The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch

80 years ago, officials deported hundreds of Fullerton residents—and Orange County has tried to forget ever since

The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch

Decades later, long after federal authorities deported the last of her students, Arletta Kelly still remembered the cactus.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Kelly had worked as an Americanization teacher in the citrus camps of Orange County, tasked with schooling Mexican immigrants in the art of good citizenship. During the day, she taught women how to sew and cook American meals like casseroles and pies; at night, the Michigan native recited basic English phrases before audiences of men so that they could use them at work. She bounced across the colonias (worker colonies) of North County, from La Habra to Placentia, Anaheim to Fullerton. But Kelly eventually spent most of her time with the Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch, 6,000 rolling acres of what now constitutes the exclusive neighborhoods of northwest Fullerton—Sunny Hills, Valencia Mesa and others—and parts of Brea and La Habra, an area that to this day, with its winding roads, visible horse stables, dramatic valleys and stretches of untouched California landscape, feels rustic, beautiful and foreboding.

In 1968, Betty Schmidt with the Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) at Cal State Fullerton interviewed Kelly about her days at the Ranch—and that's when Kelly brought up the cactus. By then 70 years old, the maestra fondly recalled the Bastanchury Mexicans, who had created a society of their own far removed from the rest of Orange County. They were so grateful for Kelly's tutorship that women frequently invited her to their ramshackle homes for dinner and a bit of south-of-the-border hospitality. Kelly singled out the cooking of one woman because, as she told her interviewer, "One of the things that she served so frequently that I was fond of was what she called 'nopalitos,' which are the little tiny shoots of the cactus."

A group of women who took the ranch's Americanization classes. Morales is the cute toddler at the bottom left.
A group of women who took the ranch's Americanization classes. Morales is the cute toddler at the bottom left.

Schmidt asked from where did the unnamed Mexican woman buy the nopalitos. "There were big cactus" all around the Bastanchury territory, Kelly said. "And then when the spring came they would come up; why, when the shoots would come up, [the Mexican woman] would cut them off and peel them and slice them down and cut them up in little bits."

The rest of Kelly's interview, transcribed and available for reading at the COPH archives, is filled with similarly pastoral anecdotes, stories about riding a bicycle, about another Mexican woman who pronounced "cheese" as "Jesus," and about her role in helping orchard growers fight strikers during the 1936 Citrus War. But when Schmidt asked about the fate of her students at the Ranch, Kelly's sharp memory quickly became spotty.

"Well, I think many of them went back to Mexico because work was scarcer and some of them had accumulated a little bit of money and so I knew of quite a few families that packed up and they drove back—in old jalopies—back to Mexico—the ones I happen to know of," Kelly said. "Now, others may have gone by some other method, I don't know."

In fact, the Mexicans who lived on the Bastanchury Ranch in the early 1930s were subject to one of the largest mass deportations in Orange County history, with hundreds of them in late March of 1933—single men and families, Mexican nationals and American citizens—thrown onto trains bound for Mexico, carrying with them only the clothes on their backs and whatever belongings they could lug along. Almost overnight, a vibrant community vanished, the homes of former residents demolished, its memory bulldozed into wealthy neighborhoods, the few surviving scraps locked in university archives or in the recollections of those few families that escaped exile.

Eighty years ago this spring, officials deported hundreds of legal residents whose only crime was being Mexican during the Great Depression—and Orange County has tried to forget ever since.

The Bastanchury family is familiar to generations of Southern California residents and scholars alike, and not just because of their namesake road, which unspools through the hills of Fullerton, Brea, Placentia and Yorba Linda. The Basque clan were one of Orange County's first national celebrities, a dynasty whose patriarch, Domingo, arrived at what's now Fullerton in the 1860s and eventually acquired about 10,000 acres of desolate terrain: for decades, his house was just one of two between Anaheim and Los Angeles. Originally using his holdings as grazing lands for sheep, Domingo's four sons eventually turned the Ranch into an agriculture and livestock powerhouse: 1,500 acres devoted to black-eyed peas, 500 acres for lima beans; hundreds of acres of walnut orchards and fields that, by 1928, sold more than 50 percent of California's tomatoes; 10 acres of Berkshire hog pens; and canneries and two packing houses that boxed the Ranch's riches for sale to the rest of America. Oil money came in the form of a legal settlement, and some of the water drawn from artesian wells for irrigation was sold publicly as Bastanchury Water, a brand that existed for decades. The estate was so sprawling that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads built spurs near the packing houses, the easier to pick up the bounty, while the Pacific Electric Railway kept two stations within Ranch limits. Managers had to cut up the Ranch into sections with their own supervisors, just to handle everything properly.

