The Pine Ridge Ranch


The patriarch of the Coe family in the west, Henry Willard Coe, Sr., was born in Northwood, New Hampshire in 1820.  As a young man, he attempted several business enterprises in the east, but he failed to achieve financial success, and in 1847 he came west and established a homestead near Portland, Oregon.

In 1849 when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, he joined the rush to California and worked at mining with varied success for several years.  In 1858 he returned to the east and married the young woman who patiently waited for him for many years, Hannah Huntington Smith.  Together they returned to California and settled on a ranch in Willow Glen where Henry raised hops.  He developed a method for sulfuring fruit and also experimented with raising silkworms.

Once again financial success eluded him, and he sold his hop ranch and purchased a cattle ranch, the San Felipe Ranch, in the Evergreen District of San Jose.  The couples' sons, Henry Jr., popularly known as Harry, and his younger brother, Charles, spent their teen years on the ranch.  Cattle ranching and the cowboy lifestyle captured the boys' imaginations, and when they reached maturity, they began to file homestead claims south and east of their father's ranch, the beginning of a cattle empire all their own.

coe brothers

Charles Coe described the brothers' homestead at Cold Flat in these words: "Coe Bros. Original Cold Valley 'camp,' 1883.  It is seven miles to the nearest dwelling.  The hills is (sic) the home of the grizzly bear, California lions, deer, lynx, wild cats, foxes, coons, coyotes, quail, hare, rabbits, and squirrels.  The streams afford good fishing."

Between 1889 and 1904, they filed ten homestead claims and also purchased land from homesteaders who were selling out.  They sought out the best land; land that contained year 'round springs and broad meadows for grazing cattle and raising hay.  In 1892 they purchased Pine Ridge Ranch from John and Priscilla Thomas.  This purchase not only provided them with plentiful springs but also with access to the commercial centers of Santa Clara Valley by way of an old road to San Jose that followed a narrow ridgeline west of ranch headquarters, then dropped into the valley and on to the home ranch, San Felipe. In 1895 they added the Arnold homestead to their ranch; the meadows north of Manzanita Point would be used to grow hay for their cattle.

The cattle baron, Henry Miller, had a reputation for never selling any of his land, but in 1896 he sold the Coe brothers the Miller Field on the east fork of Coyote Creek.  The brothers were especially pleased with the acquisition, and Miller Field became the place where they gathered their cattle.  The cattle spent the spring and summer at Pine Ridge, but were returned to San Felipe in the fall when water and feed became scarce in the hills.

The Miller Cabin

Harry Coe is standing on the left corner of the cabin; Rhoda Coe is on the far right. Mike Mahoney is seated by the Dutch oven; a homesteading necessity.

The log cabin at Miller Field was used by the Coe family when they were gathering their cattle.  Harry's son remembered, "Forty, fifty guys came in to help gather the cattle, and that holding pen is two hundred and fifty acres.  They had the 'crick' to get a drink and there were corrals there.  We did our branding there.  I still remember that.  I was five or six years old.  I was scared to death of rattlesnakes when I was sleeping in that log house."

In 1901, Charles married Leontine Carteri, descendent of an old Santa Barbara family.  The couple moved into the former home of Civil War General Naglee on the corner of 12th and San Fernando Streets in San Jose.  Harry married Rhoda Dawson Sutcliffe, a native of Nova Scotia, in 1905.  Rhoda attended nursing school in Bangor, Maine and  served as a nurse in the Spanish American War.  She was nursing Charles and Leontine's son, Eben, back to health following a bout of pneumonia when she and Harry met.  The newly constructed ranch house at Pine Ridge became the couples' first home.

In 1907 Charles and Henry ended their partnership.  Charles turned his interest to real estate while Harry devoted his attention to the ranches at San Felipe and Pine Ridge.  His son, Henry Sutcliffe, was born in Oakland in 1906, and his daughter, Sada, was born in San Jose in 1910.  Harry purchased a home on south 11th Street in San Jose so his family could enjoy the convenience and advantages of city living.  He continued to divide his time between his cattle ranches. 

His daughter, Sada, fell in love with the hills at an early age.  "In the cold dark month of December, I suddenly came howling into the world . . .   The world I grew to know was mountains and ranges!  Wilderness and long horned cattle!  My cradle was my father's strong arms and a blanket across the front of his saddle."  The Lost Trails of Santa Clara

Though the schooling deemed proper for a girl in the early 1900s often kept Sada away from her beloved hills, when it was over, she returned to them to help her father on the ranch.  In 1932 Sada married Charles Robinson, and for a few years she and her husband managed Pine Ridge before purchasing a ranch of their own in Gilroy.  "Here in the mountains there was no sense of time.  Our clock was the sunrise and sunset.  Days meant nothing . . . One day ran on into the next . . .  Work went on from daylight to dark.  Riding!  Gathering!  Branding!"  The Lost Trails of Santa Clara

sada charlie

Harry Coe died in 1943.  He left both the San Felipe Ranch and Pine Ridge Ranch to his son, Henry Sutcliffe Coe.  Sada inherited the family's valuable Maine timberlands.

In 1947, in the first of a series of fateful events, Henry Sutcliffe sold Pine Ridge Ranch to O.S. Beach, a Fresno County rancher.  Two years later, in 1949, Beach sold Pine Ridge to Sada.  For a while, Sada, now divorced, lived at Pine ridge alone, running a few head of cattle.  It must have been a very poignant time in her life as she sought to recapture the spirit of a way of life that was fast disappearing.  Dramatic changes for Santa Clara Valley were waiting in the wings, and Sada must have felt their presence.  She also understood the basic human need for wilderness.

On August 15, 1953, Sada donated Pine Ridge to Santa Clara County for a park to be named in memory of her father.  "From out of the hills would come the peace of one's soul and food for the power of thought."   George Besson and James Beadnell, Santa Clara County park rangers, took turns watching over the park, keeping the gate locked to keep people out.  George Besson remarked, "The county didn't do anything to the park; the county didn't want it."  In August, 1958, the State of California purchased Pine Ridge from Santa Clara County for the token sum of $10.00.

Sada Coe Robinson passed away in San Jose, California, on November 2, 1979.  Her eulogy included these words:  "Most of the old cowboys said she could ride a horse almost as well as the men.  A few, probably the more honest ones, said she could outdo any of the men."

"Over the hills to the great divide.  Life is such a little while."