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

"And so," she concluded, "one morning we saw nine train-loads of our dear friends roll away back to the windowless, dirt-floored homes we had taught them to despise."

On Friday, March 31, a week after Mackey's efforts, 437 Mexicans—"mostly children," according to the News Tribune, and almost all from the Ranch—were herded onto nine passenger trains, one bound for Nogales, another to Juarez. The local media tried to paint the Mexicans as welfare cases—"Repatriation of Mexicans Eases Burden," read a headline in the Santa Ana Register—and pointed out that the Mexican government promised jobs to their repatriated countrymen upon their return. In reality, the Mexicans were left penniless in a country that parents hadn't visited in years and their American-born children simply didn't know. Few, if any, ever returned to Orange County.

It was the largest mass deportation in county history, and stung those few people who witnessed the episode for the rest of their lives. Lucio recalled they "were very poor...went on the half fare of the Southern Pacific." Juanita Ferraris, granddaughter of Domingo Bastanchury, told the News Tribune in 1955 that it was "one of the saddest sights I've ever seen."

And they departed with work available on the Ranch: in April, the new owners announced in the News Tribune that they were looking for "local men" to hire; in May, they revealed they already shipped 55,000 boxes of lemons in just two months—since the Mexicans left.

The Ranch's six colonias were eradicated; by June of that year, the schoolhouse was moved to another school and turned into a soup kitchen. Houses were either sold off to other citrus camps or simply demolished and tossed back into the scrap heap from where they came. Years later, a Fullerton council member told the COHP that the 1930 census showed that the city had 10,882 residents; in 1940, that figure shrank to 10,300. Bewildered, he admitted, "We finally found out that the reason for the population loss was because we lost the workers up" at the Ranch. Figures from the 1940 census reviewed by the Weekly showed that not a single Mexican listed as living on the Bastanchury's estate in 1930 remained.

Some of the Bastanchury Mexicans, however, did evade the deportation train. One of those was the family of Fullerton resident Cuca Morales. Born in 1927, her birth certificate lists her place of birth as the "Tia Juanita Camp" at the Ranch. Her memories are clouded not by age—her mind is as sharp as someone half her age—but rather by the fact that she was only five when her parents were forced to move away.

At her home, in a housing tract set aside for veterans when she and her husband bought it in the 1950s, Morales keeps many photos from those days. One shows her as a baby, held by her mother, as Cuca's father, who worked as a lemon picker, plays the violin and an unnamed man accompanies him on guitar. In another, she's a toddler standing by her mother's side in a group shot of women who took Mackey's Americanization classes. Behind them, rows of citrus groves stretch over the horizon.

"My grandpa used to be the man who would hold the dances" at the schoolhouse, she says. "I'd stand by him while my mom accepted the money." And she also remembered Maria Bastanchury, the dowager of the Ranch. "She was a stingy lady," the octogenarian says with a laugh. "After workers harvested the walnuts every season, she'd be raking through the leaves, looking for more."

Morales says she only knew of one family repatriated to Mexico, that of her brother's godparents—"and he cried for months after they left," she remembered. Everyone else she knew moved on to other colonias, or the barrios of Santa Ana, La Habra and Anaheim. "My dad wanted to go back to Mexico, but Mom [who was born in Arizona to Mexican immigrants] said, 'No, we're going to stay here—if you want to go, you can.' "

To remain, Morales' parents went to Gaston Bastanchury, who fixed her father's papers—but they still had to leave the Ranch. The family sold their house for a Buick, and they ended up living in La Habra's Alta Vista camp, where Morales grew up before moving to Fullerton, where she raised a family and has lived ever since.

Her parents "never talked about" the disappearance of the Bastanchury Mexican colonias. "I remember one time my mom said that they were poorer on the Ranch. And when I bought my house in Fullerton, she said, 'I don't like Fullerton,' but never said why." Morales kept in contact with former residents of Tia Juana but has never dwelled on its importance. But her daughter Clara—a retired employee of the United Auto Workers—does. "You still have families who came from the Bastanchury Ranch around town," she says. "One time, I was at the bank, and somehow, someone asked [one of the customers] where was she born. 'The Bastanchury Ranch,' she said. It sounded like she was proud that she was from there."

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49 comments
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 topcommenter

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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