Well happy first weekend of December in this science fiction-sounding date of 2021. Next thing you know, they’ll be inventing little flying saucers with cameras in them, electronic garage door openers and teaching kindergartners how they feel about math. It’s absolutely grand to be atop a fine steed in Santa Clarita. If I may say, all you fine Santa Clarita saddlepals look like you popped right off the cover of a Shepler’s western wear catalogue.
I STILL have a great pair of Shepler’s ranch jeans I bought 25 years ago. Size 38. Still fit into them if I put my arms in first instead of my legs.
This morning, we have a most excellent time ride through local history.
We’ve got rustlers, floods, movie stars, and long-forgotten Saugus caves big enough to hide a shipment of critical race theory textbooks to inspect. There are sensitivity quizzes and Santa Claus. Bonus for this trail ride, Dec. 2 is Walt Cieplik’s birthday today. Walt’s my dad, that handsome cowpoke in the Stetson and old duster who rides quietly next to me every Sunday.
Time and space being relative, why don’t we spread out into one impressive line and mosey through the local time continuum?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
MIA MISSION — Back on Dec. 3, 1804, the Asistencia de San Francisco Xavier was founded at Castaic Junction. For years, it was known as the “Missing California Mission.” The last adobe wall to the mission was bulldozed in the 1930s to make way for a feed trough for Newhall Ranch.
LIQUOR THAT TOUCHES THOU LIPS SHALL NOT TOUCH MINE. (HA! FINGERS CROSSED!!) — Kansas Gov. John St. John and some investors founded a Prohibitionist community in Newhall on Dec. 3, 1887. Future U.S. presidential candidate and SCV resident Henry Clay Needham would manage the housing project. Sales weren’t exactly brisk, even among Prohibitionists. If you bought property and built a house or business on it, you had to sign a binding contract that if anyone were caught drinking on your property, the land and buildings would be forfeited back to the seller.
OUR FIRST STAGECOACH. OUR FIRST STAGECOACH ACCIDENT. — A jovial teamster, Phineas Banning, drove the first stagecoach (a Concord model, bright red and yellow) through Fremont Pass/Beale’s Cut on Dec. 5, 1854. Well. He sorta drove it through the 30-foot cut. After getting to the top of the then-steep grade (and making his passengers walk because the horses couldn’t pull the load), Banning and his team kind of fell down the other side. Here is a description from one of the passengers, Major Horace Bell, from his wonderful book, “Reminiscenes
of a Ranger”:
“The horses could not pull the grade with all the riders, so they were forced to get out and walk to the top. The question among Banning’s nine wondering passengers who had toiled up the mountain on foot was how the stage could descend. He cracked the whip, tightens his lines, whistles to his trembling mustangs, urges them to the brink of the precipice and they are going down!!! Rackety, clatter, bang. Sometimes the horses ahead of the stage, sometimes the stage ahead of the horses. All, however, going down, down, down with a CRASH! Finally, the conglomerations of chains, harness, coach, mustangs and Banning were found in an inextricable mass of confusion, contusions, cracks and breaks, piled in a thicket of chaparral at the foot of the mountain. ‘Didn’t I tell you,’ said Banning. ‘A beautiful descent, far less difficult than I had anticipated.’”
Banning had to send a crew of 50 men to repair the horses, coach and road.
RELATIVE OF A NO-GOOD STINKER — Again on Dec. 5, this time in 1890, Frank LeBrun was deeded a huge section of San Francisquito Canyon for his ranch. One of LeBrun’s nephews, Gus, would later be the murderer of Newhall Sheriff Ed Brown in the 1920s in the infamous shootout in Railroad Canyon.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, O’ SENOR ORIGINAL COWBOY — Our silent film superstar, William S. Hart, was born on Dec. 6, 1864, making him 81 when he died in 1946. Hart was practically blind his last few years, despite an eye surgery that returned some of his sight. Hart made his way around the mansion by feeling familiar objects and furniture. Despite his loss of sight, he could describe every minute detail of one of his famous Russell paintings.
