“The Cowboy Violinist”

The violin in his hands is a thing of life. His playing is always enchanting, developing new beauties, and never fails to hold his audience entranced to the end.

The San Diego Union, writing about the playing of Robert Hargrave in 1908.

Here’s a 1914 photo of violinist Robert Hargrave:

Bob Hargrave with fiddle 1914


Hargrave played in places like the International Order of Good Templars Hall in Poway and at halls and homes all over San Diego County. A week in 1901 found him playing at a ball in Oceanside on Thursday night and another in Valley Center on Friday.

More than a fiddler, he was also acclaimed as a composer, music teacher and a band organizer / leader.

“San Marcos seems to be destined to become a sort of Mecca for the musicians of the surrounding country,” wrote the San Diego Union in November, 1901, at a time when Hargrave was living there. “Al A. Freeman, the famous fiddler of San Luis Rey, and his brother, William E. Freeman, together with Everett Nulton, the guitar player of Escondido, spent Sunday on ‘Hargrave’s Musical Mount’.”

So who was Robert Hargrave?

For starters, he was a native Texan, born in 1858 in the town of Sulphur Bluff in northeast Texas. An 1895 souvenir booklet produced by a local paper, the Sulphur Springs Gazette, said his “childhood was a precocious one,” with Robert playing violin in ballrooms at the age of seven.

He was still a child when his family pulled up stakes and moved west, but he grew up fast, “serving in the double capacity of ‘teamster’ and ‘cowboy’ for several years,” according to the booklet. Through this experience, Hargrave gained “a wide reputation through New Mexico, Arizona and California as the ‘Cow Boy’ violinist.” In the process, he also became “a splendid rider, a dead shot and an expert with the lasso.”

But from the age of sixteen, his first love was music. In the 1880 United States Census Hargrave, then 21, was living with his parents in the Los Angeles area. While his father’s occupation is listed as “Farmer,” son Robert’s is given as “Violinist.”

In 1900 Hargrave, 41 years old, was living in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) with his wife and two daughters and working as a music teacher.

By 1901 he was back in San Diego County. He moved around southern California a great deal, perhaps reflecting the itinerant life of a musician in those days. Still, he left his mark on audiences and his fellow musicians.

An October 1908 San Diego Union article reported that Hargrave was “temporarily located in Fallbrook, where he is instructing the recently organized Fallbrook Cornet Band.” The article also described him as having been “prominent in the organization of the City Guard band back in the 80’s…”

As late as 1917, he was posting newspaper ads offering music lessons from his residence at the Southern Hotel in San Bernardino.

Robert Hargrave’s personal music ended with his death in San Bernardino County in 1923 at the age of 64. But he left a melodic legacy with fellow musicians, audiences and music students all over southern California.


Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Texas newspapers, U.S. census records and the archives of the Poway Historical and Memorial Society.

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History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community

Rancho Bernardo Historical Society’s Speakers Series presents Dr. Ray Ashley of the Maritime Museum of San Diego on Wednesday, May 21 at 10 a.m. at the Rancho Bernardo Museum in the Bernardo Winery. Dr. Ashley will speak about the museum’s project to build a replica of the San Salvador, the galleon on which Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542. Free to the public.

Also, Rancho Bernardo Historical Society presents its annual Pancake Breakfast Saturday, May 24 from 8 a.m. to Noon. Cost $7 per person; veterans, current military and children under 3 free. In addition to breakfast, there will be music, tile painting, a bounce house, raffle and prizes

For further information on both events visit http://www.rbhistoricalsociety.org/ .



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