Jack London’s Horsepower
by Connie Kale Johnson of West Sacramento, CA
In 1879, Jack London was first introduced to horses when his family moved from farm to farm with their horse hitched to a wagon filled with all of his family’s possessions. When he was old enough, young Jack helped harness the horse and walked along with his stepfather as they plowed the field. On London’s 12th birthday, his stepfather gave up farming and the family returned to Oakland and Jack began to explore city life. Even though horse drawn carriages and streetcars were the main source of transportation, London preferred to walk until he could buy a bicycle.
When London reached his early teens, he had discovered the excitement of navigating a sloop in the Oakland Estuary and the Delta waterways. By age 17, he felt school was a waste of time because he’d learned so much from reading. Jack’s true desire was to go to sea and this was soon fulfilled when he sailed through the Golden Gate as an able-bodied seaman on a fishing schooner to the Sea of Japan. This was the beginning of his traveling adventures that he would later use in his writing. Upon his return, Jack joined the work force but he soon discovered the exploitation of child labor in the pickle factory where he was employed and referred to them as “Work Beast.” Jack joined a group who called themselves “Kelly’s Army” to march to Washington D.C. for social justice of the working man. London was the only one to finish the march and returned home a year later to follow the Gold Rush to the Northwest. Through all his journeys, Jack traveled by boats and trains – never on horseback.
London was 21 years old when he returned to California and his writing career began with a publisher in New York. During this time Jack married and had two daughters and also sold work to the Overland Monthly in San Francisco, with the assistance of editor Ninetta Eames and her niece Charmian Kittridge. Over the following years, Jack London became a successful author and in 1903 his classic novel The Call of the Wild was published. At this time, the Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner gave him the assignment to cover the Japanese Prussian War in Korea. After many challenges he arrived at his destination and was issued a spirited young mare he called Belle and for the first time he depended on a horse for transportation. Jack had no other choice, if he wanted to report on the War. London wrote to his close friend, Charmian, in Glen Ellen when he reached Chemulpo, Korea,
“Just arrived. Am preparing outfit – horses, interpreter, coolies, etc. for the campaign.”
Over the next several weeks he continued to correspond with Charmian,
“Have made another 180 miles on horseback to this place. I shall be able to ride a little with you when I return, for it appears there are months of riding before me. I have one of the best horses in Korea…
…But I’m learning about horses – last ten days traveled 50 miles a day, and I was saddled-sore and raw.
…I read your letter in the saddle as I rode along to-day and reminded me…you once read in a saddle. And the horse you were astride was named Belle. The horse I was astride today is named Belle. I named her.
. . . I am my own riding teacher. I hope I don’t learn all wrong.”
While in Korea, London learned how to put cold shoes on his horse. This was one of the many new experiences Jack had as he rode horseback day and night. He traveled through snow that had melted into mud that was up to Belle’s belly and was proud that he never lost a horseshoe. After four month in Korea, Jack completed his newspaper assignment and wrote to his book publisher,
“Can say that I know a lot more about horses than when I started.”
Jack returned to San Francisco and received notice of his divorce. London spent time with friends aboard his 38 foot skiff, the Spray, moored in Oakland while he thought of what he wanted to do. In June 1905, London packed his belongings and with his companion, Brown Wolf, he moved to Glen Ellen. He rented a small cabin from Ninetta Eames, who owned Wake Robin Lodge and where Charmian lived most of the time. Jack was disciplined about writing and let nothing interfere with completing 1000 words every morning. Jack and Charmian spent most of the afternoon horseback riding over the peaceful countryside with Brown Wolf. He enjoyed these rides – even the time he and his horse slid into a ditch on the neighboring Wagner ranch but neither one was hurt.
One day, as Jack rode through the trees to a clearing where he could see the Valley of the Moon, he discovered the Hill Ranch at the bottom of Sonoma Mountain and knew he’d found his home in the country. The Allens’ who owned the property, agreed to sell the ranch complete with livestock. Jack became a farmer with the purchase of his first ranch and hired the caretaker of this ranch and livestock, Werner Wiget, as his foreman. London wanted whatever he did to last for years to come and immediately made plans to build a new barn and a home out of stone. London knew this would take extra funds and he arranged to take a lecture tour across the United States. While in the mid-west, Charmian joined him and they were married.
