A warm and Western howdy to you, dear saddlepals, friends and neighbors. We’ve a most interesting trek ahead into the back canyons of SCV history and lore. There’s pistol fighters and Manly and Rodgers. That’d be the two of the most famous long-distance hikers in California history — not the Canyon Theatre Guild vaudeville act.
There’s giant earthquakes, crooks, lovers, dufuses, floods, fires and the most important date in SCV history — Jan. 8, 2003. Cripes. Someone turned 19 yesterday…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
TIFFT. RHYMES WITH RIFFT. — Some of you have heard about the old Gage and Red Rover mines a few miles north of here up in Acton. Henry T. (stands for Tifft, two ‘F’s’) Gage owned it for years. He took office as governor of California on Jan. 5, 1899. Gage started out as a young lawyer, sheep stockman, real estate wheeler and dealer, businessman and prominent corporate attorney with some big-bucks clients. Gage was a partisan Republican and bristled at both editorials and observations that he was a puppet for the Southern Pacific Railroad. History can be circular. Gage was governor during the big bubonic plague epidemic in San Francisco at the start of the 20th century.
THE SHOPKEEPER, THE TEAMSTER & THE GUNFIGHTER — Back on Jan. 8, 1869, an unlikely trio joined forces in the infant petroleum business. Businessman Sanford Lyon (Lyons Avenue is named after Sanny and his twin brother, the pistol fighter Cyrus), Henry Clay Wiley (Wiley Canyon) and Bill Jenkins (aka, the Baron of Alcatraz and later patriarch in one of the greatest range wars in American history in Castaic) began a primitive drilling operation in Pico Canyon. It was the first known oil well dug in this valley and the beginning of the first commercial oil well in California.
FROM PARADISE TO FIREWOOD — We’ve oft spoken of William Manly and John Rogers, the young pioneers who hiked 200 miles out of Death Valley to look for help for the stranded small wagon train party of 11 people, including four small children. Manly penned the famous “Death Valley in ’49” book about his adventures. He wrote about his near epiphany of seeing the SCV for the first time: “There before us was a meadow of a thousand acres, green as a thick carpet of grass could make it, shaded with oaks, wide-branching and symmetrical, equal to those of an old English park…” Manly went on to poetically describe this area, believed to be near the old Rancho San Francisco headquarters by present-day Magic Mountain. What happened to all those beautiful oaks? Much of the field was cleared for agriculture in 1870 by The Newhall Land & Farming Co. Then, in 1910-1912, NL&F Co. cleared the remaining trees at a dollar a cord to a Los Angeles fuel company that turned the wood into charcoal to furnish charcoal for bakeries.
SURE HOPE HISTORY DOESN’T REPEAT TOMORROW — On Jan. 9, 1857, at 8:13 a.m., a major continent-busting earthquake that may have registered off the Richter Scale was centered in the Fort Tejon area. It knocked over just about all of the few buildings here in the SCV. Cows, horses and men fell over. There was a split at Fort Tejon that was 10 feet in diameter. One sleeping prospector told of waking up from under a tree to see his blankets and a rifle fall into the ground. One Newhall woman was killed when her house collapsed on her. One mountain man reported losing his mule when the earth split and he almost fell into the chasm himself from his bedroll. It’s a good story, but we wonder what self-respecting mountain man is doing sleeping in at 8 in the morning…
JANUARY 8, 1922
WETTER’N THE INSIDE OF A SPINY STICKLEBACK — Much of Southern California was punished by record floods. Houses were flooded, creeks overflowed and bridges were knocked out. Here, in Newhall, where there were just 500 souls scattered about the valley with much real estate in between, there was only minor rain damage and many thankful farmers. The miners weren’t as happy. Most of the mining operations were shut down for about a week, waiting for everything to dry and drain out.
ALMOST L.A. VALLEY — Twenty years ago, there was a serious movement afoot for the San Fernando Valley to separate from Los Angeles and become its own city. A century ago, it was quite the opposite. Businessmen downtown were trying to get the name of the San Fernando Valley changed to — Los Angeles Valley. As of press time, it hasn’t happened.
AND IT’S TRUE A CENTURY LATER — A tent-show movie house set up in Newhall on this date and drew very small crowds. Seems their silent pictures were ancient even by 1922 standards. Back then, most folks drove into San Fernando to the Cody Theater for their flicks. Signal editor and film critic Blanche Brown was rather adamant about the inferior footage, noting: “The people of Newhall want up-to-date pictures or none at all.”
NOT THAT KIND OF SHRINKAGE — Maybe only you hard-core newspaper watchers will appreciate this. The Mighty Signal shrunk for a couple of years. Starting in 1922 and for a couple of years, this newspaper went from regular newspaper size to a tabloid size of about 12 by 16 inches.
JANUARY 8, 1932
A HAPPY STORY — One of the shortcomings of the outlaw life is that they sometimes turn on themselves. Two husband-&-wife couples got into a major fistfight and local officer Jack Story broke it up. In the midst of it, harsh and accusing words were exchanged amongst the four. Turns out the Mistler and Hickam families had been behind a two-year cattle rustling and burglary ring in the SCV. The gang had been stealing everything from coffee to timber. Story threw them in the poky for a good term.
THE GUY WAS DOUBLE CONNECTED! — On this date, a member of the Sons of the American paid the SCV a visit. He was on a fact-finding mission about a distant relative. The visitor? Benjamin Newhall Johnson of Saugus, Massachusetts.
