Dearest saddlepals? Is that you, still hugging the pillows and sleeping off the previous night’s debauchery? C’mon. It’s Santa Clarita history trail-riding time. I’ve several thousand well-humored ponies downstairs, each a custom fit for your abilities and behinds. Like Wendy, Michael and John Darling in “Peter Pan,” soon as you magically climb aboard, we’re off to explore exciting vistas.
There’s movie stars and moguls, champions, killer bugs and the King of Saxonia. Into the mystic go we…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
- Women were the downfall of Tiburcio Vasquez. The bandito (after whom Vasquez Rocks is/are/be named) was eventually captured in May 1874 near the present-day Hollywood Bowl. What led to his capture was one of his gang members tattled on his whereabouts (Vasquez was in bed with a lover with the nickname of “La Coneja” (The Rabbit; you do the math). Earlier, Tibby had sent his future snitch on a snark hunt way upstate while he, ahem, “dated” the guy’s wife. Earlier, on Aug. 26, 1873, Tibby and his gang raided Tres Pinos and took over the entire town. A hotel clerk was gunned down and killed. Vasquez would later hang for that murder in 1875. Right after lunch.
- Ignacio del Valle had an interesting relationship with his dad, Antonio. For one thing, they didn’t get along until Tony was nearly on his deathbed. Like many of the caballeros de ocio (gentlemen of leisure) of his day, Ignacio liked to carouse. To get his attention, his dad offered him the Santa Clarita Valley, a huge ranch in Santa Barbara, plus other fortunes — if only Iggy would settle down, marry and produce an heir. The younger del Valle promptly tested fertile soil with several women and started a family. On Aug. 24, 1853, Tony left half his Rancho San Francisco to his oldest son. Nice reconciliation considering they fought against one another in the Battle of Cahuenga Pass.
- While hiking from downtown Newhall to Mentryville, Peter Mentry, 77, disappeared mysteriously on Aug. 28, 1886. His bones were found a dozen years later. There were two theories to his death. One, locals surmised that the elder gentlemen died either from the heat or a heart attack or both. Two? Pete was torn apart by a mountain lion. The smart money is on Theory No. 1. His son, legendary oilman Alex Mentry, identified the clothing clinging to the skeleton as that of his father. Alex himself had an odd death in 1900. While he was near death’s door in L.A. from kidney disease and typhoid, he was pushed over the edge and perished from the bite of the notorious local kissing bug, which still dwells in the SCV. Mwa ha ha. Mwa ha.
AUG. 26, 1928
- Film superstar Harry Carey once owned most of San Francisquito and Seco canyons. But, he spent his summers at his Balboa Island home. The movie star returned to Saugus just to vote in the primary.
AUG. 26, 1933
- Without fanfare, one of the most significant events in SCV history occurred. Atholl McBean was an amazing San Francisco businessman who managed to keep his fortune during the Great Depression. He was married to the granddaughter of Henry Mayo Newhall and was picked to run a nearly bankrupt Newhall Land and Farming Co. on this date. At the time, ALL of the SCV was up for sale for an asking price of $750,000. McBean stepped in, stopped issuing fat monthly checks to the many heirs of Henry “Hold The” Mayo Newhall and modernized a company that still was running like a Dark Ages fiefdom. Within two years, McBean saved NL&F. Had he not? The SCV would have been sold off for scrap, there would be no planned Valencia years later and we’d end up looking like the butt-ugly San Fernando Valley instead of the spectacularly mediocre beige yuppie concentration camp we are today.
AUG. 26, 1938
- When I was a boy, most of the valley was still farm and ranchland. Long before I was born, we raised even more crops. Sugar beets were a bumper crop and Newhall Land sent an average of 20 train car loads a day to be processed in Ventura.
- Five generations of the Reynolds family gathered to help their matriarch, Alice, celebrate her 99th birthday. Her husband had fought in the Spanish-American War of 1846.
- Newhall Land just kept getting luckier. Record rains and the management of Atholl McBean helped guide the company to a profitable year. The rains also produced a natural lake in the hills north of Newhall that pumped out several million gallons of free water for crops and watering stock, including 3,000 sheep tended by Basque sheepherders.
