I’ll tell you saddlepals right up front. This is an epic Time Ranger trek this fine morn. C’mon. We can do the giggles, gossip, and whispers after we giddy-up through the Santa Clarita vortex into simpler but oft no-less-violent climes…
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
INDIAN TREASURE — Back on May 2, 1884, one of the most significant Amerindian archeological finds in U.S. history was discovered near present-day Highway 126. Much of what we know about the Tataviam Indians who populated this valley prior to the 20th century came from the discovery of a cave by two Castaic boys. Brothers Everette and McCoy Pyle, on May 2, 1884, discovered the caches near today’s Chiquita Landfill. It was later called Bowers Cave after the Ventura doctor to whom the boys sold their treasure — for a pittance of its actual value. The artifacts apparently are still in boxes somewhere in the basement of the Peabody Museum at Harvard. One of the brothers, McCoy, later became a local lawman. He was shot in the back of the head in a Newhall saloon in the early 20th century.
BLAME THE COWS? — The cattle market collapsed and the mayor of Los Angeles and owner of the Rancho San Francisco (today, much of the Santa Clarita Valley) Ignacio del Valle, was forced to sell his home. In a complicated land deal, frontman Thomas R. Bard bought the rancho on April 29, 1865.
VALLEY OF GOLD — On May 3, 1842, the San Francisquito Mining District was established, commemorating the discovery of gold by Don Francisco Lopez, possibly in Placerita Canyon. While it has been celebrated as the first gold discovery in Southern California, gold mining had been going on in the SCV as far back as the 1790s.
MAY WE HAVE A HEARTY, ‘BULLY!!!’ — We had a pretty big celebrity staying at the Acton Hotel on May 4, 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt stopped off to visit some friends and do a little hunting. One of the friends of Mr. Roosevelt (he hated being called, “Teddy”) was Rosy Melrose, the legendary gunfighter, hunter, practical joker, and lead participant in the Crown Valley Feud where he shot dead the mayor of Acton in a main street gunfight. Of the bullets found in the mayor’s heart, the Los Angeles Coroner wrote in his cause-of-death report: “…good grouping.”
MAY 5, 1923
BACK WHEN WE WERE WESTERN — More than 8,000 folks who enjoyed things cowboy showed up for the third annual Newhall Rodeo. The festivities started with a parade through town, followed by a huge barbecue. A couple of local cowpokes took top money. Leonard Cesena (whose family still hails from these parts) was first in steer riding and Hank Wertz Jr. was the top man in calf roping. Local rancher, Fat Jones, supplied much of the rodeo stock. Fat, you might recall, had the ranch over by Calgrove and it was on that acreage later on where he would discover a complete sabretooth tiger skeleton perfectly preserved. Fat’s place would later become a major movie lot. Many of the eyes were on the celebrities. Three of the biggest movie stars on the planet were here: Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Tom Mix. The rodeo grounds back then were at the present-day Newhall Elementary, which didn’t exist at that location then. The rodeo would soon move over to the present-day Saugus Speedway on Soledad.
LOTS OF WATER UNDERGROUND. NOT SO MUCH ATOP. — Historian and builder of Newhall’s first water company, A.B. Perkins, applied for a rate increase. Back then, you had to go to the Railroad Commission, of all places. Several locals showed up to the meeting in downtown L.A. They felt if Newhall was ever going to have proper lawns, the NWC had to be improved.
OUR MOST FAMOUS CATTLE RUSTLER. (AND TRAIN DERAILER) — Long before “Buffalo” Tom Vernon drew national headlines for derailing a passenger train in Saugus and robbing the injured and confused passengers, he ran afoul of the law. Or, in this case, a cattle of the law. Tom defrauded upper Canyon Country ranchers Louis Radmacher and H.E. Slayton of several head of steers. He also stole the milking cow of Mrs. Harry Carey, San Francisquito housewife, and movie star. Tom served a little meditation time for his sticky livestock fingers.
