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Pancho Barnes's Geni Profile

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Florence Leontine Barnes (Lowe)

Also Known As: "Shalita", "McKendry", "Nichols"
Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Pasadena, Los Angeles, California, United States
Death: March 30, 1975 (73)
Boron, Kern, California, United States (heart attack, breast cancer)
Place of Burial: Cremated, ashes spread over the site of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe, II and Florence Mae Lowe
Ex-wife of Rev. C. Rankin Barnes; Robert Hudson Nichols, Jr.; Donald "Don" Shalita and Mac McKendry
Mother of William Emmert Barnes
Sister of William Emmert Lowe

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Pancho Barnes

Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes (July 22, 1901 – March 30, 1975) o

Pancho was a pioneer aviator and the founder of the first test pilots union. She broke Amelia Earhart's air speed record in 1930.

She ran an ad-hoc barnstorming show and competed in air races. Despite a crash in the 1929 Women's Air Derby, she returned in 1930 under the sponsorship of the Union Oil Company to win the race – and break Amelia Earhart's world women's speed record with a speed of 196.19 mph (315.7 km/h). Barnes broke this record in a Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship.

After her contract with Union Oil expired, Pancho moved to Hollywood to work as a stunt pilot for movies. In 1931, she started the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union of film industry stunt fliers who promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes' "Hell's Angels."


The Happy Bottom Riding Club was a dude ranch, restaurant, and hotel operated by aviatrix Pancho Barnes near Edwards Air Force Base in the Antelope Valley or California's Mojave Desert. Barnes and the club were both featured in Tom Wolfe's 1979 book, The Right Stuff, and the 1983 film adaptation.

Also known as the Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch, the establishment was a favored hangout for both test pilots and the Hollywood elite during the 1940s, boasting over 9,000 members worldwide at the height of its popularity. When the United States Air Force intended to buy the club via eminent domain in order to extend their runways, a long and contentious series of lawsuits ensued. Barnes eventually won the lawsuits, but after the club was destroyed by fire in the 1950s, her plans to re-open in a nearby location never came to fruition.

In 1935, Barnes originally purchased the property where the club would later stand to grow alfalfa, raise pigs and cattle and start a dairy. As the nearby U.S. Army Air Corps base at Muroc Army Air Base expanded in the post World War II period, the ranch's other business as a restaurant, bar, and hotel quickly outgrew its humble beginnings. Eventually, the ranch also included a hospitality business with an all-female staff and it became a destination of choice for test pilot relaxation.

Along with a swimming pool and a rodeo stadium, Rancho Oro Verde had an airstrip that was the first amenity Barnes created in 1935 to stay in touch with her aviator-friendly social circle from south of the San Gabriel Mountains. Visiting civilians and military men alike flew into the strip to stay at the Rancho Oro Verde, with Barnes often holding events to entertain her guests that included barbecues and a treasure hunt for 200 silver dollars. The rodeo stadium held three-day weekend rodeos jointly sponsored by the local VFW post in Lancaster.

The original swimming pool was rectangular, and was one of the first built in the Antelope Valley, but was destroyed by the Tehachapi earthquake in 1952. The replacement pool was circular and had a circular ramp which reportedly allowed Barnes to ride her horse into the pool. This later pool was modeled after one Barnes had owned in the Pasadena area. The pool was lit at night — an aid to visual air navigation.

As depicted in the book and film The Right Stuff, a tradition was started when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and Barnes provided him with a free steak dinner. After that, pilots were given a free steak dinner when they personally broke the sound barrier for the first time. Following Yeager's achievement, the sound barrier was broken frequently from Edwards AFB in the late 1940s and early 1950s with Barnes giving free dinners multiple times during the course of a week.

Despite a friendship between Barnes and the military, relations grew sour after a change of command in 1952, four years after Muroc Army Air Base became Edwards Air Force Base. One reason for friction between Barnes and the base commander was the increase in flights out of Edwards, along with an increase in flights at the club's landing strip. After he assumed command at the base, General Albert Boyd, an admirer and friend of Barnes, would berate her if her clientele came too close to military airspace and flight paths. Allegations surfaced that the club was a brothel, something Barnes believed was connected to her refusal to sell the ranch to the government for a runway expansion. The rules Barnes posted for hostesses were strict, and many seemed to discredit the allegations. Acting on the rumors, however, the Air Force prohibited servicemen from visiting the club, destroying the vast majority of her business. Since she and the government were in the middle of negotiations regarding establishing a fair price for her business and property, Barnes felt betrayed by the prohibition.

When the government added a suit to appropriate the ranch, Barnes counter-sued for slander, harassment, unlawful acquisition of land, and conspiracy. The ranch was destroyed by fire on November 13, 1953, shortly before the lawsuit concluded. Barnes ended up resettling in nearby Cantil and the land was purchased by the Air Force via eminent domain. The proposed runway expansion was never implemented.

Barnes' plans to reestablish the Happy Bottom Riding Club on her and her husband's land in Cantil never materialized.

Along with depictions in The Right Stuff, the club was also immortalized in Lauren Kessler's biography of Barnes, The Happy Bottom Riding Club. Barnes' life was chronicled in a 2009 documentary film for PBS station KOCE-TV, entitled The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

A made-for-TV movie aired on the CBS TV network, Pancho Barnes (1988), starring Valerie Bertinelli, featured a fictionalized version of Barnes' life and events relating to The Happy Bottom Riding Club

Air Force personnel from Edwards hold an annual barbecue on the site of the Happy Bottom Riding Club in remembrance of Barnes and the ranch. Visitors may still see the remains of the pool, the restaurant's foundation (including chimney), and the barn. From the air, an outline of the airstrip is visible.

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Pancho Barnes's Timeline

July 22, 1901
Pasadena, Los Angeles, California, United States
October 9, 1921
Age 20
San Marino, Los Angeles, California, United States
March 30, 1975
Age 73
Boron, Kern, California, United States