People, Places and Things

The (805) to the (808)

While every proud Santa Barbaran knows that our town is full of a lot of firsts, (the first Egg Mc Muffin, the first Sambo’s, the first hydraulic brakes (whatt???), the first taste of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, the first Decker’s flip flops…) many people are probably unaware that our community also produced the first (and to date only) Hispanic Governor of American California. His name was Romualdo Pacheco. This is his official State portrait.

Born Jose Antonio Romualdo Pacheco Jr. on October 31, 1831, most likely at the Santa Barbara Presidio, he was the second son of Captain Jose Antonio Romualdo Pacheco and Maria Ramona Carrillo de Pacheco. During the years that Romualdo’s father was engaged as an aide to the California Governor, and following his untimely death (when Romualdo Jr. was only five weeks old) Romualdo, his mother and brother lived together in Santa Barbara. It’s likely they lived initially at the the Presidio, and later moved in by the de la Guerra family at the de la Guerra adobe, as de la Guerra’s wife was a Carrillo.

Romualdo’s mother, Maria “Ramona” Carrillo de Pacheco came from a long line of early California settlers. Born in 1812 to Joaquin Victor Carrillo and Maria Ygnacia Lopez de Carrillo, her mother was one of the few women grantees of a Spanish land grant, having received the large grant of Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa. Also of interest is the fact that Ramona’s maternal grandmother, having been described as a “mulatta”, arrived in California in 1775 with the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition.

Romualdo’s father, Romualdo Sr. was born in Mexico and came to California as a soldier in 1825. He was appointed an aide to Gov. Jose Echeandia, and later to the very unpopular Gov. Manuel Victoria. Married and with a 1-year old son and a 5-week old son, Captain Pacheco was killed in a standoff near Los Angeles that has been described by some as a battle. These are a few of the facts of the Battle of Cahuenga Pass, as we know them.

In early December, 1831, a small group of men, made up of the more wealthy citizens of Alta California, got together and petitioned Governor Victoria, requesting immediate reforms. Victoria did not appreciate the mens’ requests, and called two of them “traitors” (Jose Antonio Carrillo and Abel Stearns). For their outspokenness Victoria decreed that the two men should be executed; but he “stayed” his execution orders and instead had the two men banished from Alta California. The two men and their supporters went to Jose Maria de Echeandia, the previous Governor, and suggested that Governor Victoria’s days were numbered. They promised to back Echeandia and built up a small army, with which they planned to march into Los Angeles and capture the town. Before they could effect their plan, Governor Victoria caught wind of the upstart army and gathered a few of own his men, including Romualdo Pacheco, to confront them on their way into Los Angeles.

On December 5, 1831, at Cahuenga Pass, Governor Victoria and his men met the rebel army. The armies – with brothers, sons, uncles, nephews, and friends on opposing sides – appeared to be posturing more than anything else. By all accounts, it seemed inconceivable that they would harm each other, let alone kill each other.

Victoria’s army was less than half the size of his enemy’s army, but he was undaunted by the challenge and ordered his men to shoot. They did so – more or less – firing harmless shots over the heads of their “enemies”. The rebels returned fire, also over the heads of their “enemies”. It’s reported that at some point, the two opposing forces stood staring at each other, wondering what to do.

The battle may well have ended there, but for Captain Jose Antonio Romualdo Pacheco’ misunderstanding of Victoria’s initial order to shoot; he thought the order was to charge the enemy on horseback, which he did. He was armed with a lance and when he discovered he was the only one charging the enemy, he halted his horse between the two armies. Jose Maria Avila, of the rebel army, who was also on horseback and armed with a lance, took offense. He and went out to meet Pacheco, for some man-to-man combat.

The two fighters were reportedly well matched, and the men from both armies relaxed to enjoy the show. It couldn’t have been scripted better – Pacheco was astride a black horse and Avila’s horse was white.