The Londons’ returned to Glen Ellen and lived at Wake Robin while the building of the barn on the Hill Ranch was underway. While Jack completed his daily routine of writing and overseeing his small ranch, Charmian would ride over the mountainside. She had been riding horses since a young girl and was the first woman in the area not to ride sidesaddle. She could see how much Jack enjoyed horseback riding and purchased him a chestnut blue-blooded thoroughbred horse, Washoe Ban, from a doctor in Berkeley. In order to deliver Jack’s first horse to Glen Ellen, Charmian rode the horse from Berkeley to Oakland, took the ferry to San Francisco, loaded the horse on a river streamer to Petaluma and the next day she rode twenty-two miles along green grass trails to Glen Ellen and Jack. It didn’t take long for Jack to master the easy rocking-horse stride that Washoe Ban provided. London tried an English cross saddle like Charmian had and switched to a McClellan tree fitted with a horn but eventually went back to the English saddle. It wasn’t unusual for them to ride several miles to visit friends. Jack and Charmian were also known to ride the countryside on month long vacations. They continued to enjoy their rides on Belle and Washoe Ban with Brown Wolf, with the exception of the morning the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that shook them out of bed. Jack and Charmian rode to a high point on Sonoma Mountain and were devastated by the bellowing smoke over the Bay area to the south and Santa Rosa to the north.
As time passed, Jack had to make many business trips to support the building of their home but his thoughts were always on his ranch and horses. He was especially concerned about Washoe Ban who had gotten tangled up in barbed wire in a pasture and had serious cuts on his leg down to the bone. While on a trip to ease his mind, Jack wrote to Wiget,
“ . . . let me know how Belle is getting along. Is she showing signs of having a colt? Is she getting larger…
Also let me know if Ban’s leg is getting better.”
Regardless of all they did to heal the severely damaged leg, London had to put Washoe Ban down.
London increased his property by purchasing ranches that bordered his Hill Ranch. In order to carry out building plans, he realized that this would take additional income. Jack contacted his publisher and requested to receive royalties in advance on his books and articles. He presented his plan to build a 45 foot boat, Snark, and travel around the world and write about his experiences on this expedition. His editor agreed to this financial arrangement because of London’s flourishing reputation as an author – this financial arrangement would continue on throughout Jack’s life. The Londons’ and crew of three set sail in the spring of 1907 but as the world voyage progressed through the south sea, Jack was plagued by severe fevers and other health problems. By the time they reached Australia, the remainder of the trip was cancelled because of Jack’s illness and they booked passage back to the United States.
When the Londons’ returned to the Bay area in the summer of 1909, the first thing they did was to purchase two black and yellow buggies. Jack was tired when he returned to the ranch in Glen Ellen, but filled with enthusiasm to become a successful farmer. London knew he needed his stepsister Eliza Shepard to leave her hectic life in the city and help him with the ranch operations. Jack sent a message of urgency.
“…get up here and away from all of that.”
Eliza Shepard and her 11 year-old son, Irving, did move into the house on the Fish Ranch, one of London’s new ranches, until a home on the ranch was built for her. Eliza was hired to replace Ninetta Eames, who had been in charge while Jack traveled, and became the manager of all the ranch activities and the work of the hired men. London had acquired the Kohler & Frohling winery property and Eliza would also be in charge of refurbishing the stone buildings. Jack planned that the large stone sherry building be prepared with 20 stalls to serve as the workhorse barn and a new stone barn built for the stallions, with a manure pit in between.
At this same time, the Industrial Revolution was growing more influential in the use of machine power rather than manpower. This had a personal impact on Jack London, as his great nephew, I. Milo Shepard, had shared in a year 2000 interview,
“London lived in a period of time of unemployment, and he could see that the tractor would take out all the horses, all the work that was being done to raise crops and feed animals – the human element kept that production going. In Londons’ time about 75 percent of the people were involved in agriculture. Today in the United States it’s probably 5 percent. That’s what he was afraid of.”
