BACK TO EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
TARZANA RANCH 1921
Part IV: Illustrated Version
by Bill Hillman
The eastern sky held only a hint of the approaching dawn when we were awakened by the morning wake-up clanging from the massive bell on the front door of the house. Forewarned that we would be joining the family on a long hot ride across the southern foothills we donned shorts, T-shirts and sneakers and made our way to the breakfast room. We were met with cheery "good mornings" but Ed seemed puzzled by our garb.
"We'll be riding through brush and scrub all morning. I don't think you'll have much need for those swim suits. I'll loan you fellows some of my riding gear and I'm sure that Mrs. Burroughs can round up a lady's riding skirt and jacket. Now, dig in and we'll meet you down at the stables after you eat and change."
Finally ready to show off our official Tarzana Ranch riding duds, we galloped down stairs, through door, across patio, over the edge of the hill and down the slope. We followed a walkway that wound through full-foliaged umbrella trees to the stable and corrals at the foot of the hill. The stables held finely bred horses, the adjoining tack room was stocked with the best of trappings and the bunkhouse was equipped with all the necessary conveniences. Ed directed us to sign our names and departure times on the stable blackboard and then pointed out our mounts -- already saddled and tied to a ring in the stable wall by the stableman. Without hesitation the Burroughs kids clambored to their ponies and cavorted around the corral while they waited for the rest of the party to join them.
Danton, a true Burroughs, mounted his horse with expert ease, while Sue-On and I held back -- expert novices. Sensing our reticence, Ed quickly took us under his wing. Holding the bridles of our mounts he led us through a quick tutorial.
"Take the reins in your left hand -- so. Like this -- left-hand rein coming in under your little finger, the other between your first and second fingers, and the bight out between your first finger and thumb -- there, that's it. Face your horse, put your left hand on the horn, and your right hand on the cantle -- this is the cantle back here. That's the ticket. Now put your left foot in the stirrup and stand erect -- no, don't lean forward over the saddle -- good! Swing your right leg, knee bent, over the cantle, at the same time lifting your right hand. When you come down, ease yourself into the saddle by closing on the horse with your knees -- that takes the jar off both of you. Ride with a light rein. If you want him to slow down or stop, pull him in -- don't jerk."
Satisfied that his pupils seemed to have the feel of it, he swung into the saddle with the ease of long habitude. He then led the way and we fell in behind with the rest of the Burroughs clan taking up the rear. The novelty, the thrill and the excitement we all felt were turning this event into an unforgettable adventure. We were somewhat surprised to note that he preferred the English saddle to the Western saddle that the rest of the family used. He explained that he had tried all types of saddles over the years and that this style required more skill but was also far more comfortable. Interspersed with snatches of conversation and intervening silences were occasional suggestions for improving our riding techniques: "keep your feet parallel to the horse's sides," "don't lean forward," " keep your elbows down," " keep your forearm horizontal."
Heading out from the bunkouse and horse barn we followed a straight gravel road past the golf course and onto a trail past "Koonskin Kabin," a rustic log structure.
"You'll recognize that cabin from last night's moving picture. I think it's been here since the '80s. Otis used to entertain some of his cronies out here but it works well as a mess hall for our ranch and grounds staff. National Films used it last year for some of their location shooting for the "Son of Tarzan" serial. We have big plans for the cabin, as well as for all the canyons to the south that you'll see first hand this morning. I think there can be big money in renting out the property to film companies. I've just had a call from Universal Pictures, who are planning to make a Buffalo Bill picture here in a few months. If this venture doesn't pan out we can use the area to expand my nephew Studley's little golf course to 18 holes."We then crossed a large pasture, pausing beneath the shade of an enormous walnut tree upon the edge of a low bluff where the brood mares grazed with their colts. The great spreading branches of this giant easily provided shade for our band of eight horsemen. Ed obviously felt a great affection, and even friendship, for trees as they dotted all his pastures and hay fields. "I'm afraid my farm foreman doesn't share my love for trees. Apparently my beloved sycamores and walnuts take up too much crop land and make harvesting pretty difficult -- and expensive. He thinks I'm a hopeless sentimental idiot. I've been accused of this all my life. You know, fear of losing my giant oaks is the main thing holding me back from going ahead with my Tarzana subdivision plans."
