The Abartas: A Well-Known Los Angeles Family
Pedro Abarta was one of the first pioneers in Los Angeles.i According to the Los Angeles Herald, Abarta was already a well-established name when Adams Street was just a cow pasture. By that time, Abarta was the owner of a large estate, “but all that was swept away after the coming of the gringo.”ii
Pedro Abarta, known as “Pierre Abartachipy” in his hometown of Uztaritze, Lapurdi, was born in 1820 in the Chiricobeitia home to father Raimond Abartachipy and mother Marie Etcheverry. A short time before his 19th birthday, the young man headed to Cuba, then to Fresnillo, Mexico, and eventually to California. He obtained his American citizenship in 1860 under his newly modified name: Pedro Abarta.
A Different Kind of Pioneer
Pedro did not forge his career in agriculture or the cattle industry, traditional jobs for the Basque of the time. Instead, he started out in the cigar business in 1857. Later, he acquired a pool hall in Los Angeles. The press depicted Abarta as a skilled pool player. In 1856 he played against Mr. Marchesseault, who would become mayor of Los Angeles three years later. Although Pedro did not come out a winner, all the gentlemen that attended the event “were satisfied with the players’ talent display.”
Pedro Abarta’s nontraditional choices extended beyond his career: unlike most of his fellow countrymen, Mr. Abarta did not marry a Basque woman, but instead married a Mexican woman, Isabel Cabiedo Rada, “whose beauty was famed from Monterrey to San Diego.”iii She was already mother to five children when she married Abarta. The father of her first three children was Isabel’s former husband, Scottish William P. Money. (It is worth a mention that Mr. Money was no ordinary man either, as it is said that God himself exhorted him to go West, when walking along a New York street.)iv
Isabel’s fourth child, Pedro (Peter), was born in 1856 out of wedlock with father Pedro Abarta. Her husband at the time filed for divorce on grounds of adultery. By the time Mr. and Mrs. Abarta were married on December 24, 1863, her fifth child was already about five years old (Isabella, 1858.) Four more children would be born from their marriage: Lastenia, Hortensia, Valentine and Carlos/Charles.
In 1866, the same year Hortensia was born, on the other side of the globe in Ustaritz, Pedro Abarta’s mother, Marie Etcheverry, drowned to death in the Errobi stream at the age of 84. Her death is the last we know about the Abartachipy family from the records of the San Vincent Church.v
Peter Abarta Jr., One of the Best Pool Players of South California
Peter Abarta, Pedro and Isabel’s first child, became as good a pool player as his father, if not a better one. He succeeded at winning the Los Angeles representative position for the 1882 Los Angeles-San Francisco competition, although he was eventually defeated in that competition. Throngs of people crowded the pool hall of the Pico House Hotel to watch the event. The Pico House was the most luxurious hotel in town.
Peter Abarta competed for almost a decade after that, including competing in the 1891 contest for best amateur pool player of South California (Los Angeles Herald, 09-23-1891). During the 1880s, however, the Abarta name gained popularity in the City of Angels for reasons other than billiards.
Lastenia Abarta Shoots the Los Angeles Don Juan to Death
In 1881, four years after a heart attack took Pedro Abarta’s life, his last name was spoken again throughout Los Angeles. Pedro’s daughter, Lastenia Abarta, had committed murder. She fatally shot Francisco “Chico” Forster, the son of one of the largest landowners in Southern California, who at forty years old had become the city’s famous Don Juan. The press spared no details of the crime: Mr. Foster was a frequent patron of the Abarta’s pool hall. That is where he met the young and beautiful Lastenia who back then was 18 years old. As Lastenia declared during the trial, Forster was intent on seducing her and didn’t cease until he succeeded, which he did through lies and promises.vi As soon as he got what he wanted, Forster broke his promise of marrying the girl and abandoned her. Lastenia and her sister Hortensia combed the streets of Los Angeles in search of Forster. When they finally found him in a crowded downtown street, Lastenia shot a fatal bullet through Forster’s right eye.
The trial was closely followed by the press and caused asocial turmoil in the town. When Dr. Joseph Kurtz stated, “Any woman of virtue that is stripped of her honor is certainly bound to lose her mind,” clapping was heard in the room. Lastenia was finally acquitted of the charges, thanks to her lawyer’s argument that she had acted not with dishonor, but for biological reasons. Female hysteria was a topic a great relevance in the medical community at the time –it goes without saying that the vast majority were male doctors. Ultimately, the jury determined that Lastenia’s actions were the result of a menstrual madness bout.
Lastenia’s mother and sister, too, testified as witnesses. When the mother heard her younger daughter testify, on behalf of her older sister she “cried in silence.”
Isabel, the mother, died in 1886 at the age of 65. Lastenia got married in Mexico City and settled in the elegant thoroughfare Paseo de la Reforma. She was said to sing beautifully in Spanish, French and Basque.vii
Many years later, in 1905, Graciosa Abarta’s wedding announcement in the Los Angeles Herald kept the family memory alive by noting that her grandfather, Pedro Abarta, was one of the first Basques to walk the streets of Los Angeles when they were only cow pastures; and her grandmother, Isabel Cabiedo, was a famous beauty well-known from Monterrey, Mexico to San Diego, California.
i Workman, W. H. “First authentic list of Earliest Settlers – Here before 1870.” Los Angeles Herald, Vol. 33, 85., 12-25-1910.
ii “Pretty Graciosa Abarta’s wedding,” Los Angeles Herald, 08-19-1905.
iv Rasmussen, Cecilia. “To Catholics, Cultist Was Beyond Belief,” Los Angeles Times, 06-27-2004.
v “Translation of Abartachipy report from St. Vincent Church at Ustaritz.” Abarta Family Collection.
vi “The Trial of Lastenia Abarta” “The trial of Lastenia Abarta”