Well howdy, dear saddlepals. Hope you’re having a cozy late autumn Sunday.
I’ve a few thousand ponies hitched, all saddled and ready to mosey. Shall we take a ride into the back trails of Santa Clarita history?
This morning, we’ll investigate a local UFO attack and how we flirted with the idea of calling ourselves, “Marijuana Valley” back when.
There’s Santa sightings, ice cream bandits and we’ll wish old Two-Gun Bill a happy birthday.
C’mon. There’s no holiday traffic jams along our mystic trail. Shall we mosey?
WAY BACK WHEN & THEN SOME
CONNECTING CALIFORNIA THROUGH NEWHALL — In the mid-19th century, transportation-wise, California was effectively bisected. Vast gold strikes were being mined in Central and Northern California and Los Angeles businessmen were salivating at the chance to provide goods and services to the influx of people. The problem? There was no convenient way to get wagons from L.A. beyond the San Fernando Valley. On Dec. 5, 1854, a robust and bandy-legged man, Phineas Banning, drove the first stage through a narrow and steep cut in Fremont Pass, above Newhall. The incline was so steep, the passengers on the stage had to hoof it up the hill. None of them wanted to climb on board on the downgrade, either. Banning drove the stage all right, and crashed it. Still. He claimed victory, despite wounding several mustangs and wrecking both the stage and the primitive road.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. TWO GUN! — On Dec. 6, 1864, William S. Hart was born, in Newburgh, New York. Bill came from a large family — two brothers and four sisters. But, both brothers died young. Bill entered movies late in life at 50 in 1914 and achieved stardom the same year in the film, “The Bargain.” One thing rarely discussed about Hart is that his horse, Fritz, was almost as famous as our Newhall film legend. Such cowboy actor superstars as Tom Mix, Roy Rogers and Clayton Moore followed up with their famous horses as Tony, Trigger and Silver.
SHAKING ALL OVER — A massive and catastrophic earthquake devastated the California coast from San Juan Capistrano to Santa Barbara and inland from Dec. 8, 1812, all the way up until April 1813. It was felt here in Santa Clarita and knocked over a few of the not-too-many buildings here. In Capistrano, 40 parishioners were killed during mass. It really rattled Lake Elizabeth. This was considered a multiple fault major quake, which involved the San Andreas.
TRICK AND TREAT — Sand Canyon rancher Sam J. Garrett was born Dec. 8, 1892, in Mulhall, Oklahoma. He had an amazingly interesting life, being a rodeo star and the world champion trick roper for a decade, between 1916 and 1926. He was featured in almost 100 films and was discovered as a young man by Will Rogers (who taught Sam more than a few tricks). He’s enshrined in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and owned the Circle G Ranch in Sand Canyon in the 1940s.
SEEMS LIKE A PERFECT PLACE TO PUT A GIANT DAM — On Dec. 5, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed over a massive land grant in upper San Francisquito Canyon to Frank LeBrun, a famous muleskinner and rancher. Around the turn of the 20th century, gold was discovered on his property and Frank started a full-scale mining operation. He ended up selling the place to the city of Los Angeles in 1922 and that’s where they’d put the ill-fated St. Francis Dam, which, in 1928 would burst, sending a near 200-foot wall of water down San Francisquito Canyon, killing about 500 souls. LeBrun married an Indian woman and started a large family. One of his nephews was Gus LeBrun, who, in a drunken stupor, murdered the local sheriff, Ed Brown, in the 1920s.
DECEMBER 10, 1922
THE GENTLEMAN/COWBOY BANK ROBBER — Jenks Harris was an extra and stuntman in the movie business. He was also into human trafficking, robbery and bootlegging. Jenks was working on location in neighboring Piru on a flick when he got the idea to rob the Piru branch of the Fillmore State Bank. Harris and three desperados, on Dec. 11, 1922, kidnapped C.S. Spencer and his 4-year-old daughter, Mary Ella.
