The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MAY  2005

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Happy Bottom Riding Club

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

The California courtroom was jam packed with spectators, reporters and many Edwards Air Force base personnel. The jury had been out for hours and now was expected to reach a verdict. Everyone stood to their feet as the jury filed solemnly back into the courtroom. The honorable judge of the U.S. District Court, Gilbert Jertberg, looked over his "granny glasses" and asked, "ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you finally reached a unanimous decision?" "Yes we have your honor ...we find the defendant, Florence Leontine "Pancho" Barnes, not guilty of all charges."

A tremendous roar of approval rang through the courtroom crowd. This was the case of the U.S. Government vs 360 acres of land. After three and a half years of legal wrangling with three U.S. attorneys, four judges, dozens of Edwards air force base personnel, and dozens of civilian witnesses, Pancho Barnes had won. She had beaten the U.S. Government in Federal court. The new Edwards Air Force Base Commander, Brigadier General J. Stanley Holtoner, disliked Pancho the first time that he saw her. So he decided to condemn her land and buy it for pennies. So he started the rumor that Pancho Barnes was a "Madam" and her "Happy Bottom Riding Club" was a "Cat House." But now the club was officially cleared of all misconduct and she received an apology from the government. Judge Jertberg stated that Pancho was a courageous, forthright individual, a

Cecil Owen

native of California, and she is also vitally interested in the well being of the U.S. Air Force. He also awarded her a settlement of $414,500.00. This was much more than the $185,000 offered by the Air Force.

Wow! Who in thunder was this Pancho Barnes woman who had prevailed against the U.S. Government?

She was born on July 22, 1901, in San Marino, California and her maiden name was Florence Leontine Lowe. She was certainly one of the 20th Century's greatest characters. Pancho was respected for her intelligence, individuality and tremendous zest for life. She had lofty romantic

ideas and very extravagant chivalrous actions. Her philosophy was, "when you have a choice ... choose to be happy." She was born into a life of wealth and privilege. She enjoyed the benefits of nannies and tutors who instructed her well. (In all of the social graces that a proper young lady should exhibit in her social class.) But Pancho constantly rebelled against all of this high brow society debutante activity.

All she wanted to do was become a veterinarian. For she loved horses and loved herding cattle with her father. But her mother and grandmother ruled the roost with an iron hand. Therefore, it was unthinkable for her to become a "commoner," they both declared. As Pancho reached eighteen she was so rebellious they could not see she did not belong to their high-faluting society. So it was decided (not by Pancho) that maybe if she got married, perhaps that would straighten her out. Her grand ole' dame (Grandmother) arranged a courtship with Rector (Pastor) Calvin Rankin Barnes, from St. James Episcopal Church in South Pasadena, California. He was ten years older than Pancho, who was almost twenty when they married. This was a very peculiar marriage as neither one loved the other. But,  after 27 months of proper

courtship, Florence Leontine Lowe "Pancho" became the wife of Rev. Barnes on July 5th, 1921.

Finally, after three nights had passed, they slept together. The next morning he announced to her, "I do not like sex, it makes me nervous. I see nothing to it and I do not wish to have any more of it." Believe it or not .. this was the last time they ever slept together. This one union did produce a child, William Emmert Barnes, born October 9, 1921. For a few years they pretended to have a normal marriage, then he took a church in New York, leaving her in California. This strange marriage did not end until Rev. Barnes sued Pancho for divorce in 1941. During this time she became a "booze hound" who also loved to party. Three months after her divorce, Pancho married Robert Hudson "Nick" Nichols, Jr. in December 1941. Sadly though for her, this second marriage lasted only two weeks. In July 1945 Pancho tried again,

this time with Don Jose Shalita who left only after four months.

Finally, on June 28, 1952, Pancho married her ranch foreman, Mac McKendry. Then on June 3, 1966, 14 years later, she divorced her fourth husband. Her mother, Florence Mae, had passed away and according to Pancho, had left her filthy rich. She also inherited a 36 room mansion in San Marino and a Laguna beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With a never ending supply of money Pancho would have wild, loud, long weekend parties. And of course, everything was free, the food, the drinks, and a place to hang out. One of the hang outs was a big 18 year old young man from Iowa. He was going to the University of Southern California with a football scholarship. As he was having a hard time making ends meet, Pancho frequently helped him out.

