Bastanchury Ranch, the World’s Largest Citrus Grove
The Basque couple Domingo and Marie Oxarart Bastanchury earned great respect in the California city of Fullerton. Samuel Armor wrote of the couple in 1923, “Among the pioneer settlers of what is now Orange County, the names of Domingo and Maria Bastanchury will never be forgotten,”i
Judging by the prevalence of their name throughout Fullerton today, including Bastanchury Road, Bastanchury Park, and Bastanchury House, Armo’s prediction was not mistaken.
Domingo (Dominique) Bastanchury was born in Urepel, Nafarroa Beherea, in 1838. In 1860, at the age of 22, Domingo endured a six-month journey around Cape Horn and into California. His first years in California were similar to those of his Basque contemporaries. He first worked as a sheepherder, planning to save enough money to afford a herd of his own. The American Civil War created a precarious state for the cotton fields of the south, which benefited the sheep industry in the west. The high demand for wool helped Bastanchury become the largest sheep owner in Los Angeles county in a just a short period of time. The vast pastures of the Fullerton-La Habra region were excellent grazing land for his 20,000 sheep.
At the end of the 1860s, Domingo acquired the majority of Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana’s real estate (north of today’s Fullerton) from Abel Stearns. He then hired fellow Basque countryman Jose Sansinena to help take care of the sheep. Domingo and Jose soon became business partners, and together grew their sheep count to 30,000 head. Since there wasn’t a closer market (Los Angeles didn’t have one at the time) Bastanchury and Sansinena transported the flock to San Francisco every year. Their journey lasted close to three months, planned that way to keep the sheep’s weight loss to a minimum.
A Basque couple from Urepel Marries in Los Angeles
In 1874, one year after he arrived in California, Domingo Bastanchury married Maria (Marie) Oxarart (born in 1849) in Los Angeles. Although each of them was born in the same Basque town of Urepel, 11 years apart, their acquaintance only happened years later. Coincidentally, Maria’s brother, Jean Oxarart, and Domingo Bastanchury happened to be good friends, which is how Marie and Domingo met.
Since Domingo was illiterate and had little command of English, management of the ranch financial responsibilities fell on to his wife’s shoulders. To do so, Maria took language and accounting classes in Los Angeles. It was she who negotiated loans with the Union Bank of Los Angeles. Later on, Marie managed her own 350-acre citrus and walnut orchards.
During their first years together, while her husband was in the mountains herding sheep, Maria was on the ranch, caring for the crops, cattle, horses, and house affairs. Her nearest neighbors were miles away: “There was no sign of the present town of Fullerton; all trading was done in Los Angeles or Anaheim. There were only two places between her home place and Los Angeles, and where now hundreds of autos travel the main road between Los Angeles and Fullerton, in the early days there would not be more than one team a week.”ii
Sonia J. Eagle’s best described Marie: “always depicted as brave, smart, strong-willed and generous, Ama (mother) Bastanchury, like many other Basque women, played a vital role in the success of the family business.”iii
The Santa Fe Railway
The arrival of the Santa Fe Railway in 1884 brought big advancements to the livestock and agriculture industry of the area. After 1884, produce was transported by train from ranches in the southwest to markets north and east. Bastanchury’s sheep, too, were shipped by train.
The Oil Uproar
In 1890 oil was struck at shallow depths in the Bastanchury pastures in the hills surrounding Fullerton. A unique story about Basques and the oil industry comes from this exact place:
“In 1903, the Murphy Oil Company leased the West Coyote Hills lands from the Bastanchury Ranch to dig for oil. One year of excavations found them hot mineral water at 3,000 feet. As one of the oil workers later confessed, they found an oil well at 3,200 feet but covered it up. In 1905, Murphy bought off from Domingo Bastanchury more than 2,200 acres in the surroundings of La Habra, at $25 an acre. Allegedly, Murphy assured Domingo before the acquisition, that those lands held no oil. Time later, the Los Coyotes Hills area became South California’s largest oil field.” iv
As soon as the Bastanchurys understood it had all been a swindle, they sued Murphy Oil Company for several million dollars. The family was only compensated $1.2 million dollars, and most of it went to attorney fees. Time would show that, sadly, the Bastanchurys further were shortchanged by the settlement: if they had instead asked for royalties on the oil fields that had multiplied around them, they would have generated a larger profit. Probably, the Bastanchury family would have been in better shape then, when the Great Depression hit in 1929.
The Passing of Domingo Bastanchury
Domingo passed away in 1909 at the age of 71, surrounded by his wife and four sons: Dominic J., Gaston A., Joseph F. and John B. His death and Last Will ill were mentioned in the Los Angeles Herald:
From Ranching to Farming
When California’s sheep industry came to a low, the Bastanchury family moved to farming. By the time the patriarch was gone, the oldest son ran his own business in a different ranch. He had walnut orchards and raised Berkshire pigs which had gained him multiple awards. Maria Bastanchury, too, had her own ranch and mostly worked with walnut, orange and lemon orchards. The rest of the estate was owned by the Bastanchury Ranch Company. The three younger brothers were business partners, although, Gaston was the most involved in the ranch.
With time and great effort, the Bastanchurys successfully turned the once solitary sheep pastures into a mighty ranch and fruit orchard. The family laid out an irrigation system, plowed the land, and brought in trees to plant, helped only by herds of horses and mules. According to Sonia Eagle, ‘”the kind of obstinate and dangerous mules that Basques and Mexicans knew how to govern and guide.’ ”v
The World’s Largest Orange Grove
The Bastanchurys started their citrus orchards on their 2,500-acre estate in 1914. In 1926, their citrus venture expanded when the Bastanchury Ranch Company leased 2,000 acres from the Union Oil Company. While the trees were still young, they grew tomatoes in between rows. Rather than being next to each other, the orchards were spreaded out from the La Habra Heights to Fullerton-Brea, all the way to Olinda.