WAY BACK, THE RUSSIAN MAFIA IN NEWHALL — One of the bigger arrests in Southern California bootlegging history occurred on this date on the old King Collins Ranch, which had been sold to Frank Lasalle of Lasalle Canyon fame. Two 500-gallon stills were seized, along with sugar, yeast and 57 barrels of sour mash — enough to make four double flatbed truckloads of moonshine whiskey. The man operating the still was arrested and held with a $5,000 bail. For some odd reason, the bail was reduced to $1,000. He had confessed he worked for “…wealthy Russian Jews from Los Angeles.”
MAY 5, 1933
SAME GIANT RODEO, NEW NAME — The Newhall Rodeo went through many name changes. It was the Hoot Gibson Rodeo, the Saugus Rodeo and the Newhall-Saugus Rodeo. This year, it was called the Golden State Rodeo and was held at the Saugus Speedway, which was then called the Hoot Gibson Arena, after the Western movie star who lived there and owned it. Besides the usual rodeo fare, there was thoroughbred racing.
HOT TICKETS — We arrested a rather large gang of ticket counterfeiters at the rodeo, too. Our cops caught up with them early. About 25 con men had sold $264 worth of the bogus entry passes.
SOMETIMES, LAW ENFORCEMENT IS FOR THE BIRDS — Sheriff’s Deputy Dick Lindsay must have seemed like the hospitable sort to a couple of our winged friends. He left his police cap on the table outside the station for a few hours. When he went out to get it, he noticed two energetic birds had been stuffing it full of leaves and straw. Those cop toppers do make good birds’ nests…
MAY 5, 1943
FRED’S LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE OF NOSTALGIA — Here’s a quote from Signal Editor Fred Trueblood’s column. I’m going to post for my alter ego, Mr. Santa Clarita Valley: “One of the infallible signs of approaching senility is to reminisce about boyhood days.” Why, Fred’s point reminds me of the time when I was a…
SPEAKING OF NOSTALGIA — By the way. Every Thursday, for decades, Fred Trueblood closed his front-page column, “Signal Tower,” with the same line: “That’sallthereisthereisn’tanymore.” Yes. It was all run together like that. On this date, Fred signed off in Spanish: “Es todo — no hay mas.”
A SMALL SIDE EFFECT OF THE WAR — The American Theatre nearly closed on this date. Seems manager Hal Hall got himself drafted and was the only guy in town who knew how to run a movie house. His brother-in-law moved to town to spell him.
MAY 5, 1953
TEENS & TROUBLE. STILL GO HAND IN HAND. — Today, it’s rave parties. (It still IS rave parties, isn’t it?) Seventy years back, it was the beer bust. A huge brewski fest involving nearly 100 teens up Hasley Canyon was broken up by sheriff’s deputies. The bash was a farewell party for a local youth going into the Army.
NOT A HAPPY FIRST ANNIVERSARY FOR THE REEVES FAMILY — According to neighbors in Bouquet Canyon, Mr. and Mrs. Curtis E. Reeves had been quietly chatting and listening to the radio on their patio. Mrs. Reeves went inside, and Curtis followed. The 49-year-old salesman, for a reason no one will know, fired a couple of shots into the ceiling of their cabin, then shot his fleeing wife in the back. A neighbor ran into the house to see Reeves place the shotgun at point-blank range and nearly blow his wife’s head off. The salesman then threatened the neighbor, who ran back home to call the law. Reeves then went back outside and was seen sitting, head cupped in his hands. He went back into the bedroom, placed the gun to his temple, and committed suicide.
SAME BIG-ASTERISK RODEO, WITH YET ANOTHER NAME — On this date, the 27th annual Newhall-Saugus Rodeo was held at the same place but this time, with a different name — Bonelli Stadium. About 30,000 showed up. A young handsome cowpoke named Ben Johnson, who sometimes lived in Placerita Canyon, took top money in the calf-roping event. Johnson would later co-star in many Westerns, including “Shane,” and would later win a little bigger prize than the calf-roping belt buckle. Ben won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in “The Last Picture Show.” Ben used to stay and work for an old friend of mine, Andy Jauregui. One of his three beautiful teenage daughters, Noureen, a Newhallite forever, swore she was going to marry Ben when she grew up. The Jauregui ranch was often filled with a Who’s Who of Hollywood superstars, from John Wayne to Elie Kazan, Bill Hart to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The Ben Johnson wedding never materialized. She did marry the super handsome movie star, John Baer. They produced one daughter, the lovely Teresa, who also became an actress.
