Giant Pumas, Range Wars & Nixon (Tricia)

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A tip of the Stetson this morning to you, saddlepals. We’ve a most interesting trail ride through time and will visit a land that knows no political correctness, triggering, gaslighting or social media.

And no wearing those heavens-to-Betsy heinous prison denim cut-offs. It scares the horses.

We’ve range wars and decimated oak forests. Gasp. Our congressman is dating the president’s daughter. We’ve federal weed abatement, dancing on Sunday, giant mountain lions and a healthy serving of bear meat.

Well. It’s May. Happy Cinco de “Hold The” Mayo. Let’s mosey. Try to guide your steeds around the rattlesnakes as opposed to over . . .


DO YOU MINE? — May 3, 1842, the San Francisquito Mining District was established, commemorating the discovery of gold by Don Francisco Lopez, possibly in Placerita Canyon. While it has been celebrated as the first gold discovery in Southern California, gold mining had been going on in the SCV as far back as the late 1700s. Gold was even taken out of the stream centuries earlier by local Indians. Lopez got $54 from the governor and a serious land grant near Piru.

MAY I HAVE A HEARTY ‘BULLY!!!??’ —We had a pretty big celebrity staying at the Acton Hotel on May 4, 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt stopped off to visit some friends and do a little hunting.

TWO BOYS & A CAVE — One of the most significant Amerindian archeological finds in U.S. history was discovered near present-day Highway 126 back on May 2, 1884. Much of what we know about the Tataviam Indians who populated this valley prior to the 20th century came from the discovery of a cave by two Castaic boys.

Brothers Everette and McCoy Pyle discovered the caches near the Chiquita Landfill today off Highway 126. It was later called Bowers Cave, named after the Ventura doctor to whom the boys sold their treasure. History offers two figures: $35 and $1,500. The artifacts apparently are still in boxes somewhere in the basement of the Peabody Museum at Harvard.

MAY 5, 1919

THAT BAD BILLY — Bill Rose shot a puma, 7 feet long from nose to tail, up on his Castaic ranch. The big cat had killed two of his calves in the month of April. For his efforts, Rose received a $20 bounty from Fish and Game. That cougar wasn’t the only thing Rose killed in his life. A few years earlier, as a young man, Billy Rose met up with W. W. Jenkins — one of the West’s most deadly pistol fighters in his day — on a lonely Castaic dirt road and plugged him with several bullet holes. Thinking he had killed W.W., Rose went into hiding for six months in a cave in Lake Elizabeth. The historic Castaic Range War lasted for nearly 40 years, and took the lives of 27 men. Jenkins? He died in 1916 at the age of 81 — of old age.

WEARING THEIR KNUCKLES THIN — Oil men walked house to house, pounding on doors. The Little Santa Clara River Valley was in the midst of an oil boom and speculators were acquiring oil leases at between $1 to $25 an acre.

MAY 5, 1929

NOT MAKING THIS UP — Two African-American gentlemen were arrested in Eureka Village (later to be called Val Verde), the SCV’s predominantly black community up until the 1960s. The charge? Dancing on a Sunday.

YUCCA-YUCCA-YUCCA — The hills around here were nearly picked clean of Yucca plants in the 19th century. A large mill up in the Acton/Agua Dulce area produced tons of pulp, which was shipped to a London paper-making factory. Laws were enacted, saving the remaining Yuccas and on this date, J.F. McCrillis felt the full force of the law descend on him when he yanked a plant from the ground. He was fined $20 by judge A.B. Perkins. That’s a pretty stiff stipend when you consider that could be four months’ rent back then.

EARLY ILLEGAL UBER? — A thief swiped the Householders’ new Buick on this date. The Newhall family thought the vehicle would be stripped for parts and never seen again. Wrong they were. A few weeks later, the thief returned the car to the exact same spot it was stolen from — with an extra 500 miles on the odometer.

AT LEAST, THE WAY STATION COULD SERVE BEAR STEW — You can’t get this at Wolf Creek today. At least, we hope you can’t. Ninety years back, Don Barnett opened his new cafe next to the Midway Garage. One of the specialties? A half-&-half plate of hot dogs and bear meat. And no. Bear doesn’t taste like chicken. More like tough lamb.

