Monday, November 16, 2015

Looking For The Back Ranch House And The Outlaw Shacks

Any visitor to the site of Spahn's Movie Ranch today can easily see where the old western movie set was located on the flat area south of Old Santa Susana Pass Road across the street from the Church at Rocky Peak. Less apparent, however, is the location of the old Back Ranch House and the Outlaw Shacks, both of which also played significant roles in the saga of Charles Manson, his "Family," and the murders of the summer of 1969. These two places were situated in close proximity to each other west of the main ranch area and were accessible by a dirt road that was known as "Lovers Lane."

 Aerial photograph of Spahn's Ranch. Lovers Lane is indicated by the arrow. 

Topographic map of the Spahn's Ranch area (Oat Mountain map, 1952). The arrow on the right indicates the flat area where the movie set buildings were. The arrow on the left indicates Lovers Lane branching off to the west.

In his book My Life With Charles Manson Paul Watkins described the Back Ranch House thusly: "Like the rest of the buildings at Spahn's, the ranch house was in a general state of disrepair. But it was warm, rustic, and smelled of wood, generating the feelings of a mountain cabin. It had a huge living room with a fireplace and plenty of windows facing the road. Two good-sized bedrooms in the back fronted on the creek, and beyond it, a sloping forest of scrub oak, eucalyptus, and poison oak. The girls went to work at once, scouring floors, cleaning cabinets, and washing windows. We moved the mattresses, furniture, and food supplies in from the saloon, and afterward decorated the walls and the ceiling of the living room with Moroccan tapestries. It felt good to be out of the dusty confines of the saloon into a more bucolic, picturesque setting away from all the tourists."  (MLWCM, pages 76-77)

In Will You Die For Me? Charles "Tex" Watson recalled the Back Ranch House as the site of "the Family's" fear exercises:  "Sometimes Charlie would gather us all together in the ranch house and imagine a rich piggie [sic] sitting in the middle of a circle we'd form. "Imagine we just yanked this pig out of his big car and stuck him here," Charlie would instruct us. Then we would project all our own fear on that piggie while we fantasized his own fear as he was surrounded by our silent staring power." (WYDFM?, page 116)

Susan Atkins' son was born in the Back Ranch House. (Child of Satan, Child of God, pages 106-110)

The Back Ranch House was also the site of the infamous "freak-out" acid trip which occurred soon before the group initially went to the Death Valley area at the end of October, 1968 (See MLWCM, pages 105-112).

Judging from this interior shot of the Back Ranch House from the December 19, 1969 issue of Life magazine, the cement slab base for the structure must have been pretty big.

The Outlaw Shacks, located near the Back Ranch House, also figured importantly in the saga of Charles Manson and the murders which surrounded him, for they were the site of the infamous bust of Manson and Stephanie Schram on August 22, 1969. That bust, set up by Frank Retz and Donald "Shorty" Shea, was the final straw in the escalating conflict between "the Family" and the people that wanted them off the ranch property -- a straw that led to the stabbing death of Shea a few days later.

Charles Manson's mug shot from his arrest in the Outlaw Shacks on August 22, 1969

So, the Back Ranch House and the Outlaw Shacks were both important locales in the story of that crazy summer of 1969. But where exactly were they? In September of this year I went to the ranch site with the area's unofficial caretaker to see if we could find out.

It's been forty-five years since the ranch burned down, and that's a lot of time for changes to have occurred to the landscape. But if anything survived of the Back Ranch House it would be the cement slab that the house, like many other California structures, was built on. Also, there could be some remains of the stone work around the house's fireplace. So what we would be looking for would be the remains of a cement slab which, based on a 1969 photograph of the interior of the house, would be fairly large. As for the Outlaw Shacks, period photographs show them to be made out of wood, so likely all traces of them would be long gone. But one picture showed the horizons of the mountains behind the shacks, and we knew that if we could line up those horizons in the same way today we would be in the same spot as the photographer who took the period photograph.

