Lancer Ranch Location

Many Lancer writers like to try and place the ranch into a real-life location, fitting Lancer into the geography and the history of the San Joaquin valley and using what clues we can find from the programme itself to find a location that feels right to us.

(Click this link for Geraldine’s thoughts on the Lancer ranch and its environs)

Two other long-standing Lancer fans and writers – Ros Hutchison and Linda Borchers – have very kindly shared the research that has led them to a location for the Lancer ranch that fits with real old towns, railroads and other features. They’ve tied this in to places mentioned in the series, including finding suitable sites for the three fictional towns bordering Lancer (Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells and Green River) as well as finding the location of Cross Creek Station, a place that gets a mention in several Lancer episodes and a place that, albeit only fleetingly, really existed.

Here’s their account of their detective work:

We both know the layout of the Rancho San Carlos in the Santa Lucia Preserve (the real ranch used for the pilot and reproduced in the sets for the subsequent series) and where it is, where the hacienda is placed etc. from maps that we have of it, and our visit. However, the location of the Rancho San Carlos near San Francisco does NOT fit Lancer, as most of us know. So…

We found old maps of the San Joaquin valley in the 1870s that we used as a basis. The railroad is marked on several of them but the best and most detailed is the first link:

Map of the San Joaquin produced for a Harper’s Bazaar article in 1871, from the Central Pacific Railroad’s online museum (this is the one we used in the end).

Map of the San Joaquin and Sacramento and Bancroft’s Map of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

We then looked at the mountain ranges on both sides of the San Joaquin to look for a valley roughly the same size and shape as the real one from the pilot.

We found an approximately correctly-shaped valley on the left side of the San Joaquin Valley, near the San Benito River and mountains and about 100 miles from San Jose (although travel between the two would be difficult because of the mountains). The hacienda can be placed at the mouth of the valley so that the scene in the pilot works, with the view from the hilltop and showing mountains on the far side as well. This small valley is only 20,000 acres, so we had to add more land to reach Lancer’s 100,000 acres; that’s 156 sq miles, so we used the map scale to work out what area that would possibly cover, bearing in mind that most of it would be out in the lowland of the main San Joaquin valley floor.

We extended the ranch down into the San Joaquin proper using the San Joaquin River itself as the eastern boundary, another river as the southern one and the mountains (for the most part) on the western side. This works out pretty well for a canny Scot! The northern part of the ranch would be in the valley and foothills, giving good summer feed and watered by a large stream. The southern part of the ranch would be the lowland spring and winter pasture.

And then we got information about the real Cross Creek Rail stop near Traver, about 20 miles north of Visalia. Cross Creek gets several mentions in Lancer episodes. Bingo, it fitted with the map and where we thought Lancer might be!

Cross Creek Station

Cross Creek is a real river, rising near the town of Visalia. In the Lancer time period, it ran into the top right hand corner of the biggest freshwater lake in the western states, Lake Tulare in the San Joaquin (the lake is now dry because its tributary rivers were diverted for irrigation; all that remains are marshes and wetlands). The community of Cross Creek was a ‘cow town’ that became a stage stop and then a train halt, and is located at the headwaters of Cross Creek.

Cross Creek Station may have begun life as a stage station. The following paragraph is taken from Historic Spots in California by Mildred Brook Hoover:
A stage station known as the Head of Cross Creek was established at Cross Creek in 1856. The site is in the extreme northeastern corner of the county, four miles northwest of Goshen (Tulare County), and in stagecoach days it was the halfway point between Visalia and the Kings River Station at Whitmore’s Ferry. After the coming of the Butterfield stages in 1858, the station was called Cross Creek Station. Like the other stations of this section, the Cross Creek post, now vanished, consisted of a board-and-batten barn and a cabin of the same construction for the use of the hostlers, generally two in number. During the drought of 1864, Peter Van Valer built a toll bridge over Cross Creek; it was said to have been the only bridge between Visalia and Stockton at the time.

