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Garbani Family History

The Garbani Ranch has established 4 generations of ranchers. Nestled in the mountains of San Diego, we continue to grow from the traditions and teachings of those who came before us and are grateful to sustain the ranching way of life.

1st Generation


Benjamin Garbani had come from Switzerland at age ten to join some of his brothers who were already here. The home operation in Switzerland couldn’t sustain all the kids so the decision to come to the states was made. Benjamin met his brother in Santa Ysabel where they worked at the Santa Ysabel Dairy. Here they took care of the cattle and mules that were used to work the ground while also working with the Cuero Family of the Mesa Grande Reservation. During this time he would travel to Mexico to buy mules and visit with his niece and nephew, Sophie and Carlos. These trips took him through Descanso where he became familiar with the area.

He then started a butcher shop with a partner in Julian. Benjamin would go around to the ranches in the area to buy beef, process and then deliver to the gold mines that were around Julian. When the gold mines started to slow down, the butcher shop in Julian was sold and he moved to Colton. He was in Colton for a year, when Ben sold his half of the business to his partner and bought property in the French Valley between Hemet and Temecula. Here is where he farmed hay. During this time he returned to Switzerland for this sweetheart, Juliet, and to visit with his parents which he did periodically. He and Juliet were married and moved out to California where they had their first child, Mary.

When Ben was 31 years old the decision was made to sell the land in the French Valley, leaving relatives that also farmed in Hemet, to settle in Descanso.

The original ranch was purchased in 1910 from the Davis family. It was an accumulation of ten separate patented homesteads, each consisting of 160 acres making the deeded ranch 1600 acres, surrounded by national forest land on most sides. The Taylor grazing act allowed for an additional 10,000 leasable adjoining acres of the Las Blancas allotment. Ben also leased 2200 acres of the Descanso Valley from the Judge Spargas Estate giving him land to the back of Green Valley.

One of the original homesteads had 250 fruit trees - mostly pear with a few apple- watered by a productive spring. Today the orchard is covered by highway 8 as it works its way to San Diego.

The new ranch came with a 10 room house which they proceeded to fill with 8 children. Mary, Elmer who died as a baby, Robert, Virginia, Glen, Maybel, Benny and Ruth.

The original house used to sit on the south side of old 80 (which is now Hwy 79), but was moved to the area near the junction of Riverside road. At this location the barn burnt down and the cellar flooded causing the house to stand on uneven, unsafe ground and was tore down. Two houses were built as temporary housing until the new big house could be built. One for the local Priest (green house) and one for the family (white house). This happened right before WWII when the factories started putting all efforts to the war. The family wasn’t able to build the new house they wanted to, leaving the two houses which are still standing today.

A little faith background, Juliet was very devoted to her faith and was responsible for pursuing a Catholic priest to establish a church in the back country. It started out having the priest travel from El Cajon to the Airfare station in Mt. Laguna to use as a satellite church. Then the Descanso school house that was originally across from the Descanso Cemetery was bought and turned into the church. This is still standing after being moved down the road and is currently a home residence.

Benjamin ran Horned Hereford cattle, he felt that they fattened fast, kept easily in most weather and were always willing to graze the upper hillsides that surrounded the ranch. In 1915 the horned varieties were better developed than were the polled, they could also keep the predators away from their calves. Grey wolves had been introduced by the forestry, coyotes and mountain lions were the area predators.

In the fashion of the American Indians before them, the ranchers would keep the brush burnt back with controlled fires, burning pasture areas every four years. By the burning from one pasture back into the area burnt the year before, the country could be kept clean and productive without the fear of a wild fire burning out of control. Livestock and wildlife both flourished. After the first rains the pastures yielded young, fresh shoots, even the chamise brush was eaten with tender shoots. Springs were also healthier and more plentiful since the coverage was less and demanded less water.

Ben kept busy with the cattle and the oat fields while Juliet liked chickens and always kept 200 or more active layers to feed her children and trade with the neighbors. Texas Red Oats did well in the rain watered valley of Descanso. Planted as early as September on good wet years, but usually in January or February after the rains had saturated the ground to at least 12 inches. It took 180 days to maturity. They sold the oats by the sack, bale or in bulk depending on the price, demand and quality of the crop that year.

