Jane & Jo Hollister Wheelwright: The Goddess on Horseback

The following interview was conducted and written up by Elise Cossart, then a 6th grade student, in 1997. Since that time, both Jo and Jane have passed away. Jane left the Ranch and moved to Santa Barbara after Jo’s death in 1999, and she herself died on April 27, 2004. I remember thinking about her as I drove home that afternoon: the hills were yellow with mustard flowers, the sky was blue and clear, and the wind was sighing. It seemed to me an era had ended. – Cynthia

I woke up to a beautiful day and a knot in my stomach. Today was the day that I was going to interview Jane and Jo Wheelwright, probably the most well-known people on the Hollister Ranch. Jane moved to this ranch nearly ninety years ago, and grew up here in a house now called the Hollister House. Jo grew up on the East Coast and moved to the ranch after marrying Jane.

Before my dad and I left our house, my mom picked a huge bouquet of flowers for Jane and Jo. As we drove up the winding dirt road, I worried. A million anxious thoughts crossed my mind. What if they don’t like the flowers? What if they don’t want to be interviewed? We reached their driveway at last, and the knot in my stomach grew even bigger. We parked our car and walked down a ramp to their kitchen door.

My dad knocked very loudly about five times, and finally, Jane answered the door. She is a small lady, no taller than I, and was wearing a bathrobe. She let us in and led us to the living room. Jo stood when he heard us coming. He is an enormously tall man — about six feet five inches.

Jo and Jane seem to be complete opposites at first sight. Jane is rather small and reserved while Jo is quite tall and gregarious. But after talking to them awhile I realized that that they share one common interest: a love for this area.

We sat down and I gave them the flowers. Jo , who is blind, told me that he could sense that the flowers were beautiful. Then we began the interview.

Jane Hollister was born in Sacramento in 1905. When she was three years old, she and her family moved to the ranch, which is located on the California coast near Point Conception. Her family began construction of the Hollister House in 1908; during its construction, they lived in what is now called the “green house”. The Hollister House was finally finished in 1910.

Jane didn’t begin school until she was eight years old because there was no school nearby, and there were no paved roads back then. The only transportation was the train, and it took seven hours to get to Santa Barbara. Eventually, Jane went to a boarding school called the Santa Barbara Girls’ School.

Jane’s favorite childhood memory was when her pony arrived. Her family went down to San Augustine, where the train stopped. When Jane saw the pony coming down on the cattle chute she was very excited.

“It was a beautiful Indian pony,” she recalls, “much bigger than a Shetland. It came, and there I had it, my own pony!”

Jane’s brothers, Clint (her twin) and Jack, met Jo Wheelwright at Harvard and invited him to the Hollister Ranch. During his visit, Jo saw Jane on horseback and says he didn’t know where Jane began and the horse ended. He thought, “Look! Some goddess is running around on earth.” Then his heart skipped a beat and before he knew it, he was in love.

Out of all the places in the world, Jo and Jane chose to live at the ranch because it was, and still is, beautiful. Jo calls Jane and himself “nature freaks”, and they love living out in the wilderness, as isolated as it is.

“We are very happy here with the view and the animals,” Jo says, ending our interview.

I thanked them, and they thanked me. We gathered our things and left. My father and I drove back down the road, closing an hour in my life and opening a chapter of memories.

 


3 Responses to Jane & Jo Hollister Wheelwright: The Goddess on Horseback

  1. Kit says:

    Cyn,

    Just snooping for stories …

    Maybe a reprint in the Hawk of this with & update?

    Kit

  2. Marc Schmid says:

    Pretty sure Jane was born in Sacramento, in what is now the Governor’s mansion, not in San Clemente. Sacramento/SanClemente, hmm, sounds the same to an elementary school journalist maybe. No offense intended 🙂

    • cynthia says:

      None taken. You are right: Jane was born in Sacramento, not San Clemente. I don’t know if this was a typo or something that Elise, our then-in-6th-grade journalist, mis-heard, but I never noticed. (As she tells you in her write-up, she was nervous and excited about visiting the Wheelwrights.) Anyway, thank you for pointing this out to us, and I will make the correction. (By the way, Elise has since grown up and gone on to some impressive accomplishments of her own. I have a feeling we may one day be interviewing HER!)

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