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.
Cattle were introduced to the Big Island in 1793 as a gift from Captain George Vancouver to King Kamehameha I. The King placed a ten year “kapu”, or taboo, on hunting the cattle, in order to grow the number of head. By 1832, cattle were running rampant causing damage to crops and residents on the island. Three Mexican Vaqueros were brought in to teach the Hawaiians how to ride and rope, in order to domesticate the “pipi”, as the cattle were called. Mustang-like horses imported in 1803 were used to accomplish this task.
In addition to teaching the Hawaiians how to ride and rope, the vaqueros also taught them leather working skills to make saddles and braided lariats. They influenced the Hawaiians with their guitars, which they had brought with them from California. The Hawaiian cowboys became known as paniolo, derived from the Spanish word “espanol.” They eventually traveled to other islands, including Kaua’i, to help with the “pipi.”
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 1855, Robert Crichton Wyllie bought the Rhodes Coffee Plantation, which included 1700 acres in Hanalei. He continued to acquire land and in 1862 purchased the remaining ranch lands as well as Mr. Titcomb’s Hanalei Sugar Plantation, which was then called Emmaville. 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 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 Allens 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 till the present, the ownership of the ranch has changed hands several times. Current owners are The Resort Group from Oahu. The Carswell Family has been leasing lands on the ranch since 1978, when they first started horseback riding tours and rodeos on the north shore. Presently, they lease 2,500 acres where over 300 head of Brangus cattle roam. In addition to ranching and horseback riding, The Carswell Family offers eco tours including ziplining, hiking, and kayaking, as well as a kids adventure center.
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. The Carswells intend to continue ranching these lands as well as offer sustainable adventure tours for visitors and locals alike, allowing the pristine acreage to remain in open space.
Historical photos courtesy of The Kaua’i Historical Society.