TAGUS RANCH EVOKES PASSION, LOYALTY

By Terry Brazil

Executive Director

Tulare Historical Musuem

In learning about Tulare’s Tagus Ranch, I sought to find out what held folks’ dynamic interest, passion and loyalty from a historical standpoint.  I consulted Derryl and Wanda Dumermuth’s book, “Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z” and the Tulare Historical Museum’s archive folder on Tagus Ranch.

Information from those sources seems to indicate Tagus was like a small town where neighbors and friends all knew one another through work and get-togethers in their off hours.  Camaraderie developed that transcends today to the relatives of these early Tulareans.

An article from the Tulare Advance-Register’s January 1973 issue dedicated to “Tulare’s First 100 Years” said contemporary historians had diverse opinions on the quality of the worker housing at Tagus, but most agreed it was probably adequate for that era, better than most and was provided to all of its permanent and most of its migrant workers.

The pay for picking fruit was 15 cents per hour until a strike in 1933 was successful in boosting that to 25 cents, the article said.

We remember that this was during the Great Depression and workers were glad to have a job at all. 

Wilma McDaniel, Tulare’s late poet laureate, said in one of her poems that an elderly gentlemen returning to the site of what had been a bustling Tagus Ranch in the 1930’s said, “I picked so many peaches here in 1936 that my blood tested peach brandy.”

There was not much to be grateful for given the lifestyle of the average worker, but those laborers did not care because – as many said later – “everybody was poor, only we didn’t know it.”  There were friends, food, happy times, hard work and lasting memories.

One can get a feel for the hardships and out-and-out joy of the era by perusing the archives of the Tulare Historical Museum, as many scholars have done.

There is now a Web site on the Internet to establish contact with friends and families called www.exploringtagusranch.com.  The website is in the early stages, but please go and explore.  There is a blog where you can leave your comments and information.

Tagus Ranch was founded by Hulett C. Merritt, who at various times during the early 20th century was thought to be the richest man in California.

His desire to own the mansion known as “The Oaks,” as much as anything else, caused Merritt to settle in Tulare.  The home was built by P.J.S. Montgomery, manager of the vast Paige and Morton Ranch west of Tulare, and Merritt was attracted to it even though he had a grand home in Pasadena, which was his permanent residence.  (He also had a home in Santa Barbara). 

The large home at Oaks Street and Merritt Avenue became known as Merritt Manor and was kept in perfect readiness for a visit from the Merritts at any time. 

The resident was mostly off limits to Tulareans until the showplace was opened for a public viewing in 1959, three years after Merritt’s death.

The home was razed shortly thereafter to make way for the Tulare Elks subdivision.  The home was located on nine of the 32 acres bound by Merritt, Oaks, Pleasant Avenue and North M Street.

A call from Mr. Ray Martines (spelled Martinez in Tulare Union High School’s 1938 Argus) from Alexandria, VA., last week is indicative of the passion people feel for Tagus Ranch.  After reading the March 20 Tulare History column, Mr. Martines 88, called to tell us his name was left out of the piece which reported on the widespread local support for recognizing Tagus as a Tulare entity.

I have enjoyed a new friendship with Mr. Martines, a retired U.S. Air Force major, who spent 20 years serving his country, and he has agreed to write his autobiography for the museum’s Tom Hennion Archive.