January 15, 2020
By Bill Pumford, Image from ROWHS Collection
CATTLE IN THE MOUNTAINS — BEGINNINGS: This week’s image is a photo of the Allison Ranch family homestead from the 1890’s. One of the least known or understood major industries in the San Bernardino mountains must be cattle ranching. For nearly a hundred years from the 1860’s until the early 1950’s herds of cattle existed in the mountains. Initially cattle provided food for the loggers and miners. Large herds started coming to the mountains when severe drought conditions in the high desert forced cattle ranchers to drive their herds into the high mountain meadows during the summer for the lush grasses and water. During the latter part of the 1800’s a number of ranches were established in the mountains including: Shay, Heart Bar, I.S., Hitchcock, Wright, Erwin, and Allison ranches which in total may have reached nearly 1000 head of cattle. Over the decades a routine was established where the ranchers would move their cattle off the mountain in September to the high desert for grazing before the harsh winters. This included Whitewater, Yucca Valley, Lucerne Valley, and Victorville. In May cowboys would move the cattle back up the mountain (including potentially hundreds of newborn calves) and, depending on the point of origin, might stop at Coxey Meadow to graze the cattle on the way to Fawnskin. The cowboys who drove the cattle up and down the mountain twice a year were a hardy lot. They worked long hours during the drives, sleeping on the ground and eating poorly. They had to chase cattle that got away from the herds, usually into steep canyons. Relaxation after drives came in the form of friendly competitions between ranches in riding, roping, and branding. Cowboys often participated in Western movies made in the mountains. During the filming of “Nevada” in 1935 the Hitchcock and Shay ranches, cattle, and cowboys were used in some of the scenes. Will Talmadge and Bill Hitchcock had speaking parts.