MAY 5, 1939

A DEMOCRAT’S DREAM: TAXING YOUR WEEDS — Locals were up in arms over federal intervention in their weeds. Yes. Weeds. Seems the old WPA would step in and cut down weeds around your home and buildings but the only problem with that is they’d charge you by tacking the bill onto your income tax. A special county ordinance stopped the feds in their tracks.

SURVIVOR OF THE FEUD — May 12, 1939, William Chormicle Jr. was brought into Newhall Hospital for treatment of burns. A gasoline can exploded next to him when he was trying to jump start a tractor. Chormicle was the son of the OTHER patriarch (W.W. Jenkins was his rival) in that famous Castaic Range War we visited earlier.

MAY 5, 1949

PYTHON RACING — More than 12,000 braved a hot day for “Hot Rod” air races at old Probert-Devine Newhall Airport. (The “Devine” was Andy Devine, sidekick in the “Wild Bill Hickock” TV series and owner of Newhall International Airport.) These little scooters, weighing about 500 pounds, raced at speeds of over 200 mph just a few feet off the ground. These “python” races were the first and last at our airfield.

QUITE THE EXTROVERT — Willie Smith ran seriously amok in Val Verde a half-century back. He got into six fistfights, shot himself in the hand and his wife in the stomach. He climbed up a water tower and jumped in, patiently waiting for the police to arrive.

MAY 5, 1959

HOW WE LOST OUR OAKS — An article in “Westways Magazine” from May 1959 complimented Newhall, but noted that it had actually lost most of its charm “between 1910 and 1912 when the vast groves of oak trees were slaughtered to supply the charcoal market in Los Angeles.”

THAT’S MY PAL — In 1979, Sand Canyon’s Cliffie Stone was given the Pioneer Award in Nashville, country music’s highest honor. In 1959, he made the front of The Mighty Signal for hosting the Placerita Pageant.

MAY 5, 1969

AND GIMME A LARGE PEPPERONI — Mrs. Roy Shermon hit the accelerator instead of the brake and smashed 30 feet into ChiChi’s Pizza. Mrs. Shermon was the proud possessor of a 1-month-old learner’s permit. The pizza gods must have been watching. No one in the eatery or auto was hurt.

ANOTHER VIETNAM TRAGEDY —Newhall Warrant Officer Steve Peterson was killed during a midair helicopter collision in Southeast Asia. He was 21.

HAPPY 50th, CAL ARTS! — This month marks the half-century anniversary for CalArts. Students, faculty and community leaders all took shovels for the groundbreaking.

SHE IS NOT A CROOK — Our own newly sworn-in rookie SCV congressman, Barry Goldwater Jr., attended the big D.C. masked ball. His date? Tricia Nixon.

YAY FOR THE SCV’S BIG HEART — The infant SCV Boys’ Club (no “Girls” in the title then) was in financial trouble. A hasty fundraising by locals brought in $3,200 — enough to keep the club afloat until August. I think the $3,200 would cover Jim Ventress’s daily per diem. (We kid you ’cuz we love you, Jim.)

MAY 5, 1979

STILL CATTLE COUNTRY — We had our own special officer — Sgt. Bill Bacon (no pun intended) who patrolled the SCV looking specifically for livestock rustlers. At the time, 80 percent of the rustling of critters in Los Angeles County was in the Santa Clarita.

AND THROW IN A ROLLER COASTER — Newhall Land and Farming was offered $53 million to sell Magic Mountain to amusement park giant, Six Flags. Eventually, NL&F did.

IT WOULD COST A GAZILLION DOLLARS TODAY — Forty years ago, the state briefly brought back odd-even days gas rationing. Gasoline prices had shot through the roof to 85 cents a gallon in places. Like, cry us a river. Speaking of petrol, one of the items in the Boys & Girls Club auction catalogue was Newhall Refinery donating a year’s worth of gasoline. The winning bidder could drive up and fill up anytime they wanted, and, bonus — no lines.

Appreciate the company, dear saddlepals. Thanks for touring the yesteryears of Santa Clarita history with me. I’ll see you next week with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then —vayan con Dios

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 Check out his History of The Mighty Signal series on Saturdays on page A1.

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