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We’ve a most interesting trek ahead, dear Santa Clarita friends, including a long look at the man without whom there’d be no Sunday trail rides — Arthur Buckingham Perkins.

C’mon. There’s Indian pharmacies, America’s largest titanium mine — in Sand Canyon — one of the best runaway stories of all time, April snow and a forgotten crooked election.

C’mon. Let’s you, me and Jack do something Homeric this fine day...

 

(PHOTO CAPTION: Funny the paths on which life takes you. When I was a young man in my early 20s, I shared an office with this man for nearly a year. Sat opposite him and in my youth, brushed him off as a crusty old dinosaur. Except for exchanged small talk, I never asked him a question of note and certainly not one about local history. Valley historian since the 1920s, Arthur Buckingham Perkins — known as Perk or A.B. to his friends — died a day after my birthday on April 8th, 1977. He was 85.

Raised by two aunts after his mother died, Perkins developed a disdain for Vermont winters, so much so, he ended up in Death Valley in 1906, carrying a surveyor’s chain for Pacific Coast Borax. He worked the Nevada mines in the grueling summer and attended college at the University of Arizona in the winter.

“Perk” as he was called by friends his entire life, got a job at the marble quarry town of Carrara, Nevada and there edited the little newspaper, “The Obelisk.”

Later, he developed a knack for running commissaries in mining camps and worked for one operation in Rhyolite. Today, it’s a historic ghost town famous for a house made of glass bottles. How hot that must have been in the summer.

There, in Rhyolite, Perk married the town assayer’s daughter, Marguerite O’Brien and she became Mrs. Perk in 1915.

With a young son in tow, A.B. settled in Newhall in 1919 — coincidentally, the same year this newspaper was founded. There, he took over the local water company which would eventually become Newhall Water.

Interestingly, it was Perkins who was credited with popularizing the phrase, Santa Clarita. It stemmed from a feud over what to call the future high school — Newhall or Saugus.

Perkins was a tireless scholar and in the 1920s, was shocked to discover that most of the few souls here had no idea about the valley’s history. So, Perkins began a lifelong passion to record the story of the Little Santa Clara River Valley. He and his bride would pour over dusty records — in Spanish — at the San Fernando Mission.

Tragedy stalked the man. Two of his sons would die young. Charles would be bitten by a rattlesnake and nearly die in 1935. A year later, he would fall out of a car driven by his brother, Valentine and perish. Art Jr. would die in a freak ranching accident in 1954 when methane filled a well he was digging and exploded when he lit a cigarette.

A.B. himself nearly died when the main wall he was working at the old Saugus School collapsed on top of him. It was the same year Charlie died.

He went rather quickly and before he left, he had requested no services. For years, a carved wooden sign hung over his desk: “Illegitimi non narborundum.”

Translated from the Latin: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Today, he is immortalized at the Valencia Library. There, in the side room, rests his private library in the A.B. Perkins collection.

He loved to laugh, loved practical jokes, was a hard-worker and a beloved community member. Funny how you get to know someone long after they pass, even when you sat so close to him.

Perhaps former Signal owner Scott Newhall described him best:

“Perk was a real genuine article. He was one of those rare, unique, 24-carat pioneers of the Golden West. That is to say, Perk was a poet and dreamer, a roustabout, scholar, gentleman, and a colonizer... He was not a saint, perhaps, and not a sinner, certainly. But Perk was our prophet. And he left us a motto: ‘Illegitimi non carborundum.’”— TR)

WAY, WAY BACK WHEN

• There were nights when it was mighty darn quiet and you could see a billion stars.

• Oaks used to number in the hundreds of thousands throughout the valley. A family of four Tataviam would eat about 500 pounds a year of acorns from these splendid trees. (Small sidebar: an oak will not produce acorns until it is at least 50 years old.) One of the byproducts, however, of an acorn diet was constipation. The native Indians used to also consume Rhamus Purshiana which grows in abundance in the hills around Santa Clarita and is sold over the counter today in homeopathy outlets. It was a natural and powerful laxative. (Mind you, I’m not remotely suggesting this the next time you’re on a hike on the local trails and feeling, ahem, ‘bottled up.’)

