For the greater good: Frank Smith III seeks to keep his ranching legacy alive |

For the greater good: Frank Smith III seeks to keep his ranching legacy alive

Hollie Grimaldi-Flores
Submitted to The Union


This story was originally published in the latest edition of Nevada County Rancher. For more on the area's ranching and farmers, read the Rancher inserted in Thursday's edition of The Union.

Start talking to Frank Marion Smith III and it becomes obvious the man has had a full life and he has only just begun.

Born in Oakland, a descendant of an entrepreneurial family with ties in the mining, farming, ranching, and transit industries, Smith oversees over 700 acres of land in Nevada County. What becomes of the land is something he must consider as he tries to figure out what is best for his family and for the greater good.

Smith’s grandfather first moved to Nevada by way of Wisconsin at the age of 21, seeking his prosperity in mining. He found his fortune, not in gold but in borax, staking a claim in Teel’s Marsh in 1872. Fortunes were lost and found with the acquisition and loss of many properties along the way. Throughout his career he developed the use of the twenty-mule team (trademarking the Twenty-Mule Team Borax brand), built railroads and trolleys, and was instrumental in building a ferry system between San Francisco and Oakland. Late in his life, he fathered Frank Marion Smith Jr., passing on a love of land development and real estate.

Intending to build a high-end development similar to Lake of The Pines, Alta Sierra and Lake Wildwood, which already existed, Smith Jr. purchased a number of parcels in Nevada County in the early 1960’s.

Frank Smith III remembers spending much of his youth working the land in Nevada County. He said he identified with the ranch early on, understanding how lucky he was to be there.

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“What a county to be in,” he said, “You could not have a better location. Of any county in the entire state of California, this one here you can get to any place you want to go quicker and faster and it has almost all of the amenities and look how beautiful it is.”

Keeping the legacy alive

Smith III was raised in the East Bay, graduating from Mira Monte high school in Moraga and attending St. Mary’s College before moving to the land he refers to as “the ranch” and later attending UC Davis.

He and his father worked hard to put up fencing and bought some cattle. As a young man, Smith III hired help to tend to the ranch in order to work the family walnut, hay and alfalfa farm in Butte County. He baled and hauled hay commercially, became involved in land development, bought a dozer, put in roads and septic systems, and in his words, “did a bunch of different things.”

“I always worked hard,” Smith III added. “My friends quit coming to see me because if they wanted to visit, they had to work. They finally gave up on me.”

Eventually, he leased the farm in Butte County out and changed professions, learning to shoe horses.

“I didn’t have any horses at the time, but I wanted to be a farrier,” Smith III said. “I was an apprentice for the best shoe-er in the area, Wayne Bair. Wow, what a horse man! I learned a lot.”

Smith III went on to attend school to earn a credential in horseshoeing and worked as a farmer and farrier.

Later he began Back Country Supply and Service — taking people on mule packing trips out of Castle Peak and subcontracting for another company in the backcountry out of Bishop. He hired help to run the ranch while he was away, eventually teaching the horseshoeing trade to his employee and turning that business over to him.

Faith, Family, Fortitude

Along the way he started taking part in the Tevis Cup Ride, a 100-mile endurance race. Smith III rides a mule instead of a horse.

Shoeing introduced Smith to the Tevis Cup, and through farming, Smith “inherited” his first mule — a story too long to detail here. In 1994 he put the two together, competing in his Tevis cup. He continues to compete today, having started 16 races and finished 11 of them.

Life changed when Smith had children — he has a 15-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter — who have become his primary responsibility.

There was a period when his mother decided it was once again time to develop the land. Frank said he was outnumbered after this father passed away. His mom and brother wanted to sell. It took them a decade and a bit of money, but they were eventually able to get approval for over 100 homes to be built on the land. Luckily, the market crashed, and the developers went away. In 2012, Smith’s mother died and left the 700-acre property to him.

Smith stopped travelling and focused on the ranch and on the kids.

He said now the focus is on doing what is best for the land and what is best for his children. He is researching the possibility of opening a horse boarding stable.

“It’s exciting because the ranch has amenities that are unique, like Wolf Creek running through it,” he explained. “The lay of the land is unique and has a beautiful topography.”

Smith added, “Right now I am trying to plan the best future for the ranch and my family. We have a lot of good ideas. The emphasis on keeping the property together as a ranch is first and foremost at this time.”

“As it stands right now, it’s zoned and approved for a development.” Smith said, but there are talks in the works with the Bear Yuba Land Trust to sell an easement that would remove the possibility of development in perpetuity.

While the easement would remove the possibility of building hundreds of homes on the property, Smith explained he would still have limited use.

“Ideally, we would want to have a business that would carry the expenses and include a living for me and my family. We have to look at it from the point of view of making money and the boarding business would be the most compatible with the idea of a business that can make money and show off the beauty of the ranch.”

Smith has a strong faith.

“I just want my kids to have a place and to flourish,” he said. “The Christian point of view is really important, too. I think that spiritually, it must be done with God in mind first. Ask yourself why you are doing it and what is your higher purpose in life? Is it selfish? Is it just for the kids? Or, is it bigger than that? How can we use that property to benefit the greater good? Just take care of God’s kingdom and God will take care of us. That’s the way I see it.”

Doing that is not without its challenges, but challenge is not something Smith has ever shied away from — just ask anyone who as seen him taking a 100-mile joy ride on a mule.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at

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