From "THE DAYS I KNEW" by Lily Langtry. Published by George H. Doran & Co. (Reprinted from the Lake County Historical Society's Pomo Bulletin of August 1970)
IN LILLIE'S OWN WORDS
I hoped, with the help of General Barnes, an eminent lawyer of San Francisco, as well as Governor of the Golden State who personally inspected the property for me, that I had found the exact tract of land which was to increase in value to such an extent as to make me an ultimate millionaire.
Moreover, according to General Barnes, a railroad passing through the ranch was in the making... I may say here that a few hundred yards of abandoned grading was all that I found to establish the fact.
A large amount of dollars was confidingly placed in this ranch of about 6,500 acres, comprising two arable farms with rather good ranch houses and a vineyard and cottage, all well stocked and in working order, the whole being, on my acquiring it, called the "Langtry Farms", which name it retains to this day.
Two weeks were spent in San Francisco in the absorbing occupation of furnishing one of the houses on my yet-unseen property, in the simple and comfortable manner I thought desirable... and set off with a party of friends in my private railroad car "Lalee" to follow the stacks of furniture which had already preceded me, in charge of my English butler, Beverly.
My nearest station, called St. Helena, was a mere village, and my country town was Sacramento... about 40 miles to the southeast. There, (at St. Helena) was the resourceful Beverly with two private Wild West coaches, commandeered from my ranch, each with six more or less reliable horses, attached.
It may interest some of my readers to know its (the ranch) exact location in Lake County, and that it is formed by a fertile plateau of arable and grass land, in the Howell mountains.
The seventeen miles we had to drive led us, by a corkscrew road, up to the summit and over one of the highest mountains of the group. The only springs of the two coaches were of leather thongs. We descended the farther side, and for the first time I caught a bird's-eye view of my property. The huge plateau appeared a dream of loveliness. It was entrancing. On we drove, thru my vineyards and peach orchards, laden with fruit (early July) which covered a great part of the near hills, until we reached HOME.
Built entirely of wood, the house, which had no pretensions for style, but was fairly roomy, stood rather high, on piles. It had absolutely no garden, but there were on one side, fenced spaces, used to corral and punch the cattle and horses after a round up. A crowd of nonchalant, lounging cow boys, picturesquely clothed in red or khaki flannel shirts, and leather, bead-embroidered trousers, some on ponies and some on foot, loitered about the front door.
I found the ground floor comprised a large living room, into which the house-door directly opened, with a dining room and kitchen at the rear. A staircase from the former, led to a gallery running entirely round it, onto which the doors of the bedrooms opened, no space being wasted in halls and passages.
We found dinner ready, consisting of trout, beef and quail, contributed by the ranch, and prepared by Indian squaws from the neighboring reservation. There were no white servants to be found in these wilds. During the fortnight I was there, the squaws came in relays, for, after earning two or three days' pay, no power on earth could induce them to work any more till the money was spent, so that there was a continual coming and going of the blanketed, moccasined-footed women.
I had engaged an overseer who was an enthusiast about horses and racing. His suggestion induced me to purchase and import an English stallion named Friar Tuck, by Hermit, and to allow him to buy me a few brood mares whose offspring he proposed to sell for large sums.
I spent golden time there making plans for avenues of eucalyptus and gardens for all purposes and designs, to make the house a really comfortable one.
The keynote of that ranch was "Liberty" and my cowboys walked in and out of my house in search of whatever they needed. Redskins from the reservation rode over my land at will from dawn to sunset, galloping about with rifles slung on their backs, shooting the game and poaching the trout. Some of the neighboring ranchers, too, out of the kindness of their hearts, shot my deer, (out of season), and presented me with them in token of welcome. Squatters annexed cows clearly marked with the brand of the ranch; in fact it was communism at its best.
Three miles away was a street of wooden shanties called Middletown, which boasted a general store, a bar, and a barber shop.
We all took part in corralling the cattle and horses. We counted about eighty horses and a good many mules.
A Frenchman was engaged to take charge of the vineyard, but a new law putting all liquor into bond for a period of years, spoiled the sale of the bottles with the picture of myself on the label.
There was also a sulphur spring on my property, which we intended to develop, and a quicksilver mine which we thought we discovered; altogether a fortnight, which was all I could spare from my work, seemed quite insufficient and I tore myself away confiding to my manager to continue. Already I was counting the time till I could return, as wasted.
It is positively tragic to think that, through a combination of circumstances, I never saw the ranch again.
We were just starting to join him (her brother) at the ranch. I had invested largely in thoroughbred mares and had dispatched them to the West, along with two pet hacks of mine. The train in which the horses traveled was derailed and fell down a steep slope. Some of the carriages were reduced to splinters, some caught fire and nearly all the animals were mailed or killed.
I rushed my car to the scene of the accident. This so disheartened me and of such ill omen did it seem, that I renounced the visit I had been looking forward to so keenly for three years, and we all sailed for England instead. I continued to own the property for a good many years, and at last was glad to sell it for about half the price I gave for it.
So perhaps the adage of "a fool and his money are soon parted" fits me, and a good many other people of artistic temperament.
Editor's note: The Jersey Lily's 2 story house is still standing (1970) and is fronted by 3 big cypress trees. The house was originally built by David Hudson.
She was born in 1853 on the Isle of Jersey, which is famed for the beautiful wild lilies that grow in abundance—hence her stage name "Jersey Lily".
At birth she was named Emilie Charlotte, and after moving to London gained fame on the stage there.
While in the United States she met Freddy Gebhard, a millionaire playboy of New York, and she came to California mainly with the idea of securing a divorce from her husband Edward Langtry, who was living in England.
Freddy Gebhard followed her to California and purchased a 3200-acre ranch adjoining Lily's in Lake County, and the two raised blooded race horses. It has been estimated that an accident, in which the horses were either killed outright or maimed, caused a loss of $300,000 to the internationally famed actress.
Langtry used her high public profile to promote cosmetics and soap, an early example of celebrity endorsement. She is believed to be the first woman to endorse a commercial product, advertising Pears Soap. Her fee was allied to her weight so she was paid 'pound for pound'.