The Time Ranger | My Cowgal Pal Heroes: Cactus Kate & Rose  

The Time Ranger
Time Ranger

Getting shot in the butt while you’re hopping on one foot, trying to put your pants on. HATE when that happens. But that’s what happened to our own legendary bandito, Tiburcio Vasquez. Guess ol’ Tibby will be posting on this morning’s trail ride through SCV history with us today, huh, saddlepals? 

We’ve a most interesting trek through the back canyons of Santa Clarita lore ahead. There’s camel trains and our local connection to the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. There’s heroic pioneer women, cafeteria crooks and the absolute worst choice to launch a robbery — at a joint CHP-Sheriff’s softball game. 

C’mon. Beautiful day in May, isn’t it? Through the time vortex we and our time-traveling steeds shall mosey … 


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANK!! — On May 13, 1825, one of the 19th century’s most energetic capitalists, Henry Mayo Newhall, was born in Saugus, Massachusetts. He would go from a young, penniless failed prospector to one of California’s wealthiest men in a span of a few years. Eventually, he would buy the entire Santa Clarita Valley at a sheriff’s auction at less than $2 an acre. 

LOS CAMELOS — Still on May 13, but in 1856, the famed camels of Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Beale would march through downtown Newhall, bound for Fort Tejon. They were an ill-fated experiment by the Army to navigate through the hot and desolate climes of Central and Southern California. 

NOT HIS BEST SIDE — May 14, 1874, famed womanizing bandito and California’s most wanted outlaw, Tiburcio Vasquez, was literally caught with his pants down. He was visiting a girlfriend when L.A. Sheriff Billy Rowland and his posse surrounded the house close by today’s Hollywood Bowl and ordered him to come out. Tibby vaulted out a window and was trying to escape while putting on his britches. A deputy shot him in the butt. His reign of terror would later end in a San Jose hanging. 

A DOZEN KIDS FOR FRANK & HORTY — Here’s a little trivia for you. Newhall Community Church used to own part of Placerita Canyon. In 1905, Frank Walker homesteaded in Placerita Canyon and acquired his grandfather’s original homestead. Frank also bought 200 acres from the church for $10 an acre. Frank was a bit of a medieval monarch. He met Hortense Reyneir, whose father owned a neighboring 600-acre spread in Placerita. Horty and Frank would eventually marry and have — are you sitting — 12 kids. 

NOW THAT’S MY IDEA OF A WOMAN! — It is truly amazing how hearty some of the old-timers were. Back in 1915, “Cactus” Katie Freels and her little daughter Rose homesteaded 60 acres in Lost Canyon. The two ladies weren’t exactly welcome. Grumpy neighbors didn’t want mother and child and tried to keep her out. It was sort of a woman’s version of “Shane.” The neighbor even ran his horses through her vegetable garden to drive her away. Once, the neighbor put up a locked gate to her place. Cactus Kate blew the lock off with her shotgun. Kate, who was just the smallest bit of a woman, and her daughter would dig their own well and use canvas bags to tote rocks from the creek. With the rocks and timber they cut, they built a small cabin and scratched out an existence, raising livestock and small farm animals. They grew what they needed. Mother and daughter were almost washed out by flash floods, almost burned out by fire, almost frozen by January blizzards. Still. Cactus Kate loved the Lost Canyon life, preferring it to the rhythms of civilization. Her daughter would marry and become Mrs. Rose Norrish, who lived in Canyon Country long after her mother passed away in the early 1950s.  

MAY 18, 1924 

GOT A LICENSE FOR THAT HOT LEG? — Judge Port C. Miller had the usual spate of cases before him a century back. Besides Burning Without Permit (60 days, suspended) and Yucca Picking ($5 fine) there were 24 individual cases of carrying a concealed weapon without the proper paperwork. The court pocketed $5 apiece from the gunslingers. 

CUT OFF FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD — Just about everyone was relieved to see the long hoof-&-mouth disease quarantine lifted. The local grange society put together 200 signatures a couple of weeks earlier, noting that there had not been a single sign of the disease in Southern California. During the quarantine, ranchers lost a lot of their livelihood and were greatly inconvenienced. There was a special creosote — aka Kreso — dip at the Placerita Bridge across San Fernando Road and guards had been placed at various points in the canyons. 

ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE MIGHTY SIGNAL EDITORIALS THE WORLD CHOSE TO IGNORE — An excerpt from the pen of Signal Editor Thornton Doelle: “Americans are literally smothered under a heap of laws, many of which are inconsistent, insincere and insecure. We’re so well hog-tied with laws, that to know or obey them all is almost impossible. Quite a few of our most drastic laws are no more than good cages for the rich. The poor man is forced to observe many laws that the rich man can afford to laugh at through wealth and influence.” Except for the wealthy or influential riding with us this Saturday, may we have an amen, saddlepals? 

MAY 18, 1934 

A MOST HORRIFIC SHORT RIDE — Three men were nearly scalded to death when they bummed a ride on a Southern Pacific freight. Of all darn things, the men had somehow climbed atop the platform above the engine. The platform is directly between the tank and engine and when the train roared through the tunnel, the steam was blown right on them. What a horrific, horrific mile. 

