The Time Ranger | Man-Eating Fires, Man-Eating Bears…

The Timer Ranger
Time Ranger

This certainly has been a fast-moving year. Seems like it was January but 20 minutes ago and here we are, flirting with Halloween. Then Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. Then 2023. That last one? Sounds like “2023” belongs in the title of a science fiction dime novel. 

I say we run screaming in the opposite direction. 

What say we head into the back canyons of yesteryear, amigos and amigo-ettes? Do a little moseying in the quiet climes and empty canyons of bygone Santa Clarita? Sip coffee? Giggle? Gossip about people behind their backs? We’ll ask for forgiveness when we get back. (:- )… 


AND SOME DAYS THERE’S NO WAY IN HECK YOU’RE GONNA EAT THE BEAR — Back on Oct. 17, 1837, Peter LeBeck’s day didn’t end so well. He was killed by a “grizzerbear” up Fort Tejon way. There seems to be some debate whether the community of Lebec was named after Pete, a relative of his, or by a store owner actually named Lebec. 

THE FORGOTTEN OWNERS OF THE SCV — On Oct. 20, 1873, Charles Fernald & J.T. Richards purchased the Rancho San Francisco (the original Santa Clarita Valley) at a Los Angeles sheriff’s sale. Soon thereafter, Henry Mayo Newhall would buy the property. 

OCTOBER 22, 1922  

ETERNAL VALLEY’S FIRST CUSTOMERS — Newhall’s first citizen, John Gifford, died a century ago this week. He was born on Feb. 14, 1847, in Genesee County, New York. An orphan, he left for Illinois with a brother and finally made it to California in the 1870s. He married Sarah Reckward and got a job working on the Southern Pacific Railroad in the same year of 1875. He moved to Newhall in 1876 — the year of the town’s founding — and worked for the old “Espee” until 1912 when he retired. Gifford’s first office was in the old Lyon Station hotel, near Sierra Highway and Newhall Avenue today. Interestingly, John and Sarah both are resting near his first Newhall job. They are buried in Eternal Valley. 

RESTING PEACEFULLY FOR A CENTURY — The same week, another old-timer passed to her reward. Before she was known as Mrs. Carlos Martinez, she was Miss Anastacia Cordova, born on April 15, 1872, to the famed Cordova family of Castaic. She was buried on the family plot at the old Urtasun Ranch. 

OCTOBER 22, 1932  

THE CURSE OF THE GREAT RIDGE ROUTE BLAZE — Probably having built something in that neck of the woods, it was only a matter of time. Still. This is a sad date. Ninety years ago, the National Forest Inn on the old Ridge Route burned to the ground. All the buildings were consumed during an epic, 1,200-acre blaze. We lost a lot of big timber in that one, along with the historic hotel/restaurant and eatery. Mr. Martin, the owner, ran out of the hotel with his cash register and set it down outside next to another building. He ran back in to fetch more belongings. When he came back, that other building had caught on fire and the cash register melted, with hundreds of dollars in cash — big money during the Great Depression. The NFI was originally built by Mr. Courtemanche, who would later build the French Village in Newhall, on San Fernando Road (now Newhall Avenue) Must be some sort of curse associated with the fellow. Years later, the French Village would burn to the ground. 

ANOTHER GREAT BLAZE — A fire in Wilson Canyon on the San Fernando Valley side jumped Iron Canyon, threatening Newhall. Hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze before it could hit any structures. Still, much watershed and timber was lost. 

FOUR KIDS IN SCHOOL. PERIOD. — There were 204 children in grades one through eight in Newhall Elementary. That’s not counting the four kids at the tiny Felton School at Mentryville. Four kids. Cripes. That makes it kind of hard to hide behind someone, put your head on your desk and take a nap. 

OR, YOU COULD ASK FOR DIRECTIONS — One of our forest rangers offered a nifty tip about using your watch as a compass. He claimed that if you point the hour hand of your watch toward the sun, halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock will be due south. Of course, if you have no bearings about what’s around you anyway, guess that’s no help. 

OCTOBER 22, 1942  

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD TRACTOR? — Besides locals being eaten by grizzly bears, here’s another story that rarely happens nowadays. And thank goodness. We had many tractor accidents over the years in the SCV. More than a few were fatal. On this date, young Jimmy Royal, 15, died when the tractor he was driving capsized, pinning him underneath. Royal was trying to cross a steep wash on the old Paradise Ranch. The place has its share of curses. A few years earlier, Frank Churchill, a famed composer who wrote many famous Disney tunes including “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” committed suicide. Or so the reports say. Locals were always suspicious. Plus, Frank’s wife disappeared with the ranch foreman a few days after the funeral. HE ended dumping her and taking her inheritance. 

