This article was given to me by a friend who knows I like the High Chaparral. Sadly, she can’t remember which magazine she clipped it from, or what year. It may not be 100% accurate but it’s a good read.

 

 

 

THE HIGH CHAPARRAL

 

By Chris Anglos & John B. Anglos

 

 

The High Chaparral was a series about how the west was really won. Unlike the usual image of a gunfighter in a saloon, or of the cavalry on the attack, The High Chaparral portrayed one man and his dream of setting up a ranch in the west and making a success of it, despite all obstacles. In The High Chaparral that man is John Cannon. Taking his family onto an Indian ravaged ranch in the lawless west, without the cavalry for protection and with rustlers all around, he tenaciously sets up home, refusing to move no matter how powerful the forces are that are trying to uproot him. The west was won by men who set up home with only the strength of their personality and convictions to support them. These men were obviously larger than life, and John Cannon, or rather Big John Cannon, as he is commonly known, is no exception.

 

The story begins with the first two episodes of The High Chaparral which told a single story. They were shown together on NBC-TV between 9pm and 11pm as an introduction to the series. In England they were screened as two separate episodes on two consecutive weeks, which incidentally, replaced The Andy Williams Show, that had just enjoyed a popular run.

 

The first two episodes related in detail the premise of the series as well as revealing various points of interest. For example, the somewhat unusual name of Billy Blue was arrived at after the boy’s mother wanted to call him ‘Billy’, and his father wanted to name him after an old hunting dog he once had – hence the compromise of ‘Billy Blue’. The ranch was also christened in the first episode. While John and his first wife, Emily, [this is a mistake as John’s first wife was named Anna Lee] survey their initial stock of 200 head of cattle grazing, Emily remarks that this is such a lovely country it should have a name. “You name it,” John replies. She asks “What is that bush over there called?” John answers that it is “chaparral” and it is found everywhere one can see for 1,000 miles, for this is “chaparral country.” Emily exclaims, “That’s it . . . I’ll christen this ‘The High Chaparral’ the greatest cattle ranch in the whole territory!” Another important point that was covered in the introductory instalment was Big John’s puzzling cold and tough approach toward his son, Billy Blue. Emily was afraid that John’s lack of love would drive Blue away from them. However, John really loved Blue as much as any father loved a son, but he would not display his deep feelings in the belief that his son needed to be tough to survive the gruelling years ahead of him. “I don’t want him to love me, I want him to survive!” he explains; and maintained that any understanding, compassion or love was for Blue’s mother to provide. She would provide the warmth of a family, and John would provide the hard discipline.

 

The High Chaparral was filmed at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood and also on location in Old Tucson (just outside Tucson, Arizona) where a permanent outdoor set was constructed in an desert setting that had literally changed very little in the 120 years that have elapsed since the time in which the dramas are set.

 

The High Chaparral was created by its executive producer, David Dortort, who had previously created the world-favorite TV series, Bonanza, whose highly successful run spanned three decades, 1959 – 1973. The High Chaparral was made by Xanadu Productions in association with NBC-TV, and debuted in the USA on September 10th 1967 (Sunday 10pm), and in England just three months later on BBC2, December 7th 1967 (Thursday 9.05pm). The series blazed a trail for four great years on primetime TV, before ending on September 10th 1971. And according to the Nielsen ratings report, The High Chaparral averaged the highest ratings for the time period during its four year run. The series went into syndication where it has remained ever since.

 

THE PERIOD SETTING

 

The first railway built in the US was in 1829, and proved to be the beginning of an entire network that would culminate in connecting the west with the east. In 1863 two railway companies, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific set out in a race against each other to build this connection, one company beginning in the west, working eastward from the Pacific coast, and the other in the east, working westward, from the Missouri river. The two companies had a tough and exciting race which lasted six years, at which point they decided to meet their lines. So in 1869, after six years and 1,848 miles of track laying, their lines met in Utah, in the middle of the prairie, and so with the birth of the Union Pacific Railway the west found itself connected with the east. This connection created highly populated towns in the north west. These towns needed feeding, and so in consequence a market was created for beef to be raised in the vast open spaces south in Arizona. Hence with the creation of the Union Pacific Railway in 1869, the ranches of Arizona of the 1870’s were brought to life, with an ever growing hungry populous, up north, waiting to be fed.

 

However, raising beef down in Arizona was not quite as simple as it might at first seem. Down in Arizona there was a history of different people who all considered it ‘their’ land, with the fact that Washington had, shortly after the civil war, declared Arizona a Federal territory meaning nothing to them.

 

From 1821 – 1856, after the fall of the Spanish empire, the Mexicans ruled Arizona in a constant battle with the Indians. In this part of the country two great Indian chiefs presided. Cochise of the Chiricahua apaches and Geronimo. Cochise fought the Mexicans (and then later the white man), as nation against nation, while Geronimo specialised in guerrilla tactics. Even the Americans were of two distinct types, with civil war still fresh in their minds they were either ex-Yankees or still-bitter ex-rebels. Into this setting men of vision, tenacity and persistence came from the east to begin life anew, with a ranch in Arizona, and the Cannons, headed by Big John were among the forerunners.

