In the 1800s Vaquero traditions were established in California by the Spanish Missions and Mexican Ranchos.
California's Vaqueros were excellent horsemen that preferred well-bred stallions, and the elegant dress of Spanish gentlemen ranchers
Their horse training methods included the use of single-rigged Visalia saddles, hackamores, spade bits, and rawhide reatas which are still admired by horsemen today.
"In old California, the vaquero tradition is:
getting it done is not enough.
You have to do it with style."
Early gentlemen ranchers left us a legacy of artistic trappings of silver and leather that were later admired and adopted by Hollywood cowboys.
Consider Ed Bohlin's parade saddles on Palomino horses and finely crafted, silver mounted, California style bits and spurs used by hollywood cowboys. They are still highly collectible today.
In 1913, something magic happened, filmmaker Cecil B. De Mille discovered the valley while looking for a location to shoot his epic Western "The Squaw Man." For the next sixty years, thousands of Western movies and TV shows were filmed on locations throughout the valley. The film industry became a major valley employer.
In the 1930s, Hollywood's Six-Gun Heroes tended to work for a single studio like Warner Brothers, Universal or Republic, so many early cowboy actors like Gary Cooper, Tom Mix, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Clark Gable bought ranches and moved to the Valley.
By the 1940s Celebrities like Barbara Stanwyck, Zeppo Marx, Janet Gaynor, William Holden, and Jack Oakie boasted of owning working horse ranches in places like Northridge, which called itself the Horse Capital of the West.
The end of World War II transformed the Valley and vastly accelerated its growth. Vast tracts of suburban housing, shopping centers, and industrial parks rise up where the chicken ranches, orchards, cattle ranches, and wheat fields once existed.
By the 1940s and 1950s, when I was a child growing up, the Valley was full of movie cowboys, beautiful ranches, and fine horses.
1944 - At age two, I lived on a half acre lot on Clark Street in Van Nuys. There was a horse ranch with a workout track directly across the street, and just a few blocks away cowboy star Buck Jones lived on Magnolia Blvd.
1944 - I got my first pony ride near the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda.
1947 - I remember cowboy star Ray "Crash" Corrigan being the main attraction at the grand-opening of "Valley Market Town," the valley's first shopping center that opened at Sepulveda Blvd. and Oxnard Street.
1949 - Ray Corrigan opened Corriganville, his Simi Valley ranch, to the public. During it's existence, a thousand or more films and TV shows were filmed there. Probably every kid in the valley spent a day hanging out a Corriganville. They even had a rodeo there.
1950 - I remember going to the Rose Parade in 1950 where William Boyd --Hopalong Cassidy -- handed me a "Hoppy" good luck coin. I still have it.
1950s - It was common to see movie stars like Roy Rogers and John Wayne driving a sports car on Ventura Blvd.
1950s - King's Western Wear in Van Nuys, the Bohlin Saddle Shop in Hollywood, and Nudies Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood were places where you were almost guaranteed to find a cowboy star shopping next to you.
Manton Avenue 1952. The last dirt road in Woodland Hills. That's Platt Ranch in the background.
1952 - Rural Woodland Hills was horse country. I learned to ride a horse at my grand uncle's ranch in Montana during the summer of 1950. By 1952 we had horses in our Woodland Hills backyard. As a youngster I rode to Calabasas, Canoga Park, and Chatsworth on dirt roads.
1953 - As a boy I played broomstick polo at Rosemary Gibert's ranch, an old equestrian center, that long predated Hidden Hills.
1953 - Cowboy actor Monty Montana used to go to local elementary schools to show off his rope tricks and horses. He came to Woodlake Elementary about 1952 or 1953. 40 years later I spent a week with Monty in 1993 at the NFR.
1954 - Dad bought a dandy, red dun Quarter Horse at the San Fernando auction. It was one oldest and largest horse auctions in the state.
1955 & 1956 - I attended the Los Angeles Sheriffs' Rodeo at the Los Angeles Coliseum and remember there being more than 100,000 fans in the stands. One of those years, 1956 I think, Roy Rogers was the Grand Marshall.
1955 - Cowboy star Wild Bill Elliott -- Gordon Nance -- had a house in Calabasas. The ranch had white-painted stables where Elliott kept his beautiful Morgan Horse, Thunder. I guess I'd been watching too many Western movies that dealt with the evil of barbed-wire fences because while looking for a new place to explore on horseback I cut a barbed-wire fence without knowing it belonged to Elliott. When his ranch foreman caught me I ended up making restitution by mucking out stalls for a month. Later I became friends with Wild Bill Elliott's neice and rode in lots of gymkhana horse shows at his ranch.
1955 - The Platt Ranch as it was called during the 1940s was about 1,100 acres in the vicinity of Bell Canyon. Before that it was formerly known as Rancho El Escorpion. Miguel Leonis built an adobe barn here in the 1870s that stood until the 1960s. I remember riding past the old barn and dreaming of bygone days of the early vaqueros and cattle ranching.
