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

But the crown jewel of the Bastanchurys was their 3,000-acre citrus grove, rows of Valencia orange and lemon trees that went up and down the Ranch, held in place by terrace farming. On the family's stationery and on the labels for their orange crates, marketed under the Model, Basque, Daily, Popular and Golden Ram brands, read the slogan "The World's Largest Orange and Lemon Orchard," a claim no one bothered to dispute.

Domingo's sons were fiercely proud of their accomplishments and never shied away from boasting about what they had willed up from what many considered remote badlands. "Some of my ideas were discountenanced by scientific men, by farm bureau men," Gaston Bastanchury told the California Citrograph, the bible of the Golden State's citrus industry, in 1923. He was the public face of the family, a man who frequently made the society pages for his many trips abroad, a tycoon so rich that he once offered heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey an $800,000 purse if the Manassa Mauler would fight on the Ranch, in a custom-built arena Gaston promised would seat 135,000 people. "I felt that I knew what we could do and kept on. But the fact remains that these old brown hills—and you can still see hundreds of acres in that same state around us—have produced trees and those trees are beginning to return something on the investment of labor and money which have been put into them."

Life was fabulous on the Ranch—it became the center of Basque life in Southern California, featuring weekend-long parties filled with traditional lunches and dinners. There was even a handball court so that nostalgic men could play the jai alai of their youth. But to create their dreamland, the Bastanchurys needed cheap labor—first, Native Americans, then fellow Basques and a smattering of Japanese. By the 1920s, though, cheap labor in Southern California agriculture meant Mexican workers, and the Bastanchurys began recruiting across the Southwest and abroad, uniting with fellow Orange County orchard owners to lobby Congress for relaxed immigration laws, arguing only Mexicans could properly work with oranges.

The hill of cactus off Euclid Avenue that the Bastanchury Mexicans would harvest.
John Gilhooley
The hill of cactus off Euclid Avenue that the Bastanchury Mexicans would harvest.
Cuca Morales, on one of the trails of the former Bastanchury Ranch.
John Gilhooley
Cuca Morales, on one of the trails of the former Bastanchury Ranch.

"Our experience shows us that the white man does not like the tedious routine work of picking and will promptly leave this for any other job available, even at smaller wages," wrote J. A. Prizer, manager of the Placentia Orange Growers Association, in a prepared statement given to Congress in 1928. At that same hearing, Prizer revealed that county growers used the Bastanchurys' worker rolls to determine how many Mexicans they needed to run a successful operation. "The Mexican, by nature, seems to be peculiarly adapted to this class of work. He is patient, and apparently enjoys the work itself."

And so the Bastanchurys brought in hundreds of Mexicans. A contemporary of the dynasty derided the Ranch as "their own private kingdom in the Fullerton hills," isolated from the rest of civilization, and it wasn't far from the truth: while grower-sponsored worker camps sprang up across Orange County's citrus belt, the Bastanchurys' orange pickers lived like serfs.

"[The Bastanchurys] had the Old World feudalistic attitude toward their farm hand," wrote Druzilla Mackey, an Americanization teacher in Orange County alongside Arleta Kelly, in a 1949 history of education in Fullerton. She had no problem with the workers, describing them as "always the poorest of our Mexicans, the most friendly and also the most idealistic." But she openly despised the Bastanchurys, writing "they felt generous in allowing these squatters to establish homes on their ranch and could not comprehend its danger to the health and morality of the community as a whole."

Mackey described abodes constructed from sheet iron, discarded fence posts, sign boards, even rusted bed springs—whatever detritus Mexicans could find in the Ranch's trash dump; Kelly remembered one built of "cartons and wood and pieces of tin." Some houses were half-wood, half-canvas. Few had running water; nearly all had outside, shared toilets. Rains turned everything into a swamp; despite the abundance of artesian water, families had to draw their own from irrigation ditches and carry it via buckets to their homes. Once a week, a grocery wagon arrived with fresh produce and meat—a necessity, since almost no one had refrigeration because there was little electricity. Some homes had dirt floors, some were just tents. Elsie Carlson, who taught the Ranch's Mexican children, put it thusly: "I felt like a missionary."

The conditions endured by the Bastanchury Mexicans became something of a county scandal; a newspaper exposé, lost to history but cited by Kelly in her COPH oral history, mentioned the "exceedingly primitive and poverty stricken" condition of the camp, which upset the Bastanchurys and their management. But after organizing by the Americanization teachers and the Rev. Graham C. Hunter of the First Presbyterian Church of Fullerton, the Ranch finally relented and built homes for workers with potable water in 1927, along with a wooden classroom for first-, second-, and third-graders—tellingly, the Basque and white children on the Ranch were bussed to the "white" schools in the Fullerton flatlands, while the Mexican children on the Ranch had to trudge at least a half mile to school on dirt roads through orchards.

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50 comments
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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