It was a hot September day when we went out there. Starting on the west end of the movie set site we walked further west along the north side of the creek bed running in the gully behind the former western set. As guide material we had several old photographs of the Outlaw Shacks and Charles "Tex" Watson's map of the ranch area from his book Will You Die For Me?

Below, the Outlaw Shacks

Charles "Tex" Watson's map of the Spahn's Ranch area

This photo shows the lineup of the horizons. The arrow points to a noticeable feature of the far mountain range. If you found an identical lineup today you would be standing in the same spot as the photographer who took the picture. Note the distinct formation of rocks on top of the mountain in the center.

The same mountain today, approached from the east

It was a longer walk than we thought, almost a half a mile.  As we proceeded west, the mountain in one of the photos of the Outlaw Shacks quickly came into view. It took a while to get oriented to the topography, and we did quite a bit of fruitless wandering up and down the hills before we got a sense of what we should be looking for. But finally we realized that the point we wanted was located close to the north side of a developed area about a half-mile west of the western set site and fairly close to Old Santa Susana Pass Road. We were just walking to that area to get the horizons of the mountains lined up when the guy drove up in the red pickup truck. My "Free Manson" T-shirt-clad fellow researcher disappeared into the brush, but he kept taking pictures.

Me pointing to the direction we would have to go to get the correct lineup of horizons. I'm already trespassing on private property.

"What are you doing here?" the man in the truck asked.

"Oh, hi. We're just trying to find the location of some old shacks," I told him.

"You know that this is private property?"

(Me, ignoring his question) "Oh, well we're just trying to line up these mountain horizons to find out where this location is. See, if you line up the mountains, then you're in the place. It should be just over there (gesturing north) someplace." (Presenting the 1969 photograph) "See, here's the same mountain with the same rocks on top."

When the guy saw the old pictures he suddenly became interested.

"Where did you get those pictures?"

"Off the Internet."

He saw my point about the mountain horizons and ventured that the reason they weren't lining up as in the 1969 photograph was because the far mountain's horizon had been altered during the construction of the Simi Valley Freeway in the late '60s and early '70s. I thought that such a geographical alteration was beyond even Caltrans' biggest earth-raping wet dream but I kept my disagreement to myself as the fellow was being fairly friendly and didn't seem inclined to call the cops. But neither did he seem inclined to let me venture further north to see if I could see the proper mountain alignment. 

I explain to the nice man that we're only trying to find the location of some old shacks.

After a few more minutes of conversation (including my heartfelt dissertation on my respect for private property rights) my research partner and I excused ourselves and retreated from the verboten territory.

As we walked back to our cars on Iverson Road, the mountains finally started to line up. The far range revealed itself from behind the near one, and it became apparent where the location of the Back Ranch House and Outlaw Shacks was, namely on the developed piece of private property owned by the Church at Rocky Peak.

Photo taken from Iverson Road shows the same rear mountain horizon that is noted in the 1969 photo above. The top arrow points to the same feature in the far mountain range. In order to line up the horizons precisely one would have to be standing about in the area indicated by the lower arrow. Fairly close to Old Santa Susana Pass Road, the location is now on private property.

Having found the location of the Back Ranch House and the Outlaw Shacks it was apparent that no trace of any of those structures would remain today. The shacks were wood and likely perished in the same wildfire that consumed the other buildings of Spahn's Ranch on September 26, 1970. A similar fate also probably befell the Back Ranch House, and any trace of a surviving slab it might have been built on has doubtlessly been obliterated by changes made on the property by the Church at Rocky Peak.

Thus, like so many locales related to this case -- the Spahn Movie Ranch proper, the Polanski residence, the house on Gresham Street, the Myers and Barker Ranches, to name a few -- the Back Ranch House and the Outlaw Shacks have passed on from the realm of reality and into the realm of legend and lore.

Google Maps satellite view of the ranch area today. The arrow on the right shows where the movie set was. The left arrow indicates the general location of the Back Ranch House and Outlaw Shacks -- now on developed private property. 