MAY 5, 1963
A MELANCHOLY DATE FOR ME — This is the day that the Trueblood brothers, Fred and Richard, sold The Mighty Signal to Ray Brooks. The Trueblood family ran this paper starting in 1938. For 25 years, every Thursday morning, on the left-hand side of the front page, there was the signature “Signal Tower” column. Through the Depression, World War II, the Cold War and hundreds of crises from world to national to local, Fred Sr., and then his son, Fred Jr., would rally the community, share dark nights of the soul, and cheerlead for the Santa Clarita. The Trueblood family covered the births of hundreds of children, watched them grow, printed their weddings and, too frequently, obituaries. As I mentioned earlier, both father and son ended their column with the same close: That’sallthereisthereisn’tanymore. Except this time, it was true.
DULL DIES — Martha Ann Dull was 88 and wife to former Newhall shoe repairman, Lester B. Dull, who was also the valley’s first school bus driver. Martha was matriarch of 231 descendants, leaving behind six daughters, two sons, 59 grandchildren, 135 great-grandchildren and 37 great-great-grandchildren. Imagine that family, reared on a cobbler’s salary. Imagine, taking your shoes to be polished by a man named, “Dull…”
MAY 5, 1973
THAT WAS ONE HAIRY EXPLOSION! — I have no idea whatsoever how you get a job like this, but it ought to come with hazard pay. On this date, professional toupee cleaner, John Evans, who worked out of his home, blew up his garage. Evans was using high-octane dry-cleaning fluid to cleanse his hairy charges when the fumes caught up with the pilot light to the water heater and went ka-blooey. Evans’s arm caught on fire, as did the wigs and garage. He was treated and released from the hospital. I’m guessing some of Evans’ customers walked around with that dazed and singed Sylvester the Cat look after the TNT stick blew.
BRITCHES-LESS IN CASTAIC — If you’re a cop, here’s a call over the police scanner you really want to roll on: “Man taking off clothes in front of the Shamrock Inn in Castaic.” When local deputies arrived, they found a fellow (I won’t mention his name, he still may live here) on his knees, face down on the sidewalk with his pants pulled down around his knees. It was deemed the chap was about 122 times past drunk, so much so he could not stand, pull up his drawers nor offer a snappy explanation on why they were down in the first place.
RUN FOR OFFICE. LIVE LONGER. — Signal gossip columnist Mimi (aka, Ruth Newhall) had an interesting tidbit. According to a life insurance study, politicians have a 20% higher-than-average mortality rate than other professions. Mimi pointed out that before anyone at The Signal could gloat, it was noted that the study had journalists and correspondents dwelling in the basement of the study. Their mortality rates are double that of all the other men in the study. Good thing I’m a columnist…
NIXON IN THE SCV — Fifty years ago this week, Richard Milhouse Nixon gave his tearful Watergate speech in which he assumed “full responsibility” for the break-in of the Democratic headquarters. After his resignation, he was seen, several times, walking in the back hills of the SCV, a black limousine inching behind him along with a Secret Serviceman. Not making that up
SOMETHING YOU DON’T SEE MUCH OF ON THE SHERIFF’S LOG TODAY — Before the hills were littered with condos, livestock grazed here. The cattle population was probably around 20,000 in the SCV 50 years ago. On this date, there was one less. Cattle rustlers butchered a steer right off Interstate 5, leaving the carcass to rot close to the truck lane. It was the third time Newhall Ranch (the cattle operation of The Newhall Land & Farming Co. back then, not the housing project) had been hit by beef-hungry desperadoes that year. Usually, the rustlers will take only the hindquarters of a steer — that’s where all the choice cuts like T-bone, loins and filet strips reside. The cattle crooks had hit other ranches in the SCV, too. Rifle-toting cowboys now started night riding duty on the valley’s various herds. The predations were blamed on the high cost of beef.
