The ranching support system also declined. With development, stores which sold parts, chemicals and basic ranching supplies moved east to the Central Valley. Traffic came with suburban development and modern roads are no longer available for cattle drives; today cattle are loaded on trucks for transport.
Ranchers coped by selling land for development near the freeway, putting conservation easements over their property and running cattle on EBRPD lands. With few exceptions, East Bay ranchers today make their living away from their ranch and don’t depend on ranching for their main income.
The drought of the mid-seventies was a final straw for the Wiedemanns as grass for the cattle dried up. Accepting the inevitability of development, they sold land (now Twin Creeks) to Dame Homes, acreage on the eastern hills (now Canyon Lakes) to the Blackhawk Development Corporation, and part of their original ranch off Norris Canyon Road to Toll Brothers.
The Elworthys, Rasmussens and Wiedemanns do continue to ranch. And these families have reconciled to the changes. Ann Wiedemann Kaplan said in one interview: “It is too bad that it is all being developed, but what can you do? It is a beautiful area with wonderful climate and you can’t fault people for wanting to live here.” (SRV Herald, 5-8-1990)
In 1900, the San Ramon Valley was a mere 2727 people with small villages, farms and ranches covering the landscape. By year 2000 the area had been reshaped by housing developments, retail centers, Bishop Ranch Business Park and two incorporated cities. The 2010 valley population was 141,646.
While grazing exists in the Regional Parks and on some valley properties, most working ranches have moved east as development occurs. The impacts of post World War II growth and the vagaries of weather have transformed cattle ranching.
But the memories remain. Valley families recall the joys of ranch life, the hard work, the waving green spring grass, annual brandings and barbeques, and the neighborliness of a past era. In 1991, ranchers like Gordon Rasmussen affirm “This business gets in your blood. Even in tough times, when you could make other moves, you still get a kick out of it.”
Sources: Amme, David, Grassland Heritage, “Stewardship of a Changed Landscape,” in Bay Nature, April-June 2004.
California Historical Society magazines, Contested Eden: California Before the Gold Rush (1997) and A Golden State: Mining and Economic Development in Gold Rush California (1998/99).
Cleland, Robert Glass, A History of California, The American Period, NY: The Macmillan Co., 1939.
Contra Costa Times, Rasmussen quote, 10-17-1991.
Interviews and newspaper articles: Denise DeFreese, Gordon Rasmussen, Jeff Wiedemann, Don Wood, Pat Flanigan, Ann Kaplan.
Lane, Beverly, Yesteryear in the San Ramon Valley
Rutherford, Richard, “The $$$ Trend, Red and Black, A History of Agriculture in the San Ramon Valley,” The Valley Pioneer Centennial Edition, 9-4-1958.
SRV Herald, “San Ramon Ranchers Look Back.” 5-8-1990 -- Ann Kaplan.
SRV Times, 6-16-1985 -- Jeff Wiedemann quotation.
Wood, Don, Random Recollections of Things I’ve seen or Been Told, 10 page monograph, 2002
---------, Dougherty Valley album, 2008. museum archives.
-------, The Wood Ranch, Materials prepared for a CCC Historical Society tour of Wood Ranch in 1988