Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 5)

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Posted by Drew Mashburn on July 27, 2017

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the May 2, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.  Bald used the same title for many of his articles, so the Ojai Valley Museum added “(No. 5)” to distinguish this particular article.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 5)
by
Howard Bald

The back country men and their fall cattle drives were the most picturesque and exciting of all to me. Along in November the cattle for market would be rounded up, and those in the upper Cuyama valley would be driven via trail over Pine Mountain to the upper Sespe, where they would join with the Sespe cattle and those from the upper Santa Ynez.

There being no highways and trucks, the cattle were driven single file from the Sespe through Cherry Canyon over Ortega Hill into the north fork of the Matilija and down to Ortega Ranch – some six miles above the upper edge of Matilija lake. There they camped the second night.

From the Matilija Hot Springs on to Ventura it was easy going, for they had a road to travel. What is now Casitas Springs was known as Stony Flat, and was a large hay field. There the cattle were held overnight and the next day delivered to lima bean fields east of Ventura, where they became the property of the Hobson brothers, Will and Abe, the fathers respectively of Mrs. Edith Hoffman and Mrs. Grace Smith (all deceased).

The Matilija school children were alerted well in advance by the bawling cattle and shouting cowboys, as they forded the stream some 100 yards above the school. School would be dismissed until the last yip of the cowboys died away down the dusty road.

Among the cattlemen on these drives were, of course, various Reyes boy – Rudolpho, Anselmo, Peter and Rafael. Then there were the Wegis brothers, Frand and Gebhard. They were all from Cuyama.

From the Sespe and the upper Santa Ynez were the Eduardo Canet cowboys and various homesteaders, among them Ygnacio Ramos, the Warner brothers (Dave and Jack), Ramon Cota, Manuel Lopez. Perhaps the most colorful of them were the Ortega brothers, grandfather and great uncles of Milito Ortega, Ventura’s ex-postmaster.

There were many legends of their exploits in that rough country. Ramon Ortega in 1914 at the age of 82 went over a bluff, and both he and his horse were killed. He had always said he would die back there, and that he didn’t want to be packed out like a dead deer. Jacinto Reyes (he was always affectionately known as J.D.) packed uncle Ramon out sitting upright on a saddle horse as he had always wished to be brought out.

As I have mentioned, the Matilija school stood on the east bank of the river. Water was carried up in a galvanized bucket. All drank from the one tin cup. One small, battered tin basin served for washing our hands, and naturally there was a minimum of that.

There was a theory this creek water was soon purified in its flow over rocks and through sand and gravel. So there was no concern over contamination by sewage from the several resorts above.

My sister’s attendance at that school was of short duration for when mother discovered some foreign objects crawling in her hair there was something of a scene. There was one boy, Mike, that Margaret was quite fond of, but following this episode, she told him she didn’t wish to play with him anymore, that he was lousy. Mike replied: “No, Maggie, I ain’t had no louses for a month.”

Shortly after that Margaret returned to Nordhoff, while I continued attending Matilija regardless. Our home, Rancho Rinconada, was just midway between both schools. J.D. Reyes and I gave the ranch that name.

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