Excavating Milk Ranch Passport in Time Project
Plumas National Forest, California, 2009
By Jamie Moore, Plumas NF Archaeologist
(Photo: Milk Ranch PIT Volunteers)
Far in the mountains above Bullard's Bar Reservoir rests an 1850s-era ranch and hotel. The hotel was owned by a man name Robert Stroud and was a place frequented by the local population. Little is known about the ranch portion of the establishment, but according to one resident, it is thought to have been a steading that primarily produced and sold milk; hence the name "Milk Ranch," now used to describe the site.
The 2009 Passport in Time project was designed to excavate the site and further expose the limits of the milk ranch and hotel. Fourteen volunteers from across the country and 24 archaeologists helped complete an intensive surface survey to identify artifact and feature concentrations through metal detecting and pedestrian reconnaissance. Surface collections provided large numbers of car parts, household goods, wire nails, and bullets. These collections and overall surface strategies, coupled with previous research designs, helped identify appropriate locations for the excavation units.
The excavation units provided the "meat" of the site - that which yielded the majority of materials and useful data - though these units provided few datable artifacts and, unfortunately, made it difficult to assign a temporal framework to the site. The artifacts that were dateable indicated that the site was in use from 1870 to at least the latter part of the 20th century. Volunteers helped define two historic activity areas: a garage or barn, dating to the turn of the (20th) century, and a habitation area dating from the 1960s-1970s. The garage is believed to have once held or was used to service an early 1900s (ca. 1913-1920) Model "T" Ford, as parts specific to that model and year were strewn about the area that formed garage's boundaries.
(Photo: PIT Volunteers Hard at Work)
The conclusions reached at the end of this PIT project, supported by previous data recovered at Milk Ranch, suggest that the site was likely used as something other than a ranch or hotel or, at least, had a function beyond those parameters. The patterns of distribution and usage of cultural remains are inconsistent with those expected for the presumed functions of the site. That the site contained a dwelling sometime in the 1960s and 1970s is clear, based on dateable materials and local documentation.
The site is multi-component, and was definitely in periodic, if not constant, use from at least 1870. However, the current evidence does not support the original hypothesis concerning the site"s function and historic context. At present, the site has been determined to be ineligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), and the hunt for Milk Ranch continues.