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Monday, July 6, 2015

Five Generations Strong....Ranching is What We Do.... By Gail L. Jenner

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 <g>).....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!

Gail L. Jenner is the wife of Doug Jenner. She considers
her life on the ranch to be almost a dream-come-true!
Keeping the history of five generations alive is another
reason she collects and records local history, in addition
to writing historical fiction....
For more, visit:
She is the author of the PRP release of her WILLA Award-winning novel, ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS. Her stories have also been included in the PRP anthologies, PRESENT FOR A COWBOY, LASSOING A BRIDE, and COWBOY KISSES. She has also coauthored 5 regional histories, and edited and contributed to ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP, an anthology of Western rural women's stories.


  1. What a wonderful legacy! To have so many generations that have lived and thrived on their land, priceless. Thank you for sharing. Doris

    1. Thanks, Doris. It is fun being a part of something that continues to thrive and grow. Watching the grandkids as they begin to participate is wonderful, too. Family business is not easy, but in my mind, it's worth the challenges! Thanks for stopping by :-)

  2. Thanks you so much for putting all that down. I just realized I take your family's deep roots for granted. It is indeed a magical place. So beautiful.

    1. Thanks, Vella! Yes, it has a certain magic -- at least in my mind. I'm sure a lot of people would find it difficult "living" in such proximity, but I love the feeling of having roots..... :-)

  3. You and your beautiful family are quite blessed, Gail, thank you for sharing your heritage with us. My own ancestry was deeply rooted as well, they owned forges and made barrels for muskets and rifles. The family business grew, spanning 5 massive mansions built in the 18th century, and several counties. Unfortunately, the addiction of gambling was also passed down from generation to generation, and one of the sons lost our entire heritage in one hand of poker. Still a bitter pill to swallow, driving past the homes that were meant to be in our family.
    Love a good story with deep rooted family heritage and an appreciation for preserving family traditions. Beautiful photos, I loved the painting of the Wagner ranch!

    1. Wow, Shayna -- what a heritage and what a sad end!!! It would make a great plot for a story, though ;-0 Sounds like the family did very well in the early days. Ah, yes -- the painting was done by A. Cedro -- an itinerant painter/worker (and alcoholic), who stayed on the ranch for a time. His work is more "primitive" but I love it. My brother-in-law and wife and family live on the Wagner ranch and we live in the original Jenner house.

  4. An interesting and insightful look at the Jenner family. I know you and your husband must be very proud and happy to carry on the family tradition. How wonderful to be a part of something so rich with history.
    I like that you care about preserving wildlife.
    I don't think I've ever seen 1000 cattle in one place--ever.
    I really enjoyed learning more about you and your family, Gail. The pictures and the painting were fantastic.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! We do take care of a lot of wildlife, but interestingly enough, most ranchers do. In fact, more migrating waterfowl and wildlife are protected by private landowners/ranchers/farmers than public lands. One reason why keeping lands "open" to cattle is a plus! They cohabitate beautifully and preserve open, natural pasturelands, vs. farm ground and smaller acreages. The cows are wonderful -- I love them. :-)

  5. Very interesting. I started in San Diego and have been moving north. You live in a part of California I would love to visit and know more, rather than just drive through. Yes, please do more posts on ranching operations and meat processing.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

    1. Hi Robyn! I lived for 3 years in So. Cal. and was raised early on in the Bay Area. Met my cowboy/ranching hubby in college :-) Have been on the ranch 44 years now.....This part of CA is unique --
      I'll be sure and include a post about meat processing (esp. the way we process hogs, which is the same as the family's done for 150 years!). Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Gail,

    I love reading about your family's cattle business, because it always takes me on a nostalgic journey back to my growing-up-on-a-ranch days. I am curious about the picture of you surrounded by the lovely ladies. Are they daughters and daughters-in-law? (not names, but in general) *grin* You have such a beautiful family.

    1. The gals include my sister-in-law, two nieces, my daughter and my two daughters-in-law and me! It's been quite an adventure going into business, but we are plugging away and are even "in the black" after only 2 + years. Not bad :-)

  7. Gail - Your family is lucky to have you as it's scribe. It's a fascinating story. I found it interesting that the Wagners came from Alsace France. I live about 30 miles from Castroville, TX, a community first settled by Alsace immigrants. The little town still has a little bit of old country charm to it.

    1. Quite a few locals from the Alsace region -- all of whom spoke German. Interesting about Castroville. Never heard of the town. Thanks for your encouragement......and thanks for stopping by!

  8. I loved reading about your beautiful ranch. Thanks for posting.

  9. What fun to read about the history of your ranch. Most families have moved numerous times within the same city or have moved across or out of state. And how many of us, are ONLY second generation American?! My grandparents had seven kids in FIVE different states!!! So, it is with facination I read about a family who has "stayed put" for over 150 years!

    Thanks for writing about your life.

  10. My grandmother, Carol Maplesden, "Grammy" gave me a copy of Across the Sweet Grass Hills when I visited her in Greenview a few years ago. I have traveled many of the places in the book. What a great story. I don't read for fun as much as I should but this book was a page turner!