The San Diego Union called it the largest gathering of people ever got together in the district of San Diego. An estimated 7000 people, which would have been more than a quarter of the city’s population at the time, came to the Pacific Beach Driving Park on People’s Day, Sunday, October 28, 1888, to watch an event billed as ‘Sword Combat on Horseback—Jaguarina vs. Capt. Wiedemann’. Admission was 50 cents, grandstand 25 cents extra, or $1 for a round trip railroad ticket, admission to grounds and grandstand. Special excursion trains ran on the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railroad every hour until noon and every half-hour afterwards.
The driving park was a racetrack built in 1887 in the space north of Mission Bay, east of Rose Creek, and west and south of the railroad right-of-way over what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet Avenue. The grandstand and a clubhouse were located about where Figueroa Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue intersect today. People’s Day, and a Ladies’ Day held the day before, were ‘two great extra days’ at the close of a ‘four days of first class racing’ in its first fall race meeting.
Sword combat on horseback, in which the contestants used regulation cavalry sabers and wore metal helmets and armor, had become popular in the mid-1880s in San Francisco. Among the best-known contestants were Duncan C. Ross, the ‘Champion of the World’, and Sgt. Owen Davies (or Davis), a cavalryman stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and said to be the best swordsman in the army. They crossed swords at Woodward’s Gardens, an early San Francisco amusement park, on September 27, 1885.
Jaguarina was a skilled swordswoman and rider who joined in this sport and became famous for consistently beating her male opponents. Then known as Jaguarine, she defeated Sgt. Davies in February 1887 and also won a contest against a Capt. J. H. Marshall. Although Duncan Ross himself refused to fight a woman, the ‘famous horsewoman and sword-wielder’ defeated Capt. E. N. Jennings, formerly of Her Majesty’s Eighth Royal Hussars and considered the best all-round master-at-arms in America, who had beaten Ross.
The ‘world renowned champion Amazon’ could also attract a crowd to a theater. In July 1887 she joined a company of other entertainers, including the ‘original and only and inimitable’ illusionist Macalister and Queen of Song Miss Annie Ainsworth, in a show at Louis’ Opera House in San Diego. Later in 1887 she moved to Ensenada, about 80 miles south of San Diego in Mexico, from where she became a frequent visitor to San Diego. In September 1887 the Union reported that she offered the use of her helmet to a girl who was dressing up as Minerva on a float representing the California state seal for an Admission Day parade.
In August 1888 Jaguarina received a challenge from a gentleman residing in San Diego who was claimed to be a first-class swordsman, having received his training in the military schools and service in Europe. According to the Union, she expressed herself not only willing but anxious to meet him, but only if his challenge was accompanied by the usual ‘forfeit’ or deposit; ‘she does not propose to go to the trouble and expense of training unless there is enough money at stake to make it worth while’.
The gentleman in question was Conrad Wiedemann, a native of Bavaria who had come to America seventeen years earlier after receiving a thorough training in ‘fencing and all the branches’ under Colonel Wicowski of the Russian army. He had recently been appointed a professor of physical culture at the San Diego Business College, a commercial college founded in 1887 dedicated to enabling young ladies and gentlemen to successfully compete in business pursuits (he was not associated with the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach, which had just opened in the previous month). The Union reported that Professor Wiedemann, the ‘magnificently developed athlete who presides over the gymnastic exercises of the Turn Verein in this city’, was the unacknowledged challenger who had thrown down the gauntlet to the renowned Jaguarine, and that while no definite arrangements had been made it was no longer a matter of doubt the two would come together (the Turn Verein was a gymnastic society popular with the German immigrant population). The ‘muscular German’ was said to weigh 185 pounds, have a chest measurement of 43 inches and biceps measuring 15 inches (although Jaguarina may have outweighed him; she told an interviewer for the New York Times in 1897 that she weighed 197 pounds, with muscles evenly developed all over the body).
