“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 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.
“…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.
“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.
“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
“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