Although I’ve briefly talked about the ranch, I thought I’d delve a little more into its history. Several people have mentioned they enjoy hearing about the ranch. So here’s a little more on the Jenner Cattle Company, three generations working together today, representing 3 of the 5 original generations:
L-R: nephew Frank; “Great Papa” Jack (91); brother-in-law John; son Matt; hubby Doug; son Nick.
The Jenner Cattle Company, Inc., is one of the oldest ranches in Scott Valley, Siskiyou County, California. For those who think California is the land of beautiful people and beautiful beaches and sun year-round, they have not visited the most northern quadrant of the state! Forty miles from Oregon, we are a rural (very rural) mountain community. We are surrounded by the Klamath National Forest, the Trinity-Salmon Alps, and the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area. The “valley” is perhaps 30 miles long and 6 miles wide. Originally the land of the Shasta, it is still the home of one of the largest tribes in northern California. Neighboring tribes include the Karuk and Yurok (further to the coast).
The first contact with whites dates back to Hudson Bay Company’s beaver trappers and early mountain men, circa 1928-30. Stephen Meek, brother to Joseph Meek, is “credited” with putting Scott Valley (then called Beaver Valley) “on the map.” Interestingly, Stephen Meek lived for a time on a part of our ranch, and Old Pop used to recall how the Meek would hang his beaver pelts on our barn to dry in the sun (that would have been in Meek’s later years — around 1900+)… today the beaver are few, but they remain — rather fascinating to watch how quickly they can build a dam. Only trouble is that we often try to plant trees along the slough and they saw them down very quickly! LOL…
The Jenners’ entry into the valley goes back to the days of the gold rush (more on that in a future blog )…..the gold rush here followed on the heels of the Sierra Mother Lode “rush,” but actually produced as much, if not more gold. Gold was first noted in 1848, but it wasn’t until 1850 that the rush north into the Trinity region and beyond took hold. Even today, few people realize that the “northern mines” were as rich as they were, and the gold rush here lasted into the 1900s.
The Wagner Saloon in Etna
Part of the family’s ranching operation has its roots in the Wagner Ranch, purchased by Ignace and Mary Ann (Lichtenthaler) Wagner, both of Alsace, France, in March of 1874 (March 17, 1874). Although Ignace first went to mine in the area of Placerville (then known as “Hangtown” in the Sierras), he soon moved north, with a little bit of gold, as did so many gold seekers. He was a hard-worker and began to look around at how he could make a living for his family; farming and ranching was very profitable in the early days and he had come from farming stock. Later, at least one of his sons ran the Wagner Saloon in Etna.
Another branch of the family included the Kapplers, who founded the original Etna Brewery–which has been resurrected and has won many micro-brewery awards since its “re-creation” in 1990! The Kapplers were also from Germany, arriving again as part of the gold rush. Settling in Etna, the Kapplers established the brewery and built an ice house and were the first to bring electricity to the town in 1898. Prohibition forced the brewery to close, although the beer did win a Blue Ribbon at the San Francisco Exposition in 1915.
The original farmhouse on the Wagner Ranch was built in 1859, but Ignace soon built a new home on the flat, opposite the old structure. The painting below was done by A. Cedro and stretches a good 4-5 feet across; it shows the layout of the Wagner Ranch in its “heyday.”
Note the “horse barn” (still a beautiful and historic barn, on the right….).
The Wagners raised prized horses, including some magnificent Percherons; one even won a Blue Ribbon at the 1915 Exposition. They also raised hogs and apples. Today we still butcher hogs in the same way as did the first Wagners and we smoke our hams, bacon, sausage in the “old smokehouse on the hill.”
Our oldest son – note the “scrapers” to the left of the hog – 150 years old.
We also press cider in the 150-year old family cider press, made from a variety of apples on the ranch (many of which were planted later by my husband while in high school). Both are annual traditions that we have passed on now to the sixth generation. In fact, each Christmas our gift to neighbors, family and friends includes some of our wonderful sausage. Everyone looks forward to the gift!
NOTE: if anyone’s interested in the historic and fascinating history of processing pork — I could do a blog with photos…?
The first Jenner to arrive in Scott Valley was E.P. Jenner, who emigrated from Sussex County, England, in 1849 (again, because of the gold rush!), then founded the Union Flour Mill c. 1864, outside the town of Rough and Ready, now called Etna. With gold miners needing food and supplies, it was E.P.’s nephew, Frank S. Jenner, who followed his uncle to the valley and established a ranch on land straddling the “Island” (land between Scott River and Patterson Creek/slough) in the early 1870s, where rich bottomland produces good feed for cattle.
This is the view from our living room window.
Today we still raise cattle on these rich pastures and native grasses – which adds to the flavor and nutrition found in our beef. It is 100% All Natural, with no hormones, no antibiotics, and it has a strong reputation as prime and superior beef.
The Jenner family, operating in its fifth generation, is centered around Frank’s original Island property, in addition to the Wagner Ranch, but we have also added to the family’s holdings and cow herd in the years since my husband and his brother joined the business (40+ years). And in the last 15 years, our two sons and nephew have joined the family operation/corporation. But “Grandpa Jack” (now 91) still works a good 8-hour day!
Today we run 1000+ cows and we’ve moved from raising Hereford to Angus-cross cattle. We calve in the late fall but since we have FOUR seasons (yes, temps drop to well below zero in the winter and we get snow that often lasts for days or weeks). With the valley floor at 2800 feet and the mountains around us peaking at 9,000 feet, we are a beautiful, green, lush valley. It’s no wonder that so many immigrants from Germany and Switzerland made this valley their home.
In addition, the Island ranch features a lush, natural slough, with roughly 50 acres of ponds and four reservoirs. The area is maintained as a natural preserve where waterfowl and other wildlife congregate year-round.
In winter, the geese often “skate” along the frozen slough….
We limit hunting in order to protect both wildlife and cattle, so it’s not uncommon to see hundreds, if not thousands, of ducks, geese, herons, even pairs of eagles (both Bald and American Golden) and other bird life, as well as beaver and/or otters, etc. The diversity is amazing and there is rarely a day I don’t look out and marvel at the beauty and the fertility of nature. We love our cows, and for those who have wondered, cattle AND wildlife do cohabitate incredibly well. Cattle are natural recyclers; they are also natural fire retardants and can convert otherwise dry material into a powerful food source (like the dry hillsides that ignite in California every summer — a shame they are no longer used to keep the fire danger down).
Now that we have the sixth generation coming on, it’s been wonderful having our rich family history to pass on — not only the stories, but the actual “material” culture of a family that has lived on the same land for almost 150 years! And now, even the Jenner “girls” have expanded the family’s enterprise; we’ve created our own business, Jenner Family Beef, which offers beef locally and regionally.
Just this year, Jenner beef is being featured at the new and exclusive Clove & Hoof butcher shop and eatery in Oakland, CA……along with an endorsement by San Francisco’s Slow Food group. By expanding what we do, we feel that we can provide for our growing family. With four generations at work now and the next coming on, we hope to maintain our family’s rich heritage!
This is a beautifully rendered book with great family recipes. The stories that go along with the recipes are also interesting and some are very poignant, like the story about "Mike's Cornbread" recipe (which I am going to try). Mike Hensley, who got the recipe from his mother, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and lost his ability to cook. His family cornbread recipe was lost, but several years later, his wife Marcia received an e-mail from an old friend who had found the recipe, and Marcia contributed it to the book. The historical photographs for many of the family recipes add a dimension not often seen in cook books, and the great photos of the food make you want to bake, and this is the season for it!