Clark Emmons: Cowboy Dreams

Clark Emmons was born in 1919 and grew up on the south side of Lompoc, almost at the entrance of Miguelito Canyon. He shared a room with his older brother in his family’s comfortable old house; electricity arrived in 1926. Clark loved living on the edge of town. “I could roam around in the hills, wander along the creek, just go out and do things,” he says.

Getting out and about was important to Clark. As a child, his favorite toy was his bicycle, and he always dreamed of becoming a cowboy and a rancher someday. At sixteen, he got his first horse, a little quarter mare named Peggy. That was a great day for Clark.

Clark’s best friend in high school was Lincoln Reed, who had a ranch in Miguelito Canyon. They went to school together and both played on the high school basketball team. School in those days was small, and it was a place of fun and friends. Clark has especially fond memories of his favorite teacher, Mr. Hapgood.

“He was an old-time teacher who taught at the country school, then middle school. He could straighten you out in a hurry if you did something wrong, but he was somehow gentle, too.”

Clark’s parents had originally settled in a little town called Bicknell, near Orcutt. “It isn’t even there anymore,” he says. His father, who died when Clark was only two, was a teamster for the oil company.

“I lost my father at an early age,” he tells us, “so I give a lot of credit to my mother. My brother and I wanted to quit high school and help out, but she made us graduate. She placed a lot of value on getting an education. I don’t think I would have stayed in school if she hadn’t pushed me.”

We asked Clark what life was like during the Depression. “Everybody was very poor,” he replied, “and so everybody worked, even young people. Kids had to help their folks make a living. No one had a lot of money, but we all stuck together.”

Even during those hard times, Christmas was a great family affair. “All the neighbors would get together, too. It was a very special, happy time.”

Clark’s nickname as early as fifth or sixth grade was Snuffy, drawn from a character in the Katzenjammer Kids comic strip. “Snuffy was sort of a mountain man,” explains Clark, “and so was I. I was always in the hills. I loved to hike and hunt — deer and quail, mostly. I was so lucky to grow up in such a great place.”

Someone wondered if he ever saw any mountain lions. “I’ve been in the hills all my life,” he replies, “but until they put the moratorium in place, I had only seen two mountain lions. In 1993, I saw five on the ranch in one year!”

Camping and fishing have always been important pastimes to Clark. One time in 1956, he went camping with Walt Spanne at the Hollister Ranch. They waited until the tide went down, set forth in a little 12 foot fishing boat, and rounded the point at Drake. From the boat, they watched as a train went by, which shot off some sparks and started a fire.

“We were terribly upset and wanted to help,” he says. “We came in through the breakers and capsized the boat! Fortunately, by this time, Frank Pacheco (the ranch foreman), and several others had arrived at the scene. The fire was put out, but we lost all our fishing gear.”

We asked Clark to reflect on how this area has changed.

“Well, to start with,” he says, “the Las Cruces store is gone, and there’s a freeway here. The Loustalots used to run a store by the entrance to the canyon. I remember one time I got a ride from a truck driver to the store. Then Frances Matis and Bob Scuyler picked me up at the store and gave me a ride to the ranch in a wagon. Finally, they took me to town in their car. And another time — January 12, 1949, to be exact — we had the biggest snowstorm ever. They closed the Nojoqui grade, and Mrs. Loustalot sold out everything in the store, even the candy.”

“Near the old adobe, there was a restaurant, and a bar. Jake Stine ran that place. It was just a small place, you could get some groceries and visit with folks.”

“There have been a good many changes I don’t like,” he continues, “but we have to put up with it and go along with it. The world is changing in every respect.”

During World War II, Camp Cooke was developed (where Vandenburg now is), and there was a lot of military activity on the coast and inland. Clark joined the army and was stationed for a time at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts. There, on June 14, 1943, he married Dorothy Cooper, herself a native of Lompoc. The two returned to Lompoc to make their home.

Clark has been a rancher all his working life. As a young man, right after high school, he went to work on the Sutter Ranch in Jalama. Later, he was hired at Jesus-Maria Ranch, now a part of Vandenburg. And for forty years, he has been at Rancho La Viña on Santa Rosa Road, on the south side of the river.

“I’ve worked with the Poetts and Dibblees,” he says, “the Pedottis, the Isaacsons … all good people, good people.”