The Bastanchury Ranch leased another 500 acres from Times Mirror Company in the east part of Salton Sea in Imperial County, to grow oranges and lemons. By 1933, the ranch owned a total of 5,000 acres’ worth of citrus and tomato orchards. It was the world’s largest orange grove owned by a single proprietor.
Between 1910 and 1920, other Basque ranchers, too, owned citrus orchards in Orange County, although of smaller proportions: the Yturry, Erramuspe, Oyharzabal, Sansinena, Yriarte, Dunhart, Erreca, Lacougue, Ondaro, Etcheto, Lorea, and Oxandaboure. Like many other Basques of the time, they first entered the business as ranch workers, and then after they had saved enough money, they were able to operate their own businesses on leased or purchased land.
The Bastanchury Ranch was divided into eight units to provide for better management, with each unit supervised by a different foreman. Some of them were Basque: Martin Etcheto, Benoit Echenique, Juan Vasabi, Anthony Ondaro. And each foreman’s unit was equipped with a house, horse stables and between 16 and 20 mules. Many of the foremen’s wives ran boardinghouses to serve the great volume of Basque workers employed at the ranch. Martin Echeto’s wife Catherine Arambel Echeto, for instance, served meals to between 15 and 30 Basque workers daily.
Many years later, Lentxo Echanis, a Basque foreman at the Bastanchury Ranch, recalled a Mexican worker’s question: “What kind of Spaniards are you all that you don’t speak Spanish?”vii
“Basque” Brand Oranges
The Bastanchury Ranch produced multiple lemon and orange brands. The “Basque” Valencia oranges were especially liked in the east of the United States.
The Bastanchury family owned two of the three American fruit-packing plants that boxed produce and delivered it across the United States. They operated one for oranges and another for lemons. (The third was a tomato-packing plant, owned by American Fruit Growers.) The three railway companies of the time, the Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and Pacific Electric ran main lines to the fruit-packing plants to facilitate transportation; the Pacific Electric Railway built two stations at the entrances of the Bastanchury Ranch.
One of the Best Irrigation Systems in the World
This vast expansion of land required water be used wisely. To ensure this, the Bastanchurys “installed one of the best irrigation systems in the world.” (Pacific Rural Press, 12-13-1919.) “Gaston Bastanchury drew all the plans” and lead the construction of 200 miles of concrete pipe line. It was “a scientifically equipped citrus orchard” (“A Scientifically Equipped Citrus Orchard,” Pacific Rural Press, 22-05-1920.)
Bastanchury Water Company
In 1914, while searching for oil, Domingo and Maria Bastanchury’s son Gaston discovered a massive artesian water well on their ranch property. For decades, the Bastanchury Water Company sold this water under the brand name “Bastanchury.”
Bastanchury Ranch, the Basque center of south Los Angeles
For almost three decades, between 1910 and 1930, the Bastanchury Ranch was the gathering place of the south Los Angeles Basque community. In 1913, the family built a fronton next to the main house of the ranch, and games were played every Sunday, accompanied by barbecues, picnics and Basque dancing. Oftentimes, handball players from other boardinghouses of Los Angeles came to the fronton to play against the ranch’s pilotaris. The Bastanchurys, too, attended the games, but their attention often was diverted to business resulting in conversations with professionals and businessmen of the area.
Paulino Uzcudun’s visit in 1928 was, without a doubt, the crowning moment of the Bastanchury Ranch social life. Uzcudun, a Basque who held the European heavyweight boxing title at the time, was scheduled to fight in Los Angeles. The Bastanchurys set up a training space at their ranch for the Basque boxer. During his stay, Paulino frequented the ranch boardinghouses, where he enjoyed his meals in the company of the Basque bachelor workers. Unfortunately, Uzcudun lost his fight on points to contender George Godfrey.
A business of such magnitude as the Bastanchury Ranch involved great risks, though. The timing of the Great Depression of 1929 couldn’t have been worse. At that critical time, he family had recently prepared and seeded their land, but the orchards were not yet bearing fruit. Although they continued packing and delivering, they weren’t making enough money to cover the costs. The Bastanchury Ranch had always operated on a large scale, and so when they went bankrupt, they hit rock bottom very hard. By 1932, the Bastanchury Ranch had declared bankruptcy.
Maria Oxarart, widow of the old Domingo Bastanchury, lived through all of the family’s highs and lows. She died in 1943 at the age of 93.
Many years later, interviews with Basques Echanis, Ondaro, Oxandaboure, Yriarte, and others, recall the Sundays they spent with their fellow country men and women at the Bastanchury Ranch. The Bastanchury Ranch estate was eventually split between Standard Oil Company and Bank of America.
The Basque community, then, turned to the ranches of the Chilibolosts in Chino and the Changalas in El Toro, where they had accommodated spaces for Basques to play cards, listen to music, and dance. viii
Armor, Samuel (1923). History of Orange County. Historic Record Company, Los Angeles.
Bradshaw, Roch (1936). “Fame for Immigrant Boy Started Bastanchury Ranch.” Santa Ana Journal, April 23. http://www.orangecountyhistory.org/history/bradshaw-bastanchury-ranch.html
Eagle, Sonia Jacqueline (1979). Work and Play Among the Basques of Southern California. PhD, Purdue University.
Echeverria, Jeronima (1999). Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses. University of Nevada Press, Reno & Las Vegas.