Pancho Barnes was a pioneering aviatrix, from 1928 pursuing a colorful career as a barnstormer, air racer, stunt flier for Hollywood, and promoter of aviation and air power. She pioneered new airline routes into Mexico in 1930, where she earned her nickname. But her career was funded from wealth inherited from her family, which evaporated as the depression went on.
In 1935 she liquidated her remaining assets and bought eighty acres in the desolate high desert at the edge of the Muroc Army Air Force Gunnery Range. Here she settled down in her fashion with her twelve-year-old son. Farming was not very profitable, and eventually she opened the Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch, which included an airstrip for guests (and for shuttling alcohol from Mexico). World War II led to expansion of Muroc into a major training facility, and Pancho's premises expanded into an all-services facility for airman preparing for war. In 1942 a top-secret Army Air Force testing base was established north of the training base.
Over the years Muroc became Edwards Air Force Base, and Pancho's dude ranch became known unofficially as the Happy Bottom Riding Club. What was originally a low-rent establishment became the hang-out of choice for the test pilots that broke the sound barrier and tested the latest aircraft in the 1940's and 1950's. By 1952 the still inaccessible ranch consisted of a 20-room motel, built around a fountain built in the shape of the old Army Air Corps Insignia. Recreational facilities included the riding club itself, a restaurant, hangars to accommodate aircraft arriving on three runways, a dance hall, gambling parlor, a bevy of lovely hostesses, and a bar. The lights reflecting from the astonishing swimming pool, rebuilt after the Tehachapi earthquake, was a beacon for aviators in the night.
When the new commander of Edwards tried to shut Pancho down in 1953, she resisted. A mysterious fire burned some of the buildings to the ground, and the government confiscated the property in 1954. Pancho eventually received a settlement from the US government, but her morale had been shattered by the bitter dispute. She would eventually become famous after being portrayed in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff and the subsequent motion picture. All that was later, and she died in 1975, remembered only by the pilots who had frequented her ranch.
Birth Place: San Marino, California.