With the increased activities on the ranch, it became a disadvantage for Jack to live at Wake Robin Lodge. There was a cottage on the K&F Winery ranch that the London’s decided to live in until their stone home, called Wolf House, was completed and Jack asked Eliza to oversee the refurbishing. Jack and Charmian combined work and pleasure by planning to take a four-horse trip up the Pacific Coast into Oregon and back down through the center of California while the Cottage was repaired. Jack had agreed to write an article for Sunset Magazine to promote the Northern Counties while on the trip and titled it, “Four Horses and a Sailor.”
In preparation for the trip, while on business in southern California, Charmian visited a horse farm and selected three light suitable four-in-hand horses and had them shipped to Glen Ellen. They later selected the fourth horse to complete the team. Jack called upon his friend, Bill Ring, in Glen Ellen to help set up the team with proper tack. Ring, who had been an old-time stage driver that drove the Overland Trail, went to San Francisco and bought the four-in-hand harness for the trip. London purchased a light Studebaker trap and took it to the blacksmith shop in Glen Ellen owned by Edward Ranker, who later would become Milo Shepard’s grandfather, and had heavy-duty springs installed for the trip.
Many were surprised that Jack would undertake such a trip, but he was determined to drive this team. Charmian even questioned her husband’s skill to drive four horses and Jack replied,
“What man has done before, I can do.” He went on to remind his wife, “Our saddle-horses are not broken to harness.”
London felt he would succeed in this venture because he hadn’t known how to navigate waters but taught himself to sail the Snark through the South Sea. Jack confessed to a friend that he had been, “… kicked – bucked off – fallen over backward upon, and thrown out and over, on numerous times and had a mighty vigorous respect for horses but a wife’s faith must be lived up to it and I went at it.”
On June 12, 1911, the Londons’ houseboy, Nakata, loaded Jack’s typewriter and all personal belongings in the storage compartment of the trap. Jack hitched the four horses, Prince – Sonoma Maid – Gert – Milda, to the Studebaker trap and they were off to the coast. Nakata assisted them on the trip and prepared their food while on the road. The Londons’ stopped at Inns along the way and Jack often lectured to help cover the cost of the trip. When given the opportunity, he took time to enjoy some fishing and hunting in Oregon. Following the coast and on through rugged mountains, Jack met the challenges of bad roads. He felt pleased that he never had a horse fall down nor did he have to send the rig to the blacksmith shop for repair. While they traveled in Oregon, he hired G.L. Parslow to handle his horses back on the Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen.
After traveling a 350 mile round trip from Glen Ellen to Medford, Oregon, the Londons’ arrived back on the ranch on September 5th and moved into the Cottage. Not long after that Eliza and Irving moved into their home on a near-by knoll. In between the two homes, there was a wooden barn that stabled the pleasure horses. Jack remained faithful to writing every morning and would instruct Eliza about the daily work to be done through note writing or discussions in the afternoon or evening. They each had a special wire basket on their desks for communications and Eliza was faithful in responding in writing to Jack’s questions and concerns. While Jack and Eliza handled ranch business, Charmian would spend her daytime on the ranch riding the pleasure horses. She liked to discover new trails through the trees and canyons on the ranch. They had many visitors and one of their favorite activities was trail riding in the afternoon up to the peaceful lake. Jack respected Charmian’s natural ability to handle spirited horses and had a small good luck silver horseshoe made for her.
London had learned in Korea and on the Four Horse Trip, that the condition of horse’s hooves were extremely important in their ability to function and perform without discomfort. When he increased the number of horses on the Beauty Ranch, Jack purchased all the equipment of the blacksmith shop from Edward Ranker and moved it up to the cooperage building to create his own blacksmith shop. Jack demonstrated his seriousness about preventing lameness of his horses when he instructed Eliza to fire any hired man that left a nail on the ground and send him down the road!
