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FLINT Brothers

The Ranching and Later Careers of Robert's Sons

So, two teenage boys inherited two vast ranches in California. Having grown up in London, Ontario, what did they know about ranching? At any rate, the boys’ ranching careers were short. How the ranches were administered while the boys were still under the guardianship of Samuel Gibson is not known, though it would seem that their older cousin, Robert G Flint III, Pirney’s son, was managing Rancho Nacimiento. The livestock business continued to be carried on during the interim.

According to the 7 May 1886 issue of the San Miguel Inland Messenger, “Brandenstein & Co., of San Francisco, have purchased about 80 head of fat cattle from G. N. Douglas, and 250 from the Flint estate, and the drove started north [from Rancho Nacimiento] yesterday.”

In the 4 Jun 1886 issue of the same paper, “The Flint estate is selling a large number of cattle to Godchaux & Brandstein, of San Francisco. A band of three hundred were driven north from the San Juan ranch last week.”

An issue to be dealt with by the Flint estate was the construction of a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad that would cross Rancho Nacimiento. “There are numerous rumors in circulation about the railroad work being stopped by the executors of the Flint estate; but the state of affairs appears to be that the executors of said estate, to protect the interests of the heirs, have given notice to the railroad force not to construct the road across the lands of the estate where no right of way has been granted. It is probable that proceedings will be instituted to condemn a right of way and that the work will go ahead without delay.”1

“In 1887, the Southern Pacific Rail Road Company was the plaintiff, in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, against Hannah Mary Flint, Robert Flint, George B. Flint, Elizabeth Flint and Eliza E. Flint and C. D. P. Jones and R. W. Bliven as Executor of the last will of Robert G. Flint, deceased, defendants. There was a Decree of Condemnation, and the case came to trial on March 25, 1887. A result was that “the sum of $500 is a full, fair and just compensation and value of the right-of-way taken over the lands. . . .” Also provided for was “$4,500 for damages sustained or which will accrue to the larger parcel of which the property condemned.”2

Rob Flint would have “come of age” about 1893, and perhaps began to take over the management of Rancho San Juan. Apparently Gibson traveled with his nephew to California in 1892:

“. . . Rob Flint appears to have been a pretty good boy so far this year. He says he has sown his wild oats. I hope he will sow no more and that he may not reap a harvest of what he has sown. . . . Rob expects to go to Cal. with Uncle when he goes. George can not go this year. He gave it all up with a great deal better grace than I could if I had made up my mind to such a journey. Poor fellow. He sports a blackeye as the result of a little unpleasantness he and Charley had. . . .”3

A black eye? And there are other indications that George Flint may have had a short fuse.

“It is reported that John H. Wise has sold all of his cattle in this county to C. W. Clark, who has rented the San Juan cattle ranch of Robt. Flint. The ranch consists of about 66,000 acres and it is likely that all of the Wise cattle will be transferred to this ranch.”4

The Flint boys found themselves quite wealthy (for the times) at a young age. There are signs that Rob, especially, was unable to handle it. As the following item from the San Francisco Chronicle suggests, he may have had an unfortunate tendency to squander his riches on boyish pleasures:

“ELEGANT NAPHTHA LAUNCH.
“Robert Flint Purchases a Fine Pleasure Boat.
“Robert Flint, a wealthy stock man, has purchased a naphtha launch that his friends declare can beat anything on the bay for speed and beauty. The launch is now at Harbor View, where Mr. Flint is having a fine boathouse built.
“The launch is of the latest model, and was intended to combine beauty and speed. The boat was exhibited at the World”s Fair, and took the first prize for boats of its kind.”5

Evidently Rob got deeply in debt, sold all his cattle, encumbered his property with a mortgage that he was unable to repay, faced foreclosure, and was trying to find a buyer to get him out of his predicament, as this article from the Chronicle for 23 Nov 1896 indicates:

“Last Friday J. K. Prior, the capitalist, of this city, brought suit against Robert Flint, in San Luis Obispo county, to foreclose a mortgage of $100,000 on the San Juan ranch. Though worth perhaps three times that amount, the ranch at forced sale will probably not bring more than the amount of the mortgage. No more cattle wander over its broad acres. They were all sold by its owner.
“Beside spending money with a reckless prodigality, young Flint made several unprofitable business ventures. One of these was the establishment of a large retail meat market on Market Street, near Third. It is said he lost $75,000 in this venture. He is a good-natured, liberal young man, and it is said that alleged friends have imposed on him.
“There is a story to the effect that Baron von Schroeder and Robert Flint came near effecting a trade a year ago whereby the last named was to take the Hotel Rafael and Von Schroeder was to enter into possession of the San Juan ranch, together with its incumbrance of $100,000. . . . [But] Von Schroeder refused to carry out his verbal agreement. . . .”6

Note that Baron von Schroeder was a later owner of Rancho Nacimiento. A piece in the Christmas Day, 1896 issue of a Southern California newspaper tells of another attempt by Rob Flint to vend his ranch to a different affluent German:

“San Francisco, Dec. 24.—It is stated that Robert Flint has sold his ranch in San Luis Obispo county to Morris Stach von Goltzheim, a wealthy German interested in the growing of canaigre, a plant which it is hoped will supersede bark for tanning purposes. The property is said to be worth $800,000.”7

This deal must have fallen through, too, for it would seem that the ranch was eventually bought by yet another German, Henry Wreden.

“The calamitous ‘dry year’ of 1897–1898 afforded Henry Wreden I the opportunity to acquire the entire San Juan Ranch, of 57,175 acres, which had been owned by the Flints. The drought had caused financial difficulties for many, including the Flint heirs. Wreden bought the ranch, and with the aid of his sons, Henry II and Charles, operated it for many years.”8

The reason for the ranch-size discrepancy in the last two quotes is unknown. Perhaps Flint had sold some of it before German immigrant Wreden’s purchase in 1898. Another source gives the ranch’s maximum size under Robert G Flint’s ownership as 58,175 acres.9

Rob Flint’s life after unloading his property is largely a mystery. In the 1930 census, he is living in a boarding house in San Francisco and working as a foreman at an “oil company”. His marital status is given as “single”; perhaps he never married. A “Robert Flint” is listed in various San Francisco city directories as late as 1955, but the data are so skimpy that it is impossible to determine whether any of the entries refer to “our” Robert Flint. I was unable to find him in any other U S census, or to discover a death record.

His brother George, however, maintained a much higher profile. Apparently he took over Rancho Nacimiento in about September 1894. His name appears in The Paso Robles Record numerous times in 1895. On 25 May the newspaper had the following to say about him:

“The career of this young man in the brief period that has elapsed since his guardian was discharged, in connection with others who have figured in his affairs, will furnish a chapter of interesting reading covering nearly everything from romance to robbery, the details of which the Record hopes to be able to lay before its readers in some future issue.”

It is not known whether the predicted account ever appeared in a future issue or what was meant by the reference to “robbery”. Apparently George was somewhat less fiscally reckless than his older brother Rob.

“The Nacimiento ranch, lying near San Miguel, owned by G. B. Flint, is being subdivided and leased for grain farming. . . . This move on the part of the young proprietor of that ranch shows business shreudness [sic], as it has been demonstrated that the stubble after the removal of a good crop of grain will afford more feed for stock than the natural growth without cultivation. The farming of this large tract will add much to the business of San Miguel.”10

The same issue of the newspaper noted that he had left on a trip to his home in Canada with his cousin, Peter Flint (Pirney’s son). He was back by 2 Mar, for on that date the paper reported that he had fired and started court proceedings against his ranch manager, bookkeeper, and cousin, Robert G Flint III (another son of Pirney’s) because of $5000 “received by [Robert] and not paid over or satisfactorily accounted for . . . This action is a surprise from the fact that the relations of these parties have been of the most friendly and confidential character.” The case was eventually dismissed.