Apparently Wiedemann did provide the usual forfeit and in early October the Union announced that the forthcoming race meeting and athletic tournament during the last week of the present month at Pacific Beach would conclude with what would ‘doubtless prove the most attractive display of athleticism ever witnessed in this section of the country’, the sword combats between Prof. Wiedemann and Jaguarine. A few days later the Union raised expectations even further by claiming that some who had seen these tests of skill and courage class them ‘among the most exciting scenes ever witnessed’ and that these brilliant exhibitions of skill with an equally interesting display of horsemanship ‘must indeed be one of the sights of a lifetime’.
The Union had reported that Jaguarine would be riding her favorite steed from Ensenada to San Diego, a trip that would take about two days, and on October 13, 1888, announced that the Queen of the Sword had arrived from Old Mexico and registered at the Tremont House. She was neatly attired in a plain black dress and at her neck a Turkish crescent broach, in which a diamond sparkled, was her only piece of jewelry. Her room was scattered with stilettos, rapiers, broadswords and other weapons, and an English mastiff and a Danish boarhound were sleeping quietly at the feet of the strong woman. A few days later the City Guard Band serenaded the famous swordswoman at the Tremont and a large number of persons were attracted to the spot and many were the good wishes expressed for the lady’s success in her coming broadsword combat with Captain Wiedemann. She also sat for two different paintings and declined a request for a third.
The fall race meeting at the Pacific Beach Driving Park began on Tuesday, October 23, and ended on Friday. Saturday was Ladies’ Day, featuring bicycle and pony races which the ‘fair ones’ watched with the liveliest interest. Jaguarina was also in attendance and viewed the proceedings from the judges stand. Sunday, October 28, 1888, was People’s Day, and thousands of the admirers of Jaguarina went out to see the great swordswoman ‘measure blades with her skillful antagonist’, while the stalwart Captain Wiedemann, of many battles, ‘attracted a legion of representatives of the far-off Teutonic fatherland’. The crowd first watched a series of footraces and a blindfold wheelbarrow race before a recess was taken at noon for luncheon, served in excellent style in the clubhouse. After lunch there were a couple of quarter-mile horse-races before the ‘event of the day’, the mounted sword combat between Captain Wiedemann and Jaguarina; ‘A rush was made to every vantage point, and crowds of the spectators swarmed upon the track, in order that a good view of the combat could be obtained’.
The contest was to consist of eleven rounds, called ‘attacks’, of three minutes each unless a point was scored first (‘A point is a fair cut on head or body above the waist’), with a one-minute rest between attacks. The contestants each had a second, also mounted, who was supposed to claim a point when their principal landed a blow on their opponent. The referee would then decide whether to allow the point.
Wiedemann rode into the arena first wearing blue military trousers, steel breast and back plates, and a regulation broadsword mask, and armed with a German rapier. Jaguarina followed a few minutes later dressed in fawn-colored knee breeches, top boots and a white flannel shirt. The Union reported that she was cheered heartily as she rode bareheaded in front of the grand stand, the picture of health and wearing an air of supreme confidence. She donned her fine French military cuirasse, a breastplate of brass and copper, ‘which still bears deep indentations, as marks of respect from Captains Davis, Jennings and Marshal, received in former contests’. The combatants then made their customary salutations to each other, the judges, the referee and the audience, before retiring to their respective corners.
The vast crowd was now on the tiptoe of expectation, and, without delay, the tones of the trumpet sounded the signal to the first attack. Both plied their spurs and met in the center of the field at a gallop and lost no time in crossing arms, Jaguarina taking the initiative with a high carte cut, which was skillfully parried by her opponent, who attempted a return, which was again neatly stopped by a return parry and quickly followed by a prime cut, which was effective and brought home a resounding whack. This, the first point, was claimed and allowed for Jaguarina.
The Union continued with a blow-by-blow account of the battle. The second attack involved considerable fencing before Jaguarina ‘essayed to force the fighting’ and reached short, leaving herself unprotected. Before she could return on guard, the Captain availed himself of the advantage and scored a point, which was allowed. In the third attack, both horses acted badly but Wiedemann’s recovered more promptly allowing him to deal a succession of rapid cuts. Jaguarina’s friends claimed these were all parried but the Captain’s judge claimed a point, which the referee allowed. In the fourth attack, there was considerable fencing, much bad behavior on the part of the horses, and much excitement amongst the spectators, but no point was scored. No point was scored in the fifth attack either, despite ‘some animated discussion between the judges and the referee, in which the multitude commenced to participate’.
