This story came from W. W. Bristol’s book, “THE STORY OF THE OJAI VALLEY” which was published in 1946. It is assumed Bristol is the author of the story.

BY W. W. Bristol

Among the early settlers in the valley were many singular characters. Of these John Montgomery wrote very entertainingly.

There was a case in early days of a German nobleman stranded on the Lichtenberg ranch four miles from Nordhoff, who in desperation attempted to hatch eggs in the heat of the sun or by artificial heat long before incubators were invented.

To the same ranch came in 1874 two families who appeared as much out of place as the German baron, and so were objects of curiosity and criticism to the sparse country population. They were fresh from New York City and had pronounced city ways, and seemed wholly ignorant of everything pertaining to country life. As these people fill a place in history of the valley we will describe them. Col. Wiggins was a tall spare man of fifty years with a diminutive wife of twenty. His companion, Wiseman, was a stout hearty man of thirty with a refined, delicate, city wife and several children. He was the son of a rich druggist, and had lived, it was said, with both hands in the old man’s bags. After living sometime on the Lichtenberg ranch the two families separated, Wiggins going to Nordhoff while Wiseman squatted with his little family in the wild brush east of the Bennett place. A more unsuitable place for such people could not be found, and they had a hard time in their little clearing surrounded by dense brush, the home of wild animals and rattlesnakes, and a bear trap sunk in the earth not far from their little shanty. And there Wiseman sweat and bungled and blistered, hauling water from a distance, running in debt and waiting for paternal drafts the never came—’til one day his pistol went off, accidentally, when his wagon turned over into a barranca and poor Wiseman’s squat was once more open to homestead entry. He was the pioneer of that lower section now covered by orange groves and for this he finds a place in this sketch.

Col. Wiggins had in the meantime settled in Nordhoff. He purchased from Surdam the Nordhoff townsite and from Blumberg the hotel. He passed for a millionaire and had for a partner a member of the Louisiana legislature, a cotton merchant of New Orleans. Col. Wiggins was a man of much dignity of character as suited the man of military antecedents and had his own ideas of running a hotel. He treated his guests as if they owed him an apology, and the offense could not be condoned by their silent submission to a heavy board bill, consequently he soon had the house all to himself. In 1878 he joined his friend Wiseman in the shadowy land, and his disconsolate little widow shared her sorrows with a second husband in San Francisco. Thus passed away another of the Valley’s pioneers, and eccentric, but honest man.

Shortly after Wiggins’ demise the writer as owner of the hotel, received a visit from a strange lady who made the startling proposition to open an academy for young ladies in the building. She was a veteran in the business and highly recommended, and the establishment was to be first class. In a few weeks glowing circulars were scattered over California announcing the grand opening and detailing the various branches and strict rules of decorum, guaranteed moral safety and payment in advance. Four professors from San Francisco, loaded with accomplishments and burning to impart their knowledge, took charge of their departments. The doors were thrown open and only the presence of the sweet lady graduate was necessary to make everybody happy; but, alas, she came not, and a financial stringency in the local market brought things to a crisis and howls of despair. The rupture of a solitary greenback and its distribution among the professors assuaged their ruffled tempers, and under the leadership of the Professor of Oriental Literature they departed to luxuriate in a deck passage to San Francisco.

It has been said that Wiseman was the pioneer of the lower orange district of the valley, but S. S. Buckman had settled previously on the present Thacher place. This Buckman was a Vermonter who came to the county in 1872, and through his good looks and qualities secured the position of County Superintendent of Schools. Rambling in the wilds he discovered water in the canyon and concluded it could be utilized on the open land below. This would cost a heavy outlay; but he had an immense capital of pluck and courage. By hook and crook he constructed his long and costly flume and attacked the dense brush forest, fighting for every foot of clearing and planting the first citrus trees in the valley. He taught school in Nordhoff, worked at home Saturdays and planted on Sundays. Never a word of encouragement did he get from his neighbors, he was a crank in their estimation—a young Vermonter with a hobby.

The older orange trees in the center of this photo were planted by F. S. S. Buckman in 1875. This was the first orange orchard planted in the Ojai Valley. This photo was taken in 1912. The ranch became known as the "Topa Topa Ranch".
The older orange trees in the center of this photo were planted by F. S. S. Buckman in 1875. This was the first orange orchard planted in the Ojai Valley. This photo was taken in 1912. The ranch became known as the “Topa Topa Ranch”.

