...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.
Cowboys and Indians was the game of choice for me and my youthful friends. Sunny afternoons were spent galloping in hay fields, in the carefree, unassuming way of children, oblivious to the turmoil and stress of bills and car payments, carrying-on as if the day would never end.
Stick horses running and cap guns firing, the whooping and screaming of the Indians as they attacked was every mother’s bane. Sheets and shirts hanging on clotheslines became overhanging trees or braves waiting in ambush. Someone’s mother screaming at the Indians was a real pioneer woman indeed, trying to protect her laundry and children. Lucky for me, since my boots were too big and I couldn’t run in them, I was the kidnapped rancher’s daughter, waiting to be rescued over by the clothes pole.
I like westerns same as the next cowgirl, and when I got home from school I remember that the Big Valley came on right after Mr. Ed. I was going to marry Nick Barkley and I thought his flaxen-colored horse, Coco, should be his wedding gift to me.
The western tv show, Big Valley, was loosely based on a real place, the Hill Ranch, located in western Calaveras County near Stockton, CA.
Hill Ranch was in operation from 1855 until 1931 and was over 1,000 acres in size. The Mokelumne River ran through it and the original ranch is now under the waters of Lake Camanche. There is an historical marker there, from the state of California, mentioning the ranch.
A man named Lawson Hill owned and operated the ranch up until 1861, when he was murdered.
His wife, Euphemia, also known as “Auntie Hill” had four children with him, three boys and a girl.
After Lawson Hill was killed, Euphemia became the matriarch of the ranch.
Big Valley followed the Hill’s story somewhat, and the show ran from September 15, 1965, to May 19, 1969.
Miss Barbara Stanwyck played Victoria Barkley, who became the matriarch of the ranch after her husband, Tom, was murdered. Her character was refined, intelligent and strong.
They had 4 children together, three boys and one girl.
The third son was not Heath, who was played by Lee Majors. The third son was named Eugene, and was played by Charles Briles. He portrayed a medical student at Berkeley, CA, and had a hot temper. Eugene was only seen in eight episodes, plus show #21, and afterwards he was written out. His name was only mentioned one more time in the entire four years of the show.
The actor Charles Briles was called to military duty and ordered to serve in Vietnam, so therefore he was written out of the show.
Heath Barkley was actually Tom Barkley’s illegitimate son. He had to fight his way into the family and was angry that no one knew who he was. It turned out that his real mother had never informed Tom Barkley about Heath, and Heath thought they had been abandoned.
Eventually Heath proved himself to be a loyal family member, and called Victoria “Mother.”
The eldest son, Jarrod, played by Richard Long, was an educated, refined attorney with a calm demeanor. He handled all of the Barkely business and legal affairs and kept an office in Stockton.
Jarrod was always clean, polished and well-dressed. He wasn’t prone to fist fights, preferring diplomacy to settle disagreements.
However, if all negotiations failed, he wasn’t afraid to step up to the fore, especially if it came to protecting his loved ones.
The second son, Nick, had a hot-temper and liked to brawl, sometimes even with his own brothers. Portrayed by Peter Breck, he could be seen in a black cowboy hat, a black leather vest and black leather gloves. He liked to swing first and ask questions later.
Though boisterous and always looking for a good fight, he also had a caring side and was very loyal to his family.
Audra Barkley was played by Linda Evans. She was beautiful, somewhat spoiled and not demur. She dressed in stylish gauchos with smartly fitting bolero jackets, and rode horses astride, like her brothers. Sometimes she helped out at the local orphanage, but a lot of the time she was doing daring stunts or getting out of trouble.
The beautiful facade and front driveway of the Barkley mansion was actually a film set that stood at Republic Studios on their back lot from 1947 to 1976.
The pilot episode of the show features Sierra Railway Steam Engine #3 at the old Jamestown
Depot in Jamestown, CA.
Big Valley made three TV Guide covers and Barbara Stanwyck won an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama in 1966. She was also nominated in 1967 and 1968.
The show also won for Best Edited Television Program in 1966 and 1968 from the American Cinema Editors (ACE) for its well-polished production.
Miss Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long and Peter Breck are all deceased. Linda Evans and Heath Majors survive.
Seasons 1 and 2 of Big Valley are available for purchase on DVD, season 3 will be available in July of 2014.
The show was clean entertainment for mature audiences and turns up on the Western Channel in case you’re interested.
Staring dreamy-eyed as Nick Barkley rides off into the sunset, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”
Big Valley// trivia// tv western: Internet