How quickly time goes, saddlepals. Here we are, plumb run out of Sundays in February 2021. After this weekend, there won’t be any more until next year.
Might I suggest a horse ride back through time to ease the postmodern stress of suburban living? I’ll supply the ponies. You supply the company (although I wouldn’t say no to a good cup of coffee).
This morning, we have a most excellent ride through time. There’s Apemen wandering around our valley and yet another pool house fire. Speaking of fires, we’ll visit the charred embers of the Piru Mansion, which burned down 40 years back.
On the dark side, there are evil horse-killing forces afoot and no-good mangy steer rustlers making off with Bailey Haskell’s herd.
We’ve got a few stumbling drunks — always good for a chuckle and to make us feel superior — and more epic rain.
C’mon, saddlepals. A couple of practice bounces and vault up into the saddles. It’s time to go history riding.
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
HEY! WHERE’S THE BEEF? — Right about the end of February, one of the most debilitating droughts in California history began. From about 1862 to 1865, hardly a drop of rain fell on the SCV. SoCal and California? Ditto. Why is this important? Cattle. Ignacio del Valle owned most of what comprises the Santa Clarita Valley today. Besides citrus, veggies and other ag crops, Ignacio was one of the biggest cattlemen in the West. Cattle prices dropped in spring 1862 from a high of about $75 PER head to — are you sitting down? — a measly quarter per head in 1865. Ignacio, like other Spanish land barons, would borrow money against the next beef sale to run their ranches and buy things like saddles that cost the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce today. Many, including Iggy, would end up getting wiped out before the next rains visited.
NOT SO HOME ON THE RANGEY — Not too many know that the SCV was the site of one of the biggest and certainly longest range wars. The Castaic Range War would last about 40 years and take an estimated 27 lives. On Feb. 28, 1890, land baron William Chormicle shot dead Dolores Cook and George Walton, who were in the employ of his rival, W.W. “Wurt” Jenkins, aka, The Baron of Alcatraz and The Baron Of Castaic. Chormicle and Jenkins laid claim to much of the same land. Dolores? Had a big moustache. Dolores was a man’s name back in the late 19th century. Chormicle and his henchman, George Walton, were found not guilty in the Los Angeles murder trial about a month later.
BRING A PILLOW — We’ve spoken much about Helen Hunt Jackson, the spinster who wrote one of the most influential novels in American history. “Ramona” started reading leagues and book clubs in the tens of thousands back in the East and Midwest. It launched a westward migration of hundreds of thousands, with descriptions of winter in Southern California — in January. Jackson drew her entire story from the real life of an Indian maiden who lived at the Camulos Ranch. On Feb. 27, 1905, the first stage version of the book was performed at the Mason Opera House In Los Angeles. It was five hours long. For a while, Val Verde was called Ramona Hills after the book.
FEBRUARY 27, 1921
OR, IN TODAY’S PC CLIMES, “THE PERSON OF VAST LINEAGE” — Movie producer Oliver Morosco brought a huge crew up to Newhall to film, “The Halfbreed.” It starred lovely Mary Anderson and Wheeler Oakman. Signal film buff and future Signal Editor Thornton Doelle wrote of Mr. Oakman: “He stands squarely on his own feet and as a student and delineator of virile types of humanity is in a class by himself.”
BEFORE THE DAYS WHEN YOU COULD BUY BEER AT A GAS STATION — Billy Sickles and John Seltzer were getting the tourists and locals to stop by the Culver Garage up Bouquet Canyon. The boys had found a litter of bobcat kittens, kidnapped them and displayed them in front of the gas station.
FEBRUARY 27, 1931
LONG BEFORE THE KINKS SANG, “I’M AN APE MAN” — There was the baseball team. Our Newhall Nine played host to a squad who called themselves The Apemen. Newhall’s men bested their simian counterparts, 15-11, despite having to pull a catcher out of the crowd. The semi-pro monkeys from Tarzana were best known for their owner — world famous adventure novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs, who lived in the San Fernando Valley town named after one of literature’s most famous characters, Tarzan of the Apes. Hm. Odd. You’d think when naming a city with a Spanish heritage after a male fictional character, they would have named the place, “Tarzan-o” instead of “Tarzan-a.”
SOMEBODY’S GOT SOMETHIN’ ABOUT BILLIARDS — Yet another one (this time, the Saugus Billiard Parlour) burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances. My dear pal, Gladys Laney, who passed away not that long ago at 104, shared an ancient rumor with me. She recalled a story whispered around town in the 1920s and 1930s about a jealous boyfriend who kept burning down the SCV’s after-hour establishments, from the dance halls to the billiard palaces. The Saugus pool hall was the fifth such establishment to burn in five years. Seems the boyfriend didn’t dance, shoot pool or enjoy his girlfriend being the center of attention.
A NOVEL PTA IDEA: GRASS — Our parent-teacher group passed the hat and got some volunteers. They laid sprinklers and seed so the kids would have a lawn in a few months at Newhall Elementary.
TWO FAMOUS COMICS — Charlie Mack, world-famous vaudevillian, came back to town to rest up with a pal of his — THE W.C. Fields. The noted movie star would spend several years, off and on, living in Newhall on 8th Street, right up from today’s Californian Apartments.
FEBRUARY 27, 1941
THE RICH LIFE OF BAILES — Rustlers liberated three steers and two heifers from Bailey Haskell up Bouquet. It was never hard for Bailey to find his way home. He lived in Haskell Canyon. All of it.
