The Time Ranger | So How Big Was the Bear That Ate Ol’ Pete?

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Santa Clarita surely is something. It’s nearly November and some of our friends and relatives in the Northern Climes are pulling out snowshoes. Here in Santa Clarita? We’re still hovering in front of air conditioners. 

We’ve an interesting trail ride ahead, dear saddlepals. There’s heroic dogs and Spiro Agnew (Remember? The former Veep?) We’ve got grizzly bear appetizers and, gasp, an honest politician. We’ll even visit the Santa Clarita Valley’s tent prison. 

OK you yuppies and old-timers alike. You know the drill. Sit up straight in the saddle and keep the conversations interesting so your horses don’t fall asleep. Swear. It’s happened before … 


GOOD DAY FOR THE BEAR. BAD DAY FOR PETE. — Not to tempt fate, but in Life du Moderne Santa Clarita, about the worst that can happen to you is being chased by a dog while bicycling along a paseo. Back on Oct. 17, 1837, Peter LeBeck was killed by a grizzly bear up at Frazier Park. They carved his tombstone on the tree where his remains were found.  

There has been much speculation as to who Pete was. Some say he was a trapper or mountain man. Others say he was part of a band of outlaws from the New Mexico area that marauded the Southwest. Folks still question whether the town of Lebec (smack next door to Frazier Park today, right off Interstate 5) had any relation to Pete, who spelt his name differently. Some feel that Lebec was named after a grocer. There is a marker dedicated in 1938 at Fort Tejon. Bark had grown over the original carving and some folks in the 1930s reportedly pulled back the bark to reveal the legacy of the poor soul who wrote his own epitaph.  

MORE ON LEBEC — According to Bonnie Ketter/Kane, a historian of the Ridge Route Communities Museum and Historical Society, our old comrade, Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, may be to blame for the name of Lebec. 

Wrote Ketter/Kane: “It is not known for sure when the community of Lebec took its name, but it was no doubt the result of a speech made by Edward Fitzgerald Beale, owner of the neighboring Tejon Ranch. In an April 1888 address at Bakersfield, Beale proposed to lay out a town and divide the lands adjoining it into ‘villa lots.’ This he said would be called ‘Lebecque,’ named for the trapper, Peter Lebeck, (as his name was carved above the grave) who was killed by a bear and buried at Fort Tejon in 1837. Beale said, ‘The town will be in the vicinity of the grave, on or near the site of the old military post,’ which would have been on ranch property. Somehow Beale’s proposal never came about; however, a settlement did develop 3 miles south of the Fort on property adjoining Tejon Ranch.” 

MORE LEBEC/BEAR STUFF — Regarding the above — interestingly, there’s a rather unorthodox society called E Clampus Vitus, which, some feel means “a historical drinking society” and others feel it means absolutely nothing. The jolly group busies itself placing historical markers in out-of-the-way places. The Kern County No. 1866 is called the Peter LeBeck Chapter. 

HOTEL LEBEC — All right, saddlepals. I’m not going to apologize for taking you so far north because it’s such a beautiful autumn day for a ride. But more on Lebec. Interestingly, they used to have a five-star hotel/resort up the road from us – the Hotel Lebec. It opened in May 1921 and was a favorite getaway of the Hollywood crowd. Heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey was the first to tee off from their golf course. That was in 1925. The hotel amidst the San Emigdio Mountains used to have a baseball team that played against our own Newhall and Saugus teams. 

MORE LEBEC, EVEN THOUGH WE SORT OF PROMISED WE WOULDN’T — OK. Maybe I was kidding. ONE MORE tidbit on old Pete. Some thought that the bear that killed LeBeck may have been the monstrous Piebald Grizzly of the Piru, who was called such for his curious facial markings (as if someone hit him in the face with a cream pie). Piebald also had the second nickname of Old Clubfoot because of the mangled track he left after his foot had been caught in a trap. When he was finally shot, killed and weighed, Pie/Foot tipped the scales at more than 2,350 pounds. This will probably kick into the ongoing debate of whether our local grizzes surpassed the one-ton mark. Fairly recently, the one that John Lang shot in 1878 reportedly only weighed a skinny sub-ton. That info came fairly recently from an ancient letter to an L.A. newspaper, from Lang himself. So did the Piru Piebald Grizzly NOT weigh 2,300 pounds? 

