A visit to the Jubilee Ranch

In 1991, shortly after moving to Laramie Street, my children and I found a border collie puppy playing merrily in front of our house. He was a friendly little fellow so we invited him in to meet our dog. Children and dogs had a grand old romp ending in a bath for the mud and dung-coated puppy.

We had been enjoying his company for a couple of days while trying to find his owner when a woman drove up in an all-terrain vehicle. She said the pup belonged to John Baeta, manager of the five Jubilee Ranches (well-known for raising very fine quarter horses). She gave the children some money, a gift from John in appreciation for the care they'd given his little dog. This was our introduction to Jan Lopes. I asked her about her job and during the course of our conversation Jan said: "I'd rather work outside than sit in an office."

When Jan was 11-years-old her parents moved from the suburbs of Chicago to a rural area near San Jose. Her brother bought horses and Jan taught herself to ride. From that time she's always had horses.

In 1965, Jan moved to Carson Valley and became friends with the previous residents of her house on the ranch, Bill and Blanche Shipley. She used to come up to Markleeville to help them gather the cattle. In 1978 the Shipleys left the ranch and Jan was asked to move into the house with her children in exchange for irrigating. Later that year she started to work at the ranch full-time.

Two Washoe brothers, Warren and Jim Fillmore have worked on all aspects of the ranch for 38 years. Jan's job includes irrigating 590 acres, maintaining the ditches, cutting willows and raking out pine needles and pine cones, and, on horseback, helping with the cattle, keeping an eye out for sick or injured cows.

In the late spring or early summer, depending on the weather, the bulls come up to Markleeville and stay for three months with the cows, who start breeding at two years old. In fall the cows go to Smith Valley, another part of the Jubilee Ranch (the main part of the ranch is on Foothill Road, where the owner, Ted Bacon, lives with his wife, Lee) and here the calves are born after a pregnancy of nine months.

When the calves are 1-3 months old they are branded, vaccinated and the males are castrated. This event brings many flatland spectators. Jan's sensitivity keeps her away. Calves and mothers return to Markleeville and stay in their pairs until the calves are weaned at 6 or 7 months.

The steers are then sold to feed lots where they stay until they reach a certain weight and are then slaughtered. The beautiful Angus cattle of the Jubilee Ranch are very much in demand. Replacement heifers are kept at the ranch.

Jan gives many examples of the intelligence of cows, which she has come to respect over the years. My favorite illustration is that when cows butt heads, apparently fighting, they are deciding which one will be the baby-sitter for the next few hours. The winner is free from calves for that time.

The original part of the house at the Markleeville outpost of the ranch was built in the mid-1940s. Locals remember that two Washoe men worked on the project. Dabert Wyatt was a ranch hand in charge of the construction, assisted by a friendly one-armed Washoe, possibly called Cecil Dressler. At that time a German called Klaus worked on the irrigation. Unfortunately, while the slab was still wet, Klaus watered that part of the property washing the concrete down the hill and into the creek.

Recently, I visited Jan at her house. Two border collies, ranch workers, form the outside guard; once past the threshold one is greeted by Weena, a friendly 13-year-old Australian kelpie.

Clown pictures of Red Skelton smile from the walls. The comedian, a good friend of John Baeta, used to visit the ranch with his wife Lothian and would sometimes help with the cattle. Jan's house is decorated in Western style.

She has taught herself sewing and woodwork and the fruits of her labor include leather curtains, bed frames, a cupboard made from the wood of an old barn and an ingenious coffee table made out of an irrigation box.

The house looks out onto Markleeville Creek and evidence of energetic beaver activity. On the property is a hay shed where a previous Basque owner, Julian Mastorino, used to slaughter sheep. In another outbuilding graffiti date back to "Eloise Barrett and Ray Koenig, 1926."

There are many Basque contributions including the beautifully printed "Martin Etcheverry ano 1930" and Basque art which speaks of ranch scenes of bygone days.

n Thanks to Jan Lopes, Gary Coyan and Fritz Thornburg.


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