11 – Early Ranches

The heavily forested, steep hillsides of the area did not lend themselves to prosperous farming or ranching. The winter snows shortened the growing season and the scarcity of water in the fall and summer presented irrigation problems. A few hardy pioneers, however, settled on some of the more suitable land.

The Homestead law, passed in 1862, was similar to the Preemption law. It provided that any person over 21 years of age who was the head of a family could obtain title to 160 acres of public land if he lived on the land for 5 years and made improvements on it. He could pay $1.25 an acre instead of living on the land. A modification of the law to allow a person to acquire larger tracts of land was passed in 1873.


Samuel and Helena Butler (picture courtesy of Ina Smith)

Samuel and Helena Butler (picture courtesy of Ina Smith)

Samuel Butler was born in New York. He married Samantha and had one son, Steven, born in 1833. Samantha died and Samuel took his son to Indiana where he met and married Hannah. They had nine boys and three girls. Two of the girls and three of the boys died. Hannah also died and he subsequently married Helena Mattisdatter Dahl of Norway, in Salt Lake City. Samuel had joined the Mormon Church and was working on the Salt Lake City Temple when he had a difference of opinion with Brigham Young, the president of the church. Samuel left Utah in the night, taking Helena, their small son, Nelson, and his daughter, Miranda, with him. The six older boys were farmed out with other families in Utah. He came to California in 1860 with the Neils Larsen Wagon Train.

They first stopped near Eagle Falls above Lake Tahoe and next tried settling near Wrights Lake. Eventually they chose to settle in El Dorado County on a parcel of land located on the western slope of Randolph Canyon just north and east of the Fourteen Mile House.

Samuel and Helena homesteaded 320 acres of land in 1874. They had three more children there; Samuel, Sampson and Mary. The ranch was heavily timbered. The trees had to be cut down, stumps pulled, the land cleared, and crops and fruit trees planted. Horses did duty pulling the plow, wagon or buggy as needed. Samuel and his son, Nelson, built the house and a 96 foot long barn. Samuel, the elder, died December 12, 1879, at age 73. He had married three times, had seventeen children, and traversed the entire continent. Helena died in 1895. Samuel and Helena are both buried in the Johnson Cemetery near Blakeley Reservoir, 5 miles east of Placerville.

At age 28, Nelson Christian Butler married Cora Hogan, whose parents were managing Sportsman’s Hall. Cora was just 18 years of age. They were married in 1886 at Sportsman’s Hall by Reverend C. C. Peirce, who married a great many of the residents of the county during that early time period. Cora’s mother, Clara Allen, had also been married by Reverend C. C. Peirce, twenty years earlier, to Charles Hogan. Charles’ father, Phillip Hogan, was an early pioneer, coming to California in 1850 and settling in the Ringold area, south of Placerville. Charles ran a dairy at Sly Park before coming to Sportsman’s Hall, and his wife, Clara taught at the school there. Cora Hogan had attended the school at Sly Park.

Nelson and Cora took over the ranch at Randolph Canyon and had nine children. Most were born at the ranch with the aid of a neighboring rancher’s wife, Zay Sherman. Ethel was the oldest child born on the ranch. Ray was born at Coon Hollow. Laura along with twins, Arthur and Archie were also born on the ranch. The twins were born on November 7, 1895. Twins were such a rarity, that the teacher let school out for that day so all of the students could go to the ranch to visit the two small infants. Clyde was born at old ditch camp #7, as Nelson was the ditch tender there at the time. Ranching was not a prosperous business and the income had to be supplemented to provide for the increasing family. The family moved back to the ranch and Edward was born in 1900. He lived only a month or so. His body was wrapped, put in a casket made by Cora’s brother, Harvey, and taken to Johnson’s cemetery, 5 miles east of Placerville. He was buried beside his Grandfather and Grandmother Butler. Harvey and Ina, were the last two children born to Nelson and Cora.

Cattle were raised on the ranch and the family was also engaged in the fruit and produce business. The children had to pitch in with the chores at an early age to keep the ranch going. At age 6, Clyde’s job was to dig the weeds from around the carrots and beets every morning. The children had to get up early to see that the animals were fed and the cows were milked. They then had breakfast and headed off to school. The children started school when they were seven years old. There was a buckboard and buggy, but mostly the children walked where ever they went, even to visit the Crockers several miles down the road.

The family cut and sold firewood and lagging for the mines. The twins helped their father cut the trees with their own axes. Once Archie caught Arthur on the scalp with the ax, leaving a gash. Their father grabbed a hand full of pitch to put on the wound to stop the bleeding. Cora cleaned it with kerosene and then dressed it with carbolic salve. Amazingly it healed quite well.

