Draft:Knapp Ranch, California

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Knapp Ranch
formally Kelly Ranch
Knapp Ranch, California is located in California
Knapp Ranch, California
Location of Knapp Ranch in southern California
LocationCienaga Canyon
Nearest cityGorman, California
Coordinates34°41′15″N 118°39′50″W / 34.687636°N 118.663817°W / 34.687636; -118.663817
AreaAngeles National Forest
Founded30 August 1904
FounderHeinrich (Henry) Edward Woest
OwnerFrank John Knapp (1900 - 1990)

The historic Knapp Ranch (1962 to 1995) was located at the upper end of the Castaic Creek drainage in a broad alluvial valley at the head of Cienaga Canyon, south of Liebre Mountain and east of Bear Canyon in the north-west corner of the Angeles National Forest.

The ranch was first settled as a 160-acre land patent in the late 1890s with ownership transferred to Henry E. Woest in 1904 through the provisions of the 1862 Homestead Act.[1]

After nearly a century of private ownership by Woest, Kelly, and Knapp, the property was acquired by the Angeles National Forest in 1995.


An abundance of Native American artifacts have been found on the ranch property and nearby areas. Chester King, an archaeologist specializing in the study of the prehistory of California, places the archeological sites CA-LAN-433 and CA-LAN-434 below Knapp Ranch as being the remains of moomga, cacuycuyjabit, ajuavit, and/or juyubit/huyung. These identifications are postulated from the names of settlements in San Fernando Mission records. These settlements were systematically depopulated by Spanish missionaries between 1802 and 1805 as the traditional inhabitants were relocated to Spanish missions.[2]

Cienaga Ranch[edit]

Heinrich (Henry) Edward Woest was born on 9 April 1872 in Manhattan, New York City.[3] In early adulthood, Henry accompanied his mother to California after her husband, Heinrich Woest, died in 1875. As a young adult, Henry Woest acquired the land holding under the 1862 Homestead Act with private ownership successfully transferred to him on 30 August 1904. The property was defined as the northeast quarter (160 acres) of Section 22 of Township 7 North, Range 17 West, San Bernardino Meridian.[1]

Henry was a commercial bee keeper who, in the early 1900s, was managing 130 colonies of bees which produced tons of honey every year[4] Henry used three donkeys to haul lumber to the property to built a ranch house that is still standing but now in ruins.[4]

The property was originally called the Cienaga Ranch named after Cienaga Canyon in which the ranch was located. The name, Cienaga Canyon, appeared on USGS maps as early as 1903 at the time of the granting of the land patent.

Henry was the half-brother of Annie Rose Briggs whom she called "Eddie". They partnered in efforts to locate lost 19th-century gold mines believed to be in the immediate area of the Cienaga Ranch.

Kelly Ranch[edit]

The name "Kelly Ranch" first appeared on a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map that was surveyed in 1930.[5] It appears Kelly bought the ranch sometime between 1904 and 1930 and his family sold the property in 1962 after Kelly died. Very little is known about the ranch or the people involved during the Kelly era of ownership.

A 1931 USGS map shows an "Emergency Airplane Landing Field" located on the Kelly Ranch however this feature was not included on later maps.

A regular visitor to the Kelly Ranch as a teenager, David Wasdahl, remembers that a family named Pearce or Pierce were managing or caretaking the ranch in the late 1930s.

Tom Benz (Benco Mine) said: "The care takers of the Kelly Ranch was Coronal Shaffer and his sister. My dad knew him from church and he gave us his pet goat which we had in Plum Canyon."

Jon Meyer, a regular visitor to the Knapp ranch in the 1960s, recalls: "When I asked Frank Knapp how he found the Kelly Ranch...he said he did some stone and rock work for the family back in the day.....and acquired it from 'Grandma Kelly'.....no one in the Kelly family wanted to keep it."

Knapp Ranch[edit]

In 1962, Frank John Knapp, Jr. (1900 - 1990) and his brother, Alfonso Alfred Knapp (1902 - 1968), bought the ranch property as equal partners from the Kelly family. According to the part-time foreman at Knapp ranch, Ronald T. Abramchuk (nickname "Bart"), the brothers planned to turn the ranch into a hunting lodge. When Alfonso died unexpectedly a few years later in 1968, Frank bought his partner's half share for $40,000 and became the sole owner of the Knapp Ranch.


