The High Chaparral

There has always been a great deal of controversy over many aspects of this series.  Fans have had lively discussions covering such topics as the location of the ranch, the historical timeline, even which person(s) from history might actually make up the composition for the various characters.  There are a few exceptions, of course.  Real-life historical characters like Cochise, Nock-Ay-Del, Geronimo, Buckskin Frank Leslie, Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill Brosius, and Doc Holliday, have all put in an appearance, and the locations of Tucson, Tubac, Nogales, and Oracle did exist in Arizona Territory, but what about the other hints of "realism" found in this show?  Is what we get the truth about 1870 Arizona ranch life, or a clever mixing of fact and fiction?  Is John Cannon's life generally based on the life of Arizona rancher, Pete Kitchen?  Here are a few known observations taken directly from the characters' dialog and/or actions, as well as some known facts from behind the scenes.  You can draw your own conclusions.

The High Chaparral premiered 10 September 1967 and ran for four years, centering around the Cannon Ranch in 1870's Arizona Territory.  Based on 1873 as the year the ranch began (this was voted by members of the hcdg, so we are using it), and using the actual day and month of the birth dates of the cast, here are the suggested birth dates of the characters.


Birth Date Speculation

Age in 1873

John 27 October 1818 55
Buck 4 November 1825 48
Blue 1 May 1853 20
Manolito 15 September 1846 27
Victoria 25 February 1844 29
Sam 17 October 1836 37
Joe 3 April 1838 35
Pedro 19 December 1843 30
Reno 15 January 1846 27
Ira 3 February 1849 24
Wind 19 September 1855 18
Vaquero 29 July 1829 53
Don Sebastian 24 July 1813 60
El Lobo 7 April 1833 40
Don Domingo 11 August 1814 59
Perlita 1848 25
Carlos 1843 30

David Dortort, creator of The High Chaparral, is a writer in real life.  He spent countless hours in libraries in Arizona, pouring through the various histories and biographies of the towns and the people who lived in the area.  He studied the Anasazi, the miners, the lawmen, the outlaws, the ranchers, the townsfolk, the pioneers, the Mexicans, the various Indian bands, as well as the Apaches, and he understood well how the clash of cultures disrupted peaceful living conditions.  When it came to naming his main characters, did he possibly use the Old World Naming Pattern, still in existence and used widely in many families in those years?  Judge for yourself.  

The Old World Naming Pattern goes like this:

1.  First son born is named after his father's father.
2.  Second son born is named after his mother's father.
3.  First daughter born is named after her mother's mother.
4.  Second daughter born is named after her father's mother.

As far as we know, John and Annalee only had Blue, but what about John and Buck's parents?  Using the Old World Naming Pattern, we can infer a few things.  It would be nice to know if we are correct, eh?

5.  John is named after his paternal grandfather, who would also be a John Cannon.
6.  Buck is named after his maternal grandfather, and we don't know what that name is, but we do have a clue based on prevalent genealogy and nicknames of the times.
7.  Blue is named after his paternal grandfather, and since we know Blue's true name is really William, we know:  John and Buck's father is named William Cannon.

So far, we have John Cannon, who begat William Cannon, who begat John Cannon, who begat William "Blue" Cannon.  This is typical genealogy in the Old World Naming Pattern for first-born sons.  

Now, what we don't know is the naming pattern for Uncle Buck, since we don't know his maternal grandfather's name, but we can surmise that John and Buck's father, William Cannon, followed the Old World Naming Pattern and named Buck after this maternal grandfather.  Genealogists will tell you that "Buck" was a very common nickname for "William" in those times.  It was also a nickname for character traits found in many overactive young boys, mostly in reference to deer-like speed or exuberance or in reference to young Indians of exceptional bravery or temerity, but the point here is that it was a common enough nickname for "William" for us to use it in our suppositions.  

Do you suppose that Buck and John also had a maternal grandfather named William?  It would appear to be so, and what a wonderful coincidence.  It would mean that not only is Uncle Buck's true name "William," it would also mean that Blue is named after BOTH of his grandfathers AND after his cherished uncle!  How inspired!

Food for thought, hmmmmmm?

Back to the genius of David Dortort.  When he conceived the idea of a ranching empire in the Arizona Territory of 1870, he did draw upon fact.   Further, based on his guidelines, writers for this series had a set criteria they had to meet, and this criteria was consistent from episode to episode.  Here's a few "facts" contributed by fans, which might help place the location of the ranch.

1.  The distance to Tucson is 35 miles.  Buck says this in the very first episode.

2.  The gate behind the ranch house is the gate which leads to Rancho Montoya.  Mano infers this in "The Terrorist".  If this is a true statement, then it would be the south gate, and the ranch house faces north.  The corollary would then be true that the gate in front of the ranch house is the north gate.

