As of April 2020, Gilman Ranch and Wagon Museum is temporarily closed due to Covid-19. Please check their website for the latest information about reopening.
James Marshall Gilman was born in Meredith, New Hampshire, on June 9, 1842. As a young man, his parents sent him to join his brother, a wholesale liquor salesman in San Francisco. After a short stint as a mercantile businessman in Oregon, James ventured to Banning, California. He founded the 160 acre Gilman Ranch and stagecoach station on the Bradshaw Trail, a major route for freight coaches traveling through Riverside County. Originating in San Bernardino, the 180 mile long trail was used to haul miners and other passengers to the gold fields at La Paz, Arizona.
In 1871, Gilman married Martha Benoist Smith, the daughter of Isaac Smith, who during the 1850s helped settle what is now Highland Springs.
The Gilman Historic Ranch & Wagon Museum opened in 1991 and is a re-creation of the ranch as it existed during Gilman’s life.
The museum features a replica of the Gilman house, a wagon museum displaying about 14 stagecoaches and wagons, some dating to the 1850s, a carriage house, an adobe milk house and the ruins of the Jose Pope adobe, which was built in 1854. It was the first permanent landmark in the Banning area. James Gilman took over the property in 1869 and lived in the adobe while building the ranch house.
“Tomlinson Stage Lines had bucked Banning for the La Paz trade and now made dashing runs from San Bernardino’s Bella Union Hotel out through Old San Bernardino, Ukipe (sic), and past Edgar’s and Smith’s son-in-law in Gilman’s, east half of Weaver Ranch in San Gorgonio. If the forecasts were true, of coming communication arteries down state after the bridging of the continent by the “iron mules,” then stage travel and wagon travel would be “of the bygone days.” ~Saga of the San Bernardinos by Pauliena B. LaFuze, published 1971.
Exhibits include authentic wagons, including an Overland stagecoach, a prairie schooner and a chuck wagon, a saddle collection and Western ranching tools and artifacts.
The ranch house burned down in 1977 and was rebuilt 32 years later. The only part of the original house, built in 1879, are the bricks in the fireplace.
“Willie Boy was a Paiute Indian, about twenty-eight years old, living on the Morongo Indian Reservation. Isoleta, a buxom Indian maiden of fourteen summers, attended the reservation school. Although her family lived in Twentynine Palms, they were at the time of this event working at the Gilman Ranch northwest of Banning. ” ~A Peculiar Piece of Desert by Lulu Rasmussen O’Neal, published 1957.
Gilman’s orchards are where in 1909, Captain Boniface and his family were working as fruit pickers the night Willie Boy shot Old Mike and made away with Old Mike’s daughter, Carlota, what was to begin a seventeen day manhunt crisscrossing the desert that would ultimately end in both of their deaths, as the story of the last manhunt in the American West goes.
“There have been many reports that his name was actually Billy Boy, but because President Taft was coming to Riverside and often called Billy Boy, the newspaper changed the name to Willie Boy.” ~Caught Dead to Rights by Zoe De Crevecoeur-Erickson, published 2009.
The 1969 movie “Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here” starring Robert Redford and Robert Blake was filmed at Gilman Ranch and the surrounding Banning area. Actor Jason Mamoa recently met with the museum director to discuss producing a new movie about Willie Boy. Many disagree with the official story, and have sought out the alternative opinions of tribal members and others. In its day, it was a story that mesmerized the nation. Malki Museum founder Katherine Siva Saubel was quoted as having been told by sources that Willie Boy got away.
We nibbled a veritable smorgasbord from nature at the Gilman Ranch recently during a guided tour thanks to docent Maureen. We tried wild grapes, blackberries, walnuts, persimmons, and figs right off the tree. The olives, oranges, grapefruit and pomegranates weren’t quite ripe yet when we visited but they sure were pretty.
In 2006 Banning had two big fires. The Gilman Ranch Fire was the closest to town. The fire burned down the Gilman Ranch barn, but the house and most other buildings were saved.
The ranch is located at 1901 W. Wilson St., Banning. For more information, call (951) 922-9200 or visit https://www.rivcoparks.org