Merry Darn Christmas, dear saddlepals. Gifts, chow and rushing hither and yon, trust today is a peaceful one, as it should be. Can’t think of a better way to drop any cares and woes than to head out on a horseback ride.
Dress warmly. And cowboy fashionable. We’ll be moseying back to SCV Christmases past where snow covers the back canyons. We’ll show you how your hometown newspaper, The Mighty Signal, helped build William S. Hart’s castle. Then, there’s the usual squadron of scalawags, crooks and colorful souls that helped make us what we are today.
Raising a thermos of hot cocoa as a Christmas Day toast to you dear friends and neighbors. Shall we mosey into the mystic?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
TOMMY WAS A CHRISTMAS BABY — Day before Christmas, in 1827, Thomas F. Mitchell was born in Tennessee. He would later move out West and become one of the founding fathers of the Soledad Canyon area. Interesting, Mitchell came out here to be alone and quiet. An epic gold and mineral rush boomed around him from Canyon Country to Acton.
DECEMBER 25, 1921
NOT WHAT YOU’D CALL HAPPY MATRIMONY — These were really the good old days. William S. Hart showed up to spend a few days in Newhall at his newly purchased Horseshoe Ranch. Hart was accompanied by his teen bride, Winifred Westover, and her mother. They would divorce in a few months but the acrimony would go long on after Hart’s death in 1946. Westover would claim they had never been legally divorced and would try to claim the Hart fortune and Newhall mansion. She lost several rounds of litigation, which lasted for nearly a decade and that’s why we have Hart Park today. By the way. The Harts didn’t stay in the castle. It wasn’t built yet. The famed silent star always had a connection to The Mighty Signal. In fact, he took a stack of Signals to map out where the road would go to his future epic home. Hart would tear off a Signal sheet, lay one on the ground every few feet, then place a rock on it as a guide.
YOU GOTTA HAVE HART — A small valley of only 500 souls and we had two Harts. There was the world-famous actor and the rancher, Ed. Not related.
MOISTURIZING — Speaking of ranchers, those who lived off the soil were pretty happy. A drought-ending storm fell in three days, filling up irrigation ponds and raising the well levels.
NOT EXACTLY A CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR THE RIDGE ROUTE — The storm washed out several dozen places, stranding Dodges, Essexes and Studebakers a yard-deep in mud. According to train station manager John Gifford, up to that point in history, this three-day storm was the heaviest one-time storm since they kept records in 1875. (In January of 1943, we would record around 14 inches in 36 hours.)
YOU DON’T LOOK A DAY OVER 140 — Judge John Powell held a birthday party this week 100 years back and a who’s who of pioneers were there: the John Giffords, the Zieglers, the Mentrys, the Needhams. The famed jurist turned 82 and boasted his goal was to make it to 150. As the local historian, I assure you, he didn’t make it. Not even close.
WANTED. DEAD OR ALIVE. — Rancher Frank LaSalle was famous for his ranch — both for its use as a movie site and as a bootlegging operation. (We’re not saying Frank was involved in bootlegging; just that his ranch was used as a moonshine factory over the years.) On this date, Frank put up a rather hefty reward of $500 (enough to buy a house in those days!). By the end of 1921, Frank had lost 18 head of cattle to rustlers, including one prize bull. (Frank’s brand, in case any of you saddlepals see a steer wandering around this morning, was “XLA.”) Frank also put up $50 to anyone seeing a stranger “…trespassing on my property with a horse and saddle.” Hmm. Wonder if Frank reneged on the reward if someone just spotted a cattle rustler riding bareback?
DECEMBER 25, 1931
CROWLAND — Two huge lighted and live Christmas trees brought oohs and aahs from the locals. Mrs. Tom Frew and Charlie Mack set up some spectacular displays that illuminated the night and gave Santa good bearings for Newhall. Mack, by the way, was the world-famous and now retired vaudevillian who retired here. He built those fabled rock houses on 8th Street that are still sitting today. Mack had intended to build an entire big neighborhood of rock houses for artists and actors on Wayman, Arcadia and 8th streets. The place was then called “Crowland” after Mack’s famous Two Black Crows blackface act.
NOT A MERRY CHRISTMAS FOR THE McKOWN FAMILY — The McKowns’ 14-year-old son, Bill, picked up a loaded and cocked shotgun to go hunting. It went off, tearing his hand completely off and sending a charge into his vitals. Poor kid died.
THE DOWNSIDE OF AUTOMOBILES — A cold rain fell in the valley and a pretty good dumping of snow decorated Agua Dulce. Ranchers were stranded. Well. The ones who drove cars.
