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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.