Your Gateway to the Western Frontier
Surrounded by cottonwoods and watered by three natural springs, the present Gilman Ranch site has attracted people throughout time. The superb location of this canyon with an exceptional food and water supply offered a prime habitation site for the Cahuilla Indians in this area.
Later, under the Spanish government, this site was originally part of the San Gorgonio Rancho, the farthest outlying cattle ranch of Mission San Gabriel. The Rancho was later claimed by but never granted to three Anglo settlers: Isaac Williams, Powell Weaver and Wallace Woodruff. The first permanent landmark in the Banning area was an adobe house constructed in 1854 on the present Gilman Ranch site by Jose Pope, Mayordomo (ranch foreman) for Isaac Hills. Pope raised cattle for a time and then sold his land to sheep rancher G.S. Chapin 1862. A year later, Chapin sold his property to stageman and local entrepreneur Newton Noble. Noble lived in the adobe, converted it into a stage stop and opened the first post office in the San Gorgonio Pass in 1868.
Noble’s property lay along the Bradshaw Trail, a heavily traveled route from Los Angeles to Arizona during 1860s and 1870s. The trail was originally part of the network of Indian trails that William D. Bradshaw, miner and freight driver, learned from Cahuilla and Maricopa Indians. The Bradshaw Trail became an important communication route for federal troops as they expanded control over Arizona and New Mexico. During the last years of the Civil War, the trail was the only way in and out of southern California by stage. With the advent of the railroad, staging ceased in the 1880s, but the Bradshaw trail remained a freight route. A remnant of the trail can still be seen on the Gilman Ranch.
Originally from New Hampshire, James Marshall Gilman moved west during the early 1860s, operating a mercantile business in The Dalles, Oregon. In 1869 Gilman came to southern California looking for a cattle ranch to buy. While staying in San Bernardino he heard about 160 acres for sale in the San Gorgonio Pass. Gilman met with Noble and purchased the land and about 200 head of horses and cattle and continued to operate the stage stop. In 1871 Gilman married Martha Benoist Smith, daughter of the first pioneer settler in the Pass, Dr. Isaac Smith. They lived in the adobe until 1879, when they began construction of the ranch house, later building on a two-story Eastlake style addition, which was lost in a fire in 1977 and was later rebuilt. The Gilmans eventually raised seven children.
At its peak the Gilman Ranch consisted of 500 acres. During the 1880s, Gilman gradually shifted from cattle raising to dry farming barley, wheat and oats. He eventually emphasized fruit production, for which the ranch is best known, growing such crops as raisins, grapes, figs, prunes, apricots, peaches, almonds and olives.
Although the Gilman Ranch was a successful ranching and agricultural enterprise, it is best known in connection with the last great western manhunt of Willie Boy, a Paiute Indian who wished to marry a young woman named Carlotta against her father’s wishes. She and her family were camped at the Gilman Ranch working on the fruit harvest when Willie Boy killed her father and escaped with her. Although marriage by capture was an old Paiute custom, Willie Boy’s actions outraged the Anglo community. A presidential visit to the Riverside area stoked the press into a frenzy, leading the public to believe that there was a danger to then President Taft. The manhunt received national press coverage. Willie Boy avoided the posse for three weeks before he died by his own hand.
Today the Gilman Historic Ranch and Wagon Museum preserves, celebrates, and interprets the history of California, from the Cahuilla Indians to the exploration and settlement of southern California and the San Gorgonio Pass, including the homestead ranch of James Marshall Gilman. Come and explore your gateway to the western frontier.