Joe and Leona McGaugh in the 1970s.
Joe and Leona McGaugh in the 1970s.

As the family story goes, when Leona Agnes Barton first met her husband to be, Joe McGaugh, in the mid-1930s, she had a .22 over one shoulder and a dead rabbit, dinner, over the other. With her death on Dec. 29, one day shy of her 95th birthday, a well and fondly remembered part of Hill history also passes.

Even as the world below the mountaintop embraced citification with all its modern appliances and the latest must-have gadgets, Leona continued to live simply — much as she had as a child living on the 1,200-acre Aguanga Cottonwood Ranch farmed by her father. According to her grandson James Silberstein, Leona never owned or used a computer, made all her calls on a rotary phone and still cooked her meals on a wood-burning stove.

Leona McGaugh in an earlier time.
Leona McGaugh in an earlier time.

She married Joe in 1938 in Yuma, Arizona. Later, in the early 1940s, the couple moved back to the Hill, and specifically Idyllwild, where they owned and operated the town dairy, milking the cows and delivering the milk to the then-tiny town. They also bought and operated the Village Market for several years, the only market in town at the time.

Keith Froehlich remembers Leona well. “I’ve known her since I was 8,” he said. “Our families came to Idyllwild at about the same time. I remember [the McGaughs] brought three cows and bought two more to start the town dairy. After they bought the Village Market [in the early 1950s], I worked for them while I was in high school. I remember Leona as always being strong, hard-working and with a great sense of humor. She and Joe were very easy to be around. They were a good pair.”

Froehlich remembers Idyllwild as a town with a one-room school he attended as a first grader, maybe 300 to 500 residents, a “quiet, simple and civil town” where everyone was on a first-name basis. “We didn’t know much of what was going on off the mountain.”

The McGaughs eventually bought and developed Baldy Mountain Ranch off Highway 74 in Garner Valley. “I guess Idyllwild was getting too crowded for them,” Froehlich said.

Leona McGaugh in recent times. Photos courtesy McGaugh family
Leona McGaugh in recent times.
Photos courtesy McGaugh family

Barbara Hunt also remembers the McGaughs very well. “They were best friends with my folks [John and Inie Wilson],” she said. She recalled Leona managed the dairy and organized the delivery of milk. “Joe had a sense of humor. I remember him milking the cow and squirting the milk directly into my mouth as he milked. Leona was a sweet and very gracious lady.

“Those women, they were real pioneers. She was a classy lady — the way she lived and treated people. She had a favorite saying, something she would always say to my mother,  ‘Keep kickin!’”

Leona is survived by two daughters, Joyce and Alma, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Silberstein said services for Leona are at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 8 at the San Jacinto Valley Cemetery. “She gave generously to many charities serving veterans, Native Americans, orphans, the homeless and those suffering from disease,” he said. “In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor her memory should send donations to whomever they see most in need.”