It was a strange sight to see him as black as a chimney sweeper from the burning brush, ragged and soiled from hard work, and then glance at his framed diploma hanging from the bare wall bearing in Latin from far off “Monte Verdis” a guaranty of his classical attainments, such incongruity is seldom seen outside of California.

F. S. S. Buckman
F. S. S. Buckman

His efforts were crowned with a splendid competence which he did not long enjoy, for the deadly bullet of an assassin laid him low at San Francisco—another tragic ending of a valley pioneer.

Early Stories of Ojai, Part VI (More on the Ojai Train)

Early Ojai Stories, Part VI (More on Ojai Train) by Howard Bald
Howard Bald describes life in turn-of-the-century Ojai in these articles from 1972.

The Ojai-Ventura Train.

There were other incidents in connection with the “Ojai Flier” or”The Cannon Ball” that might be worth mentioning. One of the train crew lived with his family on Signal Street, the old two-story house now occupied by a masseur [Inn Harmony]. His daughters in the evening would hitch the old white mare to the buggy and park them near the side door. When they heard the train whistle in the distance, one or all three daughters would jump in the buggy and dash off to meet their daddy.

One evening a daughter went out, and finding no horse and buggy waiting, decided that one of the other sisters had gone alone and thought nothing of it. When father checked out from his “run”, he found the horse and buggy in the customary place. After looking around and finding no daughters, he drove home alone. Later it was revealed that the old white mare was seen jogging down Signal, up Main Street to Fox, and down to the depot on her own.

A few years later my young sister decided to make Peggy, our two year old colt, acquainted with the train. Margaret was riding bareback with only a hackamore. Peggy took a pretty dim view of the hissing monster, putting on quite a scene, and at one time was in the middle of someone’s buggy. But through it all, Margaret stayed astride her.

A horse and buggy in downtown Nordhoff.

One time I was sent from the livery stable with a horse and buggy to meet a domestic of the Edward Thachers on Topa Topa Ranch coming in on the train. It was winter and, of course, dark when the train came in. We soon had the old gal and her belongings loaded and were off up Ojai Avenue. By the time we turned off onto Reeves Road (it wasn’t much more than a narrow, winding, rocky trail then and I don’t believe it had a name) the poor old Scandinavian was having some misgivings as to the reliability of her escort. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t drive faster.

I did my best to reassure her, pointing out that the road was rocky and narrow. When we turned up McAndrew road and the horse travelled even slower, she was really convinced that I was lost. There was nothing, though, that she could do, for it was pitch dark and I don’t suppose she even ha a pair of reins in her hands. It probably wasn’t eight o’clock when we drove into Topa Topa yard, and Mr. and Mrs. Thacher appeared with coal oil lanterns. But that lady, I guess, considered it a harrowing experience.

It was wintertime when once my mother, my sister and I were going someplace by train. As we groped our way on foot from Signal to Fox Street in the dim dawn, we heard the locomotive give some sharp whistles, but we sauntered along until we discovered the train was at the Fox Street crossing. Mr. Spence, the engineer, knew we were no aboard and was waiting there for us.

Another time most of Nordhoff went to Santa Barbara to a circus. We arrived via train in Ventura at 7 a.m. and had quite a wait there for another train, but were in Santa Barbara in time for the parade, saw the afternoon performance, then took a southbound train back to Ventura, arriving in time to catch the Ojai Flier home. I am not sure but what it had to wait for us in Ventura.

Mr. Spence, the engineer, was a kindly old gentleman, and once he took me with him on the locomotive, a cod burner, to Los Angeles and back, a two-day trip with 24 hours of travel. It was one of the events of my young life (I was probably 10 then), but alas it was somewhat marred by my introduction to indoor plumbing. I had never seen or heard of anything of the kind, and the whole thing was too embarrassing for words. No one knew how I suffered. Mr. Spence doubtless thought me a very unresponsive and unappreciative youngster. It was my first experience with electric lights, too. In the center of each room a cord hung from the fixture in the ceiling.

Well, so much for railroading. We will next dwell on the village of Nordhoff.