By: Bill Wink © 2001-2016

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“From The Land Grant to the Ranch”






1845 - 1958

By: Bill Wink © 2001

From the Land Grant to the Ranch


For this purpose, “The Beginning” was when the last Mexican Governor of California, Pio Pico, awarded a land grant to George Rock and that Grant was called GUENOC. 


Recorded history implies that event took place on August 8, 1845 and according to the State of California encompassed 21,220.03 acres.


A significant point to make right away is the accepted pronunciation of the proper noun, “Guenoc” which is: “Gwen-nok”.


Another point to be made is the spelling of Mr. Rock’s last name.  According to ancestral data found on the Internet, the man’s name was Rock, however he is also referred to as George Roch.




There is some controversy over the origination of the name Guenoc and I suppose the reason for any controversy is because the name is so unusual and doesn’t seem to have any significance in the Spanish language. 


One opinion has been presented by an ancestor of Mr. Rock.  This person tells of Mr. Rock being born in Canada and because Mr. Rock’s name could have been Le Roch and because he was born in Canada and because a surname in Canada is Le Guenoc; he thinks maybe Mr. Rock’s mother’s name may have been Le Guenoc.  Therefore he, George Rock, named the land grant Guenoc.  Possible I suppose, but you have to fill in the blanks with supposition to get there.


Another opinion has been presented by Magoon Estate Ltd. on their Guenoc Winery’s Website.  Their opinion collides rather dramatically with what most of the prior owners of Guenoc Ranch accepted and believed and that is:


image007Through modern times it has always been written that the name Guenoc originated from the local Native American’s name for a lake.


Near that lake was an important living area for the local natives who lived in the heart of the land grant and the name of that lake was “Wen-nok”.


This has not been written of just once but has generally been accepted by the majority of historians as the true origination of the name.


The Guenoc Land Grant originated just over 150 years ago.  The Native Americans lived around “Wen-nok” for centuries.  The similarity in pronunciation and the geographical location of both “Wen-nok” and “Guenoc” is far more persuasive than just pure supposition.  I firmly believe the name came from the Indian name for a lake, “Wen-nok”.




“From The Land Grant To The Ranch”


  Click HERE to see a larger version of the map  

image009George Rock first appears in Sonoma County in 1836 as a witness against a horse thief. 


This is followed by the recorded land grant in 1845.


Next George appears in the Coyote Valley as an agent for Jacob P. Leese as early as 1848, probably, and lived in a log house near the site of the stone house now on the north side of the valley.  (J. Broome Smith had a log house there in 1852. R. H. Sterling and Captain Steele built the stone house mentioned above in 1854. Sterling had a family with him, and his wife was the first woman in the valley.  W. H, Manlove, T. Hall, Henry Bond, — Barnes, W. G. Cannon, L. B. Tremper, B. F. Miles and James S. Miles were old settlers in Coyote Valley.  Source: “History of Napa and Lake Counties, California 1881)


Then somewhere along the way, and I’m not sure where, George Rock appears to have lost interest in his fortune, the Guenoc Land Grant, and several settlers established themselves over the land. 


Shortly after George Rock was gifted the land grant, California became a State and in 1852 the land encompassed by the grant was legally delegated to two men named Ritchie and Forbes who set about evicting all the settlers.  They then divided and sold the property.


There is some reference to George living in the old “Stone House” that is now a historical landmark north of Middletown on property that would have been part of the original grant.  But that could not have been until after he lost the land grant as the stone house wasn’t built until 1854.


Some of the early settlers who acquired land from Ritchie and Forbes or were owners of property that eventually became part of the present day Guenoc Ranch are: Art Bohn, Amel Lelaine, Ike Shaw, Jim Watson, the Ink family, Brookina, Pennacost, Freddie Gebhard, Lillie Langtry, Mostick, Herman, Hennessey and McCreery.


In the late 1800s early 1900s A. B. McCreery bought up the land that belonged to: Bohn, Ink, Gebhard, Shaw, Lelaine, Watson and Pennacost.  This was the beginning of the property holdings that are presently referred to as Guenoc Ranch. 


But the man who was responsible for using his wits, power and money to form the land holdings that would encompass nearly the identical number of acres and a large percentage of the same land as the original Grant was William F. Detert and he named his land holdings; Guenoc Rancho.


image010William F. Detert’s most significant accomplishment at Guenoc Ranch was the building of, what was considered to be at the time, the largest earthen dam with a rock core in California.  He did this in about 1925 and most of the earth moving was done with teams of horses.  The dam and reservoir that bears his name, “Detert”, successfully dammed “Bucksnort Creek” forming a lake encompassing about 120 acres holding 1300 acre feet of water.  This reservoir was the water source for the remainder of the project which was the underground piping to several hundred acres of pasture in the valley.  The piping was concrete and came from the concrete works in St. Helena.


William F. Detert passed away in 1929 and his estate continued to own and operate Guenoc Ranch until they sold it in 1952 to Woodland Farms.


image011Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Foley leased the ranch from Woodland Farms and continued the commercial cattle operation that existed. 


Foley also owned a purebred cattle operation in Santa Barbara, CA. 


By 1957 land values in the Santa Barbara area made it unfeasible to continue that operation and Foley Farms Inc. was born and moved to Guenoc Ranch in 1958/59.





“Guenoc  Rancho 1955”


image012The main part of the ranch consisted of the two story farm house, a cook house, a bunk house, another small residence where another cowboy and family lived, a storage house they called the walnut shed, a work shop, a horse barn, a hay barn, corrals and an equipment storage barn.  Plus there was a small skinning/scrapping building with a scalding vat. 


