San Miguel - 1st Grade Class

Thanks to Don French and his wife, Anna Carl French for sending this photo of the 1st grade class at San Miguel Elementary School in 1951-52. Can you help with any names? Here's the story:

1st Grade San Miguel

Maybe you can't remember what San Miguel was like in 1951, or maybe you can.  Here are some of the things I've dug up.  As with most of the small towns along US 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, there was no freeway bypassing the town, but instead, to get through town, all cars had to drive down mainstreet.  There was no county park and swimming pool on the west side of town at the base of the hills. Instead, small wooden buildings housed the elementary school.  And if you lived in San Miguel, you knew the town limits were "from the Mission to the mill, from the river to the hill."  

Camp Roberts was an active US Army base that helped staff the growing conflict in Korea, and many of the soldiers who were stationed permanently on base had kids who went to school in San Miguel. 

Finally, even though I did not meet her until many years later, I now know what my lovely wife looked like in the first grade.  She can be seen standing in the attached photo.  The names are what we remember and what we collected from other people.  The teacher is Lillian Larsen for whom the current San Miguel school is named.  The photo depicts a different time, a time of innocence and charm where all the boys wore cuffed-up jeans and all the girls wore dresses.  Thank you, Lillian Larsen, for all you did for so many kids and their kids, and thank you, Anna, for allowing me to take this peek back in time.

  - Don

Paso's Pet Lions

In the 1950's there were only four men hired by the state to hunt mountain lion. Steve Matthes was one of them. In the early 50's he lived just up the street from the high school football field on 24th Street. 

Steve Matthes, Lion Hunter

Sandy Thixton has this great story to tell:

My family and the Matthes family were best of friends.  My family made an agreement with Steve Matthes that if he got any orphaned cubs that my mother would raise them.  The plan was that as they grew up, my dad and Steve would take movies of the cubs with Steve's male lion and then sell them to Disney.  So the deal was struck.

  Lo and behold, Steve did kill a female lion and did not discover that she had cubs until after she was dead.  He crawled into a cave and rescued the 3 day old cubs--3 of them--and brought them to my mother. One of them died right away.  My mother proceeded to mother the other two--females that we named Cheetah and Shaw.  She had to feed them every two hours, 24 hours a day for the first month.  They eventually had the run of our house until one day when we came home and discovered they had had a great time in our absence unrolling all of toilet paper all over the house and climbing up and down the living room draperies.  We moved them to the back yard, then. My brother played with them using huge empty cardboard boxes.  One day one of them learned to climb the fence and did so to chase a neighbor's house cat through the neighborhood toward the river---with my dad in hot pursuit.  By this time they were very large indeed.

Steve and my dad had taken movies all along, and I have a copy of those on DVD that Bud Journey converted from Super 8 film for me. Unfortunately, they are very dark.  With movie cameras in those days when you ran out of film, you had to be in the dark to take out the used film and put in the new roll to keep the film from ruining.  So my dad took along a black cloth that he would put over his head and change the film when they were out in the "field" filming,  Every time he did this, Steve's male lion would go nutso.  Luckily my dad never got attacked.

When they took the movies, none of the mountain lions were contained in any way.  The filmers just followed along after the lions wherever they went.  Steve and my dad also got a bright idea that they should show the mountain lions interacting with other animals.  So they caught a badger, and a rattlesnake, and I don't remember how many other animals that they let go near the mountain lions and then filmed the result.  The rattlesnake that they caught they defanged and put in a sack in the pickup.  Robert Allison was along for the ride.  In the middle of the drive, the rattlesnake started to come out of the sack and everyone jumped ship.  It seems that rattlesnakes have a second set of fangs that they can bring down to use if they lose their first set.  Fortunately, no one got bitten.

Eventually it was decided by Steve that the cubs should be sold at the age of one year.  One was purchased by the author John Steinbeck and given to the Queen of England as a mascot for the H.M.S. Puma.  This lion then was put in the royal zoo, had several cubs there and eventually died.  The other was bought by a longshoreman from the L.A. area.  He used to drive around with the lion stretched out on the back of his seat. He would take the lion out to "romp" in the wilds and then when she came back, he would take her back home.  One day she didn't come back.  He had to leave to go to work.  She roamed into a barn and a farmer shot her.

  I enjoyed the experience of helping to raise the mountain lions immensely.  I also enjoyed having classmates come over just to see my mountain lion cubs.  They were never domesticated  but always remained wild animals.  If you happened to step on one accidentally, their eyes would actually turn red with anger and they were scary.  My mom adored them anyway and would control them even when they were big by catching them by their long tail.

 When I went into high school and we had to list what we wanted to be when we graduated, I put down that I wanted to be a lady lion hunter.  The school didn't know what to do about that so they gave me books on forestry.  When I told Steve that I wanted to be a lady lion hunter, he told me that I wouldn't stay much of a lady long if I were a lion hunter.  Both of my children are very much outdoors people and interested in animals.  My son, Ty, works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and serves as a fishing guide on the Kenai River in Alaska in the summers whenever he can.  My daughter lives near Boise and raises Andalusian horses as a hobby.

