Presentation and Dedication at the Harry Carey Ranch

By Smith n’ Jones

Published in Shoot! Magazine, March/April 2006

November 2005 presentation of the “Dobe Searcher” to Harry Carey, Jr.

The year was 1917 and one of the new stars of silent films filed a property patent and homesteaded about 500 acres in the San Francisquito Canyon, near the present city of Santa Clarita, Calif. With the help of 60 Navajo Indians, Harry Carey, Sr. created a place where rodeos were held and also served as the location where several Western movies were filmed. By the time his son was born in 1921, Harry Sr. had expanded the ranch to about 3,000 acres and it was his pride and joy. This was a place where such notables as Will Rogers, artist Charlie Russell, and cowboy stars Hoot Gibson, William S. Hart, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and John Wayne were frequent guests. By 1946, Harry Sr.’s wife had convinced him that it would be best to sell the old ranch, and so he did, leaving a part of himself behind when he drove through the gate for the last time.

The old Carey ranch changed hands several times over the next three- quarters of a century, with the last commercial owners being a farming enterprise known as Farmer John. When Farmer John sold most of the property a few years back, the adobe ranch house and several outbuildings were donated to Los Angeles County to be used as a public park and recreation center. With the backing of some key members of the L.A. County board of supervisors, most notably Michael D. Antonovitch who represent the Santa Clarita Valley district, the County decided to put several million dollars into a project to restore the deteriorating buildings and make the old Carey ranch into a first-rate public gathering and recreational area.

Back in April 2005, with the help of several CAS folks including the Jersey Kid, a meeting was arranged wherein I would have the opportunity to interview the last member of what was known as the John Ford Stock Company, a group of actors often utilized by one of the greatest movie directors ever to come out of Hollywood, John Ford. In addition to Harry Carey, Jr. (Dobe to his friends and admirers,) such beloved Western movie icons as John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Ken Curtis, Ward Bond, and others made up the John Ford Stock Company and as a group, along with Mr. Ford himself, were responsible for some of the greatest Western movies ever to grace the silver screen. Movies like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, 3 Godfathers, and most notably, The Searchers, are but a few of the wonderful epics that this group was responsible for. On April 6, 2005 I was welcomed into the home of Dobe and Marilyn Carey for one of the most notable and enjoyable interviews that I have ever done. The Dobe interview was presented in its entirety in the November/December 2005 issue of SHOOT! MAGAZINE, but that was not to be the end of SHOOT! MAGAZINE’S or my involvement with Mr. Carey.

A couple of weeks after returning from the interview, I received a call from a gentleman identifying himself as James Travis Luz from Hesperus, Colo. Going by the name Travis, he introduced himself and asked me if I was the person that had interviewed Harry Carey, Jr. He told me that he was interested in Dobe’s life and career and indeed lived near the Carey family when they were residing in Durango, Colo. As a retired Navy aviator leaving with the rank of Captain and starting his own leather business, JTL Leather, he asked if I thought it would be alright with Dobe and SHOOT! MAGAZINE if he made a special one-of-a-kind holster and gun belt rig for Dobe in appreciation of his life’s work making Western movies. As with all such requests, it was necessary to do a little exploring into who the person making the request really is.

The last few years before retiring from the Navy in January 2005, Travis worked in his spare time as an apprentice leather maker under the tutelage of one of the best Western gun leather makers in the country, John Bianchi. It turns out that this was not an easy accomplishment due to the fact that what he was asking to be allowed to do was something that John had never done before (or since) and it took a lot of talking and visits to southern California before John agreed to take Travis on as an apprentice. During his apprenticeship, John awarded Travis his apprentice, journeyman, and master leather makers certificates and allowed him to do some leatherwork for John’s company. For those of you who aren’t familiar with John Bianchi’s Frontier Leather company and the reputation that he has, let me tell you that what Travis has accomplished is no small feat. With these credentials and his enthusiasm, I decided to contact Dobe and Marilyn to see if they would be interested in such a project. By mid-summer I had been in touch with them and their response was very positive and when I asked Marilyn the obvious question, what’s the barrel length on the revolver Dobe wanted the holster made for, she told me that he did not have a revolver and so she did not know what he might like. Well, now we had a problem. We had a leather maker who wanted to make a gun rig for a man who did not have a proper sixgun to put in it. Immediately, I went to work to get a gun that would be worthy of this great actor and the special gun rig that was going to be made for it. My first call was to Mike Harvey of Cimarron Arms in Fredericksburg, Texas, requesting a Cimarron SAA be donated to the project. His immediate response was that he would be glad to provide the sixgun, a 4-3/4″ .45 Colt. My next call was to Warren Brewer who owns DR Engraving in Columbia, Mo, to get full coverage engraving done. Again, the response was immediate and positive, “Just let me know what you want done.” The final piece of the project was to come up with custom grips to replace the basic Italian walnut stocks that come on the Cimarron sixguns. A quick call to Raj Singh at Eagle Grips and we were set up with one-piece Ultra-Ivory stocks which Raj would hand fit himself.

Well, it was now just a case of getting the gun, doing the work, and of course, deciding where we would present the gun and rig to Dobe.

The first suggestion was by Mike Harvey who suggested the Golden Boot Awards, which was a great idea but did not give us enough time to get the gun and leather finished. The next idea was to do it at the SASS Convention in Las Vegas at the end of November. Again, a great idea but Marilyn was concerned about the travel time and distance and the physical toll that it would take on Dobe. As Marilyn and I tossed around a few more ideas she asked if I thought the dedication of the old Carey ranch near Santa Clarita in early November would be a good time and place. It was close to their home and the Carey family, including Dobe and his sister, were planning on being there as guests of honor. Perfect! The dedication of the Carey ranch, officially known as The Historic Adobes at Tesoro, it would be. Plans were made and all we needed to do was get the gun rig and sixgun together and down to California.

The actual date of the dedication was November 3rd, and with the completed gunleather and custom sixgun in hand I headed down I-84 for Santa Clarita to be a part of a very special moment in Dobe’s life, not to mention mine.

The event was attended by about one hundred friends and family members, as well as representatives of L.A. County and the press. Several governmental representatives spoke honoring Dobe and the Carey family, and then I was given the opportunity and privilege of presenting the JTL Searchers gun rig and the one-of-a-kind Cimarron sixgun to Dobe in honor of his life’s work in Western movies, starting with Red River while working with his father and John Wayne and ending with his role as Sheriff Fred White in Tombstone. We had all hoped that Dobe would like the gun and rig but I can honestly say that I was not expecting the display of appreciation that we received from Dobe. To say that he liked the gun and rig would be a gross understatement. When he rose to speak about the presentation, you could see in his eyes and hear in his words why our efforts were worthwhile and memorable.

After a tour of the house and grounds by Dobe’s sister “Cappy” and visiting with the many friends there, including Kansas City Jack, Phil Spangenberger, and Al Fritch, I was back on the road headed home to an undeniably colder but much less congested Idaho.

If you find yourself passing through southern California near Santa Clarita be sure to stop and see some living history from the Golden Age of Westerns, The Historic Adobes at Tesoro. As I stood on the grass near the rear of the adobe house I tried to imagine what it all must have looked like in 1917. Today there are condos, homes, and businesses everywhere you look around the grounds. How different it must have looked when Harry Sr. first created the HC brand as a working ranch. It is still beautiful but I don’t believe that Dobe’s dad could have ever imagined what it has become.