Well slap my burrito, a Cálido y occidental howdy to you saddlepals, saddlepal-ettes, vaqueros and vaqueritas this Cinco de Mayo weekend.
This morning, we’ve got an interesting tale of roving packs of wild dogs, some old-fashioned flashing at a rodeo, Tom Mix’s daughter, and yet another brouhaha between local cowboys and visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses during World War II.
There’s Astroturf, yet more rodeo stories, and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit on a controversial local church.
Now seeing that we’re going to be visiting an entire passel of rodeo stars this morning, make sure you’ve got decent cowboy posture in the saddle. And no holding the pinkies out like you’re riding English, either. It tends to invite catcalls…
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
GOLD WAY, WAY YONDER — Despite what you hear on the tours, gold had been discovered long before 1842 here in Santa Clarita. I had an e-mail from a reader back in the 20th century that there had been a gold discovery here in 1760 and am still waiting for some substantiation on that. I point out that Gaspar de Portola, the first recorded white person to enter the SCV, did so nine years after the reader’s claim, in 1769. So, there’s that. But, on May 3, 1842, the San Francisquito Mining District was established, acknowledging the discovery of gold by Don Francisco Lopez, possibly in Placerita Canyon.
ANOTHER U.S. PRESIDENT — We had a pretty big celebrity staying at the Acton Hotel on May 4, 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt stopped off to visit friends and do a little hunting. One of Roosevelt’s pals was none other than Rosy Melrose, the noted transplanted Kentucky pistol fighter who was the still-standing participant in one of the West’s last Middle o’ Main Street mano a mano shootouts. Rosy shot Acton Mayor William H. Broome dead with three shots to the heart. The L.A. Coroner wrote in his report, “Good grouping.” A group of about 500 people from the area traveled into Downtown L.A. for the trial where Melrose was cleared of all charges. Twice. (First time, a juror was bribed.)
MAY 7, 1922
STARVED FOR ENTERTAINMENT — We had a few radios and a rare movie driven into town from San Fernando. Entertainment consisted of singing, playing cards or the guitar, and conversation. When you figure there were only about 500 souls in the valley back then, more than 10,000 people cramming into it for a rodeo must have made it a pretty big event. We held our second annual Newhall Rodeo on this date and it was an epic success. A Signal reporter noted, “The SPCA has taken most of the joy out of steer wrestling.” The old form was invented by famed Black cowboy, Bill Pickett, easily one of the toughest hombres of the old West. Bill invented this style of vaulting from his horse, grabbing the steer by the horns, twisting them 180 degrees, then biting the steer on the lips to pull it down. Talk about liking your steak rare…
MAY 7, 1932
WHO’S WHO OF COWBOYDOM — For the thousands who attended the 11th annual Newhall-Saugus rodeo at the Hoot Gibson rodeo grounds, they got more than their fair money’s worth. Besides all the usual cowboy events, there was a plane crash right outside the grounds. No one was seriously hurt. Also, there was a who’s who of Hollywood there. Besides our own local famous cowboys Hoot Gibson, William S. Hart, Tom Mix and Harry Carey, we had Clark Gable and Will Rogers there, too. Here’s some trivia for you. Tom Mix’s young daughter was there. Her name? Thomasina. Not like the guy was vain or anything.
RANCHERS’ GRISLY DISCOVERY IN AN UNNAMED SAUGUS CANYON — The body of a 60-year-old man named Ralph Wood was found. Sheriff’s deputies think he may have committed suicide by slashing his wrists. The body had been in the canyon for several days and had been partially devoured by coyotes and vultures. They found the man’s wallet, a little bit of cash, and a blood-stained razor nearby. None of the local Wood family knew him as a relative.
GUESS THE LOCALS REALLY LIKED TO DRINK — Franklin Delano Roosevelt was far from being the most popular fellow in the SCV. In the local voting for the 1932 election primary, Herbert Hoover (whose wife, Lou, used to carouse as a girl in Acton) took 251 votes and FDR had 47 votes. It was even worse for our own local boy, Henry Clay Needham. The Prohibitionist candidate who ran for the Oval Office thrice garnered just four votes in his home town.
MAY 7, 1942
WOMEN, WOMEN EVERYWHERE — World War II brought one of the most instantaneous social changes in this nation’s history. Almost overnight, women started entering the workplace, specifically in areas that had been predominantly blue-collar male. The Bermite Powder Co., one of America’s premier suppliers of gunpowder and ammo, began calling for women to fill the three around-the-clock shifts. Eventually, Bermite would be about 70% female. Bermite was also vigorously guarded by the Army (ours) and folks who used to leisurely use it as a shortcut from Placerita Canyon to Soledad were warned. Guards shot first and asked questions later…
WITNESSES vs. COWBOYS — The conflict with the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued. The week before, three of them were beaten by cowboys for protesting the war. (This very paper condemned the church group, calling them religious termites and noting how most of the people in town approved of the beatings.) A group of 50 anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses staged a pro-American/Newhall protest on Spruce Street (today, San Fernando Road). The JW anti-war walkers didn’t show, however. While the protesters filed complaints with the local court and sheriff’s office, no charges were brought against the cowboys.
