Roundup: May 10 2023




Roundup Synopsis

The Los Angeles Corral’s own Terry Terrell spoke at the May Roundup about the colorful, high-flying life of Florence Leontine Lowe, better known as Pancho Barnes. In an­other installment of what could come to be known as our Women of the West series—fol­lowing Ed Anderson’s March talk, Pioneers in Petticoats—Terry directed our attention to the rich world of aviation and dude-ranching in the first half of the 20th century, that has be­come so emblematic of our own city’s histori­cal character. Part rancher and restaurateur, part pioneering aviatrix and arial bootlegger, part hostess and perhaps even part madam, Pancho Barnes’ eccentric life added more than a few dabs of color to the mural of her unique character.
Though she was born Florence Leontine Lowe, granddaughter to Thaddeus Lowe, it was under her moniker “Pancho” and mar­ried name Barnes that she would gain fame. Pancho opened a ranch near Muroc Field (the future Edwards Air Force Base) in the mid-1930s which became home to the “Happy Bottom Riding Club.” Its name came from a remark by a guest after a ride on Pancho’s horse. The restaurant and inn, along with its own private airstrip, drew the rich and fa­mous (and rugged) to the ranch in droves. In my favorite anecdote of the evening, Terry described the circumstances around legend­ary test pilot Chuck Yeager being “sund­owned” at the ranch.
Out riding late one day in 1947, Chuck Yeager returned to the ranch after sundown. Thanks to the low light, Yeager didn’t notice that the corral gate, open when he began his ride, had been shut some time earlier. The horse he was riding sure noticed, though. When it stopped abruptly at the gate, Chuck was sent base over apex, breaking a few ribs on touchdown. One wonders if the libations proffered by Pancho at the ranch played a role in this misfortune. Regardless, Chuck had a job to do, broken ribs or no. The next day he closed the cockpit on Glamorous Glennis—the X-1 rocket plane named after his wife—with the aid of a broomhandle, and flew into the history books faster than the speed of sound.
Pancho never flew quite so fast, though she did best Emilia Earhart’s women’s speed record in the ‘30s. Barnes also formed a Hollywood union of pilots, and provided the dogfight sounds for Howard Hughes’ epic Hell’s Angels movie in 1930. A crack-pilot, ready hostess, and peer to some of the big­gest names of her time, Pancho Barnes was a fixture for decades in the gritty and glitzy world of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It’s tough to think of a more fitting embodiment of the spirit of Southern California in that era.
Pancho was a one-of-a-kind lady, and an inspiration for all the adventurous types to follow. Let’s find more Pancho Barneses to celebrate. Let’s make this Women of the West series a reality. Who’s next?
— Alan Griffin


Photos from the Roundup