DORN’S SLAUGHTER ALLEY — County supervisor Baxter Ward announced that the widening of Soledad Canyon Road from two lanes to four would break the bottleneck of traffic jams in that area. Yeah sure, right. By the way. My good and old-time saddlepal, Pat Comey, shared that Soledad Canyon at that spot earned the unasked-for nickname of “Dorn’s Slaughter Alley” due to the number of traffic accidents and deaths since there was no center median and the speed limit was 50 but most went much faster. Pat should know. In 1970, he was plowed into head-on by a drunk driver.
OH NO! DON’T GO INTO MAINSTREAM MEDIA, LAURA!! — For years, she was the lead anchorwoman for CBS Channel 2 evening news in Los Angeles. But 50 years ago, Laura Diaz, Hart student and Eddie Diaz’s kid sister, posed for a Signal pictorial on what would happen if girls played football.
THE PONY EXPRESS WOULD HAVE FOUND A WAY TO DELIVER — Talk about strict CC&Rs, the U.S. Postal Service refused to deliver mail in certain new Valencia neighborhoods. ’Tweren’t because of rain, sleet, snow, or dogs, either. No mailboxes. I’m thinking a fresh young pup of a junior executive, Tom Lee, was in charge of that department back then. (Just kidding you, amigo…)
AUF WIEDERSEHEN, SAXONIA — It was the end of an era. On this date, Saxonia Park, the little shady oasis in Placerita Canyon, was sold. Saxonia Park had started as a German picnic ground in 1924. For nearly a half-century, the park was used by folks of German heritage (and sometimes not) to celebrate Oktoberfest. The private park at the end of Quigley Canyon was also used to host all the valley’s big events, from our massive Fourth of July, the Catholic Barbecue and even the long-forgotten May Day.
The land was acquired by 50 members of Sachsen Verein, an organization made up of immigrants in the Alsace-Lorraine area of then East Germany. The Verein was a men’s fraternal group that had started even earlier in Los Angeles — 1904 — and was a place where the guys could go to drink beer, play cards and cavort.
Several members were Jewish. The group searched for a picnic area to buy to bring their families and found the 5 acres of oak-shaded farmland complete with a barn and house. They paid a rather steep price for the posh location — $2,500.
Those original members built an open-air dance pavilion, which later burned to the ground. Another would be built, along with a barbecue area, kitchen, baseball field, flowered lattices, and other buildings. Another 5 acres would be purchased later, making the total compound 10 acres.
There were four major German fests held there every year — Bockbierfest in early spring, Maibock in later spring, Schlachfest (ANOTHER spring drinking bout, this one to celebrate an ancient slaughter holiday), and Herbsfest, honoring the Autumn harvest. Thousands of folks would attend. One thing the Germans never got used to was Newhall’s summer heat. It wasn’t fun drinking warm beer when it was 113.
When World War II hit. Obviously, a German-based party retreat wasn’t a very popular idea. And, as the original members of the founding club aged, no one stepped in to keep up the traditions.
The park was sold on this date to Lester Meadows, a San Fernando Valley man who lived there with his wife, Mae. They rented the place out for various events, from dances to company picnics. Today, it’s a Four Square Church. Boy. If they ever put it up for sale, I’d love to live there.
MAY 5, 1983
GREAT NAME… FOR A BULLFIGHTER — Today, Dianne Van Hook is the COC chancellor with a really cool name. She is right up there as far as other Cougar chief execs with swashbuckling handles. On this date, Ramon LaGrandeur took over the COC top post. Can just imagine those two sharing a 1932 movie poster…
AND STILL NO ANSWER AS TO WHY THEIR MASCOT WAS A BIG, FAT, RAT — Here’s one of those staggeringly important benchmark dates in local history. On this date, Chuck E. Cheese Pizza opened. The original location of the cardboard and noise factory was next to Kmart.
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Surely glad to share the back trails of local history with all y’all. If it’s not an imposition on your dance cards, what say we try another exciting Time Ranger adventure next Sunday? Until then, Santa Clarita saddlepals — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
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