History of Point Reyes, CA (Part 1)
From: History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Company, Publishers
San Francisco 1880


GEOGRAPHY. - Point Reyes township is bounded on the north by Tomales hay, on the west and south by the Pacific ocean, and on the east by Bolinas township. Although it is bounded on three sides by water, yet there is but one or two landings for vessels along its border. Small crafts not drawing over nine feet of water can come into Tomales bay, but there is no landing on the Point Reyes side of it. Along the western border the coast is very unforbidding for vessels, and all which have ever approached too near it have gone to pieces when they struck. On the south side there is Drake's bay in which there is a good roadstead, and vessels can ride safely at anchor there during the heaviest storms from the north, but the southeastern storms of Winter break in upon it with all their mighty fury, lashing the waves high up the bold cliffs which skirt along its northwestern shore. Just east of Drake's bay is the Limantour bay, which is small and shallow, and light draught vessels only can enter it. This township is a veritable peninsula, extending far out into the ocean, and its coast is consequently sandy and bleak, subject to the sternest vigors of ocean winds and fogs. Both Point Reyes on the south and Tomales Point on the north are bold promontories projecting into the sea.

T0POGRAPRY. - The topography of this township is quite varied, ranging from the low, flat plains to the high ridge. Beginning at Tomales point and following along the northern portion to the Bolinas line there is a high ridge or series of hills which culminate in a ridge. To the south of this lies quite an extensive tract of level land, where another series of hills pass across it from east to west. South of these the country is quite level until the southern portion is reached, when the face of land begins to be undulatory, rising in gradual grades until at last it culminates in a bold cliff facing Drake's bay on the south, and extending as a high craggy headland into the ocean, forming Point Reyes. The eastern portion is hilly or rather mountainous.

SOIL. - The soil of this section is mostly very sandy or gravelly. In some places along the coast there are extensive sand fields, and not infrequently large numbers of dunes are met with, and on these sand fields and dunes there is often quite a heavy growth of sage brush, wild blackberry and strawberry vines. Further in the interior the soil is more loamy, still not sufficiently so for successful cultivation. On the ridges spoken of above the soil is more of a gravelly and. clayey nature, on which grass and trees thrive well, but not any kinds of grain or vegetables.

CLIMATE. - For pure, unadulterated sea air, full of fog and oxygen, charged with ozone, salubrious and salsuginous, invigorating and life giving air, that will make the pulses leap and bring the roses to the cheek, one should go to Point Reyes, where it can be had at first hand, bereft of nothing. Every breeze that blows, except the east wind, is fraught with the odors of the sea; but the wind of all winds, the one which seems to come directly from the cave of Erebus, is the northwest breeze. It swoops down across this section with all the fury of old Boreas, but fortunately it is shorn of his icy breath; still, retaining enough of it to make one need flannels dining all the days and nights of its reign. In short, the climate is very cool and invigorating during the Summer months, and very pleasant and mild during the Winter, and when one has become accustomed to the fogs and the winds it is hard to find a place which will suit better than here. The extremes both of heat and cold are unknown.