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51 comments
mpetbast
mpetbast

I have to say I am a Bastanchury.  My father was Michael and Grandfather John B..  It is a very interesting article and the immigration issue is still very relevant today. Nice article on the workers which made the ranch a success.


The only item which needs further investigation is the oil portion.  I have notes and information which show that the oil rights were signed off to Standard Oil - unknowingly by the family.  


Maybe you have something else I am not aware of?

teres4u
teres4u

I own an adobe house in a part of land that is used to be from the Bastanchury Family, but is not historical. even that I found a written history in the library. 

is located in the corner of Carhart and Basque where the hill starts,between Gilbert and Euclid

spokkersan
spokkersan

This article was written just in time for my own research into my ancestry.

I found the WWI draft card of my great-grandfather (great-grandfather on my patriline). On it, his employer is listed as "Bastanchury Ranch" and his occupation is listed as laborer. As best as I can read the handwriting, his permanent address is listed as "Box 162 Gen. Delivery, Fullerton, Orange, Calif." and Gen. Delivery is crossed out. 

I don't know if he was deported or not, but I found him in the 1940 Census living in Brea, CA. According to the document, he was also living in Brea in 1935. I can see my grandfather listed as one of his children. By 1940 he was a fruit picker and made just over $800 that year. His birthplace was listed as Mexico, he had five children and a California-born wife.

Thanks for the article. I know you from your appearances on the Tom Leykis Show and immediately recognized the name on the article. I think I am going to research this some more, but I can't seem to go further than him because the record for his parents are incomplete. All I have to go on for his death certificate is his mother's last name. It shows that he died in 1989, amazingly enough. My dad confirmed the year.

pbastanchury
pbastanchury

This article ROCKED!  Thank you so much for giving such a great account of what life was REALLY like during my family's heyday on the ranch (Gaston Bastanchury was my grandfather).  Its a great purgative to offset the accounts of the time that I've received from relatives.  Bravo!

okiemex
okiemex

My mother and her side of the family are from Tepic. I had heard stories like this from my father when I was a boy. My father was born in La Habra in 1914 so he was around at the time. I used to love the smell of the sage brush and nopales and other indigenous plants in the spring after it rained. I live in Oklahoma now and miss it very much. Thanks for writing this for me to share with my children.

jl641
jl641

Illegals should be deported. They have no permission to be here.

JGlanton
JGlanton topcommenter

One of my favorite Orange County history stories of Mexicans is the story of the bandit Juan Flores and how we have a peak in Santiago Cyn named after him. His incredible bloody escape in a boat from San Quentin under a barrage of rifle and canon fire, his career of banditry in the OC area, his takeover of San Juan Capistrano, his declaration of a revolucion to rid California of the hated gringos, his ambush and murder of the LA Sherriff Barton and deputies, the subsequent manhunt where he was tracked down by Don Sepulveda, escape from a trap, and finally tumbling down a precipice on the run and falling into a gringo camp and captured. And escaped from his bindings at night and got away again. After closing all of the So Cal passes and canyons, he and the rest of the gang were finally captured by the Andrés Pico posse and subsequent well-deserved hanging in L.A.

waltersmall
waltersmall

I missed the part about when the Mexicans were captured in Mexico and forced to come North to work?

fc2479
fc2479

Who cares....what a stupid story

132bpm
132bpm

Thank-you.

We can understand our world better when we know it's past.

NGCoot
NGCoot

@GA - Where can I get good nopalitos con puerco verde? - nothing from a can or jar will do. There used to be a place in Dana Point on PCH - but it is run by different people now or they have a new cook who can't do it right.

Janis S. Hunter
Janis S. Hunter

I have trouble finding places to pick one up that are within walking distance of my house and where the stand is outside, because I usually have my dog with me (I live in Old Town Tustin). I can usually find it at Whimzy, if I get there when they're open. BTW, where's Dan Savage? :-(

gottaknow247
gottaknow247

Nicely done Gustavo.  It would be nice if OCW could include overlaying maps of where the colonies were located.  A tiny fraction of former ranch is part of my neighborhood now and I am fascinated by the historical aspects of the story.  An in-depth story of Bastonchury and the other immigrant land barons of the post Civil War period of OC would be appreciated.  Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

carlashworth
carlashworth

I work with one of the descendents of the Bastanchury family. He told me the Bastanchury's did not associate much with the Anglos of Fullerton because they disliked them. The Bastanchurys were good friends with the Yorbas.