Nelson also hauled railroad ties. When transporting them, he had to pay a road toll of 1 bit (12 cents) per load. The children were always anxious for their father to return from his two day trip hauling the timbers, because he brought peppermint candy with him. They could hardly wait for the wagon to stop so they could get their treat. If Clyde saw his father drive the team by, he would run away from school to join his father.

There were horses, cows and pigs which had to be fed all winter. The year’s supply of hay had to be mowed and stored in the barn. Nelson invented a pole and pulley system to ease the job of pulling the hay up into the loft of the barn. In 1907 a winter range was purchased south of El Dorado to help feed the stock. The boys then had to drive the herds back and forth to the winter range. Clyde would often ride bareback while driving the cattle and on one return trip he got tired of riding and walked a while. When attempting to get back on the horse near Sportsman’s Hall, he overshot the horse and landed on the other side. He didn’t miss his glasses until he got home. He went back looking for them the next day and found them in the rut right where they had dropped. Fortunately, there was not much traffic on the road, so they were undamaged and he put the glasses on and returned home.

Nelson Butler on the Butler Ranch just returning from hunting

Nelson Butler on the Butler Ranch just returning from hunting

During the summer and fall the year’s food supply had to be purchased or preserved as the winter roads were impassable until about April. Some of the apples were stored or canned. Others were sold for a penny a pound. Flour, oatmeal, and sugar were bought in fifty or one hundred pound sacks. Syrup came in five gallon tins and kerosene in ten gallon tins. Fruits and vegetables were stored in the barn. Dried beans were flailed on the second story floor of the barn and the stalks, pods, and leaves removed, leaving the beans to be sacked. The floor was made of thick planking so that at times the horses could be brought up to trample the beans to remove them from the pods.

There were always lots of beans and vegetables to eat, but Ina said that her favorite snack was a piece of mother’s homemade bread fresh from the pantry, covered with cream skimmed from the top of the milk. Ina loved curling up for a nap behind the wood stove in the kitchen near the hot water reservoir.

Nelson Butler mowing hay on the Butler Ranch

Nelson Butler mowing hay on the Butler Ranch

Christmas was a family affair with gifts of socks, shirts, overalls, apples, and oranges. Oranges were an especially treasured gift as this was the one time of year that the family would go the extravagance of purchasing the fruit not native to the area. Some years there might be a doll for the little girls, or there might be underwear made from the flour sacks. The Christmas tree was strung with popcorn and other homemade decorations. Candles were carefully set upon the branches of the tree.

Young boys had fun with what they could find. Arthur tells about making a harness for a lizard with Ben Toffelmier. The boys would see whose lizard could pull a load of sticks the farthest. They played with the ground squirrels and bugs. The boys thought it was great fun to send boulders crashing down the steep canyon to the river below. They also found delight in climbing a young sapling and swinging back and forth to see how far they could bend the tree. Ina also liked running around the ranch climbing trees. She and Harvey were best friends and he didn’t like it when she wore a dress rather than her customary overalls. The family would often gather around the old Victrola with Ina on her father’s lap. They would sing to the old cylindrical records. There was often a dance on Saturday night at the Cedar Grove School house. The school house was used for Sunday School on Sundays.

Putting Hay in the barn

Putting Hay in the barn

Great numbers of turkeys, pigs, cattle or sheep might be herded up the road to graze on the rich acorns under the oak trees and drink from the well near the fourteen mile house. This was a big event in the lives of the children. If they were in school, the children would come out to the fence to watch the dogs herd the animals.

The doctor in Placerville had one of the first cars to come up the road. The boys followed it and when it stopped at the fishing hole, they climbed all over it asking questions about what this was and what that was for. They couldn’t get over how quietly it ran compared to the horse and wagon.

Nelson Butler was planting an orchard on the hill toward the Sherman ranch when he took ill. He put Ina on his shoulders and carried her home. Just after Christmas in 1909, he died of pneumonia. The services were held in Placerville and the family stayed at the Ivy House Hotel that night. Nelson was buried in Union Cemetery, leaving Cora with a family of seven children to raise.

Ethel had married Jesse Creed and left the ranch. They later had nine children. Ray married soon after Ethel and left to work on the ditch. It was a hard life for Cora, trying to raise so many children and keep the ranch going. The family didn’t have much, but Ina said they didn’t seem to miss it. One day when Ina was just a small girl, she tried to do her part to help the family. She was walking home past the Western States Gas and Electric Company camp located about where the Wagon Wheel Mobile Home Park is now. She saw lots of knives, forks, and spoons set out on long planks. Not realizing that they were for the workers’ dinner, she picked up some to take home, maybe even a few salt and pepper shakers. Her mother made her quickly return them.

