A strong matriarch, a lost patriarch, four sons, one daughter and a history of dreams, hard work, and family honor. A family that respects its members individuality and understands the synergistic quality of their collaboration. The Barkleys embrace a strong sense of family and a singular belief system that shapes their reactions to the world around them. The majority of that world resides in The Big Valley, otherwise known as the San Joaquin Valley of California in the United States of America.
The Barkley’s antebellum Greek Revival home is set on a 30,000 acre ranch in that Big Valley (92). The mansion’s first floor includes a spacious foyer, front parlor with fireplace, dining room, gun room with a pool table, a kitchen with an ice box (15), and back stairs leading to the second floor.
A grand staircase sweeps upward from the foyer to a second floor balcony on the left side that overlooks the first floor foyer. The family bedroom suites are situated off this balcony (Victoria Barkley’s suite is the first at the top of the stairs) and the hall to the left of the balcony. To the right of the staircase is a hallway leading to guest rooms.
The family also enjoys a lodge in Tamarack, California.
The ranch is just a few miles outside Stockton, a river town in the San Joaquin Valley. The ranch is on the opposite side of the San Joaquin River from Stockton. (70)* At the busiest times, there are 3 bunkhouses full of hired hands. (92) The Barkley Ranch has a reputation for 3 things: good food, clean beds, and fair treatment. (75) As is true of many farms and ranches in the area, the Barkley Ranch relies on both agricultural and livestock production to prosper. There are groves of apples (and a cider mill that cost between $4,000 and $5,000. The first pressing left something to be desired as far as consumption was concerned. However, one of the local veterinarians declared it the best liniment he had ever used.) (43), peaches (46, 75), olives (37) and 10,000 acres of oranges (31). Spring is heralded by the flowering of grapes(44) in the vineyards and fall by the picking of the ripe grapes that are taken to the family winery. (29, 63) Alfalfa (10), barley (10), and sugar beets (63) grow on the ranch. Livestock includes cattle (2,75), hogs (16), chickens (16), well-bred horses with impeccable bloodlines (10, 47, 95) and the occasional herd of sheep (63).
Tom and Victoria Barkley arrived in the valley in 1854 (5). One of Tom Barkley’s original mines was in Stockton and named Victoria. After the mine played out, a Catholic church was built over the mine with the cellar of the church located in the mine’s original tunnel system. That mine was one of the cornerstones of the family empire (9). Back in those days, business was “done during dinner, or out riding, or hunting, or at the club. A contract was drawn up on a paper bag; and between men of honor, no contract at all. A man’s word was his bond.”(27)
At the time of Tom Barkley’s death, the family business interest were in 5 different states and Mexico. After his death, the family continued to prosper and grow their holdings. These included timberland with a logging camp in Indian Springs, California (13), gold, silver and copper mines (among them mines near Granite City, California (70), Sundown Hill, and Rimfire (27)), factories (27), mills (27), foundries (27), shipping interests (over which Victoria Barkley has control(81)), and the Mineral Springs-Stockton Freight Service (107).
The Barkleys own 10,000 shares in the Barkley Sierra Mining Company (6), They also have a 40% interest in the Dutton Mining Company (which owns a mine in Midas (102)), participate in the Transwestern mines (which includes the Rose Mountain Mine (72)), and have a mine franchise in Mexico (with a mine in Rio Blanco, Mexico (32)).
The Barkley family and its empire is loosely based on the life of Hugh Lawson White Hill and his family, who lived on the Hill Ranch near Camanche in Calaveras County, California in the United States of America from 1855-1931. The ranch and the town are now at the bottom of the Camanche Reservoir, which is approximately 38.1 miles from Stockton (shades of “The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner” (5)).
Predominately set in the late 1870’s with the first episode specifically set in 1876 (Tom Barkley’s grave notes his death occurred in 1870. Frank Sample states that his father and Jarrod, Nick, and Eugene’s father died together fighting the railroad six years prior (1) and Audra remarks that her father has been dead for 6 years (5)). The fourth season appears to have occurred in 1878 as three episodes specifically reference that year:
- Jarrod receives a telegram dated April 27, 1878 (88)
- Elaine Miller’s gravestone reports her death date as 1878 (94)
- Heath notes Amanda Carter’s death date on her grave marker as May 5, 1878 (97)
There appears to have been an effort to be period accurate, as at the end of each episode there is an acknowledgment of the Conference of California Historical Societies.
