Tag Archives: Daniel D. Blackburn

El Paso del Robles & La Panza Rancho of Drury Woodson James

“Rodeo scene taken on the LaPanza Ranch about 1893.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

On May 22, 1971, Mary Louise James-Burns dictated her memory of her father Drury Woodson James and his La Panza Rancho. Her dictation was taken and put in writing by Mary Louise’s granddaughter Mary Joan Malley-Beamis.

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Paso de Robles Grant

While the story of “Drury Woodson James by His Daughter Mary Louise James-Burns” briefly outlines what Mary Louise James recalled about her father’s connection to the fabled La Panza Rancho, much of the rancho’s history was left untold.

Today, history can fill in the saga of this legendary land that reveals so much of California’s most colorful past.

As La Panza Ranch stands on the brink of new ownership, La Panza affirms the true treasure it is. The worth of La Panza far exceeds any amount that it costs.

This is the history of the La Panza Rancho.

Mission San Miguel, Arcangel

Mission San Miguel, Arcangel was founded in 1797 by Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, who succeeded Fr. Junipero Serra, the founder of a chain of missions spanning California from north to south. The era of the missions compelled the Native-American population of the area either into isolation or into cooperation.

In 1842, Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted to Pedro Narvaez nearly 26,000 acres of the El Paso de Robles Rancho.

El Paso de Robles Claim of Petronilo Rios

Plat of Rancho Paso Robles

Historian Wallace V. Ohles, who attended and spoke at the 2002 family reunion of the Jesse James family in Paso Robles, California, wrote in his book The Lands of Mission San Miguel that in 1852, Petronillo Rios filed a claim for El Paso de Robles. His claim would take 14 years to be patented!

When California became a United States territory, and later a state, outstanding land claims had to be settled. The Board of Land Commissioners, sitting in San Francisco, rendered a decree of confirmation in favor of Rios in 1855.

Rios did not have clear title to the land he then sold to the brothers Daniel D. and James H. Blackburn with Lazare Godchaux in 1857. Rios received $8,000 from the Blackburns and Godchaux. Rios transferred the land, fully disclosing his receipt of the land from Pedro Narvaez and Gov. Manuel Micheltorena.

Rios did not receive his land patent until 1866. It was granted by President Andrew Johnson. That year Thomas McGreel [alternately McGreal] acquired one-half of the rancho for $10,000 from Daniel D. Blackburn. McGreel then sold his interest to Drury Woodson James for $11,000.

in 1860, D.W. James and John G. Thompson had purchased 10,000 acres of government land for $1.25 per acre. They stocked it with 2,500 head of cattle. This was the nucleus of the La Panza-Carissa Ranch, which in time grew to 50,000 acres.

“On Duty-Taken on the La Panza about 1900.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

The Paunch

La Panza – In Spanish, the word means “the paunch,” the belly and its contents.

The vaqueros of old Rancho La Panza used belly parts of slaughtered cattle as bait, to trap, lasso, or poison the California grizzly bear. From the bear hunting country surrounding the rancho, the captured bear was shipped north to battle bulls in the gaming arenas of San Francisco.

The Still House

“Home of Dr. Still-LaPanza Ranch. Post Office was here. Photo 1892.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

“The picturesque old stone building is still called the Still House, although no gin or red eye was ever distilled there. It is the sole surviving member of a complex of buildings owned by Dr. Thomas Still, a pioneer at La Panza.

“Dr. & Mrs. Thomas C. Still. My grandparents came into the LaPanza mines in 1879-about 5 miles from LaPanza Ranch house. Land adjoined LaPanza Ranch.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

“Still, a physician born in Tennessee in 1833, brought the family across the plains in 1863 in an ox-drawn wagon, wintering at bleak Honey Lake in northeastern California. He first settled on a claim near Mt. Diablo, then moved to Sebastopol, where a sawmill accident almost cost him his hand [hidden in this photo]. Luckily his wife had bandages and pine oil handy and this rude treatment kept the fingers attached.

