The Big Valley is an American television Western which ran on ABC from September 15, 1965, to May 19, 1969, which starred Barbara Stanwyck, as a California widowed mother. It was created by A.I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman. The producer was Levy-Gardner-Laven. Associate producer Lou Morheim performed the same function on the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. The stirring theme music was composed by George Duning. Paul Henreid, of Casablanca fame, directed a number of episodes. Four Star Television produced the series.
The TV series was based loosely on the Hill Ranch located at the western edge of Calaveras County, not far from Stockton (one episode places the Barkley Ranch a few hours ride from town while another has Jarrod riding past a Calaveras County sign on his way to the TV series' ranch). The Hill Ranch existed from 1855 until 1931, exceeded 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), and had the Mokelumne River running through it. Lawson Hill ran the ranch until he was murdered in 1861. His wife Euphemia (aka "Auntie Hill") then became the matriarch. During their marriage they had four children, one daughter and three sons. Today, the location of the ranch is covered by the waters of Lake Camanche. A California state historical marker standing at Camanche South Shore Park mentions the historic ranch.
* Victoria Barkley, portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, was the widowed matriarch of the wealthy, influential Barkley family living in 19th century Stockton in California's central valley. Victoria Barkley was the undisputed master of the Barkley ranch. In fact, Stanwyck's refusal to portray Barkley as fragile was controversial at the time. Barkley's husband, Thomas, had been killed six years prior in the universe of the series.
* Jarrod Thomas Barkley, the eldest son, was a respected attorney. Richard Long played the role as the educated, refined and calmer of the Barkley sons who handled all of the family's legal and business affairs. While Jarrod preferred the law to settle disputes, he was known to resort to frontier justice and violence when necessary. He was briefly married in one episode only to see his new wife murdered in a memorable episode in which an enraged Jarrod tracks down the killer and is in the process of killing him with his bare hands before both his brothers Nick and Heath arrive just in time and have to physically stop him.
* Hot-tempered brawling younger son Nick Barkley, who managed the family ranch, was portrayed by Peter Breck. Nick was well-known for his black leather vests, large black hat and black leather gloves, as well as his loud and brawling demeanor. He was notorious for getting into fist fights. At times, he would fight with his brothers as well, though underneath the gruff surface Nick was warm and caring, had a fun-loving carefree side, a wonderful sense of humor, and he loved his family deeply and would give his own life for any one or all of them.
* Linda Evans played beautiful Audra, Victoria's only daughter. Much like her mother, Audra was no wallflower, she was bold and full of life and was often involved in daring stunts and did not ride side-saddle.
* Heath Barkley was the illegitimate son of Victoria's late husband, and he literally had to fight his way into the Barkley home. Lee Majors portrayed even-tempered but rough and tumble Heath, who was often angry and aggressive throughout the early episodes due to his later to be proven false belief that Tom Barkley had ditched his real mother after she became pregnant with him. In truth, Tom Barkley never knew about Heath, as Heath's mother had never told him, and never even told Heath until she was on her death bed. Heath gradually gained acceptance from the rest of the Barkley clan as the first season progressed until he became as much a "Barkley" as the rest of the family, and his love for them became equal. Although Nick was initially leary of Heath and felt he had to test Heath's mettle, Heath would go on to prove himself worthy of even Nick's acceptance, and eventually Nick seemed to grow even closer to Heath than he was to Jarrod, perhaps in a sense due to Heath having more in common with him than Jarrod did.