JANUARY 8, 1942
A PROBLEM WITH AUTHORITY? — Army life and early World War II did not sit well with Pvt. Roy Evans. He went AWOL, got drunk, stole a car, lost it, stole another and was arrested in neighboring Lancaster. We’re guessing he might be just now getting out of the federal pen.
GETTING TIRED — One of the first local acts of World War II was to form the first-ever Tire Rationing Board of the Little Santa Clara River Valley (today, that’s the SCV). Rubber was in short supply and the three-member board would make sure any discarded spares would be turned in to the war effort.
A DOFF OF THE STETSON TO DOFF — Local Newhallian Doff Aber finished second in the final national rodeo standings. After competing in 23 major events across America, Doff was called the second best cowboy in the world. A New Mexican fella named Homer Pettigrew finished literally 1,000 points ahead of Doff. I’ve mentioned it before. Cowpokes sometimes have the most interesting names. This is from the national standings. Check out what some mommas named their cowboys: Toots Mansfield; Ike Rude; Smoky Snyder; and, of course, an entire passel of gents named “Red.”
JANUARY 8, 1952
CARGO OF DOOM — They used to call those big lumbering oil tanker rigs “graveyard trucks.” And with good reason. Teamsters would navigate these multi-ton vehicles with bad brakes up and down narrow canyon dirt roads. On this date, Fred Brewer never came back from his petroleum pick-up. His graveyard truck slipped over the edge of a 230-foot drop in Placerita Canyon, killing the oilman.
HART ATTACK — Firewood chopping has its dangers, too. Angeleno Russell Hart (no relation, we’re told), 57, died of a heart attack after busting up some kindling in the freezing confines of Indian Canyon.
JANUARY 8, 1962
DEATH IN MINT CANYON — The slick Santa Clarita roads claimed three lives to start 1962. All three were head-ons. One of the fatalities was on Mint Canyon. Eva Negley died instantly. She was principal of Woodland Hills Elementary.
NEVER GOT TO SEE MUCH OF 1962. OR LIFE. — Curtis Betts went out target shooting in Honby and never came home. In the front seat, his friend reached over to place his rifle flat on the backseat floor. It went off. The friend thought the slug went through the roof, then felt something warm and wet. The bullet had gone through Betts’ head and he died instantly. Not the kind of homecoming a parent wants to have…
DOUBLE TROUBLE — The first babies of 1952 were identical twins — April Rae and June Ruth. April (born in January?) arrived 45 minutes before her sister at 3:24 a.m. Jan. 1.
RAM-BUNCTIOUS — On this date, Les Richter was the guest speaker at the annual Hart High football banquet. Les was captain of the Los Angeles Rams. Can you imagine Cooper Kupp or Matthew Stafford showing up today to speak to the Indians?
JANUARY 8, 1972
’TIL DEATH DO US PART — English native Georgia Culver, 49 and her 53-year-old husband Stanley had moved into a small trailer parked in the rugged Tehachapis. Stanley had respiratory ailments and felt the fresh mountain air would help him. A snowstorm hit, pinning the trailer under several feet of snow, and Stanley died inside when his oxygen supply ran out, during the blizzard. Georgia stayed locked in with her husband’s corpse for four days. Finally, in 6- to 10-foot snowdrifts, she walked four hours for help, making it to Gorman. Three separate times, adults refused to help her, pointing out they were busy playing in the snow. She walked all the way into Gorman to a restaurant where she called county sheriff’s deputies.
WAS IT THE KU KLUX KLAN? — One of the most unusual thefts I’ve ever come upon was when a burglar broke into a Bouquet Canyon home and stole — sheets. Yes. Bedsheets.
TOO BAD OUR CHECKBOOKS DON’T FIT THROUGH THE TIME PORTAL — A half-century back, you could buy a new, large, custom ranch house, in Sand Canyon, TWO ACRES, with an arena and a barn, lots of trees for — are you sitting down — $39,000. Total.
JANUARY 8, 1982
IS THAT A RUG YOU’RE WEARING? — A huge assault team from the heavily armed Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau raided a Wildwood Canyon home. They not only found a big stash of cocaine, but also two stolen rugs. Don’t scoff. The antique Persian rugs were worth $20,000 — each.
YOU KNOW. LIKE, THE MALL? — On this date, The Newhall Land & Farming Co. announced they’d be setting aside 31 acres of prime agricultural land to build a regional shopping center. Today, it’s called the Westfield Valencia Town Center.
LIKE, GEORGE COSTANZA CHEAP — So just how cheap was the Downtown Newhall Merchants Association in the winter of 1982? We used to decorate the main shopping area of the SCV — called Main Street in Newhall today — with a wide variety of holiday goodies. Seems one of the captains of industry tried to get a bargain on some used Christmas signs, which carried such messages as “Season’s Greetings — Newhall!” or “Happy Holidays — Newhall!” A small rain storm hit the valley and washed away the paper with the words, “Newhall” on them. Underneath all the huge holiday signs was the name of the previous owners — “The City of Whittier.”
JANUARY 8, 2003
MY ABSOLUTE MOST FAVORITE DAY IN HISTORY — Was it not a week or so ago when I was giving her baths in the kitchen sink? Singing songs to her all bundled up under the eaves of our porch and explaining that strange sound was rain? Staring in wonder at those eyes that held the secrets of the universe? Nineteen years ago this very day, my daughter, Indiana Boston, was born.
See that up yonder? That brightly spinning vortex with the movie smoke eerily erupting? Hate to say, but that’s where we get off in the here and now of a new 2022. Thanks for the company and conversation dear saddlepals. See all y’all in seven and, until then, — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!”
John Boston’s Time Ranger column appears Saturdays.