DECEMBER 4, 1921
SING IT WITH ME: “PEANUTS LOVES THE HALFBREED!” The Oliver Morosco Production Co. was in town, filming the epic silent film, “The Halfbreed.” Wheeler Oakman (great stage name!) starred in the title role. Signal editor and recently widowed Blanche Brown (whom the kids called “Peanuts” behind her back because she was into health food) was apparently quite smitten by leading man Oakman. Quoth Blanche, “As the saying goes, ‘He stands squarely on his own feet,’ and as a student and delineator of virile types of humanity, Mr. Oakman is in a class by himself.”
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD — The town was getting ready for their newest neighbor — some actor fellow named Bill Hart. Workers were putting some final touches on the old house of former owner George Smith. On this date, 45 cedar trees were planted on his ranch.
THE WHEELS OF PROGRESS GRIND SLOWLY — For the third time in as many years, local mucky-mucks rallied to talk about incorporating the Little Santa Clara River Valley into a city. We’re a little slow in these parts. It would take another 66 years for cityhood.
DECEMBER 2, 1922
CAN’T HAVE A TIME RIDE WITHOUT HIM —This is certainly one of the top and most important dates in history to me. My dad, close pal, advisor, hiking partner, dispenser of asked-for and unasked-for advice and former trusted bench press spotter at the gym, Walter Cieplik, was born on a small farm 101 years ago today. He made his transition back in Oct. 13, 2013, and I’m confident as this newspaper hits the streets and Internet, he’s taking his morning constitutional, hiking the back mountain trails of Santa Clarita. Love ya, Pops…
DECEMBER 4, 1931
FROM WORLD FAMOUS TO HUMBLE SOUL — Young Bill Gafney, stuntman, dislocated his shoulder on Andy Jauregui’s spread in Placerita Canyon. Bill was doubling for child star Buzz Barton when he was thrown from his horse. Buzz, by the way, was a local product who attended Newhall Elementary in between movies. His real name was Red Lamoreaux. Buzz/Red was one of the most famous people in the world as a child actor. His parents spent all his fortune and Buzz Barton ended up being a bunkhouse cowboy in Newhall until his dying day on Nov. 20, 1980.
NINE TOES NESE — On this date, Louise Nese, an Angeleno, went hunting for quail and ended up shooting toe instead. Nese was taking a rest and, ignoring every hunting safety tip and common sense, rested his rifle barrel down on his left big toe. Somehow, he did this with his finger on the trigger. Shoe and digit were blown to smithereens and Nese had the unpleasant experience of limping back to civilization.
I’M TELLING YOU. WE’RE LONG OVERDUE FOR A BLIZZARD. — A scant 90 years back, we had a lovely snowfall dust the valley. It snowed heavier in the hills, making our home town prettier than a Yellowstone postcard.
DECEMBER 4, 1941
NOW IT’S THE ‘RUSHING’ ROAD — Newhall Avenue used to run smack dab where McBean Parkway is today. And it wasn’t paved. In the rainy season, the little main thoroughfare that connected the old Newhall Airport to civilization would get a bit messy. In fact, locals called it, “The Russian Road” or “Russian Highway” as a joke because of the immense potholes and washouts. On this date, due to fog in Los Angeles, 10 giant military transport planes had to make emergency landings at Newhall International. A convoy of buses got stuck in mud a foot above their axles trying to reach the airport to rescue the stranded crews and passengers.
AS ME AND JOHN DUTTON OF ‘YELLOWSTONE’ LIKE TO SAY, “HANG ’EM.” — Cattle rustlers were, well, boy howdy, thick as thieves around here. A gang of four rustlers was arrested the week before. While they were cooling their heels in the hoosegow, more cattle thieves raided the Daries Ranch, butchering a 700-pound white-face heifer.
RATS! — Mrs. Olive Carey, former actress and wife of the famed actor Harry, was driving to Newhall with her sister and sis’s baby. The women thought they smelled a brush fire somewhere and kept looking for smoke or flames. Finally, Olive pulled the car over on a vista to get a better view. Kept smelling smoke. When they turned around, the engine was on fire. Seems a rat built a nest on the block. Damage was a little seared paint on the hood.
DECEMBER 4, 1951
WRONG HOSE — CHP officer Joe Green saved a life on this date. Green stopped by a car on the side of the road. On closer inspection, he noted a garden hose running from the exhaust to the front window vent. Green pulled out a suicidal fireman. The firefighter had been trying to take his life for nearly six hours. But his car stalled and he couldn’t get it started, then, the hose didn’t fit very well over the exhaust and not much carbon monoxide was seeping into the vehicle. Do we say, “Lucky him?”
