Native American artifacts dating from 3,000 B.C. to 1,000 A.D. have been found in the heart of the Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve. Stunt Ranch is a significant archaeological site, offering researchers and students an opportunity to study the changing adaptations of human populations in the the Santa Monica Mountains. All of the major periods of regional archaeological interest are represented here, providing a record that extends back to this region's earliest human inhabitants.
Cold Creek Canyon's eastern ridge marked the interface between two tribes of native Californians, the Gabrielino and the Chumash. Although linguistically distinct, the two tribes were culturally similar. Relations between them were generally friendly and intermarriage was common. Gabrielino territory included Santa Catalina Island, a major source of steatite,* which was highly valued for making tools and ornaments and was traded in rough or finished form throughout California.
Spanish colonists settled in the Topanga Canyon area in the late 1700s, but European settlement of the Cold Creek watershed began with the arrival of the Stunt brothers. The Stunt brothers, Harry, Sidney, and Ernest – and their cousin Walter from Kensington, England, homesteaded the Reserve land in the late 1800s, building a small cabin on the site around 1885. President Grover Cleveland approved the original homestead in 1889, and Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt approved additional Stunt family homesteads in 1899 and 1904 respectively. The 300 sq. foot cabin, believed to be the first building in the Cold Creek area was completely destroyed, as were all other structures at Stunt Ranch, in the 1993 Malibu fire. The Stunt brothers planted a large orchard, planning to establish a nursery to produce fruit-tree rootstocks. That venture never worked out. In 1919, they built a larger cabin on the property. The Stunt brothers lived and worked in Hollywood during the week, using the ranch on weekends. Walter died in 1928, and Harry moved to the ranch in 1937. Their sister, Ethel, who had spent many years as head secretary at the British Embassy in China, also moved to the ranch in 1937. Harry and Ethel Stunt were both outgoing, friendly people who became well known in the area for their hospitality.
In 1978, the State of California purchased Stunt Ranch with park bond funds, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy assumed administrative responsibility for the site. Trails on the property were opened for public hiking and equestrian use. The Cold Creek Docents, a division of the Mountains Restoration Trust, expanded their environmental interpretation activities onto the ranch from the adjacent Cold Creek Canyon Preserve.
In 1984, the University of California transferred approximately 400 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains for public parkland as a trade for Stunt Ranch which eventually joined the UC Natural Reserve System in November 1995. While access to the Reserve is by prior approval only, the Stunt High Trail, which crosses through the western portion of the reserve, remains open to the public daily from dawn to dusk for hiking and equestrian use.
*Steatite is a massive metamorphic rock, greenish in color, that is closely related to soapstone and consists predominantly of talc.