 Rick Sturgeon's story:

When I was four years old (1950), I was playing in the front yard of our home at 2129 Vine Street. You could play in your yard with little fear (or so we thought) back then. A mountain lion came down the hill behind our house and settle in next to a big oak tree. Fortunately for me, the man who lived across the street (Bert Casteel, the local dog catcher) saw the lion. He ran into his house and found his rifle (a 22 caliber). The lion had begun to stalk me. Bert, fearful of just wounding the animal and placing me in jeopardy decided to shoot just over its head. It spooked the lion, and it ran back up the hill. Because of Bert, I am here to relate the story. I used to have a clipping from the P.R. Press relating the story, but have lost it over the years.

William Wimmer adds: 

Dad & I used to go out and shoot ground squirrels and bring them back to feed Cleo.  After a while Steve asked us if we would stop doing that.  It seems that Cleo got balled up with the fur, and he had to have a Vet give Cleo an enema.  I could think of no worse profession than being a vet and having to do that to a mountain lion !!!!!!!!!!!!

Dave Steaffens tells us:

My dad knew Steve quite well.  I remember going to his house once and walked in the door, and the lion was laying on the couch like a house cat. 

John Barclay remembers Steve as the man who kept a pet mountain lion named Cleo at his house:

 I got in a lot of trouble and frequently for being home late to supper, because I was waiting for Cleo to eat the leghorn chicken walking around in her cage.  She never would get interested in the chicken in front of me, and there would only be chicken feet left the next day.  Steve Matthes would take her out into natural surrounding and film her; then he would sell footage to Disney to be edited into those lion movies that were popular for a while.  Steve responded to a ‘Doggone Department’ piece from KPRL where we had contacted when we lost a parakeet.  When I went to retrieve the parakeet from him, he filled me in on the history of Cleo as well as his Matthes Lion Hound breed that continues today.

Paul Lamas, Gary Smith & Cleo
Paul Lamas, Cleo and Gary Smith

Gary Smith remembers: 

Steve Matthes told John he got the cub and another cub after killing the mother and backtracking to the den. The other cub went to a zoo.  I also heard Steve would carry the cat around in the back of his truck and cause quite a reaction when he would stop for gas.  

Jack Guffey chimed in when he remembered his experience with Steve:

Sure looks like the kitten Steve Matthes brought to the ranch my parents owned in the Adelaide. We were still commuting from that valley town and we had my Boy Scout troop over for the weekend, and Steve brought an orphan kitten for all of us to play with and handle while Steve talked about being a State lion hunter and showed slides. Had to be 1952 thru maybe 1954.

Apparently, after leaving Paso Robles, Steve moved to the Northwest looking for more adventure. Around 1960 he joined Tom Slick's Pacific Northwest Expedition and started tracking Bigfoot according to the book Sasquatch Legend Meets Science by Jeff Meldrum - 2007.

There's a whole chapter devoted to him in the book Extreme Outdoor Adventures-Who Survives and Why, written by Larry Mueller and Marguerite Reiss. You can read it here:

Steve Matthes died in 1995.


Bill and Emma Claassen

Jane Belmont sent the following information about Bill and Emma who owned The Mercantile department store at the corner of 12th and Pine Street.

According to old census records, Bill was in the "Merchant, Dry Goods" business during 1910-1930. Emma's parents were Alexander and Emma Monteith. Bill and Emma's sons were William, Arthur and Howard. 

Jane's mom worked at the store, and Jane did the same during college breaks. At that time, Bill's grandson, Jimmy, was in charge.

Jane wasn't able to find out exactly when the Mercantile was established, and if anyone has that information please forward it to me. Thanks.

Unfortunately, Emma died in a car accident in 1954. Bill passed away in 1964.

This portrait was taken on Pioneer Day (probably early 50's) of Emma and Bill. The second picture includes Paul and Grace Reinke sitting in back of the fringed surrey.

Bill and Emma Claassen

Surrey and Friends on Pioneer Day

Interesting asides: The 2009 Pioneer Day Queen, Maggie, was married to Howard Claassen. And Bill's second wife, Marian Pond Claassen, was also a Pioneer Day Queen.


Paul and Grace Reinke

In Paso's early car sales heyday, a number of notable dealerships spotted the landscape. In the mid-1930's Paul Reinke started selling Packards, Hudsons, Studebakers and Willys at 1130 Pine Street. The business lasted until 1960, when the building was sold, and Pioneer Auto Parts put their sign over the door. 

These memorable photos were submitted by the Reinke's granddaughter, Jane Belmont, who says her mom "still lives on the 40 acres my grandfather's father bought and partially planted."

Reinke Dealership

The following is the caption to a 1950 Paso Robles Daily Press picture of Paul and Grace at the Pre-Pioneer Day Dance. "Paul and Grace Reinke, residents of Paso Robles for almost 40 years, stole the show by winning the best old time costume award at the 1950 pre-Pioneer Day Dance. The Reinke's, who will soon be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, lent their talent to the dance and parade for many years. This year's pre-Pioneer Day Dance [1951], sponsored by the Do Paso Squares and the Shandon Square Wheelers, will be held at the Shrine Club Saturday night, with dancing getting underway at 9 p.m. to the music by Ed Cary and square dance calling by Jack Osborne."

