Matsu and Ichiru Yamaguchi
Two members of Waimea’s Yamaguchi family, father and son, have joined the roster of the Paniolo Hall of Fame. Matsuichi Yamaguchi (Class of 2013) was Parker Ranch’s very first Paniolo Kepani (Japanese cowboy), and his son Jiro (Class of 2002) an esteemed roper, rider, trainer, and rodeo competitor.
Matsuichi was the first Japanese paniolo on Parker Ranch. His father, Hisamatsu Yamaguchi, moved to Waimea from Hiroshima-ken, Japan, to work on the sugar cane plantations. “Matsu,” however, opted to go to work for Parker Ranch, starting as a groundskeeper for A.W. Carter’s big white house in Waimea. (now Jacaranda Inn).
Matsu was fluent in Hawaiian and excellent with animals, and soon he worked his way up to assistant foreman, in charge of the Ranch’s herd of prized purebred Herefords. He and wife Harue made their home in Makahālau until their first son Ichiro was born, and they returned to Waimea.
Matsu had become an official member of the Cowboy Gang, and as a highly skilled horseman, Carter trusted him with training racehorses, and handling prized breeding stallions. He was promoted to Assistant Cowboy Foreman, another first for Parker Ranch, and looked forward to a long life on the Ranch with his family as he approached his “yakudoshi,” 41st birthday.
Their younger son Jiro (Paniolo Hall of Fame, Class of 2002) was born in 1924. He grew up on the ranch alongside his brother and sisters, helping with milking, animal care and other farm chores. Sometimes they played with the cowboys, who would lasso them as they ran around the yard.
In 1936, the boys had to step up into manhood, when their father was suddenly and tragically killed the day after his yakudoshi celebration. While driving wild sheep in the Kemole II section of the Ranch, his horse went down, fatally injuring Matsu, who died early the next morning, leaving his wife and eight children. Carter offered the family the option of staying in their home, and keeping ranch benefits, 18 pounds of beef per week, three quarts of milk per day and 50 pounds of rice per month.
Jiro, 11 when his father died, went to work on the Ranch on the day he finished seventh grade. He started with the water pump crew, piping irrigation water down from the mountain. After a time he moved to the dairy operation, then the fence crew, and picked corn on the Ranch’s ten cornfields. Jiro eventually started helping the cowboys train horses, then driving cattle. He remained until 1990, becoming a top hand, esteemed as a great roper and excellent horseman; with unique good looks that made him one of the most-photographed paniolo of the day.
Just one of the many Japanese ranch families, the Yamaguchi ‘ohana has made a strong and longstanding contribution to our paniolo culture and heritage. We are proud to honor father and son together in the Paniolo Hall of Fame.