Brabo Oral History: Life of Tony Brabo in the 1920s


August, 2011

Tony Brabo was born in Mill Valley on February 14, 1912, third from the youngest in a family of ten. The family later lived in Santa Rosa. Both of his parents died there in 1924, and 12-year old Tony and his younger brother became orphans, wards of the state. Tony quit school after sixth grade. The county located a couple on a ranch in Ignacio that took them in for about a year. The county then moved them to a dairy ranch in Tennessee Valley, located where Miwok Stables is today at the GGNRA parking lot. The rancher, Mr. Cunha, had a terrible reputation—nobody would work for him for very long. Tony did.

Tony slept alone in a shed near the milk barn. No heat, no lights, no plumbing, an outhouse on the far side of the corral. He arose at 3 am, brought 75 cows into the milk barn and attached milking machines. He carried the 5-gallon milk containers to the cooler in the milk house. He would finish up about 7 am and go to the ranch house for breakfast. At 3 pm he repeated the milking operation. At 7 pm he went to the ranch house for dinner. Fortunately, the rancher’s wife served excellent food. Quite a life for a 14-year old. Tony’s younger brother lived in the house with the Cunha family, and went to school with their two sons.

Every day for over two years, he milked cows twice a day for $40/month. He seldom left the ranch. He had no friends and rarely saw anyone. One day another rancher offered him a job milking cows for $90/month. He took it. His brother stayed at the Cunha ranch while Tony worked at the Pimental Ranch, which was located where Tamalpais Valley School is today. After about a year, he left to see what went on in the outside world. He had deposited his paychecks in the bank and withdrawn very little money while working on the two dairy ranches.

He lived with his sister in Mill Valley. His first job was as a laborer at Angel Island. It paid $3 per day, but he had to pay 25 cents for the ferry trip. He later found other jobs as a laborer in various Marin locations.

In May 1929, Tony met Homestead Valley resident Mary Bettencourt at IDESST Hall, a Portuguese lodge in Sausalito. The occasion was the annual Holy Ghost Festival. They danced the Chamarita, a Portuguese folk dance. They were served the traditional Azorean meal, Soupish (Sopa do Espirito Santo), a beef, tomato and cabbage stew. Mary was the first girl Tony had ever met. She was 18 and he was 17. Two months later they eloped and were married in Alameda at the home of Mary’s half-brother. It was July 3, 1929, the second day of the great fire on Mt. Tamalpais and Mill Valley. They could see the conflagration from Alameda.

It was with some trepidation that they returned to Mary’s home in Homestead Valley. They were greatly relieved when her father, Manual Bettencourt, welcomed his newly acquired son-in-law into the Bettencourt family.

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.