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Dude Ranch History At California’s Marble Mountain Ranch

The recorded history of California’s Dude Ranch, Marble Mountain Ranch, begins in the late 1860’s when Samuel Stanshaw, a veteran of the Civil War, moved West and claimed water and mining rights to establish the Stanshaw Mining Company on the Klamath River just North of Somes Bar. His 1867 County Water filing records a claim of 600 miner’s inches on the Klamath River tributary now bearing Stanshaw’s name.

The “Stanshaw mining company” attracted Chinese immigrants to the Ranch to provide manual labor for the construction of water canals (seen still flowing in the image at the left) and the extraction of ore. Historically, the canals were often lined in redwood planks and created a network of ditches that moved water through hundreds of acres to power giant “monitors” for hydraulic mining. Essentially a giant water cannon, the monitors were effective at removing overburden for ore extraction and equally effective in the transplanting of gravel and sediment into the Klamath River. These mining operations continued at least through the 1920s when this destructive practice was prohibited by some of our country’s earliest environmental legislation.

Dude Ranch History – Origins In The Early Development Of The American West

Besides environmental disruption, the effect of mining as a pioneer industry enabled the establishment of the water distribution lines with concurrent production of hydro-electric power that further seeded the transformation of trail systems into roads, the establishment of supply depots, and the development of basic community infrastructure. The development of roads, water distribution, and hydro-electric power enabled Samuel Stanshaw and other locals to establish cattle grazing and conventional homestead ranch operations alongside their mining operations. The economic evolution seen in much of the Northwest moves from mining with homestead ranching, to logging and other resource consumptive industry such as fishing, then finally to service industries such as recreation and resource management. This evolution of economics and culture is closely mirrored in the history of Marble Mountain Ranch.

In the late 1800s, after Samuel Stanshaw took the easier accessed gold ore from his hydraulic mining operations, Mr. Stanshaw leased the mining operations to the same Chinese laborers who had developed the ranch water diversion system. In his lease, Mr. Stanshaw states that “the Indians across the river are to be left alone and not bothered” and that “all meat and eggs must be purchased from the ranch.” Anecdotal evidence indicates that Stanshaw had taken a common law Indian wife from a Karuk family village located just across the Klamath River from his mining site. We are given just a glimpse of the entrepreneurial spirit of the times and a flavor of his dealings with nearby “in-laws”. The Karuk are still the Native American sovereign nation of the mid-Klamath and have survived as a modern people while still preserving their first nations culture in spite of the disruptive influences of economic and cultural intrusions.

To the left is a Jan 4, 1916 photograph of the ranch. (Courtesy of the Robert Quinn collection) Notice the snow covered aerial power lines leading to the front cabin.

We also see some of Stanshaw’s business savvy in his diligence at protecting his appropriated Stanshaw Creek water. In 1911 his efforts successfully culminated in the patenting of his mining operations with a U.S. Presidential proclamation deeding him the diverted water and canals that carry the water. Marble Mountain Ranch carries this deed signed by President Taft in 1911 and is the site of one of the State’s oldest continuous water rights. The 150 year old Stanshaw diversion still carries domestic water, agricultural water, and hydro-electric water to Marble Mountain Ranch in the last remaining main artery of the original canal system.

Because of the unique location of Marble Mountain Ranch, in an isolated, rugged and harsh area of the Northwest, it also served as a staging and supply depot for early packers and travelers moving through the Klamath River and Salmon River basins. Marble Mountain Ranch, since the 1900’s, has been the home of hydraulic mining, a homestead ranch, a 100 head cattle ranch, logging operations, a blacksmith shop, California State Highway Yard, a feed store, a sportsmen fish camp, a school house with teacherage, housing for road crews and for the U.S. Forest Service, and finally a destination guest ranch resort and dude ranch.

The construction of a reliable road was essential to the development of the mid-Klamath region and by the 1920s, the Klamath River Road had been completed from Yreka to Happy Camp, and from Orleans down river. At that point, there remained about 60 miles of river with mule trail access, but with no road access between Happy Camp and Orleans. The Stanshaw Mining Company (now Marble Mountain Ranch) was strategically placed in the center of the unfinished road section and became the support hub for road development as the ranch transitioned into a State Highway Yard, housing facility, and teacherage. California State road engineer and supervisor Guy McMurtry purchased the ranch from Samuel Stanshaw, moved with his wife Mary to the property, and developed additional housing for the families of the crews he employed in the construction of the final stretch of the Klamath River Road (now State Hwy 96). Most of the ranch guest cottages currently in use at Marble Mountain Ranch were originally constructed by Guy McMurtry to provide housing for road construction crews and their families and later by the Hayes family to provide additional teacherage housing and housing for employees of what was a newly established United States Forest Service. In addition to the housing developments, the Hayes family continued their homestead ranching operations that included as many as 100 head of cattle and began the transition of ranch use to accommodate a growing number of visiting recreational fishermen.

When Guy McMurtry purchased the ranch and moved the State Highway Yard onto the ranch there were so many construction workers with families that in 1918 the state built a school on site (the Irving Creek School) to service the many resident and area children. The first school was a one room structure with outside toilets that overlooked Irving creek and the first teacher was Benjamin D. Spaudling. Minerva Starritt, one of the Irving Creek School teachers from the 1920s records in her historical journals of struggling to single handedly teach 52 students all in the eighth grade! After a visit from the Siskiyou County Superintendent of Schools to view classroom size and conditions, a decision was made to enlarge the school and bring in additional teaching staff. Contributions for school construction came from the road crews who contributed equipment and time, and from the Waldner ranch and sawmill located up Irving Creek. The “new and improved” Irving Creek school is shown at right:

During your stay at the Ranch, you will see the original water diversion that continues to provide domestic water, agricultural water, and hydroelectric power for the Ranch and you will take a trail ride down into the last hydraulic mining pit. The ranch hydro-electric power is now a much more precious commodity than the gold that was it’s original motivation for development. Marble Mountain Ranch continues “off grid” and generates all it’s electricity, as well as it’s domestic and agricultural water from the original water diversions first built to allow mining. You will see remnants of the giant water cannons (monitors) that once washed away mountains of material, numerous relics from past logging and agricultural operations on the Ranch, our 100-plus year old barn and home, and the original feed and hay store and the site of the Irving Creek School on the South end of the ranch. Unfortunately, not enough is left preserved in record of the Chinese inhabitants or the pre-historic native Karuk Indians that inhabited the immediate area.

Our self sufficiency for power, our 150 year tenure of gardening, ranching, and orchard tending, our “catch and release” guided fishing practices, and our practiced “no impact” wilderness ethic allows us to also make strong claim to “sustainable tourism” in our operations as a dude ranch. The current ranch owners still reside permanently on the ranch, tend the orchards, pastures, and gardens, raise and train their own horses, and strengthen community infrastructure with power, water and housing during times of community need. Marble Mountain Ranch has regularly been on the community support team at times of disaster such as the Dillon Complex Fire, the 1997 floods, and the Happy Camp Complex fire when the ranch was a designated FEMA evacuation center.

Do you have images, anecdotes, journal entries, or documents that can improve, add historical accuracy, or supplement this article? We welcome and encourage all submissions for addition to this page.

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