A brief history of More Mesa

Thomas Wallace More

Thomas Wallace More was one of 6 brothers whose parents had emigrated from Scotland to central Ohio in 1816. In 1849 Thomas and two of his brothers moved to the Sierra Nevada gold fields. The three brothers formed the More Brothers Company, borrowed money from Abel Stearns of Los Angeles to buy cheap cattle in the south, drove them over the Tehachapis to sell them at fabulous prices in the north, and invested their money in real estate. Their holdings in the Santa Barbara area included Santa Rosa Island, the Lompoc and Santa Clara river valleys, and land in the Goleta Valley itself.

In 1860 T. Wallace More submitted a bid of $15,000 to build a road from the San Luis Obispo County line to the Los Angeles County line to a newly created Road Commissioners Board and it was granted. They gave More a $10,000 advance for the project. More began assembling men, teams and material for the job in the summer of 1860. He got off to a bad start, labor was hard to come by. Things went from bad to worse for More during autumn months. He quarreled incessantly with his chief engineer, George Black.

When he attempted to substitute brush and earth fills for bridges, and unexpected heavy rain washed his shoddy work away. The situation continued to deteriorate, so that on February 12, 1861, the County Supervisors spread a resolution on the minute book condemning More’s general management of the road project. More gave up on March 5 and notified the Supervisors that he could not complete the work. The Supervisors angrily filed a lawsuit against More and were awarded $950.

In 1861 T. Wallace More offered to buy 1,000 acres of land for $5 an acre from Daniel Hill, who was having financial problems. Hill was desperate and sold the property to More. This land purchase gave More title to property extending from the Mescalitan Island to Hope Ranch, including the seashore tableland now known as the More Mesa, plus title to the asphaltum deposits on the beach.

In 1877 More found himself in trouble. Hordes of squatters were trying to settle on his Sespe Ranch in Ventura. More had become a very unpopular figure there when he set fire to the squatters’ shacks. He boarded a stagecoach bound for Ventura and a showdown battle with the squatters. Two weeks later, just after midnight on March 23, 1877, a gang of masked raiders set fire to a haystack alongside More’s horse barn. T. Wallace More rushed outside in his nightshirt to rescue the horses from the burning barn. He was met with a hail of bullets. Next day the coroner of Ventura found fourteen bullets in More’s corpse.

John Finley More

The man who was known as “the Monarch of More Mesa” was different things to different people. Unpopular with his neighbors, but adored by the local kids, John Finley More arrived in the Good Land shortly after his brother T. Wallace’s gruesome murder in 1877.

More was a land-hungry man, and determined to keep as much of it in his possession as he could. Rumor around town was that he even managed to not-so-legally buy out his dead brother’s heirs out of their piece of their inheritance, which included the sprawling More Mesa as well as Santa Rosa Island. He then added Mescalitan Island, buying it from the Daniel Hill family, and also 471 acres of the slough.

More got his title of “King John,” not because he was a prince among men, though his contemporary Joe Sexton certainly thought he was, but because he seemed bent on creating and defending his territory, and also because he made it clear that he answered to no one.


Walker Tompkins, in “The Yankee Barbarenos,” described the man as reticent, with few close friends, who obviously didn’t like the fact that the Kellogg Dairy was operating inside his brother’s ranch. In fact, he paid a whopping $1,000 per acre to purchase the sixty acres “for the pleasure of razing the dairy buildings and removing the only ‘blot’ from More Mesa Ranch south of the county road.”

He was known at times to be an irascible landowner who openly defied the county Board of Supervisors. Other times he was mistaken for one of the hobos that used to trespass on his property, through which the Southern Pacific Railroad ran. He could be a tough man to work for, said some, but he was also a generous employer.