“From Sebastopol, he took his family to San Luis Obispo County in 1867 and to Palo Prieto (later Annette) in Kern County in 1872. The news of the gold rush at La Panza caused him to pull up stakes again in 1879. He went to La Panza, then a ‘lively town,’ and mixed the practice of medicine with farming and stock raising.

The Post Office

“He was also Postmaster of La Panza from November 4, 1879, when the post office was set up, until June 15, 1908, when it was discontinued. Actually, his wife, Martha, and daughter carried on as Postmistresses, for the sawbones was away on cases. Re-established April 29, 1911, the Post Office continued until April 20, 1935, when it was closed for good and mail delivered to Pozo instead…

Gold

“La Panza is a country of many legends and little (written) history. Old-timers will tell you of Mexicans and Indians mining gold there long before the 1878 rush. Today, Do La Guerra Canyon – once people with 250 miners – cannot even be located. In 1882 a prospector named Frank H. Reynolds mined on Navajo Creek but he is a ghostly figure…

“The Painted Rock about 1890. Paintings were along inside walls which can be seen at right.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

The first official report of gold production was not made until 1882 when $5,000 was reported taken out. By 1886 the region was producing $9,164 a year bit it dropped to $1,740 in 1887. In 1888 and 1889 the sum of $3,000 and $6,200 respectively and the following year it was $8,800. Another drop occurred in 1891 to $1,785 and it continued to $1,097 in 1892 and a mere $600 the next year. Then it was $1,200, $3,000, and $3,000. In 1897 the figure was $2,500 as, ‘on account of the limited water supply the mines were worked only in the rainy season.’ It was an even $1,000 for the ‘Year of the Spaniards.’ No reports were made in 1899 or 1900, but in 1901 a puny $300 was mined. A revival in 1902 and 1903 brought it up to $2,399 and $1,840, then another slump sent production to only $630 in 1904 and $300 the following year. The last two years’ worth reporting showed but $316 taken out in 1907 and $124 in 1913.

“Inside of Painted Rock about 1920.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

Cattle Country

“…After the gold rush petered out, this land reverting to sheep and cattle country again…

“Jim Jones and Jake Schoenfeld bought the ranch from D.W. James and added the Carissa Ranch to it, operating both spreads as one. With the death of Jones in 1903, the partnership was dissolved. His heirs took the Carissa Ranch and Jake kept the La Panza Ranch.

Jake Schoenfeld Residence, La Panza Ranch. Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

“Frank Fotheringham, who was born in Sutter Creek in 1861, came to La Panza after grammar school training in Sacramento and high school education in San Francisco. He found it a great sheep and cattle country already, going to work for his brother-in-law, Jacob M. Jones, who owned about 25,000 acres. Frank worked as foreman until he was 30. Then he became superintendent of Schoenfeld and Jones’ twin ranches, the Carissa and La Panza.

“When the ‘NO Fence’ law went into effect Fotheringham had to bring in enough wire from San Looey [San Luis Obispo] to circle 45,000 acres. He did a tremendous job in stringing it in only 6 months. In 1897 he leased different ranches to tenants, but after 2 years turned back into cattle range. As early as 1886 he had raised and fattened herds of cattle. He would ship them in feeders from Mexico and Arizona by the trainload. He would turn them out in a year ‘fat and fit.’ His own Durhams and Herefords were veritable butterballs, too.

“In the old days around La Panza, Frank used to see more deer, mountain lyons, coyotes, and grizzlies than human neighbors. And a few of his two-legged neighbors were anything but neighborly. Perhaps they wanted to imitate Joaquin Murrieta or Tiburcio Vasquez, both of whom hid out in San Luis Obispo’s backwoods. In any case, Frank first visited Los Angeles in 1883 at the tail end of a long chase of horse thieves who had raided his La Panza remuda and gone south with the stock. In 1916 Fotheringham finally bade La Panza adios, resigning from the ranch to go to Santa Marguerite to live.