This series supported the feminist movement of the 1960-70s in that it promoted workplace equality because it featured its female actors as the central figure(s) of episodes in relatively the same percentage as those of its male actors. The characters sometimes appeared as central characters in tandem (and even in trios), such as the pairing of Victoria and Audra or Nick and Heath. The featured appearance of each character in the 112 episodes is roughly:
Heath Barkley: 25%
Jarrod Barkley: 21%
Nick Barkley: 20%
Victoria Barkley: 19%
Audra Barkley: 14%*
Eugene Barkley: 1%*
*It should be noted that it is reputed that Linda Evans (portraying Audra Barkley) requested a lighter schedule in order to spend time with her new husband and that Charles Briles (appearing as Eugene Barkley) received his draft notice after appearing in 8 episodes of the first season. He did not rejoin the series when his enlistment ended.
Sometimes the men in the family tried to cosset the female members of the family. However, once the female member found out, she often caused him to summarily understand that this was not acceptable.
While the series is committed to equally present the male and female characters, the central theme of The Big Valley revolves around justice. Justice that stands on the solid ground of morality, and leans on an evolving system of law. Justice for the individual man and justice for society. Justice for the living and the dead. The series is therefore heavily invested in social issues, especially those centered around the penal system (subjects include chain gangs, criminal reform, convict leasing, parole, prison reform, rehabilitation, exoneration) and mental health. The listing of some of the then current and still pertinent issues presented for the consideration of the audience include:
Aging: Acceptance of age limitations, retirement, senility, Alzheimer’s disease
Concussive contact sports
Corporatocracy: Ethics, greed misfeasance, regulation, employee relations, strikes, fair wages, unfair business practices
Communicable disease and vaccinations
Domestic and forced labor
Domestication of feral animals
Familial relationships: Absent fathers, adoption/foster care, childhood trauma, filial duty, illegitimacy, genetics versus behaviorism, parental responsibility, familial responsibility, role models, unity
Government: Anarchy, bounties, code of justice, eminent domain, fitness to command, hypocrisy, suppression, manifestly illegal superior orders
Justice and the law
Matrimony: Courtship, fidelity, intrigues, spousal abuse
Politics: Political campaigns, malfeasance, assassination, power and self-aggrandizement, self-determination
Power: Abuse, corruption, money
Prejudice: racism, bigotry, cultural bias
Social and religious conflict
Utilitarian versus Deontological perspectives
Issues were sometimes examined from varying standpoints, as with the Irish – English political conflict represented in “Cage of Eagles” and “The Brawlers,” war crimes in “The Guilt of Matt Bentell,” “The River Monarch,” and “Court Martial,” and following in a father’s footsteps as contrasted in “Shadow of a Giant” and “Showdown in Limbo.”
Two back door (spinoff) pilots were tested. The first was “Rimfire” with Van Williams as Sheriff Dave Barrett and John Daniels as Daniel Barrett. Sajid Khan appeared as Jahan, a con-man’s shill presenting as Prince Ranjit Singh in “The Royal Road.” Neither became a series.
Miss Barbara Stanwyk was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1966, 1967, 1968) and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a television series drama (1965, 1966, 1967) for her portrayal of Victoria Barkley. She won the Emmy in 1966.
The Big Valley ran for four seasons on the American Broadcasting System (ABC):
Season 1 (September 15, 1965 – April 27, 1966) the show presented on Wednesdays at 9 PM EST
Seasons 2-4 (September 12, 1966 – May 19, 1969) it was aired on Mondays at 10 PM EST
A listing of the episodes in order of appearance is given below. Links are provided to a page that details the cast, production, historic, geographic and gastronomical information.
“Legend of a General” Part 1
“Legend of a General” Part 2
“Explosion” Part 1
“Explosion” Part 2
*Numbers in parenthesis indicate the episode number from which the information is drawn.
The Big Valley episodes (written, spoken and credits)
Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
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