He did, however, donate a single acre of land for the Rafaela School, which was where Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital now stands. His refusal to sell any of his land, Tompkins said, was the reason the center of the Goleta Valley business and commerce expanded west from its original location at Patterson and Hollister into the La Patera neighborhood at Fairview and Hollister

More’s Landing & Pier

Photo of More’s Pier circa 1900

Photo of More’s Pier circa 1900

A significant milestone in the development of the Good Land was reached in the summer of 1874, when T. Wallace More completed a wharf off More Mesa, half a mile east of the inlet to the Goleta Slough. More’s Landing was 900 feet long and 35 feet wide, with a warehouse at the seaward end. Ships had two fathoms of water at low tide when they reached the pierhead. Access roads were dug out of the shale cliffs to form ramps, both east and west of the wharf.

On September 10, 1874, the County Supervisors awarded T. Wallace More a 20 year franchise for the wharf, and set up a scale of fees he could charge his customers, identical to the wharfage rates charged by John. P. Stearns in Santa Barbara.


This Map from 1903 not only shows Campus Point and Mescaltitlan Island, but also the location of More’s Landing.

Asphaltum was More’s most lucrative sources of income. Tar still extrudes copiously from the cliffs at several places along the beach between 1148 South More Ranch Road and the 5200 block of Austin Road. Dynamite was used by More to fragmentize the asphaltum, which was washed clean by wave action, and then loaded on carts up the ramps to the wharf by ox teams – the only use of oxen by Americans in Valley history. The first paving materials for the streets of San Francisco came from More’s outcrop at the foot of Anderson Lane.

By 1890, more than 32,000 tons of asphaltum had been shipped from More’s landing at prices ranging from $12 to $20 per ton. Valley farmers used the More Mesa Ranch Road from Hollister Avenue to haul their lima beans, honey, walnuts, barley and other products to More’s Landing for loading aboard coastal steamers

Dos Pueblos Orchid Company: Samuel B. Mosher by Cheryl Vampola

The South Central Coast, with ideal temperature and growing conditions, became a world center for orchid development. One of the colorful pioneers of the Orchid Industry is Samuel B. Mosher. After graduating from the University of California with a BS in Agriculture, he was content being a farmer raising avocados and lemons. Paying off his farm mortgage was his top priority. He was one of the luckiest guys around however, since his farm was next to the incredible oil discovery at Signal Hill in 1921. At first, Mosher ignored all the oil activity, but then realized that since there was so much rich crude oil, no one bothered to salvage the “wet gas”. Mosher sent away for a free government pamphlet detailing how to build an inexpensive extraction plant. Thus started his rise to fame as oil businessman.
(His innovation and determination is highlighted in his biography, Little Giant of Signal Hill, by Walker A. Thompkins.)

In 1942, Mosher deturned to his agricultural roots and bought Rancho Dos Pueblos, seventeen miles northwest of Santa Barbara County along the Pacific Ocean. The land carried much history. During the Portola expedition of 1769, the land was named “Dos Pueblos” after the two Chumash villages that were well established there. After the Chumash were converted to Christianity, the Franciscan friars managed cattle at Rancho Dos Pueblos for the sustenance of those at Mission Santa Barbara. Eventually, Rancho Dos Pueblos was secularized and in 1845, the last governor of the Mexican Province of Alta California sold the property to Nicholas Den. Upon Den’s death, parts of the land were subdivided, but Rancho Dos Pueblos was sold to oil tycoon, H.G. Wylie. Wylie turned the property into a millionaire’s estate, with fountains, pools, and trails, where he bred world-class racehorses. After purchasing the property from Wylie, Mosher contributed to the incredible landscape of Rancho Dos Pueblos. His “farm” included a citrus ranch, a cattle ranch, a nationally recognized carnation nursery, acres of Birds of Paradise, and the “world’s largest establishment for the breeding and growing of cymbidium orchids.” There were eight acres of cymbidiums alone under greenhouses. Visitors from around the world were hosted in grand style. The Mosher Family, known for their generosity to the community, made significant contributions in orchid science.

How orchids were brought to Santa Barbara during World War II

Excepts were borrowed from “Goleta the Good Land” by Walker Tompkins

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