BLESS DEAR DR. SARAH — Poor Sarah Peters. The Newhall doctor had to treat the above three men. Their wounds were so severe that they had to be physically restrained while she applied salve. Same week, she had to treat a baby who had fallen out of a moving car. He had extensive injuries. 

MAY 18, 1944 

THAT PUTS A DAMPER ON LUNCH — Mrs. Susan Pinean passed away 80 years ago. The 86-year-old great-grandmother died on Dia de Madre.  

A BIT OF SMALL-TOWN COMEDY — For years, folks were arguing just where Pico Canyon ended and 10th Street or even Lyons Avenue began. Pico used to run all the way into town and, for a short distance, was Lyons Avenue. It was 10th Street between Newhall and Spruce (today, Main Street). Anyway. Lester Drake, the fireman at Bermite, went to register to vote in the upcoming November election. He had lived in the same house for 40 years — at 614 Pico Canyon. When he got to the local registrar, Pearl Russell, she checked the county records and said “no-no-no-no-no.” The government said he lived at 614 Lyons Ave. Then, his wife, Grace, went to register later the same day. Seems while they lived in the exact same house, she was recorded as living at 614 Pico Canyon. Husband and wife had to vote in two separate polling stations. 

MAY 18, 1954 

DIRTY HARRY. OR, DIRTY LARRY. PICK ONE. — Local sheriff’s deputies stopped a major crime spree with one arrest. Harry Pettingill had been responsible for 16 jobs in the area, from burglary to check forgery. They nabbed him when he tried to cash a stolen payroll check at the Sears in San Fernando. Harry, aka Larry H. O’Brien, had robbed the Hart and Newhall cafeterias several times in the previous months. 

MAY 18, 1964 

CRIPES! POOR COPS NEVER GET A MINUTE OFF! — Dumb luck and all of it bad for four bad guys. Three Pacoima youths and an adult drove a couple of miles to San Fernando to rob an ice house. What they didn’t know was that, right across the street, the San Fernando Police Department was playing the Newhall Highway Patrol in a softball game. An employee of the ice house ran out and started yelling that he had been robbed. About 30 officers jumped into their cars and gave chase, catching the thugs a few blocks later. The cops went back to finish their game. Newhall won, by the way, 8-4. 

YOU KNOW WHAT THEY ALWAYS SAY: “IF THE CHIP WON’T COME TO YOU …” — Our local CHP was pretty darn busy this week, 40 years back. Earlier, a man stumbled into HQ with a heart attack. An officer rushed him to the Golden State hospital. Then, a road worker rushed into the office, saying that a woman had just began labor and was driving herself to the hospital. She didn’t quite make it and was on the freeway, opposite the Highway Patrol headquarters. Sgt. William Walker vaulted the chain link fence, got in the driver’s side and rushed her to the hospital, making it with 30 seconds to spare before the baby popped out. Great exchange afterward. The woman told Walker: “Thanks for driving.” Without a beat, Walker replied: “Thanks for waiting.” 

NOT YOUR TYPICAL PEP SQUAD — Sheriff’s deputies broke up a major narcotics ring in Castaic, nabbing a supplier with 11,000 pep pills in his possession. The dope dealer reportedly sold most of his wares to big rig drivers.  

MAY 18, 1974 

THE LOCAL RFK ASSASSINATION ANGLE — Fifth district supervisor Baxter Ward held hearings on the RFK assassination. In 1968, local woman Betty Evans was at the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert F. Kennedy was shot dead. Evans was also hit in the head, but, luckily, was hardly injured by one of Sirhan Sirhan’s stray bullets. (It lodged between her eyebrow and skull.) Two forensic experts testified that Kennedy had been shot with separate bullets. A half-century later, his son is running for president. 

MAY 18, 1984 

NO HABLA. YEAH. RIGHT. — Local sheriff’s deputies began to define a growing problem in the Santa Clarita — gangs. The primarily Mexican youth gangs posed a problem because many of them allegedly did not speak English and of the two deputies at the Valencia Center who did were women and the gang members didn’t want to talk with them. Also, the William S. Hart Union High School District had no administrators who spoke Spanish. 

THE CIRQUE DU SOLEI OF COLLEGE GRADUATIONS — CalArts had its usual bizarre commencement ceremony. The students showed up in their usual odd amalgamation of costumes, but college President Bob Fitzpatrick stole the show by sipping beer while he gave his speech. 

SWEET SAMANTHA — One of the valley’s greatest athletes, Samantha Ford, reached a milestone. While she had earned pages in the softball record books in three years at Hart and pitching for two national amateur championships, on this date, she threw her first perfect game. No one reached first in Hart’s last regular season game against Schurr. Are you sitting down? Well. Of course you are. You’re in the saddle. It was Samantha’s 16th high school no hitter. She faced 21 not-so-Schurr batters and struck out 18. The junior had three seasons to date where she notched over 300 K’s. Best of all, she had the neatest parents … 


Gotta say, it’s been just a treat riding with you all these spring mornings. I’m headed off to some back trails in the Sierras this week. Not to fret. I’ll be back bright and early next Sunday with a brand-new Time Ranger adventure. Until then, “¡Vayan con Dios, amigos!”  

If you do love local history and reading about ghosts, myths and monsters, visit Boston’s bookstore at Pick up JB’s two-volume set of local horror and macabre … 

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