Bernard Etcheverry, One of the Founders of Ramona Town
(Kanbo, Lapurdi, 1836 – San Diego, California, 1912)
In the July 22, 1874 San Diego Union edition, a peculiar article read: “It has come to our knowledge that two beautiful merino sheep have been brought from the Rambouillet ranch — property of the French Government— by Mr. Arrambide and Mr. Etcheverry from the Santa Ana ranch.”
The news was more significant than what it seemed. Having been involved in California’s cattle industry since the 1850s, Bernard Etcheverry and Juan B. Arrambide had a hunch that that breed of sheep would be tough enough to withstand the rough California terrain and climate. The merino sheep were worth every penny of the $500 the partners paid for each head. The Rambouillet sheep were already known to Californians, but thanks to Etcheverry and Arrambide, the breed was further introduced all across Southern California. Over the years, this breed of sheep became the backbone of the American sheep industry.
Bernard Etcheverry, son of Jean Etcheverry and Marie Elissetche, was born in Kanbo, Lapurdi in 1836. He traveled to America at the young age of 19, in the company of seven other Basque men and women. They boarded the ship in December of 1885 and arrived in San Francisco eight long months later, in August, 1856. Allegedly, he had great success working in the Northern California gold mines for three years after his arrival,i He stayed in Santa Barbara for a while, afterwards. At the beginning of the 1870s, Bernard traveled back to the Basque Country, where he fought in the Franco-Prussian war, according to some sourcesii. His subsequent life story is well-documented, as we will see.
Rancho Valle de Pamo
Juan Arrambide purchased Rancho Valle de Pamo in 1872, an 18,000-acre estate located in the Santa Maria Valley, in what is now San Diego County. He and Etcheverry raised merino sheep there, until sometime between 1878 and 1880, Arrambide sold the entire estate to Etcheverry for $12,250.
In 1881, Etcheverry owned 12,000 head of sheep that grazed in his Santa Maria estate. Bernard had to hire more than 50 shearers to handle the high volume of sheep shearing. In 1883, the ranch produced about 75,000 pounds’ worth of wool. Etcheverry’s sheep business was only a small part of the valley’s agricultural potential, though: a host of vineyards, and crops such as fruit, wheat, and barley were flourishing as well.
As writer and retired planning consultant Charles LeMenager mentions in his book Ramona and Round About, Etcheverry encouraged land partnerships on his vast ranch, and was known to be a generous boss.
The origins of Ramona Town
Bernard Etcheverry was one of the founders of today’s Ramona Town.
In the early 1880s, Etcheverry invited Teophile Verlaque, a French immigrant, to explore opportunity on his ranch. By then, the Gold Rush around the Julian mines had settled down and Santa Maria was starting to bustle with activity. The Frenchman Verlaque and Basque Etcheverry agreed on a new business idea: to open a store and a post office. They wanted to locate these on two acres of land that Verlaque’s son had previously purchased from Etcheverry. In 1883, Teophile’s son Amos Verlaque did just that, located the buildings on the cart and stagecoach road that then connected the towns of San Diego and Julian. This became the establishment of “Nuevo Town,” which would later become “Ramona Town,” influenced by the enormous success of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona.
In 1886, Etcheverry sold 3,855 acres to Santa Maria Land and Water Company at $8 an acre, and an additional 320 acres at $10 an acre. Under the guidance of Milton Santee, civil engineer and head of the company, the area was slowly shaped into a town. Verlaque’s store was followed by a forge in 1883-1884; then the Ramona Hotel was built in 1877; the school in 1888; and the pharmacy in 1889. During these years, more and more families settled in the valley with their cattle. In a short period of time, these people formed a small town that became a solid farming community.
One of Ramona Town’s first schools was built on land donated by Bermard Etcheverry, named “Earl School” in honor of his wife. In 1896, the school was transferred from the Santa Maria Valley to Mussey Grade Road, where it is now a privately-owned building.
Bernard Etcheverry and his British wife Louise Earle had four children. We know that their third child, Bernard Alfred Etcheverry, studied civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and was awarded the University Medal upon graduation in 1902. He was a professor at Berkeley for 46 years. Between 1915 and 1917, Bernard published a three-volume treatise on Irrigation Practice and Engineering. He was considered to be one of the leading experts in the field, both nationally and internationally, for 40 years.
In today’s Ramona Town, Etcheverry Street is named in memory of this Basque pioneer family who settled in the Santa Maria Valley.
Douglass, William A.; Bilbao, Jon (1986). Amerikanuak. Los Vascos en el Nuevo Mundo, Servicio Editorial Universidad del País Vasco.
LeMenager, Charles R. (1989). Ramona and Round About. A History of San Diego County´s Little Known Back Country, Eagle Peak Publishing Company, Ramona, California.
iDouglass and Bilbao, 524.
Bernard Etcheverry, his wife and two sons.
“J. A. Verlaque. Pioneer Store.”The building that still stands, and houses. From the Guy Woodward Museum.
Los Angeles Daily Herald, November 16, 1886.
Ramona’s Main Street, circa 1903.
Earl School, Mussey Grade Road.
“Regents of University Honor Former Student.”San Francisco Call, August 16, 1902.