Monday, September 12, 2011

Bastanchurys, Bootleggers, and Oil

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

During the prohibition era, was there bootlegging in Fullerton? According to former city attorney Raymond R. Thomson, yes there was. Thomson recalls, “They used to smuggle liquor along the Orange County coast. Lots of it got in, and I remember that some of the old-time sheriffs, reputedly, were tolerant of the bootleggers and the smugglers, even cooperated to a certain extent or looked the other way. Liquor was available in Orange County. There were stills out in the hills and mountains" (CSUF Oral History Program interview, 1968).

So, who were these bootleggers in Fullerton? Well, the Bastanchurys for one. The Bastanchurys were Basque immigrants. In present-day Fullerton, Bastnchury Rd. and Basque Ave. are named after them. Thomson recalls, “The Basque people traditionally have their wine and their brandy, and they never recognized prohibition. They still grew their grapes and made their wine and their brandy. I recall that very well.”

The Bastanchurys were first shepherds, then orange ranchers. At one time, they owned about 6,000 acres in Fullerton. Evidently, they were quite a lively bunch: “They had their big fiestas and their barbeques, lots of fun and rather easy going, improvident sometimes, and then went under about 1929” (Thomson).

Aside from the Great Depression, what caused them to “go under”? Apparently, the Bastanchurys got swindled by the Murphy Oil Company. According to Thomson, Murphy leased some property from the Bastanchurys for oil, found oil, but told the Bastanchurys that there was no oil. “Old man” Bastanchury had very little education and was persuaded to sell 3,000 acres to Murphy for very little. About a decade later, Murphy returned and began drilling. The Bastanchury sons, realizing they had been swindled, sued the oil company, but because so much time had elapsed, they ended up settling out of court. Thomson says, “Unfortunately, the Bastanchury boys all died poor.”


At one time, the Bastanchurys had the largest orange groves in the world. Here is a photo from 1915, looking toward present-day Brea from the Sunny Hills area of Fullerton.

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