by Briana Burns, September 21, 2016
How many of you remember Lone Tree? Is the long ridge running south east and north west, north of Boonville still called Lone Tree Ridge?
My daughter, Wendy Rowe, painted the accompanying picture back in the 90s, based on her idyllic childhood memories of living on Tony Delaqua’s homestead on Peachland Road.
When Guy and Frank Rowe and I moved to Anderson Valley in 1973, Lone Tree was already probably 300 years old. It was a big Douglas Fir tree right on top of the ridge, with no other trees nearby. Hence the name. It was said to have been a guiding landmark for the first white settlers who came to Anderson Valley, and was said to have been a landmark for the Native Americans before them, as well.
I thought I remembered Lone Tree being straight north of our house, Tony Delaqua’s house on Peachland Road, and that Tony’s house had been oriented straight north/south. But my memory must be wrong, because when I look at google maps on my computer, it shows both the house and the ridge not north/south oriented. But looking out the back door of Tony’s house, one looked straight up at the ridge, and Lone Tree was centered in the view. I’m sending Bruce a copy of a watercolor painting Wendy did of Lone Tree more or less as seen from our property. I also remember that Homer Mannix, editor of the AVA before Bruce Anderson, or maybe it was Bruce himself, publishing a picture of the Lone Tree taken maybe in the 40s. It was a photo of some early automobile parked up on Peachland Road in the flat, open spot past Tony’s where one has the best view of the ridge. My guess is the photo was taken in honor of somebody’s nice new car, but it just happened to be the best portrait of the Lone Tree.
When we first lived up there, through the 1970s, Peachland was very quiet. We and old hermit George Wright were the only residents on Peachland Road. George drove to Boonville once a week for groceries, and Max Rawles drove up the road maybe twice a week to check on his sheep. At that time Max owned 6,000 acres that surrounded our property on all sides except for a short length of our southern property line that abutted Phil Wasson’s ranch. Max ran sheep on his property, and in the early spring time one could see the sheep spread across that open view, and the sound of lambs baaing was the only sound to be heard. It was lonesome, but idyllic!
Max Rawles must have died in the late 1970s. His heirs weren’t going to be able to pay the tax on 6,000 acres, but while the estate was in transition, someone was grazing cattle on the property. My memory says somebody with the last name of Wafford was living in Max’s house down on 128 and managing the cattle.
One day in January of 1980, Wendy and CT and I had gone to Ukiah, which I guess we did maybe a couple of times a month, and coming home in late afternoon, rounded that blind corner below the house and suddenly saw Lone Tree Ridge with a fire at the base of the tree! We were horrified!
Luckily when we first moved up there, Guy, with help from Frank and others, had installed a farmer’s phone line up the road. I called the Fire Department, although as I remember they weren’t too concerned about a burning landmark! But I felt I had to do something! I put away groceries and then left nine-year-old Wendy with six-year-old CT and drove on up Peachland Road. I think I was maybe planning on opening the locked gate to the ridge road, so the fire truck could come up. All I can remember is that by the time I drove as far as I could, and then got out and hiked and got up to the tree, it was engulfed in flames enough that I realized it was pretty hopeless. My memory is that I had brought a bucket of water, and threw it on the burning base of the tree, but it was utterly useless!
I know the fire department did eventually drive a fire truck up the road, because Wendy later told me how scared she was to see the truck go by, when I had not yet come home. In any case, it being January, things were wet enough that the truck never made it up to the tree. I don’t remember if they were stopped by the locked gate, or if they felt it was too muddy and they’d just get stuck.
In any case, it was by now pitch black and there was nothing for me to do but to go home. I think the fire truck had already done so. I think I’d met somebody and they’d told me they couldn’t drive their truck up to the tree.
Later on the AVA reported on the burning of Lone Tree. The torch of the burning tree had been seen by the whole Valley that night, and as I remember, it blazed all night! The next day I phoned someone, I think it was a niece of Max’s, who was one of the heirs to the property. I also talked to Mr. Wafford at some point in time, maybe that next day. He told me that he and some friends had been out on horseback that day, checking on the cattle, and had set fire to several trees that he felt were a danger to the cattle! He said the cattle bedded down by these trees, and a limb might fall and injure some! At the time I thought this was a highly unlikely story! I imagined they had just been out having a good time and thought setting some old Doug Firs on fire was a fun thing to do!
I know Wendy has written, in words she wrote accompany her painting of Lone Tree, that Mr. Wafford was the “Rawles Ranch grazing lessee”. My memory is that he was simply caretaking the property, living in the house, and running the cattle, but that he was an employee of the heirs. In any case, when I told Max’s heir about the tree burning, and the AVA and the Valley population in general decried the burning and regarded it as an act of vandalism, Mr. Wafford disappeared from the Valley shortly thereafter.
Wendy and CT, Wendy especially, were so traumatized by the loss of Lone Tree, that we carved the date into the smooth bark of a madrone right at the top of our driveway. As I remember, the date was January 11, 1980. I assume based on that date, Bruce could find his coverage of the event in his archives, if they go back that far.
I do remember Bruce reporting that local historian and forester Jack June, of an old Valley family, went up to the ridge-top and tried to count rings on the burnt stump of Lone Tree and estimated that the tree was at least 300 years old! We, and the whole Valley with us, mourned its loss!