Quakes, Cannibals & the Hart High Buckaroos?

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger
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How quickly the time passes. In a blink, we were celebrating January and now, fall’s around the corner. We’ve a most interesting trail ride ahead, dear saddlepals. I’ve got a special mount for you, each chosen to match your ability and disposition. Ahead there’s maniacs and murderers, humor and mischief and lots of gee whiz information you never knew about your hometown.

C’mon. We’re burning daylight. Into the mystic we go…


Pete Burnett
  • Happy birthday to us. Sept. 9, 1850, California was admitted as America’s 31st state. Speaking of Indians, Cal’s first governor, the jackass Pete Burnett, Democrat, resigned about a year into office. Why? He was miffed the U.S. wouldn’t send troops to eradicate every last Native American in California.
  • Who would get to host a bona fide California mission: San Fernando Valley or Santa Clarita? On Sept. 3, 1795, Father Vincente de Santa Maria, head padre over at the Mission Santa Buenaventura, recommended the SFV over the SCV. We became the assistencia, or addendum mission to Mission San Fernando over the hill. Antonio del Valle would become the general manager of the sprawling holdings that covered both valleys. In lieu of back wages, del Valle was given the Santa Clarita Valley in 1839. All of it. For years, the chapel and grounds were called “The Missing California Mission.” The last adobe wall was destroyed to make way for a feed bin by Newhall Land & Farming Co. in the 1930s.
  • When California became a state, our own Ignacio del Valle, who inherited much of the Rancho San Francisco (the SCV today) from his pops, Antonio, served on the first California State Assembly. Icky trivia? In 1852, aged 44, Ignacio married Ysabel Varela. She was 15.

SEPT. 9, 1928

Buzz Barton


  • Billy Lamoreaux broke his arm this week in 1928 and that was B.I.G. news. This Newhall Elementary lad was also known as Buzz Barton, the most famous child movie star in the world. Billy/Buzz fell 20 feet from a scaffolding on a shoot in Hollywood. Filming was delayed six weeks. Interesting darn life. Billy’s parents spent all his money and he ended his days a penniless cowboy working on a local ranch.
  • Climate change? Or, summer? You be the judge. A particularly hot August forced L.A. County to close all lands to hunting to stop the threat of fire.
  • Roby Dill, son of the local school bus driver, picked the wrong horse to ride. On a dare, Roby climbed aboard a neighbor’s horse, who happened to be a national champion rodeo legend and the oatbag bucked Roby nearly to Fillmore. Roby broke a bunch of stuff, scarred his face and suffered a concussion.

SEPT. 9, 1938

  • I so love the long-forgotten characters of the SCV. Perhaps they remind me of me. One eclectic soul was L. Warren Jeffries, who folks called Seldom Seen Slim. Jeffries had suffered terribly from World War I poison gas attacks. It took the prospector years to gain back his weight, which had dropped to under 90 pounds. He wandered the region with three mules, Heebie, Geebie and Jeff. The foursome only traveled about 15 miles a day, which didn’t matter to Jeffries because, as he said: “… (we) weren’t going anywhere anyway.” The prospector/hunter penned a story about the SCV and his travels in an article in The Saturday Evening Post.
  • Night was turned into day on Sept. 2 when a spectacularly bright meteor flew low and long over the SCV horizon.
  • You couldn’t run this advertisement in 2018. This Signal ad appeared in huge letters: “DON’T KILL YOUR WIFE! LET US DO THE DIRTY WORK!” It was a laundry in San Fernando.
  • Cal Nixon’s dad, Carl, welcomed the kids to Castaic School where he was principal. Cal would become infamous a decade later when, as a freshman, he ran for and nearly won, the Miss USC beauty pageant. Cal had used a movie makeup artist and a Veronica Lake-style blonde wig and changed himself from a bull to a heifer. He was ahead on votes when a friend ratted him out.

SEPT. 10, 1945

  • This was the first day of a local high school class — ever. Some 73 ninth graders attended the very first high school classes, held at old army barracks left over from World War II. Sgt. Russell Johnson was given special dispensation to leave the Army early. Still in uniform, he rushed up from San Diego to teach the first classes and act as vice principal. The other two original teachers were Helen Pfister of Salem, Oregon, And a Mrs. Phillips from L.A. Approximately another 100 SCV students, grades 10-12, attended San Fernando and Palmdale highs.

SEPT. 8, 1946

  • The valley’s first high school, William S. Hart High, was dedicated. But, the first classes were for 9th-graders only and were held at Newhall Elementary the first year while the high school campus down the street began construction. Local mucky mucks visited a dying Bill Hart and begged for his permission to name the school after him. Hart had wanted the school to be named after John Fremont, but relented. Also? By a narrow vote (of 2) the Indian was named the mascot over the Buckaroo.

SEPT. 9, 1948

  • Bill Barnes was a famous oilman who had epic strikes in the SCV. A judge ruled on this date that he had scammed the Espinosa family in Castaic out of their ranch in 1940, paying just $2,500 and not telling them of the epic petroleum reserves on the property. The Espinosas received an additional $100,000 — big money in 1948. Still. Barnes made out like a bandit. He raked in $12,000 a MONTH in revenues.
  • The older male students starting Hart High had an additional form to fill out. Boy seniors had to also register for the military draft.

SEPT. 9, 1958

  • Not only did we have an infestation of mice and rats, worse, we had tall tales. Henry Dreehers complained he had laid out poisoned pellets under his house and in the garage. When he woke the next morn, the mice, he claimed, had stacked the pellets neatly in the kitchen. CHP officer Ziegler called in to say he couldn’t make it to work because mice had stolen his car keys.

SEPT. 9, 1968

  • An earthquake in Iran had just killed more than 12,000. CalTech geologist Jim Brune was lecturing at a local luncheon, warning that an even bigger quake was due in the SCV within the next 10 years. Brune was spot on. Less than three years later, we were hit by a 6.5 quake that claimed about 60 lives. Add both these natural disasters together and they don’t make the Top 50 worst quakes. In fact, the record we don’t want is the Shaanxi temblor from 1556 — nearly 1 million people killed. Of course, many people lived in yaodongs — artificial caves that collapsed during the 8.0 earthquake.

SEPT. 9, 1978

  •  The trial of one of our grisliest crimes continued in a San Fernando Valley courthouse. In June 1978, Ronald Doyle Wilburn had been pulled over in his van for a busted taillight. In the back of the van, officers found the dead and partially eaten corpse of a young hitchhiker, Mary Ann Linco. A young man called The Signal on this date, stating he had been ill and had heard rumors that his girlfriend, Mary Ann, was missing. The incident had been named The Vampire Van Case. The Van Nuys jury found Wilburn guilty of first-degree murder, but, he escaped the death penalty because the jury found him innocent of kidnapping.

Well. That swirling time vortex ahead tells us one thing: we’re back to the Here-&-Now. Thanks for the company, saddlepals. I’ll see you in next Sunday’s Signal with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos

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.”



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