Welcome Santa Clarita old-timers and newcomers, friends and neighbors. We’ve got a horse just your size and temperament waiting and lots of adventures ahead.
Take your dusters and make sure they’re leakproof. We’ve got epic floods ahead on our trail. There’s home-invading deer, runaway toddlers, and how the Canyon faculty pretty much beat up on the Los Angeles Rams and we’re not speaking metaphorically.
We’ll say howdy to Howard Hughes and see one of the first historical references to “Senseless Palmdale Bashing.”
What say we mosey into that panorama of refreshing vistas and less crowded times?
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY, HE’D BE A NOT-SO-SPRY 221 — Happy birthday to Francisco. On this date, Don Francisco Lopez made his historic gold discovery in, supposedly, Placerita Canyon on March 9, 1842. It was the first documented gold discovery in California. March 9 was also Lopez’s birthday in 1802. He was born at the Mission San Gabriel. Señor Lopez was credited with the first discovery of gold in the valley. Actually, gold was being mined here as early as the 1790s. Old Spanish records indicate Lopez was joined by two friends in the discovery — Manuel Cota and Domingo Bermudez. While they were on the original petition to the governor of California, Lopez and a fourth gentleman were on the grant. Cota and Bermudez and the fourth man (we haven’t been able to find his name yet) were the forgotten prospectors of SCV history.
THE CHAMBER. GETTING STARTED 110 (NOT 100) YEARS AGO — Our friends fond of white wine and rubber chicken recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. BUT, unearthed some records a while back in the form of some missing minutes of a town meeting back on Aug. 1, 1913. So far, that now marks the earliest date we formed a local chamber of commerce. For years, it was thought that the first chamber formed here in 1923. Seems some minutes from that 1913 meeting surfaced in 1953. My pal, Gladys Laney, passed away a few years ago at 103. Gladys shared that her dad, A.G. Thibaudeau, wrote some copious notes about forming the CC. The meeting was at the old Conrad’s Hall. Newhall’s only presidential candidate, Henry Clay Needham, was present. The goals were somewhat similar to the modern SCV Chamber. The 1913 group wanted to “…attract businesses to our beautiful little city, by getting our vacant lots cleaned up instead of their being an eyesore to the traveling public.” The business group also asked L.A. County for some of their own Little Santa Clara River Valley (as we called ourselves back then) tax money to make local improvements. In 1914, the group met again to try and get flood control out here. The wheels of government (except for our own city of Santa Clarita) turn slowly. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that we truly addressed flood control.
MARCH 11, 1923
GEORGE WOULD BE 183 TODAY — On this date, Newhall pioneer George Campton, proprietor of the famed Campton General Store, died. He was 83. He was Newhall’s first store owner and postmaster.
DUCK SEASON. WABBIT SEASON. NO SEASON. — We took our hunting regulations seriously. Some poachers were caught shooting band-tailed pigeons out of season and fined $25 — about a month’s house payment back then.
WELL, YES. OF COURSE. BECAUSE EVEN NO GOOD LOUSY DIRTY HOUSE THIEVES READ THE MIGHTY SIGNAL. — I don’t know if this classified ad in The Mighty Signal 100 years back ever paid off, but it sure is interesting. Verbatim: “NOTICE: The party who robbed my house near Lang is known. Better return the goods and avoid publicity. (signed) Mrs. L. Voorhees.”
MARCH 12, 1928
THAT DAMN AND NEVER-TO-BE FORGOTTEN DAM — After the Johnstown Flood and the San Francisco Fire, the bursting of St. Francis Dam was the third-worst man-made disaster in American history. On this date, shortly before midnight, the 187-foot-high dam in San Francisquito Canyon burst, sending a lake of water all the way down the Santa Clara River to the Pacific Ocean. Estimates were that around 500 people lost their lives that night, possibly more. Houses, buildings, horses, cows, trees, topsoil, and chunks of concrete weighing hundreds of tons washed down the canyon. It was noted by local historian Jerry Reynolds that 12,441,647,600 gallons of water escaped down San Francisquito. Reynolds noted there were 130,446 cubic yards of cement in the dam and the reservoir covered around 600 acres.
MARCH 11, 1933
I’LL TAKE ALL MY MONEY JOLLY RIGHT NOW AND IN SPENDABLE NICKELS — One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first acts as president was to declare a national bank holiday, closing down all the country’s institutions. The move was to slow down the run by people to get their cash out of the banks. FDR had a rather prophetic sentence in his speech on the matter: “We must devise means to stop speculation with other people’s money.” Sorry, Franklin — 90 years later, it’s still a national pastime…
UNDERWATER GOLD MINES — County surveyors were thick along Bouquet Canyon Road. They were realigning the highway to accommodate the new Bouquet Dam and Reservoir at the top. While they don’t exactly allow scuba diving today, some enterprising aquatic-type might like to spend a few hours prospecting underneath the lake today. It used to be a big gold mine before they filled it with water. Oh. I’m not and this newspaper is certainly not advocating you trespass and go gold scuba diving. BUT, if you happen to be driving in upper Bouquet, check out how high the water level is. It was pert near dry for years. This spate of storms just about filled it up and over the top…
TRY SAYING ‘FROWNFELLER’ FAST, 10 TIMES. BETCHA CAN’T. — George B. Frownfeller was assigned to the local Forestry office on this date. Frownfeller. That ain’t Italian. It’s no big historical news. We just get a kick out of his name, no offense meant to any local surviving Frownfellers…
MARCH 11, 1943
THE ORDER GOES LIKE THIS: HORSE FIRST; SADDLE NEXT; RIDER ATOP. — Local auto dealer Loren Clymore should have stuck to the horseless carriage. He was roping a wild steer on his ranch when the critter stumbled, pulling down Clymore’s horse with him atop. Well. Loren started on top. The horse flipped, pinning the salesman/rancher underneath and cracking a couple of ribs.
