It’s been splendiferously mild for a Santa Clarita summer drifting into September. Not bad weather to take with us into yesteryear. We’ve a most compelling trek into the back trails of SCV history. There’s gunfights, cattle rustlers and cows with bulletproof vests to inspect, along with murderers, horrific fires and killer bulls.
What say we, dear saddlepals? Shall we mosey into the good and not so good olden days?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
- Originally, in 1863, State Sen. Jim Vineyard was one of three men to earn a contract to build a road linking southern and central California. At the time, a big gold rush was booming in Central Cal. Problem? Couldn’t get the simplest supplies because there wasn’t any decent road linking L.A. to the San Joaquin. Poor Vineyard. He died in a boating accident and couldn’t fulfill his contract. A complicated historical figure, Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, would get the plump contract. Bonus? He’d use free government troops from Fort Tejon to complete the job.
SEPT. 2, 1928
- The Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic wasn’t always the Big House. The maximum-security jail started out as a pristine dairy farm, owned by a former U.S. congressman. A surprise state inspection gave the ranch a glowing report. It was the cleanest dairy in all of California.
- Farm life is often far from idyllic. A Plum Canyon bull smashed through its fence and into the pasture of a neighboring rancher. The bull pinned a prize thoroughbred to the ground and disemboweled it. The bull’s owner killed his prize breeder and paid for the dead thoroughbred.
- On a lighter note, one of the crazes of the Roaring ’20s was balloon dancing. Way up Bouquet Canyon, at Camp No. 4, Mrs. Francis Weston won the balloon dance and a whopping $20 first prize. Balloon dancing can be rather painful. Ladies would tie balloons to their ankles and do the Charleston with their partners. Last couple with an unpopped balloon was declared winner.
SEPT. 2, 1938
- Up until the 1970s, cattle rustling was a big problem here in the SCV. Castaic rancher Al Swanson fought a two-headed enemy. He had so many run-ins with cattle rustlers, he contemplated offering them a “hemp poultice firmly applied around the neck” and leave them hanging from low branches to deter future steer liberators. Swanson’s second problem was deer hunters, who invaded his property and shot at anything that moved, or didn’t. (Swanson, like other ranches, had jackasses with rifles filling his water tanks with bullet holes.) The Castaic cattleman kiddingly suggested equipping his livestock with bulletproof vests.
SEPT. 2, 1948
- Up until the 1950s, Happy Valley was part residential, but also part farm. Lots of horse, poultry and small cattle enterprises dotted the oak-lined dirt roads. Sure would kill to have one of their signs, but the Spic ‘N Span Poultry’s world corporate headquarters (telephone No. 8723-J4) were there on DeWolfe. So were a ba-zillion chickens. The chicken-fixin’s company would deliver a pan-ready dinner to your front door, anywhere in the SCV.
SEPT. 2, 1958
- One thing we are so blessed by and take for granted is auto safety. The fatalities, injuries and accidents were absolutely staggering not only here in the SCV, but also all over America. Four more people were killed in car wrecks locally, bringing the year’s total so far to 53. One poor hitchhiker was killed on old Highway 99. He had just 15 cents in his pockets.
- Around 1,000 tons of fermenting alfalfa erupted in spontaneous combustion, creating near volcano-like conditions. Damages amounted to $35,000 lost in hay and a barn at the old Silver Shield Dairy up Bouquet.
AUG. 28, 1962
One of the worst in SCV history, the Placerita Fire consumed nearly all of Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch and movie studio. For three days, nearly 18,000 acres burned. Luckily, no humans or animals were killed. Some 800 patients fled the Newhall Sanitarium. Flaming cinders were landing 40 miles away in Downtown Los Angeles and more than 1,000 men battled the blaze. Elvis Presley was at Melody that day on a photo shoot. He manned the water bucket brigade to save the house where W.C. Fields shot “My Little Chickadee.” John Wayne was the key to rebuilding Melody Ranch. The current owners, the Veluzat family, used a photo of The Duke standing in a doorway as a template when they rebuilt it after purchasing the property from Gene Autry.
SEPT. 2, 1968
- I can’t believe this was just 50 years ago. Canyon High opened its doors to the very first class of students Sept. 3, 1968. Since then, tens of thousands of Canyon Cowboys have come and gone. Hmm. Can’t resist this one. From that first class in 1968, next year Ricky Deising will graduate. Maybe…
- Ten juvenile delinquents were given a choice: kitchen detail or fire detail. The Camp Scudder boys, ages 16-18, were assigned to fight a 10,000-acre fire above Azusa. They were laying firehose when the flames shifted. Seven never made it back to the SCV minimum security youth prison. Three suffered serious injuries.
SEPT. 2, 1978
- We missed the World Series by two runs. Cerritos downed the William S. Hart squad 4-2 and went on to the PONY championship. One of the players on that team was Todd Zeile, who played Major League Baseball for a staggering 16 years for 11 teams, including the Dodgers. He is the ONLY MLB player to have hit at least one home run for at least 10 teams. Super trivia? His mom, Sammee, was once the publisher of The Signal.
- I have a close friend who, at this very moment, is asking: “Why does it have to always be Canyon Country?” On this date, Honorary Canyon Country mayor Bob Rider was involved in a minor traffic accident with a 17-year-old. Rider flashed his mayor’s badge and told the youth he was a law enforcement officer and to get ready to feel the full extent of the law falling on his long hair. A REAL law enforcement officer showed up and arrested Rider for drunk driving and impersonating an officer.
- Gino Romero of Canyon Country did not make the SCV’s Top 10 Smart Criminals List. After stabbing his alleged friend through the heart when he caught him making out with his alleged girlfriend, before Gino fled the scene, he told witnesses: “If the cops want to know who did this tell them Gino Romero did.”
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.”