“And I’ve made several trips to Fort Bidwell, in the northeast corner of the state, working cattle with Kim Perkins.”

Clark has fond memories of the old cattle round-ups. “We used to drive the cattle right down the county road,” he says, “for eight or ten miles, and there’d be no traffic.”

Clark remembers seeing Yvonne and Virginia Dibblee helping with the branding. “That was the first time I ever saw girls helping out at a round-up,” he tells us. “It was unusual for those times.”

Once, at the Jalama Ranch, Clark had an opportunity to meet Will Rogers, who was well known for his rope spinning and dry humor. “He was a great man,” says Clark, “a great humorist, as nice in person as you’d expect.”

For recreation, there were country western dances; quite a few were held at the old schoolhouse at San Julian Ranch. Another favorite hang-out for cowboys was the Yellow Jacket in Buellton.

“Over the years,” Clark tells us, “I’ve met great people and made a lot of friends. I’ve had 54 years of marriage to the same lady. I’ve had the privilege of being an honorary vaquero in 1994 at the Santa Barbara Fiesta. I used to watch westerns and dream of being a cowboy, and I’ve lived the life I wanted.”

We ask Clark if he has any advice for young people today. He doesn’t hesitate:

“Respect your elders. Obey the law even though it may sometimes seem against you. And above all, keep a good, open mind.”

(Author’s note: Clark Emmons passed away peacefully at home on March 13, 2011.)

7 Responses to Clark Emmons: Cowboy Dreams

  1. Robin MacDonald says:

    Hello. I don’t know who wrote this, but my dad, Rick Reed, grew up working with Mr. Emmons. I came across this posting due to a phone call from my mom sharing with me the recent passing of Mr. Emmons. My prayers are with the family and friends who knew him dearly. He sounds like an outstanding man.

    • ggdaughter says:

      hi robin i am clarks great grandaughter and the family was happy to hear from you thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers he was a wonderful caring and loving manand my nana tells me how much papa clark enjoyed being friends with your dad my nana says to say hi to your mom

  2. Cindy (Russell) Dagesse says:

    Hello. My name is Cindy and I lived down the road from the Emmons on Santa Rosa Road between 1969 -1976. I went to school with Shirley and Ron and have many wonderful memories of my teenage years on Santa Rosa Road. Robin MacDonald is my niece, and my sister Dora is married to David Cundiff whose sister Wanita was married to Rusty Emmons. I want to send my thoughts and prayers to the family during this time. I will always remember the good times I had with Clark, Dorothy, Ron and Shirley riding in the mountains, going to roundups and just hanging out. One time I even went on vacation with the Emmons to Baker, Oregon. I now live about 20 miles north of Eugene, Oregon.

    • ggdaughter says:

      Hi to all,this is Shirley.I just wanted to thank everyone who sent cards , flowers,food and prayers for Dad.Through the years Dad gathered alot of friends.I know in one way or another he touched lives like no one ever has.I also know that each and every person he met had some loving place in his heart.It has ment so much to me and my family to hear from the newest of friends to the oldest of friends.Bless each and every one of you.

      • cynthia says:

        To Shirley and other family members & friends of Clark Emmons,
        Clark came to our classroom at Vista de las Cruces at least ten or fifteen years ago for this interview as part of an ongoing oral history project my students and I were conducting. This post thus reflects his own humble words, as gleaned from a tape recording and notes, and I am very pleased that you have stumbled upon it. (I also did a review of the poetry book he published in 2007; you can read it at this link: Clark was a decent and gracious man, very special, the best of a bygone era, and I was saddened to hear of his passing. May you find great comfort in knowing how much he loved his work, his life, and the people in it.

  3. sue petersen says:

    I just came across this site, and, was so sorry to hear of Mr. Emmons passing last year. I too remember everyone as if it were yesterday. I spent alot of time doing round ups and rides all through the mountains of Santa Barbara county. Clark was a lovely man, who filled my childhood memories with fabulous stories of days gone by. God Speed to the family.

  4. Linda Parker says:

    Hello my name is Linda Parker I was once part of the Emmons family I was married to Ron. Clark was a wonderful man he was a father to me. I am so sorry to here of his passing. My thoughts are with you all. My memories of Clark will always be in my heart.

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