Jack was dedicated to studying all he could on highbred livestock, draft horses, Jersey cows and shorthorn bulls. It was not unusual for him to cruise the Delta Waterways on their 20 foot yawl, Roamer, moored on the Napa waterway that would allow them to cruse the delta and visit farms. On one of these trips, London purchased a black dray from a ranch on Georgia Sough. They also visited farms by train and buggy through the Sacramento Valley to evaluate livestock. With Jack’s desire to purchase the highest quality of animals, he hired a livestock commission agent in San Francisco to purchase highbred livestock on the East Coast. Jack was aware that he was new to the business and referred to himself as a “sailor on horseback”. That phrase was used over the years to identify London and is still popular today.
It was in the spring of 1913, when the Wolf House was near completion, that London became rededicated to develop a progressive and functional ranch operation. In order to achieve this vision, he studied all available pamphlets and flyers, to assure that he was up to date on farming methods and available resources. But Jack remained determined not to convert to machine power like many of his neighboring ranchers, but would succeed by the use of horsepower. He felt this could be accomplished through the use of draft horses pulling the equipment. London took a break from writing and made a trip to inspect Percheron Shires and Belgian horses. Jack became aware of a light bay, Shire stallion with a white face and four white legs that had been born in England in 1908 and had once been a champion in England purchased by Henry Wheatly and brought to the United States. This Shire had also been judged as a champion at the California State Fair in 1912. When London made arrangements to travel to the Salvador Stock farm in Napa, he wrote to a friend in Oregon,
“…And what do you think, at this moment of rejoicing, make this letter too short? I am just hiking away across country to buy a 2300 lb. three year old imported Shire stallion for breeding purposes on the ranch. I promise you some ranch and some horses, when you and your wife get down here next time.”
Jack did purchase the Shire stallion, Neuadd Hillside and the mare, Princess Cockington. London continued to work with his publisher on advanced royalties to handle the expense of completing the stone house and the $2500 he paid for Neuadd Hillside. London kept the editor up-to-date to justify the accounting of the horses as a business venture on the ranch,
“…Also accompanying this stallion I paid $750 for an imported Shire mare in foal. You see, I have some 15 or 20 work horses or work mares on the ranch, and in this out of the way valley have been hard put to find proper stallion to which to breed these mares, in order to turn out the right kind of draft stock for the San Francisco market.”
Charmian recalled the day that the stallion Neuadd Hillside arrived at the Beauty Ranch in her Book of Jack London that she wrote after Jack’s passing,
“He weighed a ton and was wonderously shape withal. Cockerington Princess, Champion of her own sex, also came to gladden our eyes, while the converting into stables of therefore unused stone winery building went on apace. Into each barn, for the men to scan and heed, was posted a long list of rules borrowed from a great western express corporation for the care and use of horses.”
Rules of the Stables
All teamsters will care for their teams under the direction of the stableman, each teamster being expected to clean his horses night and morning (on Sundays in morning only) and keep them in good condition: also to care for and keep in good condition the harnesses, wagons, etc., used by him, and to report the condition of the team to the stableman each night when bringing them to the barn. No teamster is allowed to feed his team, feeding will be done by stableman only.
All teamsters must have teams ready to start work at 7a.m. and 1p.m. When working in the fields with the teams, teamsters will be allowed ten minutes before noon and before 5 p.m. to bring them to corrals.
Teamsters must make report at end of each day’s work of hours worked by himself, his helper or helpers, and his horses, and of loads hauled (showing from and to what points for each load, material hauled, weights, etc.).
Stableman will have entire charge of barns and well be expected to see that teamster conform to these rules, reporting promptly to Superintendent if they do not: and will make daily work reports on blanks provided.
Charmian also remembered in her book Jack’s reaction to the appearance of the horses on the day their first Shires arrived and his comments,
“Although the tails of these imported horses are docked, we won’t dock their colts.”
“On the day the two grand beasts, pranced out show-fashion in colored worsted, were unloaded from the stock palace care amidst much comment in Glen Ellen, Jack asked me, “Do you know why horses like those aren’t common sights on the country roads of the United States? I’ll tell you – because our farmers are so stupidly wasteful about saving feed! I mean just that!”
