Alisal Lore - A Window to California History

Cattle Drive California

Alisal Glimpse: 1810

The land is nestled in the Western passage through a temperate coastal valley, bound by a river on the northeast and a coastal mountain range on the southwest.  The range barricades the coastal flow, producing warmer valley days and cooler valley nights.  The adjacent river and seasonal streams that cross this land abound with annual runs of 10 pound steel head trout.  The rolling hills are dotted with valley and coast live oaks.  The moist glens and river banks, shadowed by the mountain backdrop, support healthy groves of western sycamores.  Deer graze cautiously, fearing mountain lion, grizzly bear and coyote.  A people who live across the river share this land for hunting and for gathering acorns and  most recently, for raising livestock.  (A newly arrived people who have come from across the ocean have also seen the pro­mise of this land.) The original inhabitants call this land "Nojoqui".
The new arrivals know it by the name "Alisal" (meaning grove of sycamores).

Raimundo Carrillo & Others: 1843 - 1862

Thirty-nine years after the Spanish padres established the Mission Santa Inés (1804) on the Chumash village of Ahajalapu, these lands across the Santa Ynez River were granted to Raimundo Carrillo.  Car­rillo received the 13,500 acre grant for his service to the newly established Mexican government.  The sole economic focus of this land for the next 40 years (by Carrillo and five subsequent owners) would be rais­ing livestock, primarily cattle.  In fact, cattle would share in the economic productivity of this properly from 1804-Present.

Cattle at Rancho NojoquiUlpiano Yndart: 1862 - 1868

Ulpiano Yndart owned the Alisal (Rancho Nojoqui) when cattle were the backbone of Santa Ynez Valley wealth (1862).  He was the last of four owners who acquired their wealth during the period of Mexican au­thority.  (His sea-faring grandfather, who was a previous Alisal owner, had traveled the navigable seas of the entire globe as a sea captain.) A terrible drought wiped out Ulpiano's cattle wealth and the cattle wealth of the valley.  As a result of this drought the large land grant holdings by Mexican families became available to the incoming Americans whose industrious­ness was now called upon to rebuild valley’s economic base.

The Pierce family: 1868 - 1907

The family engineered a novel irrigation system, allowing them to use Santa Ynez River water to farm a portion of "Rancho Alisal."

Though cattle would never again roam unfenced and in their original numbers in the valley, by the time William T.  Mead established the "Alisal Ranch Company" in 1907, the Alisal and its neighbors had recovered from the economic shock of the drought 49 years earlier.

Charles E. Perkins: 1927

Horses had been essential to the cattle economy of the Alisal since the Mexican days.  However, never had such care been given to these animals in the history of the Alisal until Charles E.  Perkins purchased the Alisal in 1927 and devoted his attention to the raising of thoroughbred horses as well as fine cattle. 
Perkin's raised Kentucky Derby winner "Flying Ebony," the trotting horse "Lou Dillon" and other well known horses.

The Jackson Family: 1943 – Present

A century after Carrillo received the grant for "Rancho Nojoqui," the Alisal was pur­chased by a man who expanded the reputation of the Alisal in an entirely new direction -- hospitality.  Originally, Charles Pete Jackson, Jr., purchased the Alisal as a working cattle ranch alone -- but on the ad­vice of manager Lynn Gilliam, the cat­tlemen's quarters were converted to quar­ters for dude ranch guests.  On July 16, 1946, the Alisal Guest Ranch was opened for summer seasons with a maximum capacity of 30 guests.

Socially, the Alisal has consistently ranked at the top of the country's resorts.  Clark Gable married Lady Silvia in Alisal's old library.  A prominent Hollywood magazine featured a large front page story on Doris Day while on one of her regular visits to Alisal.  Posters in prominent clothing store windows country-wide used association with the Alisal to sell their product, revealing the Alisal as a social phenomenon among the country's resorts.

Though the Alisal today maintains a very low profile and will not boast about its distinguished tradition, the preoccupation with quality remains and the public rep­utation continues to grow.  The movie stars still come, and the ranch welcomes visitors from the world over.  Western-flavored hospitality remains. 

Old Ranch Course - Before GolfRanch Course - Alisal Golf

The cattlemen's quarters that once fed grub to hungry cowboys is now a discriminating res­taurant. 

Deer can still be seen grazing cautiously: however, these days it is on the Alisal's 18-hole golf course.  Horses and cattle roam grass-covered hills that have changed little since the days of the Spanish vaquero.

By Herb Kandel

For more Alisal reading, see our Guest Stories page and our Newsletter archives.

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