Elmer Maclay Awl was born in Pittsburg, Pennsyl-vania in 1889. His father was John Mattern Awl, his mother was Elizabeth House, she and John were married June 23, 1887 and gave birth to Elmer on December 11th. Elizabeth passed away due to complications from childbirth on December 22, 1889. John Awl never married again but moved to Milwau-kee with Elmer around 1892, and lived there until 1902 when they moved to Pasadena Ca.
In 1917 Elmer made his way to Santa Barbara and got a job working for J. Ogden Armour of Chicago, one of the leading firms in the meat packing industry. Elmer took charge of developing El Mirador, a 70 acre estate in Montecito that Mr. Armour purchased for his daughter Lolita Armour. She met and would soon marry John J. Mitchell in Santa Barbara, JJ was the co-founder of United Air-lines and Lolita the heiress to the meat packing fortune the two would become one of the wealthiest couples in America. JJ met Elmer though the Armour family and would be the beginning of a long and important friendship between Elmer and J.J.
Elmer served on the Old Spanish Days Fiesta Board from the first Fiesta celebration in 1924 which he helped to organize, until 1968. He was a familiar horseman in the Fiesta parades. He loved the festivities so much that during a parade, he rode his horse right into the bar at the Barbara Hotel. He was El Presidente in 1961 and, in honor of his many years of service, was named honorary El Presidente for the 1975 Fiesta celebration. When he was no longer able to ride in the parades, he stood to greet the participants as they passed the governor’s box.
Elmer also served as a line officer in the US Naval Reserve for five years, returning in 1945 as a commander. After the war Elmer served as Santa Barbara County’s first parks director and later the chairman, supervising the landscaping of Earl Warren Showgrounds.
In the spring of 1928 three friends, Elmer Awl, Ed Borein and Sam Kramer rode horseback from a favored vantage point in the Santa Ynez Valley to Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, admiring the country side.
The following spring, 1929, Ed and Elmer repeated the trek and invited several friends to join them, J.J. Mitchell was among them, (owner of the Juan y Lolita ranch). A simple idea from a few men became Los Rancheros Visitadores, loosely translated as visiting ranchers, the name was suggested by T. Wilson Dibblee, owner of Rancho San Julian.
Elmer Awl became JJ Mitchell’s secretary and ranch manager after leaving his job at El Mirador, and was given the task of gathering up some stagecoaches and rigs that could be use on the next ride. April 1930, sixty-five men met at Juan y Lolita, hooked up the coaches and rigs, saddled their horses and rode to Mattei’s Tavern for lunch. Several days later, ninety Rancheros camped at Dwight Murphy’s Los Prietos for the night then set out in the morning down the Santa Ynez River for San Marcos Ranch where they had lunch. They then rode to Juan y Lolita and camped for the second night. The next morning Los Rancheros Visitadores was formally organized by the first members, JJ Mitchell, Sam Stanwood, Dwight Murphy, Wilson Dibblee, Ed Borein, Sam Kramer, Silsby Spalding, Ray Skofield, Jim Rickard, Max Fleischmann, Joel Fithian, Edgar Stow, Reginald Fernald, Tom Storke, Adolfo Camarillo and Elmer Awl. JJ Mitchell was elected president, Dwight Murphy as vice president and Elmer Awl as secretary. The riding group is still active today and has over 1000 members. The headquarters is in Santa Ynez and the group still rides today on some of the same trails those original members rode almost 100 years ago.
The Carriage and Western Art Museum was recently gifted a set of Elmer Awl’s personal Ranchero Visitadores items from Linda Kohn Sherwood and Joseph Sherwood. With those items a new Los Ranchero Visitadores display has been built consisting mainly of Elmer Awl’s personal items including several hats that he wore regularly and many of his personal RV accessories.