A WOMAN’S WORK IS NEVER DONE — The same day as the great Malibu fire, which burned over 25,000 acres, we were hit by our own 1,000-acre brush fire in Placerita Canyon. Some grand giant eucalyptus trees were lost at the Cascade Ranch and Gene Autry’s spread was attacked. The women of the Jauregui Ranch jumped on horses to rescue livestock. The men were all competing at a rodeo.  

CHARLIE WAS NOT LEGALLY SPAWNED — Old-timer Charles Kingsburry had a go-around with the government (ours). He was informed that they had no record of him existing and that he needed to provide a birth certificate as an alibi for his whereabouts in 1892. A couple of other old timers kidded Kingsburry, asking whether he had been born or had he been hatched. 

SANTA CLARITA PORNOGARY, 1942 — Some local churchgoers were rather upset about the lax morals in the local entertainment industry. Seems they objected to the title of a film at the old American Theatre: “Hellzapoppin.” Betcha they’d faint if we took them forward to 2022 Santa Clarita… 

OCTOBER 22, 1952  

RETURNING TO THE CLAIM, DECADES LATER — Francis Gage, son of the former California governor, switched hats on this date. His old family Hi Grade mine switched from digging for gold to pulling up tungsten. Interesting story on how he founded another mine in the area — the Governor. As an 11-year-old boy, Francis would frequently play in the various gold mines his father owned in the upper Soledad Canyon area. One day, he went off into the hills to play with some tools, got distracted, and left them there. As a grown man in 1931, he came back and was hiking the region. He found the original tools he had lost. And some interesting minerals. On that spot, he started the Governor Mine. He named it after his father. 

WE’RE GUESSING, NO RELATION — We used to have a local rural postman who had the most difficult route of the back canyons of upper Bouquet and San Francisquito canyons. One of those big city newspapers did a huge spread on the mailman and his rugged job. The postman’s name? Harry Potter. 

WHEN THE CIRCUS LIVED HERE — Back in the 1950s, there weren’t all those houses in the Wiley Canyon area. The Newhall Dairy was in that neck of the woods. It was also the home of Clyde Beatty’s Circus. A brush fire erupted and strongmen, acrobats, clowns and other performers helped beat back the flames. As one animal trainer succinctly put it, “Elephants don’t like fire.” And neither did Frankenstein’s monster… 

OCTOBER 22, 1962  

IN FACT, WE’RE ABOUT A ZILLION TIMES NUTSIER — Locals did their part during the Cuban Missile Crisis 40 years back. They panicked and bought just about everything off the shelves of the local grocery stores. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood II dutifully noted that people were “nuts.” Sorry to say, Fred, it hasn’t changed. 

ALMOST NUCLEAR WAR — Mr. Trueblood also wrote an editorial on the Cuban Missile Crisis entitled, “Glory Be!” FT2 supported President Kennedy’s tough stand. Note the first paragraph of The Signal’s policy piece: “At last, at long last, the greatest sovereign power on this Earth, finally turned and snarled. This newspaper has taken President Kennedy to task quite regularly on his domestic program and more insistently on his foreign program of negotiation, appeasement, more negotiation and more appeasement.” Sounds like the op/ed piece could run verbatim 60 years later and we could just change “Cuba” to “Ukraine.” 

JUST DIDN’T NEED THE HEART ATTACK, THANK YOU — Adding to everyone’s nerves, Civil Defense blasted its huge siren at the fire station on San Fernando Road (now Newhall Avenue). It had people within a 2-mile range clinging to their ceilings like a startled Sylvester the cat. 

STRAIGHT AS AN ARROW — It makes your head swim sometimes, trying to remember where roads and places used to be. In the 1960s, Bouquet Canyon Road was actually a straight line by Haskell Canyon. A big sweeping curve was put in by developers when they built the housing projects in that area. 

OCTOBER 22, 1972  

WHERE’S THE BEEF? — All over Interstate 5. On this date, a big rig speeding down the Castaic grade in the rain plowed into the back of a big livestock trailer. Thirty-eight dairy calves were killed in the wreck. The truck driver was going 30 mph over the speed limit. The beeves were valued at $200 apiece. 

