April 27, 2017

Photo Essay: The End of the Old West at Gilman Ranch

When you think of what Southern California was like before cars, you might think of the railroad—but there was something even before trains that allowed people to safely traverse across muddy, mountainous, and desolate terrain.


If you were going to get across any of our mountain passes—to travel either north or south—you'd need a team of horses and some pretty big wheels.

The days of the stagecoach and wagon trails are celebrated at the Gilman Historic Ranch and Wagon Museum in the Inland Empire town of Banning, CA...

...which was situated along the Bradshaw Trail (a.k.a. "The Gold Road" because trailblazer William Bradshaw created it to connect San Bernardino with the gold fields in western Arizona)...

...and, like the nearby Highland Springs Ranch, was once part of the Rancho San Gorgonio.

James Marshall Gilman had moved to Southern California in 1869, looking to buy a cattle ranch and settled on this property...

...where he operated the stagecoach stop and, a decade later, built his own Victorian-style ranch house.

The stage stop didn't get many passengers in the advent of railroad travel, but the trails remained a freight route for quite some time.

With Gilman at the helm, the ranch had continued to be successful, growing from its original 160 acres to a peak of 500 acres.

Gilman lived there until he died in 1916. The ranch house burned down in 1977, so what stands there now is a replica from when the museum first opened in 1991.

It's a reproduction of life as it was lived by the early 19th century pioneers of the area...

...100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean...

...but fed by three natural springs.

The access to water meant that Gilman could find some success in shifting from sheep and cattle grazing to more agricultural purposes... growing fruit.

But where Gilman really found success was in olives.

Still standing is the original shed...

...where the olives were cured... well as milk house...

...and carriage housing.

There's also a blacksmith shop...

...though it's mostly just for show now.

Gilman Ranch may be historic, but it's also infamous as the site of a well-known murder scene...

...a killing that led to the so-called "The West's Last Famous Manhunt," which made national news in 1909.

A man known as "Willie Boy" (or "Billy Boy") followed his teenaged distant cousin Isoleta (also called Carlota, though sometimes reported by the sensationalist media as "Lolita") to Gilman Ranch, where she was picking fruit with her family. Their families forbade their love—and, in an altercation with Carlota's father, "Old Mike" (as he was called) was shot and killed.

The "Wanted" poster for Willie Boy read, "Desperate man. Take no chances!" And, as the story goes, the teenage girl (who was 14, or 15, or 16 years old, depending on the source) fled with Willie Boy and was on the run with him until a member of the search posse accidentally shot Carlota, mistaking her for her lover. In one version of the story, Willie Boy shot himself to rejoin her in the afterlife.

Some say, however, that Willie Boy escaped, never to be seen again. At Gilman Ranch, there are no bullet holes to examine, nor graves to inspect. The supposed murder is now just the stuff of legend.

The "Old West" time period ended shortly after the murder and manhunt, in 1912. And even the original adobe house from 1854—considered the "first permanent landmark" in the Banning area—is now a pile of rubble.

But 20 acres of those olive trees are still standing tall—and still dropping olives.

Stay tuned for more on Old Woman Springs Ranch, one of the stops that Willie Boy made while on the run.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Highland Springs
Photo Essay: Graber Olive House
Photo Essay: Along the Old Stagecoach Pass
Photo Essay: The Ruins of Santa Fe Springs

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