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Mormon Pioneers: The Swarthout Family

Al Swarthout

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 Serrano Indians 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 them tops.

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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