AUG. 26, 1948
- Ever heard of Pig Mountain? Of course not. It exists on no map. It was the nickname given to a giant — and I do mean GIANT — mound of hog poop in Canyon Country. The hill, especially in the hot summer months, would frequently erupt in spontaneous combustion, sending a toxic cloud of flame and smoke over our valley. Firefighters used to joke about being issued clothespins for their noses when they had to battle the blazes.
- With his own hands, J. Warren MacClatchie tearfully dug the grave for his beloved horse, High Quest. Born in France in 1931, the famous thoroughbred died of a heart attack on this date at his Mint Canyon home. High Quest was pure royalty and a champion. In his day, he won the Preakness (by a nose!) and finished second in the Belmont. His lineage was traced to superstar racers Sir Galahad and Man o’ War. While he made a tidy fortune racing, High Quest made even more money as a stud, fathering 83 winners of more than $700,000 — big money in the 1930s and 1940s.
AUG. 26, 1958
- We used to have so many wild deer here. I remember once a stag ran into the side of my car — at Hart Park. CHP officers Bob Moir and Charlie Coudry swerved off the road after hitting a huge buck. They flipped their prowl car and ended up in a ditch.
- Fred S. Cooke of Honby (by Mike’s Tires on Soledad; 252-4455; ask for your John Boston discount and be prepared to get sworn at creatively) died. He traced his lineage to one of California’s first families and left 116 direct descendants.
- Saxonia Park today is a church. But for years, it was THE place to gather for big community events, like the Fourth of July picnic. It started as a German beer garden where all sorts of fests were celebrated by the Southland’s children of the Fatherland. Several SoCal German clubs gathered for their annual games. Gerhardt Gengelbach was named “King of Saxonia” after taking first in ancient cross bow shooting.
AUG. 26 1968
- Geez. Remember Diner’s Club credit cards? Remember. This is 1968. A young Newhall couple literally ate themselves out of house and home when they ran up a $3,000 dining tab on their Diner’s Club. Couldn’t pay. Diner’s Club ended up owning their home.
- I can’t tell you how many high-ranking officials have come down on completely opposite sides of this question: Were there missiles with active nuclear warheads stationed at the top of Bear Divide? In the dead of night, a convoy of military trucks slowly rolled through the SCV, through Sand Canyon and up the windy road toward Little Tujunga Canyon. The Army NIKE base, overlooking both Santa Clarita and San Fernando Valleys, was being stripped. The escalating cost of the Vietnam War was blamed for shutting down the base.
- Not exactly a family vacation. The Nunley family of Saugus followed the dad, Don, on a job assignment. Don was filming the Czechoslovakian Revolution. They got stuck with 1,000 American refuges and were almost killed in the fighting between the Czechs and Russians.
AUG. 26, 1978
- This week in 1978, the girls from the hit jiggle TV show, “Charlie’s Angels,” were on Walnut Street, filming an episode. Since debuting in 1976, the franchise in TV, film and games has brought in more than $1 billion. Cheryl Ladd was my favorite angel. It’s OK. I wasn’t married yet and Cheryl and I were age-appropriate. OK. Want some cool and REAL trivia? John Forsythe was the voice of Charlie. He only appeared once on the set and that was when producer Aaron Spelling was desperate when the actor who was supposed to be Charlie was so drunk, he didn’t show up to work. Spelling begged Forsythe to rush to the set and the actor did so — in his pajamas. Forsythe never appeared on the set of “Charlie’s Angels” ever again, but did the voice from another studio.
- One of many reasons why people moved to Valencia was to get away from court-ordered busing of schools where children were sent to inner-city campuses and vice versa. A strange theater was underway at the College of the Canyons parking lot. Sheriff’s deputies, some dressed as housewives and children, were “angrily” battling regular officers in riot gear. It was a prep just in case folks rioted.
- Fewer and fewer old-timers are around who remember Proposition K. It was the ballot measure for the SCV to separate from Los Angeles and form their own county, to be called Canyon County. Signal editor and gossip columnist MIMI jokingly worried that if Prop. K passed, people would call our new government, “Kanyon Kounty.”
John Boston, aka, Mr. Santa Clarita Valley, has been writing about and teaching the history of the SCV for more than 40 years. Recipient of The Will Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award and 119 major journalism honors, he is also author of the historical tome, “Images of America: The Santa Clarita Valley.”