Their father, Franz ("Frank") John Knapp Sr. was born on 21 November 1875 in Tyrol, Austria[6]

The Knapp family immigrated from Austria to the USA in waves. Franz Knapp first came to the USA from Austria with his two sons in June 1903. They sailed on the "SS Finland" from Antwerp on 6 June 1903 and arrived in the port of New York on 16 June 1903. The "SS Finland" was an American-flagged, ocean liner built in 1902 for the Red Star Line.

The two sons were later sent back to Austria while their father remained in America. His wife, Maria Johanna Meixer Knapp, together with their daughter and two sons immigrated in November 1910 to join Franz Knapp Sr. in America.


Frank Knapp's father, Franz ("Frank") John Knapp Sr. walked across the country from Derry, Pennsylvania, and settled in Owensmouth, California, around 1911. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1913.

Owensmouth was a rural area in the San Fernando Valley annexed into the city of Los Angeles in 1915. Owensmouth was re-named Canoga Park in 1931.

Knapp Snr. built one of the first houses in the area completed in 1912 (located at Owensmouth Avenue and Cohasset Street). It was later demolished in 1926.

In 1925, Frank Knapp Snr. built a new family home on Owensmouth Avenue (between Sherman Way and Saticoy) featuring elaborate rock work constructed in the style of historic castles from his home country in Europe. Knapp senior was a skilled stone mason. "The front and back yards were filled with Knapp's artistic masonry including jolly monks, a sundial, detailed nativity shrines, and an eight-foot-winged cement butterfly inlaid with colorful tiles."[7] The locals referred to it as "Knapp Castle". The building was severely damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and was demolished.

Franz ("Frank") John Knapp Sr. died on 21 August 1952[8]


Franz ("Frank") John Knapp, Senior (1875 - 1952) and his wife, Maria Johanna Meixer Knapp (1878 - 1949), had 8 children - 6 sons and 2 daughters.

Their three eldest children were born in Austria and came to the US as children.

(1). daughter 1: Hedwig Mary Knapp (1898 - 1990)

(2). son 1: Frank John Knapp, Junior (1900 - 1990)......who owned Knapp Ranch after 1962

(3). son 2: Alfonso Alfred Knapp (1902 - 1968)

(4). son 3: Fred Knapp (born in Pittsburg) was a butcher.

(5). son 4: Max Carl Knapp (1907 - 1981) (of Knapp's Kitchen Kupboard and had a son, Max Carl Knapp)

(6). son 5: Walter Anton Knapp (1911 - 2001).....a sergeant in the US Army during WWII

(7). son 6: Joseph Lincoln Knapp (1914 - 1991)

(8). daughter 2: Elizabeth Ruvena Knapp (born at the "Knapp Castle" at 7511 Owensmouth Avenue)

Her pet name was "Betty" and pen name was "Bettye Hall" writing children's stories and plays. She married Bill Hall and had two children, Edwin Hall and Lynne Hall. She married twice more - the middle marriage was annulled.

Frank Knapp[edit]

Frank John Knapp, Jr. was born on 29 November 1900 in Austria in the town of Schwaz in the state of Tyrol, the third-largest state in Austria. Some records indicate a Swiss heritage but that was a cover to deflect possible anti-German sentiment.

First wife[edit]

On 16 October 1922, 21-year old Frank Knapp married 18-year old Florindia "Toots" Olive (16 October 1904 - 13 November 1980).[9] She was of Portuguese ancestry, the daughter of Manuel Olive (1879-1961) and Mary "Mamie" Quaresma (1883-1941).

Frank and Florindia had one child, Edwin ("Eddie") Frank Knapp (1923-1944) who was killed in action during WWII.

Only son[edit]

Edwin F. Knapp enlisted on 16th March 1943 in Santa Ana as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps. Eddie achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant (service number 763643).

George Raino: "Frank had one son, who was a mustang pilot in WW2. Frank's son was shot down in 1944, over Frank's hometown in Austria. Frank really took that hard, and divorced his wife on that, since she had encouraged the kid to enlist, and Frank was vehemently opposed."

Dry Gulch Ranch[edit]

In 1943, Frank Knapp purchased the Johnson Ranch where years earlier he had helped to bail hay as a youngster in 1913 for a dollar a day.[10] Frank commented: "In those days there was no relief. If you didn't work, you didn't eat."[7]

He called his new 170-acre property the Dry Gulch Ranch for which he paid $9,500 and paid $75 a year in taxes. It was located west of present-day Valley Circle Boulevard and Kittridge Street in Canoga Park.

Ken Hayden (close friend): "His favorite hunting area was actually the Bell Canyon area near Dry Gulch Ranch in Canoga."

