Lost Valley Online History History

The Lost Valley Stables and its Programs: 1965-86

Phil Brigandi

On Friday, June 27, 1986, at about 2:00 p.m., the Lost Valley Stables vanished in a wall of flames that had spread up from near Irvine 10, and would eventually reach past Cathedral Rocks before Borate Bombers and 220 firefighters managed to contain it. In all, some 71 acres of the Valley were burned. It was the camp’s first truly destructive fire in its 22-year history.

The Stables had been a part of much of that history, and its loss makes this a good opportunity to review some of those events.

The origins of the Horsemanship Program here at Lost Valley begin with the first promotion of the camp at the time of its purchase in 1959. Curiously, the first plans called for pack trips, and not horseback riding. As the Council newsletter, the Scout Abouts reported in March, 1960: “There will be an extensive program of overnight and extended pack trips into the Anza-Borrego [Desert State] Park.”

Photographs from 1964 -- the camp’s first season -- show burros with loaded pack frames and presumably some pack trips were made eastward into the park. By the end of the summer, the camp boasted of four burros -- including one named “Jenny”.

That year, Lost Valley also was given its first horse, “Topper”, who would live here until his death. Soon afterwards, Howard Bear acquired a second horse, “Ginger”, who lived here for almost 15 years.

But except for the Bergmans’ old corral below the cabin, the camp still had no barn for its livestock. The Council’s Camp Development Committee knew this, and in the fall of 1964 they placed a priority on building a barn for Lost Valley. According to the minutes of their September 21st meeting:

“An animal shelter is tentatively set near the line shack. [Architect] Herb Brownell recommends that a sketch for the animal shelter be made and no formal plan worked out. Dick Kendall recommended Western style. Herb will make a sketch for eight animals. [Camp Ranger] Jim Harvey will construct.”

At their next meeting, Herb Brownell submitted a rough plan for committee approval. “Jim Harvey made suggestions for altering it to make feeding more available,” the minutes note.

Though one early set of camp plans showed the Stables in the present Field Sports Meadow, the committee selected a building site in the southeastern part of camp, below the old Bergman Cabin.

The location was a natural. Years before, Arlie Bergman had fenced and cleared the meadow below his cabin to assure good pasture for his horses and to give him a place to round up the cattle he grazed here for the November drive back to his Aguanga ranch.

Early in 1965, construction began on Lost Valley’s new Stables; complete with feeding stalls, tack rook, and hay loft. By mid-February work was well underway. In April, the Scout Abouts reported “a new barn is near completion and some instruction on horsemanship as well as burro packing will be available.”

Though the original proposal for outfitting the camp called for $3,000 for “stock corrals and equipment for horsemanship and pack trips”, existing records give the entire cost of the new “animal shelter” as only $599.89. Presumably this was the cost of materials for the project.

Pack trips (but not horseback riding) seem to have been continued in 1965, but in 1966 and ‘67 there is no indication of any equestrian program at Lost Valley.

The burros were still in camp, though, along with at least two horses -- Ginger and Topper. Howard Bear, a member of the Camp Development Committee recalls, “the reason we wanted two horses up there was so that if the winter did get bad, then Mr. and Mrs. Harvey would have a way of getting out if they had to.”

It was not until the summer of 1968 that Lost Valley began a full-fledged Horsemanship Program. According to that year’s promotional slide show: “Demonstrations and instructions in horsemanship have been planned. An expert horseman will instruct in the care of horses, how to saddle and bridle them and how to ride.”

“All boys will be given instruction who wish,” the Unit Leader’s Guide goes on to say, “and one half-hour free riding time following instruction. An additional half-hour may be ridden for 50¢. Boys may ride at any time following the instruction for $1 per hour.” Horsemanship Merit Badge was also offered for the first time that summer.

One of the earliest rides offered was the 25¢ “Grand Canyon Ride” -- a short trip out along the northern bank above Agua Caliente Creek. It was just the thing for Webelos coming to camp for a weekend in 1969. I should know, I was one of them.

Something didn’t come together in 1970, though, and our Horsemanship Program had to be canceled that summer.

In 1971 the program returned. “We have found a new supply of horses,” the Council explained, “and will provide opportunities for all boys to ride, and the more skilled ones to earn the Horsemanship Merit Badge.”

Prior to around 1975, most of Lost Valley’s horses were only rented for the summer (rental problems were probably the cause of the 1970 cancellation of the program), or purchased in the spring and sold in the fall -- neither of which proved to be particularly economical. Most summers our string totaled only eight or ten horses -- plus a few colts, like Nickel (foal: Penny), born here in 1974.

With the program fairly established, new activities could be added. Some summers in the early ‘70s two horses were harnessed to the old Trading Post Wagon (built in 1968) to drive it around camp. “The Lake Front and Field Events Meadow are served by the famous ‘Horse-Drawn’ Peddler’s Wagon,” the 1973 Unit Leader’s Guide explains. The wagon -- though no longer horse-drawn -- was still in use well into the 1970s.

Around 1971, Night Rides were also added. Regular trail rides were then $1.50 an hour.

In 1972, Dinner Rides were begun. In 1973, Breakfast Rides were added to this still-popular program. The Scouts would ride out for “a great cow-hand breakfast”, or steak and bean dinners prepared on the trail by the Staff.

1974 was the last summer Lost Valley had burros in camp (except for Lupin’s brief visit from Ahwahnee in 1979). After summer the last two -- Taco and Burrito -- were ‘retired’ to Rancho Las Flores. Unused for years here (except for an occasional and usually ill-fated riding attempt), the pair lived out the rest of their lives there.

During the winter of 1978-79 the camp also lost its first two horses. Early that winter, Topper went down in the lower end of the Irvine Meadow and was buried where he fell. (A Commissioner site was established there in 1979 and dubbed “Topper’s Tavern”.) At the age of 27, Topper had spent nearly 15 years here in Lost Valley. That spring, Ginger’s health grew worse and worse until the decision had to be made to shoot her. She had been one of the best-known horses in camp, and for years she was the only mare the camp owned.

Lost Valley’s Horsemanship Program has often been called unique among Southern California -- California -- West Coast Scout camps (the range depending on who was making the claim). Certainly there have been summers when no other Southern California Scout camp offered horsemanship, but here in Lost Valley the Stables is also unique for being the first program department to ever have a female director -- with Claudia (Skirvin) Baustian taking charge in 1979.

In 1982, and again from 1984 to present [1986], the Stables has been under the direction of Hillary “Brownie” Brown. During these summers our string of horses -- which has been growing steadily since around 1975 -- grew rapidly. In 1986, it totals 38 horses, plus five colts born this spring.

In recent years, Brownie broke a new team and secured a harness for pulling the Chuckwagon out for meal rides.

But the Chuckwagon and its tack all vanished on June 27th, along with the 21-year-old Stables and its contents, Brownie’s home and workshops, and the Staff cabins nearby. Doug Murdoch and Brownie had both been in the area during the fire, but as flames closed in on either side of them they had to move out -- there was nothing more they could do.

The devastation was complete. Anything that could burn had. Nothing remained of the Stables except its metal roof and the glowing piles of hay. The housing area was a mass of debris. Even many metal objects were destroyed in the intense heat. Nearby, two of the Chuckwagon’s metal wheel rims still stood, their wooden insides completely burned away.

Everything was lost except the horses, who had been peacefully grazing in the main meadow during the fire. But just as our horse program had begun before we had a barn, it was able to continue without one in 1986. Plans for rebuilding the Stables are being finalized, but Lost Valley’s Horsemanship Program is still in business.

[A new pole barn was built on the old site in 1987. -- PB, 2002]

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