaining.

Mrs. Kate Cousins is a daughter of Dona Rafaela Martinez Tennent of Pinole, and is one of a family of beautiful girls. Her husband has been for many years Recorder of Contra Costa county, and he owes his popularity in a large measure to the hospitalities and kindnesses of his wife. She is an accomplished horsewoman and has taken many prizes in equestrian tournaments.

Mrs. J.J. Cousin of this city was Senorita Inez Martinez, a daughter of Don Jose Martinez, after whom the county seat of Contra Costa was named. She is a worthy daughter of the man of whom Davis wrote:

"Don Jose Martinez had the largest kind of a heart, and if any one who called at his house was in need of a horse he was never refused. The people of the surrounding country were constantly in receipt of favors at his hands. If one wanted a bullock and had not the means to pay for it the Don would send out a vaquero to lasso one and bring it in. Then it was tied to a cabestro (a steer broken for the purpose) so the man could take it home. The Don always told the needy visitor he might pay when convenient, or, if not convenient, it was no matter. So with a horse he might furnish; it did not matter whether it was returned or not. This generosity was continual and seemed to have no limit. At his death, which occurred in 1864, his funeral was attended by a vast concourse of people from all the surrounding country. They came in wagons, buggies and carriages to the number of several hundred vehicles—such was the high appreciation in which he was held by the community."

Dona Martinez, widow of this splendid example of early California manhood, is a sister of Dr. Tennent of Pinole. She is as well beloved as was her husband, and for the same qualities of mind and heart.

Mrs. Guillerma V. Noe is the charming wife of Miguel Noe, who was born in San Francisco, the son of Don Jesus Noe, who was one of the most prominent of the early grandees and owned a great tract of land about the old Mission Dolores. Mrs. Noe is a sprightly entertainer with a host of friends and admirers.

Mrs. Anita Fitch de Grant is a daughter of Captain Henry de Fitch and a neice of General Vallejo. Captain Fitch came to the Western Coast from New Hampshire in 1833. He commanded vessels plying between California and Callao, and settled at San Diego, where he married Senorita Josefa Carillo, a sister of General Vallejo's wife. Afterward Governor Micheltorena gave him the Sotoyome grant in Sonoma county, which he stocked with thousands of horses and cattle. Fitch mountain, near Healdsburg, was named after him. He died in 1848, greatly mourned. Mrs. Grant's home is at Healdsburg, where she is admired as a singer and elocutionist, as well as for her beauty and hospitality.

Those are but a few of the many women who serve as a link between the bustle of the present and the quiet pastoral times. Almost every town and city contains many equally gratious, equally lovable. Through all runs the uncalculating liberality which impoverished so many, but gave California its world wide fame as the land of the open heart and the loosened purse strings.

Among other great Californian families not here mentioned were the De la Guerres, who date back to the Moorish wars, the Avilas, the Ortegas, the Briones, the Noriegas, the Sepulvedas, the Pachecos, the Darios, the Cotas, the Jimenos, the Galindos, the Romeros, the Dominguez family, the Aguirres, the Amestis, the Albertias, the Bonillas, the Requenas and the Valdez family. Nearly all these could trace their blood back to old Spain. A few were Basques and others Catalans, but in the veins of most flowed the rich blood of Castila.

There is a romance in every family, a touch of poetry at every crumbling hacienda, and the Mission bells are musical with the sweet refrain of the past.

Mrs. G.W. Davis picture
Mrs. G.W. Davis
Mrs. W.E. Dargie picture
Mrs. W.E. Dargie
Mrs. Adela Vallejo de Frisbie picture
Mrs. Adela Vallejo de Frisbie
Mrs. Anita Fitch de Grant picture
Mrs. Anita Fitch de Grant

Source: San Francisco Examiner. 18 December 1892. 15.

Drawings included in the original article, some of which are presented herein, included those of:

Mrs. Colonel Baker, formerly Arcadio Bandini
Mrs. F.E. Beck, granddaughter of Captain Richardson
Mrs. Frank V. Bell, daughter of Magdalena del Valle
Mrs. J.J. Cousin, daughter of Don Jose Martinez
Mrs. Kate Cousins, daughter of Dona Rafaela Martinez Tennent
Mrs. Charles Cushing, formerly Dolores Estudillo
Mrs. William E. Dargie, formerly Erminia Peralta
Mrs. George W. Davis, grandaughter of Captain William Richardson
Dona Josefa Estrada de Abrego, half-sister of Governor Alvarado
Marie Vallejo de Cutter, youngest daughter of General Vallejo
Mrs. Adela Vallejo de Frisbie, daughter of General Vallejo
Mrs. Anita Fitch de Grant, daughter of Captain Henry de Fitch and niece of General Vallejo
Ellena Estudillo, daughter of Vincente Estudillo
Mrs. Jose Ramon Estudillo, formerly Gumesinda Arrellanes
Mrs. Don Jose Martinez
Mrs. H. Clay Miller, daughter of Magdalena del Valle
Mrs. Guillerma V. Noe, wife of Miguel Noe
Mrs. Manuel Torres, daughter of Captain Richardson
Mrs. Captain Wilcox, daughter of Governor Don Luis Arguello

Indian Legend: "...A curious tradition was current in regard to the bay of San Francisco, which greatly interested de Mofras, as well as myself [Davis] and others who heard it. Captain Richardson, who has been mentioned before in this narrative, had in his employ at that time an Indian by the name of Monica. He was about eighty years of age, but still active and vigorous, and was employed by Captain Richardson as boatman on the bay, in launches which were used to run between the shipping and different points to convey goods back and forth. This old Indian told Captain Richardson that the story had been handed down from his remote ancestors, that a long way back there was no Golden Gate; that between Fort Point and right across to the north it was all closed by a mountain range, and there was no access to the ocean there, but the natural outlet of the bay was through the Santa Clara valley, across the Salinas plains, to the bay of Monterey; that in a tremendous convulsion of nature the mountain barrier between the bay and the ocean was thrown down and a passage made where the Golden Gate now is. That became the entrance to the bay. In the course of time the Santa Clara valley and other land between the lower end of the bay of San Francisco and the bay of Monterey became drained and elevated..." Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-Five Years in California 1831-1906. 1929: John Howell, The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago. 54.


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