The origin of the Brown Ranch (later known as the Cole, Verde, Grier, and the Kemper Campbell Ranch) is of considerable interest and importance to the Victor Valley area.
At one time the ranch exceeded 3,000 acres, extending from what is now the intersection of Apple Valley Road and Bear Valley Road at its southeast corner, all the way north and west to the vicinity of the Upper Narrows of the Mojave River, where a remnant of the ranch still exists. The property included the area now occupied by Victor Valley College, Spring Valley Lake, Mojave Narrows Regional Park, the commercial properties on Bear Valley Road, and other subdivisions and miscellaneous adjacent parcels.
It has been rumored that John Brown Sr. established the ranch in 1867, that he did so by homesteading the property, and that it was he who named it the Rancho Verde (or Verde Ranch). Some even hold that Brown built his toll road to the ranch from Cajon Pass.
If these ideas were not started by Josephine Rumble in her history of the Old Government Road, she certainly fixed them in the firmament. Historians and commentators on the desert have used her work as a major reference for decades; however, although a good source for its time, it has become outdated and contains some errors.
My wife Kathy and I disputed these notions in our book Pioneer of the Mojave: The Life and Times of Aaron G. Lane. We listed numerous legal documents to support our position, including a deed, property transfer, cattle registry, possessory claim and mortgage. Of course, we only briefly touched on the subject, since our book was about Aaron Lane, and not the Brown Ranch.
Author Erma Peirson directly addressed the issue in her book The Mojave River and its Valley. She is wary of the hearsay, but cannot quite put her finger on the solution:
Rumor has run strong through the decades about the first occupant of the famed ranch which has been called the Brown Ranch and the Verde before it received the current name. Homestead records have not come up with any answer, and it has clung to the Brown usage rather consistently.
John Brown, Sr., who was very busy helping the West to grow, receives some of the honor for the name, although there is no proof that he lived on the Narrows ranch lands....There has been a strong feeling that John Brown, Jr., may well have been the one who lived there and for whom the ranch was named.
She then quotes a little known report by W. F. McClure and others, entitled, Report on the Utilization of Mojave River for Irrigation in Victor Valley, California, which states the "first occupation" was by James Brown:
Rancho Verde includes 3,800 acres in the Mojave River bottom just above the Upper Narrows. The first occupation was about 1867 by James Brown, a cattleman who pre-empted land and by 1874 had 1,500 acres fenced and a ditch from the river. Cole and Harris, who acquired the property about 1894, added more land by purchase, constructed another ditch, drilled wells, and started a dairy.
Except that the dates are a bit off, the McClure statement is substantially correct.
I will now show through public records and newspaper accounts that James and Joseph Brown settled the ranch in 1870 and lost the heavily mortgaged property in 1898. That although both John Browns, father and son, had financial interests in the ranch at one time or another, there is no evidence yet uncovered that either ever operated, maintained or lived on the property. Further, no one (Brown or otherwise) homesteaded any of the Brown Ranch—it was all purchased or claimed, and the name Rancho Verde was never applied to it until owner John A. Cole incorporated the Rancho Verde Company in 1901.