NOT GIVING, BUT LEAVING THE FINGER — Oil worker Ken Morton lost the tip of his pinkie finger, but counted himself lucky to be alive. He was atop a huge oil derrick in Hasley Canyon when it exploded and caught on fire. Morton twice tried to climb down, but insistent flames were between Morton and the ground. Finally, he jumped about 20 feet, but left the edge of his little finger on the metal derrick. Other than a couple of bruises, and the missing pinkie, he was OK.
DECEMBER 4, 1961
BEST PRE-CHRISTMAS COMEBACK IN WORLD HISTORY —John Houdeshell had to be the most diplomatic and quick-on-his-feet character in town. Seems a customer left a custom Santa suit for cleaning and all the kids in town kept running into his Howdy Dry Cleaning shop on San Fernando Road to ask what the deal was. One small fry demanded to know, if Santa lived in the North Pole, why did he travel all the way down to Newhall to get his suit cleaned. Houdeshell answered with the obvious: “Because we’re the best dry cleaners between here and there…”
DECEMBER 2, 1962
AND, HIS NAME IS ‘NOEL’ SPELT BACKWARDS — Journalist, historian, videographer, garage sale pest, past-president of the SCV Hysterical (Historical?) Society, and, especially, a man of good medicine, Mr. Leon Worden was born on this date. If he hadn’t have been, the SCV would be several parades poorer.
DECEMBER 4, 1971
THEM TWO WERE FULL OF HOT AIR — Arne Vidstrand used to spend quality time with his son, Erick, 14, in an unusual way. They would send out balloons filled with helium, with the note attached: “Whoever finds this, please send balloon back to this address (in Saugus). A reward of 25 cents will be given to the person who finds it. Thank you.” Father and son got a letter in the mail with the returned balloon. It had traveled all the way to the Grass Valley Ranch in Austin, Nevada.
YUP. YOU MAY LIVE IN RATSBURG. — Residents were grumbling about all the caverns, tunnels and abandoned mines in Saugus, specifically in the Bonelli and Galaxy Highlands tracts. Youths would play in the caves and one group of lads found an old cave so big, it was living-room-sized and they used to make campfires in it. In the late 19th century, Chinese workers, unemployed after the railroad was finished in Newhall and Saugus, went into mining. There are stories that the Chinese dug these caves to keep away from both whites and their own Tong organized crime gangs. Miners would rent their digs from Newhall Land and Farming for $1 a month. However, when NL&F foreman Jon Arnett would ride over to collect the rent, they’d scurry into the pits to avoid paying. Arnett came up with the name, “RATSBURG” for the Seco Canyon area because the miners ran like rats. The old mines and caves were eventually bulldozed shut in the 1970s.
WHAT A COMPLETELY WRETCHED DAY — Thanksgiving was not a memorable holiday for Newhall photographer Jack Moten. In the span of a day he suffered mightily. He he nearly lost an eye while repairing his car. Thieves broke into his business and stole a few thousand dollars in equipment and cash, while wrecking the place. Then, his house burned down. Ouch.
MIGHTY MIKE — COC’s Mike Martinez took first place in the junior college state cross-country championships.
DECEMBER 4, 1981
SO MUCH FOR SUNNY SANTA CLARITA — A cold, heavy rain pelted the valley and a clogged drain made a 4-foot-deep lake at the Sierra Heights trailer park in Sand Canyon. Snow covered the valley at the higher elevations.
WORST OF WICKS — SO wish Randy was still with us so I could dryly note, again: “EVERYTHING’S the Worst of Wicks, isn’t it?” Can still see his cherubic giggle. Anywho. Reader Tom Castler evidently didn’t like the opinions of our Randy Wicks, deemed one of the best political cartoonists in the world. Castler sent in a very primitive drawing of the south end of a north-traveling horse, with the brand, “WICKS” stamped into a hind quarter. Some of us — and I’m NOT saying it was publisher Tony Newhall — quipped that the sketch bore a striking resemblance to The Signal’s renowned artist.
Almost Merry Christmas to you all, Happy Hannukah. See you dear saddlepals in seven back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post. Until then — ¡Feliz dia de Accion de Gracias y vayan con Dios, amigos!”