Try 1 month for 99¢

Editor’s note: This is an adapted oral history of Joe Callizo, a longtime resident of Pope Valley, the remote, rural area in the northeastern corner of Napa County. The interview was conducted by cultural anthropologist Felicia Gobba Shinnamon on Sept. 28, 2006 and provided to the Register by the Napa County Historical Society in conjunction with their upcoming programs on Pope Valley. Joe Callizo lived in his home in Lower Lake until his death on Dec. 14, 2011, at age 74. The photographs also submitted by the society were Mr. Callizo’s.

My legal name is Peter Joseph Callizo, but everyone knows me as Joe. I was born at St. Helena Hospital (then known as the Sanitarium at Deer Park) on May 25, 1937. I’ve lived in Pope Valley 37 years of my life and I am nearly 70 years old now. My dad’s ranch was one of the first one in the valley.  

My father, Santiago Callizo, came from Spain in 1910, when he was 14 years old. He came to his cousin’s place in St. Helena, a ranch known as the Parrot Estate, which later became Falcon Crest.

My mother came from Italy, I believe in the early 1930s. I am the only child in this family. My dad was a farmer and rancher through and through, and my mother was a housekeeper, but more than a housekeeper, she was a farmer’s wife. Many times, she would have to do farm work, too, like moving animals. My dad was really a “jack of all trades,” a  hard worker, a person who accomplished a lot of work, and was successful. That was his life.  

There were no other Spaniards out here but there were several Italian families like Lito DaMonte. Somehow he started collecting hubcaps and that became Lito’s Hubcap Ranch with hubcaps hanging all over the fences. When I was a kid we would ride the roads on our bicycles to have an ice-cream bar at the store. If we saw a hubcap along the road, we would say “Let’s save that for Lito,” and we did.

 Before meeting my mom, Dad worked at his cousin’s ranch in order to pay off his passage. Then he went out on his own and worked all around St. Helena doing all sorts of jobs.

In the early 1930s something happened here that probably won’t ever happen again in the world. So many of the ranches were in default of payments for taxes and they came up for sale for next to nothing, so my dad found a few acres here, and as the years went by he added parcels around those few acres. The last acquisition was 650 acres. The owner of that 650 acres didn’t have enough money to pay his taxes so the county put it up for sale. They were going to auction it on the courthouse steps down in Napa. So my dad, a poor old dirt farmer, waited on the courthouse steps with $12,000 of his savings and was able to buy 650 acres.  

My dad had 35 head of cattle counting the adults, young females, and yearlings. That was about all that his 850-acre ranch could carry. On the property next to the county road he always planted hay and pastured the livestock there. Along the western edge of the property we had some harvestable timber.

One day, a company came along that wanted to buy this timber so they could make lumber. They set up a lumber mill right there at Swartz Canyon Bridge. Our friend, J. E. Troden, warned my dad that this was a “gyppo”outfit. Mr. Troden suggested to my dad that he let the company come in, cut and load up a truckload of logs, and lock the gate when they went out. When they returned, he shouldn’t let them in until they had paid for the load they had taken out.  

This system worked well until the gate was locked after their last load of wood and the company never returned to pay my dad. Things worked out all right in the end though because the company left a big piece of equipment on our property. It was a skid loader with a long cable that would wrap around a log and pull it into the loading place. After a few years somebody came around and offered to buy it from my dad and he sold it. He came out OK compared to the last load of wood.

Pope Valley was a highly diversified farming area with a lot of free enterprise. There were mechanics, store keepers, resorts, brick-making and wineries. We had a gas station at the Pope Valley Garage. There was a little grocery store. The food was kind of expensive here and there was not too much variety so we would often buy groceries in Napa.

We had a big vegetable garden with all kinds of vegetables. My mom canned fruit and we would eat it all year around. She was also a great sewer, knitter, and embroiderer. I can remember ladies coming to visit, like my aunt. They always brought out their needles to darn or knit; they talked for hours.

Although our nearest neighbors were an eighth of a mile away, we didn’t socialize very much. We had big family gatherings for holidays. Once a month there were card parties at the Farm Center.

Everyone was pretty self-sufficient; my dad could fix most things. If there was an emergency, however, we helped each other. One early morning our neighbor Ed Young’s house caught fire and one of his daughters ran an eighth of a mile to our house yelling “Our house is burning down.” My dad got over there immediately and so did a lot of other people. They did their best, but the house was a loser.

I attended Pope Valley schools through most of my childhood When I started school at the Hardin School on Pope Canyon Road around 1943 or 1944, there was one room, one teacher, and eight grades with about 35 students. The teacher also took care of the grounds and the janitorial work and, if that wasn’t enough, she would drive to Chile’s Valley in her own car each morning to pick up students there, bring them to school and take them home after school.

Our education here was excellent. Our teacher, Thelma Grotheguth, had some great techniques. In one room with eight grades, she would teach the older students first and have fifth grade students give the second grade students their reading lessons, and then she would have the fourth grade students give the younger students some other lessons. So she just worked her way back and forth like that in order to handle eight grades.

As kids we did all the things that other children did, we went swimming and fishing in any of the ponds out here. There were a lot of ponds built after the 1950s and we also fished in the creeks, Pope Creek primarily. Our favorite place to swim was down at Walter Springs Bridge where there was a big hole in Pope Creek under the bridge. Just about every child out here belonged to 4-H. We would always make booths for the County Fair.

Usually after school I would come right home and do a few chores but my parents didn’t really burden me with a lot of work. Sometimes they would ask me to feed the chickens, gather the eggs and bring firewood up into the house for the cook stove in the kitchen and the furnace in the living room.

