Mountain Valley Child & Family Services History – A 50th Anniversary Address
from Dick Milhous
Today we are celebrating 50 years of helping young boys grow-up on a genuine ranch. I would like to share some history of the Milhous family, and how they arrived in North San Juan, and set the stage for where you are today.
The Nevada City Ranch
This is a short story about the Milhous Ranch, but more importantly a tribute to two people who started this, and their contributions to keep it going. I’m talking about Oliver and Frances Milhous, the parents of my brother Frank and me—and the grandparents of Christine, Brian, Teresa, and Roy.
Mothers are the internal strength of a family. Frances was born in Bakersfield, California in 1922 as Frances Jeanette Baudino, a 100% Italian. Oliver was born in Lindsay, California, in 1917, a mixture of everything from Europe. Oliver was one of eleven children, all of them raised as Quakers. I think it’s important to hear about their life and to have a better idea of who they were and what they meant to so many people.
In 1940, Oliver and Frances were married and started a dairy in Bakersfield with two hundred cows, which supplied milk to the military during World War II. Frank and I were born in Lindsay, California during that same time.
In 1950, more than two-thirds of a century ago, Dad and Mom bought a 600-acre ranch here in North San Juan for ten dollars an acre. The ranch had no buildings, no roads, and no lakes, except one small shack with one ten-by-ten room, which served as a stagecoach stop over 100 years ago. That shack is still standing in the same spot today. Frank was 9 years old and I was 10.
There were no conveniences of any kind and no such thing as a tub or shower. There was no electricity, no running water, no telephone, and no bathroom. Oliver, Frances, Dick, and Frank moved into that one-room stagecoach shack which became our home for the next two years. There were no lights other than kerosene lanterns. If we had to use the outhouse at night, we carried the lanterns with us. Sometimes, Frank or I would ask Mom to follow us and protect us from some of the real mountain lions and black widow spiders that were out in the dark. To tell the truth, I asked Mom for protection. Frank was braver than I was—because he always went to the outhouse by himself.
We grew our own food – fruits and vegetables, meat and milk. During those years, we ate healthy because the food we produced was organic—although we didn’t know that at the time. Under Dad’s direction, we cleared the brush with axes and an old chainsaw. The 200 acres of open space that you see on the ranch today was cleared during those early years when Dick and Frank were this tall. Then we built nine lakes with a tiny tractor in the evenings and on the weekends.
Frank and I went to elementary school at Columbia Hill, a one-room schoolhouse with a wood-burning stove in the middle, a belfry with a rope hanging down to ring the bell for recess, and sixteen kids in grades one through eight. Frank and I graduated the 8th grade from Columbia hill. When the creeks were running high, mom or dad gave Frank and me a ride on the back of a horse to the bus stop, which was Tyler foot Road.
Mom chopped firewood to heat the dishwater and warm the shack. Just like, you see on TV’s Little house on the Prairie. She patched our clothes, milked the cows, fed and watered the animals, and then cooked our dinner on the wood stove when we got home from School and dad from work. In the evening, when it was bathing time, we all took turns heating a bucket of hot water on the wood stove to fill the one-man tub for our daily bath.
Two years later, we harvested timber off the ranch, milled the lumber with a portable sawmill, and built the ranch house, which still stands today and looks the same as it did 68 years ago. Oliver and Frances lived in that house for the rest of their lives and never thought once about moving anywhere else.
A Ranch & Foster Home for 54 Boys
Three years later, Mom and Dad added another duty to their life when they started a foster home that cared for fifty-four boys, including six kids from the same family. Mom and Dad had four bears and six mountain lions during their time on the ranch and raised two bears and two mountain lion cubs – in their kitchen. Dad was comfortable around animals and had a wild game breeder’s license to keep exotic animals like deer, coyotes, raccoons, strange birds, buffalos, and other animals.
Dad was known to be a little mischievous. It was not unusual for him to bring animals into the house to join us for dinner. More than once, he brought the bear in the house and tried to get him to set on the couch to watch TV, that didn’t work too well. Mom was not impressed. Then, occasionally he would bring in one of the smaller horses – put some grain on a plate and let the horse eat dinner with us. Mom was not impressed with that either. The highlight of the day was swimming in the lakes – cooling-off – with our black bears.