His wife continued to share Jack’s care for these special creatures.
“Instead of crowding the developing of the colt, particularly the first year, by care and feeding he turns it out to grub for itself in the pasture. That first year is like the first year of any other baby.”
The success of acquiring a championship shire stallion was overshadowed on a hot August night, the Wolf House burst into flames just days before the Londons were to move in to their dream home. The day after this shocking experience, Jack stood by the shell of stones giving his men orders to begin cutting trees to rebuild and he went about ranch business. The number of Shire workhorses increased on the ranch but Jack also learned that these horses were too big and strong to pull the smaller pieces of farm equipment – such as plows and mowers. He saved the Shires to pull the wagons and draft horse breeding program. Jack continued to promote Neuadd Hillside as a stallion and ran an ad in the Santa Rosa Republican for stud service with a fee of $25.00. Whenever asked about the Neuadd Hillside he proudly claimed, “It is the best imported Shire stallion this side of the Rocky Mountains.”
The Beauty Ranch bordered the State Hospital for the Feeble Minded and the grounds keeper used draft mares to do the heavy work. Even though Jack didn’t have, nor like, the automobiles that were becoming more common, he welcomed the sight of the Home’s Board of Director’s driving onto his ranch. They had come to inspect his stallion for breeding their mares. Arrangements were made but to no avail because the mares were not in their heat cycle.
While London often traveled away from the ranch, he continued to manage the training of his horses through letters to Eliza. In July 1913, he wrote,
“…From now on is the time to have every work horse working, and every colt being fed in addition to pasturage.
Tell Summers he’s got to get Hillside training to driving, and that later on Hillside will have to do his exercise harnessed up to some gelding and pulling a farm wagon or something.
Don’t you think it is about time to stop the Hillside service advertisement in the local paper. The season must be over.”
When Jack needed to open more ground to plant hay and oats to feed the horses, he began to study the advantage of a tractor over a draft horse. As he had done since a young boy, London studied all the printed information available in order to make the right decision before making a commitment. Jack also respected the knowledge of his hired man, Slinker, who had demonstrated his skills at engineering problems and drawing maps for fieldwork. This time he included a flyer for “Waterloo” Boy kerosene one-man tractor to do a performance comparison between engine power equipment with what his horsepower could achieve. London included Eliza in this study and in their usual way of communicating on ranch business, Jack wrote his findings on the flyer and left it on her desk,
Send this to Slinker and ask him what weight, size, price for one tractor to haul 1-14 inch plow, or 2 – 14” plows, remembering that the span of horses, not so certainly controllable, weighing 2800 lbs in excitement, one of them can put its weight of 1400 lbs squarely down on a surface no greater than the area of one hoof.”
Regardless of what Jack had learned, he decided to stay with his draft horses.
London continued to protect the quality of his purebred stock and wrote a special request to a neighbor,
There is a large bull-calf that wanders down into our neighborhood, breaks into our pasture, annoys our cows, and keeps us awake nights with its bawling. I understand this calf belongs to you. I hope you won’t mind me speaking about it; but if this be your calf, won’t you please restrict his roaming?
Very truly yours,
After this experience, he asked Eliza to watch that neighboring ranch livestock didn’t venture into their pasture. She and Werner Wiget didn’t always see things eye to eye but worked out most of their difference of opinions on the operations of ranch work. This changed on the day Eliza found his common bull that he kept in a neighboring pasture in with London purebred cows. She had been dissatisfied for some time over the lack of proper care that Wiget had been providing for the livestock and with this incident she fired him on the spot. Eliza depended on Parslow and Summers to help her handle the livestock and train the horses, until she hired Lee Kynoke and Video who remained with her while she and Irving continued to manage the ranch.
As the owner of a Champion Shire stallion, Jack’s reputation soon became well known in the animal husbandry profession worldwide. When the founder and secretary of the National Equine Defense League in London, England, asked for Jack’s support on prohibiting the practice of docking, London, replied,
“I am heartily in sympathy with the proposal law prohibiting the docking of horses. I understand that in some of the states of the United States, such laws, and very strict laws, have already been passed.
