Waddle Ranch History

History of Waddle Ranch Preserve

Martis Valley has been home to people for thousands of years. Artifacts such as spear points and chippings, left by the Martis people, have been found on the property and are estimated to be two to three thousand years old. Members of the Washoe Tribe used the land more recently as a summer encampment, fishing for Lahontan cutthroat trout in Martis Creek, and hunting for deer. The Washoe were present in the Martis Valley until the 1910’s.

Joseph Joerger, also known as “Grasshopper Joe” and “Silver Creek Joe,” emigrated from France to California in 1851, and mined in the Folsom area. With his mining proceeds he bought land near Folsom and began raising sheep, later switching to cattle. In the summer, the Joerger’s drove as many as 700 head of cattle from Folsom to the Martis Valley.

Letters in the Waddle family’s possession and land patents suggest that Joerger began acquiring grazing lands and a homestead in the Martis Valley in the late 1860’s. He married Martha Smith Joerger and had nine children, three of whom were born in the Martis Valley. Ella Bertha Joerger was the oldest daughter, and upon Joe Sr.’s death in 1914 she inherited one half of the Martis Valley Ranch; her sister Gertrude inherited the other half.

Ella married William S. Waddle in 1901 and had two sons, Alvin and Wesley. While William operated a butcher shop and slaughterhouse in Auburn, the Martis Valley property was rented to Ella’s brother Joseph Emil for cattle grazing. Dry Lake, a prominent feature on the property, was renamed Lake Ella when the earthen dam was constructed in the early 1960’s.

The Martis Valley ranch was in the Waddle/Joerger family from the 1870’s until its sale to Fiberboard in 1964. Part of the ranch was subsequently acquired by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control, and is now a part of Martis Creek Lake National Recreation Area, and the Truckee Tahoe Airport. The Pritzker Family of Chicago acquired the remaining ranch property, what is now Waddle Ranch Preserve, in the 1970’s for potential resort development.

After an unprecedented community fundraising effort, the Truckee Donner Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land purchased Waddle Ranch in 2007 for $23.5 million, protecting it forever. In 2009 title to Waddle Ranch Preserve was transferred to the Truckee Tahoe Airport District. The Truckee Donner Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property, forever prohibiting development while assuring the public’s right to access and enjoy the property.

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