3.  The men always ride out the north gate when they head to Tucson.  Ergo, the ranch house lies south of Tucson about 35 miles.

No one really disputes that the ranch is south of Tucson.  However, is it located southeast or southwest?  There is controversy galore on this issue. 

4.  When Vaquero takes the wagon and young Pilar to Tucson to catch the stage in "The Terrorist", he turns right (east) onto the Tucson road.  This is after he is out of sight of the north gate.  This would place the ranch southwest of Tucson.

5.  The map drawn in "The Peacemaker" is very vague on the location of the ranch, but many fans look at this episode and jump to the conclusion that the ranch is southeast of Tucson.

6.  Cochise and his warriors are in the vicinity, which doesn't mean diddly-squat on the location of the ranch, since Cochise roamed over a vast territory, but many fans took this to mean that the ranch is near the Dragoon Mountains, which was the location of Cochise's stronghold.

7.  In "Wind", John Cannon says that among all the six ranchers, they own the land as "far south as Mexico, as far west as the Salt, as far north as the Gila and as far east as the Black Range."  That's a powerful lot of territory.

Timeline statistics are an entirely different matter.  About the only "fact" which can be inferred is that it is after the Civil War.

1.  Several episodes deal with the aftermath of the Civil War, and "Filibusteros", "Auld Lang Syne", "Threshold of Courage", the "Long Shadow", and "North to Tucson" are some of them.  In these episodes, the Civil War ended about five years earlier, which would place the date that John Cannon began his ranch around 1870.  In The Lieutenant, however, Buck says that the war has been over for 10 years.  In the flashback episode, "The Badge", Buck says he and John met in 1866 for the first time after the war ended and 3 months after that they were headed for Arizona.

2.  Cochise is on the war path because of the death of Mangas Coloradas.  This comes from the pilot episode, "The High Chaparral".  It is echoed in "A Man to Match the Land" in Season Four, which states that Mangas Coloradas "died not too long ago."  In history, Mangas Coloradas died in 1863, which plays havoc with the timeline.

3.  The Bascom Affair is mentioned in "Best Man for the Job" as happening in the "near past."  It actually happened in 1861, and it was the sole reason why Cochise went on the warpath.

4.  Tombstone is talked about in several episodes, and Johnny Ringo, famous miscreant from Tombstone, actually makes an appearance in two of them.  In history, Tombstone was founded in 1877, and Johnny Ringo would make history there in 1878.

5.  Two little girls are rescued from the Apaches in "Ride the Savage Land", and their story bears an uncanny resemblance to the saga of Olive and Mary Ann Oatman, an infamous massacre which took place in 1851 on the Gila River in the Painted Rocks Mountains about 10 miles north of present-day Sentinel.  Sentinel is a tiny, grocery/gas stop on Interstate 8, about 20 miles west of Gila Bend.

6.  In "The Assassins", Buck says "we been fighting Apaches for 15 years," and this would imply a date of 1885 for this episode, presuming that Big John Cannon established the ranch in 1870.  However, this statement of Buck's is ambiguous, and he could be inferring that the white man, as a whole, had been at war with the Apaches for 15 years, or since 1861, which is basically when Cochise went on the warpath.  There is no way of knowing how to take Buck's statement.  

Poetic license takes events from 1851 to 1877 (or 1885, if you believe Buck's statement on a literal level) and scatters them throughout the storyline.  Further, with the exception of Blue, the characters do not appear to age.  Be that as it may, the accepted timeline appears to be circa 1870-1875, and fans often choose 1873, as being the middle ground.

There are all sorts of historical references which can be viewed as statistics.

1.  Maximilian is talked about in several episodes, as is Benito Juarez.  This places the timeline circa 1867.

2.  There is one whole episode devoted to the Buffalo Soldiers, yet the 9th and 10th Cavalry didn't make their appearance in Arizona until the really hectic fighting days of the Indian Wars, or circa 1874.  They were in New Mexico prior to that date, chasing Victorio and Nana, before moving on into Arizona after Geronimo.

3.  Doc Holiday shows up in "The Doctor from Dodge".  The real Doc Holiday went to Arizona in 1878.

4.  Johnny Ringo makes two appearances, first in "Shadow of the Wind" and then in "Alliance".  The real Johnny Ringo is thought to have migrated into Arizona in late 1877, but he would earn notoriety there in 1878.

5.  Tombstone is mentioned several times, but the real Tombstone was established by Ed Schifflen in 1877 after striking it rich with the Tough Nut mine.

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