I have some fifty horses myself here on my California ranch, some of which are Shire imported directly from England. No horse has ever been docked on my ranch, or ever will be docked on my ranch.
I am opposed to docking, for three vital reasons: (1) Docking is not beautiful, on the contrary, it is ugly; (2) I see no utility for the horse, through said docking, on the contrary, I can see that so far as the life value and the use of the horse be concerned, these value are determined by docking; (3) And finally, docking is wretched cruelty perpetrated on helpless animals merely from a false concept of beauty or for the sake of money in the sales ring”
Jack also believed in Frances A. Cox the founder and secretary of National Equine Directors League in London. Cox respected London’s dedication to horses and included his name in the introduction to his book titled, WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT A HORSE, that was published in 1916.
With the management of the ranch in the capable hands of Eliza in 1915, Jack and Charmian did more traveling and often were away from the ranch for months at a time. The pressure of extended family and business matters weighted heavily on his shoulders and it began to drain his energy. Charmian and Eliza encouraged Jack to take a trip to Honolulu to get away from all the stress and get some rest. The Londons’ did their usual horseback riding on the island and often visited the ranch where Jack once took part in a cattle roundup. During this time, San Francisco was hosting the Exposition and Jack had asked Eliza to attend now and then to study prices. Later, he became concerned about the foot and mouth disease being brought into California from the east and he wrote to Eliza,
“Regarding showing our Shire horses at the Exposition, I think it would be better to keep them at home.”
Jack had a systematic way of thinking through all that he endeavored, which included writing a book or selecting a horse. When he wrote a novel, he’d develop a plot that would be fulfilled through a beginning – middle – end. With his horses, he set a goal with the same guidelines: selection of best breed – promotion and performance – production of highbred foals. It was never London’s intention to make a profit from his horses, but he did expect them to perform and work to the best of their capabilities to pay for feed and care. Even though Neuadd Hillside had won other Championships, Jack found value in the publicity the stallion received every time he entered the show arena. This was achieved when Jack also showed Neuadd Hillside at the 1915 Panama-Pacific and took 5th in agedstallion class of eleven of the breed’s best. The Gazette reported,
“For trueness of type, smoothness and primness of condition, this stallion was not surpassed by any in the ring. Few stallions with his balance of parts have come before the public. – Jack London had him ready.”
When it came time for the California State Fair, Jack, Charmian and Eliza traveled to Sacramento by train. The handlers and trainers would prepare the animals for shipping in a boxcar on the Southern Pacific. Young Irving Shepard had taken an active part on the ranch and learned how to harness a team of horses. He would accompany the horses to assure their safety and care. Jack and Eliza looked forward to attending fairs and visiting the equipment and agricultural display to learn about all the latest technology and equipment. While watching the judging of livestock, they paid close attention to the latest breeds. Jack’s research on livestock paid off. He not only had pride in his grand champion Shires but also Roslyn Choice, a shorthorn bull. All total he made a herd of ten or fifteen shorthorn bulls. There was an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat after the 1916 State Fair with the headline,
JACK LONDON HAS PRIZE BULL
It was reported that –
“Some of London’s horses and other stock won many distinctions at Sacramento. He believes in keeping only high-bred stock.
Eliza Shepard, the ranch superintendent, was very glad on account of the attention given the stock by thousands at the State Fair.”
Jack considered all events as a way to reach potential customers for the breeding program and would also attend local shows. On Wednesday 8/9/ 16, the San Francisco Examiner printed,
“London’s Horses are Winners”
“A horse bred and exhibited by Jack London carried away his share of prizes as the Sonoma County District fair here today. Neuadd Hillside and his colt were a big feature of the heavy-horse exhibit.”