The gang of four emptied the vault of about $5,000 in cash, $900 in silver coin and $100 in postage stamps, which, back then, was a heck of a lot of postage stamps. Then Jenks asked Spencer where they would like to be dropped off in Los Angeles. Spencer gave them the address of his sister-in-law. The six had a leisurely and somewhat merry 90-minute drive into L.A. The bandits put away their revolvers as Mary Ella would cry when she saw them. Spencer confessed that the half-dozen laughed much of the way into the city and the gang was polite and kind.
Within nine days, Jenks and all his gang were arrested separately. Jenks was captured the next day at a Castaic general store. Seems Jenks and his compatriots were on all sorts of law enforcement radar for a variety of crimes, including smuggling Chinese workers into the country. The name of the movie Jenks was working on was a bank caper film called, “Confidence.” Jenks confessed he robbed the bank to pay off a $700 mortgage on his father’s home in Oklahoma. He was sentenced to life in prison up in Folsom.
DIDN’T TAKE LONG TO DOUBLECHECK WHO HAD THE OVERDUE LIBRARY BOOK — Signal Editor/Publisher Blanche Brown, like most folks in Santa Clarita a century ago, had more than one job. She was also the town librarian and in charge of the Newhall Library, which she ran out of the back of the drug store. Blanche published the library’s ENTIRE catalogue (in real small print) on the front page of her Mighty Signal. One of the titles, from 1922 mind you, was: “Our Vanishing Wildlife.”
HOW THINGS HAVE NOT CHANGED — Blanche’s editorial from a century ago was along the theme that charity begins at home. The widow Brown noted that we should donate closer to home, pointing out how many homeless people and children who were “…terribly underfed and unclad” in neighboring Los Angeles and other major cities and even in the Santa Clarita Valley.
DECEMBER 10, 1932
TIMES WERE TOUGH DURING THE DEPRESSION — So were the people. Claude Webber was robbed in his own Happy Valley ranch by two gunmen. They took his 10-gallon hat, boots, money, guns, Claude’s car and some food before departing.
NO TAKERS — A rancher from South Dakota placed a Signal classified ad and offered to trade his 154-acre farm and 10-room house for an equal property in the Santa Clarita.
DECEMBER 10, 1942
YOU CAN STILL SEE SOME OF THE CCC BOUNDARY POSTS IN PLACERITA CANYON — We used to have a California Conservation Corps camp in Quigley Canyon in Placerita. On this date, three national guardsmen stationed there were arrested for wrecking a cabin they were staying in. For a while, Quigley was also home to an all-Black squadron during the early 1940s.
NOT SO HAPPY BIRTHDAY FOR TWO-GUN — For the second year in a row, aging Bill Hart spent his birthday in the hospital. He was recovering from surgery, trying to repair his retinas, which had been damaged years earlier under the harsh and dangerous Kleig studio lights.
A COWBOY’S LAST THANKSGIVING — Cattle puncher and ranch hand Ira Smith passed away peacefully in his bunk Thanksgiving night. He was 63.
DECEMBER 10, 1952
MRS. LOGAN AND THE UFO — The wife of a Lake Hughes fireman, Mrs. Kenneth Logan, reported being followed by a weird ball of lavender-colored light and nope. It wasn’t the sunset. Mrs. Logan, a sane and sober woman according to friends and neighbors, reported to sheriff’s deputies that she had been followed by a small ball of light at around 11 p.m. At first, Mrs. Logan thought it was a small airplane in the distance or some strange refraction from her windshield. But as she drove through Lake Hughes, she also noted all the electricity was out. The ball of light followed her and at one point, hovered above the hood of her car. Mrs. Logan reported that she even stopped, got out of the car and was standing just a few feet away from the eerie orb. She didn’t share the story for a full week. That was when she spotted stories in several Los Angeles newspapers of other motorists in Southern California — including a sheriff’s deputy in Firestone — sharing a similar experience.
DECEMBER 10, 1962
THE ODE TO CANCER — On this date, Tex Williams’ Village (today, it’s on the south side of Newhall Avenue, across from Green Thumb Nursery) held its grand opening. The legendary country/western singer opened his restaurant and dance hall — “The Largest North of Los Angeles!” Cliffie Stone up Sand Canyon way was his manager. Tex’s big hit single was, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.” He did, did, did and died, died, died. The dance hall could fit 500 folks.
