Wednesday 22 July 2015

Born this day: Pancho Barnes

Pancho Barnes (née Florence Leontine Lowe) was born on 22 July 1901. She was one of the first female pilots to be licensed in the U.S., Lockhead's first female test pilot, a stunt pilot during the Silent and Sound eras, the founder of the "Associated Motion Picture Pilots" (the first movie stunt pilots' union), and a member of the Ninety-Nines (the International Organization of Women Pilots). In 1930, she broke Amelia Earhart's world women's speed record and became the first woman to fly into the interior of Mexico. Pancho Barnes set speed records and was considered "America's fastest woman flyer" (via and via).

"After she graduated, Barnes announced that she wanted to be a veterinarian. That was such an appalling idea to her mother that she promptly enrolled the teenager in Stickney School of Art for a more ladylike course of study. This did not offer any real long term prospects, however, so Barnes’ maternal grandmother arranged for her to marry the rector of the local Episcopal church. It seemed like a win-win situation, if not a perfect match. The groom would be appeasing a major contributor to the church and get a new bell tower. The bride would be able to stop living with her parents and have a shot at independence. (...) As was to be expected, Barnes was totally bored being a poor pastor’s wife, but she tried to fill the role for a while.
(...) In addition to the usual carousing, in June 1952 Barnes was involved in planning another bash, her fourth wedding, to Mac. The bride was 51 years old, and the groom was 32. (...)  The 58 second ceremony was presided over by Judge J. G. Sherrill and witnessed by 650 guests. Then the couple exchanged vows again in a Native American ceremony officiated by Chief Lucky and Little Snow White of the Blackfoot tribe. The wedding banquet included four whole roasted pigs, 80 pounds of potato salad, 16 gallons of Jell-O and a 50 pound wedding cake. One of the entertainers at the reception was Lassie."
(literally via

"When some friends got the idea to get hired on as crew on a banana boat bound for South America, Barnes, the only woman, didn’t hesitate to join them. She dressed as a man and signed on as “Jacob Crane.” As soon as the boat left the dock, the adventurers discovered they were running guns and ammunition to revolutionaries in Mexico. When they arrived in San Blas, the ship was boarded by armed guards who used the vehicle to shelter the town’s money from the rebels. The crew was held hostage for six weeks. Barnes and the helmsman, Roger Chute, were the only two courageous enough to escape.
The pair stole a horse and burro and set out through the Mexican countryside. Barnes quipped that her partner looked like Don Quixote, and he said that made her “Pancho.” She corrected his reference, saying the character’s name was “Sancho Panza,” but Chute liked “Pancho” better. Barnes liked the sound of Pancho Barnes, and the name stuck."
 (literally via)

"Amelia Earhart got all the publicity and Bobbie Trout made all the money, but I was the best pilot."
Pancho Barnes

Later, Pancho Barnes was mainly recalled as the the owner of the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", a dude ranch near Edwards Air Force Base in California that became "a slice of American history". In the 1940s, it was a favoured hangout for test pilots and Hollywood celebrities. In 1953, it burned down and her plans to re-open never came to fruition (via and via). Pancho Barnes passed away in 1975.

photographs via and via and via and via


  1. Replies
    1. And always laughing. One can tell why one of the quotes she is most often associated with is "When you have a choice, choose happy!" Thanks, Karen!

  2. Replies
    1. Good morning, Derek, and many thanks for commenting!

  3. This woman is amazing, I am appalled that I have never heard of her before! She is an inspiration to me. I am a cyber security major and in my 40's. It is not easy to start your career again this late in life, while you are working but that is exactly what I am doing. When I go to class I am almost always the only woman. That can be intimidating at times. Thanks for posting her inspirational story. She is amazing, courageous, funny and full of life. If that isn't a definition of beauty, I don't know what else is. Love this!!!!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for your most beautiful feedback. Wish you all the best for your new career!