Scott Valley Historic Ranch Tour
By Tim Holt
Back on the Ranch
Story and photos by Tim Holt
STARTING IN ONTARIO, she traveled with her 3-year-old son by steamer, muleback and stagecoach to Red Bluff, then over the Trinity Mountains on horseback over roads that were barely roads, eventually settling with her husband Alexander Walker and her small boy, Robert, in the Scott Valley near Yreka in the early 1860s.
It was a life of hard work, hardship, hope and tragedy, those early days eking out a living on a 350-acre ranch. Somehow Janet Sutherland Walker survived it all, including the suicide (some say it was murder) of her husband, and the deaths of her two daughters from scarlet fever. She later married Charles Marsac, the man she hired to work on the ranch after her first husband died.
Janet and Alexander Walker were my great-great grandparents. Their ranch, now run as a dairy, will be featured on a tour of historic Scott Valley ranches on June 15. It’s a fundraiser for the local chapter of the Native Daughters of The Golden West. The other ranch on the tour, the Fowle Ranch just a few miles down the road, was an early-day hotel and stagecoach stop.
The stories that have come down to us from those early pioneer days – and you’ll likely hear quite a few of them on the tour – tend to be about the drama of life back then, the hardships and the tragedies, not the humdrum everyday aspects of ranch life. True, it was a different sort of life back then, rawer and rougher and closer to nature.
There’s the story of the two young boys, Robert and James, my great-uncle and great-grandfather, riding five miles on horseback to the little log cabin school at Crystal Creek, sometimes in near-zero temperatures. Or, later in his life, the wrestling match my great-grandfather had with a neighbor to determine who got the best of a property line dispute (he won). On the Fowle Ranch, they still tell of the stagecoach driver who with his team rolled over an embankment and drowned in an irrigation ditch.
Alongside the Walker Ranch was the Gorman Ranch, where the two bachelor brothers, Joseph and Ed, farmed with mules and horses until the 1960s. Both these ranches are now owned by Charlie and Marlene Martin, who with their son Connor run a sizeable dairy operation and some beef cattle. Charlie’s family has been operating the dairy since 1954. He can tell you a few stories himself about life on the ranch – about the floods of 1955, for example, when the raw milk had to be rowed part of the way to the creamery in Grenada.
Melanie Fowle of the 490-acre Fowle Ranch is one of the reigning queens of cattle ranching, with a resume that’s mind-boggling: former president of Siskiyou County CattleWomen, former president of California CattleWomen, former president of American National CattleWomen, former president of American Hereford Women.
“I’ve spent my life promoting beef,” she says in what is something of an understatement.
Fowle’s son Jeff and her daughter-in-law Erin have taken over running the ranch, but Melanie still devotes some of her time to educating young people in “where their food comes from.” She goes to schools in the Scott Valley and Yreka, talking to students about how farming and ranching are done in the modern age. Every other year, she leads a caravan of three pickup trucks to the Gordon Lau Elementary School in San Francisco. The pickups are hauling sheep, goats, calves, chickens and rabbits so the kids can get some hands-on experience with farm animals. (She and her cohorts at first tried hauling full-size cows and draft horses in, but that proved to be too cumbersome.)
Participants in the Historic Ranch Tour will get a glimpse of ranch life in the Scott Valley, past and present. •
Historic Ranch Tour • Saturday, June 15, 10 am
Martin Ranch, 7712 North Highway 3 (about 4.5 miles south of Fort Jones)
Tickets $15, benefits the Native Daughters • For reservations, call (530) 468-5840
Bring a picnic lunch and chair; drinks and dessert provided by the Native Daughters