Arthur and Archie ran the ranch until the war broke out in 1917. Archie was drafted and Arthur enlisted in the navy. After returning from the navy, Arthur again ran the ranch for a short time and was elected to the Cedar Grove School Board of Trustees from 1919 until 1922.

After the war, Archie went to work for a neighbor hauling goods between Placerville and Lake Tahoe. On one trip he found a small canvas bag on the side of the road and upon opening it found it was full of jewels and jewelry. Not knowing what to do with it, he and the neighbor hid it in a burned out tree near the Cedar Grove School. Later they recovered the jewels and split the cache. Archie gave a diamond to his twin, Arthur, to use in an engagement ring for his sweetheart.

Arthur married Grace Feil, of Florin, in 1921, and they lived on the Butler Ranch. There was a late freeze in 1922 and the pear crop and most of the apple crop were destroyed. As there was no crop to sell, Arthur went to work on the ditch for a while. He then moved to Florin with his bride and bought a vineyard there. They had four children, Donald, Dorothy, Melvin, and Janice. Arthur was active many years there as a school board member, as well as a member of the American Legion, and the Odd Fellows.

Clyde married Juanita Gregson who was visiting relatives at the Waring Homestead on Stark’s Road. They had 4 children, Clara, Merwin, Coralee, and Aylmer. Their oldest daughter Clara married Robert V. Neilsen, whose grandparents had homesteaded in the China Hill Mine area south of El Dorado. Clara has been an active volunteer for the El Dorado County Board of Education for over 35 years, and served as a county school board member for 9 years. Clara and Robert Neilsen deeded over 100 acres to Kiwanis and the music and arts foundatino for school age children. Sugarloaf Music and Arts Camp was established there north of Kyburz. Clara and Robert lived at Phippins Mill in Hazel Valley from 1938 to 1942. The house the lived in was probably one of those taken to Lake Tahoe.

Cora Butler left the ranch with her youngest daughter, Ina, about 1922 to live on a piece of property in Placerville that was left to her and her brother. Ina was about 14 at the time. This property consisted of 1 acre of land and a few fruit trees. Cora died at the age of 87. The house on the Butler Ranch burned in 1926. Ray and his wife, Margaret, were living there at the time. They had no children and no one was hurt. The barn was still standing until the 1980’s.

Laura married Jim Pierson and had 7 children; Merle, Thelma, Marian, Aileen, Laura, Jimmy, and Carlos. Archie married Minerva Von Bulow and they had one daughter named Ethyl. Harvey married Elberta Peck and they had no children.

Ina married Roy Marshall and they had two daughters, Patricia Rae Farr and Marjorie Turney. She then married Nyron Smith and had two more daughters, JoAnne Kelly and Catherine Lauther. Nyron had been working as a master mechanic at the Snowline Civilian Conservation Corp. The C.C.C. had a Blister Rust program to eradicate the Gooseberry plants. Ina was keeping the statistics on who was working and who left. Ina and Nyron now live on the property in Placerville left to Cora and her brother, Harvey.


The Sherman ranch, located just north of the present day Forebay Lake, was settled by Roger and Zay Sherman. Zay Stackpole was a native of the town of El Dorado and was born in 1865. Roger was born August 17, 1860 at Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. His father Leonard Sherman had enlisted as a Private in the Union Army in 1862. Leonard was married with a wife and two children, Roger and an infant daughter, Frances. He was serving in Fredricksburg, Virginia when he received word that his wife and daughter were ill with typhoid fever. He requested a leave of absence but was turned down. He deserted from the army to care for his family. His wife recovered, but his daughter died. For a time, he tried hiding, but that was not a satisfactory way to live. They had two more children, Bertha and Perry, born in Minnesota. Leonard decided California would be a good place for his young family to start over. They came in the late 1860’s and settled in the town of El Dorado.

When Roger Sherman married Zay Stackpole, they settled on land fourteen miles east of Placerville. They cleared the land and planted an apple orchard. It is said that the Shermans introduced the Rome Beauty apple to this area. The apples from this ranch took gold medals in the 1906 San Francisco Exposition. Roger was active in establishing the Farm Bureau in El Dorado County. The farm bureau building was located near the eight mile house.

Roger and Zay Sherman had only one child. Their son, Walter, was born in 1890, in Tuolumne County. Zay had gone there to be with her sister for the birth of the baby. Bill Johnson, a nephew of Zay, and Margie Sherman, a niece of Roger, were raised with Walter as if they were born in the family.

