History

GARNER RANCH HISTORY

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Garner Ranch, one of Southern California’s largest working cattle ranches, is located in spectacular Garner Valley, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains and bordered by a National Forest. The Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from Canada to Mexico, winds along the top of the eastern mountains bordering this pristine valley.

Once known as Hemet Valley, then Thomas Valley, and now Garner Valley, its earliest inhabitants were the Cahuilla Indians, known as California’s “Desert People,” who ventured into cooler climate escaping the Coachella Valley heat. The average temperature in Garner Valley is approximately 20 degrees cooler than Palm Desert. The Takic-speaking Cahuillas once occupied the better part of Riverside County and the northern portion of San Diego County and numbered from six to 10,000 people.

Charles Thomas followed the migration of the Cahuillas into the valley and began raising thoroughbred horses and Angus cattle in the 1860’s. Many of the Cahuillas worked on Thomas’ Ranch. Among the most famous were Juan Diego and Ramona Lubo whose life story would later be immortalized in Helen Hunt Jackson’s famous novel, Ramona.

The arrival of the Spaniards and the Americans did not destroy the Cahuillas’ own political, legal and religious systems. The most negative effects the Europeans had were in losses of Cahuilla land, the death of approximately 80 percent of the Cahuilla population from European diseases, and the gradual loss of Cahuilla political autonomy. As their population began to decline, the remaining remnant of Cahuillas were forced into reservations that were established after several years of conflict with local and federal authorities.

In 1905, Robert F. Garner purchased 1,700 acres from Charles Thomas which became known as the Garner Ranch. Eventually, Garner Ranch would grow to nearly 9,500 acres of meadows and rolling hills.  For the past 100 years, the Garner family has owned the cattle ranch passing through various generations, from father to son, Robert F. Garner, Jr. and then to grandson, Jack Garner and great-granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth “Meg” Garner, who manages the ranch today along with her husband, Ted Johnson and daughter Hannah Johnson.

Surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains, which are pictorially similar to the San Bernardino Mountains, Garner Valley and specifically Garner Ranch, much like Big Bear Valley, would also become a film location site for a number of Hollywood’s famous B-westerns. Lake Hemet, which borders along the north end of the Valley across from Garner Ranch, is yet another recognizable film locale. Some of Hollywood’s western stars of the era to visit Garner Ranch include Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Tex Ritter, Audie Murphy, James Drury, Tim Holt and several others. Many would ride the range across the silver screen rescuing starlets and runaway stage coaches from the outlaws.

Some of the B-westerns to utilize Garner Ranch on location include Republic Pictures’ Guns and Guitars (1936) and Springtime in the Rockies (1937) both starring Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette, Grand National’s Heading’ for the Rio Grande (1936) starring Tex Ritter, Monogram’s Stars Over Arizona (1937) starring Jack Randall, RKO Pictures’ Brothers in the Saddle (1949) and Riders of the Range (1950) both starring Tim Holt and Richard Martin, and Universal-International’s Raw Edge (1956) starring Rory Calhoun and Yvonne De Carlo.

The characteristic feature of the ranch during the filming years was the white ranch house with a covered porch on the front surrounded by several outlying buildings, barns and corrals. Some of the series that filmed at the ranch include The Virginian, Fury, Hopalong Cassidy and Eight is Enough, In 1959, the Garner Ranch was utilized for the opening credits of the ever-popular Bonanza. Although the Ponderosa Ranch house is actually located in Inverness, California near Lake Tahoe and much of the filming was done there, the opening scene where the Cartwright family ride down the meadowland into the television screen was actually filmed at the Garner Ranch.

In 1968, Jack Garner sold 2,200 acres of the ranch to the Great American Land Company who began marketing five-acre parcel retreat escapes.  Today, that area is known as Garner Valley and is home to many families who relish the sweet smell of pines, the sounds of nature and star-spangled nights away from city lights.

Garner Ranch today is a working cattle ranch, home to the Garner family as well as a popular location for TV commercials and for special events such as weddings and birthday parties.

For more information or to book the ranch for an event please contact Ted Johnson at tjohnson@garnerranch.com or by phone at (951) 659-2983.

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