Gloria Johnson is a member of the Historical Society and wife of the late Owen Johnson we thank her for the articles that we are putting in the Newsletters.
Living on the Ranch (Part 1)
By Gloria Johnson
I have enjoyed reading the stories and biographies that many of you have written for BETWEEN TIMES. Any stories about the Ranch and Owen would need to begin with a brief summary of Ernest R. Johnson and the Ranch.
Rancho Santa Ana
In 1875 John Bixby bought 5600 acres from Bernardo Yorba.
The area was east and north of the Santa Ana River. Mostly cattle were grazed on the land. In 1887 John Bixby died and left his Ranch to his widow and two children, Fred and Susanna. After her mother died, Susanna took an active interest in the Ranch. On her frequent visits she lived in the Craftsman house that was built in 1913. With Mr. Johnson's expertise they planted orchards of citrus, pears, lemons, tangerines and walnuts. Fred managed the cattle. At one time the cattle were contracted to Alpha Beta stores. In 1925 Susanna bought her brother's half interest and became sole owner. Fred developed property around Long Beach.
Susanna wanted to develop a garden devoted to Native California plants and also as a memorial to her father who loved the Ranch. She devoted two hundred acres on the hill above the Ranch compound for the garden. She also started plans for a bigger house near the garden.
Ernest Johnson left Kansas and came to California. His plan was to get a college education. This was about 1916. When he met Susanna Bixby Bryant she persuaded him to come to the Ranch. She soon recognized Mr. Johnson's talent. First she was foreman and then Superintendent for the 5600 acre Ranch. He lived in the bunkhouse with the single men at that time. Ernest made frequent visits to L.A. and Pasadena to consult with Susanna and buy supplies. Ernest met Olive Laufeld on one of these trips. She taught school in Piru but often came to L.A. to visit her mother, father and sisters. Ernest was a busy man and squeezed in his visits with Olive as often as he could. Her father died in July of 1919.
In 1918 Ernest tried enlisting in the Army Tank Corps. The draft listed him as "J-3". That meant that he was in an important position and they wanted him to stay at the Ranch. He also found that he couldn't quit and leave the 6000 acre ranch to an "inexperienced society woman (Mrs. Susanna B. Bryant)," as he wrote. At this time he was overseeing planting the orchards and surveying roads back up in the hills. No replacement could be found for his position at the Ranch and he was deemed too important. When he could not get to L.A. Ernest wrote many letters to Olive. She saved those letters and we still have them. From them we learned he was romantic and tender hearted as well as having a fine sense of humor. He also worked hard at the Ranch.
To be continued.
to previous section
to next section