Happy autumn to you, saddlepals. We’ve a most interesting trail ride through Santa Clarita history ahead.
There’s meth labs and gunfights, moonshiners, hermits and range wars.
You old-timers, help the younger yuppies into their saddles and go through the basic A-Z of time-traveling horsemanship …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
PRE-PRE-PRE-SCV TRANSIT — On Sept. 24, 1855, brothers Sanford and Cyrus Lyon bought the stagecoach stop near present-day Eternal Valley from Henry Clay Wiley. The twins would become two of the most important pioneers in our valley’s history.
OIL OF ME, WHY NOT TAKE OIL OF ME (sorry…) — One of the world’s longest-operating oil wells started pumping back on Sept. 26, 1876 — right around the time that the community of Newhall was founded. Old CSO No. 4 was the first successful commercial oil well in the West and kept pumping out oil for well over a century. The site is still there in Pico Canyon today. On the same day in 1977, the well was dedicated as an official state historical landmark.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1923
GIANT CAVE O’ BOOZE — Two local hunters came back to town with a high-spirited tale. Seems they were in the hills to the north and started following some mysterious wagon tracks. The trail led to a cave and in the huge cave was a huge basement, filled with stills and moonshine whiskey. The two hunters high-tailed it, fearing either the bootleggers would return or the feds would raid the cave and mistake them for the moonshiners. A century ago, Prohibition was the federal law of the land and it was most illegal to make, buy or sell alcoholic beverages, from beer to champagne.
ZAP POWER — Here’s a rare time when a Mighty Signal editorial might be prophetic. This newspaper’s owner/publisher Blanche Brown professed that, in the near future, motor cars would be run for several years on a total cost of just $3. Blanche was talking, of course, about the electric car.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1933
CLIP JOINT — I was always amazed that our local barbers, E.C. Blowers, L.D. Williams and Ed Gay, could stay in business during the Depression. They charged 50 cents a haircut — men or women — and 35 cents for kids. In 1930s money during such tough financial times, that’s a pretty good chunk of change and many just cut each other’s hair outside on the front lawn. Or dirt.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1943
NO ‘NICOLE’ IN THE MIDDLE — Mrs. Anna Smith passed away on this date. At 97, she was the valley’s oldest resident. She and her family came to Newhall in a covered wagon — in 1910. Had Anna survived, she’d be 177 today.
DEATH OF OUR MYSTERIOUS GRUMP — Another Newhallian made their transition into the Next Reality. Nels Anderson was more nefarious than Anna. Anderson was the grumpy and mysterious town recluse. He kept a mailbox down at the post office and would check it daily, throwing away every bit of mail except for his pension check from the Spanish-American War. Whether he hailed from a well-off family or had some other income, no one ever knew. He fiercely fought off even a hello from across the street. In 1934, Anderson stormed into the Ford dealership and picked out a brand-new truck from Jess Doty. The owner didn’t think the unkempt and hostile Swede could make payments but Anderson fooled him, pulling out a thick wad of large bills and paying for the vehicle in cash. He threw a tarp over the back, permanently parked the vehicle at the Shady Lane Trailer Park and slept in the back until he died nearly a decade later. Because Nels literally had no friends or spoke to no one, nearly two weeks went by before anyone checked the back of his truck.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1953
BILLY ROSE & THE FIRST SCARED O’ BEARS RANCH — He was known in his later years as “Uncle” Billy Rose — a rugged and colorful loner who lived in the mountains above Castaic. Rose ran cattle in the hills and lived in a small and isolated cabin. Twice he had run-ins with bears. Once, in the middle of the night, he heard a bruin tearing through his beehives. Rose walked up to it and shot it between the eyes. Another bear, weighing in at nearly a half-ton, tried to break into his cabin. Rose shot that one dead in his front door. The beast was so huge, he couldn’t move him. Rose had to wait until morning and ride into town to enlist some help.