Ben kept 14 draft horses for working the field of oats they grew each year along with at least 12 riding horses kept for tending the cattle. Breeding, raising and training was part of the everyday chores the family was responsible for. Settled or pregnant mares were kept in the Cienaga (see-en-a-gah) pastures as long as they were not too wet, the arch grasses helped to give them extra nourishment. The others were separated and grazed the hills above the Cienaga. Ben introduced Clovers and Timothys to the rich filery and bromes that grew in with the other wild grasses. Horses that were being worked were supplemented with barely and oats. Alfalfa was not readily available until trucking became more popular, and then they used it mainly for the dairy cows that Benny (youngest of Benjamin’s sons) was in charge of in the 1935 period.

2nd Generation

The kids ranching skills were called upon when Benjamin was crippled in a horse accident in 1932 when he was drug by a runaway horse. Robert Garbani, born on Jan 25th 1913 stepped up to take over most of the ranch duties. He started working along side his father as early as 3 and was handed the reins as early as 5 or 6 to work cattle, by 10 be was driving herds by himself. His brothers Benny and Glen enjoyed ranch life, but the rest of the family gravitated to the city. Glen was a baseball star but was struck in the back of the head and died from complications that ensued. Benny was a jovial, fun loving character that took to the dairy part of the ranch, serving most of the mountain empire until he was called to WWII where he was lost early in battle. Some of the bottles from the Garbani Dairy are still floating around the back country.

Robbie and his father started a tradition in Descanso in 1935, as a fund raiser for the local Catholic church they prepared a pit bar-b-que, deep pit style, that was so successful that to this day on the labor day weekend you can enjoy the efforts of their work. Their special mixture of salt, pepper and garlic spread over boned shoulder beef has delighted the palates of thousands.

Benjamin passed away in 1955 from Cancer and complication from old age. When Juliet passed away in the late 70s the ranch was divided. The 4 sisters inherited the headquarters that included the houses along with 160 acres in Pine Creek that they sold to the Forest Service. Robbie got the land to work cattle.

Along with all the hard work there has always been time for fun, dances had been one of Roberts favorite past times. Thats where he met his wife Georgiana Smith. They were married in 1952 and started a family of their own; Fred, Chris, Robert, Sarah and Betty Jean kept Georgiana as busy as Juliet.

Robbie worked the ranch devotedly all of his life, producing annual crops of oats and prime Hereford beef. You could always find him at the Quanset Hut barn that stored the Garbani hay or checking on his cattle until he passed away in 2000 from Lymphoma Cancer. After Georgiana passed away in 2007 the ranch was again split among the kids.

3rd Generation

Freddie took to the ranch life as his father before him. He grew up working alongside Robert and was the only sibling who decided to continue the operation. He and his wife Karen, who coincidentally also met dancing, were married in 1990 and raised 5 girls; Julie, Kimberly, Victoria, Katelin and Hannah.

Karen has been a horse-lover all her life, growing up in Chula Vista she showed Arabians into adulthood. Currently overseeing the riding horses of the ranch along with the chickens she is also a great sewer and soul seeker.

Harvesting their last growing season in 2000 the ranch continues to produce beef with a commercial cow/calf operation. Fred oversees the day-to-day ranch work. The cattle are now a cross of Hereford, Brahma, Red and Black Angus cows that breed with registered Black Angus bulls. This is breeding mostly baldy and black calves that the market is favoring. The cattle still roam on most of the original ranch and lease land using rotational grazing. In the cow/calf operation the cows are bred on the ranch, give birth, and raise their calves to an average of 500 pounds at which time are weaned and taken to auction.

4th Generation

All of the daughters grew up showing in 4-H with two taking more of an interest in the ranch.

Katelin, before she was married and left to live in Arizona, helped with ranch gatherings and the horses. Growing up Katy was active in Pony Club achieving her C-2. In college she traveled to show on the Beef show team, was on multiple horse teams winning Reserve National IHSA.

Tori also grew up riding and showing in Pony Club along with showing cattle throughout 4-H and FFA. There were a couple years she and Katelin also took their ranch heifers to show at the local Open show in Del Mar. Tori and her husband, Ben, currently live and raise their two kids on the ranch where they help with day-to-day tasks and are learning how to run the operation. Along with continuing the commercial cattle, Tori and Ben are currently building a herd of Registered Hereford cattle to show and sell under the Garbani Ranch name.

Along with the ranching operation, Tori has begun a small cut flower stand that will hopefully continue to grow for years to come. By utilizing the overgrown brush and foliage that needs to be cleared anyway due to fire hazard it will help sustain the ranch and family both economically and in fire safety.

The goal is to continue and remember the legacy that Benjamin started over 100 years ago. Being good stewards of the land, and caretakers of the herd is our objective and calling.


Written by Tori Mellott

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