MARCH 11, 1953
THAT ONE LITTLE BABY BOY WAS IN PLAIN DARN GREAT SHAPE! — Tom Johnson, local rancher and father, was a bit more than a little frantic. His 2-year-old son wandered off after lunch. After searching his spread, Johnson called the Sheriff’s Department and a posse was quickly assembled. Little Merland Johnson was found nearly 3 miles from home, steadily marching up a dirt hill with not a scratch on him.
EVIDENCE OF ANCIENT SENSELESS PALMDALE BASHING? — Certain members of this newspaper’s staff have indulged in something childishly called “Senseless Palmdale Bashing” over the years. To my knowledge, this may be the first historical precedent for such actions. Signal Editor Fred Trueblood reported about a party in Palmdale where they held a picnic. One of the entertainment events was a 100-yard dash, won by someone Mr. Trueblood called, “Ol’ Baldy Paulk.” The high-desert sprinter’s victory was due to the size of his head. “It didn’t put up much wind resistance,” Fred noted.
MARCH 11, 1963
‘M’ FOR SHORT? — His Eminence James Francis Cardinal McIntyre was on hand to bless and dedicate the new Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on Lyons. Actually, OLPH celebrated its first mass in August 1961 and the six-room school opened in September 1962 with grades K-4. Going back even further, padres from San Fernando Mission would either hike, horseback or mule ride up here to give a Latin mass way back at the turn of the 19th century.
GOT AN ALIBI. I WAS A KID. — On this date, John Boston Jr. arrived in New York to sign up with the Peace Corps. Nope. No relation, I assure you.
MARCH 11, 1973
AND LET THAT BE A WARNING TO OTHER NFL PLAYERS VISITING THE RIPARIAN AND TRYING TO IMPOSE THEIR WILL UPON US — Today it’s a medical building but 50 years back, it was the short-lived Hillside Hospital, off of Soledad. Double-H had some interesting visitors to their emergency room. Three pro football players checked in, complaining of injuries shortly after playing in the Canyon Faculty-L.A. Rams charity game.
LIFETIME HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT RE: THE ABOVE — When you’ve got a mind to, visit YouTube and watch a few “Stoney Burke” reruns. Stoney starred Jack Lord and was about a neat-as-a-button rodeo star. Most of it was filmed up here in the early 1960s. You can get a great glimpse of not only the Hillside Hospital, but also what much of the SCV looked like before the advent of cement, people and an overabundance of right angles.
HOWIE, SADLY, WAS A BILLION DOLLARS SHY OF A BILLION DOLLARS — On this date, Howard Hughes became a dad. Nope. Not the billionaire. This one lived humbly on Chestnut Street. The baby’s name: David.
MARCH 11, 1983
THAT RARE TIME WHEN YOU CAN CLAIM ‘SELF-DEFENSE’ IN SHOOTING A DEER — Marian Gagnon had a surprise visit to her Saugus home 40 years back. A full-grown deer jumped through her closed living room window and frantically sprinted around her house, trying to find a way to escape. Exhausted, bleeding, and in shock, it finally keeled over. The poor wild and injured creature was put to sleep by the Castaic Animal Shelter. Best as I can remember, this happened once before, years earlier. A large buck jumped through a living room window in Newhall. Folks back then said the deer saw its reflection in the window, thought it was another deer and went to bump heads with himself.
THOSE EPIC RAINS OF 1983 — The big story of early March was the ferocious rain and wind storms that pummeled the valley. “The usually placid Santa Clara River was turned into a churning, bubbling river of destruction by the massive downpour,” wrote Signal writer Jeff Stalk. The river crested, taking out a good chunk of Soledad Canyon Road. Hundreds had to be evacuated from their homes. A few thousand more were stranded in theirs. An estimated 40 homes were severely damaged by flooding and torrential downpour. As one Signal headline noted: “Creeks Become Automobile Graveyards.”
SURFING TO FREEDOM — The storm was also credited with aiding the escape of a prisoner at Wayside Honor Rancho in Castaic. Today, it’s called the Pitchess Detention Center and is a full-blown maximum-security jail. Back then, it was a “gentleman’s incarceration facility” and housed minor offenders who supplied dairy, baked goods and food for all of L.A. County’s jails. Anywho. The flood washed away some fence, along with the tracks and scent of the escapee.
GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE — Speaking of Wayside on this date, the Board of Supervisors voted to change the name. After 60 years of identity, the place was renamed Peter Pitchess Honor Rancho. Warden of the place was this handsome fella and future Santa Clarita city councilman, George Pederson.
PROGRESS, OR IS IT? — I can’t believe this was 40 years ago because I actually put the darn thing together, but The Mighty Signal printed our annual Progress edition. In an unscientific poll, reporters asked locals what they’d like to see in the valley. Most emphatically noted “No more people.” Guess we didn’t get our wish.
• • •
Once again, sure was a treat riding with you saddlepals through the back trails of SCV history. I’m going to see if I can get these tens of thousands of noble steeds back to the stables, de-saddled, brushed, fed, sang to and pastured before said pasture gets cemented. Then, I’m going to have a nice cup of hot tea. I’ll see you good souls next week with another exciting Time Ranger adventure, and, until then, vayan con Dios, amigos!
Visit johnbostonbooks.com. Like SCV History? Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great as gifts. Leave a kindly review…