“Rodeo scene on the LaPanza Ranch about 1892.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust

“When the ranch was sold to Henry Cowell of the Cowell Lime & Cement Company of Santa Cruz & San Francisco around World War I, Walter Dunning became for many years foreman of the La Panza Ranch. When he died, his wife, Dolly Dunning, became foreman until Clarence Jardine took over. The ranch is now a 34,000 spread, eased by Jake Martens and Bill Vreden. Jake Martens is the managing resident partner. It is partly farmland, partly grazing land for cattle. Irrigation and alfalfa have been introduced but otherwise, it is pretty much the way it looked when whiskey men in muddy Levis were working with sluice boxes, rockers, and gold pans along La Panza Creek.

La Panza in 1960

“Still’s Dairy. Stone building on Still Ranch-LaPanza Post Office in background-Photo about 1910.” Joan Beamis Archive, James Preservation Trust.

“La Panza is pretty quiet now. Dr. Still’s inn, stage stop, and post office are gone, leaving only the old stone dairy. It is hard to realize that the road which winds past…was once one of the most heavily traveled stage roads between the Coast and the San Joaquin. Marica’s Saloon, the gathering place for the old-time California cattlemen and American Chinese and Mexican miners, is no more. It is gone with the miners and the outlaws. Tales of violence cling to the stones of the old house at La Panza, however. There is believed to be a grave in the long-forgotten graveyard where an outlaw was buried after losing an argument with one of his peers. And several miners are said to have been murdered for their caches of gold, their belonging scattered about their corpses and their tents or shacks torn up…

“Or O.M. McLean will tell you of the night his grandfather, Dr. Still, was called to the door by an urgent incessant knocking. When he opened it, a man asked him to come with him quickly to treat and wounded friend. When the physician asked him what happened, the visitor blurted out, ‘I shot a man.’ He quickly changed it to ‘A man has shot himself,” however. The wounded man was in bad shape and condition, but Dr. Still operated, successfully removed the bullet, and then warned the man’s friend that the gunshot wound might prove fatal if he were moved. Nevertheless, when the Doctor returned the next day to see how his patient was doing, he found that both men, on the run from the law, had disappeared afraid that he would report the incident to the sheriff.”

Excerpts from “La Panza” by Richard H. Dillon, The Grabbon Press, San Francisco, September 26, 1960

La Panza Today

The Carrisa Plains portion of historic La Panza:

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HISTORY OF DRURY WOODSON JAMES

By Mary Louise James Burns, his daughter

Mary Louise James, daughter of Drury Woodson James
Mary Louise James Burns, daughter of Drury Woodson James, founder of Paso Robles, California. From Jesse james Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence by Eric F, James, p.18.

Drury Woodson James was born in Logan County, Kentucky on the 14th of November, 1826. His parents and grand-parents were Virginians, and his grand-fathers fought for Independence in the Revolutionary War. Drury Woodson James was the youngest of five boys. They were reared by his oldest sister, having been orphaned at an early age. Drury’s mother died when he was three months old, and his father when he was a year old.

In 1846, Drury enlisted in the Mexican War as a drummer boy, and fought through the war under General Taylor. After the war was over, James went to California. He left old Fort Kearney with a pioneer wagon train and reached the Hangtown gold fields in 1849. He mined for several months and then entered the business of buying and selling cattle. This proved to be a very successful venture. It is stated that his practice was to drive the cattle to the different mining towns and sell the cattle on the hoof for as much as three or four times the amount paid for them. James became known in the country in 1850, and played an important part in the early history of the community.

