Ethel's Old Corral Cafe is a unique fixture to Bakersfield, known for its food and live country music. But it's also known for what you'll see as you pass by the cafe on Alfred Harrell Highway -- a 25-foot statue of a Native American.
So why exactly is there a giant fiberglass Indian ready to greet you as you drive by?
"The Indian is a city landmark," said Ken Barnes, the original statue owner.
Today, the Indian is a staple to Ethel's with an interesting history in our community.
'Muffler man' marketing
In the mid-1960s, Barnes, owner of Barnes Big O Tires, was looking for an eye-catching marketing piece to help promote Mohawk brand tires. It was at that time that Bakersfield's "muffler man," as Barnes was named, came to town. Purchased for $1,400, the "big Indian," as it was often referred to then, was placed on Garces Circle, where it was inevitably noticed by all of Bakersfield.
"Sometimes, I would even come to work in the morning and find arrows shot in the statue," says Barnes.
Throughout the 1960s and mid-1970s, the statue attracted many visitors who would stop to gaze at the giant, and it became part of Bakersfield life. But in the 1970s, Barnes sold the tire business, and with the business went the big Indian.
After about 20 years in storage, the statue resurfaced as the Standard Middle School Warriors mascot. When it retired as a mascot, Barnes was shocked to find where it went next.
"My son, a deputy Sheriff, called me and said, 'Dad, you will not believe what I am looking at in the backyard of a home in Oildale'."
Once again, the "muffler man" was back.
'Indian on the Circle'
In 2001, the statue was moved to its current home, Ethel's Old Corral Cafe, by then-owners Tommy and Donna Chisum. The Chisums completely refurbished the Indian with a new paint job and fiberglass exterior. It was then placed atop a cement platform and renamed "The Indian on the Circle" to honor the statue's origins.
Donna Chisum is the daughter of original cafe owner Ethel Beeson, who ran the cafe from 1962 to the time of her death in 1996. Ethel was known to be the sassy lady who ran a great restaurant, leaving many to begin calling the Old Corral Cafe as "Ethel's." It wasn't until current owner Natalie Mears began running the cafe that the restaurant's name was legally changed to honor Ethel.
Mears felt it necessary to preserve not only Ethel's history, but also the history of the "Indian on the Circle." Today, the statue stands on bricks that visitors have engraved with the names of loved ones, or other memories.
"We love having him here," Mears said. "Rather than throw away history, we would rather preserve it."
She continued: "I love the Indian and would never part with him. It's history of Bakersfield, and now Ethel's."
It's safe say that the statue isn't going anywhere soon. Instead, it will stand tall on the side of Alfred Harrell Highway where it waves to the community it calls home.