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Orvis Cattle Co. - History

Snow Ranch

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada the Snow Ranch sits along State Highway 4 about 11 miles east of Farmington.

You'll know you have reached the Ranch and Orvis Cattle Company when you pass through the old stone gateposts that mark the entrance. This gate is designated an historic monument.

Stone gateposts mark the entrance to the Snow Ranch (grandkids just can't stay out of the pictures).

The ranch has been the scene of expert cattle breeding starting first with the Snows and later with the Orvis' when Charles Bruce Orvis married Mary Ada Snow. Hereford breeding has been ongoing since 1918.


In addition to Hereford breeding, the Snow Ranch has been the scene of many other interesting and historic events. Early in the last century native americans camped here every spring on their way to the mountains. Great Grandfather made them welcome and let them use their traditional camping ground whenever they needed it.

The University of California, Berkeley performed several archeologicalinvestigations of the area and found what, at the time, were the earliest human remains known in North America. They have since been eclipsed by finds elsewhere in the U.S. Evidence of Native American habitation of the area is most apparent by the acorn grinding holes found in just about every flat rock in the area.

Acorn grinding holes cover every flat rock.

You can also find indian carvings in a cave (actually more of an indentation) at the back of a bluff. We don't know what the carvings mean. They look sort of like mountains but could be anything.

The bluff with the cave. The marks are on the back wall at the back of the indentation shown in this picture.

The marks at the back of the cave. They looks sort of like mountains but could be anything.


The Snow Ranch has also been the backdrop for many movies including, The Big Country, Sam Whiskey, Little House on the Prairie, and Shout.

The bunkhouse used in Shout has becoome a storage shed.

There is not much left of the set for the first episode of Little House on the Prairie.

This view was behind Gregory Peck as he was riding around the ranch alone. At this point, he stopped, checked his map, and rode on. The remains of the Little House on the Prairie set is visible in the near-distance.

More Big Country shots.

The Snow Ranch Spaceport

Yep, that's right - Spaceport - . Well, maybe not space, yet. The Snow Ranch hosts the LUNAR model rocketry club in the winter months when there is no fire danger. The club, which is the largest NAR (National Association of Rocketry) club in the United States flies model and mid-power rockets in the Bay Area and up to Level III High Power rockets at Snow Ranch. The young bulls do not seem to be bothered at all by the rockets. In fact, they often hang out on the hillside overlooking the launch to watch the action.

The launch is setup in an open field well away from buildings and highways.

Small rockets like the ones shown here fly alongside the big ones. An Orvis shows off his latest creation.

Here some mid- and high-power rockets head for the sky.

Occasionally, a really big one goes up. Note the people in the background for scale.

The Snows and Orvis'

In 1873, William Snow established the Snow Ranch.

William Snow

In 1886 a young veterinarian named Charles Bruce Orvis moved to California from Chicago to make his mark. Settling first in the Los Angeles area he eventually moved to Stockton and set up shop at 336 East La Fayette St. He was the first graduate veterinarian to live and work in Stockton. A description of his practice is Chronicled in "A Narrative of the Veterinary Profession in California", J. M. Arburua, D.V.M., Arburua, 1966, pp. 291-293.

Charles Bruce (Doc) Orvis

In 1888 he was one of a small group of veterinarians that formed the California Veterinary Medical Association and was elected to the association's examining board.

In 1891 he married Mary Ada Snow.

Mary Ada Snow (Looks like Great Grandpa caught Great Grandma out fixing the car. )

In 1893 he was in the first group of 10 veterinarians licensed in California by the newly formed State Board of Veterinary Examiners.

In 1896 he ended active practice in Stockton and moved to the Snow Ranch to breed Herefords. He was one of the first in the state to breed purebred Hereford cattle.

In 1917 his son, William Snow Orvis, married Grace Harriet Harper of Murphys, California, linking the Orvis and Harper families (see Don Harper below).

William Snow Orvis, and his sons C. Bruce and James L. Orvis carry on his breeding program with Orvis Cattle Company run by Bruce and J. L. Orvis and Sons run by Jim.

Four generations of Orvis'. In the back is Charles Bruce on the right and his son William Snow on the left. In the front is C. Bruce on the right with his son Bill and James L. on the left with his son Jim.

Orvis Cattle Company OC

Orvis Cattle Company OC was formed in 1980 when Jim and Bruce Orvis decided to split their operations so they could both pursue their own ideas on herd management and breeding. Bruce Orvis formed the Orvis Cattle Co. and took the old Orvis and Clinger OC brand for his own.

Bruce Orvis is a lifelong Hereford breeder. After graduating from high school, Orvis enlisted in the Naval Combat Air Crew Program, and served until 1946. Following service, he attended College of the Pacific and graduated with a bachelor's in business economics in 1950. Orvis has served as an integral part of the beef industry. In college, Orvis joined the family herd, established in 1918 by his father and grandfather (C.B Orvis & Son.) and later W.S. Orvis & Sons.

Orvis family hereford breeding continue to avoid the fads in the purebred business and stay loyal to big, middle of the road cattle.

From 1959-1985, Orvis served on the founding committee of the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association. In 1966, he accepted a position on the California Beef Council Board of Directors. In 1993 and 2000 he was named the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association Seedstock Producer of the Year. Orvis is an avid supporter of the Western Nugget Hereford Sale, since its beginning in 1970. In 1995, he was appointed to the Western States Hereford Committee, which oversees the show and sale. Orvis runs 240 registered cows and 45-registered coming 2-year-old bred heifers. They sell 80-100 bulls a year for use throughout California, Nevada, Oregon and Mexico and also run 300-500 feeders on grass yearly. Orvis and his wife, Roma, are avid supporters of the Hereford youth programs and have four children as well as twelve grandchildren. In 2001 Orvis was elected to the board of directors of the American Hereford Association. Bruce Orvis passed away in November of 2010.

Orvis Cattle Company is currently being operated by Don Harper, an Orvis cousin. Don first started working for his Aunt Roma and Uncle Bruce in 1976 at the age of 13. After finishing college at UCD and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Don worked in the cattle feeding industry in both California and Nevada for 20 years. He then worked for the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA. Don and his wife Susan have three daughters: Erin, Nora, and Maxine. Currently their daughter Nora Grace is working at the ranch full time with help from her sisters.

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