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An Antelope Valley Love Story

On this Valentine’s Day, we take a look at the love story between Ben Cherbonno and Helen Gookins. This pair of settlers met in the Antelope Valley in the early 1900s, and celebrated their 50th anniversary at the time the highlighted article was written (Figure 1). When the couple met in 1907, the area was still mostly rural. At the time, Ben was a 21-year-old freighter who hauled borax from the mines to the railroad in Lancaster. Helen, who had moved to the Antelope Valley in 1892, was a young woman who loved to ride horses and explore the desert.



Figure 1: Original Newspaper Clipping of the 20-Mule-Team Love Story (Object ID #2024.FIC.203) MOAH Collections.


In the article, Ben retells the story of him falling in love at first sight, feeling sure he was going to marry Helen at their very first meeting. Four months of courting, school dances, and multiple desert adventures later, the two tied the knot. Their marriage would hold true and bring the couple children, grand-children and great-grandchildren. Throughout the story they recount many happy memories, such as the signal for Helen to ride out when she heard the sound of approaching bells from Ben’s mule team. Or the way Ben would ask to borrow a horse and buggy to go out to see Helen. Ben also remembers the time he convinced Helen to travel part ways with him to the mines, and Helen’s agreement even though she knew she would have to solo-ride for 16 miles through mountainous trails to get home. Such tales indicate their deep desire to be in each other’s company.


Ben and Helen's love story is a testament to the power of love and commitment, withstanding the tribulations of time and distance. They were able to build a strong and lasting relationship despite the challenges they faced.


The article reads: “GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY

20-Mule-Team Days Love Story Recalled

The bells on Ben Cherbonno’s 20-mule team echoed on the wet October air as he freighted his

load of borax over the rain-slick road toward Lancaster.


Sound carries in mountain country. At Neenach, stopover point for stagecoach and covered wagon, the prettiest girl in the Antelope Valley heard a secret message in the distant jingling. Her dark eyes were bright as she saddled her horse and rode out to meet her bridegroom.


Last month, 50 years and five great-grandchildren later, Ben Cherbbonno and Helen Gookins celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. But the fabric of their romance is still bright proof that for dash and color the senior members of the Southland family can match their courtships against any of the jet age.


Rides Recalled

Helen Gookins came to Antelope Valley in 1892 when range grass grew knee-deep and carpets of blue lupin and Indian paintbrush spread to the horizon. She remembers the wild rides across the desert when her horse took the bit in his teeth and plunged off after herds of wild antelope.


Ben Cherbbonno can’t remember the first time he rode in a freight wagon – all he knows is that at 10 he could drive a six-horse team. He was 21 and an old hand in 1907 when he and his brother were running two of the big 20-mule teams hauling borax from the mines west of Gorman to the railroad in Lancaster.


Helen always knew when it was time to ride out to the forks to meet Ben’s rig. Every one of his mules wore bells collected from the lead teams of less skilled drivers whom he had to haul out of trouble. He never got stuck himself – those mules of his were among the best in the business, trained on command to put all their power into the pull at the same moment. He trusted them so much that all he had to do was yell out their names to get them around sharp mountain curves.


Courtship Told

Ben made up his mind to marry Helen the first time he saw her. It took him only four months, courting by borrowed horse and buggy, sometimes a dance at the schoolhouse where a fiddle, guitar and 50 people meant square-dancing and waltzing until dawn.


Later he talked her into tying her little sorrel horse to the back of the borax wagon and riding with him part way. From Gorman she made the 16-mile return trip alone, racing by horseback along a short cut through the mountains.


It was storming the October night they slipped away from the schoolhouse dance to be married. The buggy wheels mired in the mud, and the 3 a.m. train for Los Angeles was five hours late. They sat on a hard bench at the Lancaster depot and stared at the fat, round wood stove, planning their future.


At Ben and Helen Cherbbonno’s anniversary party last month, a scale model borax wagon on the mantel carried a miniature man and a girl with a bright orange scarf over her head. Behind them trailed a tiny sorrel horse."


If this story interests you, we encourage you to learn more about local history by visiting the Western Hotel Museum at 557 W Lancaster Blvd, Lancaster, CA 93534, operating hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM.

 

References

20-Mule-Team Days Love Story Recalled. (ca.1957). [Clipping from an unidentified United States, newspaper}. Copy in possession of the Museum of Art History Collections Department.

 

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