The below documents were sent along by Ben Gurecki. For details check the comments.
"Here are the arrest documents that go with the arrest photo of cm. these are originals and clearly signed by Red, using Bruce's alias."


MHN said...

Nice work George, that was a fun read, and it must've been a fun day.

Unknown said...

lol I am back out in the area this week, and may have to take another stroll myself lol

Robert Hendrickson said...

Makes me think: Why didn't Paul Watkins ever mention the "fear exercises" ?
Especially the part where THEY imagine yanking "piggies" out of THEIR big cars.

Like OK - we have "pig" written on the door of the TATE house. So how, in less than 24 hours, does KILLING rich "white" people become the MOTIVE for a Black and White RACE "War" ?

Seems to me, maybe Obama, Hitlery and Trump should be consulting with Charles Manson about how to deal with this very real ISIS Muslim WAR that is soon to affect the WORLD.

Mr. Humphrat said...

So George I am ignorant of the various pieces of private land ownership in that area-when you met Frank Retz you had arranged to meet him and everything was ok to be there. So I'm guessing this property you were on is owned by the Church, but not the one where you met Retz? Thanks for a good post.
Off the subject: the road so close by reminds me of the first time I saw The Searchers, one of the greatest westerns ever, with John Wayne. It was on the big screen and there was a scene where you can see an automobile moving along the road in the background and coming to a stop. You have to look very hard to see it on the small screen, but it's the scene with Wayne and Hunter shooting at buffalo in the snow and then the cavalry comes along and rides across a creek. At that point the car appears in the distance on an elevated road.

Patty is Dead said...

Stoner told Patty he is looking forward to your visit. :)

Chris B said...

Mr Stimson, I take it asking for permission to visit is fruitless?

Unknown said...

Awesome lol!

Robert Hendrickson said...

YES Chris, BUT if you inform THEM at the fence that YOU are IMMIGRATING from Syria - YOU will be WELCOME !

MHN said...

RH - "Like OK - we have "pig" written on the door of the TATE house. So how, in less than 24 hours, does KILLING rich "white" people become the MOTIVE for a Black and White RACE "War" ?"

I've asked before: supposedly trying to ignite a race war but not even obliquely mentioning race in any of the smeared slogans?

White people are conditioned not to react. At the risk of sounding controversial, wouldn't targeting black victims be more likely to spark racial violence? If there's one group of people who DON'T take to the streets with weapons when they feel their identity group being threatened it's affluent whites of the type they targeted. Whichever way you slice it, this don't make much sense.

Robert, you always mention black muslims. Things are racing out of control in Europe. Do us a favor and spell it out, what exactly you think Manson meant.

Jenn said...

Robert: "Hitlery"?

Anonymous said...

@MHN- While you await what I'm sure will be a prompt and a non-obfuscating response from Robert.....

In "Inside The Manson Gang", Robert says that the actual motive was either :

A) Charlie "mirrors" LBJ's actions in Vietnam


B) "Manson tried to ignite the black/white race war, simply as a payback favor to his muslim prison buddies."

I take it that this is also why so many of his posts reference LBJ and/or Black Muslims.

DebS said...

From growing up in the 50s and 60s I don't recall there being any white Muslims talked about. The Black Panthers spoke of being Muslims and Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali upon joining the Nation of Islam in the mid 60s. Soon after he refused to be drafted into military service citing religious beliefs. Back then we were not as globally aware as people are today. Or at least I wasn't but doubt that I was alone in my thinking. Back then if you asked me what race Muslims were, I would have said Black.

goomba said...

I've always assumed Spahn was on the north side of the Santa Susannna Pass. Is this correct?

Mr. Humphrat said...

Ok after asking George about his Frank Retz visit vs this time I remembered the Frank Retz visit was back in 89. Still it would be interesting to know if anyone (Stoner?, Stimson? Bueller?) can educate me who owns which pieces of land around there and maybe remind me where the bridge that collapsed was in relation to the outlaw shacks.

Robert Hendrickson said...