OCTOBER 21, 1923  

HOW MUCH FOR THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT? — Jesse Doty just got a new inventory of Ford cars to sell at his Newhall dealership. A new Model T sold for $530. If you wanted a starter, it was $85 extra. 

THE HIGH COST OF KEEPING TOASTY — C.H. Adams had a rather expensive campfire. He was sleeping out in the woods and had a pretty nice blaze going. Forest Ranger (and future Signal editor) Thornton Doelle saw the flickering light, moseyed over on his horse and arrested Adams. It cost the camper $50 in fines. In 1923 money? That was about 10% of a brand-new house in 1923. Yee and Ouch … 

OCTOBER 21, 1933  

OUR FIRST CITIZEN — On this date, Newhall’s oldest resident, Sarah Gifford, had her birthday. She turned 80. What can we say? It was a small town. It should also be pointed out that Sarah was Newhall’s first official resident. She and her husband, John, ran the train depot starting back in 1876. Sarah would live into her 90s, by the way, and would be one of only two 90-year-olds living in this valley. 

DALAMATER WOULDN’T RECOGNIZE IT TODAY — Speaking of small towns, an attorney named Dalamater moved out of Newhall back to Sand Canyon. We had 3,028 people dwelling from Palmdale city limits to Fort Tejon and about 1,100 in the valley floor. Dalamater moved out to Sand Canyon because he said Newhall was too noisy and too crowded. 

A SMALL BENEFIT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION — Ten years later, a brand-new Ford cost $30 LESS than a new 1923 car. The 1933 model even came with a starter. Blame the Depression for the low prices. 

OCTOBER 21, 1943  

HIS NAME IS PRONOUNCED, “LISA.” SERIOUSLY. — Pat Lizza, owner and president of Bermite, the huge munitions maker in Saugus, gave a speech to local businessmen. Pat predicted that the SCV would see “substantial” post-war growth. Not in his wildest dreams … 

PRE-WAY STATION — On this date, the Soledad Hotel was sold to Max Seiff of Beverly Hills. The Soledad sat where the Way Station rests today, on the corner of 9th and Main in Downtown Newhall.  

OCTOBER 21, 1953  

EPIC GROUNDBREAKING ON PRETTY MUCH ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — On this date, the Circle J Golf Course and Country Club had its official groundbreaking. The famous Hollywood actress and dancer Ann Miller cut the ribbon to the championship 18-hole course, tennis club and equestrian center. The developers never did build the palatial digs for the would-be Beverly Hills golf and horse community. 

OCTOBER 21, 1963  

NO RELATION TO MY OWN HONBY MEN’S CLUB — On this date, the Honby Water Co. was formed. Few folks remember that we even had a community called Honby (its epicenter would be where Home Depot is today off Soledad). The company was a temporary one so that water could legally be provided to residents of the area while a water main from Bouquet Canyon Water was being constructed. A well, originally dug by Jack Lilley in 1924, supplied all the water for Honby for nearly 40 years. 

FLIP HER. FLIP HIM. FLIP ALL Y’ALL. — On this date, the movie “Flipper” debuted at the old American Theatre. Who was the star of this porpoise epic? Chuck Connors, who would later star as “The Rifleman.” Chuck would buy some property near Gorman and start a huge ranch. One of his sons lived in Castaic for a while and actually, in his cups, reported being attacked by a werewolf. Turned out to be the neighbor’s burro. 

