Chapter 2 of Joseph D. Grant's book
Redwoods and Reminiscences,
posted here with the kind permission of
the Save-the-Redwoods League
@Permission required for reprint,
sale, or commercial use.
The timeframe described in the following excerpt is the 1890s.
"As I ranged the beautiful coast country of central California, I fell more and more in love with Arcadia as it then was….I bought a ranch near San Luis Obispo—the venerable mission town which takes its name from St. Louis, the Bishop of Toulouse. Midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the little city slumbers at the base of picturesque cerros--pyramidal peaks, strangely cleft, which suggested a bishop's mitre to the pious padres who first ventured here. The ranch was in San Luis Valley, southwest of town, partly enclosed by a dilapidated adobe wall which had been built almost a century before by Indian converts under the benign gaze of Padre Junipero Serra and his brown-robed Franciscan brethren.
and around San Luis were many descendants of the proud old Spanish
families that had held the land for generations. They were notable for
their courtly hospitality and superb horsemanship….Some of the caballeros,
at fiesta times, appeared arrayed in colorful costumes such as had been
worn by the men of
"When I was at
about San Luis there were some youthful Englishmen—mostly “younger
sons”—who had come out to this new country to make their fortune as rancheros.
Foremost among them were the three brothers Vachell. The Vachell
“boys,” as they were called, owned land in San Luis Obispo County—one ranch near Arroyo Grande, another at Creston, and a third
near San Luis (the former Frank McCoppin
ranch) next to my own acres. The eldest of the three brothers, Horace
Vachell, was a very close personal friend. We had hog-killing times.
We shot quail and ducks together and drank—happily not to
three carried England
to California. Following the staid traditions of the homeland, they would
appear in formal dress for dinner, even on the rancho. The Vachells were
of ancient family. When I first visited them, I was astonished to find
upon the walls of their California drawing room portraits of personages whom they knew as friends….
was the father of polo west of the Rockies
—the first to play that splendid game, which caught on at once. He
imported a smart black-and-yellow dogcart in which he drove
tandem—which reminds me of a comment made thereupon by the leading
physician in San Luis Obispo. Horace was driving a pair of blacks, in brown and brass harness, down
the principal street, when the leader tuner around, and then lay down!
I heard afterwards that Horace had taught this horse certain
tricks. This lying down was one of them. When the horse got up, the
traces were crossed, and the 'pet' began kicking. Finally, order was
re-established, but the doctor, an amused onlooker, remarked
portentously: 'It takes a lot of trouble to be an Englishman.… '
"The Vachells tried to
introduce steeplechases, but our vaqueros preferred a dash along the
hard brown sands of
Englishmen joined the Vachells. They never chose to fly their own
on a gigantic flagstaff which had been given to Frank McCoppin by
Senator Stanford. The cowboys might have riddled it with bullets; so
they flew instead Old Glory.
"One young Englishman with the
Vachells trained his pony to carry a fishing rod under its tail. Passing
through Arroyo Grande on his way to the estuary, where the steelhead
were running, he was held up by some teamsters who demanded an
recall some of our 'beanos' as the Vachells called them. A wonderful
brandy punch was concocted by an Irishman, the barkeeper of the Olive
Branch Saloon. It was a delectable drink, nectar after a long day in the
saddle, compounded of lime juice, sugar, ice, green tea, brandy—with a
top-dressing of rum—to be sucked slowly through a straw. May Dolan
rest in peace!
the three brothers, Arthur Vachell remained in
"It is gratifying to me that I
have been able to maintain contact with him in the later years. Several
times I have been his guest at his delightful manor near Bath—an
ancient estate where the title to the land goes back to 800 A.D….When
last I was there, I found the author, Horace, managing the house, and
the artist, Arthur, supervising the construction of a beautiful sunken
"Horace Vachell has been so
kind as to dedicate to me one of his best books, A Woman in Exile,
which has a partly Californian setting—attesting, as do so many of his
novels, that his life in the Golden West opened a rich vein of literary
material which he has worked with distinction.
family of Irish descent, which had great land holdings north of San
Luis, was the Murphy family. Instead of a single Spanish grant, theirs
were three grants adjoining—the Santa Margarita,
"A typical ranchero of
those pastoral days was Pat Murphy,…known from San Francisco to San
Diego as Don Patricio; and he spoke Spanish with an endearing and
disarming Corkian brogue!
