The Time Ranger | ​​​Camels, Gold and Gypsy Horse Thieves

The Time Ranger

A warm and Western Just Darn About Mother’s Day to you, dear saddlepals and especially you saddlepalettes who have the inside track on this motherhood thing.  

All these May-&-Mom true and heartfelt sentiments aside, we’ve a pretty interesting trail ride through the SCV of yesteryear. Best be careful. Waiting for us are deranged murderers, deranged camels, womanizing banditos who could use a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting, lost gold mines and gypsy horse thieves. 

Gypsy Horse Thieves. Good band name, huh? 

And oh, by the way. 

This morning, we’re riding a slightly different formation. 

Moms in front. You non-mothers pull up your bandanas lest you eat trail dust… 


BEFORE CAMELS WERE CIGARETTES — On May 13, 1856, a strange parade passed through the tiny community of Newhall. A squadron of Egyptian camels from Los Angeles and headed to Fort Tejon solemnly trod through. They would be the failed experiment of using dromedaries to patrol the vast desert terrain of the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Joaquin Valleys. There were many problems. 

Mostly, soldiers didn’t like camels and camels didn’t like soldiers. Also, no one checked to note that a camel’s hoof is designed for sand travel. The camel hoof is soft and doesn’t take well to the rockier climes of Southern and Central California. Eventually, the camels would be sold to private individuals, zoos and businesses. A few would be let go to roam wild. This camel express was the brainchild of a young lieutenant, stationed here earlier. With his pal, legendary scout Kit Carson, the lieutenant was exploring the Santa Clarita and parts beyond.  

Edward Fitzgerald Beale of our own Beale’s Cut fame was the chap who was visited with the bright idea of “Camels!” Later, he would become one of the state’s most controversial figures and have the historic Beale’s Cut named after him.  

There was also an old story about how a soldier was killed by an Indian arrow while atop one of Beale’s camels. The man’s body never fell off the saddle and it’s said his skeleton rode atop the camel for years in the wastelands of Central and Southern California. The camel went insane toting the bones and would attack pilgrims by the campfire at night. Best you be careful strolling those paseos… 

NOT CALLED “THE RABBIT” BECAUSE SHE LEFT EASTER EGGS FOR THE KIDS — On May 14, 1874, the nefarious womanizing pistol fighter and road agent, Tiburcio Vasquez, was captured at a small house near the present-day location of the Hollywood Bowl. Vasquez was reportedly in the romantic entwines of a young lady with the nickname of “La Coneja,” which means, “The Rabbit,” and I’m guessing the gal didn’t get the affectionate handle for winning her eighth-grade 100-yard dash. The story goes that L.A. Sheriff Billy Rowland had the house surrounded and called for Tibby to surrender. Instead, he jumped out the bedroom window naked and was hop-stepping while trying to jump into his pants. He was ordered to halt and was shot in the buttocks and upper thigh by a deputy. Later, the man who had been the subject of the largest manhunt in California history, after whom they named those legendary rocks in Agua Dulce, would be hanged in San Jose. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANK!! — On May 13, 1825, Henry Mayo Newhall was born in Saugus, Massachusetts. From a penniless gold prospector, he would become one of the richest and most powerful men in California within a few years. In 1876, they created a town and named it after him. Newhall, by the way, was actually founded in present-day Saugus. 

FROM TWO, MANY — This isn’t quite local. But it’s close. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce started in 1888 with two members. By 1923, they had 10,000 members who paid $250,000 in dues annually. Yes. That WILL be on the final… 

GOLD WASHING DOWN TO THE OCEAN — Around the turn of the 19th century, local Tataviam Indians were mining gold out of the Cruzan Mine in Texas Canyon. The Indians reportedly used the precious metal to make trinkets. In the late 19th century, the mine was owned by one Mr. Rush and when he left, Clarence Cruzan took it over. In the mid-1920s, he was pulling out ore assaying out at $85 a ton in mostly silver and lead and $5 a ton in gold. I’m guessing with our recent 2023 rains, an entire passel of gold dust found its way to the Santa Clara River and the Pacific beyond. 

