I have fond memories of the times Loisgene Kinevan allowed our students to hike on her property near the San Marcos Pass, giving us a handwritten note in her exquisitely old-fashioned penmanship to present as a pass if ever our presence there was questioned. We sampled apples from the orchard her grandfather planted, saw the paintings left by the Chumash Indians who once lived there, and sat in the sun drawing and writing in our journals. It was a place of spirits, legends and wonderful tales, and Loisgene — who died in 2004 — was a link to many of these. One bright September day in the early 1990s, she came to Vista de Las Cruces to tell us the stories she heard in her childhood, and to share her own memories of this good land. A warm and gracious lady, she wore a bright rainbow-hued sweater and carried a stack of pictures of the Indian paintings and the Kinevan ranch house to distribute to the students. We gathered around excitedly to be transported back to the old stagecoach days of Santa Barbara.
Loisgene’s grandfather, Patrick Kinevan, was born in Clare County, Ireland, and emigrated to America during the great potato famine. He landed in New York in 1846, and in Washington, D.C. he met Nora, the woman who would eventually become his wife. In the 1860’s, he joined a Civil War regimen; he fought at Gettysburg and other battles. After the war, he decided to go to California — in particular, he wanted to see San Diego.
Getting to California was not easy in those days! Grandfather traveled for three or four years on horseback and by stagecoach, and he was in several Indian skirmishes along the way. An arrow hit him in the back and was lodged there for the rest of his life.
While traveling by stagecoach, he sat up front to chat with the driver, who mentioned that there was a need for a toll collector along the San Marcos pass near Santa Barbara. The San Marcos pass had been built by Chinese “coolie” labor paid for by two businessmen, Bixby and Flint. Grandfather applied for the job, and was hired by Bixby and Flint, who provided him with a cabin, a tollgate, and a Chinese cook. Twice, when the road was realigned, he moved his base, but he had found a home. He wrote to Nora in Washington, D.C. and invited her to come out and marry him.
Nora’s parents would not allow her to go to California, so she ran away from home. The two met in San Francisco at old St. Mary’s church and were married there. They returned to Grandfather’s station along the Santa Barbara stagecoach route, and began a life together. Grandma cooked breakfast for the travelers, and Hom, the Chinese cook, baked bread. Hom’s bread was so delicious that he demanded everyone to leave when he baked it, in order to keep his recipe a secret. Alas, no one ever did get that recipe — it is lost for all time.
And so the old stage would clamber up from the turnpike, over Slippery Rock to West Camino Cielo, and down to where the Kinevan ranch was. When the horn blew, Grandma and Hom would start breakfast, and at the barn, twenty fresh horses would be ready to hook up. The passengers would eat breakfast — occasionally, some would stay overnight — and then they would board the stagecoach and travel on to Mattei’s Tavern, the lunch stop.
Loisgene and her brother were raised in Los Angeles, where her father was a policeman. She did spend time at the ranch, but not as much as her brother, who, because he was a boy, got to spend entire summers there. It wasn’t very fair. She recalls that her brother had a big white horse, and she had a little brown one. But, oh, how she loved the ranch! They had chickens, pigs, cows, horses… and so many wonderful memories.
Unfortunately, Loisgene never knew her grandfather. All of the stories are from her father’s recollections. Patrick Kinevan died in 1911. He had been running cattle over to the Santa Ynez Valley and died of a heart attack while chasing a maverick.
We’ve heard stories about Fremont’s cannons and buried treasure hidden there at the ranch. What do you know about these?
There is indeed a legend that $50,000 in gold bullions were hidden on the ranch. Three men had robbed a ship in the harbor, and fled on horseback through the pass with a posse behind them. They stopped to pay the toll, and one was shot. The other two were put in jail in San Luis Obispo. One died shortly thereafter, but the third wrote to Sheriff Broughton, a one-armed sheriff in Santa Barbara, offering to tell where the gold had been hidden. Broughton got on his horse and rode up to San Luis Obispo and was told that the loot was at “Pat Kinevan’s flat at the fork of the creek under the oak tree.” No one ever found it. People still ask for permission to search.
Loisgene’s Uncle Tom did find several Spanish gold coins in the orchard, not far from where the Indian paintings are. He gave these to the mission.
Did you have a special place on the ranch where you used to go when you were sad?
