There is something to be said about California’s rangelands and the captivating stories of multi-generational stewardship held deep within the soil. The ranching industry is rooted in heritage. In fact, according to the California Cattlemen’s Association website, most of the ranches throughout the state have been in the same family for four or more generations. The Oakvale Ranch in Mariposa County, California is no exception.
Since the 1850s, the ranch has served as a
home for the Probasco, Chapman, and Preston families. Each family made the trek
West from the East Coast before homesteading in Mariposa. Like many during that era, the families made their livings by mining, teamster hauling, ranching, and
“None of these families were cash cows,” Laurie Preston Adair, one of the ranch owners, explained. “All the land was acquired through years of hard work and the Homestead Act.”
As the years went on, the three families were joined together through marriage. And while the family grew, so did the ranch. They slowly pieced together separate parcels until the mid-1900s. Today, the ranch’s rolling grasslands span more than 4,000 acres.
For nearly 175 years, the entire family has worked hard to keep the ranch together, surviving through the Great Depression, market crashes, and the loss of family members. While the ranching industry is not for the faint of heart, the unification and family bonds fostered by the land have made all of the hardships worth it for this family.
Over the years, multiple family members have left the area – some going just down the road to Clovis, while others moved out of state to pursue higher education, advance careers, and start their own families. Despite the distance, the ranch has remained a place for all to return to, which has kept the family connected, not only to the land but to one another.
Nadine Preston Wight, a relative living on the ranch today, said, “Nothing ties you like the land, and that was a connection that we did not want to lose.”
In 2012, the owners of the Oakvale Ranch came together to conserve the property with the California Rangeland Trust. The decision was one that took the family a long time to make, but ultimately, they decided it was the best way to ensure the ranch remained intact for future generations.
While previous generations ran cattle on the landscape, today’s generation leases the grazing land, but not to just anyone, to another family member. Tamara (Preston) Cantrelle, a member of the seventh generation, runs cattle on the ranch with her husband and their daughter. Together, the Catrelles own and operate Cantrelle Livestock, selling cattle, stockdogs, and horses.
Tamara said, “This land is valuable, and it makes really great feed for my cattle, but I am just glad that I get to continue on the land that my family started all those years ago.”
Prior to pandemic, the entire extended family would join together for an annual family picnic. They used that time to share stories and memories, enjoy the property, and catch-up with one another. After a two-year hiatus, the family returned to the land and reunited this spring, involving the younger generations in a ranch “cleanup day.”
“I think it is really important for these younger generations to get out on this land,” Laurie said. “We keep losing our older generations, so we need them to carry on, on the land.”
Jason Adair, Laurie’s son, remembers visiting
the ranch as a child. Engraved in his mind are fond memories of exploration and
adventure. Though he doesn’t make it out as often as he once did, Jason encourages his children to visit the ranch with Laurie so they can create their own special childhood memories, just as he did.
“Only a small fraction of the world is lucky enough to stand on and interact with land like this,” Jason explained. “My kids may not understand the importance of these experiences yet, but they will.”
The same sentiment rings true throughout the family. During the cleanup day, the family swapped memories of their time out on the land and talked about how the lessons they learned on the ranch have helped mold them into the people they are today.
“I may live in the city, but this place gives me a sense of immense freedom, and to know that this land that I love is preserved, is amazing,” expressed Ken Smith, a member seventh generation of the family.
Each generation has had their own experiences on the Oakvale Ranch, but there is one thing that has remained consistent: Each generation holds a deep appreciation for the land and a desire to stay connected to it.
“You may think you own the land, but really the land owns you,” Nadine said. “It is our job now to ensure this legacy on the land doesn’t end with us.” By partnering with the Rangeland Trust to conserve this stunning property, the family is ensuring their roots will remain firmly planted forever.