Marshal memories

Pat Washburn, a third generation O'Neals resident, is the 61st Annual Coarsegold Rodeo Grand Marshal

Tiffany TuellMay 1, 2013 

Since the late 1880's, Pat Washburn's family has lived in the O'Neals area. Growing up with a cattle ranching father, riding horses and herding cattle became second nature to Washburn at a young age. Now 86 years old, Washburn is being honored as the 61st Coarsegold Rodeo Grand Marshal.

"She's helped out with Heritage Days (the rodeo's Friday event for elementary school students) many times and she's just such a big member of the community," said Pat Strimling, treasurer of the rodeo association. "It was just time for her to be selected."

When Washburn received the phone call that she had been selected to be honored as grand marshal, she said she was both surprised and happy with the news. Rodeo attendees can look for Washburn riding in a Model T Coupe at noon Sunday as part of the rodeo Grand Entry.

"Her family goes back in this community several generations," said Suzie Hickman, who has known Pat since elementary school. "It's wonderful that she's being honored."

Washburn's family history began in the area when her grandfather, James Ryan, was lured to the goldmining town of Hildreth where he worked as a blacksmith. His wife's name was Annie. In 1894 they had a son -- William (Bill) Henry Ryan -- Washburn's father.

When Bill was just seven years old, someone gave him a cow and that's how he started his herd. He would help neighbors with roundups because in those early days, there were no fences separating ranches. His herd began to grow from that first cow and at the height of his cattle ranching days, he had about 350 cows and 4,000 acres of land.

He later married Faustina Mae Wren, a school teacher at Hildreth, and they began homesteading in the area in the 1920s. Washburn was one of five children born to Bill and Faustina. The children included Dick (Richard), Bobby (Robert), who died at a young age from a brain tumor), Margaret, Washburn ("Pat," Patricia) and Mary Ann.

Pat grew up where the old goldmining town of Hildreth used to be, which is now considered O'Neals. She attended first through eighth grade at the old Hildreth school, which is no longer in use but located right across the road from Pat's home.

In the summers, once she was eight years old, Pat would help her family herd cattle to the high country. They would herd the cattle over Little Shuteye Peak into Chiquita Basin before Mammoth Pool Road was built. When she was a little older, she began driving the chuck wagon and doing the cooking.

Dinner didn't come from a grocery store back in Pat's days. She remembers grabbing a gun and heading down to the creek to find a rabbit for her mother to cook for dinner.

Rodeo was also a part of Pat's life. Hickman recalls attending a community rodeo organized in the late 1930s by Bill Ryan and Leonard Topping. It was held in the old railroad cut off Road 210 in O'Neals. Pat worked the soda pop stand there every year. There would also be a big barbecue where there were two things to eat -- meat and coleslaw. Jess Bigelow would donate sheep and the Toppings and Ryans would donate beef for the barbecue. Coleslaw was mixed up and served in a big bathtub. The rodeo was such a huge hit that, according to Hickman, they had to stop holding it in O'Neals when it topped out at 5,000 attendees.

After elementary school, Pat moved to live with an aunt in Madera and attended Madera High. Pat said students would ask her what there was to do in the country. She would tell them there was much more to do in the country than in the city. In the country she could go for a walk, ride a horse, climb trees, pick flowers, and plant her own garden.

"Kids now are lazy and don't know how to entertain themselves," Pat said.

In 1944 she graduated from Madera High and went on to beauty school in Fresno. The school was located right next to Warnors Theater and Pat laughs at the memory of sneaking out of school and going to a show.

In 1945, halfway through beauty school, Pat married her high school sweetheart, Jimmie Washburn. Pat had met Jimmie at a school dance her junior year of high school. Because it was during WWII, Jimmie had joined the Navy at age 17 but was hurt in boot camp and sent home. It was then that Pat and Jimmie met.

"Some kid I didn't like was pestering me. He (Jimmie) came over and saved me and then I couldn't get rid of him," Pat said, laughing.

Jimmie worked for Railroad Express when the two first met and later began working as a truck driver for the State Fire Department Division of Forestry. Jimmie and Pat moved to several locations in the Central Valley, then to Oregon and finally back to the Finegold area. They had three children named Jack, Faustina and Janice.

For 25 years, Pat worked as a school bus driver for Spring Valley and Hickman recalls Pat being her children's driver.

"She picked up the kids and made a loop around Road 210," Hickman said. "My children were on her bus and they remember her stopping the bus and saying, 'Oh, look, there's a quail family crossing the road.' She'd stop if there was a squirrel or a deer and my 50-year-old kids remember riding the bus with her and it was an important event."

Jimmie and Pat lived in Finegold for a number of years until Jimmie died from a heart attack in 1983 at age 58. At the time he was a relief captain for the fire department and worked between the Rancheria and Coarsegold.

After Jimmie's death, Pat moved to Madera for a year but decided she didn't want to stay there. Pat had inherited her parent's O'Neals home on 170 acres, so she moved back and has been there since the mid 1980s. The land is now rented out to cattle ranchers, so Pat is once again surrounded by cattle like she was as a child.

"You can take the person out of the hills but you can't take the hills out of the person," Pat said, laughing. "I'm like a homing pigeon."

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