Paul Watkins specifically talked about the "BLACK Muslims"
Phil Phillips (Manson's cellmate at McNeil Island) talked about the "BLACK Muslims"
Sandra GOOD talked about Islam Rising"

In my research concerning this very matter, I can only conclude that the "Black Muslims" are the original Egyptians. NOW go look at ancient Egypt wall drawings - the people are BLACK in color.

Over time the question became; Are they black Muslims OR Muslims that happen to be black ?

I think someone here actually read "the Zebra Murders." AND they can tell you more.

Anonymous said...

Now I know how a Scientologist feels when they get to the level with the Xenu story.

mrgroove said...

Goomba. Spahn's Ranch was on the south side of Santa Susanna Pass Rd.

Mr. Humphrat said...

Ziggy LOL

AustinAnn74 said...

What an interesting post. The man that approached y'all and warned about trespassing, does he live out there, or is he an employee of the church?

George Stimson said...

I think he worked for the church.

Robert Hendrickson said...

I never forgot the one time we were filming Charlie in the Lock-up area as he was returning to his cell. When we reached the big steal door (entrance to cells area) he stopped and started spewing what seemed like HIS prediction for the future. It went something like "What are you going to do when your money isn't worth anything anymore and the man on the bottom is on the top? BUT it was the way he told it. Part angry and partly a stern warning. I never heard him talk like that before. It wasn't like any of his typical ACTS - He was dead serious. AND of course many of his predictions have come to pass.

GOD, I hope he was only having a delusional spell of sorts, but NOW with the whole Muslim (new state of Islam thing) bursting on the world stage, I'm actually a little apprehensive.

Oddly, my websites were shut down recently, and some of you might remember I was beginning to talk about the Islam / Muslim thing.

Jenn said...

Humphrat, the bridge is on the opposite side of where the movie sets were, more toward Topanga Canyon Blvd.

MHN said...

Between 1970 and 2000 the developed world declined from just under 30 per cent of the global population to just over 20 per cent, and the Muslim nations increased from about 15 per cent to 20 per cent... In 1970, the developed nations had twice as big a share of the global population as the Muslim world: 30 per cent to 15 per cent. By 2000, they were at parity: each had about 20 per cent.

It's coming down fast.

Robert Hendrickson said...

Gee MICHAEL: Now YOU sound like you've lost YOUR marbles. I mean 98% of the world is talking about the "evil" heathens AND you're talking cryptic numbers.

Personally, I lost many of MY marbles at the Spahn Ranch. (Stoner might find them someday) I know that sounds crazy, BUT back then, those dirty, smelly, hippie like kids that left / were kicked out of THEIR warm and confortable homes were actually talking "sense" in a worold that was "turning upside down."

Back in the day, the so-called straight WHITE world did'nt even SEE the "blacks" or the "Muslims" crawling on the ground beneath them.

I still remember the WATTS riots in Los Angeles and how the WHITE world saw themselves as "the victims." BUT the church hadn't started marketing those candles in a glass YET.

PUTIN just revealed that the airliner was "bombed" and HE will NOW issue "payback."

BUT isn't ALL this babling just like two kids on the school yard pounding THEIR chests in hopes that some hot chick will give them a LOOK.

So now, in the evolution of "the times are a chang'in" apparently, the (blacks and Muslims / black Muslims) are rising from beneath OUR feet to take THEIR place in a new "world without borders."

GEE whiz: IF you even talk about such THINGS, you must belong to some sort of Love and Terror CULT. Must be time to get a student loan for at least a semester in one of those new "relocation" schools.

Mr. Humphrat said...

thanks Jenn

MHN said...

Robert, I heard the church up at Spahn actually found some of your marbles out there years later and they use them to manufacture the glass for those candles. It must be good to know that all over southern California a hundred Hispanic anchor babies fall asleep each night to the light from the flames flickering through what remains of your marbles.

Matt said...

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
- Dune

MHN said...

In other words, Matt, what doesn't kill you makes you stranger :)

mrgroove said...

By the way George. This is a great post! Thanks!

Matt said...

MHN said...

