Ranchers' rags to riches story

Ticino ranch in Soledad, California Giorgio Cheda

The biographical sketches compiled by many California counties of their citizens in the early 20th century are an excellent source of information on the early emigranti.

This content was published on January 7, 2009 - 14:56

The profiles are for the most part similar in their praise of young Swiss-Italians who came to the western state with nothing, and through hard work and perseverance, found success – mostly as ranchers.

The excerpts below are taken from the biographical texts transcribed by historian Giorgio Cheda.

This 1922 entry written about John Lucchini who became a "dairyman" in Napa could be used to describe many of the young Swiss-Italian who sought their fortune in California: "He arrived here among a strange people, entirely ignorant of the language and with a cash capital of only ten dollars, but he was rich in ambition and strength of mind and body... as soon as he was financially able, he started in the dairy business on his own account."

His compatriot, John Cerini, became a dairy farmer and businessman to be reckoned with: "A Californian who has generously supported the Government in the Liberty Bond, Red Cross and other War drives, is John Cerini, financier, stockman and dairyman, who came to the Golden State when he was fifteen, began at the lowest rung of the ladder, and by hard work has succeeded."

The accomplishments of Cerini, who arrived in California in 1869, were in stark contrast to that of Leonardo Pozzi. Both men came from the same Ticino village of Giumaglio, but while Pozzi opened and closed one unsuccessful business after another in Australia (described in his letter reprinted in the New World section), Cerini purchased nearly 4,000 acres of land in different parts of California. His significant holdings led him to become director of the Dairyman's Bank at Valley Ford in Sonoma County.

"Expert dairymen"

The 1911 biography of Antonio Bettinelli, a rancher in Marin county, sums up the esteem in which the Ticinesi were held: "Both men [Bettinelli and his partner] are Swiss by birth and training, which is equivalent to saying they are expert dairymen, and this indeed is true in their case".

Like many emigranti, Joseph Moranda from the village of Vogorno, followed closely on the heels of other Ticinesi – in this case his father. Bartolomeo Moranda returned home after 14 years working as a gardener near Stockton: "Hence, Joseph naturally early conceived a strong desire to see the land of gold and sunshine."

The younger Moranda had settled in Arcata, Humboldt county when this was written in 1915: "All the improvements and equipment on the ranch are of the finest and most modern, and he has attempted to make his ranch the best in the district. He has built a large residence on this place."

Like many Ticinesi, Daniel Bondietti from the village of Avegno, got his first job on a dairy ranch when he arrived in California in 1884. However, Bondietti would soon use his stonemasonry skills learned in Ticino while employed for a contractor building railway bridges between Portland and Sacremento. But he too eventually went into farming, finally settling in Point Reyes Station: "He cultivates about eighty acres of this land and also keeps a herd of one hundred good milk cows. He has met with gratifying success and has developed the place into an excellent farm."

"Path to fortune"

Charles Galletti from Lugano arrived in Point Arena as a 21-year-old in 1893. He saved enough money as a farmhand in his first five years to rent his own ranch and purchase a herd of dairy cattle. He continued to expand his operations and apparently did so well that he branched out, opening two hotels and a butcher's business.

Neither did Peter Camozzi stick to dairy farming. Camozzi used his 260 acres of land near Stockton in San Joaquin county primarily as a vineyard growing the "Black Prince variety [of grape], which has gained him prizes at the county fair. He set this vineyard out, cared for it and it is now a good producer".

"The path to fortune is not strewn with flowers even under the most favorable conditions," is the sentence starting the biographical sketch of a dairy farmer in Merced county, Serafino Borsini. "...there were many obstacles to be overcome which would have discouraged many young men, hence the success to which he has attained is worthy of mention."

There was similar praise in 1910 for Joseph Balestra, who settled in Monterey county where he owned more than 1,100 acres as well as interest in other ranches: "Altogether Joseph Balestra has reason to be proud of the success which has come to him since taking up his residence in California."

This enabled Balestra to secure a good home and give his children a good education, which, the biography highlights, "would not have been possible in his native country."

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