"Cattle raising is a happy life." --from "Happy Days in Southern California," an 1898 book by Frederick H. Rindge, owner of Rancho Malibu
For a month now, Thom Slosson has been selling off the Herefords and the Brahma-Angus mixed-breeds from the family ranch in Zuma Canyon. Even "Little Bit," more pet than breeder after 10 years at the ranch, was sent to market the week before Christmas.
The old brown polo pony has been offered to a camp for handicapped children. And Slosson and his father, James, have uprooted more than four dozen rose bushes to take away when they leave next week.
Thom Slosson is closing down his Sliding S Ranch, the last cattle-raising operation in Malibu. He is bound for a tract house in Simi Valley and he is not happy. "It throws a total wrench into my life system," he said.
But his ranch must make way for a vast new park. Zuma Canyon, all 1,500 acres of it, has been sold to the state and federal governments by Slosson's landlord, the Adamson Cos., a partnership of the heirs of Malibu pioneer Frederick H. Rindge, who acquired the property in 1890.
Permission to Graze Animals
The transaction was completed Monday, one day before a deadline imposed by Adamson. By next Monday, Slosson will be out, sealing the end of the cattle-raising era in the Malibu canyons.
Malibu's cattle business began in 1802 when the Spanish commander of the Santa Barbara garrison gave permission to Jose Bartoleme Tapia to graze his animals there.
The death of cattle ranching was foreshadowed when the Adamsons, who once operated Adohr Farms dairy, moved the last of their herds out of Zuma Canyon in 1968.
Even then, the company was trying to decide what to do with its holdings. By the mid-1970s, the choices were familiar ones to landowners in the Santa
Monica Mountains: Try, despite environmental and bureaucratic restrictions, to develop the property, in this case as a hotel, golf course or housing; or sell the canyon for parkland.
When the National Park Service and the state Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy were able to come up with $8 million between them, the Adamson Cos. decided to sell.
The Slossons did not discount the possibility of eviction when they first leased the Zuma Canyon property in 1973.
They had firsthand knowledge of the process. The Slossons had raised cattle and horses for nine years at Trippett Ranch in Topanga. They moved their livestock to Zuma only because Trippett was sold to the state Department of Parks and Recreation and they were ordered to leave. James Slosson was not about to give up his full-time job as a geologist and he wasn't about to move to Zuma from his San Fernando Valley home, either.
But the father and son worked to repair barbed-wire fences and replace stolen watering troughs. They built a barn and a corral.
In 1980, after Thom Slosson got his geology degree from USC, he moved to a mobile home among the sycamores at the canyon's base, at the northern end of Bonsall Drive.
He settled in with his wife, Lynn, their golden retriever, their Australian cow dog, the 4 cats, 7 horses and 30 to 40 cattle at any given time.
Now, at 31, he is used to the ranch life. He wears cowboy clothes: boots, faded jeans, a plaid flannel shirt, a wide-buckled belt, a straw hat.
He comes home from his job to a four-acre plot filled with geraniums, roses and oak trees. Avocado trees are evenly spaced on a nearby hillside; a wild mustang he is training stands tethered in the yard.
There are bad memories: the rainy season when the creek rose and trapped the Slossons in their house for a week, the 1978 fire caused by one spark that got in the barn just after 40 tons of hay had been delivered.
But to Slosson, those hazards, and the hard work of running the ranch, are outweighed by the pleasures of living in the canyon, with thousands of acres at his disposal, for just $1,000 a month.
When the rain comes, he knows to head for Coyote Casino, the name of a rise to the west of his house. "You can see the thunder and lightning coming in over the ocean," he said.
On clear nights, he can pick out satellites in the dark sky, moving past masses of stars.
On clear days, he can climb a mesa to the north for a view of the Pacific that includes the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Catalina Island, Point Dume and the Channel Islands.
And when he is riding a horse over the 30 miles of trails, he knows any number of creekside spots where he can dismount and relax.
"I know this place backwards and forwards as far as where every little trail goes, from chasing cattle down the canyon," Slosson said.
He has become part of the community. He serves as a reserve deputy sheriff. And he belongs to a local riding club and the search-and-rescue team that helps stranded hikers and motorists.
But he has no place else in Malibu to go.
Any property with enough flat or rolling land for cattle to graze on has long since been built upon or purchased for parks. And the price of most Malibu homes is beyond his range.