Boy, howdy, do we have a most interesting trailride ahead, dear saddlepals. There’s intrigue, starvation, deprivation and hunters mistaking a steer for a squirrel.
HATE that when it happens.
This fine Santa Clarita autumn morning, we’ll be investigating one of the dumbest sons of a gun ever to be issued a California driver’s license. There’s also mountain lions, UFOs and The Signal’s position on giving the death penalty — to ALL criminals.
I mean, whew. This morning’s ride will prove to be epic. This one time and one time only? Y’all have permission to take a selfie …
WAY, WAY BACK WHEN
NEWHALL & THE DEATH VALLEY CONNECTION — The Santa Clarita is inextricably linked with Death Valley.
We used to be neighbors, literally. Our San Gabrielles and Death Valley’s Orocopa mountains were right next door to one another. Slowly, over millions of years, we drifted about 125 miles apart.
In the l400s, a great Indian migration began from the midwestern plains and the Shoshone slowly marched West. Some of them stopped to make Death Valley home. Others went on a few hundred miles to live in our valley. They would eventually become the Tataviam Indians.
In 1849, a group of 100 wagons calling themselves, “The Jayhawkers,” started in Missouri and headed out to the gold fields of Northern California. After a disagreement over directions, the Bennett-Arcane portion of the adventurers thought they had a short cut and split off from the main party. On Christmas Day, they ended up lost and stranded in this hauntingly severe desert that they would later name — Death Valley.
Exhausted and broken down, the wagoneers sent their two fittest men, William Manly and John Rogers, to get help.
On Nov. 4, 1849, the hikers headed over the Panamint Mountains, thinking Los Angeles couldn’t be far beyond. While Manly may have written a book about his exploits (“Death Valley in ’49”) he wasn’t much of a navigator. L.A. was more than 200 miles away — most of it desert. Manly and Rogers lived off dead animals, a crow and a buzzard and had become so disoriented, they ended up in present-day Canyon Country.
They also added another 50 miles to their journey.
Still. They were grateful to reach the Santa Clarita Valley. From Manly’s own description: “There before us was a beautiful meadow of a thousand acres, green as a thick carpet of grass could make it and shaded with oaks, wide branching and symmetrical, equal to those of an old English park; while all over the low mountains that bordered it on the south and over the broad acres of luxuriant grass was a herd of cattle numbering many hundreds if not thousands … such a scene of abundance and rich plenty and comfort bursting thus upon our eyes, which for months had seen only the desolation and sadness of the desert, was like getting a glimpse of Paradise, and tears of joy ran down our faces.”
Odd thing was, the pair were so lost, they thought they were close to San Francisco. The duo stopped a vaquero and asked if they were close to Baghdad by the Bay and he said San Francisco was only a few miles away.
That would be the Rancho San Francisco — home of Ignacio del Valle, mayor of Los Angeles and owner of just about everything in our valley.
The del Valles promptly nursed the two to a quick health and sent a large expedition of men and aid to Death Valley to rescue the Bennett-Arcane group. That is some act of Good Samaritanism. That’s almost 500 miles round trip and today, Auto Club will only tow 7 miles without charging you.
It is said a woman in the last wagon headed toward Newhall and out of the desolate place looked back and bade: “Good bye, Death Valley.” And that’s how the place got its name.
Interestingly, many of the Bennett-Arcane group would end up staying in the SCV and some of their relatives still live here today.
GIVING A PLUG NICKEL — On this very day, in 1891, Rudolph Nickel, Acton’s most influential citizen, created the Acton Water Works — the valley’s first water company. Nickel was a pretty busy fellow around this time a century-plus back. He just built what would become the world-famous Acton Hotel (where several presidents would stay) and founded the valley’s second newspaper, The Acton Rooster. Busy, busy, busy …
NOVEMBER 4, 1923
MEMORIES HOT & DUSTY — I just mentioned the saga of our Death Valley connection. On this date, the Newhall Woman’s Club (Yup; it’s singular) held a tribute to the people who made it from DV to the SCV. They even had an old Conestoga wagon at the party.
THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE VENISON? — I’ve always marveled at the stiffness of some of the hunting fines back in the 1920s. S.D. McRae of Charlie Canyon was dragged into court after game wardens found four deer pelts in his possession. Judge Miller gave him a suspended six-month sentence, but McRae had to pay a $500 fine. Again, $500 back then would have bought you a new house.
A HUNDRED YEARS LATER, SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT IDEA — Boy. I just love some of our editorials. Blanche Brown, editor and publisher of this august periodical, suggested that we do away with the parole system. “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” She also bemoaned the money spent guarding prisoners. “Better chloroform them and forget it.” She meant the prisoners, not the guards, but I’d grant her a little elbow room to include certain district attorneys …
ONE COUGAR PER CANYON — While the mountain lion population decreased significantly since the turn of the century throughout Los Angeles County, it was reported that it increased in the SCV. Rough estimates were that there was at least one cougar in every canyon in the valley. The local game warden felt they should have a special hunt to thin down the felines.
NOVEMBER 4, 1933
ADDING INSULT, AND, PERFORATION, TO INJURY — Joe Infanca joined the long line of sufferers of a common SCV malady — the self-inflicted gunshot wound. After an unsuccessful hunt in upper Castaic and miles from civilization, an exhausted Infanca sat down on a stump to rest. When he stood, he accidentally shot himself in the foot. Cripes. You think you were tired BEFORE the hole in your instep …
NOVEMBER 4, 1943
MORE ADVENTURES FROM THE DUMB GUYS WITH GUNS DEPT. — On this date, three Los Angeles men claiming to be squirrel hunters shot a steer in Rice Canyon. My old pal, Andy Jauregui, was grazing the yearling Guernsey. Each paid a $100 fine and reimbursed Andy for the beef. They were also banished from visiting the SCV for a year, one of Judge Art Miller’s favorite verdicts. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t a steer really, really, really big compared to an itty-bitty squirrel?
TESTED ALA JOB — The Signal had taken out its entire front window and part of the building to accommodate a new printing press. The company that was to deliver it had the brakes go out on its delivery truck and said they’d be “… a little late.” Meanwhile, it started to rain and the front of the Signal storefront (then on San Fernando Road) started filling up with water. The delivery company called again to say they’d be that afternoon, but that The Signal would have to supply about eight men to unload the press. Fine. Signal Editor/Owner/Publisher Fred Trueblood runs over to Bermite, begs President Pat Lizza to borrow several strong backs. The crew rushes back to The Signal. The phone rings. It’s the delivery people. The press won’t be delivered until the next morning. On it goes. Two days later, the press is delivered (with no one to unload it). It’s rained some more on the open storefront. Making matters worse, the delivery people have no equipment to unload the machinery. The final insult is after the press IS set up, half of the parts are wrong and it won’t run. Obviously, we solved the problem because The Mighty Signal is here today …
FROM CHASING CROOKS TO HEAVENLY FISHING — On this date, after 22 years of service with the Sheriff’s Department, Capt. Elmer C. Marty retired as chief lawman for the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. Marty sold his Placerita Canyon ranch and bought a large hunting lodge with 15 cabins in June Lake. Marty started as a young man with the Secret Service, battling spies and saboteurs. In 1921, he joined the Sheriff’s Department. He ran the local Newhall Substation 6 from 1935 to 1943. Then, that covered 1,000 square miles.
NOVEMBER 4, 1953
WAS HAROLD UP TO SOME KIND OF MONKEY BUSINESS? — Under a veil of secrecy, Saugus Elementary Principal Harold Parker was fired by a unanimous vote of the trustees. Parker, who had been principal for six years, threatened to sue. No reasons were given for the dismissal. I’ve been searching over the years and have yet to find an answer to this mystery. I’m going to do some snooping and see what I can dig up for a future trailride …
OILY OILY OXEN FREE-EEEeeee — Oddly enough, the glut of oil was blamed for stopping progress in the SCV. Seems local businessmen were trying to attract factories and industry out here. But, with so much oil rumored to be underground, no one was parting with any property that would be cemented over.
