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The Ranch has a rich and storied history that deepens its significance as a site for enduring public interest and involvement. The Chumash used the ranch for centuries for hunting and gathering. Signs of their prehistoric occupation of the ranch are quite prevalent. A Spanish land grant formed its southernmost range. Our first knowledge of the Ranch’s place in modern history concerns the post gold rush cattle-drive system in California. The Chimineas Cow Camp was an identified location within the system of iconic cattle drives that characterize that era of western history. Prior to the opening of a coast route, the Carrizo Plains Trail from the Cuyama Valley across Chimineas was an important cattle-driving corridor. The name “Chimineas” reportedly was given to the camp by early vaqueros who found the remains of an old hearth and chimney present at the current Ranch headquarters location. Cowboys reported the chimney still standing in 1924, and during an El Nino flood in 1978 blackened hearth stones were uncovered by erosion at the reported site.
The area that would become the core of the Chimineas Ranch was federal property until 1883 when 20,000 acres were purchased by J. H. Hollister and Frederick Adams as a private ranch. By 1888 the Chimineas Adobe, which now forms the heart of the Chimineas Ranch house, was erected. In 1891 the first threat to Chimineas occurred when Hollister & Adams tried to market the ranch as a town site and subdivided the land based upon a rumor of a railroad cutting through the ranch. Fortunately, nothing came of this scheme. At some point in the late 1800’s, the Reis family acquired the Ranch and held it until the 1930’s. A young man by the name of Claude Arnold came onto the Chimineas in 1924 and fell in love with the Ranch. It took until 1937 for Arnold to buy the Ranch from the Reis family but he did it and kept the Ranch until the 1970’s, building it up until the deeded and leased property exceeded 50,000 acres supporting over 8,000 head of cattle. He hand-dug the wells, worked the land and eventually married into an old Carrizo Plains homestead family. He raised his family there and even became a county supervisor for many years. Unfortunately, in 1972 family circumstances led to the sale of the Ranch.
The Robertson family from Texas bought the Santa Margarita Land and Cattle Company that included the Chimineas and the Santa Margarita Ranch in 1973. In 1999, the Robertson Family sold the Chimineas holdings to Dr. Neil Dow, a veterinarian, who then initiated a major renovation to the ranch house with the old adobe at its core. Dr. Dow only owned the Ranch for two years before selling the south half (~15,000 acres) to The Nature Conservancy which in turn sold it to the Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) in 2002. In 2004, the Conservancy and RMEF helped the Department acquire the north half (another ~15,000 acres) directly from Dr. Dow.
Now fully in public ownership, the Ranch facility provides an extraordinary opportunity to conduct outreach and education on natural history, hunting, the role of ranching and other resource related concerns. It also serves as the administrative headquarters for hunting and educational programs, habitat enhancement, and volunteer activities. The North and South Chimineas became two units of the Department’s Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve (CPER). Today the ranch, and the other units of the CPER, provide public stewardship, ecological education, habitat conservation, and protection for threatened and endangered species as well as opportunities for public recreation that are compatible those goals.
History of the ranch researched by Mike Post.