Around the main house were a garage, a smoke house and an outdoor storage building for processed foods.  The water came from a spring some distance away that filled a concrete cistern atop a little hill in the center of all this area.  This is the area and house that the famous British stage actress, Lillie Langtry, owned and visited in 1888.


About a mile east of the main ranch headquarters was another residence they called the lodge.  This was the place where the Foleys and their guests stayed when visiting the ranch.  There was a nicer two story house that had a great room with fireplaces at each end, a screened porch that was on two sides of the house, maid’s quarters and several bedrooms.  The grounds included a fenced swimming pool, another small house that the chauffeur stayed in, a garage and a covered, hand dug, lined well with a bucket pulley overhead. Nearby was also a large barn they called the Detert Barn but that was obviously much older than the main house.


There were some new hay barns scattered around the property.  One on the old Hennessy property appropriately called the Hennessy Barn, another below Detert Dam called the South Barn, one at the old Ink Ranch called the Ink Barn and one across Putah Creek called the Putah Creek Barn.


The Ink Barn was next to the old round corrals which were just a short distance from the old Ink house that was still standing. Next to the old house was a dug out hillside spring that was used for drinking water and a cool room and between the old round corrals and the house was a horse barn.


image013The Guenoc Hunting Club had a camp site on Putah Creek consisting of a few simple structures and not far from there were the remnants of the old round corrals supposedly built by General Vallejo.


There was also a line shack at the rim area of the Big Basin located between Big Basin and Upper Bohn Lake.


There were various stock ponds plus Detert Reservoir, McCreary Lake, Lower Bohn Lake and Upper Bohn Lake.  Detert Reservoir was used for irrigation of pasture as was McCreary Lake as was the canal that flowed between Detert and McCreary.  The irrigation system in place was quite extensive and approximately 500 acres were under irrigation.


You could travel by jeep from the main part of the ranch to Putah Creek in the dry months but by winter you would travel by horseback to the back of the ranch.


There was electricity around the main ranch and the lodge and private phone lines that were run across McCreary Lake and hooked into the Bell System near the Boucher Property.



“Foley And Guenoc Ranch”


In Mr. E. T. Foley’s book, The Story Of Foley Farms, he ends the book with a quote and I quote him: “At Guenoc we welcome visitors interested in seeing our historic old rancho and our cattle. To them we extend the greeting of the “Californios” in the stately tongue of the Rancho’s earliest days –Dichosos los ojos que le ven!  Delighted are the eyes that behold you!”


In this one quote, Foley acknowledges that others walked this land before him and he salutes those persons.  He also realized his obligation to preserve the past, protect the present and secure the future.  


I believe Foley realized owning Rancho Guenoc was a privilege that was not offered everyone, and like W.F. Detert he knew the rancho was not a possession to be thought of without the respect it deserved.



When it was determined Foley Farms would be moving to Guenoc, huge improvements were planned.  Guenoc would no longer be image015just a beef cattle operation but would be the home of Foley Farms, a premier polled Hereford breeding and selling operation as well.  This meant new access roads, barns, pens of painted white board fencing and housing.  The need for more permanent irrigated pasture and more water to irrigate with was also a necessity as valuable stock did not get turned into winter pasture to forage on summer grasses.  But as the “new” arrived, so too did some of the “old” disappear forever.


Every year there was a cattle drive from the ranch headquarters to the Neil Range where the cattle were taken to graze.  The Tom Neil Range was across Putah Creek in Napa County toward Pope Valley.  In fact the range was owned by the same Tom Neil who at that time owned the Pope Valley Store.  This took an entire day of riding on horseback from daylight to dusk to accomplish.  This drive soon vanished as pastures close by were developed but what an experience it was.  You spent the first half of the day getting there, stopped and ate your warm sandwich, then spent the rest of the day returning home.      

image016    image017



1958 witnessed the beginnings of dramatic change at Guenoc Ranch.  Guenoc had been a pure, hard core, beef cattle operation that was about an earthy life style, consisting of mud, cow manure, barbed wire, branding, castrating, rattlesnakes, broken knuckles and work from daylight to dark.  It was a place where you learned about life and death and how to sweat.  If you could move you were expected to work and holidays were for city folks.  If an old cow got the best of you it was funny to everybody else who witnessed your pain.  You learned cow manure wasn’t dirty if it hadn’t touched the ground and you drank water from a “crick” and never questioned what was up stream.  Horses were a tool and were used for workin’ and other animals were fer eatin’.  The approach to civilization was: “If those damn deer belong to the State, then get’em outa’ my alfalfa before I shoot’em.”  The bunkhouse was no place for girls and Jack the cook never went to church but always had an Eskimo Pie when I visited.  Buck Bell, the irrigator, was a grizzled little guy who never met a bottle he didn’t like, never went to town in the summer and hated the mosquitoes.  However, things, they were a changin’.  Just lovin’ being outdoors with life wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  No, … part of Guenoc was going to move from guts to genteelism.


Part II Guenoc – The Earl Era

California White Capped Murders






About the author

*Bill Wink moved to Guenoc in 1956 and lived in the old Langtry house. Bill’s Uncle, Earl Huston, managed the Ranch at that time and continued to do so for a total of 32 years. Bill lived, worked and had a continuing relationship with the Ranch for over 40 years. This snap shot of Guenoc was gleaned from many sources including books written by Magoon, Foley, Langtry and the 1880’s book History of Napa and Lake Counties, California 1881, as well as, Earl Huston and historical information from a several page exhaustive EIR done on Guenoc Ranch where the picture of where the original Wen-nok lake was located was copied from. Plus the author’s real life experiences.






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