The El Saucito Ranch house, built of redwood by Chester Rude Brumley in 1878, was occupied until the late 1960s and is the oldest still standing farm house on the Carrizo Plain.
“Mr. Brumley has grown grapes, figs, pears, apples and other varieties of fruits and berries, his grapes are very large and very sweet and make large and luscious raisins. The other fruits were of the very best quality and some of the figs brought to San Luis were thought the best ever eaten by those whose fortune it was to get them. Apples and pears bore so heavily as to break down the trees.”
—Myron Angel (circa 1880s)
El Saucito ranch lies as a speck on the vast, bleak Carrizo Plain. Standing on a slope far above the old pioneer homestead, the world silent but for the gentle rush of wind over my ears and nary a sign of other people, the ranch sits like a far-flung outpost of civilization amid the emptiness of hundreds of thousands of square acres of sweeping grassland.
I can see the faint line of Soda Lake Road from afar, and the tiny clump of bushes and trees with a tinge of white that is the building housing the Carrizo Plain National Monument Visitors Center. But aside from those tell-tale signs of humanity, it appears as if very little change has come to the surrounding landscape over the last 140 years. It appears as lonely today as it was when the old house was first built.
Peering across the plain down upon the puny dots that are the ranch and its few outbuildings, in what is now the nation’s most populace state with an economy larger than that of most countries, utter desolation is its defining feature, even today. What must it have felt like in the 1870s when Brumley lived there with his wife, Margaret, and their children?
A trap door in the porch just outside the French doors provides access to a root cellar.
The Brumleys first lived in a house made from the dirt of the plain itself, a one room adobe, before building their elegant two-story wooden home. They were reportedly the only permanent residents for nearly 600 square miles. This at a time when miles were far longer than they are today, as the common conveyances were all pulled by horse over rough substandard roads. That’s a long way to travel for provisions and a hellish journey if in need of a doctor.
El Saucito Ranch was a self-contained oasis. Self-reliance was not optional, of course, it was a necessity of pioneer life, so far removed was the Brumley residence from the rest of the world. A powerhouse on the property generated electricity. Any machines that broke down were repaired onsite in the large detached garage presumably using whatever spare parts or material were on hand.
The sort of ingenuity required to run such a remote ranch is hinted at in a storage and sorting tree at the workshop, where spare nuts, bolts, small parts and other odds and ends were kept for future use or reuse. The homemade upright storage receptacle was crafted from old concave metal plow disks attached at intervals horizontally to a metal pole, the disks serving as makeshift holding bins.
The Brumleys raised sheep, cattle and horses and grew a wide variety of produce. There is a well on the property and a windmill that once drew cool water from the underlying aquifer. There is a small open reservoir that lies deep in the ground below the level of the surrounding plain and is surrounded and shaded by willow trees. This is the same willow thicket that purportedly originally attracted Brumely’s attention as a tell-tale sign of water, and which is the natural feature for which the ranch is named. Saucito means little willow in Spanish.
During the time the Brumley’s lived at El Saucito there were still Native Americans roaming the countryside. A display at the ranch relates one such experience recalled by one of the Brumley daughters:
“Life on the lonely plain was a big change from life of San Francisco. Nellie Brumley remembered a morning alone in the house with her mother when a band of 20 Indians arrived, chanting and asking for water. A nervous Margaret ordered Nellie to hide in the house, while she presented the Indians with water and a pail of freshly-baked cookies. The Indians ate all the cookies. . .down to the last crumb—and departed as abruptly as they had arrived.”
El Saucito ranch is seen here as a few trees and a speck of white about center frame. The white saltpan of Soda Lake is seen to the left and the Temblor Range, created by the San Andreas Fault, is in the distance beneath the clouds.
Great historical account, Jack. What brought the Brumleys to such a remote location? There was plenty of land available at that time. Were they seeking obscurity, hiding?
Great question and one I’ve pondered often. As you say, there was plenty of land available at that time, so why intentionally seek out one of the driest, most unforgiving regions around? Brumley originally worked on the Carrizo as a ranch supervisor of sorts running cattle for an absentee landowner and he eventually remained on the plain.