The two combatants charged each other three times, and each time they managed to evade each other’s lance. On the fourth pass, Pacheco struck Avila’s lance from Avila’s hands, and it fell to the ground. Upon dropping his lance, Avila reportedly drew his pistol and shot Pacheco, killing him instantly. As retaliation, Victoria drew his pistol and shot Avila to death.

Captain Portilla of the rebel army felt that Victoria’s shooting of Avila was unsportsmanlike and charged Governor Victoria, putting his lance through Victoria’s face. While he did not kill him, Avila did permanently disfigure Governor Victoria, causing him to “lose face” and ultimately resign his Governorship of Alta California. The previous governor, Echeandia, took over the position, which he held until Jose Figueroa took it on January 14, 1833. As for the two soldiers who lost their lives at the Battle of Cahuenga, Pacheco and Avila were buried side by side at the cemetery in Los Angeles.

Left a widow, the very lovely Ramona remained living in Santa Barbara at the de la Guerra’s casa grande. on November 9, 1835 she married a Scottish sea captain, John Downes Wilson at the Santa Barbara Mission. Together, the family took up residence at another local adobe, the Hill-Carrillo Adobe on Carrillo Street.

When young Romualdo was just seven years old, he was sent to school in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he remained for five years. There he attended the Oahu Charity School, which was run by the Rev. Andrew Johnstone, a fellow Scotsman and acquaintance of Pacheco’s stepfather, John Wilson. We must digress momentarily to give you a little history of this fascinating and nearly forgotten school prior to, during and after Romualdo’s attendance there.

In 1831 Andrew Johnstone (a Chaplain to seamen in Honolulu), and his wife Rebecca, started the Oahu Charity School. It actually happened quite by accident, after Johnstone had become an informal teachers to several of the foreign boys in town. As the story goes, shortly after the Johnstone’s arrival in Honolulu, a boy visited their home. Seeing the library owned by the Johnstones, the lad commented that his father’s merchant ship, the William Little, has the same set of books, given to him by the same church the Johnstones had belonged to back in Scotland. The boy, eager to have a teacher for his friend, returned to the Johnstone home the following day bringing with him another child who was also about twelve years old. Soon, Mr. Johnstone had established a schedule of instruction and several of the children of immigrants began arriving at the Johnstone home to attend lessons.

Between 1831 and 1832 Andrew Johnstone continued teaching children, (exclusively in English) at his home. His students were primarily mixed race and foreign children, who had no other opportunity for a formal education. In Hawaii at that time, separate schools existed for Hawaiians and for the Caucasian children of missionaries, however there were no schools for foreigners or for children of mixed ancestry. Many immigrant residents, as well as the Hawaiian mothers of mixed race children, appreciated the availability of this education and more students began attending classes. Soon, there became an obvious need for a proper schoolhouse. Members of the foreign community began raising money. Among other contributions, a significant donation was made by the officers and seamen of the American warship, the USS Potomac, which had been visiting the Hawaiian Islands at that time.

By the Fall of 1832, the $2,000 required to build a schoolhouse had been raised through private donations. The King granted a lot on which the school could be built, as long as the school agreed to paid for it at a future date. The board of trustees of the Oahu Charity School was elected. It included John C. Jones, U.S. Counsel.

The school was built on a lane that ran between King Street and Queen Street, near the center of town. In January, 1833 the school was officially dedicated, and a procession, including female chiefs was made from one of the trustee’s homes to the school. The King attended the ceremony at the school, and a bell was presented (and paid for) by John C. Jones, the U.S. Counsel. At the time of the dedication, there were 35 students, both male and female, enrolled at the Oahu Charity School . This drawing shows the school as it appeared, probably in the 1830’s.

We found this photo in the Hawaiian Journal of History. It was taken from the tower of the nearby Kawaiahao Church, in 1853 or 1854. When we asked church officials permission to go into the tower to take a similar present day photo, our request was politely denied. When we made a similar request of the Mayor of Honolulu, we told that due to security and safety we could not ascend the tower of Honolulu Hale, but that a staffer would shoot our photo for us. The modern photo was taken from the tower at the city hall, which is across the street from Kawaiahao Church, and kitty-corner to the location of the where the school once stood.