In keeping with his desire for the best quality in his breeding program, Jack also purchased the trotter, Guy Dillon, son of Lou Dillon World champion stallion for nine years. Lou Dillon was the first trotter in history to do a mile in less than two minutes, setting a record 1:58 ½ on a track in 1903. Guy Dillon became an important part of London’s quality breeding program. Even though he was a stallion, Guy Dillon was kept in the wooden barn with the other pleasure horses and at the time of a fire in the barn he had to be led outside blindfolded. The stallion suffered only from a minor burn and went on to produce quality foals. Guy Dillon lived to be 30 years old and Milo Shepard recalls that at 5 years old he rode the stallion on the ranch.
With the future plans London had for buildings on the ranch, he continued to create his novels and sometimes included his horses. When he was questioned about The Little Lady of Big House, Jack responded,
“…The Little Lady’s steed is Neuadd Hillside, our Champion Shire stallion. Since I wrote the book he has been the sire of a stallion foaled by Orphan Girl, herself an imported Shire mare, and we have registered the offspring as Mountain Lad.”
By the summer of 1916, Jack had become overwhelmed by his lack of finances to rebuild the Wolf House and carry out his future vision for the Beauty Ranch. His poor health became a deep concern to Eliza and Charmian, as Jack continued to make plans to build a school and store for the hired men’s families. Even though his health had started to wear him down, London continued to write and spend time with Neuadd Hillside and Brown Wolf. It was during an illness that put Jack in bed, that he was faced with unhappy neighboring ranchers over water rights and it became a legal issue. When he was summoned to court, London got up from his sick bed to deal with a lawsuit.
In the midst of this court battle, on October 22, 1916, Neuadd Hillside was found down in the pasture during the night. Charmian recalled the emotional impact on her husband as she wrote,
“…the “Great Gentleman” our incomparable Shire Horse, died over night while we slept. Rupture, they pronounced it, and veterinarians were summoned from all quarters.”
It was a heavy blow to Jack. Aside from the monetary loss – I learned of the event when at nine of the morning I found Jack still in bed, lying quite idle – – he said to me . . .”
Come here and sit beside me. I have bad news for you – your “Great Gentleman” is gone – – Good old Neuadd died last night.”
And a little later he continued,
“I’m not ashamed, Mate woman, looking at me like a lost child through a man’s tears.”
London set aside his work on his current manuscript titled Cherry and began to make notes for a novel based on Neuadd Hillside while he attempted to carry on with his routine on the ranch and lawsuit. It was obvious to those closest to him, that he was not himself. Charmian described her concerns,
“…the death of the “Chief of the Herd” weighed more than we shall ever realize. At times he gave way to a listlessness I had never before seen in him.”
Jack’s dedication to his ranch horses remained strong after the loss of his beloved Shire. Charmian remembers Jack’s interview regarding horsepower weeks after the stallion’s death.
“What is the difference between the good team and that team of scrubs?”
“Man alive! What difference between that field as it was two years ago? What is the difference between anything that is strong and fine and well be it words or stones or trees or ideas or not – the same elements as they were in the unorganized weakness?”
But Neuadd Hillside’s story was never told.
On November 22, exactly thirty days following the death of Neuadd Hillside, at the age of 40, Jack London passed on in the Cottage with Eliza and Charmian at his bedside. A short time later, Brown Wolf was found dead amongst trees on the side of the hill.
From the day after Jack’s passing, Eliza Shepard continued to manage the life of the ranch with the same dedication and integrity as when she arrived on the ranch with her son, Irving. Even though on documents it remained the Jack London Ranch, in reality it became the Shepard Ranch under Eliza’s supervision and eventually passed on to her son Irving Shepard. As Irving had learned to harness Jack’s horses, he taught his son Milo how to harness a team and Milo in turn has taught his sons and grandsons. Through the years, horsepower gave way to machine power and the vision of the ranch was passed on to the I. Milo Shepard family.
Jack and Neuadd Hillside rest on the Beauty Ranch on the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, California. Their spirit can be felt as you walk pass the stone Stallion Barn on the way to the Cottage. Take time to pause under the faithful oak by the quaint Cottage that shades Jack’s den. Visualize Jack riding his horse by the vineyard that was once worn out soil, that in 1913 was restored by horsepower and now in the 21st century continues to produce a successful vineyard on the Shepard Ranch.