Rhoda May Rindge first came to Malibu with her husband Frederick in the 1890s. She probably had no idea that she would end up carrying a six-shooter on her hip to fend off cattle rustlers and other intruders. One of those intruders was the State of California. Rhoda May Rindge was Malibu’s pioneer woman in the Victorian Era, 1892.
Frederick and Rhoda May Rindge bought the 13,330-acre tract of land in 1892 from the son of Henry Keller who owned the original Spanish land grant known as the Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit, or Rancho Malibu. They paid $10 per acre, up from ten cents per acre 35 years before.
Over time, the Rindges expanded Rancho Malibu to 17,000 acres, by buying adjacent properties from homesteaders. Their ultimate dream was to turn their 29-mile strip of coastal mountain heaven into their version of the French Riviera.
The first act of their vision was to build a ranch house in Malibu Canyon beneath what is now the Serra Retreat. This home served as the headquarters for Rancho Malibu, their working cattle and grain ranch as well as their family home where they could raise their three children.
At that time, no roads lead to Malibu. People and goods came by horseback, horse-drawn wagons or by boat, and then only at low tide.
The original Rindge house was destroyed by a brush fire in 1903. While they rebuilt, the family lived in tents and a cabin – the equivalent to modern day “glamping.”
Malibu has always been coveted, both for its beauty and for its location. The Rindges were committed to preserving their paradise and fending off development, but that turned out to be a protracted battle.
In 1904, the Southern Pacific Railroad applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to build tracks through the Rindge Ranch to link the existing Long Wharf in Santa Monica with tracks in Santa Barbara.
Leveraging a loophole in the ICC law that prevented the right-of-way parallel to an existing railroad, the Rindges built their own tracks to keep out Southern Pacific. Their Hueneme, Malibu and Port Los Angeles Railway ran 15 miles through Rancho Malibu.
Their rail was completed in 1908 and remained in use until the 1920s. It was used primarily to ship grains and hides produced at Rancho Malibu.
Frederick Hastings Rindge died in 1905 at the age of 48, prior to the completion of their personal railroad. Following her husband’s passing, Rhoda May took over full management of the ranch and other family businesses.
She fought hard to keep her land private. At that time, she owned thousands of cattle throughout the hills of Malibu. She employed a team of cowpokes to tend fences, branding, brand and roudup cattle take care of all the other chores of a large working ranch.
She hired a small army of armed cowboys and vaqueros to keep out rustlers and other intruders. They were told to use deadly force if necessary. Rumors of intruders disappearing mysteriously over the years remain unsubstantiated.
Rhoda May guarded her property rights with a ferocity that earned her the somewhat derogatory title of “The Queen of Malibu.” Others considered her brave, determined and fearless in her battle — all traits that are generally admired in men?
A case was filed by the County of Los Angeles against Rhoda May Rindge to challenge the public’s right to take land for public highways in Southern California. The intent of the lawsuit was to extend an existing public highway across the ranch to the Ventura County line.
Postponing the inevitable, Rhoda May fought hard for years to preserve and increase her assets to help fund her legal bills. One of her new businesses was Malibu Potteries, which produced tiles that can still be seen in Malibu today.
At one point, Rhoda May hired armed guards on horseback to keep work crews away from he property, but eventually, she surrendered when a 1925 Superior Court order established the State’s Right to Eminent Domain over her land.
In 1928, the Roosevelt Highway, now called Pacific Coast Highway, was opened, paving the road to development and traffic jams from Santa Monica to Oxnard.
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