(Photo Credit: Honolulu Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts)

In 1835, three years before Romualdo Pacheco was sent to the Oahu Charity School, Andrew Johnstone broke away from the Sandwich Island Mission. Although his school had always operated completely independently from the mission, Johnstone’s break made clear to everyone that the Oahu Charity School was not in any way associated with the missionaries. The sole authority over the school was the Johnstones and the school trustees, who were comprised largely of foreign businessmen and politicians. The Oahu Charity School, the first of its kind, set a curriculum teaching a variety of nondenominational classes, wholly in English to caucasian and mixed-ancestry children.

In 1838, the Rev. John Diell, writing for the Honolulu Spectator wrote:

“It was seen and and felt that these children [half Hawaiian, half foreign] had been neglected; and that something could be done for them; that instead of being left to roam the streets with no useful object of life before their minds, they might, with proper exertions, be brought under the influence of instruction, and be made blessings to the community”.

During the years that Romualdo Pacheco attended the Oahu Charity School, its good reputation and numbers steadily increased. Students were arriving from the Russian settlement of Kamchatka, while others were coming from California and the other Hawaiian Islands. By 1841, the school had dormitories for the students who were either orphans or who has been sent from distant places. The curriculum was comprehensive and liberal, including classes to teach the Hawaiian language, writing, reading, mathematics, sciences, the arts and geography.

In 1842, it was reported that “nine boys from the best families in California were sent here to be educated at the Oahu Charity School” ; one of those boys being Oliver Larkin from Monterey. A year later, when Romualdo returned home, at the age of twelve, he reportedly shocked his mother by not speaking Spanish – he had forgotten it! Instead he spoke English, Hawaiian and French.

After leaving Hawaii, Romualdo returned to Santa Barbara to visit his mother, stepfather and four half-siblings, but soon left to take his place apprenticing aboard one of his stepfather’s merchant ships. By age fifteen he had become an officer on the ship, and was making frequent voyages up and down the California Coast. In July, 1846, during the U.S.-Mexican War, the ship on which Romualdo was sailing was captured by the U.S.S. Cyane, because it was seen flying the Mexican flag. Romualdo was permitted to sail into what is now San Francisco Bay, and the ship was captured and searched. Only after renouncing his Mexican citizenship, and pledging allegiance to the United States, was young Romualdo permitted to leave the harbor and return to Santa Barbara.

At the age of seventeen, Romualdo began working on his parents’ large estates, primarily in San Luis Obispo County. He was reportedly quite skilled at raising animal stock, and ranching in general.

Six years later, in 1854, Romualdo Pacheco was elected as a San Luis Obispo County judge–a post he held for four years. This marked the beginning of an illustrious 30-year career in politics. In all, Romualdo Pacheco served as California State Senator, State Treasurer, Lt. Governor, the 12th Governor of California (under American Rule) and a three-term U.S. Congressman. He was (and still is to date), the only Hispanic Governor of California under American Rule. He was also the first California Governor (under American Rule) to have been born in California before statehood and was also the first Hispanic U.S. Congressman

In 1863, a 32-year old Romualdo married 22-year old Mary McIntire, a playwright who would be the mother of his two children, Maybella and Romualdo Jr. Sadly, Romualdo died during childhood.

When he was fifty-nine years old, President Harrison appointed Romualdo Pacheco as U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Central America, a position he held from 1891 until 1893. Following that stint, Romualdo moved to San Francisco where he worked in the private sector. After retirement he moved to Oakland, where he died from kidney disease on January 23, 1899, the age of sixty-eight years old. His wife Mary, daughter Maybella, and four grandsons survived Romualdo Pacheco, as did Maybella’s husband, William Tevis.

