One Hundred and Fifty Years

My great-great-great grandfather, John D. Flournoy was one of the first to arrive in what is now called Likely, California. He first homesteaded right where my grandparents live today, and he put several other homesteads together. Around the turn of the century he fell on some hard times and moved to a homestead off of the ranch. Pop Flournoy, my great-great grandfather, went into the local Bank of America to see if he could borrow some money, but the branch manager, Nels, told him that he could not loan him that kind of money there. He did offer to take him down to San Francisco though to meet with A.P. Giannini (who founded the Bank of Italy, which became the Bank of America) himself.

Nels kept his word and soon after they headed down together for a 10:30a.m. appointment in San Fran. They showed up early, spending quite some time sitting in the lobby. Hours continued to pass and A.P. never came out of his office. Finally, the lunch hour rolled around and A.P. walked out to say that he knew of a good place to eat if they wanted to go. They took him up on his invitation. Throughout lunch Giannini passed the time away by asking them how things were up in Modoc County and he asked Nels about some bank business. When lunch was wrapped up, A.P. looked at Nels and said, “You take this young guy back to Modoc and give him anything he needs in the way of financing.” Pop retold the story saying he just about pushed the train over Donner Pass on the way back home that night because he was that thrilled about the meeting.   

My grandpa speaks highly of Pop saying that he had a lot of foresight and worked hard. Coming from one of the hardest working men I know, I can only imagine the tenacity he had. Pop helped build a lot of the water infrastructure in the valley where Likely sits, a reservoir and many water systems. He built a heck of a ranch up in Jess Valley, just 15 miles east of Likely when he bought the Jess Boys and several other homesteads out. Pop began thinking about how he had given a good start to John, Harry and Kenneth. He hadn’t yet helped his three youngest boys, so he was going to sell his ranch to Rob, Warren and Don (my great-grandfather).  They jumped at the opportunity and all of the payments went to their sisters, Helen, Mabel, and Hazel. At the time they were running 3,000 mother cows and they were trying to figure out how to divide the ranch up equitably amongst the three of them. After some long hard thinking they decided the best thing for them to do was to go in partners and run it like one ranch just as Pop was doing.

The Flournoy Brothers were formed, and they continued acquiring land around them. After running the ranch for eight to ten more years, each of the brothers began going in slightly different directions; my great-grandpa was married and had older kids; his brother Rob had gotten married and had younger kids; and Warren wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids at the time. Dividing it up seemed like the best thing to do given the paths they were on, so they did.   

Rob ended up taking the smallest ranch that was debt free. Warren took the ranch up at Jess Valley, about the same amount of cows as Rob, and it was also debt free. They had a pretty big debt at the time from purchasing some property, so my great-grandpa took a little more ranch, but all of the indebtedness. My Gramp recalls the time when he was about fourteen years old, and they really went to work trying to get that debt paid off. In about 1953 or 1954, mother cow prices were up and grandpa Don felt it was the time to sell a big bunch of cows to help pay off some of the debt owed. At the time, a man named Frank Anderson had purchased the Viewpoint Ranch up outside of Paisley, Oregon and he had a guy running it by the name of Billy Normile. Normile happened to call my great-grandpa and ask if he knew where he could buy 1,000 head of cows. Don replied that he might in fact know where he could. After talking it over, they sold him 1,000 cows, which paid down their debt 90% or better. 

My Gramp tried to support his dad all he could while going to high school, and upon graduating he went to college in Reno for a couple of years before returning back to the ranch. When he came back all of a sudden he had a job basically running the ranch. They didn’t ever have a conversation about it, it just kind of opened up. Funny how those doors just have a way of opening and closing…

Not too long after coming back, my great-grandpa, great-grandma, and their good friends showed up with bags packed for Mexico. My great-grandpa told my Gramp that he had been into the bank and he would be able to write checks while they were gone. He said they would be gone just a little while. This was in about January, and they ended up showing back up around June. They sound like a regular ol’ pair of snow geese, the timing is a little off, but you get the point.

Gramp speaks about the crew he had working with him at the time, there were men working there that had been working on the ranch for more years than he was old. Talk about getting a crash course on how to build rapport with your employees. He learned quickly about diplomacy and that as the boss he couldn’t say, “Burt go do..” The best way he found was to always make them feel like it was their idea. Asking them how they would go about doing something rather than telling them what they were going to do.

Working hard day in and day out, my great-grandpa and Gramp paid off their debt while the cattle market wasn’t too good. They were dedicated to saving where they could, not buying brand new pickups. It was a time when a rancher could borrow quite a bit of money against their ranch and everyday it was worth a little more. Many neighbors got into bad situations by borrowing money with no prior planning of how they might pay it back. Several of them were unsuccessful in paying back their debts and Gramp recalls how much it changed the landscape around Likely.

After Gramp had been back on the ranch for about ten years before his younger brother Johnny came back. Johnny naturally took to the farming and irrigating end of things. Davey came back a little later and took over the machinery part of it. My grandpa, Billy followed his love and managed the cattle. Without much discussion, they were partners. 

The ranch consistently purchased little pieces of land to continue building up a larger working ranch. Throughout the years the three brothers have had a good working relationship, giving respect to their areas of expertise. Looking forward into the future, they are challenged by finding the best way to divide the ranch for the generations to come and aren’t sure they are going to. The ranch now goes by Likely Land & Livestock where they have also formed two additional partnerships that have been beneficial to the ranch, allowing further expansion. For one hundred and fifty years and counting the ranch has been passed from generation to generation, and the question still remains how it will be passed on to the fifth and sixth generation. I am putting my chips on a rendition of the saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it never was meant to be yours.”

  1. Lacie says:

    This was a great article to read. I’ve always heard bits and pieces but having it as one layout was fantastic!

  2. Samantha says:

    Great job Gabby! I love the history behind your families ranch. It’s always nice to get the call from your grandpa with the numbers.❤️

    • Gabriella Nevin says:

      Harris has a special part of both of our hearts. I hope I can come down to the feedlot and plant again someday!

  3. I love the Likely area and I’m fascinated by Modoc County, so much so that I bought a few acres in Alturas last year, 2020. I’m also a member of the Historical Society as I love the history. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wayne Dollarhide says:

    Have known “grandpa Billy” and been friends since we played little league baseball against each other. He told me the very same story about when his father turned management of the ranch over to him a few years ago when we saw him in Alturas.

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