“…the meat-eating population has increased, while the areas devoted to grazing and the numbers of cattle have gradually diminished, so that at the present time we are face to face with a situation in which the supply will no longer cover the demand.”
“Formerly (cattle) had wider ranges to rove over and feed upon; they were possessors of the land, and their value consisted chiefly in the labor and hides that they yielded.”
“At that time the plantations, which were of smaller areas than now, were almost wholly worked by bullock labor… In the course of time, and that very recent, the sugar industry has undergone great expansion.”
“The lands, some of which formerly were among the best for meat-making uses, have been absorbed by the plantations, and the cattle have been gradually forced within narrower limits at higher altitudes.” (Walter Maxwell; Thrum 1900)
Let’s look back …
With the arrival of Western ships, new plants and animals soon found their way to the Hawaiian Islands. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver gave a few cattle to Kamehameha I. When Vancouver landed additional cattle at Kealakekua in 1794, he strongly encouraged Kamehameha to place a 10‐year kapu on them to allow the herd to grow.
In the decades that followed, cattle flourished and later turned into a dangerous nuisance. (By 1846, 25,000-wild cattle roamed at will and an additional 10,000-semi‐domesticated cattle lived alongside humans.)
Kamehameha III lifted the kapu in 1830 and the hunting of wild cattle was encouraged. The king hired cattle hunters from overseas to help in the effort; many of these were former convicts from Botany Bay in Australia.
Wild cattle were hunted for consumption, as well as provisioning ships with salt beef, and hides and tallow to the growing whaling fleets replenished their stocks.
In addition, Kamehameha III had vaqueros (Mexican-Spanish cow hands) brought to the islands to teach the Hawaiians, the skills of herding and handling cattle.
“The formalization of ranching operations on Hawai‘i evolved in response to the growing threat of herds of wild cattle and goats to the Hawaiian environment, and the rise and fall of other business interests leading up to the middle 1800s.” (Maly)
The vaqueros found the Hawaiians to be capable students, and by the 1870s, the Hawaiian cowboys came to be known as the “paniola” for the Espanola (Spanish) vaqueros who had been brought to the islands (though today, the Hawaiian cowboy is more commonly called “paniolo”). (Maly)
“The forest areas of the Hawaiian Islands were very considerable, covering the upland plateaus and mountain slopes at altitudes above the lands now devoted to sugar growing and other cultures.”
“Those areas, however, have suffered great reduction, and much of the most valuable forest cover has been devastated and laid bare. The causes given, and to-day seen, of the great destruction that has occurred are the direct removal of forest without any replacement by replanting.”
“Again, in consequence of the wholesale crushing and killing off of forest trees by cattle which have been allowed to traverse the woods and to trample out the brush and undergrowth which protected the roots and trunks of trees, vast breadths of superb forests have dried up, and are now dead and bare.”
“All authorities of the past and of the present agree in ascribing to mountain cattle, which were not confined to ranching areas, but allowed to run wild in the woods, the chief part in the decimation of the forest-covered lands. (Maxwell; Thrum)
“While the visits of the whaleships were confined to a few ports, the effects were felt in many other parts of the kingdom. Much of the domestic produce, such as potatoes, vegetables, beef, pork, fowls, and firewood, that was supplied to the ships was raised in the back country and had to be taken to the ports for sale.”
“The demand for firewood to supply so many ships over so great a period of time must have had an appreciable effect in reducing the forest areas and helping to create a serious problem for later generations.”
“Cattle for beef were, where possible, driven to the ports on the hoof and slaughtered as needed; at times they were led carelessly through the streets, to the annoyance and danger of the peaceful populace.” (Kuykendall)
In the years prior to the Māhele of 1848, nearly all of the cattle (as well as goats and sheep) belonged either to the King, the government, other chiefs close to the King, and a few foreigners who had been granted the right to handle the cattle. By 1851 there were around 20,000 cattle on the island of Hawai‘i, and approximately 12,000 of them were wild. (Maly)
The issuance of land title through the Māhele and Royal Patent Grant program of the Hawaiian Kingdom facilitated the development of large scale ranching activities on Hawai‘i. Every ahupua‘a in the area between Keauhou to Kealakekua (as well as on lands to the north and south) was put into ranching.
Ranchers, such as Samuel Rice, Charles Hall, William Johnson, Henry N. Greenwell, John D. Paris, James Atkins, Preston Cummings, Henry Weeks, George Trousseau and several others, operated in the uplands of Kona. (Maly)
The ranches of this region were generally situated between the 1,500 to 4,500-foot elevation, above the lands that in the same period were being turned over to the cultivation of coffee and other crops.
There were also important mauka-makai trails at various locations in the Keauhou-Kealakekua vicinity (such as Honalo, Kawanui, Lehu‘ula, Honua‘ino, Kalukalu, Onouli, and Ka‘awaloa), where ranchers would drive their cattle to the lowlands for grazing and shipping.
Māhele records also tell us that the native Hawaiian land owners in the same region, kept pigs and goats (and probably cattle and horses) on their own lands at lower elevations as well.
By 1855, the King signed a law requiring all cattle owners on Hawai‘i to register their brands between April 1st to September 30th 1855. On October 16, 1855, SL Austin (secretary to Governor of Hawai‘i), reported to John Young (Minister of the Interior), that 13 individuals had submitted the necessary documentation. (Maly)
For the most part, Kona Ranching operations continued on leased or fee lands by descendants of the earlier ranchers – Greenwell, Johnson, Paris, Wall and Roy.
Most of the ranching was/is in the uplands (areas extending from the Māmalahoa Highway vicinity to around the 4,800-foot elevation).