Princeville Ranch was one of the first cattle ranches in Hawai’i, established during the reign of Kamehameha III. Cattle roamed these lands 20 years before ranches and cowboy traditions developed in the great American West.
In 1831, Richard Charlton, British Consul to the Hawaiian Islands, leased lands between Hanalei and Kalihiwai from Governor Kaikioewa of Kaua’i to be used as a cattle ranch. Charlton brought in longhorn cattle from “Norte California” and by 1840 the herd numbered 100 head. In 1845, Charlton conveyed the ranch to the Dudoit family , French consul to Hawaii. By this time, the number of cattle increased to an impressive 1800 head. The Dudoits salted beef locally to sell to whalers as well as shipped cattle to Honolulu for beef. In 1862, the ranch lands changed ownership again when Robert Crichton Wyllie bought the ranch to add to his already 1700 acres in Hanalei. At that time he also purchased Mr. Titcomb’s Hanalei sugar plantation, which was then called Emmaville. Wyllie then named his extensive holdings “Princeville Plantation” after the only son of Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, who visited Hanalei in 1860. Great sadness overcame the royal parents and the whole nation when the little Prince died in 1862.
Judge E.H. Allen purchased the Princeville lands from Wyllie’s estate in 1867. Several hardships fell on the new owners in 1890 including an outbreak of a bovine disease which caused the owners to destroy the cattle. The Allen’s had formed the Hanalei Sugar Mill Company but sugarcane proved unprofitable on the north shore due to root rot and a lack of consistent water for irrigating. The last crop was harvested in Hanalei in 1893.
A.S. Wilcox purchased Princeville Plantation in 1893. He was the son of missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox who traveled to Hawaii in the mid 1800’s to teach English and Christianity to the Hawaiian people. A.S. Wilcox was the great great uncle of the present day operators, the Carswell family. He rented out the lower lands of the ranch to Chinese rice planters and planted imported range grasses on the upper lands for intensive cattle ranching.
In 1919, Lihue Plantation bought the Princeville Ranch lands. They maintained Princeville as a cattle ranch and planted pineapples on some of the upper lands during the 1930’s. From 1969 until the present, the ownership of the ranch has changed hands several times.
Throughout the years, coffee, silk, pineapple, oranges, sugar, rice, cattle and other crops were experimented with. Cattle have outlasted all of them due to the optimum combination of rain and sun, creating lush and verdant pastures perfect for raising grass finished beef.
In 1978, Donn or “Curly” Carswell and his wife Gale started Po’oku Stables on a portion of the ranch lands, offering horseback riding adventures and taking guests to the majestic Kalihiwai Falls. Gale is a descendant of the Wilcox family and is the great great niece of the previously mentioned Albert Wilcox. When Curly and Gale started Po’oku Stables, horseback riding was one of the only adventures offered on the entire north shore of Kaua’i. The original Waterfall picnic ride is still one of their most popular adventures. Curly and Gale also started the Hanalei Stampede, a statewide rodeo that ran for 11 years. It was one of the largest rodeos in the state and horses were barged in so that cowboys and cowgirls from all over Hawai’i could participate. Although this rodeo was held in August every year, a typically drier month, there were many years that the famous Hanalei rains flooded the arena to create a wild and muddy event. This rodeo will go down in the history books as one of the most popular rodeos in the state and many people still reminisce about it.
After solely running horseback tours for 16 years, in 1994 The Carswell’s acquired the lease of the entire Princeville Ranch lands. This came shortly after Hurricane Iniki and at a time when their four children were returning from colleges on the mainland. Their four children grew up around the stables, guiding trail rides, participating in 4-H and rodeos so it was only natural that they became involved in the business. They were integral in the expansion of other eco-tours such as hiking, ziplining, kayaking and most recently off-road 4×4 tours.
David, one of Curly and Gale’s sons, moved home from college in the early 1990’s and brought with him the concept of natural horsemanship. He enhanced the horseback tours by creating smaller group sizes as well as education in horsemanship. David also offered horsemanship clinics around the state of Hawai’i and continued to travel to the mainland to hone his horsemanship skills with various trainers. David remains one of the top horsemen in the state to this day. David is also an adventure pioneer….he and his wife were one of the first to create a zipline course in the state of Hawai’i when they built a 9 line course in 2003, at the start of zipline popularity in the country. David remains a consultant to the ranch but is involved in other business endeavors as well as continues his passion for natural horsemanship.
Karin, the youngest sister, became part of the business after earning a business degree at the University of Denver. Karin dove into the cattle side of the business and with her father’s help created a grass finished all natural beef program, providing healthy and delicious beef coveted by north shore residents. Karin married Jeff Guest who ironically built a new highway through The Carswell’s old Hanalei Stampede rodeo arena. They met the day of Hurricane Iniki as she was attending to horses and he was knocking down fences to secure his bulldozers, preparing for the roar of Iniki. Jeff was integral in helping the family rebuild a new stables and arena on the mauka side of the new highway. Jeff and Karin currently run the ranch together and are responsible for the expansion of the off-road adventures and the new events center. Other endeavors on the horizon include a bee keeping operation and other sustainable farming and gardening.
Princeville Ranch remains an important part of the north shore community of Kaua’i. With over 70 employees, nine different activities, a new events center, 50 horses and a herd of over 300 head of Brangus cattle, the goals of the ranch are to continue on the current path as well as expand in other sustainable areas. To keep these lands in pristine open space will continue to be the main focus as well as provide an opportunity for visitors and locals alike to adventure and experience the true essence of this north shore ranch.