Loisgene liked to hike up towards the Indian caves, where the big rocks are, just before the trail down to the paintings, a spot overlooking the orchard. That is her special place. In the wintertime, there is a pond there that is full of frogs.
Did you hear stories of robbers and accidents on the stagecoach?
There were accidents occasionally, and robbers frequently. Grandfather himself was on the stage to San Luis Obispo once when they were stopped by robbers. All the passengers had to get off, were blind-folded, and then made to sit down. The robbers were actually waiting for the Wells Fargo stagecoach that would be coming along, for it was carrying money. Grandfather had packed a chicken lunch, which was offered up to the people. All enjoyed lunch while waiting, and the Wells Fargo coach was robbed when it came through.
Grandfather was also captured at one time by a well-known bandit named Joaquin Marietta who kept him in a one-room cabin for several days. Marietta had a hide-out in Gaviota Pass.
What kind of people rode the stagecoach?
They were regular, ordinary people who had to get somewhere. They would come from Santa Barbara on their way to San Luis Obispo where they would catch the train. This stagecoach line ran from about 1872 until 1903 — it was the last stagecoach service in the country. The railroad was built by the hard labor of Chinese workers, and Irish, too, and when the railroad came down to Santa Barbara, Bixby and Flint sold the route to the county. There just wasn’t much business anymore.
Were there different classes on the stagecoach, for rich and poor people?
There were no special classes, and it was a pretty rough ride for all.
Are there any stage coaches left?
There are a few left. Loisgene remembers that there was still one in the barn at the ranch when she was a child. Now, you can see some at the Carriage Museum in Santa Ynez, or on the grounds of the Court House in Santa Barbara.
Did the stagecoaches make a lot of stops?
They made a few stops, but they passed through many places. There are now fifty-two commemorative plaques along the route they traveled, from the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara all the way to Buellton. The toll gate at the Kinevan ranch was the first stop after cresting the mountain.
Tell us more about your grandfather’s job.
He had a big oil can in the living room. Every Sunday he would count the money. He often had to get out of bed in the middle of the night when a stagecoach would arrive at the tollgate, which was locked at night. During the day, it was unlocked, but he always had a fast, fresh horse saddled and ready to go just in case he had to chase down a stage that tried to avoid paying. He always caught them.
The toll was 25 cents on horse, 50 cents with a wagon. Often, men would come over the pass with sheep, one black for every hundred white. One fellow tried to misrepresent the number in his herd by taking out a few of the black sheep. Grandfather was not fooled.
In those days, you could “homestead” — if you were living on land, you could “patent” it, thereby claiming it as your own. Grandfather patented the first hundred acres of the property that is now the ranch. When his sons came of age, they patented additional land. It was free! The Kinevan ranch is now 500 acres.
Life on the ranch was very self-sufficient. There were animals, and a lavish garden. Grandfather was quite a grower. He planted apple orchards, olive trees, and pear trees. Many are still there.
Is the tollgate still there?
Loisgene confessed that it was she who broke the old red tollgate. She was riding on the running board of a truck as a child. “Loisgene,” someone shouted, “close the gate!” She thought she’d pull it shut as she went through, but it broke. No one was too upset about it at the time. Only years later did she realize its value and uniqueness, for the memorabilia of the stagecoach days are precious and scarce. At one point, she was going to open the ranch house (built in the 1870’s) as a museum. She had gathered many record books and artifacts into the house. In l972, a terrible fire destroyed the house and everything in it. Nothing survived but a few Indian bowls that had already endured through the ages.
One last story?
Two Chinese men (their names were something like “Agee” and “Avay”, spelled phonetically) worked for Grandfather at the ranch. They lived in a rustic little cabin that they built in the orchard. It must have been drafty and leaky and humble indeed, for within the cabin, there was a tent. The two men cut wood for Grandfather and were paid by the cord. They had a garden, spoke virtually no English, and oddly enough, they slept until noon every day. But for twenty years they dutifully worked and lived their quiet lives on the ranch. They must have saved every penny, for they had what they needed and almost never went anywhere. One day, the pair walked the two miles down to the ranch house and knocked at the door. In broken English, they told Grandfather that they were going back to China. They walked away. That was the last Grandfather ever saw of them — two lone figures, walking down the road, heading back to China.