My husband, Greg, and I are the fifth generation to step up to run his family’s ranch in northern California. We feel very grateful to have the opportunity to tend the same land that his family has been caring for over 100 years.
Neither Greg nor I knew a single thing about ranching or land management prior to moving to Likely in 2014. Since then, we have dedicated our days to learning as much as possible about agriculture.
History of the Ranch
This part of our story begins smack dab in the middle of westward expansion of the US. Like many, the Flournoy's headed west in pursuit of gold.
They left Lyn County, Missouri horseback with their cattle in tow on May 1st, 1864. Shortly after their arrival, they decided to sell their cattle in Idaho at sky high prices and made quite a profit due to the post-war economic downturn. The country was recovering from a depression, and the gold supply was dwindling. What was once a booming era full of opportunity and prosperity became a time where families were left with very little.
The Flournoy family took their profits and settled in Yolo, County where they called home before moving to Jess Valley, California in Modoc County in 1898.
It is Jess Valley we still call home to this day. John D. and Arthur Flournoy began building the foundation of a beautiful heritage that has withstood over five generations in Modoc County. Arthur Flournoy had ten children, four of whom called themselves ranchers: Don, Warren, Rob, and Kenneth. Together, the four brothers ran the ranch until eventually splitting the property into four divisions. Over the years of ranching, the property was restored into three separate holdings now known as Willow Creek Ranch, Likely Land and Livestock, Jess Valley Land and Cattle. Our neighbors, cousins, and friends continue to manage Willow Creek Ranch & Likely Land and Livestock while we oversee Jess Valley Land and Cattle.
Jess Valley is a very special place at the base of the Warner Mountains where the grass seems to never stop growing in the summer. Although the winters are as cold as Alaska, we all warm up in the cookhouse after feeding. Greg's uncle, Rodney, has been managing the ranch for the past 20 years and is known for his quirkiness. Rodney has introduced us to doing things the old-fashioned way like: cooking on a wood burning cook stove, feeding cattle with horse drawn wagons, and restoring things rather than buying things.
Before moving to the ranch in 2014, I had never been around cattle and certainly didn't know how to drive a horse team, but over the years I have learned that happiness seems to lie in those forgotten old world traditions. Living out here sometimes feels like being inside of an old western where cowboys, horses, and cattle are just part of the day-to-day life.
It certainly wasn't my plan to plant my roots in Modoc County, and many of my friends and most of my family didn't think I would last more than a year on the range, but I can't imagine my life any other way now. Of course, it was quite a transition moving from a large city to a small town with a population of 99, and it isn't always easy - things aren't always picture perfect, but being able to head out to move cattle on any given afternoon or simply eat dinner with the crew is a wonderful gift. While I used to draw so much of my identity from a new pair of shoes or outfit, I now find bits of happiness under the California sunshine in the middle of a hay field. I can't forget to mention our wonderful community that welcomed Greg and I with open arms. This was something I never experienced while living in the city, and didn't expect to find in such a small town. Where we lack in population, we make up for in belonging.
On any given Saturday you might find a group of neighboring cowboys & cowgirls helping each other brand or a mom watching over at least three kids not her own just to "lend a hand". Together we spend our days growing hay, raising cattle, and doing a little swing dancing in between.