Dry Santa Clarita & Wa-Tho-Huk Himself…

Sunday Signal

Well how’s about that wonderful rain last weekend, so close to June? I’ll take it along with a six-pack of Twinkies, a half-gallon of milk and carrots for the horse.

A most interesting trek we have ahead, dear saddlepals. After we tip our heads and hang onto our hats dipping into the Santa Clarita historical time vortex, we’ll do some serious exploring.

A famous local will try to convince the nation to outlaw booze. There’s a gathering of St. Francis Dam disaster theorists. There’s dog feed trivia, car racing IN Bouquet Reservoir, a look at how much the Hart Mansion is worth and a visit to when the apes battled extra-terrestrials in Plum Canyon 19 million years ago for world domination.

That last item and monkeys and UFOs?

I made it up.

Don’t roll your eyes. You never know…


SUPER JOCK — Wa-Tho-Huk had a unique distinction. He was born and died on the same day, May 28. He was born in 1887 in Oklahoma Indian Territory and died in 1953 in Lomita. Wa-Tho-Huk (meaning “Bright Path”) was one of the greatest athletes in American history. He would later start the precursor to the NFL, win college championships in track, field, basketball and lacrosse. He played professional football, basketball and baseball. He was the Olympic decathlon winner and later, would make many movies here in Placerita Canyon. You might know the Sac/Fox Native American Wa-Tho-Huk by his Catholic name: Jim Thorpe.

MAY 26, 1919

CLERK TO MILLIONAIRE — Station master John Gifford and his wife returned (on train, of course) from a gala bash in San Francisco. They were celebrating the 50th anniversary with other muckymucks of the first transcontinental railroad. While they were up there, they visited an old friend, Joe Carlston. Joe used to be the assistant train depot manager here in Newhall but traded in his job to be a millionaire in Oakland. That’s a good career move.

SARSAPARILLA, PLEASE — Local mover and shaker Henry Clay Needham took the train to Washington, lobbying with president Woodrow Wilson. Needham urged the president not to ask Congress to repeal the 18th amendment. The 18th had just been ratified in January 1919 and Wilson wanted to allow service men the luxury of drinking during World War I. Needham would later run for the presidency on the Prohibitionist ticket. But, alas as we’ve said before, Henry Clay got real darn sick the morning of his party’s convention, up-chucked and couldn’t accept the nomination.

ADIOS TO A 1919 LANDMARK —Some folks lamented that one of the town’s historical landmarks, the old livery stable, was being torn down. A.C. Swall bought the corner lot in downtown Newhall, tore down the barn and had a new one built down the street. The new barn was designed to accommodate all the horses that movie companies brought here during filming.

BE NICE — J.F. Schaffer pleaded in an article 100 years ago in Newhall that parents and teachers needed to cooperate more. Glad we fixed that.

MAY 26, 1929

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS — Locals were still speculating on the cause of the great St. Francis Dam disaster in which 500 souls lost their lives here. Demolition experts hired by the Department of Water and Power blew up the remnants of the huge concrete monoliths. Some folks on the site said that the concrete looked suspiciously crumbly.

A GLUT OF KIDS — On this date, 24 students graduated from the 8th grade at Newhall Elementary. Another eight graduated from Saugus.

POOR PELO — Pelo Rodriguez panicked. The rum runner was smuggling 25 gallons of booze into Newhall via the old road tunnel under what is today Sierra Highway. He spotted a Sheriff’s roadblock, tried an unsuccessful U-turn in the tunnel and got stuck. The deputies had the roadblock up for a pair of killers called “The Machine Gun Murderers.” Instead, they nabbed poor Pelo.

MAY 26, 1939

KAAAAA-BLOOEY!!! — The old Halifax Powder Co. was sold to a fourth-generation fireworks manufacturer, Pat Lizza. Lizza called the new company on Soledad, “Bermite.” It was named half after his friend and foreman, Bernie and half after dynamite. Ber-mite. Get it? Before it was called Halifax, the Saugus business was a TNT factory owned by former heavyweight champ, “Gentleman” Jim Corbett.

YOUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK —The Forest Service held aerial water drops on targets in the hills above Canyon Country. They dropped several 1- and 5-gallon buckets of water. That’d put out a couple of cigarettes.

EXTREME NEWHALL LAND & FARMING CO. TRIVIA — The ranch used 500 pounds of corn feed a month, plus meat scraps and additives, to feed the ranch’s sheep dogs. Heavens. Tom & Colleen Lee use that in a day on their Casa de las Fajitas pack.

MAY 26, 1949

SNAKE OIL — A small girl was bitten by a rattler at Saxonia Park. Some suggested the snakes had been driven from their old dens by all the oil drilling.

MAY 26, 1959

A BUSINESS MOST DANGEROUS — We’ve lost many a wildcatter over the years here. Leonard Martin added himself to a list no one wanted to be on. A huge block and tackle smashed into the Texaco derrick Leonard was working on at Wayside prison, causing the young roustabout to fall 60 feet to his death.

SHOOTING THYSELF — Sure have lost track counting these rascals but two more self-proclaimed quick-draw artists shot themselves in two separate accidents. Ernie Wells, an employee of Newhall Land, pulled the trigger on his single-shot Remington before it cleared the holster, sending a bullet deep into his knee. A few canyons over up San Francisquito, Jim McDonald shot a bit too quick. His errant bullet went through his ankle, wormed around and had just enough energy left to not quite make it out of the leather of his boot.

UNSCHEDULED SWIM — Barbara Jo Steffes was speeding a tad. She missed a Bouquet curve, crashed through the barricade, through the fence and her late model Ford landed halfway into the reservoir. She climbed out and witnesses called the hospital and CHP. As she was about to be helped up the hill, Barbara Jo remembered she left her purse in the car. She climbed back in, grabbed it, and the car slid further into the Bouquet Reservoir. She swam to safety but the car sunk about 150 feet to the bottom. So those of you downstream, if your water tastes kind of funny…

HEY. THIS MEAT SMELLS FUNNY — Advertisement of the Decade has to go to the Double R Meat Co. They placed a quarter-page ad with a big picture of a skunk’s butt facing the viewer with the caption: “Where every cent counts.” Now are they selling skunk meat or just stinky meat?

MAY 26, 1969

KEEPING THE SCV SMUT FREE — The Mighty Signal, doing its part to make the streets safe from perversion, created a little cartoon mascot to fight smut in the media. They held a contest to name the little arachnid critter. Signal publisher Tony Newhall presented local lady Del Clouse with a check for $100 for coming up with “Smutnix” as the handle. Half smut. Half Nixon.

WHAT CAN WE SAY? WE WERE A SMALL TOWN. — Singer Vic Damone was the guest of honor at Valencia’s big celebrity golf tourney.

MAY 26, 1979

IT’S A FIXER-UPPER — Some rascal named Walt Cieplik had the William S. Hart Mansion and park valued in 1979 by a bona fide real estate appraiser. Originally, the six-bedroom, seven-bath home was built in 1925 for around $100,000. That didn’t include the 250 acres that went with it. A little high-end considering homes in Saugus went for $600 — TOTAL. In 1944, right before Hart died, he noted in a letter that he had “… well over $300,000 into it.” One can always dicker, but in 1979, the house alone would have been worth around $1.6 million. The 250 acres surrounding it then? Land went from $14,000 to $217,000 an acre back in 1979. Figuring a roundish $50,000 per, the land and mansion would be a steal at $12.5 million and a bit pricey at $50 million. Interesting to guess what the place would be worth in 2019…

THE TREE PLANTERS — NL&F found out they had more oaks than they thought. A big parcel just east of COC (today, called the Summit) had more than 1,000 oaks. Some 2,828 houses would be built there and 500 oaks removed. To be fair, NL&F has planted around 500,000 trees in the last 30 years.

Mantente alejado de los monos y ovnis en Plum Canyony vayan con Dios. Itching for a translation? “Stay away from the apes and the UFOs in Plum Canyon.” You saddlepals be good to one another. Gracias for the company. See you in seven…

John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Read his historical tome, “Images of America: The Santa Clarita Valley” on Amazon.com. Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on A1.

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