The Parker Ranch, formerly one of the largest, privately-owned ranches in the country, has a presence in just about everything in Waimea Town (Kamuela), from the schools to the hospital. At one point in time, the ranch covered 225,000 acres of land, 9 percent of the Big Island.
Hawai'i's history with cattle began in 1793 when King Kamehameha the Great received five head of cattle as a gift from British Captain George Vancouver. The king quickly labeled the cattle "kapu"(off limits) in order to allow them to grow and thrive. What seemed like a great idea at the time eventually turned into a dangerous nuisance for the native people living in Kohala and on the slopes of Mauna Kea. The wild cattle, which were anything but docile, would rampage homes, destroying property and injuring people. To help solve this problem, the king called on John Palmer Parker, a Massachusetts-born sailor who had already garnered favor with the king in 1809 at age 19. Parker would capture and butcher the cattle, then sell the meat to visiting ships. The process sounds a lot easier than it actually was since the cattle had adapted to their wild surroundings and were rather quick to avoid being caught. As his fee, Parker kept the best cattle for himself.
Eventually, King Kamehameha offered Parker his granddaughter, Kipikane, for a wife. With his herd of fine cattle and the land from his wife, Parker was able to start building the massive Parker Ranch.
The paniolo tradition came about when three Mexican-Spanish cowboys were brought from Mexico to teach the locals the ways of ranching. The family dynasty has had its ups and downs culminating with the death of the final owner, Richard Smart, in 1992. He left the majority of his multi-million dollar estate in a trust that would benefit the Waimea area. Today, the working ranch comprises 150,000 acres with an average of 30,000 to 35,000 Angus and Charolais cattle.
The cattle are raised on the fertile lands of the Big Island until they reach a certain age and are then transported via ship or plane to the mainland for processing. The paniolos still maintain the herd with the help of 250 horses. Their contribution to the area is celebrated on a regular basis with rodeos.
Parker Ranch Center
The Parker Ranch Center, on Mamalahoa Highway (19) in Waimea offers a trip back through time at the small museum which chronicles the evolution of the Hawaiian cowboy.
- The museum is open Monday thru Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $6.50. (808-885-7655).
Parker Ranch Historic Homes
If you are interested in seeing how the ranch owners spent their days and nights take a side trip to the Parker Ranch Historic homes, Mana Hale and Pu'uopelu. Inside you will find traditional Hawaiian artwork, quilts and koa woodwork. Both homes are open Monday thru Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $8.50.
For those who want to enjoy the great outdoors, Parker Ranch offers 45-minute wagon rides, horseback tours, ATV tours, and hunting access. (808-885-7655).