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Rawley Duntley - The Barbecue King

Barbecue has long been considered an American summer tradition. Picked up from the Spanish settlers and Native Americans, barbecue has brought communities together throughout the years. This fact was well known to Rawley Bruce Duntley, the “Barbecue King” of the Antelope Valley.

Growing up in early Lancaster, when the town still consisted primarily of cattle ranchers, Rawley Duntley was not the stereotypical lone cowboy of Hollywood. Instead, Duntley was a gregarious force of personality who helped transform the burgeoning town through charitable acts and devotion to his community.

A young Rawley Duntley on horseback.

Born in 1883 in Iowa, to George F. and Hannah (Milson) Duntley, Rawley Duntley moved with his family to California when he was only six years old. On their “inspection tour,” as Rawley would later describe the family's trek west, the family passed through Bakersfield and the Tehachapi Mountains before settling in the Antelope Valley. The town back then had only a handful of other children, and Rawley remembered the school nearly closing for lack of children. Only when a teacher with a school-aged child was hired was the school able to operate without the threat of closure.

Rawley Duntley (left) and Ted Atmore (right) on horseback.

Always a hard worker, Rawley happily took to ranch work. Though his parents relocated to Los Angeles only two years after moving to California, Rawley felt drawn back to the desert. He had a deep love for wide, open spaces, and enjoyed working with cattle. As a teenager, he moved back to the Antelope Valley, first to work at his uncle’s ranch, then later for S.P. Cushman in Del Sur. In those early days, Rawley drove cattle through the mountains and to the slaughterhouse, all the way in Hollywood. All the while, Rawley was working towards establishing a ranch of his own.

A group of cattle ranchers relax in 1902. Rawley Duntley is visible in the lower right corner.

During his time working for Cushman, Rawley befriended fellow cattleman, William Doyle. Later, he would meet Doyle’s daughter Ina. A native to the Mojave Desert, Ina was no delicate flower. Her determined and generous spirit matched Rawley’s personality well, and the two soon fell in love. In 1905, Rawley married Ina, and they had a son, Lawrence, the following year.

The Duntley Family (L-R): Rawley, Marjorie, Myrtle, Mary, Ina, and Lawrence.

The couple worked cattle together, with Ina frequently riding with a young Lawrence in tow. Five years after their marriage, Rawley and Ina moved to a 9,000 acre ranch, in Oak Creek Canyon. After moving into the Duntley Ranch, the couple had three daughters, Marjorie, Myrtle, and Mary (who passed away at age 2). Rawley and Ina loved the ranch that they had worked so hard to purchase, and they lived there for 47 years, until Ina’s failing health forced them to move to Rosamond.

One tale that cemented Rawley as a legendary barbecue pit master occurred during the Great Depression. Coming across a woman whose restaurant had lost power and was on the verge of financial collapse, Rawley leapt to action. He dug a pit barbecue in front of the restaurant and then rode off to share his plan with Ina. That night Ina prepared the “trimmings,” while Rawley rode on to tell other families about the upcoming barbecue. The following day, the community gathered at the restaurant, enjoying the Duntleys’ barbecue and buying enough soft drinks that the restaurant owner was able to hold on to her business. And with that, Rawley became known to his neighbors as the “Barbecue King.”

The 1936 "Old Timers' Barbecue." Rawley Duntley wearing a white shirt in the center at the pit barbecue.

When asked about his deep-pit barbecuing methods, Rawley credited the Native tribes for teaching him the secret of great barbecue. As a rancher, Rawley occasionally met the Native peoples of the Valley as he transported cattle. From them, he learned how to smoke and season the meat in such a way that made his barbecue legendary throughout the Valley.

Always welcoming, the Duntleys hosted as many as 200 to 300 guests at a time for barbecues and dancing at their home. Ina always prepared the trimmings, while Rawley handled the beef. In addition to those hosted at the Duntley Ranch, Rawley contributed his skills to many fundraisers, always providing the meat for free. From Sacred Heart to Quartz Hill High School, many organizations benefited from Rawley’s neighborly demeanor and skill at the pit. Rawley went on to found the “Old Timer’s Barbecue,” an event that celebrated Valley residents that had lived in the area for 10 or more years (though this later increased to 20 years).

Rawley Duntley (right) holding a small "post hole barbecue" with friends.

The largest barbecue that Rawley worked boasted 5,000 guests from across the Kern and Los Angeles counties, from Death Valley to Newhall. This barbecue was hosted for the desert residents to discuss droughts that plagued the area. Even at this massive event, Rawley provided his services and supplies for free, waving off his charitable service as something that a good neighbor would do.

“If a fellow can’t be neighborly what’s the use of living?” Rawley said once when asked about his charitable demeanor. This sentiment drove Rawley to be a powerful community organizer for Lancaster. If there was ever the need for it, he was ready and willing to dig up a deep barbecue pit and feed hundreds of his neighbors. Until his death in 1962, Rawley could be found providing a helping hand to those in need or hosting a spectacular barbecue. Despite the multitude of honors heaped on him, Rawley did what he did out of a genuine love for mankind.

Rawley and Ina Duntley holding two children.

Today, the Rawley Duntley Park near Antelope Valley College carries on the name of “The Barbecue King.” The park was named after while he was still alive, a testament to his acts of community service. Though there are no deep barbeque pits, Rawley Duntley Park remains a great place for families and neighbors to convene, a fitting legacy for a man that devoted himself to the Antelope Valley.

Rawley Duntley smiling to the camera.


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