4600 Highway 154
Santa Barbara, CA
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The Historic Rancho San Marcos

pix_historyRANCHO SAN MARCOS was established by the Santa Barbara Mission as an outpost. Named for Fray Marcos Amestoy of the Santa Barbara Mission, the compound included an asistencia comprising a chapel and living quarters, a granary, wine cellar, and dwellings for the Chumash Indians. In addition there was a wine press, pottery kiln, threshing corral, and livestock pens.

Presided over by one or two padres, the Chumash raised grain, tended the vineyards, and the herds of sheep, cattle, and horses. Products for the trade to Spain included hides and tallow, and the mission padres taught the Chumash European methods of agriculture and animal husbandry. The land was rugged, undeveloped and wild. Grizzly and brown bears, mountain lions, and bobcats devastated livestock and threatened the rancheros.

In 1822 Mexico declared its independence from Spain and began to secularize the missions and sell off their lands. The flag changed from Spain to Mexico and when Pio Pico became Governor of California in 1846 he actively sold off Land Grants to finance the Mexican-American War of 1846. Accordingly, on June 8, 1846, Rancho San Marcos, comprising 35,573 acres, was sold to Nicholas and Richard Den for $750 in gold. The original boundaries were described by a diseno survey made by two horsemen.

The Den brothers emigrated from Ireland to Santa Barbara in the 1830's. Nicholas Den owned the Rancho Dos Pueblos on the coast as well, and Richard was a doctor who practiced in Los Angeles. The Den brothers maintained the vineyard and 300 head of cattle, which were included in the purchase. Considerable work was done to clear and cultivate the land, and in particular to "exterminate the bears and other wild beasts". Over time the brothers fought over the property, and Richard sued Nicholas for ownership. The courts dismissed the action. Nicholas Den died in 1862, and Richard lost most of his cattle in the drought years from 1862-1864. Rancho improvements fell into disrepair and the land passed out of the Den family.

William Pierce, owner of the adjoining Tequepis Ranch, bought San Marcos in 1868 from the Den brother's heirs and consolidated the ranches into a single cattle operation. The early ranch buildings were established in the area of the golf course now used for maintenance. Pierce later sold San Marcos to F.W. Mathiessen.

During this era a stagecoach route from Santa Ynez to Santa Barbara was established through the Rancho San Marcos lands. Built by Chinese workmen in 1868 and funded as a toll road by Santa Barbara businessmen, the "Santa Ynez Turnpike Road" was in operation from 1869 to 1901. The inland route was 25 miles shorter than the coastal route for daily passengers and mail. The stagecoaches, operated by the Flint & Bixby Company of Los Angeles, required six-horse teams to make the journey over the steep pass. The road became a major link in the route connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 1938 Dwight Murphy, a noted breeder of Palomino horses, acquired 7,000 acres of Rancho San Marcos from F.W. Mathiessen, whose family owned the Big Ben Clock Company. Murphy's golden-colored horses with white manes and tails were shown in the Rose Bowl Parades in Pasadena and Fiesta Parades in Santa Barbara. Palominos from Rancho San Marcos were ridden by early television actors, among them, Leo Carrillo. The stable stalls still display the names of some of Mr. Murphy's prize horses.

Murphy also bred registered Hereford cattle and through his breeding program he introduced new high quality bloodlines to Santa Barbara County's existing commercial herds. The Rancho San Marcos dairy barn was designed with exhibition stalls and an observation room where guests could view the cattle and milking operations.

In 1938 when Dwight Murphy bought the Rancho San Marcos property he acquired the legal title to the name Rancho San Marcos. In 1948 he sold the majority of his ranch lands to Lewis Welch, but retained approximately 700 acres, which is the last piece of property to; in turn retain the name of the original 1846 Mexican land grant.

In 1955 Dwight Murphy retired from his breeding program and sold Rancho San Marcos to Robert S. Odell, whose Allied Properties company owned the Santa Barbara Biltmore and the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. The Odell family bred and grazed cattle, and farmed alfalfa, barley and oat hay on the ranch for over 40 years, until the Rancho San Marcos Golf Course was established.

Archeological evidence discovered at Rancho San Marcos indicates that Prehistoric hunters and gathers occupied this region for more then 9,000 years. The Chumash Indians spoke with awe and reverence of their ancestors whom they called "The Ancient Ones". One of North America's most complex hunting and gathering societies, the Chumash Indians had a polytheistic religion with a complex mythology, an extensive trade network with a sophisticated currency of shell
bead money, and an elite hierarchy of chiefs (wots) and religious leaders (antap). In 1542, when the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo and his men anchored off the shores of Santa Barbara, they met and were greeted by the Chumash. Descendants of this ancient tribe continue to live throughout Santa Barbara County and were active participants in Rancho San Marcos archaeological investigations.

Chumash rock art, known worldwide for its sophistication, vivid colors, and highly imaginative animal and human figures, is attributed to the ceremonial activities of shamans-healer-priests believed to derive supernatural powers from guardian spirits such as the swordfish and grizzly bear. Rock art sites in Santa Barbara County provide important evidence of traditional Chumash ceremonial activities and beliefs.