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The Big Bear Cowboy


Erwin Lake Area

The history of the cowboys in the Big Bear area is intertwined with cattle ranching in the valley. There were several large cattle ranches including the I.S. Ranch in west Big Bear Lake, the Shay Ranch at Shay Meadows, and the Hitchcock Ranch in Holcomb Valley.

The grazing began in the San Bernardino Mountains around 1857 with both cattle and sheep. Gus Knight from Knight’s Camp, Jim Erwin from Erwin Lake and Will Talmadge, who owned lakefront property, were among the valley’s first ranchers.

Jim Erwin's Home Today

Cattle were brought up to the valley for rich summer grazing grounds. The east valley moved their herds to Rattlesnake Canyon for the winter range. Other ranchers rounded up their herds and sent them over to the China Gardens area for transport to market.

Big Bear endured its share of cattle rustlers. In the 1880’s, a gang headed by Jim McHaney headquartered in the neighboring Santa Ana Canyon. He was caught and tried for a different crime and ended up serving seventeen years.

Big Bear’s most famous cowboy is Roy Rogers. He loved spending time in the valley. He owned Grey’s Landing and enjoyed serving hamburgers to the locals. Andy Devine, a famous cowboy sidekick, owned the Captain’s Anchorage in the Moonridge area.

The Big Bear Rodeo

Today’s cowboy still exists in the Big Bear area. The Los Vaqueros Arena is in Erwin Valley and hosts a wide range of horse and cattle events. Big Bear is also the host of a Cowboy poetry event. This four day event is held annually, attracting top name cowboy poets.


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  1. Robyn dooty says

    Im looking to find out some history about erwin lake. I currently live on spruce lane. And on more than one occasion i have heard this block use to be a trailor park. So im wondering if there was a trailor park ever in erwin lake? Please any help would be great. Thanks robyn dooty

    • Robert Peternell says

      No Robin, There was never a trailer park. I am Jim Erwin’s Great great Grandson. Are you related to Robert Dooty? I grew up with Robert

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