His name was Marion Michael Morrison. (Fifty years later,  Pancho was over seventy years old and in the Universal movie studios cafeteria. She was having lunch, when a big man walked up to her table. "Pancho Barnes, do you remember who I am?" he asked. "Of course," she said, "you are Marion Morrison." He said proudly, "that's right but now I am much more than that.. I am John Wayne!!!"  "So big deal," she snorted, "now let me finish my lunch."

The whole town of Pasadena complained about her wild parties and outrageous behavior, until she decided it was time for a change. Out in the Mojave desert there was an area called Muroc Dry Lake. So Pancho traded an apartment house in Los Angeles for eighty acres of this flat desert land. On the west side of Muroc Dry Lake was a small Army Air Force Corps Camp. It consisted of a dozen canvas tents and seventeen dusty soldiers. Their sole job was to search for spent bombs after bombing practice from planes stationed near Riverside. it grew into Muroc Army Air Field and later into Edwards Air Force Base housing 17,000 servicemen. As the air force base grew, so did Pancho Barnes eighty acre ranch. She had 360 acres, with a 9,000 member dude ranch called Rancho Oro Verde (green gold). It also contained a hotel, restaurant, dance hall, gambling den, huge swimming pool, horse stables, championship rodeo stadium, and a private airport! 

All of the air force pilots knew Pancho, including the base commander, and she entertained them whenever they were off duty. And of course, everything was free, as money for Pancho was still plentiful. She grew alfalfa and had a dairy farm with cows and goats. She also had a pig farm and a garbage business. Then she grew corn and raised chickens. Pancho thought that money was made to be spent, and she certainly could do that. One of her closest friends was Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle who bombed Japan in 1942, flying  B-25 land bombers from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet.

One evening, Pancho and several pilots were out riding some of her horses. James was there and had an extra frisky horse. Pancho asked how he liked the horse, and he replied "it sure did give me a happy bottom"! That is how her Happy Bottom Riding Club began. Now Pancho also knew most of the Hollywood crowd for she wrote movie scripts for producers including Howard Hughes. She was also a

stunt pilot for several of them. She treated them the same way as the air force crowd. Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Veronica Lake, Elizabeth Tayor, Roy Rogers, Buck Jones, Bill Boyd (Hop-a-long-Cassidy) and Ronald Reagan raced against each other in air races. She won a trophy for being the fastest woman flyer in America. Pancho was also a test pilot for Bach Lockheed and Beechcraft Aircraft companies. The U.S. Government gave her a contract to supply planes and pilots to start CPTP (Civilian Pilot Training Program.) She also started the WAR (Women's Air Reserve).

Another one of her projects was the Pancho Barnes Flying Mystery Circus of the Air with Slim Zaunmiller. On Sundays they would put on Air Shows. Such as "Barnstorming" where they would fly into a big barn and out the other side. She would do acrobats, spirals, sideslips, inside loops, split S turns, and barrel rolls. Then Slim would parachute down with precision to within a few feet of a small target. Pancho was a name she gave to herself because she liked it better than her own. She accomplished so many different things during her lifetime of 74 years. It was hard to pick out which ones to write in one small story. If ever one woman ever lived life to the fullest, it was Florence Leontine "Pancho" Lowe Barnes! Little remains today of what once was the raucous desert playground known as "The Happy Bottom Riding Club."

One November day in 1953, Pancho was away on a shopping trip. While she was gone, her whole ranch mysteriously caught on fire!! Nothing could be done to save it, the fire marshal believed that it was a case of arson. Pancho and many other people believed that General Holtoner was responsible, but it was never proven. He had threatened to have Pancho's ranch bombed with Napalm (a jellied gasoline used for fire bombs.)

The Pancho Barnes ruins was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, so today the legend of Rancho Oro Verde and Pancho Barnes lives on. She died alone in a little rock house in Boron, California, of heart failure. As per her request, her body was cremated and then her ashes sprinkled from the air over her beloved "360  Acres!