RE: THE ABOVE? — The original term, of course, is “olly olly oxen free.” It’s from an ancient kids’ game, probably translated from “everyone who is out can safely come in,” a la hide-and-seek. Not gonna be on the final …
NOVEMBER 4, 1963
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CANYON COUNTRY! — Boy. Sixty years have gone by in a blink. On Nov. 1, 1963, the community of Canyon Country was formed. They kicked it off with the first-ever (and now-extinct) Frontier Days. If memory serves me well, they even had a burrow race up Sierra Highway. That shows you how uncrowded we were when you can race mules up Sierra Highway. They probably didn’t even have to block off the road.
AND LIFE ON EARTH WAS NEVER THE SAME SINCE — Fittingly on Halloween of 1963, Scott Newhall, then-editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, bought the Newhall Signal, starting one of the wildest, most entertaining and unique periods in American journalism. For 25 years, Scotty turned a quiet, rural community paper into a sometimes wild and always eclectic beacon for opinions (mostly, his). In a front-page message to his readers, Scott promised: “… we shall strive to make The Signal truly: ‘The best newspaper in the world — for the best people in the world.’” The place was never the same after Oct. 31, 1963 …
LITERATURE HATERS — Almost as a sign from the gods, the day Scott bought the paper, it was burglarized. Someone threw a rock through the front window and stole $25 from the cash register. We understand Tony Newhall had an alibi (just kidding and seeing if you’re paying attention, amigo …)
NOVEMBER 4, 1973
WELL WHY WOULDN’T OUTER SPACE BEINGS FIRST VISIT THE SCV? — We had a rash of UFO sightings in the valley 50 years back. An elderly Newhall woman reported a flash of blinding light in her window, as did a Saugus shopkeeper. High beams were suggested as the culprit. Two youths out hunting in Calgrove reported hearing an explosion and cloud of dust rising out of Towsley. This followed the sighting of a meteor flying through Newhall’s atmosphere.
THE WORD HIGH CENTURIONS???? NAAAAHHHHhhhh — This one’s a shout-out to Saugus (allegedly) grad, Signal Editor Tim Whyte. The William S. Hart Union High School District board of trustees went back to the drawing board on this date. Seems several of the members did not like the name, “Saugus” for the new high school up Bouquet Canyon. Ruth Kelley said Saugus was too vague and it covered too much territory. She suggested Bouquet or Pioneer High. Carroll Word suggested the school be named after the board member who lived closest to the site. That would be Word. He was kidding. Or was he?
NOVEMBER 2, 1976
OUR HOPES FOR FREEDOM DASHED — For the second time, our move to form California’s 61st county was defeated. We tried to break away from an uncaring and elephantine L.A. County by forming Canyon County. While the measure based about 65-35 locally, it was defeated by an almost-exact margin countywide.
NOVEMBER 4, 1983
HEARTS IN THEIR THROATS — Yet again, an area dubbed to be The Holy Land was making headlines written in blood. Joe Dorius Sr. was more than relieved after taking a long-distance call 40 years back. His son, Joe Dorius Jr., was a Marine stationed in Beirut when terrorists blew up the military barracks there, killing 307 people, 241 of them Americans and most of those, soldiers.
YET, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO DRIVE FAR FROM THE PEACE OF HOME TO KILL YOURSELF OR LOVED ONES — This incident caused even the most grizzled heads at the CHP to shake. One vehicle cut off another and that started a lengthy freeway duel with two drivers flipping one another off, chasing each other at speeds over 90 mph, throwing beer cans and even ramming one another. The joust resulted in a multi-car crash, which sent three to the hospital. Get this. One of the drivers, an Agua Dulce man, had his wife in the cab of the pickup with him. He also had his 7-year-old boy hanging on for dear life in the bed of his truck. All of you who support the death penalty for the drivers, raise your hands …
NOVEMBER 3, 1987
PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION IN OUR HISTORY — Lots of governmental birthdays on this trailride, huh, amigos? On this particular date, the city of Santa Clarita was passed by the voters. That date 36 years ago truly DOES seem like yesterday. To all the workers, volunteers and staff over the decades who made Santa Clarita possible and running smoothly — three words. Good. Darn. Hustle …
• • •
Eeesh. That was so much fun, it was nearly tiring. Thanks for the company, dear saddlepals. See you back here at The Mighty Signal hitching post (259-1000; you DO have at least ONE subscription, don’t you?) in seven. 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 autumn reads. Leave a kindly review …