Top of this fine October fall morning to you, dear amigos and amigo-ettes. We’ve a most amazing trail ride through Santa Clarita Valley history ahead, filled with serial killers, range wars, pistol fighters, moonshiners and big-time political feuds.
If memory serves, left foot goes in the stirrup on the left side of the horsey. Or, for you relatives of Popeye — port. Swing the other ped over the saddle, settle yourself in and enjoy the scenery.
You seasoned time travelers/cowpokes and cowpoke-ettes? No showing off by doing a running mount. It unnerves the newbies …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
YAHOOS — On Oct. 8, 1858, the fabled Butterfield Overland stagecoach rode through the Newhall Pass and was greeted at the Lyons Station near Eternal Valley with a 100-gun salute by local yahoos. The stage then went on to San Francisquito Canyon. With 100 rifles and pistols going off and all that ammo falling earthward, best place to be was in Palmdale.
RE: THE ABOVE — Not too many souls there in Palmdaletopia in 1858 and thems that were had hard heads …
OUR ANCIENT KANSAS CONNECTION — We have a long-standing connection with Kansas. Both Kansas Street and Arcadia (from Arcadia, Kansas) were named for Newhall’s only presidential candidate, Henry Clay Needham. Another Kansan, Rudolph Eugene Nickel, aka “The Father of Acton,” arrived in the area on Oct. 11, 1887. Nickel was the editor of the second newspaper in the SCV, The Acton Rooster. He also built the world-famous resort, the Acton Hotel.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO WURT. HE WAS BORN IN THE DIRT. — Wurt — aka, W.W. Jenkins — looked innocent enough. He was a dead ringer for a smaller version of the old Western character actor, Gabby Hayes. But Jenkins was one of the deadliest pistol fighters in Southern California and was famous for being embroiled in one of the West’s bloodiest and longest range wars — in Castaic. Wurt was born on Oct. 12, 1833. Nope. Not in Kansas, rather, Circleville, Ohio.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO NEWHALL. Y’ALL. AND, IN ITS PLURAL, ALL-Y’ALL — The town was founded on Oct. 13, 1876 — where the present-day Saugus Cafe is. About a year later, the entire town moved a couple miles down the dirt road to present-day 6th & Main, lock, stock and barrel. Some say it was due to a lack of water, others said it was because of the wind. Others profess it was because southbound trains needed a rest period before going up the Newhall Grade into San Fernando.
OCTOBER 14, 1923
PICK A NUMBER — On this date, the Newhall Chamber of Commerce was rather busy. They OK’d the purchase of a used Reo fire truck for the volunteer fire department. A local committee was formed to put up corner sign posts with the names of streets on them. And, The Mighty Signal was chastised. Seems we were in charge of printing house numbers for the several dozen homes in the valley and we didn’t have them in time. Amen, boy howdy. That’d be a great gig for us here at the paper today — getting the exclusive contract to make everybody’s house numbers …
MORE HOUSE NUMBERS — House numbers were a relatively new concept in the wilds of California, in which we were located. With just about 500 souls in the whole valley, you identified someone’s home simply by saying, “So-&-so’s place …” Our early house numbers were between one and three digits.
AS MICK JAGGER SAID, “IT’S A GAS-GAS-GAS …” — Carl Sischo (who opened the first gas station in Newhall) sold his business. The Newhall Filling Station was put up for sale for $3,000. That’s like one-half tank of gas today …
YUP. MORE HUMANE TO USE THEM AS HORS D’OEUVRES — Blanche Brown, Signal editor & publisher, penned an editorial on the cruelty of trapping and using animals to make fur coats. She predicted the day would come — and soon — where animals were no longer hunted or raised for their pelts.
POOR GUY. DIDN’T EVEN HAVE HIS OWN THEME MUSIC — I’ve mentioned we had our own local federal anti-moonshine agent — James Bond (no relation to the Brit esponiage randy chap, 007). On this date, Jimmy, along with renowned lawmen Ed Brown and Jack Pilcher, busted an illegal winemaking operation on the other side of the Newhall Pass. They arrested a rancher by the name of Guasti. It pretty much broke his heart as he watched the lawmen dump 11,000 gallons of wine in his barranca. Adding insult to injury, they dragged Mr. Guasti back to Newhall where he paid a whopping $900 fine to Judge Miller. To put that in perspective, you could buy a brand-new house in Saugus for $500 — total. That week, a century back, the local court collected $2,400 in liquor fines. As for Guasti, illegal winemaking must have been rather lucrative. He paid his fine from a large roll of bills from his overalls.
OCTOBER 14, 1933
YUP. AND IN THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY, AMMO, WATER AND THE PROPER PRONOUN — A national real estate expert, E.D. Woodruff, spoke in Newhall. His topic? Inflation. Woodruff noted: “If inflation comes, real estate will be the most desirable of all investments.” And so it came to pass …
THE RIDICULOUSLY HIGH PRICE OF POOL — On this date, young Bailey Haskell and his brother Sam took over as owners of the Newhall Pool Hall, along with Bill Bailey. (I don’t think it was THE Bill Bailey of “… won’t you come home” fame). With Depression-era prices, it sure seems like you had to have a lot of money to play billiards back then. You could rent the snooker table for 60 cents an hour (about the same price as 30 pounds of potatoes).
OCTOBER 14, 1943
THE SIXTH LOST SON OF THE LITTLE SANTA CLARA RIVER VALLEY — Two dreaded telegrams arrived in Santa Clarita homes on this date. The Navy informed two local families that Frank Whitmore and Tom Ross were MIA, presumed dead. That brought the casualty list of SCV men fighting in World War II to six.