ConstanceComment
ConstanceComment

That was an interesting, sad and well-written story.  I'm fighting tears over having learned that even legal Mexican immigrants can be considered disposable.  The Depression meant tough times for most Americans, sure, but when it ended the white pickers left the groves and had to be replaced by illegal immigrants from, guess where?

Ladya Oo
Ladya Oo

I never see stands anywhere, except outside Proof Bar and I can't just stop and grab one as I drive by.

Laura Luevano
Laura Luevano

i went to go pick up my copy earlier today...but found the stand empty. i felt empty inside.

fishslayer1
fishslayer1

Profe', an enlightening article to say the least. My Grandfather and cousins lived in "La Jolla" on Pio Pico and La Jolla Ave. The old De Casas compound on La Jolla and Melrose, my uncle Pio De Casas, my Grandfather's nephew.. They worked for decades in this area, Pio establishing a large farm growing,turnips, strawberries, carrots. As his family grew so did the compound, adding houses to the main house to accomadate the new additions. All that to say that from time to time the De Casas clan would have parties and on Kramer across from the reservoir(Tri-City Park) a large Bastanchury grove house stood. I don't know who it specifically belonged to but, they would allow my Grandfather and all to party on the grounds. I was born in '51 so this was circa '59-'62, I remember with great detail that house and it's grove surrounding the area, seemingly stretching forever. I could go on but I won't here, thanks for all you do! 

Phil A. Montano/Damien Montano's Dad

Erk Audelo Leon
Erk Audelo Leon

Muy interesante profe. ¡Chingón! Ahora veo la importancia de salvar la historia de cualquier manera posible. Se aventó con esta columna.

russellcontreras
russellcontreras

This was a very strong story and it opened my eye to some interesting history of the OC that I did not know. Look forward to seeing more pieces like this. 

Kevin Miguel Carranza
Kevin Miguel Carranza

Even tho I had a good maestro in my Chicano History class in college I am still consumed with your writing. When I'm in SoCal I'm looking you up. Thank you for this history lesson.

whatevas
whatevas

Although I don't always agree with you Gustavo on everything, this article should be on column one of the OC Register. I will show this to the computer class I teach in the inner city of LA on weekends to high light the fact that we still have apartheid like structures in America, especially in Los Angeles. Great article.



Eddie_Patino
Eddie_Patino

This article should be used as a tool at local schools to teach students the real history that went on in their own back yards, Orange County, not the "romanticized " version of it. Great piece on local history. 

pinkhotmami
pinkhotmami

So much suffering, all legal & still deported? Makes me sad.

Thank you, for this gives me a little

more knowledge on our roots.

Agree, it's an excellent article! Hope to see more like this soon

Mitchell_Young
Mitchell_Young topcommenter

So, cheap labor was as harmful then as it is now. And, as the Bastanchury's bankruptcy shows, it is unsustainable to boot. 

jesselatour
jesselatour

Excellent article, Gustavo!  As a teacher at two local colleges, I deeply appreciate this kind of in-depth coverage of local history and how the past still resonates today.  

vegandawg23
vegandawg23 topcommenter

Deporting illegals is what all countries do. Go to Mexico and tell them you have a right to live there as long as you want and are just going to mooch off their meager social services. See how long before they deport you. 

Prugg
Prugg

Gaston Bastanchury was my Grandfather as well!. He also was born in the same city, went to the same High School as I & was also a Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother, though he died before I was born. Many similarities with my Mom's Dad. My mother was Mexican as well.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@JGlanton Further proof of your idiocy. Flores didn't have a "bloody escape," didn't have a "career of banditry," never declared a "revolucion to rid California of the hated gringos" and never had a gang to begin with. But nice to know you prefer lynchings to due process!

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@gottaknow247 That's the problem: the only maps of the Bastanchury Ranch are big-ass things that can't be overlaid on anything...yet!

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Kevin Carranza Gracias!

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@whatevas You should always agree with me, and Column One is part of the LA Times! Gracias for the kind words!

ritamg
ritamg

@vegandawg23 clueless

rayesc
rayesc

@ritamg Very, and while the climate today is very different than then, @vegandawg23 's comment shows the ignorance by so many. Not supporting a free-for-all, but not a supporter of ignorance either.

ritamg
ritamg

@fulltimevillain @ritamg I agree with you 100%. Don't want a free-for-all either, but the public should be educated about immigrants and social services. They tend to avoid them. They pay more in taxes than what they use. And, yes, although not all pay taxes, many do@fulltimevillain @ritamg @vegandawg23

 
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