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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

The Ranchscapades

By Eric A. Carlson


"Now the Herd is lost in darkness, and I bless them as I leave."

--Rudyard Kipling


THE IVORY DOME of Lick Observatory, a sanctuary dedicated to ferreting out white dwarfs, galaxies and run-amuck meteors, stands sentinel on Mt. Hamilton--part of the Diablo Range. Joseph D. Grant County Park--9,522 acres of oak, scrub, wildflowers, wild pigs, wild ticks and wild rattlesnakes, and the structural remains of Joseph Grant's cattle ranch, the "back forty" as he called it--is nestled in Hall's Valley, halfway down the mountain. Oh so many years ago, Joseph's exuberant daughters, Edith and Josephine, raised monumental hell on the mountain--and elsewhere. The girls would barrel into San Jose in the family Rolls to drink and carouse with local cowboys.

"What about ticks?" John Olson reasonably inquired as we clambered over a rusty barbed-wire fence--before jumping into the dense, forbidden underbrush of Grant Park. John Mitchell, bemused at such an outré concept, patiently assured us, "Don't worry about it, I think I see an animal path." Mitchell, a Type T personality, had invested considerable time and effort in the 1970s in preserving the area as a park--in lieu of its divestiture in the form of "ranchettes" for the idle rich. He was determined to revisit his Shangri-La via the scrub brush route--like Captain Ahab returning to the Leviathan. So off we trudged toward a dry creek bed, mushing our way through tall grass and rotten tree branches. "This is a bit more overgrown than I recall," John M. mused, as the nettles and burrs collected on our socks and vultures circled overhead.

The land didn't always belong to the Grants, of course. Up until 1839, Werwersen Ohlone Indians lived there. Too bad they didn't have any fancy-pants lawyers. In 1839 Mexico granted the land, Rancho Canada de Pala, to Jose de Jesus Bernal. In 1880 Adam Grant, Joseph's father, began purchasing property in the region. Joseph, continuing in his father's dry goods business, also continued buying land on Mt. Hamilton . . . for a family ranch/vacation retreat. Every time Joseph bought a ranch on the mountain, he would torch the ranch house--and any other building left standing. He didn't like signs of previous ownership.

Joseph's main mansion was in San Francisco, where he lived with wife Edith, daughters Edith and Josephine, and son Douglas. Grant Park historian Ron Brickmont related that the daughters did not get along and would engage in rolling-around-on-the-floor fistfights at the mansion, sometimes during social events. Later, Josephine was living at the ranch in one of the family houses, where she hosted drunken parties--night after night. Joseph did not like it and burned down her house to stop the shenanigans, or at least make her go further away to have them. Josephine moved to the main ranch house in 1958 and stayed until her death in 1972.

Daughter Edith was dangerous, as she was fond of shooting at people who trespassed on family property--including the mailman (who managed to escape). Story has it that when she wearied of raising horses, she shot them from her front porch. But there are precious few documents pertaining to the Grant family--because Josephine destroyed them . . . in a fire. Son Douglas, adept at golf and drinking (not necessarily pernicious skills), died in a house fire of his own making (cigarette). When Edith visited Grant Ranch for what was probably the last time, in her 80s, she saw a painting of her sister, Josephine, who had been deceased for years. Stopping in her tracks, she squinted up and said, "I don't like her."

Near the ranch house, a bulletin board was chock-a-block with posters warning of Lyme disease-engorged ticks, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and pigs--both domestic and European. The posters recommended staying on the beaten path.

John M. related a fantastical tale involving Flamenco player/composer Kent Newman, Reznov and California's first nun, James Phelan and Villa Montalvo. That is a tale for another day.

Final Note: Photo is of a hummingbird water faucet at the Grant ranch house.

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From the June 14-20, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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