Hidden in Plain Sight – how the Pancho Barnes Archive was saved!

After a mysterious blaze in November 1953 ravaged Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club, word quickly spread that Pancho had lost ‘everything.’ Or so folks were told… It was true that she lost several buildings, two Dalmatians, aviation trophies and awards, priceless papers, photographs and many personal possessions and furnishings too numerous to list in the destructive fire. But like most rumors swirling around Pancho’s
Happy Bottom Riding Club, Pancho knew how to use it to her benefit. Afraid that whomever ‘burned her out’ would come after her again if they knew most of her personal papers survived, Pancho and a few close friends quickly and quietly set out to remove her remaining papers and files, most of which were stored in the diary, which was spared by the fire. Boxed and stored in an abandoned railcar out in the Mohave Desert, there the Pancho Barnes ‘archive’ was to sit – hidden in plain sight – for 50 years. Upon her death in 1975, Pancho Barnes left everything to her fourth husband, Mac McKendry, even though McKendry had remarried after their break-up. Upon Mac’s death in 1999, his heirs were from Mac’s previous (before Pancho) and subsequent marriages, and had no real tie to Pancho. The executrix of his estate had a 5-year window to find a suitable repository that would accept the archive ‘intact,’ and after five years, all items could be sold individually. That’s where we come in: After spending the last remaining months of the 5-yr. window trying to find a suitable buyer – institution or individual – time had run out on Pancho. So in order to preserve the amazing archive of Pancho Barnes intact, the only thing left to do was to bite
the bullet and purchase it ourselves: otherwise it would be split up for
sale on eBay, in aviation auctions or in memorabilia sales. Her life story would be lost to the four winds. In addition to buying over 93 large boxes of archive materials,
we purchased all rights of publicity to the image and
likeness of Pancho Barnes, her signature and her myriad companies and ventures, most notably the Rancho Oro Verde name and the Happy Bottom Riding Club®. We are officially the Estate of Pancho Barnes. Now her signature, the Rancho Oro Verde name and Happy Bottom Riding Club® are now federally registered trademarks of Pancho Barnes Enterprises, Inc., along with many other companies (click here to see the list of company names). Six years later, we welcome you to the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate Archive, the ‘official’ Estate and archive of the great American character, Pancho Barnes!

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Dr. Louis F. D'Elia is the custodian of the Estate of Pancho Barnes and a Trustee of the Flight Test Museum Foundation at Edwards Air Force Base.