TOWARD OUR SECOND YARD OF SPRINKLES — The rains of ’41 wouldn’t let up. We were above the 31-inch mark for rain when the eighth storm in a row hit our valley. We had 17 inches of rain in the month of February alone. That would stand as a record — until 1969, when we had 30 inches of rain. In February. Heck. On Jan. 26, 1969, 16 inches of rain fell here. That’s right. In one day.
THE DARK SIDE OF VALENTINE’S DAY — Right after Valentine’s Day, jilted lover and crack mechanic Bill Duckworth got drunk and tried to kill himself. He left a note about his broken heart and tried to commit suicide by running a hose from his exhaust pipe to the interior of his car. Folks pulled him out and except for the broken heart and hangover, he was fine.
HOCK. SPIT. BUT NO PTOOEY. — Curt Wilson up Sand Canyon way was rather happy. He just signed a contract with a big ad agency. They rented two of his barns for huge signs advertising a top national brand of chewing tobacco. Wilson noted such income “… sure beats work.”
FEBRUARY 27, 1951
KNOCK ON WOOD. NO BOMB. — People being people, and therefore, Santa Claritans being Santa Claritans, we have to worry about something. Back in 1951, it was nuclear war with Russia and/or China. Local governments got together and formulated a plan to turn the then-minimum-security prison Wayside Honor Rancho (Peter Pitchess Detention Center today) into a giant emergency disaster hospital. Three hundred women signed up as volunteer nurses.
FEBRUARY 27, 1961
HERE’S A CASE AGAINST DRINKING & DRIVING — Val Verdean Arthur Mack drove two lady friends to a distant canyon to pass the time with the beautiful vistas and downing a pint of whiskey. Mack’s wife got wind of the picnic and hunted her hubby down. She christened one of the dates over the noggin with said bottle of rye, calling the lady a, well, “blankety-blankety-blank-blanking… no-good husband stealer.” Then she stabbed Art several times with a butcher knife. He was treated for multiple stab wounds and Mrs. Mack got herself arrested. Again, do note. Just two weeks after Valentine’s Day.
FROM LANGUID CATTLE RANCH TO URBAN SPRAWL — The Schmidt Family sold off a good chunk of their huge 6S Ranch to developers who would build North Oaks. It was the beginning of the housing boom in Canyon Country. For a while, the old 6S (named after the six Schmidts) airfield was operated as a private airstrip and helicopter port.
FEBRUARY 27, 1971
NOT LIKE TEXAS, BUT STILL PAINFUL — Two long weeks after the Feb. 9 big quake, residents of the Cordova Motor Home Park finally got their gas turned back on. For half-a-month, residents shivered with makeshift butane stoves and extra blankets.
AMAZING HOW SICK AND EVIL PEOPLE CAN BE — A blue sports car pulled off the road along Sierra Highway. The driver and passenger started shooting at a small herd of horses. When ranch manager Joe Jaramillo ran out, he found one of his mares down, nearly fatally wounded by the gunfire. Jaramillo had no choice but to put the mare out of her misery. It also ended the life of the unborn colt she was carrying. They never found the culprits.
GUESS IT RUNS IN THE FAM — Mr. Muriel Klahs wandered into the sheriff’s station on 6th Street, slapped the counter and ordered a beer. He was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. Next day, his wife stumbles in to bail him out. While she’s waiting, Mrs. Klahs slid off the bench, spread-eagle on the floor. She was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
FEBRUARY 27, 1981
DEMON RUM — Stephen Woodall was arrested for the third time in two weeks for drunken driving. He had been arrested for vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving during an accident two months prior to that.
PIRU MANSION BURNS — The Newhall family has had enough adventure in their lives to fill 100 miniseries. Forty years ago this week, the historic Piru mansion, home of newspaper legends Scott and Ruth Newhall, burned to the ground. There was an estimated $2 million in damage, including irreplaceable period antiques. Adding insult to injury, the mansion had just undergone a lengthy renovation. Pat Everson, a Fillmore painter (“… a WOMAN house painter,” Signal Publisher Scott Newhall had clarified) started the blaze when she was using a blow torch to knock paint chips off the trim near the roof. The flames were sucked under and the whole home was gone in a matter of minutes. Although devastated, Scotty never lost his sense of humor. Wandering through the smoldering rubble afterward, he kiddingly lamented that he had lost his pornography collection. When asked by a Los Angeles TV reporter (“… a WOMAN TV reporter”) how he felt, Scott responded with a jovial smile and “never felt better!” With genius follow-up, the correspondent asked how Scott could feel so chipper. Quoth Mr. Newhall: “Well. Ask a stupid question …”
See that up ahead? The yawning vortex, spinning with light and invitation? That’s our stop, the Santa Clarita of present time. We’re not allowed to go further, into Future SCV. Some fine print about beachfront property in Westridge and some vague reference of us teaming up with the monkeys to defeat Artificial Intelligence for control of the planet. Had they only taught math in public schools, we would have had a chance. Anyway. See you in seven back here at The Mighty Signal. Until then, big tip of the O’Farrell and a hearty — vayan con Dios amigos!
Boston is launching his own publishing house, John Boston Books. The first is a three-volume set, “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America.” That’d be us. In the meantime, you can buy Boston’s “Melancholy Samurai,” “Naked Came the Sasquatch” and other of his books at bit.ly/John_Boston. If you liked the book, wouldn’t mind at all if you left a kind 5-star review.