(From a hitherto unpublished manuscript of the late Herbert C. Hensley)
First published in the San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, April 1964, Volume 10, Number 3
Probably the most exciting sporting event witnessed in San Diego in the eighties was the famous Jaguarina-Weidermann broadsword contest, held at the Pacific Beach race-track at the foot of Rose Canyon, on Sunday, October 28, 1888. The fight was divided into eleven rounds (called "attacks") of three minutes each and at the close the woman was declared the winner by the score of six to five.
As this result showed, it was a pretty close thing and had the fight gone on, (as the crowd vociferously but unsuccessfully demanded), it might have ended differently, for Weidermann was almost a giant in size and an all-round gymnast, besides being a master of both sword and foil. At this time he was physical director of the German-American Turnverein as well as of the College of Letters at Pacific Beach; this latter was an early-day academy or college, originally built and which occupied the old structure which later became the main building of the Brown Military Academy.
It is evident that Jaguarina must have been a remarkable lady. Born in the United States, of an English father and a Spanish mother, she had spent most of her life in Europe and for the last eight years had been almost constantly engaged in sword-contests in America and abroad, being uniformly successful. Not long before the meeting with Weidermann she had bested the champion of the United States army, Sergeant Owen Davis, and also another notable representative of that army, Duncan C. Ross.
Of late years she had resided in Mexico, between bouts, and at this time was living near Ensenada. When the meeting with Professor Weidermann was arranged, Jaguarina made the trip to San Diego on horseback by way of conditioning her charger, Muchacho, for the coming fray. In San Diego, she bought another big horse and proceeded to train him, just in case anything happened to Muchacho.
Jaguarina (I never heard her family or given name) (EN1) was an exceedingly fine-looking woman with dark hair and eyes but very fair complexion. I often saw her, from the window of James Harris' bookbinding shop in the old Tremont building where I worked, strolling composedly along Third Street, She dressed quietly, though richly, but such was her personal distinction that she could not but attract attention.
I did not attend that battle. In the first place, it was on Sunday, which settled the matter at the start, and besides, I hadn't the price of railroad fare plus admission, anyway. But, by all reports, the crowd got its full money's worth. There were around seven thousand persons present.
The contestants had their "corners" at opposite sides of the enclosure, and at the word rushed upon each other like knights of old. On their big horses, with flashing swords and breastplates, it must have been a thrilling spectacle. Jaguarina, though a large and powerful woman, looking, in her street clothes, what you would call a "stylish stout," was much the smaller. But she made up for that by a tremendous vigor and impetuosity. She constantly forced the fighting, thundering out of her corner and across the field, to meet the captain almost before he was out of his. She wore a French army officer's cuirass, of copper and brass, which blazed in the sunshine, as she came tearing across the lists.
Of course, both contestants were masked and helmeted, and besides their breastplates, had their sword-arms well padded. But at that, what with the rearing and pawing and snorting of their chargers and the ringing whacks of those sure-enough swords, and the referee and seconds (also mounted) swooping about, it was a gallant sight.
Captain Weidermann may not have heard of the great reputation of his fair antagonist, for when the contest was proposed he voiced a reluctance to engage in such a rough bout with a woman. And that idea, of chivalry, (though I imagine it did not last long after the first clash of arms), might possibly have had some little effect on his performance at the start of the mill.
The contest was marked, almost throughout, by good feeling; and altogether so on the part of the principals, except that there was one fiery argument joined in by contestants, referee and seconds, resulting in the change of referee, which so scared Captain Weidermann's second that he dove into the crowd and remained there, perdu, during the balance of the tournament. A Captain Heilbron quickly took his place.
Jaguarina remained some time in San Diego. She was talented in other ways than with the sword, and a couple of weeks later took part in an entertainment given by the Turnverein, at Leach's Opera House on D Street, when she sang and posed in classic living pictures. She and Weidermann also appeared in another contest, this time with foils.
At fencing she showed even greater superiority, winning by a larger margin of points than with the broadsword. These bouts made a great hit and an attempt was made later to bring the two together for a third meeting. But the captain declined. Probably he thought that enough was plenty. Could it have been a rough-and-tumble fight with no holds barred, or a melee with clubs or battle-axes, his chances of victory might have been better; but as it was, apparently the lady was just too fast for him.
EN1 - According to researcher Lynne Emery:
Born Ella Hattan in 1864, at a young age Jaguarina or Ella joined a touring stock company as an actress. Adding fencing to her repertoire, her first public fight was in Chicago in 1884.
Trained in the arts of the sword, Jaguarina was equally adept with a knife, rapier, foil, saber, and broad sword. During her sojourn to the West Coast, she had many fights on foot with rapiers but it was her prowess in mounted broad sword combat, which attracted the greatest audiences. While her original trip west was to challenge the noted swordsman Duncan C. Ross, he refused to meet her and her first mounted combat was against Captain J. H. Marshall on July 4, 1886, in San Francisco. Victorious against Marshall, she was again scheduled to meet him but in their second contest she was beaten, 11 to 9 attacks.
Billed as the "Champion Amazon of the World," the "Queen of the Sword," and the "Ideal Amazon of the Age," Jaguarina lived up to her publicity as she had countless contests of arms throughout the United States from 1884 to 1900. Her fame preceded her arrival in California and from 1886 to 1889, she enhanced her reputation and became one of the foremost athletes in the state.