The Union report continued:
When the charge was made in the sixth attack it was evident that Jaguarina’s blood was up, and that she was determined to force the fighting. She circled around her opponent rapidly and attacked him fiercely front and rear. Jaguarina drove her opponent to his corner, his horse backing, rearing and plunging. Jaguarina now made a hot assault and scored a point which was allowed.
During the seventh attack the excitement commenced to run high. The vast multitude being on their feet, and it was no longer possible to exercise any control over those who found points of vantage from which to obtain a full view of the contest. There was good, sharp, quick fighting on both sides, well-meant cuts and skillful parries. There was the ring of the clash of weapons on the armor, and the contestants parted to their respective corners.
Both seconds claimed a point, but the referee ‘not being in a position nor sharp enough to see the point’ awarded it to the Captain.
This raised a howl of indignation on the part of the throng, and Sergeant Roos, Wiedemann’s second, evidently fearing some danger to himself, ungracefully slid off his steed and ‘was hustled back among the populace’.
A replacement was found for Wiedemann’s second and the contest continued. The eighth attack was ‘short, sharp and decisive’ and the point was awarded to Jaguarina, but the ninth attack was ‘long and hot, the blood of the Teuton was up, and so was that of Jaguarina’. The contestants forced each other all over the field and ‘points were clamorously claimed on both sides’, but the referee was unable to give a decision and ordered the attack to be renewed. Jaguarina drove the Captain to his corner and ‘after much clashing of steel, the combatants were seen to come apart and Jaguarina and her second galloped gaily to her corner’. When the referee awarded the point to Wiedemann the cheering by his partisans was ‘drowned in a general outburst on the part of the adherents of the fair mistress of the sword’. In response to the vigorous protest, the referee was removed and replaced by a graduate of West Point.
With the score standing at Wiedemann 4, Jaguarina 3, the judges decided that the two attacks in which no points had been scored would not count, and the contest would be extended to thirteen attacks. Wiedemann was awarded the point at the end of a melee of the tenth attack and in the eleventh Jaguarina ‘went in with a headlong rush and forced him back until his horse went on his haunches, and scored a ‘palpable hit’. During the twelfth attack ‘a blade was seen to flash through the air and Jaguarina threw the fragments of a broken sword from her to the ground’. Another sword was put into her hand and she went on to take another point.
When on the thirteenth and last time the trumpet called the contestants to the charge, to say that there was excitement among the respective participants of the combatants would but feebly express the temper of the multitude, as the score at this time stood five to five.
This final attack ended with Wiedemann aiming a cut at Jaguarina in high carte, which she parried and, before he could protect himself, ‘the sound of Jaguarina’s blade was heard on his cuirasse from a vigorous and unmistakable cut in carte’ which ended the contest with a score of six to five in favor of Jaguarina.
The victor at once doffed her helmet and cuirasse and received round after round of applause from those present, many of her more enthusiastic friends throwing their caps high in the air. After a gallop round the track with her second, Jaguarina returned to her dressing room receiving the congratulations of her friends en route.
Captain Wiedemann was gracious in defeat, telling a Union reporter that he had no complaints to make whatever in regard to the treatment he had received at the hands of the judges. He was lavish in his praises of the ability of Jaguarina, declaring that she was the quickest sword handler, with only one exception, he had ever met.
One aspect of the contest which did come under criticism was ‘bad behavior on the part of the horses’. Accordingly, an effort was made by a number of citizens to arrange another sword contest between Jaguarina and Wiedemann, to take place on foot. An event was scheduled for the D Street Theater on November 11 which would include a novel, ultra-fashionable European scene, the Salle d’Armes, in which Jaguarina would be brought together with Captain Wiedemann in an assault-at-arms ‘unhampered by refractory and unwilling horses’. As a bonus, Jaguarina would also produce her classical art groupings, tableaux vivantes, living representations of classical works of art. The Union expected it to be one of the events of the year, and although Jaguarina, the people’s favorite, had so many admirers, Captain Wiedemann also had many friends who were confident in his powers to turn the tables on his opponent.
