By the time of his death in 1903, Dixey Wildes Thompson had
become one of the best-known and most-beloved figures in Santa
Barbara. A man of many talents, he succeeded at whatever task he
turned his hand to. With his success came largesse; he was famous
for sharing his monetary rewards with those less fortunate.
Born in Maine in 1826, Thompson was related to Francis Thompson,
captain of the brig Pilgrim, immortalized in Richard Henry Dana’s
best-seller, Two Years Before the Mast; and to Alpheus Thompson,
who settled in Santa Barbara in the early 1830s and is credited
with building one of the first Monterey-style adobes in California.
The family had a rich seafaring tradition and, in 1846, Thompson
signed on as a cabin boy on a merchantman captained by an uncle.
The ship engaged in the cotton trade between the U.S. and Europe
and for the next three years, the young man visited a number of
European ports-of-call, as he worked his way up through the ranks
on a number of different ships.
In 1849, Thompson was bitten by the gold bug and headed for the
California mines. Upon reaching the Pacific Coast after crossing
the Isthmus of Panama, he discovered that there was a three-month
wait to book ship passage to San Francisco and that a precious
ticket could command as much as $800. Fortunately, Thompson found
yet another uncle who was a ship captain and Thompson arranged to
work for his passage northward.
Arriving in December, Thompson remained in San Francisco until
July 1850 when he joined some fellow Mainers and headed for the
Mother Lode. Three months later, with not a gold nugget in his
pocket and in financial straits, he returned to the sea. After
service on a number of vessels, he purchased a schooner and in 1852
became engaged in shuttling livestock between the mainland and the
Channel Islands, primarily Santa Rosa Island, co-owned for a time
by Alpheus Thompson.
In the early 1860s Thompson purchased part of Rancho San Miguel
near Ventura and developed it into one of the largest bean farms in
the country. Thompson was one of the first in this region to use
power-driven mechanical threshers to harvest his bean crops. His
success in Ventura County allowed him to purchase the Ontare Ranch,
bounded roughly by modern Foothill Road, Alamar Avenue, State
Street, and by San Roque Creek.
In the late 1870s, Thompson turned his attention to yet another
enterprise. His friend, W. W. Hollister, owner of the Arlington
Hotel, asked him to manage the financially troubled hostelry.
Thompson, with absolutely no hotel management experience, agreed
and within a few years made the Arlington name synonymous with
customer service. Whether it was arranging a buggy trip to the hot
springs in the Montecito foothills or over San Marcos Pass, or
offering advice on the best hunting spots, or giving tips on which
tradesmen offered the best buys, Thompson had the answer. In 1885
he sold the Ontare Ranch in order to better concentrate on the
Thompson had a soft spot in his heart for those down on their
luck. He often loaned money, knowing he probably would never see it
again. He arranged for the delivery of groceries to hungry families
and saw to it that the disadvantaged had wood to see them through
the winter months. Thompson also became an accomplished horseman
and was a familiar sight in parades up and down the state astride a
horse surmounted by his superb hand-tooled, silver saddle.
Seaman, rancher, businessman, horseman, community benefactor,
Dixey Thompson felt it was the duty of every citizen to give back
to his community, a duty that he attempted to live up to on a daily