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What Started America’s Biggest Range War?

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger





Just kidding.

How the heck ARE you folks? Surely is nice to see you and isn’t it grand, with the miracle of time travel, we can socially gather by a zillion more or less, climb aboard some hypoallergenic horsies and mosey into the back trails of Santa Clarita history?

Put your hands down.

It’s a rhetorical question.

Get your heinies in the saddle. We’ve some SCV adventuring to accomplish


Adios, dear Iggy ne of the most influential men in the history of the SCV died on March 30, 1880. Ignacio del Valle had quite the storied life. He was mayor of Los Angeles, a state assemblyman and owner of the great Rancho San Francisco spread that covered nearly 100,000 acres. Today, we call that ranch the Santa Clarita Valley. Geez. If ol’ Iggy were alive today, he’d be 160 and celebrating at the senior center. Take a week to blow out the candles …

Here come the judge oy that’s an old pop culture reference, with apologies to the old TV show, “Laugh-In.” The very first judge of the SCV was not John Powell, as has been written in a more than a few historical treatises. The very first judicial election here was in 1873 — three years before Newhall or Saugus were founded. J.H. Turner was elected by three — counted them — three votes. Don’t know if that was worst-case voter apathy or no one could get to the polls. Er, poll. No one ran against him (would that be something if someone did and lost by 3-2?) and he held office until 1882. By then, an E. Bonticue defeated him at the polls, 52-24.

America’s biggest range war ew people realize that sleepy little Castaic was the scene of one of the country’s longest and biggest range wars. It started in the 1880s and lasted until after World War I — nearly 40 years. It also claimed the lives of 27. On March 28, 1890, jury selection began in Los Angeles for the murder trial of W.A. Gardener and the glum and deadly rancher, William C. Chormicle. The two men were accused of murdering two unarmed ranch hands of legendary conman, gunfighter and lawman, W.W. Jenkins. A jury later acquitted the pair on grounds they were protecting property rights. Interestingly, much of the land disputed by the two patriarchal ranchers is under 100 feet of Castaic Lake water today.

MARCH 29, 1920

Most egg-cellent .C. Gibson’s Eggland Ranch in Happy Valley was tops in the state for egg production. Each hen in the contest averaged 16.5 eggs per. Don’t blame me. That was big news back then …

Stop the presses! heck out this front-page news item from The Mighty Signal a century ago: “Mr. & Mrs. E.E. Kidder of Placerita spent the day in the city last week.” Can you imagine if The Signal offered that kind of in-depth coverage today in the year 2000? It’d be a long list.

Stop the presses again! ditor Blanche Brown noted that several Newhallians were “imbued with the picnic spirit” and dined by the flowing banks of the Santa Clara. Blanche’s husband, Ed, had founded The Signal in February 1919 then died a year later. Blanche took over and brought a rather vanilla approach to covering the community.

MARCH 29, 1930

Didn’t know we had a monkey cemetery n this date, Dick Lindsey buried his monkey. The little fella went everywhere with the truck driver. The simian died of tuberculosis.

Ah, those good old days he local gas war came to an end and the dime-a-gallon prices went back up to 15 cents. Folks heard about the price hike and filled up one last time. Fifteen cents a gallon. Foof.

MARCH 29, 1940

Wish it’d rain thrice a week e had a nice little early spring rain. It kept the dust down on the roads quite nicely and the crops and cattle said thank you.

MARCH 29, 1950

Gold fever t was the most famous mine in Los Angeles County during the 19th and midway into 20th century. The Governor Gage mine in upper Canyon Country was sold on this date to the Milton J. Wershow Co. Francis Gage, son of California governor (from 1899-1903) Henry T. Gage, ran it for all of the 1940s, taking about $1.5 million in gold.

Petroleum & garbages estates? 
Wildwood Canyon is today one of the valley’s tonier enclaves. But 70 years back, they had two garbage dumps there. Bennett Murray turned two oil field sludges into garbage pits.

MARCH 29, 1960

The little hero puppy  two-year-old toddler had his life saved by the family dog on this date, 60 years back. Little Kirk Simmons was about to pick up an interesting little rattle in his back yard when his small dog interrupted. The pup got between Kirk and the deadly snake. The parents, hearing the barking, rushed to the back yard just to see the dog getting bit on the lip. They rushed the dog to the vet, but we never found out if the puppy made it.

The little rotten villians nd while one dog was a hero, others were villains. Over at Baker Canyon, young Linda Berryman was riding her bicycle when a pack of a dozen fox terriers chased her down, caused her bike to flip and severely mauled her. Neighbors ran out with rocks to save the girl, but not before she sustained dozens of bites and scratches.

MARCH 29, 1970

An actual shoot-em-up o Cowboy Fest for us this year but a half-century back, things got real Wild West at Callahan’s Old West Museum on Sierra. Several tourists were shot during a stuntman gunfight performance. One of the cowboy actors had accidentally put real bullets in his gun, perforating two children, two adults and four gunfighters. As we are a local newspaper, may I state that at least the eight unseriously injured were all from out of town.

Super dorn to the rescue ou time riders might remember from weeks past about the Val Verde woman Ida Williams who had her house, ahem, accidentally bulldozed by the county. The elderly grandmother was forced to live in a Boy Scout tent. Our supervisor, Warren Dorn, got into action, announcing the county would build her a brand new home. Newhall Land and Farming also kindly replaced the old home with a better one.

Off with their heads! he School Rescue Committee reached the halfway point of 1,700 signatures on their ballot to recall the entire Hart school board. Many locals were unhappy with the board for what they perceived as heavy-handedness and dictatorial measures.

MARCH 29, 1980

A real-life hospital joke ayne Johnson sat down at the emergency room of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. He picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated and thought that maybe his illness was causing him a sense of disorientation because nothing looked familiar within the pages. Then, Johnson looked at the SI date. It was from June 1974 1 months before the hospital opened.

Bill and the poison heriff’s Cmdr. Bill Fairchild retired on this date, replaced by Capt. Ed Coffeen. Odd story about Bill. He had decided to become a sheriff after a near-fatal run-in with poison oak. As a young man, he accidentally rolled in some and was one blister from head to toe, and, was in a coma for 10 days. Must have been one of those religious vision/duty calling things …

You dear souls be well through all this. No need for me to lecture. All y’all’s been raised kind and proper hat’s why we’re all friends. See you next week with another exciting Time Ranger history adventure here in your Mighty Signal. Until then —¡Vayan con Dios, amigos! 

John Boston has been writing about SCV history for more than 40 years. Got some down time? You can buy his books and novels on

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