1955 & 1956 - I participated in a 32 mile round trip trail ride and barbecue with Equestrian Trails Incorporated (ETI). We rode from what would become Hidden Hills to Chatsworth on dirt roads, and had lunch at a park next to the Chatsworth reservoir.
1955 - I remember my dad hiring a horse trainer to come out to see a horse that was giving him some trouble. That trainer turned out to be none other than Clyde Kennedy who was famous for training movie horses.
1955 - There were plenty of strange characters left over from an earlier era that reminded us of a passing West.
While out on a trail ride I met a fellow named Don Brandstetter. He had a beautiful Arabian stallion named Balane. We got to be pretty good friends, and Don showed me some great places to ride. We used to take our horses under Ventura Blvd. through a huge 8' culvert, and we'd stop by the old Calabasas general store for a Nehi strawberry soda.
Don really loved that stallion, and would do some mighty interesting things with that horse. I remember him holding up his canteen so he could share a drink with his horse, and I remember him inviting the horse into his house. I'll admit ol' Balane had pretty good manners.
A special treat was watching Don and Balane in the Rose Parade dressed in full Arabian attire.
Jerry and his Dad on Manton Avenue, Woodland Hills -- a dirt road in 1955
1956 - Sheep herders were still bringing their sheep wagons, horses, Border Collie dogs, and herd of sheep to graze off the wild oats that grew across the road from my home in Woodland Hills.
1956 - I used to love going shopping in Canoga Park where we'd often see an old man and woman who used a two goat cart to go to the store. I especially enjoyed going into the post office to see Maynard Dixon's famous 1942 painting of a vaquero and running palomino horses. The painting is still there.
1957 - Hidden Hills the cost of a 3 or 4 bedroom home on a one acre site was $27,500 - $47,500. In those days 1-5 acre home sites were selling for $7,950 - $12,500.
1957 - I remember Warner Ranch with the beautiful pepper trees and thoroughbred horses on a thousand acres owner by movie mogul Harry Warner. It was located roughly at Canoga and Ventura.
1957 - The valley was getting way too populated for my dad, so we moved to a High Sierra hamlet called Oakhurst (population 356). During the next several years I had some wonderful adventures there. We lived just 13 miles from Yosemite Nat'l Park. Can you picture a 15 year old kid on a red-dun Quarter Horse, packing a six shooter (Iver Johnson .22), and a lever action Winchester, while riding on highway 41 a few miles south of Yosemite National Park.
We used to ride our horses to Bass Lake, picket them for the day, and bum water skiing rides. One day I got more than I bargained for and was given a ride in a boat called "Short Change," we were doing a 100 mph. That was pretty fast back in 1957.
Between 1962 - 1964 while I was in the Army there where still plenty of horses in Los Angeles. In fact, the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) were still held at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
In 1964, I returned to the valley, but my Dad had sold our horses a couple of years earlier. My horseback rides for the next several years were on rented horses at a stable in Calabasas, or with a friend in Chatsworth who took me riding in the Santa Susana Mountains.
In 1972, My wife and I bought a home in Woodland Hills just a few blocks from where I had grown up in the early 1950s. The green hills and wild oats were long gone, but there were still horses in the neighborhood. During the next two decades we watched all the horses disappear while horse-keeping lots were filled up with not one, but two giant mansions.
In the 1980s, after my kids had grown up and moved away, I began buying a selling cowboy antiques and collectibles. In some ways I guess it was an attempt to recapture my youth.
In 1989 I began crafting cowboy furniture that I sold throughout the West. It didn't take long until a friend talked me into buying a horse and keeping it at his ranch in Cody, Wyoming.
In 1996, my wife talked me into bringing my horse to California so we could ride together. We boarded our horses in remote Browns Canyon until 2000 when we bought a house in Chatsworth and moved our horses to our backyard.
· Californios: The Saga of the Hard-riding Vaqueros, America's First Cowboys, Joseph Jacinto Mora, 1949.
· Trail Dust and Saddle Leather, Joseph Jacinto Mora, 1946.
· El Vaquero, Morris, Ernest, Templeton: E. Morris, 1989.
· Saddlemakers to the Stars: The Leather and Silver Art of Edward H. Bohlin, Nottage, James H., 1996
· Bit and Spur Makers in the Vaquero Tradition, Martin, Ned and Martin, Jody; Nicasio, CA: Hawk Hill Press, 1997.
· California Stock Horse, Ortega, Luis B, 1949.
· California Hackamore, Ortega, Luis B, 1948.
· Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen, Petrine Day Mitchum with Audrey Pavia, 2005.
· The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb, Kevin Roderick, 2001
· The Cattle on a Thousand Hills, Robert Glass Cleland, 1941.
· The Art of the Western Saddle, A Celebration of Style & Embellishment, William Reynolds, 2004