27 January 2016

The Keene Ranch in Carbon Canyon

While Louis B. Joralmon established his Rancho Lindero at the Orange/San Bernardino counties line area of Carbon Canyon, there was a ranch on the Orange County side that featured another interesting history, that of Arthur G. Keene.

Keene was born in September 1878 in Fannin County, Texas, a rural sparsely-populated area northeast of Dallas.  His father Robert, a native Texan, came from a family who migrated from Kentucky and was a farmer.  His mother, Alice Yates, also hailed from the Lone Star state, and had Missouri roots.

The family moved northwest towards Amarillo and, in 1898, Keene married Rosa Sams, and the two started their family in another rural area, in Motley County, southeast of Amarillo, where they farmed.

A 17 October 1930 article in the Chino Champion details Carbon Canyon rancher Arthur G. Keene's themed show performed at the Ramona Indian Village near Culver City.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the Keenes, consisting of four sons, migrated west, settling in Mesa, Arizona, on the eastern fringes of Phoenix.  Arthur transitioned from farming into business pursuits, including ownership of a grocery store and barbershop and then the Mesa-Roosevelt Stage Company, which provided horse-drawn transportation and mail delivery service to the Tonto National Forest town of Roosevelt along the shores of the Salt River, northeast of Mesa.

After a few years, however, Keene pulled up stakes and headed further west and south to the eastern fringes of Imperial County near the Colorado River.  The reason was that the government had opened up land for homesteading in 1911 and Keene was one of the first applicants, receiving 320 acres.  Presumably, recent efforts to provide irrigated water to the area both spurred the offer of land and Keene's decision to move there, likely to farm.

However, he quickly moved on to the Los Angeles region and, in 1915, acquired Carbon Canyon land near the Orange and San Bernardino counties border from David Ewart, a Pomona clothier whose store, opened in 1908, was well-known for decades in that city and who had been buying up land in the area just afterward.

Later that year, Keene opened the Rose Cream Dairy and began a local milk delivery route, but gave that up within months to return to Texas with his family.  For a time, he returned to his home area near Dallas and farmed, before moving to Amarillo, where he worked as a contractor, realtor and then a teamster.

In 1923, the Keenes returned to Carbon Canyon, acquiring a ranch by lease on the Orange County side near Olinda.  This appears to have been on the south side of the canyon across from La Vida Mineral Springs and extending across the hills into Soquel and to Telegraph canyons, some of this land now being within Chino Hills State Park.  For a time, the Keenes lived in the Ventura area while still running cattle on the Carbon Canyon ranch.

A Champion  article about an event at Keene's Carbon Canyon ranch, 26 October 1934.
By the end of the decade, Keene was gaining some attention for the quality of the cattle and other stock that ranged on his ranch, as well as for his rodeo skills.  In September 1930, he provided some 200 animals for the city of Upland and its annual pioneer event and a Chino Champion article noted that he frequently provided stock, riders and stages at rodeos and other events.  A week later, he was performing at a rodeo in Merced, in central California.

In October, the Champion reported that a roundup based on Keene's life in Texas ranching as a younger man was being featured at an unusual venue: the Ramona Indian Village, located on Washington Boulevard near Fairfax Avenue in Culver City.

This auto park was the creation of an actor and author, Robert Callahan, and was intended to be a type of amusement park before it was reconfigured into a place where travelers could stay in tepees and pueblo-style units.  A theater, schoolhouse and chapel were part of the project, which survived until Interstate 10 was expanded in 1963.  The chapel and schoolhouse were moved to what is today Santa Clarita and survive at the William S. Hart Regional Park, near the historic home of the namesake, a famed silent film cowboy.

The nearly two-hour show featured a recreation of a roundup camp, cattle roping and bull riding, fancy roping and other elements and included wild horses and steers brought in from Texas.  While Keene hoped to continue with the show on a weekly basis, it is unknown if there were more than just the one performance.

A few years later, in 1934, Keene held a large-scale event at his own Carbon Canyon ranch, when 800 persons attended the annual convention of the Chuck Wagon Trailers association.  After a barbeque dinner at noon, bull and horse riding and roping demonstrations were provided during the afternoon, followed by a talk given by Al Jennings, an attorney turned outlaw with his brothers when the Jennings Gang committed crimes in Oklahoma at the end of the 1890s.  Jennings later came to Los Angeles and worked in film for a period.  It was also reported that one of the famed "Dalton Boys" of bandits was also in attendance at the event.  The Champion provided coverage of the festivities, complete with "Wild West" style language.

By this time, Keene, who was still in his 50s, had gone through a number of tragedies, including the deaths of two of his five sons and of his wife within a few years from 1928 to 1930 and his deteriorating health.  In spring 1935, he married Florence Rothlis and not long afterward, as paralysis overtook his body, he was committed to a state hospital in Norwalk.

Keene's obituary from the Champion, 26 March 1937.
A nasty battle erupted between his new wife and Keene's brother, James, who assumed management of the Keene ranch lease when Arthur was incapacitated.  Florence Keene charged Robert with mismanagement of the property, while he responded that she was using undue influence on her ailing husband and that she was a bigamist to boot--her first husband evidently abandoned her and there was no divorce, though state law allowed remarriage after five years of unwilling separation.

When Arthur Keene died in March 1937, all that was left to fight over was about $1200 in assets. After a funeral held in Chino, Keene was interred in the Ventura cemetery where his wife was buried.

Meantime, there is another remarkable story to come out of the Keene family and the ranch, which will be covered in an upcoming post.

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