DECEMBER 10, 1972
THOSE TERRIBLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE WHO LIVED ORDINARY LIVES OF SERVICE — Could be your mom. Could be my dad. That clerk down at the grocery store. And they’ll never appear in a history book. On this date, John Imperial retired. He started out doing a day’s labor for silent film superstar William S. Hart in the early 1920s. From that first payday of $5, he became a regular ranch hand then became foreman and Man Friday for Hart in the 1940s. Imperial did everything from feed the buffalos to chauffeur Hart around the country in a stretch Cadillac. Imperial lived in a little log cabin with his new wife in 1931 and Hart was adopted uncle to his two children. Imperial stayed on as a county employee in 1960, essentially running the place as he had for years earlier.
‘WHAT’S THE WORD ON THE STREET, LINC?’ — It was either really, really bad or really, really campy. On this date, Clarence Williams III, aka, Linc, was in Newhall to film a scene for TV show, “The Mod Squad.”
HOW ABOUT CONDOMINIA OR VALLEY OF THE YUPPIE CONCENTRATION CAMPS — Local mucky mucks hosted the second unofficial Name The Valley committee meeting. Some folks’ tempers grew short. Some wanted a handle that reflected our Spanish heritage. Old Doc Shaughnessy thought “Placeritos Valley” would be nice. That caused a lukewarm response, as did “Placerita Valley.” “Newhall Valley” was offered, but was seen as too, well — “Newhally.” Another member suggested that the group shy away from anything controversial and just name it after a local plant: Chokecherry Valley. John Girard, chairman of the committee, snapped back: “How about Marijuana Valley? It’s Spanish…”
CLARITA, OKLAHOMA — For a while, the group toyed with the idea of a plain and simple name of: “Clarita.” A little research showed that there was only one known town in the United States with that name — in Oklahoma. Its population fell from 250 to 135 in the past 50 years. There’s just 70 homes in the unincorporated area.
A ‘MOVING’ CHRISTMAS DECORATION — Roland Bower built a rather controversial Christmas decoration. Bower constructed a full-sized outhouse in front of his Saugus home. A sleigh was stuck in the side of it and Santa was lying prone and unconscious by the crescent-moon door of the outdoors lavatory. A huge sign in front of the latrine read: “Dammit, Rudolph, I said ‘The Schmidt’ house!”
DECEMBER 10, 1982
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR LENORA — On this date, Lenora Wilson joined an exclusive club of 15,000. That was the number of people in the U.S. who were 100 or over in 1982. The Val Verde woman lived through 20 presidential administrations. Lenora passed away more than a little bit ago. Elsewise, she’d be 140-plus.
ON TO SEE HIS NAMESAKE — For a while, Jesus Almeida knew freedom. He escaped from a jail bus in Castaic three months earlier and was shot to death by a store owner on this date in Bell Gardens during a bungled robbery.
HE ESCAPED LICKETY BANANA SPLIT — It was the dream of The Mighty Signal’s copy desk. Check out their headline: “Ice Cream Robber Scooped Up.” Blaine Lee Burnette had been wanted for a string of robberies of ice cream parlors from here to Bakersfield and Palmdale. His career started with a knife-point robbery of Baskin Robbins on Lyons where he got away with $2,000. (In today’s prices, that’s like, four scoops…) Blaine was finally captured after a local citizen saw him in Canyon Country and recognized him from his description in this paper.
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Absolute Christmas treat riding with you dear saddlepals. Looks like from that glowing time portal ahead, that’s our stop to the Here & Now Santa Clarita. Wish you peaceful times. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to pray. Don’t forget to be most excellent to one another. See you in seven back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post with another exciting Time Ranger adventure. Until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Need a Christmas present? Go buy Boston’s newest book, “The 25 Most Inappropriate Dog Breeds” at johnbostonbooks.com. Sombrero in hand, we note a 5-star rating on Amazon would be grandly appreciated!