Ranchin’ in Hawaii~Tanya Hanson

marryingminda-crop-to-use1Yup.  The American West continues for three thousand more miles off the coast. You see, the Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii is both a modern day working ranch and a spread steeped in rich island history.

Petticoats Parker RanchAt present, 12 cowboys each wrangle eight of the Parker’s 125 Quarter horses, and the 25 mares are bred to produce the next generation. Horses go on sale each Labor Day weekend.

Petticoats Parker horses 2

(Hawaiian cowboys took on the name paniolo, meaning Spaniard. Many of the original wranglers were California vaqueros who spoke Spanish…however, the Hawaiian language has no S.)

17,000 heads of Charolais/Angus cattle are pastured on the Parker’s 130,000 acres. It’s the fifth largest ranch in the United States and located in the northwest uplands of the island in Kamuela.

Petticoats Mauna Kea

Culturally, the Hawaiian table featured foods from the sea. Strict laws protected species from overfishing–and it was kapu (prohibited or off-limits) to eat certain fish during certain months of the year. So how did ranching come to sea-loving Hawaiians?

In 1788–ten years after British sea Captain Cook “discovered” islands that had been there all along, his colleague Captain George Vancouver changed things up. He presented a bull and several cows to King Kamehameha I, the first king to unite the eight inhabited islands. His Majesty was so enamored of the beasts he declared them kapu and let them run free.

courtesy Wikipedia commons

courtesy Wikipedia commons

Within twenty years, this little unregulated herd grew into thousands of cattle that roamed the island, destroying native plants and family gardens.

A seaman from Newton, Massachusetts named John Palmer Parker (1790-1868) jumped ship in the islands in 1809 and worked for the king for a time. After a stint in the War of 1812, he returned to the islands bearing a powerful, modern musket. Kamehameha gave Parker permission to “hunt” the throngs of cattle, whose hides and salted meat became profitable for whaling ships. By 1810, the cattle industry had replaced the exporting of sandalwood as the island’s chief economy.

Pettiocoats Parker portrait

Parker’s love for the islands increased along with his influence and wealth. Eventually he stopped hunting cattle and domesticated them. He learned the language and in 1816, married the king’s granddaughter, Chieftess Kipikane, who took the Christian name Rachel.

On the slopes of volcano Mauna Kea (White Mountain), the happy couple bought two acres for $10 and built a homestead they named Mana Hale–mana meaning “arid” for the dryness of these upland area, hale meaning house. John and Rachel had three children–the start of the powerful Parker dynasty.

Petticoats parker Mane Hale The ranch grew in size through purchase, lease, and royal gift, and was no stranger to Hawaii’s royals and nobility. The area was eventually named for their grandson Samuel Kamuela Parker (1853-1920), as Kamuela is Hawaiian for Samuel. He became a politician rather than rancher and was a  chum of King David Kalakaua. In 1992, sixth-generation descendant Richard Smart turned over the ranch to the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust.

Petticoats Parker spead

Original owner John Palmer Parker died in 1868 on neighboring Oahu, but is buried at Mana Hale.

Parker built Mana Hale in the “salt box” style of his New England homeland.Petticoats Parker back door

All cooking and hygiene took place outdoors as per the prevailing culture.Petticoats Parker every day accessories

Although this house is the replica constructed in 1986 by Richard Smart, the interior walls and contents of the original were carefully removed and reinstalled here.

Petticoats Parker a day in the life Every square inch of the interior, even the ceilings, is covered with original planks of beautiful native koa wood.

Petticoats Parker koawood ceiling

Here’s the staircase lined in koa wood.Petticoats Parker stairway

And the underside of the staircase! What attention to detail.

Petticoats Parker underneath the stairs

Although sometimes I resent how western civilization has invaded the Hawaiian culture, I so appreciate John Palmer Parker’s efforts to kind of meld the two worlds.  Soaking up western history as well as the moist tropical breeze and scent of flowers made our visit to the Parker a day I will always remember.

