Saddle Rock Ranch Is Now Memorial to Coast Pioneer

By Mabel Plaskett

              “Who was Julia Pfeiffer Burns?”

              Saddlerock Ranch, just north of Anderson Creek on Cabrillo Highways, is famous for the unique rock lying off shore so greatly resembling a saddle it gave the ranch its name.

              In 1962 this ranch consisting of 900 acres was donated to the Division of Parks and Beaches and in September 1962 a large bronze plaque was installed. The plaque rests on a two ton granite rock at the side of the coast highway and bears this inscription.

              “This park dedicated to public use by Lathrop Brown and Helen Hooper Brown in memory of Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a true pioneer.”

              Tourists, stopping to read the inscription, often ask, “Who was Julia Pfeiffer Burns?”

              To answer this question we must go back to November 1869 when the old side wheeler “Sierra Nevada” pulled out of San Francisco, carrying on board Michael Pfeiffer, his young wife, Barbara and their four children Charley, John, Mary Ellen and Julia.

              THE HOUSING above the paddle wheel was used as a corral for Pfeiffer’s cattle, brought from Marin County where he had been engaged in dairying since 1858 when he had led a wagon train across the plains from Illinois and settled there.

              This was not Michael’s first trip to California. He came out during the gold rush, worked in the gold fields in Sierra County a few years returned to Illinois where he married young Barbara Locke, a native of France, and brought her to California and ultimately to the Big Sur country where they founded a dynasty—a long line of intrepid pioneers who succeeded in conquering a wilderness.

              The Sierra Nevada chugged into the calm waters of Monterey Bay after two days of rough weather. Seasick and miserable, Mrs. Pfeiffer got her four children ashore and prepared for the worst part of the journey over 40 miles of Indian trail leading at last to Sycamore Canyon which was to be home from then on.

              Michael Pfeiffer homesteaded and preempted additional acres of rich virgin land well suited to the dairy business.

              At this time wild animals abounded in the Big Sur area. Grizzly bear and mountain lions attacked the stock and deer raided the gardens. It was a constant struggle for survival. However, game was plentiful and a garden produced the year round, and in spite of early hardships the family prospered. Their Indian neighbors proved friendly and helpful and came to depend on Barbara Pfeiffer’s stock of medicine when one of their little ones became ill.

              FOUR MORE children were born in the Sycamore Canyon home—William, Adelida and the twins, Frank and Flora Katherine. As the Pfeiffer family grew up they homesteaded and settled on nearby land until it was said in the Big Sur country “there was a Pfeiffer on every hill.”

              One by one the family left to marry and make homes of their own until only Julia was left to carry on. Except for a short time in 1890 when she worked for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bardin in Salinas and later for Godfrey Notley who founded a boom town at Notley landing where tanbark was shipped, Julia remained at the Sycamore Canyon home.

              Julia loved the home, and well she might for it was in a beautiful setting near the sea where the famous Pfeiffer Beach drew thousands of visitors each summer. The only entrances to the beach is through the Pfeiffer ranch.

              Julia was adept to any kind of ranch work. She shod the horses, plowed the fields, harvested the hay crop and looked after the cattle. She could ride and rope as well as any man.

              ALL THROUGH the busy years of ranch work Julia had no time to think of romance or marriage. Her interest lay in running the home ranch and caring for her parents. However, the day came when one John Burns came courting and Julia looked with favor on the bonny Scotchman.

              John Burns was an orphan who spent his early years with the Post family, who had settled on Post hill not far south of the Pfeiffers. The Posts, like most early settlers, were fine hospitable people and young John Burns found a good home life with them.

              There was just one obstacle in the way of Julia’s marriage, her aging parents must have someone to carry on for them. Hopefully, Julia wrote to her youngest brother Frank and was overjoyed when he consented to come home and take over for his parents. So Julia became the bride of John Burns at a church ceremony in Monterey in 10915.

              The young couple’s first home was on Saddlerock ranch which John leased from John T. Waters. This ranch was originally homesteaded by a man named McQuay who later sold to Waters. Young Burns raised cattle on the Water’s ranch and later acquired more pasture by leasing the Anderson Ranch on the south. Julia worked hard as she always had and became the dominant figure in the new regime. John Burns refused to ride a horse down the steep slopes and it is told how Julia was often seen riding pell mell down a ridge after a bunch of stray cattle with John far up the ridge picking his way down the rough slope leading his horse.

              STORIES, LIKE this, of her intrepid courage made the life of Julia Burns a legend as the years went by.

              The next move of the couple was to Slates Hot Springs where they rented a house from Dr. Murphy. Hot Springs was inactive at that time with the trail leading to the bath house grown over. In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Archer bought the Water’s place, but Burns continued leasing it.

              In 1924 Mr. and Mrs. Lathrop Brown came from New York and were attracted to the beauties of the area along the south coast. They visited the Burns family at Hot Springs and at once a friendship sprang up between Julia Burns and Helen Hooper Brown that was to endure through the years.

              The Browns bought the Archer place in 1924 and the ladies spent many pleasant hours, riding and  wandering in the hills. Julia’s favorite haunt was the little waterfall below the cliff. A steep trail led to the little beach where Mrs. Brown with her two little girls Camilla and Halla with their beloved Julia often sat by the waterfall and marveled at the nearby Saddlerock.

              These little girls still talk about spending vacations with Julia Burns always ending with, “She was so good to us.” Camilla is now Mrs. Mathew Jenkins of Pebble Beach and Halla is a doctor in Washington, D.C. The name of her office door is Dr. Halla Brown. Her husband is an author by the name of Rosenbaum.

              THE LAST YEAR the Burns spent on the coast was at the old home in Sycamore Canyon where they raised hay on shares. About this time Julia’s health began to fail and they decided to move nearer town. They bought 100 acres in the Buena Vista area near Salinas from Minnie Wetjen and moved there in 1927.

              Julia had not long to enjoy her new home as she died of a heart attack January 25, 1928 and was laid to rest in the old cemetery in Monterey.

              After the funeral Mrs. Brown sent a check for $50 to John Burns with this message, “I can do nothing more for Julia, please have some choice flowering shrubs planted at her graveside.” However, this was not her final act of love.

              The dedication on the plaque at Saddlerock ranch attests to the great love of Helen Hooper Brown for Julia Pfeiffer Burns, a true pioneer.

Mabel Plaskett
Author Mabel Plaskett

Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.