On 23 Mar the Record reported that “Young Geo. B. Flint of the Nacimiento ranch was recently married in San Francisco to Miss Olive Holmes of that city.” In the 1880 census Olive Holmes, 4, was one of four children of Russell and Allie Holmes, who lived in San Luis Obispo.

“. . . Geo. B. Flint, of the Nacimiento ranch, has a carload of lumber at San Miguel, and we understand he will fit up a dairy and hog ranch at Mustang springs on the San Marcos creek. The location and natural facilities are well adapted to that purpose, and the move is an eminently wise one.”11
“‘The San Miguel Pleyto Road
“‘In pursuance to action taken by the Board of Supervisors at their last session, Supervisor Waite has given Geo. B. and Olive Flint, owners of the Nacimiento Ranch, notice to remove all obstructions in the road running west from San Miguel, across said ranch, within ten days. The obstructions referred to are gates that have been put up across said road within six or eight years past.
“We have been informed by an attorney, who is acting for the Flints, that the notice will be disregarded, and that a legal fight to the finish confronts the county authorities in their attempt to enforce the opening of the road.”12
“It will be noticed from the proceedings in the Superior Court this week, that Geo. B. Flint & Olive Flint, his wife, have sued San Luis Obispo County, to enjoin its officials from removing the obstructions (gates) from the road from San Miguel to Pleyto, across the Nacimiento ranch. . . . This will bring the question of the existence of a public road on that route to an authoritative decision.”13

The road issue was not resolved until after George had sold the ranch.

“A large amount of new land is being broken and sown to wheat on the Nacimiento ranch immediately south of the Nacimiento river, and west of the railroad.”14

Sometime in late 1895 or early 1896, George Flint sold Rancho Nacimiento to A F Benton, an Australian. Benton soon sold the ranch to Baron von Schroeder, a German war hero.

In the 1900 census George and Olive Flint are living in “El Paso de Robles City”, they own their house free of mortgage and George’s occupation is “capitalist”. In that time, “capitalist” did not have quite the pejorative connotations it now carries. In 1910 they still lived in a mortgage-free house, but it was in Sacramento; George’s occupation is given as “own income”. On his 1918 World War I draft card, George—medium height, medium build, brown eyes, black hair—was working as a boilermaker at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, CA. Olive was still in Sacramento.

In the 1920 census George and Olive were in Sacramento, living with Olive’s widowed mother, Alice Watts. George had no occupation. In a 1926 Sacramento city directory, George was a machinist; in a 1934 directory he was a rancher. In the 1935 directory Olive was widowed, after George’s death on 10 Jan. She outlived George by a quarter of a century, dying in 196015, still in Sacramento. There is no sign that they ever had children.

Notes

1 San Miguel Inland Messenger, 10 Sep 1886.

2 Ohles (1997), p 128.

3 Flint, M (1892).

4 The Paso Robles Record, 18 Jan 1896.

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5 San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Sep 1894, p 10, c 4. A naphtha launch, sometimes called a "vapor launch", was a small motorboat, powered by a naphtha engine. They were an American design, instigated by a U S law that forbade the operation of a steam launch without a licensed engineer aboard. Like the steam engine, the naptha engine is an external combustion engine. The naphtha replaces a steam engine's water, and is also burned to heat the boiler. Naphtha, or white gasoline, is a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum.
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6 San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Nov 1896, p 7, c 7.

7 San Diego Union, 25 Dec 1896, p 3. Canaigre, or wild rhubarb, or tanner's dock, Rumex hymenosepalus, has tannin-rich tuberous roots formerly used for tanning and in herbal medicine.

8 Ohles (1997), p 257.

9 "San Juan Ranch History".

10 The Paso Robles Record, 20 Jan 1895.

11 Ibid, 29 Jun 1895.

12 Ibid, 19 Oct 1895.

13 Ibid, 2 Nov 1895.

14 Ibid, 21 Dec 1895.

15 California Death Index.

Background pattern from Absolute Background Textures .