Petticoats Parker ranch scenePlease tell us about one of those magical days you won’t ever forget!

Tanya Hanson
A California beach girl, I love cowboys and happy-ever-afters. My firefighter hubby and I enjoy travel, our two little grandsons, country music, McDonald's iced coffee, and volunteering at the local horse rescue. I was thrilled last year to receive the CTRR Award at Coffeetime Romance for Sanctuary, my tribute to my cancer-survin' hubby!
Updated: April 5, 2016 — 1:49 pm

36 Comments

  1. What a beautiful story. Such great history that I didn’t even know existed over in Hawai. I live here in SW Kansas. I pass over the Cimmaron River every morning going to work. At the crossing where I drive. The legend says that back in the mid to later 1800’s, Indians attacked a Wells Fargo wagon carrying gold coins. The Indians attacked the wagon leaving everyone dead and stole their provisions, but left the gold. So the legend is the gold is in the river bottom to this day.

    1. Tonya, wow, what a great story! I love local legends like that. Do treasure hunters ever go after that sunken stash? Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  2. I knew a little bit of the history of Parker Ranch, but this filled in some of the pieces that I didn’t know. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re so welcome, Janine. It really was a great place to visit. Years ago, I was totally amazed when I learned what a rich ranching history Hawaii has. I so appreciate your comment today.

  3. I knew they had ranching is Hawaii but did not know it’s origins. Thanks for sharing. It is amazing part of history.

    1. Hi Kathleen, oh, the island history is so tantalizing, rich, and even sad. The “haoule” (white man) misunderstood so much of the island ways and religion, and of course, wanted the valuable plantation industry for themselves. I learn something new every time I go, and with each tidbit I research. Thanks for the comment today!

      1. The word “Hauoli” actually means “foreigner or tourist”. In the days of Captain Cook, anyone who was a visitor to the Islands was considered a “Hauoli”. In today’s time, us white folk are considered “hauoli’s”

        1. Yes indeed, Kelli, and it can be a derogatory term, too . same thing happened to our First Nations here on the mainland. Thanks for the post. xo

  4. Wow! A bunch of things I didn’t know. Go figure! It’s almost like Florida has ranching and cowboys — who would’ve ever thought…

    1. HI Kay, I know! I was totally surprised when I learned about Florida cowboys! I remember in college, I dated a boy who was from a ranch in South Dakota. I had no idea, always considered the Midwest corn country. Thanks for popping in!

  5. I’ve only been to the Hawaiian Islands once. I had no idea about ranching. Great article, Tanya.

    1. Thank you, Connie. I know, it came at me with surprise, too. Just so much going on there besides surfing and sunsets and tourisn LOL. I so appreciate the comment today.

  6. What a fascinating story! Thanks so much for sharing this Hawaiian history. I knew that the Big Island had ranches but had no idea of its history. Amazing.

  7. Kathleen, thanks so much for your kind words and for making time today. I love the history of the paniolo too. I found out so much great information for a historical western novella I wrote a year about an American cowboy in the islands!

  8. Well now, this is a very interesting post, Tanya. I am still trying to wrap my mind around Hawaii and ranching going together. Amazing information.
    I imagine it took quite some time to dismantle the interior of Mana Hale and reassemble it inside a newly built replica of the exterior.
    This was such an awesome post, Tanya.

    1. Aw,thanks, Sarah. You’re words mean so much. The shell of the original saltbox still exists in some woods in Kamuela but I don’t think it’s visitable. What I like most is that, rather than just build a replica, they tried to use as much existing history as they would. Good job, that!

  9. We visited Parker Ranch last year on a rainy day but still beautiful. Nice to revisit it today!

    1. Hi Nancy, it’s a great place…so glad you got to “go back” today. The day we went, it was 55 in the hills! I mean, for Hawaii, that’s COLD! And we did have some rain that day, but not while at the ranch. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Nice pics, lots of research–looks like inspiration for a unique cowboy story.