The event, on Monday, November 12, 1888, began with a ‘flag march’ by the juvenile pupils of Captain Wiedemann, a vocal solo by Jaguarina (‘The Gems of Tyrol’), which showed that she had an excellent voice, and a gymnastic exhibition in which the Turn Verein showed muscle and skill on the parallel bars. Jaguarina again appeared in the classic art pictures, described as ‘more than interesting’, closing with a representation of ‘Diana in the Chase’. The main event of the evening, the sword contest between Jaguarina and Captain Wiedemann, was exciting and realistic and again won by Jaguarina by 6 points to 4 and ‘showed that the famous swordwoman was altogether too quick for the redoubtable Captain, able though he is’.
Jaguarina returned to Ensenada but was still occasionally seen in San Diego, particularly in theaters. In April 1889 she attended a performance of The King’s Fool by the Conried Opera Company in which one of the best parts of the entertainment was the exhibition given by the Vienneses lady fencers. Miss Jaguarina was a most interesting spectator of the opera and of the fencing exhibition, and showed her hearty appreciation by her applause. After the play she paid a visit to the lady fencers and extended her compliments and congratulations.
Both Jaguarina and Wiedemann also appeared again in sword combats on horseback, although not against each other. Jaguarina met Baron Arno von Feilitzsch, said to be a captain in the Imperial Guards of Germany, at the Pantheon in Los Angeles in April 1889. Two months later, in June, Wiedemann also met the baron at the Pantheon. According to the Union, Wiedemann proved too much for the late opponent of Jaguarina, and won eight attacks out of eleven. Jaguarina acted as referee.
In November 1889 she was back at a theater in San Diego, this time on stage. The Union reported that Mlle Jaguarina, the well-known swordswoman, actress, singer, beauty and accomplished woman generally, would appear as the Fairy Queen in the Humpty-Dumpty Company at Louis’ Opera House. ‘Jaguarina is possessed of unquestioned histrionic ability and is further qualified for the role she will assume by a faultless figure, perfect in all its dimensions, and endowed with all the grace and fascination which even the queen of the fairies should possess’. After the performance, the Union reported that Mlle Jaguarina’s well-developed, rounded figure in the scanty costume of the Fairy Queen called forth great admiration.
Jaguarina left Ensenada shortly afterwards and continued her acting and fencing career, including exhibitions of mounted combat, in eastern cities. In February 1893 the Union reported that the champion female swordswoman who has met every swordsman of prominence in America and Europe was a cast member in a spectacular play, ‘The Spider and The Fly’, which was touring the west coast and would be performed at Fisher’s Opera House. However, the play was delayed and apparently never produced in San Diego. When she retired from fencing around the turn of the twentieth century she continued acting under her real name, which was Ella Hattan.
The Pacific Beach Driving Park, located on the flood-plain of Rose Creek, was largely washed away by December storms in 1889 and never fully restored. The site was occasionally used for baseball games and other spectacles such as balloon ascents and parachute drops by men, women and monkeys over the next few years. In 1903 it was sold to A. G. Spalding, the sporting goods magnate and resident of Point Loma, who briefly established a saddle-horse breeding facility on the site. The property was subdivided as Mission Bay Park in 1906 and in 1907 the railroad to Pacific Beach and La Jolla, which had originally circled around the race track, was realigned to cut through what remained of the track along what today is Grand Avenue. The clubhouse became Ye Olde Mission Inn, a ‘picturesque country resort’, but the inn burned down in November 1908. The San Diego Sun reported in 1931 that the ruins of the grandstand and stables were still to be found, almost hidden in the brush, and the judges stand was saved and incorporated into the Rancho 101 Motel that remained on the site until 1968. Today there is nothing left to mark the location where Jaguarina and Capt. Wiedemann thrilled thousands of San Diegans in 1888 with one of the most exciting scenes ever witnessed.