The historic Ecker ranch and how it grew into today

Mountain Moments

April 23, 2009 

History and fable tell us that when miners tired of panning for gold they turned to cattle to feed their former colleagues. But in the foothills of the Central Sierra, including Madera County, many of them chose to raise hogs instead of cattle.

Such was the case of Sylvester Ecker. Born in 1823 in Europe's Alsace-Lorraine region, he came to the Coarsegold area in 1870 in search of gold, but soon found more profit in raising livestock.

He homesteaded south of Coarsegold and expanded his holdings to more than 4,000 acres. A monument, placed by the Grub Gulch Chapter 41-49 E Clampus Vitus, marks the historic Ecker Ranch and states that much of the land was purchased from Indian people in the 19th century at a price of $1 per acre or 100 acres for 10 cows.

In November 1876, Sylvester married Bertha Micalitchzi, a native of Romerstadt, Austria. They had six children -- three sons and three daughters. Only one, Otto, married. Well into the 20th century, Sylvester's children lived continuously in the ranch home, built in the 1870s.

It was through the stories of Sylvester's three daughters, Adela, Bertha and Edith, that we learned of the early days of raising hogs. At harvest time hundreds of hogs were driven along the foothills to Stockton and beyond, following the oak country foothills, where plenty of acorns made certain that the animals did not lose weight on the long drive.

The late Oakhurst historian Mattie Fhy, who knew the sisters personally, passed on the tales they had heard from their parents.

"The only road from Coarsegold to the outside world in the early days," Fhy wrote years ago, "was toward the north through Buchanan to Stockton. All supplies were purchased there and brought to the hills by eight- or ten-horse or mule teams, or pack trains.

"The Ecker sisters remembered their parents telling of the early days when Sylvester Ecker and his partner, Charley Lemons, made the yearly trip for supplies. Their hogs roamed all over the country and men and dogs gathered and drove hundreds of them to market in San Francisco. Some of the hogs were so wild it was necessary to catch them and stitch their eyes closed so they could not see and run away. They followed the other hogs by scent.

"The long drive, with the herders on foot leading pack horses, took several days. The hogs were loaded on barges to cross the Bay to San Francisco where they were sold.

"The return trip was made by way of Stockton where supplies of flour, sugar and other staples were purchased. Then came the trek home with enough food and clothing for a whole year."

One of Sylvester and Bertha's sons, Otto, and two of his sisters, Adela and Edith are seen in a photo in Coarsegold Historical Society's "As We Were Told" of the 1890 student body of Coarsegold School.

Otto wed Alice Stockton and they had two children, Robert and Alice. Alice married J. B. Overstreet in 1943. When she died 41 years later, she willed the 1,080 acres remaining of the Ecker Ranch to her husband, urging him to retain it permanently as a ranch. To accomplish this, he has preserved the oak-studded foothill rangeland under the California Rangeland Trust, which calls the property a "family treasure and a community's haven."


There will be a dedication ceremony Saturday marking the Ecker Ranch's entry into the California Rangeland Trust. The Trust will present a sign and the Coarsegold Historical Society will present a placque thanking owner J.B. Overstreet for preserving the land as an asset to the community.

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