Often I would move the livestock.You have to get around the herd and slowly move them in one direction. I would carry a stick or throw rocks. My dad had a unique way of gathering his cattle. Since we didn’t have horses, we worked the cattle with a Model T Ford or on foot. When Dad fed the cows in wintertime, he would carry the bales of hay out in his pickup and when he got near the cattle, he would slam his hand on the outside of the truck door. The cows got to know this and immediately they would come to be fed.  

When I was growing up there were no phones our here in Pope Valley. In the 1930s a few places like  Tom Neil’s store and Aetna Springs Resort got telephones but they had to maintain their own wires. In the 1940s telephones came to all of us; there were party lines with four or five families on each line. Of course, we listened in on everyone else’s phone calls.

The biggest problem out here was the danger of fire. There was a volunteer fire department and all the men were expected to belong to it and to be ready to go any minute to fight fire somewhere. Fires would happen three or four times a year, mostly during the summer.  

There was no doctor out here in my time. I went to Dr. Wood in St. Helena; he was a fabulous person and the greatest person I ever met, besides my mother and father. One time my dad cut his finger and somebody took him into town. Dr. Wood helped him out and even drove him home since no one else was around.

 After finishing sixth grade I took the bus to school in St. Helena where I attended junior high and high school. After high school I went  to UC Berkeley. I got a BS in zoology in four years and moved on to UC Davis for a masters in zoology. I would come back to Pope Valley in the summers and help on the ranch.

What I like most about this place is that good people live here; really good families. I like the beauty of this valley because of the plant communities, which are beautiful due to the unique geology that exists here.  

I’m sad about the loss of family farms; by the end of the 1960s most of the family farms were gone and the ranches were then owned by either absentee landowners or corporations. It wasn’t the community of families that were here earlier.

Some people retired and left; others grew old and died. My own parents lived on their ranch until the 1960s when they sold it and moved to St. Helena. My father died when he was 70 and my mother when she was 96 or 97.

Get home and garden tips sent to your email inbox

Many changes are happening in Pope Valley. I am not the kind of person who is opposed to change. I know that change will come and whatever it is, it is beyond me to stop it.

A number of vineyards have crept in here. Before 1960 there were only small vineyards out here, about five or 10 acres each. That was all that one farmer could take care of by himself. The name of the game back then was never hire anybody if you didn’t have to.

Then with the 1970s everything changed. One farm after another was converted into vineyard. I feel that vineyards are good agricultural use of the land; they don’t destroy the land. What I don’t like, however, are hillside vineyards which are very destructive to the natural habitat.

On my dad’s ranch, he had a small vineyard, small walnut orchard, a smaller peach orchard and a smaller prune orchard. He would dry prunes so we could eat them during the wintertime.

In those days there were farming networks. These were groups of farmers that worked together and helped each other. When it came time to pick grapes, my uncle, who lived in Angwin, would come down and help my father. When it was time for him to pick grapes, my dad and others would help him. After they harvested their produce they would go out as a group and do contract work like picking grapes, baling hay and harvesting wheat.

The grapes grown in those days (1930-1960) were for making wine but they were called “mixed black, ”both white and black grapes. After picking the black grapes the workers would have to go out again and pick the white. These were scattered all over the place. My father would run out ahead of the pickers and point out where there was a vine and run over to the next vine. In the 1970s in the wine boom, the wineries wanted only varietals and the farmers started growing only one variety. Vineyards no longer had the “mixed blacks.”

We also had 160 mature walnut trees. We would pick them and take them down to Rutherford Cross Road to a ranch that would process the nuts. We had plenty for our family too along with grapes and dried prunes. My dad gave dried prunes as Christmas gifts to everybody.

One of the special places out here was Aetna Springs Resort. In the early days, the owner of Aetna Springs, Len D. Owens, would have an open house for anyone in Pope Valley. People would go there and sit at the bar, go to dinner and various events. Sometimes they had dances there and I heard that you had to sign up to be sure there were enough boys and girls.  When the resort was purchased by Mr. Heibel, some of the Pope Valley young men went up there to the bar and got obnoxious and drunk, which prompted Mr. Heibel to shut down the whole place to locals. My mother always felt slighted because we had enjoyed going there so many years.

One interesting occurrence was when one of Len D. Owens’ daughters, Frances Marion, a famous screenplay writer for the early silent films, wrote a book titled “Valley People.” It seems that the setting of this book was Pope Valley although the characters I don’t think were Pope Valley people. She used a considerable amount of her imagination. My opinion is that these stories were fiction. She got a bad reputation among the locals for her book.

You see, folks out here were fiercely independent. They wanted to be as self-sufficient as possible. They never wanted to ask a neighbor for help if they could avoid it.  They would rather starve than ask for food.

However, there is something really beautiful about people here in that people do respond if there is a fire and a house burns down. In no time at all people would come with items. One would bring a tent, another would bring a bed, another would bring a chair or food. Men would come over and do whatever needed to be done — bring trucks and pick a crop without being asked. No one had insurance in those days. You would just try to rebuild your house as best as you could.  Time and work were critical out here. Money was  short.

Being able to stay here in Pope Valley as the caretaker/manager of the Wantrup Reserve for the last 19 years has been great for me.  The setting is pretty much like my dad’s ranch, just two ranches over. I can do all the ranch jobs plus I like plumbing, electrical wiring, and whatever needs to be done.  

I would like so much to stay on here forever, but now I can’t do some of the jobs here anymore. I always said that if I made 20 years here I would retire. I certainly don’t relish the idea of leaving Pope Valley.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.