The Monterey County Swiss Rifle Club

by Gary S. Breschini, Ph.D.

Much of the following information is taken from Lorio Verzasconi's book on the history of the Swiss Rifle Club. The organization is still in existence, and is recognized as one of the oldest and finest rifle clubs in the United States!

The Monterey County Swiss Rifle Club was founded in 1900 in the Blanco district west of Salinas by a group of fourteen immigrants from Canton Ticino, Switzerland.

There is a centuries-old Swiss tradition that all able-bodied men should develop and maintain their ability as marksmen as a first line of defense against foreign aggression. It is not surprising that they brought this sport with them to their new homeland.

The founding members of the organization are as follows:

John Breschini originally entered the dairy business with his brothers near Salinas. In 1900 he purchased the Blanco store from Charles Louis and in 1910 built the Breschini Emporium in Blanco.

Steve Breschini was also in the dairy business near Salinas. He later purchased the "Stream," a saloon on Main Street in Salinas. The bar actually had a small stream running through it--beneath the bar's foot rail.

Peter Bontadelli of Salinas was the grandfather of Francis H. Cislini, former editor and publisher of the Salinas Californian. [Mr. Cislini is a contributor to the Society's Archival Vault and member of our Museum's Founders Club.]

Emilio Sgheiza was at one time foreman of the Lagunita Diary and Cheese Factory located on San Juan Grade Road north of Salinas. He later purchased a ranch and dairy in the Alisal district.

Albert Frolli who was known as "Frolom" (Big Frolli) owned the Frolli Hotel (later the Pasquale Hotel) in Soledad.

Bernardo Breschini owned a diary and ranch on Highway 101 north of Gonzales.

G.P. Codoni was the owner of the "Stag" in Gonzales, the town's oldest "Old West" saloon.

Mark Gnosca farmed near Salinas and operated the Salinas Hotel on Main Street.

Pete Taglio operated a dairy near Gonzales.

Vittorio Rianda was editor of La Colonia Svizzera, the Italian-Swiss paper published in San Francisco.

Elvezio Jacob owned a farm on Boronda Road near Salinas.

Little is known of Domingo Frolli and Faustino Gambetta except that they lived and worked near Salinas.

Arthur Martella was the youngest of the charter members, and the only born in California. He worked on the family farm in Blanco, and was in the hotel business in Modesto when he died during the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The first range for the club was at the Batista Marci dairy in Salinas. Targets were set up in the slough north of the barn, which could be seen from Highway 101 until it was demolished just a few years ago. Targets were 9 inch circles placed at 200 yards. There were three shoots a year, as well as an annual turkey shoot prior to Thanksgiving. Live birds were used as targets until the 1920s: in later years a 4 3/4 inch bull's eye at 200 yards was used instead. This was later reduced to 2 3/4 inches, and then eliminated entirely, as the shooters were so good that turkeys could no longer be given as prizes. [The exact relationship between these turkey shoots and the Breschini Turkey Shoots in Blanco is unknown. As most of the Breschinis were founding members or members of the Swiss Rifle Club, it is likely that these events were related somehow.]

Other shoots were subsequently held in Gonzales, at the Pedrezzi ranch on River Road south of Salinas, and at the Pura ranch at the foot of La Gloria Grade east of Gonzales. In 1946, the club purchased the first of three parcels which now make up its permanent facility, an 18-acre site at the foot of La Gloria Grade east of Gonzales. In that same year the organization was incorporated under California law.

Editor's note: Lorio Verzasconi's history of the Swiss Rifle Club, in words and photographs, is a fascinating look at early Swiss-Italian immigrants in Monterey County. It is highly recommended.

Copyright 2000 by G.S. Breschini


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