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History

Hawaii’s First Lady of Ranching

Anna Ranch

The big ranch house stands at the top of a green sheet of lawn and it’s surrounded by elegant gardens in full flower. Late in her remarkable life, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske wanted white and there are white flowers and white cats and even white cattle roaming around the hilly pastures. The house is white with blue and white striped awnings, the barns are white, the fences are white — after the morning rain everything is wet and clean and it’s hard to imagine that this place once had the dust and smell of a working cattle ranch.

SaddleBut the saddles are worn and there’s a shelf full of weathered boots. There are pictures of Anna astride enormous animals, huge stocky horses and even a Brahma bull. She was something of a rodeo queen, with glamorous outfits custom made for her by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. But on work days she was a ranch and cattle woman all the way.

Anna has been called the “First Lady of Ranching” in Hawai’i and was, during her long life, a cowgirl, jockey, pā’ū rider, licensed butcher, community leader, rancher, world traveler and humanitarian. A rare woman in any era but especially so in her lifetime!

In 1943, Anna married Lyman Perry-Fiske who was descended from another part-Hawaiian family from the district of Kohala. Lyman, a keen horseman, encouraged Anna in her innovative ranching practices such as introducing Brahma and Charolais bulls to improve her livestock.– Anna Ranch

BlacksmithAnna died in 1995;, ten years later, the ranch was placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places. Visitors to Anna Ranch can take a guided tour of  the grand and beautiful home — it’s full of gorgeous Koa furniture and other period objects. There’s a demonstration blacksmith — you can watch sparks fly and hear the music of the hammer — and there’s a patio overlooking a stream where the white cows come down to drink. The ranch is adding a “Heritage Trail” — a short stroll around the grounds with interpretive signs and planning to add Hawaiian saddlery educational workshops.

It’s easy to blow by the ranch — it’s right on the Kawaihae Road as you’re driving inland to Waimea from the Kona Coast. It’s worth a stop — the ranch offers insight into the rich history of the paniolo — Hawaiian cowboys — and introduces visitors to Anna. She’s amazing, you’ll be glad you made the time.

Practicalities

Anna Ranch is at 65-1480 Kawaihae Road in Kamuela. Tours are twice daily, at 10am and 1pm. It’s 10 dollars, free for kids under 12 (though you’ll want to keep the little ones in hands, there’s lots of things that beg to be touched). Parking is no problem and there are restrooms. Stop for a look at the grounds even if you’re not taking the tour, it’s gorgeous there.

My trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was sponsored by the Big Island Visitor’s Bureau.

Thurston’s Big Ideas for Hawaii

In preparation for a upcoming trip to Hawaii, I’ve been reading Hawaii (On the Road Histories). In the geology section at the beginning of the book there’s mention of Jagger, the researcher who spent so much time studying volcanic activity at what’s now Volcanoes National Park. There’s also a passing reference to Lorrin Thurston, a politician, business man, and something of an explorer who was instrumental in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

In the lower rain forested region of Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, visitors can walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a dripping geologic wonder named after a guy who wasn’t very nice to the native Hawaiians. He had a great affection for the land, if not for her people; he lobbied for the creation of a National Park to protect and preserve the land where his namesake lava tube stands.

Thurston was born in Hawaii, spoke fluent Hawaiian and had a Hawaiian name, yet he objected to  traditional hula and the native Hawaiian government. He seemed to have been big on nature, but not so much so on culture. I can’t help but feel ambivalent about assigning his name to a natural wonder though I suppose it’s as good a metaphor as any for the complicated tangle that is Hawaii. A driving force behind founding Hawaii’s National Park and for overthrowing her government — I imagine Thurston thought he knew what was best for the land.

It’s hard to argue with the establishment of a National Park, but the annexation of the islands remains a tragic unresolved chapter in Hawaii’s history. The next time I stand on the shiny black lava that bears Thurston’s name, I’ll think of more than geology.