In 1968, 50 years ago this month, Dad asked Frank and me if we would help him and Mom start a boys’ ranch. — Dad and Frank shut down their construction business, and I quit Aero Jet, and six months later, we opened Milhous Boys Ranch, which had one bunkhouse for 6 kids. 5 employees made up the entire workforce at the ranch: Oliver and Frances, Dick and Janet, and Frank. We made good use of Dad and Frank’s construction equipment, allowing boys to spend time driving the tractors, trucks, and backhoes – by themselves to get the full experience of being a ranch hand.
We had select crews of boys who were equipment operators for the trucks and tractors that maintained ranch property. We also had crews in training that cared for ranch animals, horseback riding, herding cattle, and springtime roundups. Feeding thirty horses and a hundred head of cattle, one hundred reindeers, buffalos, monkeys, bears and mountain lions – is time-consuming and a daily obligation.
Early in the mornings, the milking team would head out to the barn for the 6 AM milking. On their way to the barn, the boys would stop by to say hello to sparky the bear. Sparky’s house was over there near the baseball field. Actually, it was a daily event for staff and boys to go by and wrestle sparky. We would line up 10 boys at a time to take their turn at wrestling the bear. Sparky was absolutely insulted if you went past him and didn’t stop by to wrestle with him. Now, if you wondered what happened to the 10 boys that we sent in to the bear, well, they were all worn-out from the wrestling match and our 800-pound Sparky was looking for 10 more wrestlers – there is no doubt as to who wins that contest. The other unusual treat was to go down to mom’s house and say hello to Princess the mountain lion. If you were ever curious – do mountain lions purr just like your house cat, — yes they do – it’s a vibration – only thing is – it’s a lot louder and a whole lot more intimidating – not quite so cutesy.
Dad especially enjoyed loading up Sparky in the back of his pickup truck, and head to town to get the bear his weekend ice cream. That consisted of forty ice cream cones in a bucket and the folks standing around were amazed to see Sparky licking the bottom of the bucket after his ice cream feast. In addition, people were flabbergasted by the sight of Oliver driving his white pickup truck down Highway 49 – with an 800-pound bear sticking his head out the side, sniffing at the wind. Most of the locals were used to that sight and just waved at Dad and the bear as they went by.
The Ranch Today
Since those days, the staffing has grown from five people to over 200. Since 1968, the company has had different names – started as Milhous Boys Ranch – then changed to FORM Vocational School, and then to Milhous Children’s Services and today as Mountain Valley Child and Family Services – 50 years with an estimated 5,000 kids and 5,000 employees have gone thru these buildings.
For two thirds of a century, the Milhous Ranch, with all its animals, equipment, and beautiful terrain, has had a unique history of always being — a boys ranch. One of our friends said, “If you never met Oliver or Frances Milhous, you missed an opportunity to know some special people.”
Oliver was known to all the boys as “Dad.” No one ever called him anything else. And Frances was always “Mom” to the boys. They all sought her out – as the pillar of the family. They enjoyed her attention, and she would get many hugs every day. Her maternal influence somehow helped to refine many of those boys. Without Mom, cooking the meals and sewing their socks, and with Janet’s help, the place wouldn’t have been the same. Mom had a calming influence, which was especially helpful with the tough boys who truly missed having a good home life. Moreover, they all showed her respect by never talking back to her or disobeying any of her requests. Mom was their mom.
Men – who were – once placed with us as young boys, still call back to ask if Mom and Dad are still there? Does the ranch still look the same? They ask, “Is Sparky the bear still there” – “Is Princess the Mountain Lion still alive?” The answer is they are not.
It’s a GREAT sight today – seeing all of you here. After 50 years, we are here today – doing our jobs and taking over where Oliver and Frances left off. Their plans were to keep this operational – as a boy’s ranch. We are doing just that – you, Mountain Valley people I thank each of you. Have a good time today and thanks for listening.