OCTOBER 21, 1973  

CATCH A BUS. OR, NOT. — Fifty years back, we had a rather glaring public transportation problem. We had NO public transportation. While Los Angeles County gleefully taxed us here for blinking, we were completely left out of the 250-mile tentative mass transit plan for Los Angeles County. This despite the fact that the cost per person in the SCV was $28 a year in taxes. 

AN ALMOST VISIT FROM A PRESIDENT — Here’s an odd happenstance. Spiro Agnew, the disgraced vice president, resigned 50 years ago and was replaced by Gerald Ford. Ford would later be on the ticket with Nixon and be elected officially as vice president. Ford was later scheduled to speak at California Institute of the Arts to a few thousand people. Ford didn’t make the engagement because that was the very day Nixon resigned and Ford took the oath of office as president. 

TOUCHDOWN RONNIE — Ron Jamerson had a fairly nice night for the Cougars. The College of the Canyons running back rushed for five — count them — five touchdowns. It was in a 34-26 win over West L.A. 

A FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE COUGAR — On this date, Ted Bartell, a candidate for the COC board, publicly asked all the other hopefuls for the seat to put a voluntary limit of $250 per source on campaign spending. Anything above would go toward local charity. It’s still a good idea … 

THE PRISON WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR — Fifty years back, Peter Pitchess Maximum Security Prison in Castaic was Wayside Honor Rancho and was a minimum-security pen for minor offenders. They were nearly self-sufficient, growing their own beef, eggs, produce, some fruit and dairy. They even had their own bakery. Master baker Herb Watts had to raise the cost of a 1.5-pound loaf of bread to 19 cents due to rising costs. He noted that every once in a while, he’d get an assistant with a sense of humor. Several times, bakery inmates stuffed notes inside loaves which basically read: “Help. I am being held a prisoner against my will …” The Wayside bakery saved taxpayers about $150,000 a year back in the early 1970s. Just to keep the record straight, Watts was an employee of the county, not a prisoner. 

A CASTAIC CANINE HERO — On this date, Harold Silvey of the Paradise Ranch mobile home park, north of Castaic, had his life saved by Lucy-Bee. That’d be Harold’s dog. Mr. Silvey’s trailer caught on fire in the middle of the night. Lucy-Bee jumped on the 41-year-old and started barking. Silvey, amidst smoke and flames, threw the dog out the window and jumped out after the dog. Silvey passed out, but came to later and was more than OK, thanks to Lucy-Bee. Good girl! 

OCTOBER 14, 1983  

FOR NOT TOO HAPPY CAMPERS? — On this date, county supervisor Kenny Hahn introduced a motion to build a tent prison at Wayside to deal with L.A. County’s overcrowded jails. The tent lock-up was never built. Some young fellow named George Pederson, captain of Wayside, did note that his lock-up was already 800 guests over maximum. Wayside sat on 2,850 acres with 600 acres used for agriculture. 

ROADS GIVETH. AND ROADS TAKETH AWAY. — Local businesses were at first happy about the widening of Bouquet Junction, our curious intersection at the center of our valley, connecting Saugus, Valencia, Canyon Country, Newhall and parts unknown. The work dragged on, causing crippling traffic jams and no access to some shopping centers. Several merchants in the construction area went out of business.  

THE DOWNTOWN NEWHALL UGLIFICAITON PROJECT — On this date, the Downtown Newhall Merchants Association voted to remove all the potted trees along San Fernando Road (remember those little shrubs in the concrete vases?). It was part of the century-long improvement of the district. They ended up planting some trees. Speaking of nostalgia, how many of you old-timers remember the giant eucalyptus trees lining Newhall’s old major street, today called Main? 

•     •     • 

Absolute Christmas riding with you dear neighbors, old galoots, SCV newcomers and saddlelpals. What say we do this another seven days from now? Until then, be most excellent to one another and — ¡vayan con Dios, amigos!  

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 autumn reads. Leave a kindly review … 

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