Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Messy Legacy of Gaston Oxarat

You know things didn't go so well for Rancho Los Encinos' first French owners, the Garniers. The wool market collapsed, and it was all downhill from there.

The rancho went to auction in 1878. Gaston Oxarat, a French Basque, placed the winning bid. Oxarat had wanted a chance to buy the rancho for some time; he'd previously obtained a lien on the property as collateral when he loaned money to the Garniers.

Gaston Oxarat's saddle, on display at Rancho Los Encinos
Oxarat had arrived in Los Angeles in 1851, and was mentor and friend to Domingo Bastanchury, another French Basque who, at one time, owned more head of sheep than anyone else in Los Angeles County. Bastanchury's orange grove - the largest in the world - made up much of modern-day Fullerton (which I will get into at a later date). As it happens, he was married to Oxarat's niece, Maria.

In spite of the fact that wool no longer fetched good prices, Oxarat used the rancho to raise sheep. It wasn't his sole source of income; he also had orchards.

Sources disagree over whether Oxarat lived on the rancho, with the Ballade family as a boarder, or at 43 or 47 Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights. The 1880 census record citing the Ballade residence could be a coincidence, since the boarder's age is given as 60 (Oxarat would have been 55 that year) and there were numerous French Basques living in Los Angeles by that point.

In any case, Oxarat (who was not in the best of health when he bought Rancho Los Encinos) passed away in 1886.

Things got messy after that.

Ten days after Gaston's death, the Morning Press stated that there were allegations of his death being due to poisoning. However, since there was no evidence, the authorities could take no action.

Oxarat left Rancho Los Encinos to his favorite nephew, Simon Gless. Less than a year later, Gless filed a lawsuit against Eugene Garnier and F.A. Gibson to clear the rancho's title. Eugene Garnier claimed that he and Gibson owned a partial interest in the rancho under an agreement made with Oxarat while he was still alive. Gless claimed the document was forged.

Francisco Oxarat, Gaston's son, was none too happy about Rancho Los Encinos being left to his cousin, and he took Simon Gless to court.

Benita Murillo, who claimed to have married Gaston in 1874, sued Simon Gless separately, seeking the widow's share of Rancho Los Encinos.

Adela Freeman, who claimed her maiden name was Oxarat, also sued Simon Gless, claiming to be Gaston's "sole surviving child" (which must have been quite a shock to Gaston's actual sole surviving child, Francisco).

In the end, Simon Gless kept Rancho Los Encinos...only to sell it later. But I'll get into that next time.