Page 3 - R.G. Percy

I am not sure whether it was on his first trip to Ventura or after he returned in 1873 that he acquired his first property in the County. After the secularization of the Spanish Missions by Mexico in the 1830s there became what was known as the Ex-mission land grants. The larger one was the 48,000 acres lying between the Ventura River and the Santa Paula canyon along the foothills. This was granted to Jose Arnaz, and confirmed to him after the American occupation of California. Ex-Mission Number 2 triangular section of about 1000 acres hemmed in on three sides by the Colonia Grant, the Calleguas Grant and the Rancho Del Norte Grant, which was declared Government land and opened to settlement.

The first farming in the County was on the Colonia Grant, where in 1868 John Borchard had planted barley. Following that there were many others who settled in the County of Ventura. A survey of the farms in the new County was made and published in the early 1870's to advertise the farming possibilities. In this survey, among others, it mentions a property in Ex-Mission Grant 2, as being owned by E.P. Foster, but rented to another man with a good crop of barley growing. However, Mr. Foster never mentioned to me in our talks about having owned that property. I expect that he did not keep it long but sold it when he decided to go into the sheep ranching in the Conejo Valley. Neither did he ever tell me about his courtship and marriage or the date when that took place.

He did tell me a great deal about his ranching and sheep operations in the Conejo. The Edwards family of Santa Barbara were friends of the Fosters and the Sextons. They were a wealthy family and owned large properties in Santa Barbara County and also in Ventura County. One of these properties was an 8000 acres in the Conejo Valley which in the 1870's was not yet farming land but grazing lands. It was here where he began raising sheep. Years later he pointed out to me where his headquarters were in the Edwards' property where he and Mrs. Foster lived. It was not until years later, while doing some research on the different Land grants that I discovered that he had owned another 800 acres adjoining the Edwards' property also. It was discovered in the records of deeds in the County Recorders office in the County Court House. He had told me that he not only grazed his sheep on the Edwards' property but also on much of the other unoccupied property in the Valley. There had been good years of rain in the early 1870s and plenty of grass and the sheep had done exceptionally and his original flock had grown.

In the Fall of 1876 he had sheared 10,000 sheep. His different bands were herded by Spanish Californian herders and Mr. Foster had become fluent in speaking their language, as were many Americans in those early times.

And then the Fall of 1876 began one of the periodic dry years which hit California. No rain fell of any amount in the Fall and winter to bring new grass or in the Spring of 1877. Stock men all over the State from San Francisco south were in trouble, as springs and creeks began to dry up, and stock began dying. At that time Ventura County was an' important sheep raising County, and there were many large flocks. Like so many others Mr. Foster was in trouble. By May of 1877 he had only 3000 of his large flock left. In May he drove the 3000 sheep, still alive and ready to travel. He drove them across the hills to the Peru where Ghaffee and Bonstel were buying sheep at ten cents a head to try and drive them somewhere out of California to find pasture. Ten cents a head meant only $300.00, and Mr. Foster was broke, as were so many others.

Chaffee & Bonstel bought 20 000 sheep at that price, and started them to Arizona to find pasture, in charge of Jake Nidever (Chaffee's brother-in-law). On the way across the desert the sheep died like flies, and when Nidever reached the Colorado River there were only 1800 out of the 20,000 sheep still alive. Nidever sold them for what he could get and returned to Ventura. Even at ten cents a head it was a poor investment.