PRODUCTS. - The product of Point Reyes can be summed up in one word - butter. The one great and all absorbing industry is dairying, and in fact there is no other industry in the township. No grain is grown except for hay, and no vegetables and no fruit is raised at all. As the dairying interest is so prominent in this township we will enter somewhat into detail here in regard to its extent and importance. This is probably the greatest dairying section on the Pacific coast. The peculiar location is such the it has many advantages over all other places in the matter of feed, water and climate. The wind is al ways laden with dampness, which is often visible in the shape of immense fog banks, and which keep the pastures green during the entire summer season. Several varieties of grass grow here, some of which spring up very early in the season, and others come out so late as to extend well into the winter before it ripens. Filaree, bunch, and fox tail grass, clover and bur clover, comprise the principal grasses, although there are other varieties which serve well the purpose of feed for stock. There are springs of living water all over the country, affording an abundant supply for the use of the stock and the dairy also, while no climate could be more propitious, being always cool. There is no more extensive dairy in the township than that owned by A. J. Pierce on Tomales Point, and. none are better conducted, hence a sketch of this industry, as seen at his place, will convey a complete idea of its magnitude and importance. The ranch is located on the extreme point, lying between Tomales bay and the Pacific ocean, and contains two thousand acres, which, for the sake of convenience, is divided into two tracts, with milk houses and other appliances for the business at both places, except that all the cream is brought to the home ranch to be churned. On this dairy there are three hundred head of milch cows, besides, perhaps, one hundred and fifty head of young stock, all of which find ample pasturage, so rich and rank is the growth of grass upon it. At the home place, Mr. Pierce has two corrals for his cows, adjoining each other, and each one hundred and fifty feet square, and a door opens into the strainer room from each of them. The milkers use an ordinary flared tin pail, holding about sixteen quarts, and have their milking stools adjusted to them with straps. When the pail is full the milker steps into the strainer room and pours the milk into a sort of a double hopper with a strainer in each section. From this the milk passes through a tin pipe to a vat which holds one hundred and thirty gallons. From this it is drawn off into strainer pails which hold five gallons each, and which have a large scoop shaped nozzle, from which it is poured into the pans. It will thus be seen that the milk passes through three strainers before it is panned. The pans are made of pressed tin and hold twelve quarts each, and are placed in racks, one above the other, before the milk is poured into them. There are three milk rooms, each with a capacity of six hundred and twelve pans, or a total of one thousand eight hundred and thirty six, and they are arranged both with a view to convenience and utility. The ventilation is perfect, being regulated by openings near the floor and skylight windows above. The rooms are warmed with registers from a furnace in the cellar below them and in this way a very even temperature is maintained. In the center of each room, there is a skimming apparatus which consists of a table about five feet long and two feet wide, placed upon a square pedestal, in either end of which there is a semi circular notch, under each of which there is placed a can and holding ten gallons for the reception of the cream. In the center of the table is a hopper for the reception of the sour milk, from which it is carried off through pipes. Skimming is performed twice a day, morning and evening, and milk is ordinarily allowed to stand thirty six hours before it is skimmed, but in very warm weather it is Only kept twenty four hours. This work is begun at three o'clock in the morning, and usually requires an hour and a half to complete it. Two men work at a table, one at each end. The skimmer consists of a wooden knife with a thin blade shaped much like a butteris or farrier's knife. This is dexterously and rapidly passed around the rim of the pan, leaving the cream floating free upon the surface of the milk. The pan is then tilted slightly and the cream glides quickly over the rim into the can below. The milk is then emptied into the hopper and conducted to the hog pen. This arrangement is so complete and compact that the pan is scarcely moved from the time it is placed upon the skimming table till the milk is emptied from it and no time is lost except in passing the pans from the rack to the table. An expert skimmer can handle two hundred pans an hour. In some dairies where the rooms are larger the skimming table is placed upon castors and can be trundled from place to place as convenience requires, and a hose is attached to the hopper leading to the waste pipes. The cream is then placed in the churn, which consists of a rectangular box in the shape of a parallelepipedon, the sides of which are two and five feet respectively on the inside. It works on a pivot at the center of the ends, and is driven by a one horse tread power. The desired result is attained by the breaking of the cream over the sharp angles of the churn, and the operation requires from twenty to forty minutes. The usual yield of a churning is two hundred pounds, although as much as three hundred and forty seven pounds have been churned at once. The buttermilk is then drawn off and the butter is washed with two waters, when it is ready to have the salt worked into it. It is now weighed and one ounce of salt allowed for each pound of butter. The worker is a very simple device, and is known as the Allen patent, it having been invented by Captain Oliver Allen, of Sonoma county, and consists of two circular tables, one above the other and about four inches apart. The bottom one is stationary and dressed out so that all milk or water falling on it is carried off into a bucket. The upper dice is on a pivot, so that in the process of working all portions of the butter may be easily brought under the flattened lever used for working it. After the salt has been thoroughly incorporated the butter is separated into square blocks about the requisite size for two pound rolls. The mould is also a patent device originated by Captain Allen, and consists of a matrix, composed of two wooden pieces shaped so as to press the butter into a roll, which are fastened to an extended shear handle, with the joint about midway from the matrix to the end of the handle. The operator opens the matrix, and passes it on either side of one of the squares of butter and then closes it firmly. The ends of the roll are then cut off even with the mould, and the roll is complete. Thin white cotton cloth is placed around each roll, and the stamp of the dairy is applied to one end of it, when it is ready for the market. The rolls are accounted to weigh two pounds each, but they fall short of that weight about two per cent. or two pounds to fifty rolls.

Mr. Pierce's dairy house is thirty six by sixty four with a wing twelve by twenty. The milk rooms, three in number, are each twelve by twenty four; the churning room is twenty by twenty, the butter room sixteen by twenty, and the packing room is sixteen by sixteen. The temperature at which the milk rooms are kept is sixty two degrees. The water for cleaning and washing purposes is heated in a large iron kettle with a brick furnace constructed around it. The milk pans are washed through two waters and then thoroughly scalded, and sunned through the day so that they are kept perfectly sweet. The skimming is so arranged that one room is unoccupied each day, and it is then thoroughly cleaned and aired. All waste pipes from sinks are arranged with traps so as to prevent any foul gases from entering the milk rooms, and all traces of lactic acid are carefully guarded against. The sour milk is conducted through pipes to hog pens some distance from the dairy house, and affords ample sustenance for two hundred head of hogs. He usually raises fifteen per cent. of his heifer calves, and his stock is mostly a cross of Durham and Alderney, which is considered the best stock for rich milk, yielding large quantities of it, and for an extended length of time. Fifteen men are employed in milking, and it requires two hours each time. A good active man will milk about ten cows an hour.