Ken Hayden: "Frank made his fortune digging cesspools by hand and lining them with brick. He invested as much of his money in property as possible. I remember seeing the tripod/winch he used to excavate and load bricks bucket by bucket for the cesspools he built."

Jeff Stalk (journalist): "While digging for water on his ranch in Canoga Park, he struck oil. Geologists investigating the find told Knapp the stones he had pulled out of the well were fossilized whale bones. He sold the oil but still has the bones."[11][12][13][14]

Frank kept a pair of live buffalo at Dry Gulch Ranch which he acquired in a barter exchange for three of his cows. The buffalo bore a 50-pound heifer calf born on the ranch in 1959.[15] Occasionally, Franks pet bison would escape and found roaming freely through nearby residential streets. When his 1600-pound bison named Mr Buffalo Bill got loose it tuned many a head in amazement.[16]

Jon Meyer, (relative) said: "When Frank "went bust" at Dry Gulch....it is said he was about to lose the place for non payment of bills....The Jewish Synagogue down on the corner of Owensmouth and Valley Circle made an offer for Dry Gulch and Frank walked away with a check for over one million dollars."

George Raino (ranch hand): "In 1943, Frank bought 170 acres up Dry Gulch, out of Canoga, for 10,000 dollars, and then sold 58 acres in 1962 for 550,000 dollars. He then took that money and bought the Kelly Ranch."

Knapp Ranch Park[edit]

In 1961, Frank Knapp sold 57.6 acres of his property to the local city-council for $230,000 priced below its market value.[17] The land was to be used for the development of a public park named in honor of his son killed in action in WWII. The park was dedicated on 11 April 1968 [18] A plaque on public display bears the inscription: "Knapp Park - Named in memory of Edwin Frank Knapp, 1923-1944"

Horse Meadows[edit]

When asked to describe his daily life, Knapp replied: "I guess you could call it the life of Riley. I do what I please."[19]

Every year, he spent one or two months in remote mountain areas hunting and fishing.[19][20]

Jon Meyer, a relative of Frank's second wife, said: "Frank loved the high country and built a cabin at Horse Meadow and would spend weeks at a time there, shooting deer, drinking, and playing cards. Frank also had some sort of mining claim up in Horse Meadow."

Second wife[edit]

Evelyn Nielsen ran a group of cabins at Roads End on the upper Kern River. The establishment was also a horse outfitting operation that serviced the high country in that area. There were virtually no roads in the back country at that time. Frank met Evie at Roads End on one of his expeditions to Horse Meadows. Evelyn Nielsen (pet name "Evie") became Frank's second wife. She helped to manage the property at Dry Gulch.


Ken Hayden (friend): "Our Dad, Charles Hayden helped move Frank to his Gorman ranch from Dry Gulch Ranch (in Canoga Park), starting in 1960. Our Dad had a couple of dump trucks and a skip loader with a trailer. It was a long trek up there back then. I remember Frank telling my Dad that he had to get out of the Valley because there were just too many people there now."


As with his earlier Dry Gulch Ranch, Frank kept a menagerie of animals on the Knapp Ranch for what he called "atmosphere". Ingrid Burgess, a visitor at Knapp Ranch, wrote: "Frank had a doe that he got as a fawn. The rangers didn't object to him having it, may have even given it to him. It was sick and had diarrhea and "Diarrhea" became the doe's name. It would freely saunter into the house and loved to eat cigarette butts and jelly beans. "Diarrhea" had a son named "Pete", a second offspring was named "Repeat". "Pete" or "Repeat" once reared up against my daughter and pinned her against the house. Catherine still talks about this as the scariest experience in her life." The pet deer were safeguarded during the annual hunting season.

Buffalo that he had purchased from the silent film star William S. Hart.

Ken Hayden: "Frank used to catch rattle snakes for UCLA and kept them in a 55 gallon drum in a bed of hay with a heavy wire grate on top weighted down with a couple of concrete blocks, until his favorite horse flipped of the lid and started eating the hay. The horse got bit on the face and died, so that ended the rattle snake program."

Tom Benz: "Frank would say you can go through my ranch but you better stop and have a couple of beers before you leave. We did, one night I saw a man who just got out of the hospital, he still had the hospital bracelet on his wrist and he could barely stand up he was so drunk. They did party hearty there back in the 1980's. Frank drank his beer with tomato juice and played poker."

Frank Knapp routinely drank "red beer" by mixing in tomato juice or V8 juice. To spice it up a bit, he sometimes added Snap E Tom (which is tomato juice and chile).

Ken Hayden: "He also had an out building filled with Indian artifacts that he had collected from around the area while exploring and hunting on horseback."