    1. Hi Sheryl, oh yeah, I got plenty of inspiration! Especially visiting a house that depicts how folks livedin the past. Thanks so much for stopping by! xo

  11. Very nice. I too have been to Hawaii only once. We stayed in the resort where the marina was filmed for the show start of Gilligan’s island. We rented a jeep and drove along the coast. Beautiful, and I love the photos and learning more about the island.

    1. Hi CA, so nice to see you here and glad you liked the pix. We are blessed to have family in the islands and therefore get to visit frequently. Every time I go, I learn something new and wonderful. Wow, Gilligan’s Island …cool blast from the past! Thanks for the post today.

  12. Avatar

    When our son-in-law was serving his second assignment in Hawaii, our daughter sent us a book called “Rough Riders, Hawi’i’s Paniolo and Their Stories” by Island Heritage Publishing. It is a fascinating book about ranches and people who worked on them on O’hau, Maui and other smaller islands as well as the Big Island. It is surprising how much cattle industry there was in Hawaii. I have read or heard that in recent years the Parker Ranch cattle are shipped to Washington State to be finished in feedlots. (I don’t remember where that information was.) There seem to be “cowboys” everywhere.

    1. Howdy Farmwife, that is definitely a book I need to get my hands on! Thanks for sharing. I so appreciate you stopping by today.

  13. What an interesting and informative post!
    I know Hawaii is beautiful…but I’m partial to the Texas Hill Country 😉

    Good luck and God’s blessings!
    PamT

    1. Hi PamT, oh I hear you, girl. I enjoyed my time in Bandera so much and hope it works out to visit there again. I’m not much of a flatlander, so the hill country was perfect for me. Add horses, good friends…a very special time. Thanks so much, my friend, for commenting! xox

  14. Wow! I had no idea. Now I would love to go back to Hawaii just to see this ranch. Thanks for sharing.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

    1. Hi Robyn/Zina, it’s definitely a must-see for those visiting the Big Island. It’s a vast island, though…took us two trips to see everything LOL. I so appreciate you stopping by today.

  15. Interesting History Thanks

    1. You’re so welcome, Kim. Always so good to see you here!y

  16. Our son-in-law has worked on the big island on and off for the last 4 years or more and for nearly 6 months our daughter and the kids lived there, too. We spent a week with them and visited the Parker ranch — they only lived a short distance from it. Our daughter knew how much her dad (rancher/cowboy/former rodeo bull rider, etc) would enjoy it. They introduced us to some wonderful Hawaiian families there and one in particular whose two sons are deeply involved in rodeo. They have more rodeos there than we do here in the West — nearly weekly! Cowboying and cows are still a huge part of the life and culture of the islanders there. We were awed by the number of cows. We visited every part of the island and attended one fantastic rodeo while we were there. The history is fascinating.

    1. Hi Gail, wow, what a lucky family! It’s great to see real life in a place where tourism first comes to mind. We did not get to a rodeo, but I have hopes next time! Thanks so much for sharing!

  17. What a lovely ranch. Thank you for the interesting post. This is definitely the kind of place I would visit. I hope I will get the opportunity to do so some day.
    We have been lucky in our travels and everyday life to have many special, magical days. Some have been for just the two of us, others we were lucky enough to share with our children. One of the most magical was at Fort Ticonderoga in NY State. We were attending a pipe and drum band performance. It was in the fort central yard. The area was lit only by torches. You could hear the bagpipes and drums as they approached the entrance of the fort, marched through the tunnel into the yard. It was an unreal experience listening to them under the stars. It did seem the clock had been turned back several hundred years. That night around our campfire, we could hear pipers off in the woods playing around their campfires.

    1. Hi Patricia, I would love to see more of NewYork State! I probably was not far from Fort Ticonderoga when we visited Vermont but…Lake Champlain was inbetween. Always so good to see you here. Thanks for commenting.

  18. I love learning new information. Thank you for sharing about ranching in Hawawii. Interesting pictures, too.

    1. Hi Hope, so glad you enjoyed the pix. I am so grateful for smartphone cameras lol. It was great to see you here today!

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