Living Close to the Land

“I was born December 3rd 1918 right down the road,” Wayne McGimpsey begins, taking a quick look out the large picture window of his central Boonville house wedged between Anderson Valley Market and Lauren’s Restaurant as if he might catch a glimpse of the old homestead south of town not more than two miles away just about where the CDF station sits now. “Mind if I smoke?” he asks, causing me to wonder if some previous visitor had dared deny this most gracious host a small pleasure in his own house. Rolling one the old fashioned way with a pair of hands the size of catcher’s mitts, hands that have functioned as all-purpose tools in more kinds of manual labor than many of us can remember, Wayne McGimpsey is one of only a few Valley residents who was not only born here but whose roots extend to the first handful of immigrants of mid-19th century, preceded only by Walter Anderson in 1851, J.D. Ball and family in 1852, John Gschwend and William Prather in 1855 and, in 1858, Rawles, McSpadden and one J. McGimsey. Anderson, so far as anybody knows the first white settler applied that well-worn but apposite phrase, “the Garden of Eden” to his discovery, quickly abandoning the Old Testament cliche for “Anderson Valley,” it and its Edenic qualities surviving ever since.

The front room where we sit is warm and looks out onto the passing parade and comfortable coming and going from the store, Rossi’s Hardware and the Boonville Post Office. Strewn about the room are Indian artifacts and pictures of wild life. Wayne McGimsey is widely considered The Valley’s premier authority on its flora and fauna. To be sure his knowledge of his home territory is closely observed and wide.

“I was delivered by a midwife, Mrs. Tarwater. She delivered most of the babies in those days. Before her, Grandma Stubblefield was the midwife. She lived at the other end of The Valley near the old Reiser place. There was never a steady doctor here until quite a bit later,” McGimpsey remembers. “For serious injuries people had to get to Ukiah.”

“Where the CDF station is now, Henry Beeson had his saddle shop. Made saddles right there. He was the last survivor of the Bear Flag Revolt. I can remember as a kid playing in his saddle shop. He made them the old fashioned way, right there on the trail from Cloverdale. The old Beeson place was our place. My father was a sheep rancher.”

Wayne doesn’t know if the James Brothers “came out here or were ever here, but the Earps were both here,” a piece of history I’d never heard mention of before. “The reason I can say this clearly,” Wayne says, “is because I can prove it. I’ve got Virgil Earp’s icebox. They stayed in a place out at Yorkville and left a trunk there. And all that information is in that trunk, but I didn’t have sense enough to pick up the trunk. There were four Earp brothers. The two that were here were Virgil and Wyatt, and they lived out in this valley for a long time. But you were talking about the James boys; where you get the connection there is that they knew each other, and I can prove this too because I have the pictures of it. The Earp brothers were very well behaved. Everybody liked them. Caused no trouble. They were just ranchers.”

Indians? “There are artifacts anywhere you want to look. One big burial ground is out on Guido Pronsolino’s place. I understand that many local Indians died from diphtheria. There were large Indian settlements in Yorkville, a big one in the Ornbaun Valley, there’s one right here where the Fairgrounds is, a big one at Philo where the Christmas tree farm is now, and a big one up at the headwaters of the Rancheria.”

As a boy, Wayne either walked to the school at what is now the Veteran’s Building or rode his horse the mile or so to master the three-R’s. He also went to school out in Ornbaun Valley, now the Mailliard Ranch, and into Boonville where one of his teachers was the legendary botanist, Blanche Brown.

“I went to work full time when I was fourteen. I was running a ranch — the old Hobson Ranch — with two thousand head of sheep on it. It’s all cut up now into little pieces. I rode a horse every day to keep an eye on the sheep. We used poison to control coyotes and bear. Old Newt Ornbaun, told me about the time he was running hogs out in Ornbaun Valley and he saw a bear come in there, grab a hog, knock it down, hold it with his paw and eat a ham off it and turn it loose, Whether that’s the truth or not I don’t know, but they claimed it happened. In the early days, I remember the last two drives they made on hogs out of this country. They had dogs that would gather them hogs up and keep them in a bunch. If they didn’t stay in that bunch, they lost an ear or they lost part of their nose, or they lost something else. But the dogs would drive the hogs fifty to a hundred in a pack, right to Cloverdale where they were loaded onto train cars. I remember when they used to drive cattle from the Piper Ranch out here on Greenwood Ridge to Cloverdale. My dad used to always be in on that drive.”

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