Ranch and Family History
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. From the 1800’s to today, this verdant land has undergone many changes that contribute to its fascinating history.
EARLY 1800’S – The beginning of the cattle ranch
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. The United States Exploring Expedition thought The Charlton cattle to be finer than from any of the other islands. In 1845, Charlton conveyed the ranch to the Dudoit family, French consul to Hawaii. During these early ranching days, beef was salted and sold to whalers and butter was exported to the Honolulu markets.
MID 1800’S – Princeville Plantation gets its name
The Ranch lands changed ownership again in 1862 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 Emmasville. Wyllie 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 entire nation when their son, Prince Albert Edward Kauikeaouli Kaleiopapa, died in 1862.
LATE 1800’S – Overcoming hardship on the ranch
Judge E.H. Allen and group purchased the Princeville lands from Wyllie’s estate in 1867. Several hardships fell on the new owners, including an outbreak of a bovine disease which forced the owners to destroy the cattle. Allen and group formed the Hanalei Sugar Mill Company but sugarcane proved unprofitable on the north shore due to root rot, a lack of consistent water for irrigating, and the high cost of running a sugar mill. The last crop was harvested in Hanalei in 1893.
A.S. Wilcox —Missionary son
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 the lower lands of the ranch to Chinese rice farmers and planted imported range grasses on the upper lands for intensive cattle ranching.
1900’s – Cattle, pineapple, silk, and other crops
In 1919, Lihue Plantation bought the Princeville ranch lands. They maintained Princeville as a cattle ranch and planted pineapples on part of the upper lands during the 1930’s. Lihue Plantation finally sold the ranch in 1969. From 1969 to present, the ownership of the land has changed hands several times with the most recent owners being The Resort Group from Honolulu. Throughout the years, coffee, silk, pineapples, oranges, sugar, rice, taro and other crops were experimented with. Cattle and taro have outlasted all of them due to the optimum combination of rain and sun.
LATE 1900’S— Carswell Family starts horseback riding
In 1978, Donn “Curly” Carswell and his wife Gale started Po’oku Stables on a portion of the ranch lands, offering horseback riding adventures. Gale was a descendant of the Wilcox family and was 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 visitor activities offered on the north shore of Kaua’i.
Hanalei Stampede Rodeo
Curly and Gale started the Hanalei Stampede Rodeo in 1979, a statewide rodeo that ran for 12 years. It was one of the largest rodeos in the state of Hawaii and horses were barged in from all islands for Paniolo to compete. Although this rodeo was held in August, typically one of the drier months, there were many years that the famous Hanalei rains flooded the arena to create a wild and muddy event. This rodeo goes down in the history books as one of the most popular rodeos in Hawaii. You will often hear kama’aina from around the state fondly reminiscing about The Hanalei Stampede.
As Po’oku Stables became more established, Curly continued to work as a full time engineer as Gale successfully ran all aspects of the business. She was especially known for making her famous picnic lunches for the trail rides and continued to do so for over 30 years. Gale also ran summer horseback camps for young girls, supported her four children in 4-H programs, and volunteered for many non-profit boards around the island. She was the cheerleader of the family and a pillar of joy in the entire community. Sadly, she passed in 2018 at the age of 78.
1990’s— Home from college
David, son to Curly and Gale, returned to Kaua’i in the early 1990’s from college and brought with him the concept of natural horsemanship. He enhanced the trail rides by educating guests with horsemanship skills for a more pleasurable experience for horse and rider. Over the years, David conducted horsemanship clinics throughout the state and continued to travel to the mainland to hone his skills with various well-known trainers. David remains one of the top horsemen in the state to this day and continues to teach clinics statewide.
Adventure Pioneers— Hike, Kayak, Zipline
Along with a focus on horsemanship, David was an adventure pioneer and started hiking, kayaking, and ziplining tours on the ranch with wife Denise. They built a 9-line zipline course in 2002, which was one of the first courses in Hawaii, in the height of zipline popularity nationwide. The delicate balance of eco-tourism and cattle ranching continued to keep Princeville Ranch a viable operation, contributing to local employment and providing food security in the state. Today, David remains a consultant to the ranch but is involved in other business endeavors as well as continuing his passion for natural horsemanship.
In 1994, The Carswell’s bought the herd of Princeville Ranch cattle and took over the lease of the entire ranch lands, totaling 4000 acres. This came at a time when more of their children were returning from colleges on the mainland and O’ahu. The Carswell children grew up on the ranch, guiding horseback rides and competing in horse shows and rodeos. When they returned home, it was a natural transition for most of them to become involved in the family business. Kelley, oldest daughter, co-managed the stables with David for a short time until she opened her own business, Kauai Backcountry Adventures, offering tubing and ziplining tours on old sugarcane lands near Lihue.
Ranching with Daughter
Karin Carswell Guest, the youngest daughter of Curly and Gale, returned home in 1992 with a business degree from the University of Denver and joined the family business. In 1995, with the help of her father, Karin developed a grass-finished beef program with their herd of 400 head of Brangus cattle. Karin and her father shared many outrageous cattle-working duties including calf rescues, cow chases and bull wrestling. Curly promises to one day write a book detailing these cow tales, titling it, ‘Ranching with Daughter’. Karin and her brother David were responsible for day to day operations on the ranch for almost 20 years until 2011, when Karin and her husband Jeff took over the ranch.
Hurricane Iniki—1992 and beyond
Jeff and Karin met in 1992 on the morning of Hurricane Iniki. Jeff was the project manager for Goodfellow Brothers, Inc., contracted to build a state highway through the center of The Carswell’s rodeo arena. As he secured bulldozers and Karin tended to the horses, the two met minutes before the roar of Iniki. The hurricane wreaked havoc on the island and daily routine’s came to a standstill. Jeff was integral in rebuilding a new barn and arena for the family, as Karin and her brother worked hard to get the business back up and running.
Jeff and Karin married three years later in 1995. They have three children that grew up on the ranch and share in the family’s love for the outdoors and beauty of the ranch. Jeff and Karin are responsible for the expansion of 4×4 tours on the ranch and creating an events center with the renovation of an old saddle barn, creating a venue for local events and weddings. Karin presently oversees all areas of the ranch with a team of 75 part-time and full-time managers and employees. Jeff continues his career in the construction business, including consulting on various projects for the ranch.
Iconic Princeville Ranch
From 1831 to present, Princeville Ranch has been an icon on the north shore of Kaua’i. With an assortment of eco-adventures, an events center, 60 horses and a herd of 200 cows, the ranch remains an important part of the North Shore agricultural community. Perpetuating the heritage, keeping the lands in open space, and continuing to provide nature-based experiences are goals that inspire The Carswell family as they continue to steward the lands with deep gratitude.