Lewis Fenno Moulton circa 1880 (2022.04.13).
When it comes to finding an example of the true pioneer spirit, Lewis Fenno Moulton is at the top of the list. Through perseverance, determination, and hard work, Lewis became a successful Orange County cattle baron. His work with the Moulton Ranch significantly shaped the landscape of Orange County’s ranching era, making it what it is today.
Lewis Fenno Moulton was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 17, 1854 to J. Tilden Moulton and the former Charlotte Fenno. His father, a Harvard Law School graduate, was practicing law in Chicago at the time of Lewis’ birth. Three years later in 1857, Lewis’ brother, Irving, was born. At the age of 10 years old, Lewis’ parents divorced and his mother took both boys back to Boston, Massachusetts where her family lived.
At 15 years old, Lewis spent time working on the old Daniel Webster farm in South Marshfield, Massachusetts. Under the guidance of Daniel Webster, Lewis learned the value of hard work and what it takes to successfully manage a farm. After three years, Lewis left the Webster farm to work in a Boston shipyard packing shingles. This job was physically demanding and reinforced what it meant to put in a hard day’s work.
In 1874, at just 20 years old, Lewis decided it was time for a change. With financial backing from his uncle, he boarded a steamship to the Isthmus of Panama, crossed by train, then took a second steamship bound for San Francisco. However, he didn’t stay in San Francisco long. He took a boat to Wilmington, California, and then a stagecoach to Santa Ana.
Lewis began working as a sheep herder for a Southern California land baron, James Irvine, at Irvine’s San Joaquin Ranch. Under the guidance of the Irvine Ranch General Manager, Charles French, Lewis eventually convinced Charles to become his first California business partner and form their own herding enterprise running sheep down to San Diego. Lewis then bought him out a few years later. During this time, Lewis received financial assistance from his Fenno cousins and began purchasing land parcels across the south of San Joaquin.
In 1895, Lewis formed L.F. Moulton & Co from Rancho Niguel with his new business partner, Jean Pierre Daguerre. Managing 21,723 acres of land, Lewis eventually bought out his partner and renamed the property to Moulton Ranch. This land now encompasses what is now known as Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods, and Laguna Hills.
A few years later, Lewis met a school teacher from Seattle who was the daughter of the El Toro storekeeper, John Gail. She was on summer recess and came to California to visit her father and help out at the store. Even though there was an almost 25-year age difference, Lewis took interest in Nellie. After a five-year courtship, 54-year-old Lewis Moulton and 29-year-old Nellie Gail were married in 1908. They went on to have two daughters, Charlotte (born in 1910) and Louise (born in 1914).
To learn more about Lewis Moulton and Nellie Gail’s relationship, read A Moulton Love Story.
Lewis Moulton died on December 3, 1938 at 84 years old. From that point on, Nellie Gail Moulton continued to run the Moulton Ranch until 1951 when her daughter Charlotte and son-in-law Glenn Mathis took over.
Lewis was a beloved husband, father, and rancher who valued hard work and providing for his family and local community. Generations later, his pioneer spirit continues to live on through the Moulton Museum as they actively archive, restore, and preserve Orange County historical artifacts.