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 mother.
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
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.