Paul and Grace Reinke

More information about the history of 1130 Pine Street can be seen in an article titled: A Dame With a History. Note that the link at the end of the article should be:



The Old Paso Robles Plunge

From Ray Bryant

          The Paso Robles Swim and Tennis Club should be an asset to a growing Paso Robles and reading about it brought back memories of coming to Paso Robles in 1937 when my parents purchased the Paso Robles Auto Court on Spring Street between 9th and 10th street and included in the deal was the old plunge.  The builders of the complex were far sighted and having a big plunge with an auto court was unique in those days.  When we came the plunge was already in a declining state.  The heating system had long died and the filtering system was a relic even in those days but it served faithfully until the plunge closed. It was operated as a public swimming pool during the summer months and was about 100 x 50 feet with two smaller pools at the end. 

          There was a pool of about equal size on the NW corner of 10th and Spring Streets that was part of the hotel health center.  The water was from a warm sulfur spring and the bottom may have been slippery and the smell was always present but it was warm and enclosed.  The plunge was torn down after the fire that destroyed the Paso Robles Hotel. 

          During WWII the plunge was operated by the USO as chemicals were not available to civilians. The plunge was closed to civilians and I couldn’t even get in.

          My folks sold the property in 1946 and the buyer sold the plunge to the city of Paso Robles who operated it for several years. John McCord built a pool at Resthaven out Adelaide Road. It was a fun pool that McCord built free form along an old stream bed. It had slides, floats and lots of lawn making it a fun place.  I remember I was swimming out there and I was kicked out of the pool for misbehavior of some sort.  When I got home my Mother told me that McCord had called and wanted me to lifeguard that evening so back I went to Resthaven.

          I taught Red Cross Swimming at the Plunge while in college. The configuration looked great but the depth made it difficult to teach beginning swimming classes. Before WWII there were several boys who were excellent swimmers and a couple of divers that might have done something with their skills except the war interrupted. I played water polo one year in college but my hands were too small to handle the ball quick and easy.  The coach keep harping that I should come out for swimming which I finally did when I was a junior and I got my first varsity letter and repeated the next year.  I bring this up as I was one of the last to be able to come out in college compared to now that you have to start training very young and do it all year. It takes good facilities, good coaching, and dedicated training to develop a swimmer at almost any competitive level. Let’s hope that Paso Robles Swim and Tennis Club will become a driving force in developing swimmers and tennis players.


The Moose on Park Street

From Don French:

Don French
DON IN 1961

My aunt, Flossie Gay, worked at the Park Pharmacy for many, many years. Even though she only worked behind the counter, she always wore a nurse-like white smock. The pharmacist was Barry Claybrook, and like many other Paso businesses of that time, he treated his employees like family. The pharmacy was on the corner of 12th and Park Street in the 1892 Clock Tower building that was destroyed in the 2003 earthquake.

Next to the pharmacy on Park Street was a barber shop where my Mom took me for haircuts, and on the wall was a huge moose head. The barber always told me that the moose was just sticking his head through the wall, and his body was in the Park Pharmacy. Little did he know that my Aunt worked there.

So one day I asked her and Mr. Claybrook if I could see the moose, and they took me into the back of the pharmacy.

Of course, there was no moose!


Carnegie Library


John B. Ward Research

I am doing research on the history of a Methodist mission to Chinese women and children in San Francisco (1870-1913), where my wife's grandmother was raised. From 1903-1913, the Superintendent of the "Oriental Home" as it was called, was one Carrie G. Davis, whose sister, Bella Davis, was married to John B. Ward. John apparently died before 1910, but Bella was still living in Paso Robles in 1925, when Carrie Davis died in San Francisco. I found a photo of John Ward in the following publication:

 Click here: 

One hundred years ago (Nov 5, 1908) Carrie Davis took a group of Chinese children from this Oriental Home to visit president Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, where the children sang for him. My wife's grandmother was one of these children. By March 1909 the children were in Southern California, where Carrie "broke down," and she spent some time in Paso Robles recovering--apparently staying with her sister. I do not know if the Chinese children sang in Paso Robles. John and Bella Ward had a son Victor who was a veterinarian, and the Canadian family thinks the Ward family may have been into horse racing.

Since Carrie Davis was not married and had no children, I am wondering if there are descendants of the Ward family still living in Paso Robles who might have memorabilia from Carrie Davis. The Ward and Davis families were from Canada, and were living in California by 1887, so they may have been part of the original citizens of the town. Carrie Davis kept a marvelous journal of her 10 years working with rescued prostitutes from SF Chinatown, and I have many newspaper articles about her work and her story of escape from the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Please feel free to forward this email to anyone who you think might know something about the Ward family of Paso Robles. Some of their other children were: Band(?), Belle Lada(?), Otto, Albert, Victor, and Florence, all born 1885-1909.

PS. I went to Atascadero high school in 1965-1966. My grandparents lived in Atascadero 1962-1984. My uncle and aunt lived there for many years (Layton Tree Service).

Jeff Staley, PhD
Seattle University