The governor of the State had made Don Patricio a general of militia;
although he had no military training whatever; and, as a young man, I
was never able to make up my mind how to address this hidalgo; so I
called him General up to noon time. After a Spanish meal, it was in
order to treat him as an authentic grandee of Spain. In the late hours, when he was opening what we then called a
'basket' of wine, invariably champagne, I was genially encouraged to
call him 'Pat.' I can
see him now with sharpest definition: a sturdy man of middle height,
with the most polished manners, particularly when addressing the ladies.
He must have kissed the Blarney Stone. He kissed the hands of all the
ladies, and, had in hand before them, expressed his ardent wish to kiss
their feet. About him, when he came to town, hung a staff of parasitical
gentlemen, most of them ready to lick the dust from his boots. He paid
for everything in royal fashion. Automatically, when he entered the bar
of the old Cosmopolitan Hotel, all and sundry leaped to their feet,
saluted the 'chief,' licked their thirsty lips, and awaited the
royal command: 'Gentlemen, you will drink a glass of wine with me.'
On such occasions, enterprising saloon keepers collected empty
champagne bottles duly charged to 'His Excellency' as full. He paid
all such bills without question. We shall never see his like again.
was a bluff, powerful man. I shall never forget one occasion when he
came to my room at the hotel in
we came down from the
scene is brought back by a passage out of Vachell’s book The
Procession of Life, which describes a rodeo upon just such a rancho,
"Beneath three splendid live oaks, an ancient Mexican was busy
preparing the Barbecue. A deep trench was filled with glowing embers,
and against the trunks of the oaks leaned a score of long willow spits
upon which the choicest morsels of beef were impaled. A keen nose might
have detected the fragrance of salsa, that savoury sauce,
cunningly compounded of tomatoes, chiles, and onions, and a keen
eye would have marked many bottles lying cool and snug at the bottom of
a pool in the creek that bubbled past the corrals. The creek lay to the
right of a small plain encircled with gently rolling hills, and down
these hills the cattle were being slowly driven. The shrill cries of the
vaqueros mingled with the lowing of the cows and steers, and these
pastoral sounds floated harmoniously to the ears of the guests. 'This,' said one joyously,
feature of these fiestas was the guisado, or Spanish stew, so
easy to make over a campfire, and more easy still over a stove. Here is
the recipe: Fry in butter to
a golden brown slices of an onion, add several sliced tomatoes, and
sliced green chiles, being careful not to use the hot variety (which
indeed would make the dish too hot for Anglo-Saxon consumption), salt
well and add a cup of ordinary stock. Put into the saucepan cold
chicken, game, or beef, and let the whole simmer for about two hours.
Before serving, add one tablespoonful of Worcestershire Sauce. This is a
dish fit for a king, and an intelligent child can make it.
part of the festivities, there was a bullfight in a corral, in which el
toro, stomping and breathing fire, for a long time held his
own; and there were roping feats by vaqueros, bronco busting, and other
spirited events. Within the corrals was being enacted a vivid
demonstration of the truth of that Wild West couplet,
was horse that couldn’t be rode;
were greatly thrilled when we heard that a famous matador from
"But—and I, for one, don’t blame him—at the supreme moment the man’s nerve failed him. As the bull charged, as he heard its thundering advance, he leapt from his chair, raced to the palisades and nimbly vaulted over them. Everybody laughed—and applauded. What would have happened to him on the Plaza de Toros of Madrid? Afterwards, under the kindly ministrations of the laughing vaqueros, he acknowledged, 'I am old, too old, but senores, life is still sweet to me.'
of the music of
a grand fiesta lasted all night. Enchanted as I was with the brilliant
scene, my eyelids were heavy; my throat was parched. It has been said of
those Gargantuan meals that if one blew breath into the air after a full
cargo, sparks might set alight the bunchgrass. Perhaps the caloric of
the cooking and the aguardiente supplied the strength which
wrenched me from the clutches of Don Patricio. I picked out one of the
hobbled horses, and before I got under way, the inhospitable beast tried
to buck me out of the saddle! I
rode into Paso Robles at an early morning hour—foundered.
shall I forget that scene at the Rancho Santa Margarita—for I had
resurrected the patriarchal life so swiftly passing, a true presentment
 Frank McCoppin (1834-1867): First Irish-born mayor of San Francisco, who owned property in San Luis Obispo County.
 hog-killing times: an old expression meaning times of great enjoyment.
 Corkian brogue: The accent typical of the city of Cork, on the south coast of Ireland.
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