John Boston | Long Overdue: A WOWS Saddle for Mr. Doelle

John Boston
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“For years, nay, sneaking up on decades, I’ve been lobbying to get Thornton Doelle on Newhall’s Walk of Western Stars.” That lead sentence? I wrote that on March 5, 2017, in a Mr. SCV column. For years, to quote myself: “…nay, sneaking up on decades,” I’ve begged the city. Made calls, had meetings, wrote letters, sent emails, bribed with doughnuts and did everything short of convincing gullible Signal interns to don face paint and carry protest signs to City Hall to protest Thornie’s suspicious absence on our vaunted WOWS. 

The city of Santa Clarita’s Cowboy Fest is this valley’s shining homage to our rich Western heritage. From the gang at Melody Ranch to every blessed private and city soul who volunteered, your name is writ in heaven. Thank you. 

One side event of CF is the enshrining of people of Western heritage with a local connection. It’s weighted heavily toward entertainers. Once picked, the lucky cowperson and their Stetson are immortalized with a bronze saddle plopped into quick-drying cement on today’s Main Street in Downtown Newhall. The likes of John Wayne, “Two-Gun” Bill Hart, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Sand Canyon’s impresario Cliffie Stone, Gary Cooper, Black cowboy movie stars Herb Jeffries and Woody Strode and other caballeros and caballero-ettes were enshrined. Even Agua Dulce rancher and person-of-stunt, the late Jack Williams, snuck in.. My good pal Jack somehow made the cut, despite spending more time under a horse instead of atop. I used to kid Jack he should be enshrined in the Australian version of WOWS. 

I’ve muttered over the validity of some of our inductees. Politics and backroom shenanigans are a backdoor away. I remember a certain worshipped local icon/city councilbabe who shall remain anonymous with the initials of JAD was a big fan of actress Virginia “Hold The” Mayo. Ginny was famous for such stretch-of-the-prairie flicks as “Seven Days Ashore” and “Captain Horatio Hornblower.” VM was also top-billed in the oater, “Congo Crossing.” 

While our Cowboy Fest was cancelled this year, we did have WOWS. Richard Bartlett Schroder was inducted. Ricky’s known for his roles in several Westerns, most notably “Lonesome Dove,” and he knows which foot goes into which stirrup. Welcome, Ricky. The other inductee was either Danny Trejo or Cesar Romero. I get the two confused. If it was Cesar Romero, he was in “Lust in the Dust.” There’s a former disgraced SCV Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill joke somewhere, but let’s avoid it. I can make a serious case for Mr. Romero and kudos for the tireless work of his alleged vampire-stand-in love child getting Cesar his saddle. Heavens. Cesar was THE Cisco Kid (1939 movie). Can’t beat that.  

But, year after year after year after year, I beg and plead to get perhaps THE most deserving soul — Thornton Doelle — onto the gum-incrusted Walk of Western Stars. It seems Ranger Doelle’s main sin in being ignored was that he didn’t play a Western hero. He WAS a Western hero. Bona fide. 

Thornton was literally the SCV’s first cowboy poet. He penned and published dozens of haunting, lovely poems about love, nature, the human soul and condition — ALL of them moving odes to the beauties of the Santa Clarita Valley. In the 1910s and 1920s, he was the forest ranger here in Santa Clarita. Doelle, with the help of a mule and shovel, literally cut many of the back-forest hiking trails hikers use today. He was editor of both The Saugus Enterprise AND The Newhall Signal in the 1920s and was responsible for their merger. He wrote tirelessly in editorials and columns about nature conservation.  

In 1923, he founded — FOUNDED — Santa Clarita’s first theater group. The Newhall Community Players was the precursor to the Canyon Theater Guild where for years the good cowboy directed, produced and starred in stage productions. 

Local stage productions. 

Thornton Doelle was a bona fide, sidearm-carrying cowboy, gunslinger and lawman involved in the winning end of actual SCV shootouts. 

In the mid 1920s, eight men pulled off an armed bank robbery in Antelope Valley. The gang headed toward Santa Clarita and AV lawmen phoned ahead to arrange a hot-lead welcome with Newhall sheriff’s deputies. Doelle put a poem aside to be deputized and was involved in a shootout in which two holdup artists were killed, three others wounded and the living arrested. A week later, they held the trial in Newhall. The defense attorney was making his opening remarks when he froze. Sitting in the jury? Thornton Doelle Himself. 

The L.A. lawyer stammered that no way should Doelle be in the jury box, pointing out that Thorny had shot one of his clients. The judge calmly retorted: “I know no man better than Thornton Doelle to sort out the facts of the case. He was there.” Within minutes, the seven-man jury found the perps guilty. 

So. In a week, Doelle shot and captured bank robbers, wrote a front-page story about it, wrote an editorial about too-easy-to-obtain firearms, convicted the crooks, wrote a story about that, another editorial about swift justice AND penned a poem. Entitled “Soledad,” Here’s part of it: 

“Some people think Soledad Canyon Is a country where everything’s dry, Where there’s nothing but cactus and sage brush And that men go there only to die. That the old Santa Clara is just a mirage And there’s nothing that’s good there at all That the lot of a man who must stay there Is like Adam was after the fall. But those folks who live in the canyon Have a quite different story to tell…” 

Doelle went on to paint a touching tribute about the people of future Canyon Country. 

We devote our adoration to people pretending to be Western. This forgotten Signal editor, cowboy, theater founder, poet, musician, ranger, essayist, and, alas, occasional saloon brawler was the real deal.  

Thornton Doelle. Cowboy. Poet. Artist. No man more deserves his bronze saddle on Main Street’s Walk of Western Stars. 

Several times, John Boston has been named best columnist in Los Angeles, California and America. Visit his bookstore at Buy something. Leave 5-stars. 

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