BIG BIRD (S) — Fifty years ago, our population from here to San Joaquin and into Kern and Ventura Counties was 36 and near extinction. That would be in giant condors, not people. The great carrion eaters had wing spans of up to 10 feet and we now have approximately 500.  

BLOW UP ALL THE CLASSROOMS & HAVE THE KIDS SIT IN A BIG CIRCLE ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD? —  Believe it or not (actually, believe it), the Hart board of trustees was looking into ways of getting rid of the Hart High Auditorium (technically, it’s the Henry Mayo Newhall Auditorium). School board member Ruth Kelley asked Superintendent Dave Baker if there was a way to just “get rid” of the edifice. Seems like blowing it up was out of the question, but the district did look for ways to unload one of our famous landmarks. The problem was Hart High (forever home of The Mighty Indians) was hurting for classroom space. The state gave schools money in a formula based on how much square footage they have. The huge auditorium wasn’t used that much, but the yawning chasm still counted in the square footage department.  

INFLATION-FREE INVESTING — Before Internet hoaxes, we had the Texas & Chihuahua Trading & Fur Co. Locals were at first aghast when they thought a corporation was selling stock to raise cats and skin them for furs. Bogus certificates were being offered around town, listing 2.5 million shares of common stock. The plant was supposedly in Mexico and investors were promised part of a $10,000-per-day profit (at $3.15 per share). According to the prospectus, the cats were fed rats (the rats were raised on a neighboring rat farm). The rats were fed the carcasses of cats that had been skinned. Some folks suspected there might be a Newhall family member behind the scam. (Like, Scott?) At the bottom of the brochure, some of the alleged companies fronting this business were listed as Phineas Fogg & Co.; the Second Hawaiian Corp.; Tinkers, Evers & Chance; Mason & Dixon; Uriah Heep & Sons, and, our very own Alamo Defense Trust. 

‘MY BUTT IS SORE’ IS HIS INDIAN NAME — Allan Mall passed through town on his vacation. This is rather newsworthy not so much because the 22-year-old started his trip 3,250 miles earlier in Canada, but because he was traveling by bicycle. 

HOW ABOUT LEAVE THEM ALONE AND LET THEM EAT THE VERMIN? — On this date, the Board of Supervisors met to plan what to do about the plague of coyotes in the SCV. Back then, it was the ranchers and farmers who were complaining. 

OCTOBER 22, 1982  

THE OL’ “I DIDN’T DO NOTHIN’’ PLOY — She was famous for belting out show tunes at a moment’s notice. Add to her resume a $5,000 fine. Assemblywoman Cathie Wright was hit hard for campaign violations in her 1980 election. She concealed a developer’s loan from the state Fair Political Practices Commission. She also changed the identity of two donors on her form, along with not declaring $2,600 in illegal cash donations. In all, there were eight violations. Ms. Wright classified them as “a routine fine,” and said, “It was like a minor traffic ticket.” 

PRETTY HAIRY MOTORCYCLE STUNT — Robbie Knievel, son of daredevil Evel, was at Indian Dunes 40 years back for a TV episode of “CHiPs.” He climbed on board a motorcycle and jumped over an airplane just as it was taking off in flight.  

A MOST WISE INVESTMENT — Margo and Jerry Rutherford were $1,000 richer when they won The Mighty Signal’s buried treasure contest. They followed all the clues and dug up the chest in the wash at Bouquet Junction. Interesting note, so my colleague Mimi shared. Scott Newhall started the contest at The San Francisco Chronicle in the 1950s. The first winner was a struggling physicist who won $1,000 — big dough in the 1950s. He paid $238 in taxes and invested the other $762 in stock of the company for whom he had just started working. It was for his kid’s college fund. It was a wise investment. By the time they were teens, the $762 grew to over $25,000. The company was Ampex. They patented videotape.  

• • • 

Sometimes, the horses just don’t want to step into the big swirling time vortex that’s present-day Santa Clarita. It’s probably all the minivans and concrete. Just give them the slightest spur and whisper the magic words: “Fortified alfalfa with apples and carrots…” See all y’all in seven? Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos! 

Don’t forget to go buy, right jolly now, Boston’s newest book, “The 25 Most Inappropriate Dog Breeds” at Sombrero in hand, we note a 5-star rating on Amazon would be grandly appreciated! 

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