Today I was lucky enough to get a tour of the M & T Ranch to the west of Chico. The tour was arranged by April Morehead Pryor for her OLLI Butte County history class. The tour was led by Les Heringer, the ranch manager. He gave us quite a lot of information, both historical and current.
M & T Ranch comprises 8500 acres bounded on the north by Big Chico Creek and on the west by the Sacramento River. It is part of the original Farwell Grant of 22,000 acres, or five Spanish square leagues. That ranch was granted to Edward Farwell in 1844, but he was not to enjoy it long. In 1845 he sold the northern half (on which the M & T sits) to the Williams brothers, James and John, and going back east for an eye operation, there died. John Bidwell administered his estate and sold the southern half of the ranch to John Potter.
The handsome water tower which you see above was built by David Reavis sometime in the 1860s after he acquired the ranch. Although no longer used to store water, it is carefully maintained by Les and his crew.
Reavis grew wheat and bred horses. From the top of the tower he could watch his horses being exercised. and get a bird’s-eye view of races at the ranch’s nearby racetrack.
In his diary, John Bidwell records in December 3, 1872, that “D.M. Reavis paid me $25 towards recording Farwell patent.”
Reavis went bankrupt in 1878 and the ranch was sold. I am not sure who acquired it at that time, but sometime around 1900 it was bought by James D. Phelan, the mayor of San Francisco, who had it until his death in 1930. It was bought by partners from San Francisco — M and T — whose names I can’t remember. Their name has remained on the ranch, although it is now owned by PacTrust of Portland, Oregon.
The 8500-acre M & T Ranch has some 6000 acres in production. More than half of the acreage in is walnuts, and it seems as if there are walnut trees as far as the eye can see. They also grow almonds, prunes, and a little rice. A large portion of the land along the Sacramento River is a riparian reserve.
If anyone knows more about the history of that beautiful water tower, please feel free to contribute a comment.