Mojave River Valley Museum
The Swarthout Family
THE SWARTHOUT CATTLE COMPANY - HEART BAR RANCH
Over in the upper Santa Ana River headwaters (Big Bear area), cattle and sheep of
Dr. Benjamin Barton and Matthew Lewis had grazed since the 1860s. It was there in
1884 that Charles Martin and Willie Button created the Heart Bar Ranch and
registered that brand. Twenty-three years later, thirty-five year old Albert
"Swarty" Swarthout would acquire that ranch.
An association began with the notorious McHaney Gang, who were reputed to be
outright rustlers — soon became the undoing of Martin and Button. Charlie Martin,
also known as Glen Martin, was a convicted thief and cattle rustler. Through the
relationship with the outlaw McHaney gang, he later was a defendant in a famous
murder trial. He survived a vicious knife attack from an altercation in a local bar
by shooting his attacker. The killing was deemed justified. He eventually tried to
go straight and was appointed San Bernardino Chief of Police in 1917.
In 1907 Albert "Swarty" Swarthout and partner Charlie Martin, purchased Heart Bar
Ranch, south of Big Bear for summer graze. By 1918, both had sold out, and in 1921
Swarthout again bought the Heart Bar. This time his partner was San Bernardino
businessman Dale Gentry. Their cattle were driven to Heart Bar Ranch via Rattlesnake
Canyon in the spring, and returning them to Old Woman Springs Ranch in the fall.
Prior to obtaining Heart Bar Ranch, AL Swarthout moved the Bar S from Lucerne Valley
to the Old Woman springs area. Due to drought in the lower valleys, Swarthout was
forced to run scattered amount of beeves in Big Bear's high country near Coxey
Meadows. Winter graze was on the land around Old Woman Springs in Lucerne Valley.
The partnership in the Heart bar Ranch was perfect with Swarthout raising the cattle
and Dale Gentry handling the business end. However, in 1938, they decided to split
up. They could not agree on one selling to the other a half interest in Heart Bar
and the Old Woman Springs Ranch they had acquired. After nine years of court
proceedings in 1947, Swarthout got Heart Bar and Gentry, Old Woman Springs.
Around 1947, the intrusion of resorts and residential developments were gradually
bringing an end to the cattle business. The decline began when the creation of the
lakes at Arrowhead, Green Valley and Big Bear had taken away choice grazing land.
Later, improved roadways and mode of transportation brought increasing numbers of
visitors into mountain country that had once been open range land. The inevitable
finally arrived, cattle ranching and modern life-styles became absolutely
incompatible and the final herd came down from the mountains.
The ranches that faded from time were Heart Bar Ranch, Hitchcock Ranch, Shay Ranch
(bought out by the Talmadges, the main operation moved to
Joshua Tree National Park),
the IS ranch (also later owned by the Talmadges. It actually stayed in
operation until 1954).
Prior to the slow death of Al Swarthout’s Heart Bar Ranch and the Swarthout Cattle
Company, the ranch operations reached from the Lucerne Valley, to the west slope of
the San Bernardino hills to The
Oasis of Mara,
which is located near the present day
Joshua Tree National Park. The Oasis was first settled by the
who called it "Mara", meaning "the place of little springs and much grass"
In the early years, the desert was open range and cattlemen moved their animals
seasonally from one area to another in search of adequate food and water. The cow
puncher life was explained in a simple way by an old Swarthout Cattle Company hired
hand named Jim Hester; "In those days, if you were a cowpuncher, you had a pair of
chaps, a horse and a pack horse, a bedroll, salt, staples, a six-shooter, and a big
chew of tobacco."
"Old Time cattlemen of Big Bear country at a 1937 Moonridge gathering; they are left
to right-Cliff Shay, Dale Gentry, Harry Allison (county clerk) Al Swarthout, John
Cram, John and Will Talmadge, Will Shay and Sheriff Emmett Shay."-From Foxfire, 100
years of Cow Ranching in the San Bernardino Mts/Mojave Desert, by Kendall Stone;
1989 Sagebrush Publishing-
Al "Swarty" Swarthout was well liked and deeply respected by the other ranchers in
the Big Bear area. Kenadll Stone, in his book Foxsong: 100 Years of Cow Ranching in
the San Bernardino Mts./ Mojave Desert, remember "Swarty" this way: "Swarty, a small
man physically, ran the toughest ranch of the four and made up for his size by
having and using what was obviously a high IQ." Swarty raised American saddle bred
horses, they were good mountain cow horses. Their speed and athletic ability made
It is unknown when exactly Al Swarthout came to the Lucerne Valley, Bear Valley
area. Knowledge of the area, and the ability to use the beneficial attributes of the
land for a thriving cattle ranch, was obviously passed to him by Uncle Nathan
Swarthout, the brother of George Swarthout, who was the original settler of present
day Clyde Ranch in Lone Pine Canyon. Al "Swarty" was ten months old when his father
died, living him to be raised by the surviving Swarthout clan in San Bernardino.
The only mention of Al Swarthout in the area was in the historical archives in San
Bernardino, Victorville and Lucerne Valley. In 1896, Swarthout bought land from W.W.
Brown in Lucerne Valley, where he quickly formed the Bar S and begin running cattle.
Swarthout move to Old Woman Springs in 1897 when water and feed became scarce.
Old Woman Springs, now
known as Cottonwood Springs, became part of the Heart Bar Ranch after Al Swarthout
acquired it. Al Swarthout, who was born February 11, 1872, and
died at the age of 91 in 1963.
The Swarthouts...just plain ol’ settlers? Not on your life!
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