It is thus that this elegant golden delicacy is prepared for our tables, and among all the choice products of the glorious State of California none stands out in bolder relief, none strikes the visitor to our coast more forcibly, none affords more real pleasure to the consumer than the wonderfully excellent butter which finds its way to the city markets from Marin county. In quality, color and sweetness it is not excelled by the famous butter producing sections of Goshen in New York, or the Western Reserve of Ohio. Nor is it equaled in any other part of the United States. What a field for contemplative thought! The verdant fields of grass; toyed with by the winds, bathed in a flood of sunshine and shrouded in folds of lacelike and fleecy mists fresh from the ocean, with herds of kine feeding upon them; driven at eventime into the corral and, while thoughtfully ruminating, yielding the gallons and gallons of rich, pure, sweet milk; again we see it in great cans of yellow cream, fit for the use of a king; and then the golden butter, and such delicious butter! Ready for the market and for the table of the epicure. The grass growing in the fields on Monday is the butter on the city tables the following Sunday!

Mr. Pierce has everything about him in the same excellent order that he has his dairy. His cow and horse barns are models of convenience. He has a blacksmith shop, where all his work in that line is done; a carpenter shop where the butter boxes are made and repaired, and other work of a similar character performed; a school house in his yard; a laundry, presided over by a Mongolian genius; a store in which all the necessary provender supplies are kept, and the stock is almost as full and complete as a country store, comprising hams, bacon, lard, sugars, teas, coffees, syrups, flour. etc.; a butcher shop where two beeves are cut up monthly; a "Triumph" gas machine, by which the gas is generated for the fifty burners required for all the places where a light is needed about the place. These burners are in all the rooms of the house, in the milk and other rooms of the dairy house, and in all the barns. The gas is made of gasoline by a very simple process, and the expense of manufacturing it is nominal, and the security from fire is almost absolute. And lastly comes the dwelling house, which, though not elegant no palatial, is large, roomy, and homelike.

The business of dairying is carried on very much the same on all the ranches, being varied only in minor detail. On the rented ranches the cows belong to the owner of the land, and land and cows are leased at from twenty to twenty five dollars per cow a year. The renter owns all the necessary appliances and all other stock, and the amount of other stock is limited. He is obliged to raise ten per cent. of the heifer calves, and not allowed to keep any others till they are over six weeks old. At the end of each season one tenth of the entire herd is allowed to run farrow and to fatten for beef. These are slaughtered and sold to the renters at the rate of six cents per pound by the quarter. In estimating the number of cows for a ranch, one cow is allowed to every six acres of land, and the farms are divided so as to allow about two hundred cows on each one. In the Spring when the cows are fresh and the grass. succulent, each cow will yield a. pound of butter a day, but they will not average over one hundred and seventy five pounds each for the season, at which rate a dairy of two hundred cows would be able to market seventeen and one half tons of butter, which at thirty seven and one half cents a pound, would amount to the handsome sum of thirteen thousand one hundred and twenty five dollars. This price is not, however, always realized for the butter, and when the rent for two hundred cows at twenty five dollars each five thousand dollars - and the cost of help, freight and commission are deducted, the profits are somewhat reduced.

TIMBER. - There is not a great amount of timber of any kind growing in this township, although some redwood, oak, pine, fir, alder, and laurel is found in the eastern portion of it. The redwood is not in any quantities to pay for working it, though the individual trees are, oftentimes, quite large. The oak is the common mountain oak and makes good firewood: The pine is the scraggy, ill shaped species, known locally as "Bull pine," and is not good for anything but kindling wood. The fir is a beautiful tree, and no prettier sight can be seen in California than a large forest of young fir trees growing upon a mountain side. The lumber made of these trees is much used in the construction of implements of various kinds, and is very valuable. In the course of time there will be a great yield of this kind of lumber from this section. The alder grows along the banks of streams, and makes only indifferent firewood. The laurel is a wood much used for panels wainscoting and trimmings, as it has a beautiful grain and takes a high polish.