MAY 13, 1923  

NAPOLEON UP BOUQUET? — Here’s a great old Signal headline: “Gypsy Horsethieves Meet Their Waterloo.” The details: Wagonmaster Tom O’Brien had hitched up two teams while hauling gravel out of Bouquet Canyon. He took one team for a load and when he came back for the other, two gypsy fellows were making off with the second team. Here is The Signal’s swashbuckling poet, forest ranger, lawman, and, from time to time Signal Editor Thornton Doelle’s accounting: “Stepping between the two men, O’Brien landed a ‘Princess Pat’ special square on the chin of one of the horse-thieves, who suddenly felt the ground coming up to meet him.” Doelle went on to describe how the second gypsy slashed O’Brien in the wrist and the plucky teamster cold-cocked him. The pair regained consciousness, and O’Brien wrapped his wound and went back to work. 

MAY 13, 1933  

DEATH BY TRAIN, DEATH BY POISON — Was he depressed because he wrecked his car? Or did he fail in his first suicide attempt? We will probably never know. On this date, G.H. Merrifield ran his car over the railroad tracks and was broadsided by a Southern Pacific passenger train. Except for the shock, miraculously, Merrifield was unhurt. The next morning, his body was found in downtown Newhall next to a small vial of strychnine. By witness accounts, Merrifield had been cheerful through dinner the previous night at the Soledad Hotel. He rose before dawn, got fully dressed, left his satchel in the lobby, and walked outside to fatally poison himself. 

BASEBALL IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH — Chester Johnson, a picnicker from Los Angeles, died on this date during a baseball game in Canyon Country. We don’t think he was the umpire… 

PULLING A DEER OUT OF THE OCEAN — T.E. Cheney was the federal Fish & Game warden whose beat included faraway Topanga Canyon. Cheney had an interesting tale. He and three fishermen rescued a deer from nearly drowning in the ocean. The deer had been chased down the beach by a large dog and the grazer went splashing into the surf for protection. Instead of treading water or catching a wave, the deer headed for Japan. The four men caught the deer, pulled it into their boat, took the exhausted creature to shore, and released it. After catching its breath, it headed for the hills. 

MAY 13, 1943  

LOTS OF PLANTS. NO PLANTERS. — Usually, the mainly Hispanic, gypsy families and workers who harvested the hundreds of tons of crops were invisible people in the SCV. They were sorely missed on this date. Add to that a shortage of local men fighting in World War II and there was virtually no regular labor force in this predominantly agricultural valley to tend the crops. 

Local leaders made emergency plans and literally put hundreds of local housewives, school children and senior citizens to work to help plant potatoes, tomatoes, onions and lay irrigation lines. The volunteers would sometimes work as little as an hour a day or as much as 12. This would happen again later in the war, when there was no one around to harvest the crops. While locals filled in, a special train had to be commissioned to bring braceros from northern Mexico to the SCV. 

WE WOULD ALL DO WELL TO LEARN FROM THE SCV IN 1943 — The above volunteer effort needs a second look as it was light years beyond civic responsibility. It should be pointed out that the people called upon to lend a hand planting crops were the same ones who were giving blood to the Red Cross, rationing every household article including food, and giving what little money they had to buy war bonds while their taxes were raised, donating scrap metal, rubber and cooking oil and keeping their home economy afloat while the war raged. A wonderful Signal editorial by Fred Trueblood summed it up rather nicely: “Do we eat this year?”  

