Rancho San Julian is one of the oldest family-run ranches in California. It has been raising cattle for over 200 years. Initially held by the Spanish crown as a Rancho National to feed the soldiers at the presidio, the military headquarters of the government in Santa Barbara, the land was eventually granted to the commandant of the Santa Barbara presidio, Jose de la Guerra, in 1837. It has been lived on and run by his decedents ever since. At that time of Jose de la Guerra’s death, the de la Guerra family held 488,329 acres of prime California grazing land, where they raised 10,000 head of cattle. Rancho San Julian was part of that estate.
It was on ranchos such as these, that the unique traditions of California ranching developed. Before there was ever an American cowboy, there was the Californio vaquero, who combined Spanish horsemanship with the improvisational spirit of the Native American rider to produce an artistry that is world renown.
Jose de la Guerra was a visionary in his time. He raised his thirteen children with his wife, Maria Antonia Carrillo, to straddle Hispanic and Anglo cultures. One of his sons, Pablo, achieved great prominence as a lawyer, statesman, and judge. An original signer of the California Constitution and one of the state’s first elected senators, Pablo was an outspoken supporter of Hispanic rights and an advocate for the suffrage of Native Americans. His home and family life remained in Santa Barbara County where he oversaw the running of the families vast properties including Rancho San Julian.
After the Gold Rush of 1849, Americans began pouring into California and the price of cattle went from $2 to $52 a head. Sensing where the real gold lay, east coast stockmen began bringing herds of purebred Shorthorns and Devon cattle into the new state. Among them was, Thomas Bloodgood Dibblee, who married one of Pablo’s daughters, Francisca de le Guerra. Their direct descendents, the Russell, Donohoe, Hoyt and Poett families continue to own Rancho San Julian today where the traditions of the past blend with the 21st century goals of environmental stewardship and humane agricultural standards.
A profound love and respect for the land has been passed from generation to generation for over eight generations. In the early 1930’s, A. Dibblee Poett, Francisca’s grandson, became interested in the concepts of biodynamic farming in the country and began practicing integrated systems of raising livestock and growing produce.
Today, his nephew, James Poett, continues the business of raising cattle within a sustainable system on Rancho San Julian, now 14,000 acres of prime grazing land. The ranch, which is graced by forests of California Live Oak, also grows a variety of vegetables, grapes, and lavender, continues a tradition of environmental stewardship, and utilizes solar power in a watering system designed to protect its many creeks and arroyos. His daughter Elizabeth Partridge Poett, who was born and raised on the ranch, has recently joined the family business, focusing her attention on growing Rancho San Julian Beef.