LOCAL CAVEMEN — A visitor went to the old Cruzan mine in Texas Canyon and found a cave that went back 150 feet into the planet. He also found a box of ancient dynamite.
DECEMBER 25, 1941
GOING POSTAL — With our new entry into World War II coupled with Christmas, this was the busiest day in the history of the local post office up to this date, according to Postmaster Opal Houghton Duchene. Guess she’d know.
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU — Fielding Wood swore this one was true. He reported a Newhall boy went to the Selective Service office to report for the draft. He said he had to be excused from military duty because of a severe vision problem. He was granted a 4-F for his eyes. The sergeant then noticed the boy walk across the street and into the movie house. He sat next to the teen, who noticed the gruff triple-striper glowering at him in the dark. Said the 4-F, looking in the sergeant’s general direction: “Excuse me. Can you tell me if this is the bus back to Newhall?”
DECEMBER 25, 1951
WHOLE LOTTA SHAKING GOING ON — A pretty good size earthquake hit the Gorman area and was felt here in Newhall. It was initially estimated between a 5.5 and 6 on the Richter Scale. Burglar alarms went off, dishes rattled, and Christmas trees shimmied, but there was hardly any damage. For one thing, there was hardly anything out here…
NOT LIKE THEY TEACH SMARTS IN COLLEGE — You didn’t want to be a pledge at Phi Beta Nu fraternity at Los Angeles City College. Tom Forbes of Agua Dulce was awakened at 4 a.m. by a weak knock at his ranch house door. Three odd beings were standing on his porch, covered from head to foot with molasses, feathers, paint, shoe polish, eggs and airplane glue. Old draperies were wrapped around them and two were barefoot. Some initiation prank, being left out in Agua Dulce in the snow. A total of 11 of the pledges had been abandoned in the wilds of Agua Dulce. The kind ranchers supplied soap, turpentine, hot coffee, blankets and other essentials for the 11 freezing freshmen. All the kids reported how surprised they were about the kindness of the Agua Dulce folks, but said no ill word against the bozos at Phi Beta Nu who stranded them to freeze.
THE SPIRIT, NOT NECESSARILY THE LETTER — After nine years on the bench, Judge Art Miller retired. C.M. MacDougall took over as the local jurist. The interesting thing about “Mac” was that he was a businessman (who owned the Saugus Cafe) and had not passed the bar exam yet. In fact, he flunked it many times before finally passing.
DECEMBER 25, 1961
HMMMM. WONDER IF AL HAD A PENSION — Al Jennings, desperado, retired, of Newhall passed away on this date. In his youth, he had been a train, stage and bank robber in the Wild West days of Santa Clarita.
BIG CAT TROUBLE — There had been a serious bout of cattle rustling in the valley. Rancher and businesswoman, Sylvia Gonzales, 72, had her Honby spread struck by cattle thieves. Rising at dawn, Christmas Eve morning, her foreman found one steer with a broken back and another dying pitifully from a crushed skull. Their detecting deduced it wasn’t a two-headed desperado but rather, a four-legged one. A massive set of puma tracks were found around the carcass.
DECEMBER 25, 1971
QUIT CLOWNING AROUND? — Clown Hobo Kelley and Santa Claus were the grand marshals of the Downtown Newhall Christmas Parade.
THE MAN BEHIND CALARTS — Roy Disney, brother of Walt and one of the founding fathers of Valencia’s CalArts, died 50 years back.
DECEMBER 25, 1981
TREAT FOR RUBBERNECKERS —An Army convoy stopped in town for a bite to eat. When they came back, they couldn’t turn around one of their giant trucks and had to unload a tank in the middle of town.
BATTLE OF NUMBERS — Not too long ago, we were in the 805 area code. There was a minor war between locals to switch area codes in 1981. Some local business folk wanted us to be switched over to the 818 area with the San Fernando Valley. Others wanted us to stay 805. The 805ers won out.
HERD THEM OVER TO THE SALAD BAR — We were in the middle of the drought and most of the Yuppies in town didn’t pay it any mind. Bob Braley did. Bob was head of cattle operations for Newhall Land & Farming and had to move 3,500 head of cattle to greener pastures. There just wasn’t any grass to be nibbled on The Farm.
As the old joke goes, won’t see you for another year. We’ll get back together in 2022 for another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Cripes. Hopefully, come yonder, John Boston Books will be spurting out volumes. Whelp. Until then — ¡Feliz Navidad y vayan con Dios, amigos!”