MAY 13, 1953  

QUEEN PAT’S MOM — Pat Dixon was crowned the first ever Miss Val Verde. That first pageant in the predominantly African American community wasn’t a beauty contest. Pat’s mom, Luciel, sold more tickets than anybody else. Still. That Pat was a cutie… 

RUSSIAN & ACTON ROYALTY — One Mrs. de Ramos bought 36 acres from the old Corder property in Acton, right off Sierra Highway. Decades earlier, as a young woman, Mrs. de Ramos was known around Acton as Princess Massalaskaya of the Russian royal court. She once had tea with President Coolidge. 

NOT TO GIVE TIM WHYTE ANY IDEAS, BUT … — Seventy years ago, The Signal wrote an editorial on Mother’s Day. We were for it. 

MAY 13, 1963  

A NEW & SHORT-LIVED SIGNAL ERA — With the May 9 issue, new owner Ray Brooks published his first Mighty Signal. While the Truebloods brought a folksy, hometown feel to the paper, bless his heart, Ray was a good fellow but brought a rather bland format to the paper he would own for not even a year.  

MAY 13, 1973  

10 DAYS OF TRASH PICKUP, FOR HOMICIDE — It certainly was a dilemma the ilk of which would have furrowed the brow of Solomon. Instead, this case was in front of Judge Adrian Adams. The good Newhall jurist had the problem of sentencing three young men found guilty of the hazing death of a Pierce College student. Fred Bronner, 21, was taken out to the treacherous canyon area in the hills north of Castaic a year earlier and abandoned at night. He blundered off a 150-foot cliff and fell to his death. The three young men who left him there were arrested and tried on a misdemeanor charge of hazing. With a bang of the gavel, the men earned a small fine and 10 days of road work with Caltrans. Judge Adams ruled it basically a tragic accident by three young men who had clean records and who had suffered enough. Bronner, who was guilty of being obnoxious, got the stiffest penalty. 

ONE OF THE VALLEY’S MOST HEINOUS MURDERS — On this date, Robert Grigsby, the Hart High teen who brutally murdered a Valencia housewife and two toddlers, waived his right to trial by jury. More than five months after the brutal stabbing in which Grigsby randomly picked the house behind Newhall Park, Judge Harry Peetris acted as jury for Grigsby. The first witness was Roger Greenwood, husband of Linda and father to 3-year-old Adrian, two of Grigsby’s victims. The second witness was Mary Murphy, mother of another slain toddler, Scott. Neither Greenwood nor Murphy was required to identify their children’s photograph. Grigsby would later be convicted of murder and is currently still in prison. While he did not earn parole at his last hearing, he is up for review again.  

MAY 13, 1983  

CAN ANYONE SAY, “BINGO!” — On this date, a young fellow named Mike Antonovich cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Senior Citizen Center on Market Street. It took a year to build the 7,800-squarefoot place at a cost of $800,000. Can you say, “Bingo!” 

AS POPEYE’S FRIEND WIMPY ALWAYS USED TO SAY: “I WILL GLADLY GO TO PRISON NEXT WEEK FOR A HAMBURGER TODAY…” — I guess the guy was hungry. On this date, after three unsuccessful attempts to order a free cheeseburger at the Little Galley food stand inside Magic Mountain, a customer came back the fourth time with a knife. He demanded, and received, a cheeseburger, with everything on it. He fled but was later stopped by private security guards with the uneaten burger inside his shirt. You’d think after all that trouble he would have at least grabbed a bite. The 19-year-old was arrested and charged with felony armed robbery charges and faced a state prison sentence. Can you imagine? Going to the Big House over an uneaten burger? 

•     •     • 

Thanks again for the companionship, dear saddlepals. Happy Mother’s Day to all you cowmoms out there today (although I wouldn’t advise addressing them as such). I wish a light heart to you all. Meet you at The Mighty Signal’s hitching post a week from now. Until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos y feliz Dia de la Madre! 

If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit Order John Boston’s terribly exciting Volumes I & II on “SCV Monsters, Ghouls, Ghosts, Bigfoot” & all our local paranormal stories. Great summer reads. Leave a kindly review… 

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