We added more detailed information from the Butterfield stage route:

The train depot was built around 1872 and was also used as a Post Office and a freight stop for local farmers needing to transport or receive goods. The depot was in existence for less than 10 years. The boom town of Traver was established nearby in the early eighties and Cross Creek station declined in importance. After the station closed, the small community of pioneers and cowboys also withered away, with most of its people relocating to Traver, Goshen, Visalia or other nearby communities.

According to California’s Geographic Names by David L Durham, the postal authorities established Cross Creek post office in 1874, changed the name to Grandview in 1876 and changed it to Traver in 1884.

Follow this link for photographs of the site, including finds such as fragments of china marked with the Southern Pacific Railroad Company (Sunset Ogden and Shasta routes) crest, old bottles etc.

This account (see above) of a train robbery in 1898 at Cross Creek appears to refer not to this original station, but a subsequent stop on the railroad that was about a mile away from the original site.

Proximity to other real towns and cities

We don’t think anything was ever said about where the ranch was in relation to Stockton and Sacramento or San Francisco, only that the Lancers went there sometimes. Our proposed location for the ranch does fit the ‘100 miles from San Jose’ that is mentioned in canon, travelling by the stage road that went through the mountains at Pacheco Pass.

Lathrop, Merced and Fresno were rail towns and didn’t exist until around 1872 when the rail line went through that part of the valley.

Proximity to the fictional Lancer towns

We’ve placed Morro Coyo in a position whereby it was on a stage route, probably one of the smaller ones servicing outlying areas, and marked the route on the detailed schematic by broken lines. Morro Coyo seemed, from the show, to be more Mexican and older than the other towns. Mostly it appears to be adobe buildings and Spanish style layout. A major factor of the old land grants was that a community be built up around the ranch so this is probably the town that grew from that. Also, in Foley and possibly others, they are referred to as `Lancers, of Morro Coyo’ so it seems likely to be the closest town.

The other towns, though, have been placed somewhat haphazardly.

Green River – We did look for a river! But there is no Green River nearby. We decided that the river water might just have appeared green at that locale. We know Green River had a bank and a hotel and seemed bigger and more of a thriving Anglo metropolis (people and architecture) than Spanish Wells or Morro Coyo. It seems that there was a stage stop there as well, which begs the question of why didn’t Scott get off there instead of Morro Coyo… so we placed it further south than Morro Coyo but close enough to the ranch to be viable.

Spanish Wells – The toughest one to place. We thought that is was probably a little bigger than Morro Coyo as they built the jail there (Fix-it Man) and eventually there was a sheriff. There was a saloon/gambling hall featured in Fix-it Man. We ended up using the evidence in the episode Foley which mentioned all the towns except Spanish Wells. During the hunt for Scott and the girl, it’s clear that Green River and Morro Coyo were within easy reach of each other, as the action moves between them all on one day: so either they had the fastest horses in creation or all those towns were reasonably close to each other and Spanish Wells was farther away. So we put it on the other side of the ranch, to the north.

Interestingly, when we were looking at the maps we mentioned above, we saw another link to Lancer. In Last Train for Charlie Poe, the land was being snapped up around Spanish Wells because of a proposed railroad line. Well, there IS a proposed rail line through that area on the Bancroft’s Map. We were both stunned by it. It was never built.

We’ve drilled it down to the locations of all of the ranches and geographical locations mentioned in the show. Those we mostly made up along the way, along with a couple of others but we blew a screen shot of the Lancer Map on the wall to base some of it on!

We think the map works for all the clues we could glean from the series except 2-3 days journey to the Nevada border (Angel Day and her Sunshine Girls) and we don’t think that works for ANYWHERE in the San Joaquin! and for Fremont Pass (mentioned in Foley) which is near Los Angeles and therefore too far south.

Based on this information and by working out where Cross Creek was situated, think Lancer might be situated here:


Many thanks to Ros and Linda!

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