EARLY SETTLEMENT. - There have been people living along the coast of this township since that fabled time "when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." As far back as 1834 a man by the name of William Smith was living on the southern portion of the point, and a man named Blaisdle was there in 1837. In 1846 Samuel Smith, McCaulley, Westgate, Irish, Higgins and several others, whose names have been forgotten long since, lived in that section. The first permanent house was the adobe built on the rancho Punta de los Reyes Sobrante, which was granted to Antonio M. Osio, November 30, 1843, by Micheltorena. It is not now known when the old adobe ranch house was built, but probably very shortly after the grant was made. It stood near where the house now occupied by C. H. Smith, stands, and has long since gone to ruin. Of the house or its builder but little is now known more than mere legends. No farming was done by those old settlers other than growing a few vegetables, and clams and fish constituted the principal part of their diet. As an old pioneer who saw them in 1849 expresses it, "they seemed to live simply to kill time." The most of them had deserted from whaling vessels and hide droghers, and had drifted down by the seashore to eke out the remainder of their natural lives. To them life was shorn of its duties and obligations, their days were spent cum otium and we doubt not they were happy in their way. Long absence from home had broken off all ties and associations with that sacred spot, and when the love of home is lost happiness is not found by association with men but in solitude, and solitude supreme reigned here on this projecting point of land extending far into the very heart of the ocean. Vessels skirted the western horizon going to and from the busy world, but little cared they for that. No messages of love, no letters from home were on board those ships for them. Never again should they see the face of mother, sister, or wife, never hear the innocent prattle or gleeful laughter of children. All that was past aye, dead in their memories! Of the future they reeked not nor cared so long as they were left undisturbed. But a change came, and the waves from the human seas to the eastward began to dash against the adamantine walls of the Rocky mountains just as the ceaseless surge of the mighty Pacific broke on the reefs at their feet, and eventually the crested waves began to dash over and to fill the valleys below, and when the tide reached them they vanished, seeking shelter in the fastnesses of the mountains or in other lands. Whither they have gone no one knows. No trace is left behind, and they have, probably, all gone to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler hath yet returned, "unwept, unhonored and unsung."

In 1849, besides a few of the above named who remained, the following persons were located as follows: A man named Bunker, an old whaler, lived on the Pierce ranch, where he had been located for a long time. Another man named Fadre was located on the Nathan Stinson ranch, and is at present residing on Russian river in Sonoma county; another named Forrester lived at the Laguna, while a Spaniard named Pakito was living on the Osio ranch, and was major domo there. Frank Miller came there during that year, but did not locate permanently till some years later. In 1850 a man by the name of Machon located on what is now known as the Flannery ranch, but was in the employ of Dr. Randall. He now resides on Russian river, Sonoma county. In 1851 a man named Bell came over from the north side of Tomales bay and located on the Point Reyes side; about half way up the bay. He went to Mendocino county and died there. Samuel Robinson also came in and located about two and one half miles farther west on Tomales bay. He spent the remainder of his days in this township, dying in 1864. A Spaniard by the name of Lucas settled still farther to the west on Tomales bay. On the south side of the township a man by the name of Randall located on Bull Point on Drake's bay. In 1855 a man named Williams located on the arm of Drake's bay, known as Limantour, and three brothers named Steele located near by, but farther to the south. They afterwards went to San Luis Obispo county. On Tomales bay a man by the name of Lane settled near where Samuel Robinson lived, probably farther north, or toward the mouth of the bay. A man named Keatley also settled in that neighborhood, at what is known as Keatley gulch. To this pioneer and his compatriot, Samuel Robinson, belongs the honor of building the first vessel ever launched into the waters of Tomales bay; It was a small sloop, and did good service in its day. It was launched in 1856. During the next year Keatley built a schooner and launched it. These vessels both plied for some years between Tomales bay and San Francisco. It is not now known what did ultimately become of them, but their ribs are doubtless bleaching on some sand beach, or have long since been dashed to atoms against the rocks that girt the ocean's shore. Mr. Keatley lives in Ukiah, Mendocino county. Josiah Swan lived in 1855 on the Osio ranch, and had charge of the place. No farming of any importance had been done before 1856, but in that year the dairying interest began to be developed. The Steele brothers, spoken of above, were the pioneer dairymen of the township. During the same year Farmer & Medbury began dairying on the Kaiser place, also two brothers named. Abbott began operations in the same business on the N. Stinson place. A man named Buel also brought in a lot of cows that same year. It is not now known how extensively these gentlemen conducted this business, but it is certain that they proved that it could be followed successfully, and that it has been the leading industry in that section ever since.

As soon as it became an established fact that dairying was a success in this section, the settlement of the township was very rapid, until all the land was taken up and converted into dairy farms. This necessitates that the farms should be quite large, hence the people live long distances from each other, and there are as many residents in the township at the present time as there will be a quarter of a century hence. The land is owned by one or two men, and hence there are no homes made. Renters stop awhile and then go, making no improvements. Were all this land put upon the market, and sold to actual settlers, in tracts of sufficient size to support one hundred cows each, there would be a great change made in the appearance of the farms here. The owners would make their homes look homelike, instead of allowing them to remain bleak, barren and uninviting. It is to be hoped that the time is not far distant when this consummation so devoutedly wished for shall be fully realized.

[Continued in Point Reyes History part 2]

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