 

THE STORY

 

The High Chaparral begins with one man’s dream . . . a dream to build a new life, a better life, a life with accomplishment and a legacy to one day leave behind for his son. Big John Cannon, his wife Emily, their son, Billy Blue, and John’s brother, Buck, travel a thousand miles across desolate wasteland to arrive at their new land to become the owners of Rancho Riverra (which is destined to become The High Chaparral).

 

The area around John’s ranch is just naked land. One simply sticks up a fence and whatever territory falls within the randomly chosen parameter becomes yours, just so long as you have the muscle to keep it – the border, in other words, extends just as far as you can exert control. Into this ever-savage, ever-dangerous life, the Cannons embarked.

 

When the Cannons arrive at their new ranch, they find the cavalry there. The Apaches, headed by Cochise, are on the warpath, burning down all homesteads they find. The lieutenant explains that they just fought off the Apaches, running them off before they could burn down their ranch as well. Furthermore, the cavalry patrol is out to warn all settlers in the area to clear out and head for the safety of nearby Tucson (the closest town), and that they will escort the Cannons there. But Big John stubbornly refuses to budge, “We came here to settle this Arizona territory,” he asserts. “We’re staying!”

 

John then sends Buck and Blue thirty-five miles away to Tucson to hire as many hands as he can get – men who can ride and shoot. Meanwhile John learns that he now has two enemies, the Apaches on the one hand, and Mexican Don Sebastian Montoya to the south, on the other. The latter is a very big patron, has his own private army, lives like a king, and even Cochise is afraid of him. The Apaches and Montoya both claim this very land that the Cannon’s have come to settle. And two days ago Montoya’s men had come and stolen John’s cattle.

 

That evening Buck returns with the new hired work, and Big John lays down the ground rules, “Now your pay is thirty a month and chuck” (food and lodgings), he shouts out. “I’ll brook no gambling and no drinking, and no disorderly conduct. Out here my words law – and I expect it to be obeyed!”

 

Within an hour’s time, Big John is out with his new ranch hands looking for their stolen herd. They finally track down Montoya’s bunch and wait until nightfall before springing out and surrounding the rustlers. Big John then makes his stand, “You tell your patron this range belongs to John Cannon – if I find one of his riders on my land again, I’ll hang him.”

 

Some time later Big John becomes lost in contemplation. He feels that he can tackle the Apache and take care of Montoya, but not fight them both at the same time. So, he decides to go and see Don Sebastian Montoya with a proposal.

 

At the Montoya Ranch, Montoya explains how the Apache have been raiding him all winter, killing his men and taking his best cattle. Big John then outlines his plan which involves a mutual agreement to cross each other’s territory in hot pursuit of the common enemy. The idea is to cover each other’s flanks by sending out regular patrols – Montoya from the south, and Big John from the north.

 

Montoya feels that an alliance between them is practical, but he has certain reservations, like how can they trust each other. His solution to the problem is a marriage proposal, between Big John and his own daughter, Victoria (whom Montoya feels should have been married long ago, and whose stubbornness in this respect has by far exhausted his patience – she has refused every suitor, is past the age where girls in Mexico should be married, and furthermore, Montoya wants grandchildren). Big John feels uncomfortable for not only had his wife, Emily, been killed by the Apaches only a few days prior, but also Victoria was a stranger half his age. But Big John had been boxed into a corner and the marriage becomes the only way out, so with no enthusiasm he agrees to the marriage.

 

Big John then returns home with his new bride and her brother, Manolito, a playboy and small-time bandit whom Montoya has sent along to keep an eye on things and ensure they run smoothly; and his father also hopes that in the process Manolito might be mended of some of his undesirable ways.

 

A couple of days later, the Apaches, still led by Cochise, stage an attack upon The High Chaparral. Everybody is impressed at how Victoria is handling herself in this crisis. She is “independent and has a mind like a wild horse.” Turning one of the rooms of the ranch into a hospital ward, Victoria becomes a Florence Nightingale, tenderly caring for the injured, equally concerned for white men and Apaches alike, amongst whom is an unusual fellow. It turns out, thanks to Manolito’s adept translation, that this Apache is a mystic, a warrior-priest. He and Victoria become friends, and through this friendship everyone present finds, at least, some understanding and respect for each other, each one now regarding the other as a fellow being and not just a member of a colour group.

 

When the warrior-priest is well enough to leave, Big John gives him a message, “You tell Cochise I wanna live in peace,” he begins. “Tell him, before winter I will meet with him to talk of peace.” The warrior priest replies, “This is our country. A man fights for his country. This will be very difficult. Many will dies. But I hope that the blood on the earth will grow on new land where we can live as men who are truly brothers in our hearts.”

 

 

 

 

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