Worth more than any blinking traffic light, it guided folks for years. It told them where they were and how to get to where they were going.
It stood alone, overlooking Boonville, like a sentry guarding its northern ridge. Earlier peoples had used it as a guide on their periodic treks to the sea. Tan bark haulers probably cinched up their mule teams on the East-West trail a couple hundred feet below on their way eastward seven miles to the Old Toll Road (Hwy 253). I can visualize old J.P. McNeil putting his old floppy hat back on his head, releasing the brake, urging the mules forward, then looking up at the old Lone Pine and silently saying, “I’ll see you later.”
It was a reference point used by many in their daily lives, as casually as we might use “down by the Little Red School House” to direct someone to Con Creek. It also was the location of the direction, North. On a clear night when the big dipper is visible, find the North Star from a location near Boonville and you will know approximately where the Old Pine lived.
It might have been dead for years, but it posed harm to no one while its distinctive frame stood out from other outlines on the ridge.
Esel Wafford and his rowdy crew from Willits, in a manner of other evil deeds, robbed all who treasured this old pine by setting it afire as the sun was dropping that sad day.
All the energy it had soaked up in its decades of life was then offered back to the sun that nurtured it in gold colored fire reaching for the sky. When the flames were first visible, some thought the fire was Shorty “Max” Rawles’s cabin afire. No one imagined that anyone would want to burn such a monument as the Lone Pine.
Homer Mannix, fire chief, drove up Peachland Road, stopped to pick up Briana Rowe (Burns) and they were off to round up neighbors to go help. The few Peachlanders there were at the time rallied with all the hoes, shovels, and whatever else they had and joined Homer and Briana on the trek to Shorty’s nook. By the time they neared the area, it was abundantly clear that it was Lone Pine ablaze. The fire crew soon changed focus and directed their efforts to the tree. The old pine was well ablaze by this time but the crew proceeded on up the ridge toward it, willing to do what they could. It was dusky, but someone could be seen near the burning tree. The crew thought someone had arrived before them and had been here fighting the fire alone. Though panting from the climb with their meager tools, they hustled to join this lone person and hear from him if there was hope. As the crew neared the quiet, motionless person, someone of the crew shouled, “We came to help!”
“Don’t want your help,” came the gruff reply. “You’re trespassing! Now GET OUT!”
The crew, now close enough to see the man well from firelight, could also see he had a gun pointed at them. Some other peole were headed toward the burning pine. The crew had but a small moment of hope that Esel Wafford could be dissuaded of his attitude and gunplay before men started arriving by pickup and horses. It was Esel’s crew arriving to back him up. One of the crewmen told Esel that they weren’t trespassing, that he had long ago been given permission by Shorty to be on this property, cut firewood, hunt pigs and anything else he wanted to do for as long as the sun shines in the sky.
Esel quickly replied, “But Shorty’s dead, ain’t he?” Esel’s cronies then escorted the disbelieving, would-be firefighters away, off what once was the Rawles Ranch.
I don’t think anyone thought this kind of encounter was possible these days, though there are tales of earleir conflicts on this spot. In the days of sheep and cattle wars and land settlement conflicts, these kinds of conflicts usually had a different cast.
For example, in Valley lore, three young Rawles men on horseback rode up the Lone Pine ridge and shot dozens of Clem Heryford’s sheep in the shadow of the old pine and left their calling cards — empty 32-caliber pistol cartridges. When the sheep kiling was discovered and reported, Clem gathered his own boys and rode the ridge west and then down north to the Rawles ranch headquarters. Clem owned the ridge at this time and it was important to protect his rights and address his grievance against his neighbors. He and his sons were well armed and capable shots. As they drew up in the front of the Rawles ranch house, the Rawles men could be seen preparing for battle. Clem sat still in his saddle. In short time, old man Rawles came out on the front porch, looked up at Clem and said, “Howdy Clem.” Clem said, “Howdy” back, then stated that “three men on horseback carrying 32s had shot a bunch of his sheep and left them dead. I don’t suppose you know anything about it?”
Old man Rawles looked around at his boys, then back at Clem and said, “Now Clem, those boys hadn’t ought to have done that.”
Clem declared, “Thought you might’ve wanted to know,” then turned his horse and his boys around and left. Other than the usual gossip, no more was said of it nor were any more sheep killed.
Most times, it’s a most peaceful spot, offering what some say is the prime Valley View, a hiking destination, a grand family or lover’s picnic spot. The ridge has been subdivided now and houses are beginning to appear on the ridge. It is no longer accessible to the public.
The Lone Pine’s sad, charred, rotting carcass is still there, trying to point the way to the sea from its resting place on the ground.
Recently, a couple of well-respected local men traversed up old Lone Pine Ridge with heavy loads, planting some new trees. True, they were thinking of the old pine, but had no thought of replacing it — they knew better.
Now I don’t know of a person who hates Esel Wafford for burning the old Lone Pine, but I also don’t know a soul who doesn’t condemn his acts.
I salute the symbol of the Old Lone Pine, but I more highly regard the two anonymous men who recently made the trek up the hill with their nature investment.
(First published in March 2000. A long-time resident of Peachland, Mr. Smith passed earlier this week.)