Walter told of going to Placerville as a child for the 4th of July celebration. People would throw coins from the upper story windows of the buildings on Main Street for the children to scramble to pick up. Walter attended the Cedar Grove School for the first eight grades. Many times as a young man, he would walk to the Saturday night dances in Placerville, starting back for home about midnight. This was one of the few forms of recreation for young people in the area. The Shermans did like to have parties with the Butlers and a few others in the community. Walter stayed on the ranch until 1916. He entered the service of the First World War shortly after.

Walter Sherman married Emma Baumhoff in a double wedding with Ruth and Bill Baumhoff. Ruth and Emma had taught school together in Pleasant Valley and were good friends. Bill and Emma’s parents owned Sportsman’s Hall.

Walter and Emma moved to Sacramento. They had three children; Mable, who died at age, five, Leland, who now resides in the Rescue area, and Lowell, who lives in Fair Oaks. Lowell remembers going to the “Hall” for family parties in the 1930’s and 40’s at Uncle Bill and Aunt Ruth Baumhoff’s house. Bill and Ruth lived in the little house to the east of the present Sportsman’s Hall.

Walter’s father, Roger, died in 1928 from a heart attack. Zay was losing her eyesight, and she moved to Walter’s home in Sacramento until Walter’s death in 1956. She then moved to her grandson, Leland’s home until her death. The ranch remained in the family, although vacant, until the grandsons sold it in 1957.


Although the Baumhoffs were engaged in the hotel business at Sportsman’s Hall, they also maintained a ranch around the area of the Hall. An apple orchard was planted there, and they raised chickens, pigs and farm animals.

Alexander and Julia Baumhoff had both migrated to this country from Germany. They owned Silver Fork Lodge before they became the proprietors of Sportsman’s Hall in the early 1900’s. They had four children, Bill, Mertie, Emma, and Fred.

Bill, the oldest child of Alex and Julia Baumhoff, and his wife, Ruth, came back to run Sportsman’s Hall for a few years after his father moved to Placerville. Bill was instrumental in tearing down the Hall when the business fell off. He used the lumber from the Hall to build many of the small houses and buildings surrounding that site, including the small house to the east which he and his wife later lived in. Ruth, taught school in Pleasant Valley and then at the Cedar Grove School. Their oldest child, Lester was born in 1922. He had polio as a child, but recovered and went on to earn his PhD in math from the University of California. He was involved with the development of the atom bomb. Berniece was the second child of Ruth and Bill. She also graduated from the University of California with a PhD and worked with one of the large encyclopedia companies. Martin, the third child, earned his PhD from the University of California in archeology and worked in Egypt. The youngest child, “Dudy” (Ruth Emma), married Bill LaFever after graduating from high School and stayed in this area. For a few years she and her husband ran the donut shop that her father had converted from the old barn at Sportsman’s. Her son received his PhD in English and opened a restaurant in Folsom, carrying on the family tradition of catering to the public’s needs for nourishment in a pleasant atmosphere. He is currently teaching college English in the East.

Mertie, the second child of Alex and Julia Baumhoff, married, but was left with two children to raise by herself. Alex built the Snowline General Store for her just south of Sportsman’s. This is now a sawshop behind the Beacon Station. The road at that time went to the south of the store. When the highway was realigned, the back of the store became the front. Mertie later became a teacher and taught in Sacramento.

The third child, Emma, married Walter Sherman and lived in Sacramento. They had three children.

The fourth child of Alex and Julia was Fred. He was involved in the development of the trucking business over Echo Summit. He moved to Idaho with the onset of the depression and became extremely wealthy in the gold dredging business. He later returned to El Dorado County to develop the present Strawberry Lodge. After World War II, he returned to Idaho and became a state senator.


The Crockers owned property north of the 10 Mile House. They had a large brick fruit dehydrator there and ranchers came from miles around to dry their apples. There were three children in the family. Clarence, Lawrence, and Sybil. Sybil Crocker taught for a short time at the Cedar Grove School and later at Camino School. She was known as a wonderful teacher, and all the children loved her. She didn’t marry until later in life and had no children.


The Robinson Ranch was located just north of Sly Park, about halfway up the road to Fresh Pond. Henry Robinson married a widow, Hannah Pratt. She had three children, George, Pearl and Nellie who were all raised on the ranch. Nellie married Pete Boramini and lives in Camino.

All images for this chapter, and additional photos not in the original book are shown below.

Photo Gallery for Early Ranches

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