NO MILK ’TIL TOMORROW — Rationing was slowly set into place. The local Ridgeview Dairy used to make daily deliveries. They switched it to every other day during the war.
MAY 7, 1952
RODEO DRIVE — There were epic traffic jams in the SCV on this date. An estimated 24,000 people showed up to watch the world-famous 26th Annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo. (Technically, it was the 31st annual rodeo. Prior to holding it at Bonelli Stadium, aka, Saugus Speedway, it was held at the Newhall Elementary School grounds before there was a Newhall school there.) Legendary cowboy Bob Maynard won the bareback riding competition. Two cowboys who competed would later become famous actors — the Oscar-winning Ben Johnson and the great character thespian, Slim Pickens.
NOT EXACTLY A WRECK-LESS YOUTH — I surely adored Dean Gallion, Duke of Castaic, and beyond. When my friends and I were young, Dean would lecture about being safe on the streets. But you wouldn’t want to get in a car with him when he was a young man. The unlucky youth had been in two car accidents in front of Hart High while attending there. On this date, his laundry truck blew a tire and flipped. Dean hurt his elbow pretty bad. Dean made his transition just about a year ago at 88.
TELEPHONE TRIVIA — There were 590 telephones hooked up in all the SCV at the end of World War II. Seven years later, that number almost tripled to about 1,600 phones — and 109 locals were still waiting to get connected.
MAY 7, 1962
NOT ANOTHER DAMN DAM!!!! — Many old-timers were shocked when they heard the news. A massive water project was going to be built in the valley. Those who were around to remember the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 here were wondering why the state was going to build a new dam in Castaic, three times the size of the ill-fated one in neighboring San Francisquito Canyon. The old St. Francis dam held, for a very short time, about 38,000 acre-feet of water. Castaic would hold more than 100,000 acre-feet, or, about 32 billion gallons of water. Even forgetting the construction itself, it would be a complicated project, what with land acquisition and downstream water rights involved. Ten years later, a switch would be thrown and 2,500 gallons of water every second were pumped into the lake. It would take three years to fill the huge reservoir.
MAY 6, 1971
NICE DOGGIE DOGGIE DOGGIE — Months after the 1971 earthquake, that no-man’s land around Oat Mountain, separating Newhall from Granada Hills, was the home for a pack of mongrel dogs. The feral predators attacked a state geologist, who fended them off by throwing rocks. The dogs had supposedly been abandoned after the quake and had lived in the wilds and fringes of civilization, off deer, livestock and garbage scraps. Hunters and animal control officers had to go on puppy safaris to either kill or round up the dogs, many of whom were German shepherd-sized. Besides just attacking a human for supper, the group brought the threat of rabies (from birds and squirrels). This group had been as high as 15 dogs but when the last was found, there were only three. There was the mother of all wild dog packs in the hills between Saugus and Antelope Valley in the 1950s. That group numbered around 150 and threatened everything from livestock to the unlucky hiker. A massive posse was formed to eradicate the wild canines.
MAY 7, 1972
ANYTHING TO BEAT JURY DUTY — A Castaic man was rather shocked to discover not only was he called for jury duty, but that they had a dress code. The jury commissioner informed him if he didn’t wear a coat and tie (pants, shirts, shoes, etc.) he would be in contempt of court. Women were required to wear dresses to jury duty.
WHEN WE WERE THE PLASTIC GARDEN OF EDEN — One of the butt-ugliest suburban experiments was launched on this date, 30 years back. The county “planted” several acres of Polypropylene, aka Lawnscape™, aka Astroturf, along the center medians of Valencia Boulevard and Bouquet Canyon Road. The glued-down lawns required no watering, pruning or fertilizing, only the occasional vacuum-cleaning.
MAY 7, 1982
A LAWSUIT OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPORTIONS — On this date, a suit was filed in an Arkansas court against the controversial Tony & Susan Alamo (Not So) Christian Foundation. Around 300 ex-workers demanded $19 million in back pay. The litigants complained they were paid sub-minimum wages and zilch for overtime. I think today we call that, “middle management.” Down the line, Tony Alamo would be convicted on a steno pad of felonies, from kidnapping to rape, fraud, tax evasion and child endangerment, to name a few.
THE MOST MEMORABLE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER IN SCV HISTORY — Rivendale wasn’t around for very long, which I always find sad. The tony equestrian center sat on The Old Road where Towsley Canyon Park is today. Forty years back, it was the site for a rodeo and Merle Haggard concert. Merle only sang for 45 minutes because the rodeo went long. But the day and evening’s entertainment were topped by an unscheduled entertainer. Right after the Star-Spangled Banner, a buxom and unfettered young thing in the top row of the small arena stood up and lifted her blouse for a full minute. Brings tears to my eyes recalling the nostalgia.
You Santa Clarita folks sure make life a lot lighter. Thanks for the good and light-hearted company. Looking forward to seeing all of you in seven and, until then, — vayan con Dios, amigos!
Check out John Boston’s new SCV history books — “Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters — The Most Haunted Town in America,” Volumes One AND Two. Get ’em both at johnbostonbooks.com.