OCTOBER 14, 1953
LOUSY YELLOW JOURNALISM EVEN BACK THEN — The Los Angeles Times, and, its sister paper, the L.A. Mirror, went after Saugus ranching and business mogul, “Big” Bill Bonelli. Bonelli was also head of the state Board of Equalization where he reported discovering that The Times owned hundreds of liquor licenses and hid their ownership with their reporters and editors.
The Times and Mirror then went after the Bonelli family, causing Bonelli to hide out for 17 years. Bonelli published the hardcover book, “Billion Dollar Blackjack,” an expose of the real estate dealings of the huge paper. The Times would eventually run an epic front-page story, accusing Bonelli’s son, Bill Jr., of being a mafia kingpin — just a few days before Bonelli Jr. ran for the state Assembly. After Bonelli Jr. lost, The Times ran a small apology and correction of the damning article and buried it in the back of the paper.
THE HUMAN WOLF — On this date, the saga of the SCV’s only known serial killer began with the arrest of Richard John Jensen. Jensen, who was later described by his Newhall judge as “a human wolf who preyed on victims since the age of 8” went up and down the local highways, kidnapping men, shooting them with a rigged rifle in the back seat and then raping them as they died.
(Not at all a shameless plug, but, if you’re interested, I have a detailed look at Jensen in my SCV history series, “Volume I of Ghosts, Ghouls, Myths & Monsters.” And boy, was Jensen a monster … johnbostonbooks.com.)
A half-century back, Jensen picked up a hitchhiking soldier, Marine Sgt. Marvin Piper. Jensen operated a string-loaded shot gun in the back seat and when Piper sat down, Jensen pulled the string and a double blast went through the back seat. He shot Piper. He then beat Piper with a hammer and proceeded with his deviance. Thinking Piper dead, he tried burying him in loose dirt and snow.
Because of his excellent physical shape, youth and the cold coagulating the blood from his many wounds, Sgt. Piper managed to walk a mile to the old Sandberg resort. He staggered in from the cold, naked and covered in blood and dirt.
California Highway Patrol officers quickly made it up to Sandberg’s and drove him to the Newhall hospital. Other cops, with a description of the car, pulled it over and found Jensen covered in blood. He sported a sick, hideous grin and, when asked about the blood inside the car, Jensen said he had been skinning a rabbit.
Thinking the Marine might die, the sheriff’s deputies forced Jensen across 6th Street to the hospital so the soldier could identify Jensen.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Barkalow knelt down next to the stretcher. “You are seriously wounded. You may die. Is this the man who shot you?” The Marine, in shock, could only say he read newspapers from cover to cover.
Detectives later discovered shotgun pellets mostly hit spring and a thin wooden board on the passenger-side seat. If it hadn’t, Sgt. Piper would have been dead instantly.
Newhall was packed with reporters and TV crews from all over the country. The climactic moment came when Jensen, on the stand, saw the back door to the Newhall Court House open and on a stretcher, the Marine was carried in.
Jensen had been confident — cocky — on the stand, thinking that the only witness that could send him to the gas chamber was dead. His face went ashen when he saw Piper, in full military formal dress, carried in.
With Piper’s testimony, Jensen was found guilty of kidnapping and other charges. He was executed less than three months later.
AN INDIAN’S RIGHT TO CLIMB A BARSTOOL — It’s hard to believe that just 70 years ago, California Native Americans were not allowed to sue or be sued in state courts, nor were they allowed to buy or drink alcohol. New state and federal legislation abolished that. A Signal editorial by Fred Trueblood welcomed the change: “Maybe liquor isn’t good for anybody, white or red. That’s besides the point. (The Indian) now has the right to climb a bar stool alongside any white man — and he’ll feel the better for possessing that right, even with a hangover!”
OCTOBER 14, 1963
THE ROOTS OF SIGNAL EDITOR TIM WHYTE’S THREE-&-HALF HOUR LUNCH — I’m not sure this is a record, but on this date, 31 Hart High students were suspended following walking off campus. School officials said the kids were problem students. The students said they were protesting the new 30-minute split lunch.
OCTOBER 14, 1973
COWBOYS, SWALLOW, DON’T CHEW — And so it went on. A decade later, this time coming from the Canyon High student body, the kids voted to cut lunch down to 15 minutes. The switchboards lit up at Cowboy Country, with parents rightly pointing out that a quarter of an hour wasn’t much time to digest a tuna sandwich. Turns out the whole thing was a hoax, perpetrated by student government. Why? To draw attention to student government.
WE JUST CAN’T SEEM TO STOP BITING OURSELVES IN THE HEINIE AT THE GAS PUMP — As a protest of high industry gas prices, half the stations in Santa Clarita shut down for a day. For a variety of reasons, including the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, gas prices quadrupled in a matter of months. A gallon of regular went for about $1.60 here and around SoCal. That is actually less (about $4.10 in today’s prices), adjusting for the price today (close to $6). It was a huge hit for most locals. Valencia was brand new and booming. People moved out here but still worked in the San Fernando Valley or L.A. and commuted. Raising gasoline prices created all manner of crises and new cultural mores, like gas rationing and carpooling.
OCTOBER 14, 1983
THE LURE OF FREE STUFF — Measure M was on the ballot for November. It called for rent control in all of Los Angeles County, which includes the SCV, of course. Who contributed $15,000 to defeat the measure? The Newhall Land & Farming Co.
THE UNFORGETTABLE STREAK — Never forget this date: Oct. 7, 1983. That Friday night was the beginning of Canyon High’s epic football winning streak that lasted for 46 games. The powerhouse ’boys trounced Dominguez, 34-0, en route to a perfect season and a CIF championship.
• • •
Well saddlepals. Looks like we’ve made it home safe and sound and a smidgen wiser. Look forward to riding with you all next Sunday 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 …