One of the fun parentheses of my life was teaching the History of the Santa Clarita Valley class. It was a 10-week course, three hours per and could have easily been three times as long.
I taught it for about 20 years, three times a year. Every class began the same way with a game of telephone. That’s the little parlor pastime where you whisper a simple sentence to someone, who turns around and whispers it to someone else. And so on. And so on. By the time the sentence reached the end of the class, it was completely different. The lesson is how difficult it is to pass along information.
For the first few semesters, I’d let the sentence go all the way around the classroom. One year, I stopped the message at the end of the first row of students. Then, I stopped it at the third person. The sentence was simple: “Ten Wolves was the war chief who first discovered the Santa Clara Valley in 3,016 B.C.” From me, to the first person, to the second. Class after class of bright people couldn’t get that simple sentence correct.
And that’s history. And that’s education. And that’s communication.
Sneaking up on a half-century, I’ve been writing the Time Ranger column in The Mighty Signal. While my Mr. SCV persona is a rapscallion, prone to tall tales, hyperbole and mischief, the Time Ranger side of me tries to pass along our local heritage in strict scripture and verse. Alas. History is liquid.
Just last week, I penned a Time Ranger paragraph about how the local Methodist minister and his wife spotted a UFO hovering over their Saugus home for several hours in the pre-dawn hours. Just got a missive from an old pal who grew up here from the early 1950s. She noted politely that despite The Mighty Signal declaring in text and headline the flying object witness was the local Methodist minister, he ’tweren’t. According to the SCV old-timer, he was actually an enthusiastic imbiber of alcohol and employed as a rugged oil field worker.
So now, you have two completely different paintings of the famed UFO encounter. Does the more recent trump the front-page story of 70 years ago?
Aggravatingly, we now have two viewpoints of the flying saucer sighting.
From the 1930s to the late 1970s, everyone in the valley thought that our extinct Native American tribe was called the Allikliks. Then, a UCLA anthropologist was talking to some distant SCV Native American relatives in the San Fernando Valley. They kept blinking and wincing whenever the term, “Alliklik” was mentioned. Turns out the term came from a neighboring tribe up Fort Tejon way. They didn’t care for their SCV indigenous neighbors. “Alliklik” was a pejorative for “…naked, dirt-eating stutterer.” For nearly a half-century, we SClaritanites thought we were honoring our long-gone relatives by hanging “Alliklik” on everything from Boy Scout troops to chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Tataviam,” which means, “Dwellers of the Sunny Slope” quickly replaced “nudist numbnuts soil muncher with a speech impediment.”
In the 1950s, there was this great swashbuckling historical tale floating around the valley. It always furrowed my brow because it involved pirates being chased from Ventura up the Santa Clara River — in the mid-1700s. Pirate ship. Sailing UP the Santa Clara. Uh-huh. The date alone bothered me because not only were we pirateless then, the only humans were native Americans and why would pirates want to steal acorns?
Odd happenstance? Turned out we had a teacher retire to Saugus, California, from Saugus, Massachusetts, in the 1950s. He told a story about East Coast pirates being captured in a cave and blown up with their treasure. Quickly, the story morphed 3,000 miles and became part of our folklore, with people digging up the hills around the Saugus Speedway for a treasure, if there ever was one, a continent away.
Gold first discovered in California at Sutter’s Mill in 1848? Our own movers and shakers poo-poohed the notion, pointing out we had a major discover six years earlier in 1842 in Placerita Canyon. THAT was the first major gold discovery in California. Except miners were taking out rich ore out of San Francisquito Canyon in the 1820s and there was Castaic’s Lost Padre Mine, which yielded several million in gold — in the 1790s.
Bouquet Canyon? It’s our longest-living typographical error. The area was named after French sailor Francois Chari’s “Ship Ranch.” Or, in Spanish — Rancho del Buque. American cartographers roaming the SCV shortly after the 1850 statehood thought it meant “Bouquet” as in flowers and named the area Bouquet Canyon, not Ship Canyon.
Heavens. I remember having a garage sale at my Iron Canyon home years ago. A Signal reporter came out to cover the event and I remember warning the lad not to inflate a garage sale to World War III. Somehow, the reporter gleaned I was moving out of Santa Clarita for good. Next morning, I open the front page of The Mighty Signal and there’s the headline: “Mr. SCV Moves Out of SCV” for the rose-rich Santa Rosa, California.
To this day, I STILL get people walking up to me, asking how I like living in Santa Rosa and am I just visiting?
I patiently explain that the story was a big, fat error and that I was moving from Sand Canyon to some acreage in Castaic, which, last I looked, was still in the Santa Clarita Valley. After a detailed explanation to one woman, she smiled, nodded, then had the braindead temerity to ask: “So how do you like living in Santa Rosa?”
Coulda strangled her.
UFOs. Pirates. An entire civilization of people. One particularly cute rural columnist.
John Boston is a local columnist and historian. Check out his new, hilarious book, “The 25 Most Terribly Inappropriate Dog Breeds” at his bookstore, johnbostonbooks.com. After checking it out, go buy several copies…