THE TORS or SHUMWAY RANCH

Being an aging Desert Rat myself, I am drawn to the story of Nina Paul Shumway. She came to the Coachella Valley with her parents, brother & first husband in June 1909, where her father started a date ranch and eventually became president of the Coachella Valley Date Growers Assn. She wrote about her life in the desert valley in Your Desert and Mine (I cherish my mother’s autographed first edition).

But, even confirmed Desert Rats yearn for cooler weather when the temps top 120F (48.9C) in the summer. She and her husband, Percy Stephen (Steve) Shumway* had long explored the Santa Rosa Mountains and in 1932, discovered Section 25,Township 6 south, Range 5 east of the San Bernardino Meridian; they subsequently were advised by the Land Office in Los Angeles, that a grazing Homestead of 640 acres** could be claimed, under the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.*** They had to wait months for the application papers to be sent from Montana. To qualify, they had to increase the value of the land by at least $1.25/acre, and at least half of that had to be done within 3 years; they also had to establish residence on the land, which Nina fulfilled by staying there for 7 months out of the year, while Steve worked in the Coachella Valley and traveled to the homestead as often as he could (usually twice a week).

The house, with it’s screened porch is the building on the left

Named “The Tors” by the Shumways, the rocky section was not a place for cultivation of crops, required under earlier homestead acts. Cattle belonging to neighbors did forage on the land.

Starting with her staying in a dugout/tent combination, Nina and Steve built a home in the rocky landscape. The original room of the house is on the left and became the kitchen.
They collected the sandstone slabs for the floor of the main room from the Salton Basin in the eastern Coachella Valley where it merges with Imperial Valley, and 2-5″ stone slabs for the fireplace from the Eagle Mountains east of the Coachella Valley where Steve’s brother Earl was prospecting.

I have seen photos of the Shumways at the fireplace; on the mantel they had several Cahuilla pots they had found, and which were ultimately given to the Desert Museum (today the Palm Springs Art Museum).

On the 13th of July, 1938, the last grazing homestead patent in California was issued to them, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sadly, in 1945, after a “beautiful day entertaining guests on the mountain,” Steve Shumway passed away from a massive heart attack.

By 1946, Nina was able to furnish “The Tors” the way she thought appropriate, including 2 bed-couches, 2 four-foot love seats and a large chair, all made by Selden Belden in Idyllwild of local pine. The chair above was bought by my parents around 1950-1952 from Pinecraft in Idyllwild (Selden Belden). From the passage in Mountain of Discovery, where she describes furnishing The Tors and the photos of the main room in her book, her furniture was this same design. She chose brown/while cow hide upholstery for the loveseats and a solid color hide for the chair. Due to a fire at our ranch house, ours chairs needed to be reupholstered (due to soot damage), but the yellow is the original color, so I imagine her chair may have had yellow too.

Nina eventually had a house built in Palm Desert and spent part of the year there, and part at “The Tors.” By 1963, she was ready to move on, spending 10 years in Tucson, Arizona, and another 10 years in Palm Desert, passing away in 1984 at the age of 95.

Irene Rich, a silent screen actress and her daughter, Frances Rich, actress and sculptor, had purchased the “The Tors,” renamed it Shumway Ranch, and preserved the house built by the Shumways. Before her death in 2007, Frances Rich donated the Ranch to the Living Desert in Palm Desert. I went on a tour of the property once while the Living Desert owned it; a caretaker lived on the property and the Shumway house was empty.

Overlooking the Coachella Valley
The Salton Sea can be seen on the right

Not able to feasibly integrate a program on the ranch with their zoo on the valley floor, in 2014, the Living Desert contacted the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy (CVMC), offering to sell the ranch. From January 2007 to the present, I have been the Calif. State Senate Appointee to the Governing Board of CVMC**** and, I am happy to say after a lot of negotiating, on June 26, 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife took title to the ranch. In September the Department transferred jurisdiction over approximately 10 acres with the historic Shumway buildings to CVMC.

Conservancy operations and funding are limited by State statute, so while it retains title to the 10 acres, it is not really suited to open and operate the property, especially the structures, to the public. An operating/lease agreement has been signed with a separate non-profit organization, ShumwayRanch.org,***** created by community members with the hope they can open it despite the challenges of providing public restrooms, parking, fire fighting access, etc.

June 13, 2021, Highway 74, near the turn off to Shumway Ranch, photo courtesy of the San Bernardino National Forest, US Forest Service.

Ironically, on June 13, when I started putting together this article, a wildfire broke out about 3 miles from the Ranch. It burned 341acres and was fully extinguished June 21st, after destroying 2 houses and damaging 3 in nearby Pinyon Crest. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the fire fighters in an intense heatwave, the Ranch was not touched.

This blog is based on Nina Paul Shumway’s book, Mountain of Discovery (1992) and her article, Hard Rock Homesteaders (Desert Magazine, Sept. 1939); and my lifetime in the region

*or Steven; I have seen both spellings, but it is STEPHEN on his gravestone

** 640 acres is one square mile; 259 hectare. The ranch is now part of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, and is adjacent the San Bernardino National Forest.

*** To be eligible to be a homestead the US Secretary of the Interior had to decide that the lands were “chiefly valuable for grazing and raising forage crops, do not contain merchantable timber, are not susceptible of irrigation from any known source of water supply, and are of such character that six hundred and forty acres are reasonably required for the support of a family.” Sec. 2 of the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.

****Property bought with a grant from the CVMC, or directly by the Conservancy, is subject to a deed restriction placing it in conservation in perpetuity. The total sale was $1.565 million from a combination of government agencies.

*****Although sympathetic to their goals, I am not affiliated with ShumwayRanch.org.

4 thoughts on “THE TORS or SHUMWAY RANCH

  1. That was a great article to read, thanks! I visited the Salton Sea a few years ago, I can’t understand why the state can’t do something about its horrid condition.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story and history. Glad the fire did not burn down this heritage location. Like you, I could not survive the heat in this area. We are headed for 8 +30C days in a row (as high as +38C and I am not looking forward to it. +23 and breezy is my perfect temp. Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to John Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s