More about the Caves Ranch


When Grandpa Church first went to the Caves there were lots of deer in that part of the country. There were quail, rabbits and mountain quail and pigeon in the late fall, and doves in the summer time. Grandpa was not a hunter, but Uncle Andrew and Uncle Bill were good hunters and excellent shots. Game was the only meat there was to be had. There was an irrigation ditch and a small field of alfalfa, a nice orchard and a nice garden where all sorts of vegetables grew. The vegetables had to be used up during the season mostly, but the fruit was dried or canned for winter use, what could not be used fresh. Grandpa always had a milk house and plenty of milk and cream and butter. There were a few chickens to keep the family supplied with eggs and chicken to eat now and then. There was always a sow and some pigs coming along to keep the salt pork barrel full. Living at that time was different than it is today.

Everything that went on the table was raised on the place except a few things like sugar, flour, coffee, tea, baking powder and a few other items like flavoring extracts, rice, tapioca and salt. And often they did not have some of those things.

The road to Tassajara Hot Springs was being built about that time, and when the hotel at the Springs opened up in the early summer, Grandpa sold all of his surplus better to the hotel there. The butter was packed 5 miles over a rough trail on pack animals and had to be covered with a lot of blankets to keep it from melting in the hot summer sun. Grandpa’s milk house was built near the creek and built of stone except for the roof which was logs and brush with leaves and dirt thrown on top of it. It had racks around all sides inside for the milk cans to stand on while the cream would raise. The cream was skimmed off every 24 hours. The skimmed milk fed to the pigs and the cream soured and was later turned into butter in a big barrel churn.

There was a ditch that ran from up the creek and led the water into the milk house and out the other side. There were no windows in the milk house and the only light came in through the door when opened. I remember when I was a little fellow same good sized trout swimming around on the floor of the milk house in the little stream that ran through.

Grandmother washed her churn and milk cans and emptied the water in the little stream and the fish came by the hundreds to feed on tiny pieces of curd that would float out in the top of the water to the big Creek. It was easy then to catch trout anywhere in the streams. Some of them were 10 or 12 inches long.

It was at the Caves that I once saw hundreds of trout at least 15 inches long in a deep dark hole a couple of miles down the creek from the house. I was quite small and would wander down there in the light time in the afternoon. Sometimes I would get interested in fishing and it would get late and I would run all the way home to get there before dark. Once I caught a big trout but he did not bite the hook. He was caught in the hook as I dragged it up out of the water.

There were all kinds of Indian things around when I first remember. All the gates were swung on rocks which had been used by the Indians to grind their acorns and seeds in. You could pick up arrowheads and spearheads any day. The rocks that were used to pound the acorns with were plentiful also. The paintings inside the caves were quite clear and the place where they had their fires was still charred and black on the rocks. We used to, when we passed through their on our camping trips when we were older, stop sometimes for a day and play Indian in the very place where there must have been many Indians about 50 or 60 years before. We made our camp near the creek but would run barefoot all over the rocks and explore every crevice of the place.

There were no Indians living in that part of the country when our grandparents came there. But across the creek from the house there were many little piles of stones and many people said that they were graves of Indians who had been buried there. Grandpa had accidentally plowed too close to them at different times and had uncovered bones and arrowheads and other things. He always carefully dug a hole back under the stones and put everything back where he thought it had come from and went on about his work. The irrigation ditch ran down through these little piles of rocks and sometimes would wash in under them and expose the bones to the sunshine. Grandpa always put them back.

Once there was a party of men who had heard about this Indian graveyard and had decided to do some digging for themselves. They started from Salinas with wagons and brought along picks and shovels and sacks to take home some of the bones. They had saddle horses and pack horses for the last part of the trip, for there was no road into the Caves Canyon. They came to the house where grandmother lived before they could reach the graves, and they told her where they were going and what they were going to do. She was alone at the house at the time and she told them they were not going to do any such thing. She said “you’ll do nothing of the kind. Those people are dead and I’ll not allow you to disturb them now”.

They all went back empty-handed.