You may be wondering why on earth we’ve devoted such lengthy investigation and explanation of the Oahu Charity School, and to some extent we do too. But truth be told, when we initially began to write this story we figured it would be a snap. We assumed that while on vacation in Honolulu, we would gather a bit of information about the historic school, weave it into our story about the first (and only) Hispanic Governor of California under American Rule, and talk about that Governor’s connection to early Santa Barbara. Instead, we found that almost everyone we spoke with in Honolulu knew nothing of the Oahu Charity School and plenty about Punahou School. We were told time and again, (by some very, credible sources), that Punahou was the first school taught in English west of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, that was even the verbatim statement made by historian Dorothy Rinconda in 1972 when application was made on behalf of Punahou School to the National Register of Historic Places.

We are 100% certain that Punahou is not everything it claims to be, and that it’s the humble Oahu Charity School that can rightfully make the claim that it was the first school taught in English west of the Rocky Mountains. It was also the first public school in Hawaii, and it was also the first Hawaiian school to accept children of mixed ancestry, and immigrant children.

Punahou was started in 1841 for the sole purpose of educating the children of missionaries. That was a whole nine years after Andrew Johnstone began teaching, and three years after Romauldo Pacheco had arrived from California to attend the Oahu Charity School. We know from contemporaneou accounts, and from several different sources, that the Oahu Charity School was a thriving, socially useful institution, educating many foreign children, including a number of Californios. And yet, we found that when we asked the average Honolulu resident about the school, we got a blank stare, a shrug of the shoulders and a “spiel” about the more celebrated Punahou School.

In researching the Punahou School we discovered that initially no mixed-race students were allowed to attend. Classes were taught in English, and the school was maintained and operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. And while it’s true that Punahou has been in operation since 1841, and that the Oahu Charity school is now gone (having morphed into schools with different names), that still doesn’t make Punahou the first school west of the Rocky Mountains to teach exclusively in English. And, the remains of the Oahu Charity School can still be traced into modern times. After 1852 the Oahu Charity School became the Town Free School, and in 1865 when co-education was banned in Hawaii it became the Mililani Girls’ School. In 1874 the school moved and became Pohukaini, a public school within the Honolulu School District.Today, it appear to have become a Kaimuki Middle School This is a photo of Kaimuki Middle School.

And here are a couple of photos taken at the really beautiful Punahou School.

Our intention is not to begrudge Punahou its due, but rather to give Andrew Johnstone, the supporters, teachers and students of the Oahu Charity School the credit they deserve for being part of a fine historical institution. At a time when “half-breeds”, “bastards” and other children who were neither Hawaiian nor caucasian were overlooked academically, Andrew Johnstone, a handfull of forward thinking men and women and a dedcated foreign community banded together to build a litttle schoolhouse that would provide a free education to those who sought it. That little schoolhouse was home to one of our own, and what he learned within it during his years in the “Sandwich Islands” most certainly had a profound effect, not only on him, but on entirethe State of California, if not the rest of the world.

Our thanks to Neal Graffy, the person to whom we turned when the facts of our story began to get a little slippery. His knowlege of Governor Pacheco’s life, along with his prompt and detailed reply to our pleas was much appreciated. For anyone interested in learnig more about the life and times of Romualdo Pacheco, Neal recommends a book entitled “Romauldo Pacheco – A Californio in Two Eras”, written by his friend, Richard Hitchman. Thanks again, Neal, you’re the best.

As always, we encourage you to go out and explore the neighborhoods, keep your eyes, ears and minds open to all that you encounter, and above all expect the unexpected.

About Peter Hartmann and Stacey Wright

We are two "fifty-something" year olds who are lifetime residents of Santa Barbara. Together, we have decided to walk each and every street within the City limits of Santa Barbara just for the fun of it. Peter is a dentist, and Stacey is a long-time County employee who helps the elderly without family to look after them. Read more

Leave a Reply