The Big Valley is an American television Western which ran on ABC
from September 15, 1965, to May 19, 1969, which starred Barbara Stanwyck, as a California widowed
The TV series was based loosely on the Hill Ranch located at the
western edge of Calaveras County, not far from Stockton (one episode places the Barkley Ranch a few hours' ride
from town while another has Jarrod riding past a Calaveras County sign on his way to the TV series' ranch). The
Hill Ranch existed from 1855 until 1931, exceeded 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), and had the Mokelumne River running
through it. Lawson Hill ran the ranch until he was murdered in 1861. His wife Euphemia (aka "Auntie Hill") then
became the matriarch. During their marriage they had four children, one daughter and three sons. Today, the
location of the ranch is covered by the waters of Lake Camanche. A California state historical marker standing at
Camanche South Shore Park mentions the historic ranch. The set used to film the exterior of the Barkley Mansion
stood on the backlot of Republic Studios from 1947 until 1975.
Victoria Barkley, portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, was the widow of
the wealthy, influential Barkley family living in 19th century Stockton in California's central valley, who was
also the main character of the series. Victoria Barkley was the undisputed master of the Barkley ranch. In fact,
Stanwyck's refusal to portray Barkley as fragile was controversial at the time. Barkley's husband, Thomas, had been
killed six years prior in the universe of the series. Stanwyck appeared 103 of the 112 episodes, making her the
actor with the most number of episode appearances in the series.
Jarrod Thomas Barkley, the eldest son, was a respected attorney.
Richard Long played the role of the educated, refined and calmer of the Barkley sons who handled all of the
family's legal and business affairs. While Jarrod preferred the law to settle disputes, he was known to resort to
frontier justice and violence when necessary. He was briefly married in one episode only to see his new wife
murdered in a memorable episode in which an enraged Jarrod tracks down the killer and is in the process of killing
him with his bare hands before both his brothers Nick and Heath arrive just in time and have to physically stop
him.Long appeared in 96 of the 112 episodes..
Hot-tempered brawling younger son Nick Barkley, who managed
the family ranch, was portrayed by Peter Breck. Well-known for his black leather vests, large black hat and black
leather gloves, as well as his loud and brawling demeanor, he was notorious for getting into fist fights. At times,
he would fight with his brothers as well, though underneath the gruff surface Nick was warm and caring, had a
fun-loving carefree side, a wonderful sense of humor, and he loved his family deeply and would give his own life
for any one or all of them.Breck appeared in 100 of the 112 episodes.
Linda Evans played beautiful Audra, Victoria's only
daughter. Audra was a tad self-absorbed, bold, and forward. Far from demur, she performing daring stunts and rode
astride-like her brothers. Audra, like Nick and Eugene, was leery of Heath's story that he was her father's son.
Early-on, she unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Heath, so as to expose him as a fraud. During the show's third
& fourth and final seasons, Evans' appearances were reduced, because she wanted to spend more time with her
husband John Derek.
Heath Barkley was the illegitimate son of Victoria's late husband,
and he literally had to fight his way into the Barkley home. Lee Majors portrayed even-tempered but rough and
tumble Heath, who was often angry and aggressive throughout the early episodes due to his later-to-be-proven false
belief that Tom Barkley had ditched his real mother after she became pregnant with him. In truth, Tom Barkley never
knew about Heath, as Heath's mother had never told him, and never even told Heath until she was on her death bed.
Heath gradually gained acceptance from the rest of the Barkley clan as the first season progressed until he became
as much a "Barkley" as the rest of the family, and his love for them became equal. Although Nick was initially
leery of Heath and felt he had to test Heath's mettle, Heath would go on to prove himself worthy of even Nick's
acceptance, and eventually Nick seemed to grow even closer to Heath than he was to Jarrod, perhaps in a sense due
to Heath having more in common with him than Jarrod did. Audra also became closer to Heath than any of her other
brothers. Majors appeared in 94 of the 112 episodes.