When Grandpa Church moved into the Caves Canyon his two sons Andrew and Bill were big boys. I think uncle Bill said that he was 16 years old at the time. They helped drive the cattle and move the other farm things from San Mateo County and it took many long days to make the trip. Our mother was older and was attending San Jose State Teachers College about that time. Uncle Bill only stayed a few years but while he was there he was the hunter and kept them supplied with fresh meat. He told us that he had seen as many as 30 dear at a time on the grassy hillsides opposite the house in the evening. There was other game and fish to be had.

He learned a lot from Grandpa about falling trees and hewing the logs into timbers, and even using a whipsaw. He spent a lot of time in the long winter evenings making things of wood. He found a lot of beautiful hardwood growing in the canyon and it on the hills around. Uncle Bill was an expert with an ax and adz. He knew all the different colored wood that grew in the hills and often traveled miles to get a piece of a certain color or strength. Uncle Bill was also an expert rifle shot and hard to beat with the shotgun. But he drifted away and found work in San Francisco and stayed there until the year of the quake, 1906.

Uncle Andrew stayed with his parents and took care of the place. Sometimes he worked around on ranches for short time but spent most of his time at the Caves. Uncle Andrew was an expert horseman and would ride any horse no difference how wild or tough he was. He was an expert with the rope and knew cattle as well as any man in the business. He stayed at the Caves until he married aunt Clara (she was Clara Bruce). Later Grandpa and Grandma moved away to the Valley near Salinas and uncle Andrew stayed on until aunt Clara died. Clarence, Bruce and John were born by then. It was miles and miles to the nearest neighbor and a lonely place to live. Sometimes there would be months at a time in the winter that nobody could go out or in over the snow on the ridges.

Aunt Clara took sick one day in the early afternoon and by night uncle Andrew decided to ride out for help. He had to leave her alone while he was gone. It took hours for him to get to Jamesburg ,and there Mrs. James—who was an old old lady—said she would go and take care of her. She rode a horse from around midnight and till daylight in the morning to get there. She helped Aunt Clara through her trouble and was not able to get out of bed for a few days herself. She always said, “Well I was old and had lived my life. I could not let that young woman be there alone even if it killed me to go to her.”

We visited Uncle Andrew and Aunt Clara at the Caves. Most of the time we had errands there. We carried the mail to them or a message from someone. We often took a couple of pack animals with us and and picked fruit or grapes and Uncle Andrew loaded our pack animals with them. There was a fine family orchard there then. Two fine big cherry trees. Lots of apples of many varieties. Apricots and many varieties of peaches, several kinds of pears, and a quince tree. Uncle Andrew would send meat home with us if he had just killed a deer or maybe a pig.

One year he had sliced and sun dried various kinds of fruit and he sent some home with us. The pears were delicious tasting and before we reached Chews Ridge we had dug into the pack and eaten a lot of them. We were hungry and they were sweet. But when we came to the spring above the Bear Trap we were thirsty and drank and watered the pack animals. The dried pears swelled up inside our stomachs and made us awfully sick. For a couple of hours we thought we would never get home. The walking I think helped to make us get well. We learned later that walking a bloated horse is good medicine and we were surely bloated. We were still sick when we arrived home but mother made a cup of medicine for each of us and we were well by morning. Dried pears did not taste very good for a long time after that.

But there were all the other things to eat. One time while Grandmother still lived there, they milked quite a few cows and raised the calves by feeding them the skimmed milk in buckets. The calves would be out in the pasture around the alfalfa and Grandma, when she had the milk all skimmed and ready to feed them, would call “Boss boss boss” and drum on a milk pan to call the calves to feed. When the calves were ready to wean they were driven off to Pine Valley where there was good grass. In the fall before snow fell they were brought back into the canyon where they could be fed on hay if they needed it. Uncle Andrew and Bill Bruce and some other men had gone to Pine Valley and brought the yearlings down. They had opened the gate to the pasture below the house and were trying to put the yearlings through. The calves did not see the open gate and would race past the opening and up along the fence. They turned them back and again they raced past the open gate. Grandma hurried the dinner onto the table called all hands to come and wash up and eat. Then, when they had put their horses up and were busy eating their dinner and the yearlings had time to cool down, Grandma went out to the milk house and took an empty milk pan and went to the gate drumming on the pan and calling “Boss boss boss” and every one of the 30 odd calves followed her through. She closed the gate and when the men finished dinner their job had been done for them.