Juan Indart and Maria Erreca
The Life Stories of Juan Indart and Maria Erreca:
Before Becoming San Benito County Ranch Owners
Juan Indart (1826–1902) came to California after a short stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1851. He first worked for a few years in the mines of Calaveras County and then, like many of his fellow Basque countrymen, went into the livestock business.
Indart became partners with Juan Etcheverry and Juan Iriberri, forming a business to purchase cattle in Southern California and then sell the beef to the Northern California miners. The very profitable operation was based on a large ranch in Kings River Valley, Nevada, for many years.
Juan Indart married Maria Erreca (1840-1937) in 1863 and the couple moved to Rancho Centinela, located in the north side of San Joaquin Valley.
Juan was already familiar with the Rancho Centinela site because it had been the stopover location for Juan and his partners Pedro and Bernardo Altube, Juan Etcheverry, and Juan Iriberri for a decade before they couple married. The cattle grazed there to encourage weight gain so that they were in better shape to be sold at the Northern California beef markets. In 1863, newlyweds Juan Indart and Maria Erreca, together with business partners Juan Etcheverry and Juan Iriberri, opened a boardinghouse/store at the ranch. It was known as “The Three Johns’ Adobe” and is believed to be the first Basque boardinghouse in the United States.i
The adobe was a one-story “small hotel” for travelers and sheepherders, and for gold diggers on their way to the Sonora Pass area from San Juan Bautista. It also functioned as a Basque center where sheep herders and workers of the multiple mines surrounding the ranch gathered. The “Three Johns’” remained in operation for many years until the 1890s, when the cattle company Miller & Lux demolished it to build a wood house in its place.
Relocation to Tres Pinos, San Benito County
In 1873, Indart and Etcheverry resettled in Tres Pinos. There, purchased the Santa Anita Ranch. The business partnership between Juan “Chico” (Little John) and Juan “Grande” (Big John) lasted for almost a decade. The business dissolved in 1882, and the assets were divided between the two men. Their longstanding friendship made the separation process uncomplicated. “It only took them a day to divide up the land. They set out on horse and established the boundary lines following landforms and rivers. The agreement was mutually satisfactory and was never a cause for issue.”ii
“Another Pioneer Gone”
Juan Indart’s death notice was published prominently in the May 23, 1902 edition of the Free Lance (Hollister, San Benito County)iii Indart was 76 at the time of his passing. He left a vast fortune: the Santa Ana Ranch (1761 acres adjacent to the Bolado estate, estimated to be worth $16,000 at that time); 1769 acres at the same ranch next to the town of Tres Pinos, at an estimated value of $20,000; and an additional estimate of personal assets valued at $5,000. According to Henry D. Barrows and Luther A. Ingersoll, “the Indart estate is one of the best of San Benito, […] and no family is more highly esteemed for their sterling qualities than that of John Juan Indart.”iv
As clearly stated and explained in his Last Will and Testament Juan’s wife Maria was to inherit the entire estate: “I am bequeathing nothing to my children Pedro, John, Matilda, Maria, Juan Pierre and Dominica, not because of my lack of love for them, but because of my faith and trust in my wife’s good judgment and love for her children. I believe my decision is the fairest and in the best interest of the entire family.”v
Miss Domie Indart
The years that followed the loss of the Indart head of family, were comfortable and profitable, thanks in great measure to Juan’s daughter Dominica, who made the business prosper. Known as “Miss Domie,“ Indart’s daughter expanded the ranch by purchasing more livestock and acquiring neighboring properties.
According to her nephew, Jim Indart, Domie became one of the best Hereford cattle breeders in all of California. He was highly regarded not only because of her business talent, but also because of her affability. Ever the “the most graceful equestrienne,” Juan Indart once gave Domie a beautiful saddle embedded with silver pieces, but she decided to remove the silver and share it with her family. Domie then used the saddle bare, without any ornament. vi
Domie never married. She took care of her mother, Maria Erreca, until she passed away in 1937 at the age of 97.
Barrows, Henry D., ed; Ingersoll, Luther A. (1893). A Memorial and biographical history of the coast counties of central California. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago.
Echeverria, Jeronima (1989). “California´s Basque Hotels and their Hoteleros” in Essays in Basque Social Anthropology and History, William A. Douglass ed. University of Nevada Press, Reno & Las Vegas.
________ (1999). Home Away from Home: A History of Basque Boardinghouses. University of Nevada Press, Reno & Las Vegas.
Pierce, Marjorie (1977.) East of the Gabilans. Western Tanager Press, Santa Cruz.
Zubiri, Nancy (2006). A Travel Guide to Basque America, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada.
iEcheverria (1989: 66-67)
iiPierce (1977: 130).
ivBarrows, Henry D., ed; Ingersoll, Luther A. (1893: 413).
viPierce (1977: 130)