After making a few tack adjustments we carried on into the hills to Jackknife Canyon, where we came to a well-used bridle path that took a winding route through the leafy tunnel of a cool barranco. As we passed through the park-like beauty of the lower hills, we sensed that our companions knew every bush and tree and boulder. Occasionally the horses would pause to nibble the bitter leaves of the live oak or graze on the sparse burned grasses of mid-summer.
We were well into the hills when Ed suggested that we all dismount to give the horses a break and to give the greenhorns of the troupe a chance to stretch a bit. He took the opportunity to point out and identify animal tracks that we might have missed from horseback: the tiny kangaroo mouse, the great pack rat, the little red fox, the skunk, the badger, the coon, the coyote, the wild cat, the deer, the lion, snakes and rabbits of many varieties, ground squirrels and gophers. Shade trees -- oaks, sycamores, walnuts, and umbrellas -- welcomed the constant visits of birds to their branches or cool umbras. Blue Jays, road runners, the chaparral cock, vultures, and numerous other feathered denizens made appearances. Eventually our continual climb through the canyons and foothills took us to crest of a ridge from which the views were breathtaking. Framed by a gap in the Santa Monica Mountains was the distant mirage-like image of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. Looking back toward the north we took in the full panorama of the San Fernando Valley below -- stretching across to the Santa Susanna mountains at the far end. None of us spoke until Ed waved his arms to indicate the vista before us and he said, half-seriously and half-joking, "This is mine, all mine. It's a paradise but I fear that someday hordes will come and spoil it." On our way back to the Rancho I found myself unable to contain my excitement over the adventures we had experienced. I burst out a suggestion that Ed might write a story combining his main interests in California: the joys of outdoor living on Tarzana Ranch and the Hollywood film industry. He laughed and admitted that such a story was already in the planning stages. Looking back at the eldest of his brood, the exuberant 13-year-old Joan, he hinted that he might centre the story around her. Since enrolling in the Hollywood School for Girls, his pride and joy seemed to be captivated by the bright lights of Hollywood.
Ed Burroughs had been long known for his poetry, but little mention had been made of his singing prowess. We were treated to both talents on the return ride to the ranch.
"Pine no more my lassieUnexpectedly, the whole family joined in, the powerful voices of Emma, Joan and young Hulbert rising above the others.
My little lad be gay!
For we’re going back
To our own Tarzana Ranch
To our own Tarzana Ranch far away"
For the return ride Ed gave the boys and Joan free rein to race ahead and lead the way through more obscure trails. During one of their many camping excursions Ed had created a unique "doodad" symbol for each of the male members of the Burroughs clan. Our advance party made extensive use of these markings which they left in the dirt to give us direction at forks or where the trails became obscure. Noting the resemblance to Chinese writing characters, Sue-On was inspired to design and scratch our own symbols in the dirt during one of our dismounts. The ride back was uneventful other than the episode where I fought a losing battle with a cactus patch. A low overhanging branch had knocked off my hat and in my attempt to dismount, my ever-stiffening muscles, combined with my unfamiliarity with the stirrup, caused me to stumble into a hostile horde of cacti that had leapt out of nowhere. My equestrian faux pas was made even more embarrassing by the resulting side-splitting laughter of the kids. . . and the fact that Ed couldn't resist recording my predicament with his camera. After a painful extrication, I retrieved my hat and returned to the saddle. I then spent the remainder of our excursion pulling thorns out of sensitive places.
