Rancher's activities are a badge of pride for descendants

The way we were | palomar mountain
San Diego Union Tribune
By Vincent Nicholas Rossi
September 16, 2007

The Mendenhall family has left its mark on Palomar Mountain, exemplified by the Mendenhall Valley. It was originally called the Malava Valley when Enos T. Mendenhall arrived in 1869.

"Anyone entering for the first time one of the mountain's beautiful valleys, rich with grass, watered by a perennial stream, closed in by wooded hills, may imagine the effect on Enos T. Mendenhall when he rode into Malava Valley," Marion Beckler wrote in her 1958 book, "Palomar Mountain: Past and Present."

Enos T. Mendenhall

Sylvester Jacob Mendenhall and his son Sylvester "Charlie" Charles Mendenhall

Born in 1822 in North Carolina, Enos Mendenhall was a descendant of Quakers who had come to North America with William Penn in the 1600s, said Arlie Bergman, Mendenhall's great-grandson, who has researched the family's history.

While Mendenhall was a young man, his family moved to Indiana, where he became a schoolteacher. In 1847, he pulled up stakes and joined a wagon train headed for Oregon. In Oregon, he met and married Rachel Emily Mills.

The young couple had a baby daughter and moved to California, first settling in San Francisco and then moving to the Sacramento area when the Gold Rush began. Eight more children were born to them, and six would live to adulthood. Mendenhall proved to be an entrepreneur, establishing a lumber mill and building three hotels, in Colfax, Sacramento and Grass Valley, according to Beckler's book. The site of his Colfax hotel, the Pioneer House, will be marked with a commemorative plaque Sept. 29, 2007, as part of the city's annual Pioneer Day celebration, said Leslie Bussinger, Colfax's administrative officer and youth program director.

Rachel Emily Mills Mendenhall, 
wife of Enos T. Mendenhall
This photo is from a book, "Nobility In The Rough", a personal family history and narrative of settlers in Placer County who knew the Mendenhalls

While living in Northern California, Mendenhall became acquainted with Alonzo Horton and Sam Striplin, who would become pioneer settlers of San Diego County. It was at the behest of Horton and Striplin that Mendenhall came to Southern California in 1869.

By some accounts, he was on a secret mission as a lawman. Both Beckler and Catherine Wood, in her 1937 book, "Palomar: From Tepee to Telescope," refer to the mountain as a haven for horse and cattle rustlers. Beckler describes Mendenhall as having "already proved himself" in "secret service" work with "Vigilantes Committees" in Northern California. He is said to have established a pig ranch as a cover for gathering information on illegal activities on the mountain.
A family genealogy compiled by two of Mendenhall's descendants in 1961 says he "aided the government in securing evidence toward conviction" of many wanted criminals who were living on the mountain.

Bergman said that while he has not been able to find corroborating documentation of Mendenhall's law enforcement activities, he felt it was "very probable" that his great-grandfather had come south at Horton and Striplin's urging to gather information about rustling activities.

Whatever his original motivation, Enos was a serious rancher in San Diego County. "Seeing the possibilities of the mountain," Wood wrote, Enos sent for three of his sons who were living in Northern California. "All took up claims when the land was thrown open for homesteading."

It was Enos' son Sylvester Jacob Mendenhall who led the transition from hogs to cattle raising, Bergman said. Palomar Mountain's numerous meadow valleys "provide good summer feed for cattle," Bergman said. The problem, he added, came with winter. "Two feet of snow is way too much for any kind of livestock to eat through."

So in addition to acquiring land on Palomar, the Mendenhalls bought property at the foot of mountain. The cattle would be driven down the mountain in the fall, then brought back up in March and April, Bergman said.

By the early part of the 20th century, the Mendenhalls owned more than 12,000 acres, and Sylvester had earned the nickname "Cattle King of Palomar Mountain."

Enos Mendenhall died in 1904, Sylvester in 1918. Bergman, Frank and Jim Mendenhall and other descendants of Enos still live and work on and around Palomar Mountain today.

Vincent Nicholas Rossi is a freelance writer who lives in Rancho Bernardo.

Thanks to Peter Brueggeman for scanning and providing the photos by request of Arlie and Coral Bergman.