I wish we had plenty of space around us but, unfortunately in the UK, that is no longer the case 😦 It was a lot more spacious when I was growing up though. You certainly have to be resourceful and self-reliant to live so far out in the wilderness though. And wastefulness would certainly not have been an option, unlike today’s living.
This attachment is a picture of our house on the Saucito ranch out in Carriso Plains as it was when my Dad owned the ranch from 1946 to 1953. This picture was taken by one of my Mother’s friends who was out there with 4 ladies of Mom’s Bakersfield social group and, although it’s not that evident, my Dad was in the background preparing the Bar B Que for a steak lunch for them. As you will see in the following link, the house looks substantially different now from when we had that place. The house has been stripped of all the landscaping, and then allowed to deteriorate to the point that it had to be restored. In the process of restoring the house the Nature Conservancy tore off the kitchen which had been added on to the house in the 30’s, then put a foundation under it which wasn’t really necessary because the house is solid redwood and as you’ll read later the house was build in 1878, and was just as solid when we were there as when it was built.
While we were there, there was a very strong earthquake during the summer of 1951 and that house stood up better then most houses of today. It was the same quake that nearly destroyed Tehachapi . My brother and I were sleeping in the downstairs bedroom and that quake rolled our bed out into the middle of the room If you will notice the roof line of the porch overhang. When we had the house that roof line matched the roof line of the house. Now the roof line of the front porch and surrounding porch is “flat”. Very much impairing the attractive architectural look of the house. I think that the builder, Mr Brumley would be very upset. We have 16mm color family movies of one of Mr Brumley’s daughters visiting us while we owned the ranch around 1948. She was living in San Luis Obispo and this had been the first time she had been back to the ranch since her family left. She had some incredible stories for us about her days on the ranch. She loved the house as it looked in 1948
For all these historians, the ranch didn’t exist between the 30’s and the 50’s.
My parents purchased the Ranch from Doc and Bert Edgar in 1952. I was born in 1957 and used to go stay with the Edgars in Bakersfield in the summer. I had a crush (age 4-5) on David. The rose garden, the trees, the old orchards are all gone. It breaks my heart to look at the family pics and the pics of it now.
Hello Warren, I didn’t know you by that first name. Indeed it is difficult to see a place we loved and was so much a part of us as children so stripped and abandoned. I was excited to read your description of the ranch and would like to add a couple of notes.
I read your narrative to Mom (Joyce Newsom Bingeman) and she talked about how Mrs Latimer (Nellie Brumley) came out in 1950 and spoke to all the attending women there on the Carrisa at a “Home Department” meeting. Mom said she talked about her mother baking cookies and having a group of indians come to the house. They sat outside eating cookies until the men got in from the fields.
My Dad and Mom (Willard Eugene (GENE) and Joyce Bingeman) bought the ranch from your folks in 1952, in fact the papers were signed on my mothers 21st birthday, 10/28/1952. She and Dad often talked about the earthquake in 51. They were still on the American Ranch at that time. Dad had been in an awful accident in December of 1950 and was barely home from the hospital. The men on the ranch had to carry him into the Bunkhouse where he had to stay while still in a body cast in traction because they couldn’t get him into the spiffy new house trailer that mom and dad lived in after they got married in September of 1950.
Mom and I would love to see the photo you attached here or any others you might have. We are hoping to come down toward the end of April and hopefully be able to set up a visit to the ranch. My phone number is 208-404-3994
Is it possible to see Warren Edgar’s attachments mentioned in his comments above? I don’t see any links to it.
I have property on the Temblor side of Soda Lake. The reason some of us like it so much is its desolation. That there is somewhere still left in this world where you can still hear the “sound of silence”. I live in Orange County and it’s always a big treat to go up to the valley.
According to Dan Krieger’s 1986 account about the Brumley’s (who are my sister-in-law’s SLO Co ancestors), Chester Brumley came west for adventure, and knew a banker who controlled the Painted Rock Ranch, Brumley took over management of the ranch and then had his family follow him out here.
My grandparents, Jesus and Adelida Garcia owned this ranch in the early 1900s, raising 14 children. I was lucky enough to grow up here as my parents, Ernest and Mary Christina Garcia, chose to remain in the Carrisa Plains. It was an amazing place!