Born in Honolulu, December 2, 1881, George Paul Cooke was grandson of missionaries Amos Starr and Juliette Montague Cooke and son of Charles Montague Cooke and Anna Charlotte (Rice) Cooke.
After preliminary schooling in Honolulu and at Hotchkiss in Lakeville CT, Cooke attended Yale University (his roommate was Sophie’s brother, Charles S Judd Sr.) He received his BA degree in 1905, returning to Honolulu to take the position of stock and bond clerk for the Hawaiian Trust Co, Ltd, continuing with that institution until 1908.
He married Sophie Boyd Judd (granddaughter of missionaries Gerrit Parmele Judd and Laura Fish Judd, daughter of Albert Francis Judd and Agnes Hall Judd) (April 4, 1906.) (They had six children, Dora, George Paul, Jr., Francis Judd, Thomas Hastings, Stephen Montague and Phoebe Cooke.)
In 1897, a group of Honolulu businessmen (including Judge Alfred S Hartwell, Alfred W Carter, and AD McClellan) purchased 70,000 acres from the trustees of the Bishop Estate and leased another 30,000 acres from the Hawaiian government. Molokai Ranch was formed.
At that time, American Sugar Company began sugar cane production on the lands. Cooke became bookkeeper for the American Sugar and Molokai Ranch.
About 10-years later (December 1908,) the land was bought out by Cooke and his father; George Cooke took over the operation; George, Sophie and daughter Dora moved into the former manager’s house, composed of ‘three plantation houses put together’.
“The development of this property as a sugar cane plantation failed for the reason that the pumps, which had been installed in surface wells to irrigate the cane fields, were of such large capacity that they soon exhausted the sweet water, and pumped water with such a high salt content that it could not be used for cane culture.” (Cooke) The sugar plantation was abandoned.
“My father and I determined upon a policy to increase the revenue of Molokai Ranch and to improve its value. We planned to pay off the debt incurred when the sugar plantation failed; to develop water sources and extend pipe lines; …”
“… construct new buildings and a new camp; raise fodder; prevent overstocking by dividing the range into smaller pastures and increase the planting of trees in the forest area.” (Cooke)
“The first attempts at dry-land agriculture were made at the nine hundred foot elevation at Kualapuʻu. Here, Father CB Andrews of the Sandwich Islands Mission raised wheat and Irish potatoes to supply the miners of the California Gold Rush days. Here also, Kamehameha V had planned a sugar plantation. Our first attempts at agricultural experiments were in the same locality.” (Cooke)
“In keeping with our policy of development, an arrangement was made in 1909 with the U.S. Experiment Station in Honolulu to find crops suitable to our conditions. We were to supply the land, provide the labor and retain the crops. The Station was to furnish all seeds and planting material and report their findings of all crops obtained.” (Cooke)
Three types of corn were planted (they succumbed to the weevil;) three grains (they to cut worms;) three cottons (they to the boll-worm;) and three types of legumes (they to the aphis.)
“Alfalfa was grown there successfully for many years. Alfalfa hay made in our fields invariably was awarded first prize at many County of Maui Fairs and Territorial Fairs on Oahu because of its fine green color and its leaf-holding quality and length of stem. This hay received very favorable comments from the Judges.” (Cooke)
They raised cattle, planted sweet potato and wheat crops and produced honey. It became the second largest cattle ranch in Hawaiʻi and a major producer of beef.
In the early days, the focus was on raising beef cattle for market, plus horses and mules for use and for sale elsewhere. Over time, other ventures were tried, with varying degrees of success. Some of these included raising sheep for market, honey production, a small dairy, and various grains and row crops.
Cooke was a Representative from Maui to the Legislature, 1911 to 1913, and served Hawaiʻi as a Territorial Senator for 34-years (becoming President of the Senate.)
The Molokai Ranch was out of debt and on a paying basis. The Cookes moved to Honolulu to aid in war work (World War I) and to educate their children. They started Hanahauʻoli School (happy, joyous work) in 1918 for their six children and those of many of their friends (it started with 16-children from ages 6 to 11 years old.)
It was a small school, from kindergarten through sixth grade where all the children cooperated as in a large family; it’s in the same location on the corner of Nehoa and Makiki Streets.
Cooke was first in the movement to make the island of Molokai a source of food supply for Honolulu. He established a model dairy ranch at Mapulehu, Molokai, in 1920, and constructed the “Leleiona” and later the “Pualele,” motor propelled sampans, to make deliveries of crops and milk to Honolulu, proving beyond question his theory that such an undertaking was feasible.
He was also the first Executive Secretary of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, where he was empowered to execute the Act; he “initiated leases and regulations, prepared the lands for settlement, distributed domestic and irrigation water and helped to select the first homesteaders.” (Cooke)
He also encouraged research into water resource development and management, geological knowledge and the cataloguing of native and exotic plants, all with an eye to finding crops that would improve the economy of Molokai.
Cooke was manager of Molokai Ranch for 40 years; when he left, he took with him a reputation as an honest and fair businessman, and the respect of the Hawaiian cowboys with whom he worked from the saddle. (hicattle)