Jeff Stalk (journalist): "Knapp has amassed one of the most extensive collections of Chumash and Alliklik (Tataviam) Indian artifacts to be found anywhere. His ranch house is a veritable museum filled with mortars and pestles, stone bowls, flint knives, arrow heads, beads, and other trinkets. Outside, in a nearby shed, milling stones are to be found along with the complete skeletal remains of an Indian."[11]

Gillette Mine[edit]

Frank Knapp constructed the barbecue area at the Gillette Ranch in 1928 or 1929 featuring his stonework.

In the early 1920s, Frank Knapp had helped King Gillette, the son of King Camp Gillette of razor-blade fame, in his prospecting efforts in Bear Canyon in partnership with Annie Rose Briggs. Gillette financed the digging of a substantial tunnel that became known as the "Gillette Mine" in an attempt to intersect an old "Spanish" shaft or hidden storage vault. The endeavor failed to find anything.

Years later, Frank Knapp along with two of his younger brothers decided to continue digging the Gillette shaft from where the original team had stopped tunneling. Their point of entry was about 50 feet or so before Gillette's tunnel had ended. They dug down from above in order to enter the tunnel through the roof but found it filled with water. Working around the clock, the three brothers took turns to pump out the flooded void by hand. Eventually they had expelled enough water to wade to the end of the tunnel in waist-deep water. They found old bottles floating around, a stack of shoring timbers, and a drilling rod stuck in the rock face at the end of the tunnel.

The Knapp brothers planned to continue pumping out the water and go back in the next day. However, the tunnel collapsed during the night. They decided to leave well enough alone and dynamited their point of entry shut. In the late 1970s, the forestry covered over the entrance to the mine leaving nothing of the old workings that can be recognized today. Nature, periodic flooding, and time have obliterated all evidence of its existence.[21]

Nursing home[edit]

Ken Burgess (close friend): "The last time I saw Frank was when he was in the nursing home on a old small-frame bed in a room with several other people. He did not know who I was so it broke my heart to see an old friend in that condition."

National Forest[edit]

George Raino described the fate of the ranch after Frank passed away: "The ranch was then sold by the nephews and nieces to an organization called Friends of the Forest bankrolled by Rosie Greer, who had a ranch over by Lake Hughes, for a price of around $400,000. Rosie Greer then swapped the ranch to the forest service for 200 acres of forest service land that abuts their ranch over in the Lake Hughes / Elizabeth Lake area."


  1. ^ a b U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Land Office Records, Accession number CA2380__.116 (1904)
  2. ^ Chester King, Ethnographic Overview of the Los Padres National Forest: Tataviam and San Gabriel Mountain Ethnohistory (2004)
  3. ^ New York City Births, 1846-1909, Heinrich Woest, 09 April 1872; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference cn 87501 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,322,050
  4. ^ a b Gleanings in Bee Culture, Volume 32, 1 May 1904
  5. ^ USGS map of Redrock Mountain, reference 294606, surveyed in 1930 and published in 1931
  6. ^ United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Frank John Knapp, 1917-1918; citing Los Angeles City no 1, California, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,530,799
  7. ^ a b >Valley-Bred Cowboy: Frank Knapp a Canoga Park Pioneer, by Sally O'Toole, Big Valley magazine, August 1980
  8. ^ California Death Index, 1940-1997, Frank J Knapp, 21 August 1952; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento
  9. ^ California, County Marriages, 1850-1952, Frank Knapp and Florindia Olive, 16 Oct 1922; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, county courthouses, California; FHL microfilm 2,074,281
  10. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 23 March 1958, section 8, page 1
  11. ^ a b Deep in the Forest Lives an Antiquarian Extraordinaire by Jeff Stalk, The Newhall Signal and Saugus Enterprise, 29 June 1980
  12. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 27 February 1947, page 7
  13. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 16 March 1947, page 13
  14. ^ The Newhall Signal and Saugus Enterprise, 10 April 1947, page 7
  15. ^ The Los Angeles Times, Baby Buffalo Born on Southland Ranch, 10 June 1959
  16. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 14 January 1962, section E, page 15
  17. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1963, section 2, page 9
  18. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 8 March 1968, page 9
  19. ^ a b The Los Angeles Times, 23 March 1958, section 8, page 7
  20. ^ The Bakersfield Californian, 11 July 1936, page 5
  21. ^ History of the Los Padres Mine, Peter C. Gray, Agua Dulce / Acton Country Journal, Volume XXVII, 14 installments published between 25 March 2017 and 24 June 2017