Rose was also the brother-in-law to local legend Annie Briggs. It was Rose who rediscovered the fabled Lost Padre Mine. He and Annie worked it for years, pulling out some serious money in gold, silver and quartz. But for what was Billy the MOST famous? He inadvertently ended the Great Castaic Range War of the late 19th and early 20th century, perhaps the largest in American history. Reports vary that between 23 and 40 men were killed in this boundary dispute. Prior to World War I, Rose ran up against his rival patriarch and fabled lawman and pistol fighter, W.W. Jenkins. On a lonely road, the two drew iron and Rose shot Jenkins, nearly fatally. Rose hid out in a cave for nearly a year. Jenkins, up in years, never was the same and the feud pretty much ended there.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1963
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE — The controversial actor and young superstar, James Dean, stopped at Tip’s Restaurant at Castaic Junction (near where the present-day Highway Patrol HQ is) before his fatal meeting with death up the road. Dean’s last meal was apple pie and milk.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1963
NIGHTMARE IN AGUA DULCE — They used to say about Agua Dulce that for such a small place way up in the hills, it surely attracted trouble. On this date, every cop within 20 miles was called in on a report of a big gunfight and robbery outside the grocery store. When the units arrived, they discovered the place was being used as a movie location. For you film buffs, the flick was “Nightmare in the Sun,” starring John Derek and Aldo Ray.
SEPTEMBER 22, 1969
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU COUGARS — This is a belated birthday wish, but on this date, College of the Canyons was founded. I remember the basketball team, led by Lee Smelser, didn’t have their own gym and had to practice at Hart at 5 in the morning. I always wondered what drove Smelsey from a CIF championship team, located right on the beach, to an essentially farm community that traveled to the wastelands of North America for all their games.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1973
ALL THOSE NUTS OVER AT NEWHALL LAND — Before they lopped “& Farming” off their logo, Newhall Land was pretty impressive in the ag business. In 1973, they grew around 1 million pounds of walnuts. At the grocery store, that’d cost you about $900,000.
NOT GUNS N’ ROSES, BUT … — Guns and idiots. They’re a volatile mix. Yahoos were blamed for shooting up San Francisquito Canyon, from mailboxes to killing two pregnant cows.
GIDDYUP AND HERE’S YOUR PAPER — Ah, the good old days. Thirty years back, Dwight Trester was The Mighty Signal’s delivery boy for the Sand Canyon area. Dwight didn’t use a bike for his route. The 12-year-old rode his horse. I’m not great on math, but I wonder if Dwight is still in the area? He’d be 72 now.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1983
WONDER IF SOMEONE DID A BACKGROUND CHECK ON OL’ MARK — It must have been a rough neighborhood. On this date, police raided a Newhall home on Kalb Court and found dynamite, four mortar rockets, military kits for making exploding booby-traps, an Uzi plus a couple dozen other weapons, along with chemicals for a meth lab. Neighbors thought the homeowner, Mark Lichtenfeld, was making firecrackers. He was arrested and charged with several dozen local and federal offenses.
SPEAKING OF TOUGH NEIGHBORHOODS — You didn’t want to be at the Big Oaks Lodge up Bouquet Canyon. A firefight between two groups of men left two wounded. At least 15 shotgun and pistol blasts were exchanged. The war started when two youths fired their BB guns at a passing truck, smashing a window. The occupants saw two boys run to hide in a cabin. The men threw a beer bottle through the cabin window, drove down to Saugus, got reinforcements and returned to the cabin. The adult cabin owners, who didn’t know why a beer bottle had been thrown through their window, heard a commotion of their dog barking and several men getting out of the truck. The homeowners, armed to the teeth and not know why these yahoos were on their property, went out to investigate. Someone fired a shot at them and that’s when the firefight started. Five were arrested. One of the injured, Leon Grieve, sustained multiple gunshot wounds. He was the only one who had charges pressed against him.
DEAR, DEAR MIKE — On this date, COC’s Mike Gillespie was named Coach of the Year. I wish this dear fellow and absolute cool-as-a-cucumber genius of a baseball coach was still with us so I could smile at him and comment, “must’ve have been fixed …” One of the best people to come out of College of the Canyons.
FROM THE NO TRUTH IN ADVERTISING DEPT. — On this date, a local Christian reported passing a blue van that had a “Honk If You Love Jesus” bumper sticker on the back. The Christian passed, smiled, waved and honked. The bearded van driver responded by flipping off the Christian.
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Sure appreciate sharing this early Autumn trail ride with you saddlepals. Looking forward to seeing you all again back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post (that’d be 259-1000 for subscriptions) with another exciting Time Ranger adventure, and, until then — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!
If you enjoy the Time Ranger, you’re going to love his local history volumes. Visit johnbostonbooks.com. 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…