Some believe that Omo Ranch is named after a Miwok Indian village that had been located on this site. The name of the village was Omo, which some anthropologists think may have been an Indian word meaning “water.” Others disagree with this – although they acknowledge the existence of the Indian Village – pointing out that Omo could have easily been someone’s name or even an old cattle brand. Omo, even others are quick to point out, is the Latin root for the word “man.”
No matter its source, Omo Ranch is the name of this once fairly large logging, agricultural and mining community that is located in the southern part of El Dorado County, to the east of Mt. Aukum and Fair Play.
The community of Omo Ranch came about in the 1880s, mostly as a result of the growing need for lumber and the availability of water power at this site, which is adjacent to Perry Creek. However, that is not to say that mining was not an important part of its economy.
In 1898 it was reported that there were four mines and stamp mills operating near Omo Ranch: the Crystal, Independence, Polk and Parker, and Stillwagon. Early mining records also show that the Oak Mine was active in 1894, the Omo in 1896 and the Potosi in 1908.
The reports of the California Mining Bureau list the two last mines, the Omo and Potosi, to be operating as late as 1938.
In addition to logging and mining, farming and ranching were also important in the Omo Ranch area. Grain, hay, various fruits and vegetables and cattle were raised, supplying both the local and Sacramento Valley markets.
Agriculture continues to be important to the area as there are still active walnut and fruit orchards and a continuously increasing acreage devoted to vineyards.
Omo Ranch was commissioned with a Post Office in 1888, when the Mendon (Brownsville) Post Office was closed and moved back to Indian Diggings. William Frey was named the first postmaster for the town. The Post Office was later combined with an assay office and stage stop in a building built by George Perry (Perry Creek namesake?)
It wasn’t as isolated as many other rural communities, since for many years a stage line operated between Omo Ranch and Placerville on a three-times-a-week schedule.
In 1902 Pat Lalor moved to the town and, in 1904 built the store and later added a gas station (Standard Oil would one day honor him as its oldest employee at the age of 99). In 1912 he would take on another job as the Postmaster for the community, serving in that position until 1940 when he was replaced by Joe Lalor.
In 1930, Clarence and George Frick formed the Omo Lumber Company and built a new sawmill. Their father owned many acres of timberland around Omo Ranch and, from the start, the mill was very successful. Within just a few years, the mill was expanded to include more cabins, a bunkhouse, a cookhouse/office and a company store.
Cecil Wetzel purchased the mill in 1939 and, the next year, would take on a partner named Glenn Oviatt, forming the Wetzel-Oviatt Lumber Company. Although the mill would burn in both 1939 and 1944, each time it was rapidly rebuilt to meet the continual demand for lumber.
The boom years following World War II were good for the Wetzel-Oviatt Lumber Company and for a quarter of a century the mill employed around 200 men on two eight-hour shifts, producing an average of 40 million board feet of lumber yearly.
With this large a population in the Omo Ranch area, there was a need for a school, so when the Indian Diggings School, which was located midway between Omo Ranch and Indian Diggings, burned in 1944, it was rebuilt at a new location in Omo Ranch. In 1957 the school again burned and was rebuilt.
In 1958, when a majority of the school districts in southern El Dorado County were unified into the new Pioneer School District, the voters in the Indian Diggings District voted against unification and today it remains as a separate district within the school system.
With the coming of the 1970s and the introduction of more stringent environmental regulations, the government required the mill to install new water and smoke pollution control equipment. The owners of the mill decided it was not economically feasible to make the modifications and, on April 26, 1973, the mill was closed.
A new mill was built near the El Dorado/Sacramento County line, south of El Dorado Hills and north of the town of Latrobe, where it had access to the now abandoned Southern Pacific Railroad line. The old mill was torn down, the equipment junked and the wood given to local residents. Then the mill site was cleaned up and reforested with young trees.
With the mill went many of the residents and, in 1974, the Post Office closed.
Omo Ranch, although obviously smaller than it was when the sawmill was operating, continues to be a pleasant, rural residential community, in a very historical part of El Dorado County.
Sources for this story include “Cosumnes River Country”, by Steve Ginsburg (1979, 1995); “History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976”, researched by H. E. Salley (1976); “History of California”, by Theodore Hittell (1897); “California Gold Camps”, but Erwin Gudde (1975); “California Place Names”, by Erwin Gudde, 3rd Edition (1974); “History of El Dorado County, by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted and indexed by the El Dorado Friends of the Library (1998); and past issues of the “Mountain Democrat” and “Sacramento Bee.”