Juan Etcheverry and Maria Amestoy, Wealthy Ranch Owners of San Benito County.
Juan Etcheverry (1830-1897) left the Basque Country to come to America at 19 years of age. After a short stay in South America, he headed to California in 1851 to work in the Murphy’s Camp mines of Calaveras County.
He tried his luck for three years alone, and then Etcheverry partnered with Juan Indart and Juan Iriberri to supply beef to the mines. They started their operation in the early 1850s, driving cattle from South America to Copperopolis, near Sonora’s gold country. Their ranch was located in Kings River Valley.
In the 1860s, the partners decided to open a store and boarding house at their Rancho Centinela in San Joaquin Valley. It was known as “The Three Johns’ Adobe,” after the three men’s same first names. It is believed to be the first Basque boardinghouse in the United States.
In 1873, John Etcheverry (“Big John” or “Juan Grande”) and John Indart (“Little John or “Juan Chico”) moved to Tres Pinos, where they purchased ranching land on the Santa Anita ranch. It was choice farming and grazing land, known for producing excellent quality grain crops. As luck would have it, the Southern Pacific Railroad extended through San Benito County, right about the time Etcheverry and Indart arrived in Tres Pinos.
The town became the central cattle shipping point for the county’s south and central regions. Etcheverry benefited from this business action in two ways: his lands were used to expand the town around the station, and he was able to diversify his business. Etcheverry took over the Southern Pacific hotel, known as the “SP” or the “Etcheverry Hotel,” which was at the entrance to the town. He built and managed a livery stable next to the hotel. Etcheverry’s home was on the same side of the street, close to the hills where he grazed his sheep and cattle.
Marjorie Pierce describes Etcheverry’s hotel in her book East of the Gabilans:
“…it was a bustling place. The Southern Pacific was to Tres Pinos what the Plaza Hotel was to San Juan. Hay and grain buyers and stockmen would come and stay.
The train would stop overnight before going back so the railroad men also were guests. The station was across from the hotel and the turntable was a short distance away. In the kitchen there were three Chinese cooks to handle the busy dining room. There was a pool room, a public room with a fireplace and poker tables, and a bar which was likely called a saloon back then….”i
The business partnership between Juan “Chico” (Little John) and Juan “Grande” (Big John) lasted until 1882, when the firm dissolved and assets were divided. Their longstanding friendship made the separation process uncomplicated, as Pierce noted in her book, “Division of the land was solved very simply in a single day. They rode out and designated the boundaries by streams, valleys and ridges. Each one was happy with the arrangement, and there was never any trouble over it.”ii
Juan Etcheverry married Maria Amestoy in Visalia in 1880. They had one son, John Felix “Jack.” When Juan Etcheverry died in 1897, his young 17-year-old son took over the Southern Pacific Hotel, the livery stable, and the large 1,400-acre ranch with pastures for grazing and farm land. According to Marjorie Pierce, Jack Etcheverry “was a much loved figure in Tres Pinos.”iii
In 1894, Juan Etcheverry donated some land for the Church of the Immaculate Conception construction, and as his friend Juan Indart, he too donated funds for the church structure. The beautiful stained glass windows that are on side walls of the church honor the first neighbors of Tres Pinos, including Juan Indart and Juan Etcheverry.
Barrows, Henry D., ed; Ingersoll, Luther A. (1893). A Memorial and biographical history of the coast counties of central California. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago.
McMahon, Joseph M.; Sonné, Peter (2012). Hollister, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina.
Pierce, Marjorie (1977). East of the Gabilans. Western Tanager Press, Santa Cruz.
Juan Etcheverry. Photo: Marjorie Pierce, East of the Gabilans.
Murphy’s Calaveras Co.
Kings River, Fresno County. By Gemini2525 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Etcheverry Hotel, at the end of the 1930s. Photo: McMahon and Sonné, Hollister.
The inside of the Etcheverry Hotel in 1940. Photo: McMahon and Sonné, Hollister.
The E Clampus Vitis plaque commemorating the Southern Pacific hotel, on the corner of Fifth street and Highway 25, Tres Pinos. The hotel was built by Southern Pacific in 1873, when the railroad arrived to Tres Pinos. When the hotel was transferred to Juan Etcheverry it became the Etcheverry Hotel.
The Etcheverry house in Tres Pinos in the 1880s. Jack Etcheverry on the left. Mary Indart in the center and, next to her, Maria Amestoy. Photo: Marjorie Pierce, East of the Gabilans.
“Jack” Etcheverry. Photo: Marjorie Pierce, East of the Gabilans.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Tres Pinos, built on land donated by Juan Etcheverry.