In other words, Matt, what doesn't kill you makes you stranger :)

Except cocaine. Cocaine will kill you.

MHN said...


MHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Hendrickson said...

My GOD Michael: How can YOUR words be so elequent while YOUR math is so BAD. There are "millions" of Anchor babies in California. NOT a 'flicker' but soon a blazing BRIGHT light. Might even make Helter Skelter worth fighting for. That's when candle-power may determine who the REAL winner is.

I was hoping YOU might explain - just how the rest of the world may soon accept "the NEW Islamic State" as the ruler of the entire Middle Eastern Muslim population. Manson saw it coming, BUT obviously other world governments could ONLY see THEIR treasure chests growing.

MHN said...

Ha! Robert I thought if I said millions it would be even more racist! No, honestly I used 'hundreds' only because it alliterates with 'Hispanic'. It's hard to alliterate with 'millions' - I'd end up dragging in 'mulatto' or 'mullet' - neither path appealed to me for obvious reasons!

Europe? Accept its new demographic make-over? By learning to shut up, and to stop having children. We're a long way along that road already.

Unknown said...

I love driving home, turning left on OLD Santa Susana Rd. It's so freaky near a preshool and old-persons homes

Mr. Humphrat said...

Hey Robert H. as long as we're on this post, could you recount where some of the scenes in Manson were on the ranch, such as when they were lined up like a choir singing Always is Always Forever, when they were running to hide from the helocopter, and when they were in the big circle singing (like OMMMMM) with the horse? That would be cool.

Robert Hendrickson said...

Hi Hump: look at the FIRST photo - there at the top is a baron circle & that is the horse coral where we filmed the mirrior image Family circle sing OMMMMMMOOOMMM.

Then SEE "lover's lane" EXCEPT I don't remember hearing it called that. May be a story on how and when it got that name. I know the kids, growing up in in Semi Valley AFTER the Family lived there nicknamed several spots - like the MANSON tunnel. If you take "lover's lane" way out to the back end of the ranch, that's where we filmed the "Never say always to never."

The running from helicopter was filmed all over the ranch property.

I would add that the first ariel photo was apparently taken before the 118 freeway was built - when the Santa Suzana Pass road was busy with traffic - that would make for more Spahn Ranch tourist business. AFTER it was built, George was screwed, and the Family may have been considered coming to HIS aid.

Funny how the Manson Family actually gave Life, Death and Legend to a once forgotten land.

Kind'a like ISIS is doing to the Middle East right now.

Mr. Humphrat said...

Thanks Robert! good to know where to picture these things.

Unknown said...

How do I add some photos to this feed? I have the original arrest forms from this night, stamped and signed by Charles that I can share if anyone would like to see.

Unknown said...

The arrest form is great, you can clearly tell that it was filled out by Lynette, and they used the name James McMillian which I am quite sure was one of Bruce's aliases.

Matt said...

Ben, just email it to me. I'll post it.

Unknown said...

I sent them thru FB just now. They really should be posted under the photo of the old mans mug shot. This is the same arrest

Matt said...

They have now been posted.

HellzBellz said...

off topic this.... Helter Skelter starts in Europe !

Shorty's pistols said...

Occupation - "Ranch Worker" ?!?

Thought his job title was "Hippie Cult Leader"

eman gamal said...

Cleaning cabinets

Unknown said...

34.272521 -118.622660 was the exact location from the 1969 aerial photo.

LD said...

Excellent post tied to this something I really wanted to learn more about!
Now that I've read it I realize it really isn't hard to suss out the back ranch location. Tex gave us everything we needed when he indicated the dry creek beds on his map. We'd need to assume those areas would fill up with water every now and then whenever it rained (per what happened to Frank Retz) which would stimulate some level of green growth. When you follow that logic using current google maps it takes you to exactly the spot indicated in this article, with the fireroads exactly where Tex said they would be located. What I want to know more about it that actual creek that Tex indicated, and where it intersected Santa Susanna Pass Road and just where exactly is the Just In Case place?