Question submitted by Bob Millward
The Alisal Ranch is located just south of Solvang, on Alisal Road in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is probably best known for its guest accommodations and range of recreational activities, yet part of the Alisal is still a working cattle ranch.
The 10,000-acre Alisal Ranch originally was part of a larger Mexican land grant. In 1843, the more than 13,000-acre Rancho Nojoqui was granted by the Mexican government to Raimundo Carrillo, of the famed family after which Carrillo Street in Santa Barbara is named. Raimundo’s grandfather, Jose Raimundo Carrillo, the founder of the Carrillo family in California, had served in the Gaspar Portol¡ expedition of 1769. Raimundo, as a young man, served as a clerk at Mission Santa Barbara. In 1849, one year before Santa Barbara incorporated as an American city, he was its alcalde, or mayor.
Carrillo turned his energies to making Rancho Nojoqui a successful cattle operation. The 1840s was a period of transition in the California cattle industry. The end of the decade saw the close of Mexican control over Alta California, yet this period also marked the beginning of the rancheros’ greatest prosperity.
Cattle had been raised primarily for their hides and for the tallow that was processed from the steers’ fat, both products being put to an amazingly wide range of uses. This dramatically changed with the onset of the Gold Rush as thousands of miners and other fortune seekers flooded into California. These newcomers had to be fed and the Californios’ herds now became beef on the hoof. Prices soared and the rancheros enjoyed a truly Golden Age.
By the mid 1860s, Rancho Nojoqui had passed through the hands of four owners. Ulpiano Yndart was the unfortunate owner when floods, and then a searing drought, killed off cattle herds statewide. Yndart had been running more than 1,000 head on the ranch before these disasters struck. In 1868, H.W. Pierce bought the ranch, and Yndart joined the ranks of the many Californios who lost their holdings to American newcomers. Yndart would go on to a successful political career, serving as Santa Barbara city treasurer and as a commissioner overseeing the creation of Ventura County in the early 1870s, among other positions.
Pierce installed an irrigation system, bringing water from the Santa Ynez River, which allowed for intensified farming on the ranch. It is probably during his ownership that the name was changed to Alisal, a coined word. The family sold the ranch in 1907, and, in 1927, Charles Perkins, a director of the Southern Pacific Railroad, bought it. Perkins continued the cattle operations and also raised thoroughbred race horses. One of these, Flying Ebony, won the 1933 Kentucky Derby.
Perkins’s son, Charles Jr., was quite the horseman, despite losing part of a leg when he was 12. With a wooden peg leg, the young man had a special jumping saddle fixed with a silver cup as a stirrup, which fit his wooden leg perfectly. He could also stand on two horses at once and ride them at full gallop.
The guest ranch began in summer 1946 under the ownership of Pete Jackson, with accommodations for 30 people. It became a popular getaway for celebrities: Clark Gable got married there to Lady Sylvia Ashley in 1949, and other guests included Groucho Marx, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Kirk Douglas.
Today, the Alisal offers facilities for some 200 guests as well as an array of activities such as horseback riding, golf, boating on Lake Alisal, tennis, fishing, and swimming. With no televisions or telephones in the rooms, the Alisal is a rustic retreat for those who really want to get away.