Not feeling totally unsympathetic to my discomfort and wounded dignity, Ed shared an embarrassing anecdote about himself. During his morning rides he usually wore a Colt .45 automatic pistol -- a carry over from his days as an officer in the Illinois Reserve Militia. One morning, while riding his favourite horse, The Colonel, he came upon a rattler crossing the trail. Ed took aim, the horse spooked and shied to one side, Ed moved his right hand to join his left on the reins and the gun went off by the horse's ears. The Colonel went down as if hit by a sledge hammer and Ed, thinking he had killed the horse, rolled clear. Colonel scrambled to his feet and ran home. Ed had to walk a couple miles home -- an embarrassing indignity for an old cowhand and ex-cavalryman.
Our return to the main rancho farm yard was announced by the barking of Tarzan, the Airdale Terrier accompanied by the rest of the canine pack -- Don, Jack and Lobo -- as they ran down from the house to greet us. Following this we could hear an odd sequence of chimes from the front doorbell on the other side of the house. A short time later I noticed Hulda bringing a tray of cold drinks out to the patio.
On our way across to the stable I was baffled as to the purpose of a large cage and shed that displayed a handpainted sign reading, "Tarzana Zoo." There wasn't an animal in sight. Ed, amused by my bewilderment, sent Jack into the shed to "bring out the beasts." The lad returned with a photograph of Hully and Pete, the ranch Pig Foreman, playing with two lion cubs in the "Zoo."
"You're probably wondering why the zoo is so quiet. We visited the Son of Tarzan set quite often last year and the kids were fascinated with the wild animals on the set. After the film company wrapped up shooting the serial, the producer presented them with a Christmas gift of two lion cubs and a pair of monkeys. That's when we built these cages. We were all quite excited . . . for a few weeks . . . until we realized just how much maintenance the menagerie required . . . and how big and dangerous they were getting. A real zoo in the city took them off our hands . . . of course we had mixed emotions over the decision but I think everyone was quite relieved. And you can see that there is no shortage of animals for the youngsters to play with. They make the rounds each day, pestering my chickens and prize livestock."
We were impressed with the apparent efficiency of the farming operation . . . and the cleanliness of it all. Every piece of modern farming equipment was parked in an orderly fashion, the barns and outhouses were clean and well-cared for, the grounds teemed with quality livestock, and the Burroughs dream of creating a self-sufficient ranch seemed to be within reach. Ed, the gentleman farmer, obviously had spared no expense to create a model farm with a large, dependable support staff.
After turning our horses over to the groomsmen we climbed the steps to the patio, where we discussed our plans for the afternoon over cool drinks. Ed had planned a trip to the city -- their regular Saturday afternoon outing. He was quite involved in the new Tarzan movie and, of course, Emma never missed a chance to do some shopping and to see the latest shows.
We were about to leave for our rooms to freshen up and have a nap before lunch when young Jack pleaded: "But Papa! You promised that you would try out Hully's new coaster." Temperatures were climbing into the 90s but Papa was still going strong. He squeezed into the latest creation from the Burroughs workshop, sort of a soapbox racer, and the two boys hit full stride pushing the contraption out to the driveway. They obviously had plans to launch the fearless aeronaut into the hazardous nether regions beyond the Great Ballroom. Not to be outdone, Joan talked her mom into joining her down at the riding ring where she was about to put the new pacing horse through its paces. The three travellers limped into the welcoming coolness of the house.
A short time later the signal bell from the front door sounded again with yet a different combination of tolls. Since we assumed that it was the 12 noon dinner signal, we made our way to the dining room. The morning's fresh air and activity had honed our palates and appetites to a state of voraciousness. Hulda and her staff turned out another memorable meal, the delights of which were savoured with great gusto by the morning riders: pitchers of ice-cold milk, hot bread, churned butter, fresh vegetables, roast chicken, and bread pudding with cream -- everything produced by Tarzana Ranch.
To Chapter 5
Hollywood Visit and Back to Tarzana
Ed's Inner Sanctum
Mansion & Ballroom
Memories from the
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