Last Thursday’s Ranchers Panel portion of the Community Reads program was held just a day after the Owens Valley woke up to clouds and puddles following the first night of rain in nearly two months.
The rain made for a more optimistic panel of four cattlemen and the topic of the first question asked by County Office of Education Superintendent Terry McAteer. Tom Noland with the Spainhower Ranch in Lone Pine admitted he ran outdoors at 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 and “got wet.”
The county office co-sponsors the annual Community Reads with the Inyo Council of the Arts, the setting for last week’s panel discussion. This year the book “Eventide,” by Kent Haruf, is set on a ranch in a small Colorado town with many parallels to the Owens Valley.
America has shifted from an agrarian society to an industrialized country and now to an e-commuting culture. But, the character of small, remote Western communities still carries the traits of the ranchers who came here 150 years ago.
All four panelists, Noland, Mark Lacey, Howard Arcularius and Alonna Cashbaugh Giacomini, represented families into their sixth generation of running cattle in the valley with histories that could fill more than one Haruf, or Larry McMurtry, novel. The life described by all four is the stuff of dreams for kids growing up on Westerns in the flatlands.
And while the last 150 years have had their difficulties and complications, none of the four seemed willing to give up the life for a desk job.
Giacomini’s great-grandfather, Augustus Cashbaugh, moved from Ohio to the Owens Valley in 1865, partnering on the first grist mill in the area. He married a Dehy and bought 160 acres east of where the Bishop Airport stands now. Like today, the Cashbaugh herds wintered in the valley and spent summers in high-country meadows. And, like the other panelists, the land the family herds graze on is a combination of private holdings and leases, primarily from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
When asked about relationships with lessees and the difference between owned or leased pastureland, Giacomini responded that the care for the land is the same. “But we control the water on the (private) land we own in Mono County,” she said. Irrigation of pastureland, in preparation for summer grazing, is about to begin, supplemented by the past rainstorms.
Howard Arcularius’ great-grandfather, Wilhelm, immigrated from Germany to Round Valley after a stopover in Pennsylvania. He homesteaded north of Bishop, married and continued moving, working as a teamster or miner depending on location. Arcularius grew up listening to stories about the day his grandfather “left Bodie on the day of a lynching.”
Wilhelm’s wanderlust eventually got to the first Mrs. Arcularius. She divorced him and moved herself and six children back to Round Valley in 1892. “She’s considered the godmother of Round Valley School,” Arcularius said. “She gave the land to the district” for a $10 gold coin.
The family bought additional land in Long Valley along the Owens River and a 100-mile-long valley near Tonopah, Nev. As a kid, Arcularius drove 2,500 head of cattle the length of that valley every year.
The first Lacey “chased the Gold Rush after the Civil War,” moving from the mining camps south of Bodie and eventually landing at Fort Independence and initially ranching and farming to feed himself and his family, according to panelist Lacey. That first Lacey “hit a strike, sold the (Ft. Indy) homestead and bought another on Georges Creek,” he said.
Lacey’s grandfather was born on the Georges Creek ranch, eventually selling to LADWP. “He was a willing seller,” said Lacey. “Back then, there were people more than willing to sell.” The Laceys leased back the land, then bought property in Olancha and, over the years, picked up parcels up and down the Owens Valley.
Lacey’s parents moved to Paso Robles and continued ranching, but Lacey stayed here. “I always preferred Inyo (County),” he said. “I rode to the cow camps in the Kern Plateau since I was 5. I’m a mountain person.”
Today, the operation is wide-spread with the Eastern Sierra operation wintering in Inyo and spending summers in Mono County.
Noland’s grandfather, Russel, worked on the L.A. Aqueduct in 1909, operating the floating shovel; his grandmother came as a child to Blackrock in 1886. Over the years the family bought and sold land in the valley. Today, Noland’s operation includes private land and leases in Lone Pine and Olancha with summer grazing permits in the High Sierra. “We’ve all seen bleak times in the cattle business,” he said. “We did business with the movie business. That helped us keep going.”
With the changes in the valley resulting from increased regulation and oversight, Noland admitted one thing hasn’t changed. “Our cattle walk everywhere they go,” he said referring to the long trek to summer pasture.
Some changes in the industry have been for the good. Noland explained that with artificial insemination, desirable genetic traits could be bred into the calves. “You can get better quality by going to the top of the line,” he said, “rather than buying the second or third offspring” and hoping for the best.
Lacey put the biggest issues facing area cattlemen in perspective. First, water: “There’s no water to fight over,” he said. Second, regulations: “If I knew (when I got out of college in the 1980s) how much regulation we’d be dealing with, I might have been a lawyer. I prefer animals to dealing with regulators. I think we all do.”