From Rancheria to Ranch: The Ogilvy Ranch

In the centuries before the Spanish, the Chumash village of Sigvaya lay deep in a canyon along Mono Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ynez River. Shaded by bay, sycamore, and alder trees, a natural herb garden of berry bushes, miner’s lettuce, watercress, and mint grew thickly in the riparian landscape where deep pools teamed with trout. In the chaparral, deer and other game were abundant. In spring, Flora painted the potreros and hillsides with wild swatches of poppies and lupine. Blue ceanothus and red garnet gooseberries tinted the thick brush, and shady glens protected the delicate tones of shooting stars and yerba santa, whose leaves steeped in hot water were used by the Chumash to reduce fever.

When the Spanish came, they renamed the village San Gervasio and a period of Christianization ensued. Many of the mountain Chumash became neophytes of Mission Santa Barbara or, after 1804, Mission Santa Inez. Under Mexican rule, the power and lands of the missions were confiscated and the neophytes were left without protection. When guards whipped an Indian at Mission Santa Inez in 1824, a general revolt ensued, and the Indians fled. Rancheria San Gervasio lay along the main trail into the Central Valley and witnessed this exodus. Months later, Lieutenant Antonio del Valle, a member of Portilla’s expedition, wrote in his journal that they had found the refugees and offered them a full pardon. Escorted by the expedition, the Indians returned the way they had fled, spending a night at San Gervasio before returning to the missions.

Rancho San Gervasio

San Gervasio, like all the Chumash rancherias, was eventually abandoned. In 1894, Frank and Joel Hildreth of Watsonville, California, claimed a 160-acre homestead on the site of the former village, and commenced making improvements. They built a primitive shed-roofed cabin framed with sycamore poles and clad with short boards. All lumber had to be cut on the spot or packed in on horses and mules, hence the size of the boards. The floor was dirt, but they added a fireplace with a chimney of flat stones and mud. In later years, they added a room with walls woven of local grasses and reeds.

Joel Hildreth hunted deer and sold the venison to hotels in the Santa Barbara area. In the fall, he would ride over the Romero Trail, leave his pack horses for Tom Dinsmore in Montecito to pasture and use, and worked the lima bean harvest until he had enough money for provisions for the ranch. Joel’s friend, Wes Thompson, conducted hunting and camping trips into the mountains in the late 1890s and often used Hildreth’s cabin. On one trip, Wes was hired to take the 15-year-old son of a visiting Chicago family camping. The boy, unused to extreme physical exertion, was dead on his feet after the ride over the mountains and promptly fell asleep on the cot in the cabin. When Wes checked on him after tending with the horses, he found a large rattlesnake napping next to the boy. Wes pulled his pistol but decided shooting the snake that close to the boy might be dangerous, so he grabbed the boy and in one fell swoop threw him toward the door and pushed him out of the cabin. The boy didn’t understand this rough treatment and went wild with protestations until Wes showed him the snake leaving the cabin, miffed and disturbed by all the caterwauling. Years later, George Owen Knapp, who had bought Arcady from Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, hired Wes to take him camping. Riding along the trail, Wes told the tale of the boy and the rattlesnake, but Knapp already knew it. “Why,” he said, “that boy was my nephew!”

Because the ranch was a former Chumash village, there were plenty of relics in the area. Archeologists eventually identified four significant sites, including a cemetery. As early as 1878, scientists were bemoaning the relic hunters who had disturbed the middens and burial sites. Even Joel Hildreth innocently disturbed some relics while he was digging a corner fence post. He found a large soapstone olla and set it on his porch for decoration. The worst destruction, however, occurred during the Coyote Fire of 1964 which burned over 80,000 acres and one-sixth of the Santa Ynez drainage. At that time, the Forest Service unwittingly sent five bull dozers through the ranch to create a fire break. The devastation to Native American history was a wake-up call, and the Forest Service implemented an education and protective program.

The Stoddard Days

Joel Hildreth knew he wasn’t a master carpenter, but he admired Carl Stoddard’s work. He offered Stoddard his interest in the San Gervasio Ranch if he would build him a nice house. Joel, by this time, was working as a ranger for the U.S. Forestry Service, a position which he held from 1898 to 1904. Carl Stoddard’s family had moved to Montecito in 1873 where they purchased 43 acres on the site of today’s Cold Spring School. Carl, the third son, was an active outdoorsman and a good friend of the Dinsmore family. He married Eslinda Romero in 1897 and they had two daughters, Dorothy and Rebecca. Carl served as a U.S. Forest Ranger from 1904 to 1914. The Dinsmores and Stoddards made many forays into the wilderness together. In 1901, Carl built a board and batten cabin on the Hildreth property, acquired Frank Hildreth’s half interest, and became sole owner of the San Gervasio Ranch, which became a popular destination in the back country for riders, campers, and hunters.

In 1907, Carl decided to rent out a portion of the ranch and contracted with a man in Goleta to build an adobe house which Stoddard then rented to Louis Jones and his second wife, Elizabeth Young Sharpe. Louis Jones had originally come to Santa Barbara in 1888 and worked on Francis T. Underhill’s El Roblar Ranch in Los Alamos as well as other ranches nearby. He eventually returned to New York City and worked in the brokerage business with his grandfather. When he came west again in 1907, it was not as a cowboy, but as a bank director with an estate in Montecito. Perhaps yearning for those wilder, younger days, Jones secured his retreat at Carl Stoddard’s ranch. Tragically, he and his wife lost their lives seven years later in the floods of 1914. Fifty-five years later, the Jones Adobe itself was lost to flooding.

Around 1904, Joel Hildreth and a friend were on a hunting trip up Mono Canyon when Hildreth offered to flush a deer by climbing part way up the mountain. His friend, however, mistook him for the deer and shot him in the hip. Tying the wounded Hildreth to the saddle, his friend packed him down the canyon and river until they reached the North Portal of Mission Tunnel where they could call for a vehicle to meet them at China Camp on San Marcos Pass. Joel spent the next six months in Cottage Hospital. He eventually returned to his hometown of Watsonville, and the Forest Service named a peak after him.

The Ogilvy Ranch

In 1917, Carl Stoddard sold his ranch to Arthur E. Ogilvy who renamed it the AR Ranch, after himself and his new bride, Rachel Peabody Frazier. Arthur and his sister Gladys had attended Cold Spring School as well as Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead’s Sloyd School on the Arcady estate. After Exeter and Yale, he entered the insurance and real estate business, eventually establishing Ogilvy, Gilbert, Norris, and Hill. An avid outdoorsman, Arthur and his family and friends enjoyed hunting, fishing, and riding trips into the Santa Barbara backcountry. Buying the ranch as a rural retreat was a natural outgrowth of the families’ interests. The newspaper of the day reported that the place was well-watered and improved with two dwellings and barns and forty head of cattle.

The last of the Santa Inez Mission Indians, Estevan Falari (also known as Old Steve) was the caretaker for many years and lived in the board and batten cabin. Montecitans Alex Dominguez and Ferdinand Delbrook worked on the ranch planting grain and hauling supplies. George Delbrook built a hunting trail to the top of the round mountain behind the barn. A second adobe was built on the main property and still stands today.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the ranch sold twice and became a weekend retreat for two more families but retained the name “Ogilvy Ranch.” In the 1970s, the ranch was sold to Norm Paulson and the Brotherhood of the Sun, but that is another story altogether! (Sources: the files of Jim Blakley, backcountry historian; 1994 oral interview with Dennis Cogan by Maria Herold; Dwight Murphy’s “Hildreth Peak” in Noticias; David Myrick’s Montecito and Santa Barbara.)