D. W. James
Drury Woodson James, Founder of Paso Robles, California. From the book Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence, by Eric F. James, p.17

In 1850, D. W. James and a John G. Thompson of Kentucky purchased the La Panza Rancho. They engaged in the business of buying cattle and horses. The county records of this time show numerous failures among the cattlemen. During the years of 1862, 1863, and 1864 occurred one of the worst droughts in the history of the country. At this time James and Thompson found themselves with 5000 head of cattle. At this time, cattlemen all over the area, when they saw their feed and water going, turned their cattle loose to fend for themselves. Not James; he drove the cattle to the Tulare and Buena Vista Lakes and saved them. James and Thompson also owned the Comatti8 and Carissa ranches. It is not known when they purchased these ranches, and they were probably sold along about the same time that the La Panza Rancho was sold.

Thompson and James sold the La Panza Rancho in 1869 to Jones and Schoenfield. Thompson then returned

Mary Louise James testimony-1/3
Page one of a three-page testimony of Mary Louise James Burns, daughter of Drury Woodson James, executed and transcribed in 1949 by Mary Joan Malley Beamis, great-granddaughter of D.W. James. This original document in the Joan Beamis Archive of the James Preservation Trust.

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to Kentucky. In 1857, a James H. Blackburn had bought the El Paso de Robles Rancho from Petronelli Ries. Ries had acquired the ranch in 1850 from one Pedro Novares. Novares had acquired the ranch under a Mexican land grant in 1844. Novares claimed six leagues or about 25,000 acres along the Salinas River. In 1850, James B. Blackburn divided the ranch. Daniel D. Blackburn chose the northern league of the rancho on which were located the springs. Daniel D. Blackburn then sold one-half of his northern half to a Thomas McGreal who sold it to James in 1869. D. D. Blackburn and D. W. James each owned half of the northern league. D. D. Blackburn then sold half of his half to James H. Blackburn. So James owned a half and the two Blackburn brothers each owned a quarter of the northern league.

On September 15, 1966, Daniel D. Blackburn and Drury W. James married sisters at a double wedding in the San Luis Obispo Mission. They were married by the Rev. Father Sastra in the old Mission church. Louise M. Dunn married D.W. James and Cecelia Dunn married D. D. Blackburn. The Dunn family had come to America from Australia about 1850. They settled first in Sacramento and later moved to San Luis Obispo.

Mary Louise James testimony 2/3
Page two of a three-page testimony of Mary Louise James Burns, daughter of Drury Woodson James, executed and transcribed in 1949 by Mary Joan Malley Beamis, great-granddaughter of D.W. James. This original document in the Joan Beamis Archive of the James Preservation Trust.

James B. Blackburn was the first of this famous partnership to die. He left the bulk of his estate to Daniel and Cecelia Blackburn and their children. At this time, there was talk of the railroad coming through to El Paso de Robles. Realizing the possibilities of this part of the country as a resort area, Blackburn and James decided to build a hotel. The cornerstone was laid in 1889. The railroad tried to buy the property and the half-finished hotel from Blackburn and James but they refused the offer.

The business set-up became more and more complicated and the number of heirs and D. W. James found that it would be almost impossible to sell any portion of his interest in the property should he want to. So in 1890 he started court action for the purpose of dividing the property. The court ordered the property partitioned.

Mary Louise James testimony 3/3
Page three of a three-page testimony of Mary Louise James Burns, daughter of Drury Woodson James, executed and transcribed in 1949 by Mary Joan Malley Beamis, great-granddaughter of D.W. James. This original document in the Joan Beamis Archive of the James Preservation Trust.

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The following history of Drury Woodson James was dictated to me, Mary Jean Malley Beamis, by my maternal grandmother, Mary Louise James Burns in 1949 when she was eighty one years of age.

It was written at the request of the officials of the city of Paso Robles, California, on the occasion of the dedication of a monument to her father’s memory in the Park which had been given to the city by Drury Woodson James and Daniel D. Blackburn.

(s) Mary Joan Beamis

May 22, 1971

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

STRATFORD, SB.

May 23, 1971

Personally appears Mary Joan Beamis and made oath that the above statement is true and the information to the attached statement is true to the best of her knowledge and belief.

Before me,

(s) John F. Beamis

Notary Public