By Sharyn Cornelius
The long time and brand new owners of the Bonnie Craig Ranch near Inwood joined forces to celebrate its 150th anniversary with friends and family on Saturday, June 23, 2012. Glenn and Zettie Aldridge, who have owned the ranch since 1974, and Shannon and Glenda Wooten of Palo Cedro, who recently purchased Bonnie Craig (Shannon is Glenn’s nephew), invited all their local friends, plus distant relatives to join them at the ranch on Ponderosa Way. Over 150 people attended the event.
The weather could not have been better. The anniversary party was blessed with mild temperatures and a soft breeze that blew white clouds overhead. The historic red and white ranch house that sits at the head of a wide, sloping valley where hay had recently been harvested, is shaded by large trees where our hosts set up tables and chairs, and a display of old family photos and artifacts.
But the first order of business was a group photo of everyone standing in the meadow below the crag for which the ranch was named by Glenn’s grandmother Minnie Aldridge. After everyone was seated, Glenn told them about the history of the ranch.
His great grandparents William and Mary Aldridge and their ten children came to California from Oregon in 1861 and “purchased squatter’s rights to 160 acres of land on Snow Creek from Mr. Tom McCoy. They paid $1400 for the property, which was a lot of money in those days.” By 1862, “they were on the assessment rolls for four horses, one cow, 20 hogs and one wagon.” By 1869, conditions had improved and they had five cows, two calves, and three steer cattle, but their horse herd had declined to three and a half head. The YJ connected cattle brand we use today was given from Jepta Yates to William when William purchased his cattle. This brand was registered in Shasta County in 1872.”
“My grandfather Jefferson Davis Aldridge was the first child born after they moved here, followed by three more, making a total of 14 children” for William and Mary.”
Around 1888, they sold the ranch to their daughter Nancy and her husband Jasper Holmes and bought a ranch on South Cow Creek. Jefferson “took up a homestead next to his parents’ new place and built a one room cabin. A short time later, Jeff fell in love with Minnie Bayer and they were married in a German church above Whitmore. All three of their children, [including my father Walter], were born in that cabin.”
After William died in 1891, Mary sold their ranch and moved in with Jeff and his family. In 1896, Jeff and Minnie sold their homestead, and, with his brother John, bought the Snow Creek Ranch from their sister and her husband. Jeff and Minnie raised cattle, hogs and sheep along with potatoes and later chickens for the eggs. They also helped raise two of Minnie’s sister’s children after she died in childbirth. Minnie wrote news articles about the community and sold them to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jeff eventually bought out his brother John and added more acreage to the ranch, including buying the Hardscrabble Ranch from another brother in the 1920s. “When Walter came home from the service, the ranch operation changed from cattle to sheep, but they almost went broke in the sheep business.” They sold the sheep and bought a registered Guernsey dairy herd. They milked the cows, separated the milk and fed it to their calves and pigs. The cream was taken to Redding and shipped by rail to San Francisco.
In 1921 the Aldridge Family was going on a picnic to Viola, and they stopped at the Thatcher ranch on the way. “Electa Thatcher said she had a pretty young lady visiting there who might like to go with them. Walter said, ‘Bring her out and let me look her over.’” Evidently he liked what he saw, because he got a job driving a solid rubber-tired truck hauling lumber from Ritz Mill to Cottonwood to make enough money to get married.
Walter Aldridge and Martha Meyer were married on June 1, 1924. Walter built them a little house on the banks of Snow Creek. They had three children—Shirley, born May 10, 1025; MarthaMae “Pat,” born Sept. 7, 1927, and Glenn, born May 10, 1932 (on his older sister’s birthday).
“Walter worked as a foreman for the 3 C’s for a few years and two years in Lassen Park on construction projects.” Meanwhile he began building up his own cattle herd. “In the mid-thirties he went to Oregon with his uncle Howard Hufford and purchased a small bunch of feeder steers, plus two beef heifers. In 1938 he purchased around 25 commercial Hereford cows from John Schuler whose ranch was between Dersch Road and Highway 44.” They drove the cattle the twelve miles to Bonnie Craig, with six-year-old Glenn riding a mare that his grandparents had given him. “That was my first big cow drive.”
In 1945 when Glenn moved into town to attend high school, his parents sold the dairy herd and continued to buy beef cattle. “In 1950 we had a control burn with nine other land owners and burned 10,000 acres in one day. We seeded much of the burn, and it really produced much more feed for the cattle.” The Aldridges continued to add more acreage to the ranch. “When pine timber came up in price, they bought timber land and sold the wood to make enough to pay for the land.”
Walter and Martha were very active in community affairs. He served as a trustee of the Inwood School District, was a director of the Federal Land Bank, Chico Production Credit Association, and Shasta District Fair Board. In addition, he was a member of the Shasta County Cattlemen, the Farm Bureau, and Millville Odd Fellows.
Martha sat on the election board in Shingletown and was secretary treasurer of the Ogburn-Inwood Cemetery Board. She was also active in the Inwood Stitch Club, the Millville Rebekahs, the Millville Grange, the Shasta County Cattlewomen (named Cowbelle of the year in 1981) and a member of the Shasta, Shingletown and Millville Historical Societies.
Their children grew up and got married. Shirley married Robert Wooten and had two children—Shannon and Kevin. Pat married James Stewart and had four children—Mike, Ron, Marlene and Caroline. Glenn married Zettie Mae McKinney and they had two children—Cindy and Anna.
Glen and Zettie bought the ranch and cattle in 1974 and then in the late 1980s bought out Glenn’s sisters’ parts. They, too, have increased the size of the ranch, which now totals 5400 contiguous acres. They bred Herefords until 1993 “when Angus cross calves were bringing so much more that I started buying Angus bulls. We still use some Hereford bulls, but our herd is more black now.”
They followed the Aldridge example and became active in their community. Like her mother-in-law Zettie served on the Shingletown election board and was active in the Inwood Stitch Club. She was treasurer of the Shingletown Historical Society for 20 years and a member of the Millville Rebekahs for 59 years. She was president of the Shasta County Cattlewomen and was named Cattlewoman of the Year in 1992. She was involved in the “Mothers’ Club” when her children were in school.
Glenn served on the Black Butte School Board for 18 years, was president of the Shasta County Cattlemen and Farm Bureau, a director on the ASCS committee, a director of the Western Shasta RCD, and a 61 year member of the Millville Odd Fellows. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Shasta County Farm Bureau.
Glenn highlighted some of the dangers of a ranching career by noting that his grandfather had been killed by a dairy bull in 1937, and his dad had almost died after his horse bucked him off, breaking his hip and starting his ulcer bleeding. “He almost bled to death before they operated. Dad was tough and he came out alright.” Glenn almost drowned trying to get across Bear Creek in the winter using a bucket on a cable. “About half way across, the bale broke on the bucket and dumped me in the creek. Something hit me on the head and knocked me out, but it did not take me long to come to in that cold water. But the problem was I got out of the creek on the wrong side. I had to wade across it to get back home.”
He also commented on the good and bad aspects of living his whole life on the ranch. “When people find out that I have lived in the same place all my life, they think I am crazy, and maybe I am, but I do not have any next door neighbors bugging me. It has been a lot of hard work for everyone involved, but we have succeeded. The biggest problem about staying in the same place for so long is you collect too much junk.”
Larry Forero of the UC Extension Service praised Glenn and Zettie Aldridge for their conservation efforts that have gone far beyond “producing cattle and making money;” and Deborah Haynes presented them with a resolution from the California State Legislature signed by Senator Doug La Malfa and Assemblyman Jim Nielson, honoring the family’s long history in California agriculture.