The Tataviam also used Eriodyction Glutinosum. We know it by its Spanish name of the Yerba Santa plant, which they used as a treatment for respiratory disorders.

Another early pharmaceutical was Grindelia Robusta, a gum-like plant used for both treating heart ailments and poison oak.

Then we have Yerba de la Vibora, or, Caucalis microcarpax, aka California Hedge Parsley, which was used to treat rattlesnake bites. Hopefully, effectively.

Golondrina, or Euphorbia Maculata, was what you reached for in the Tataviam medicine chest to treat warts, cataracts and skin diseases. Careful. It’s slightly poisonous.

There’s something called Chucupate, a bitter root. Chew that and say good-bye to headaches, neuralgia and everybody’s enemy: flatulence.

Escholtzia, aka the California poppy, was crushed and used to treat colic in infants. Increase the dosage and it was also a hallucinogenic..

An oil extracted from Chiloicote supposedly promoted hair growth.

Sulphur was the aspirin of its day and used to treat a wide variety of maladies.

Heated asphaltum was applied to rheumatoid joints. The Indians also used red ants to treat the malady. An old log would be pounded and the early Americans would gather up the scurrying insects. They would be placed on an arthritis sufferer’s stomach and encouraged to bite. If you lived through the treatment, then the medicine man mixed up the soil surrounding the ant hole, mixed it with water and gave it to you to drink. Reports were the procedure was both painful and disgustingly distasteful, but effective.

Red ants were also used to treat dysentery or diarrhea (which, until the early 20th century, was one of the top five causes of death in America), where they were swallowed alive.

Likewise, lice were, ahem, “ranched” and cultivated into cold oral infusions as the Tataviams’ answer to a blood transfusion.

Sauco, or elderberry leaves, were prescribed for colds and fevers.

One of the more regular treatments the Tataviam espoused was the use of a temescal — a large oven-looking structure also known as a sweathouse. Both the healthy and the sick used it, sweating out whatever ailed them, then jumping into a nearby cold creek and then going back to the sweathouse.

There were about 30 known local herbs and plants the Tataviam used. Thanks to a Dr. Cephas R. Bard, we have at least a small record of their medicinal practice. Bard retired 1894 as president of the Southern California Medical Society and dedicated years compiling native pharmacopoeia and treatments.

“Stooped or bow-legged Indians were seldom seen,” wrote Bard.

In quoting another expert on Indian life, Bard noted: “Catlin, the highest authority on the North American Indian states that he never saw an idiotic, lunatic, deformed, rachitic, deaf or dumb Indian.” 

Best I know, Dr. Bard’s treatise is still in the Ventura County Library.

 

APRIL 13th, 1927

• Eighty years ago, we had an unusual spate of Spring weather. The morning started off warm. It clouded over, heavy rain hit then turned to snow. The entire valley floor was covered with the white stuff but it soon melted. Sure would like three of those days a week until November, although I should point out that some of the valley was damaged in a hail furry.

• I don’t know if this holds true today, but Signal editor Dad Thatcher noted: “The fellow who ‘never saw such weather’ has an awfully poor memory.” Or, is young.

• Not only do I love this, but I am going to copy it and post it for my office. Signal editor Dad Thatcher added this little filler for The Formerly Mighty Signal from April 7th, 1937: “‘There’s one thing to be thank for,’ signed the writer in the Stone Age: ‘I’ve had almost enough stories sent back to build my house.’”

 

APRIL 13th, 1937

• I’ve often said that history is more than the birthdays of bloated politicians and noting of explosions. I just recalled one of my favorite small stories. It happened 70 years ago and involved a runaway boy named Bobby Dunham Jr. He escaped his home in downtown Los Angeles and just started headed north — on his little homemade scooter. Bobby just kept scooting up the Grapevine and was almost 50 miles from home when Sheriff’s deputy Anderson pulled him over for questioning. He had made it from L.A. to San Fernando the first night and slept in an abandoned house. The next day, he used his dime to buy milk and cookies and continued north. Why the trek? He wanted to see San Francisco. Bobby was 7.

• Hard to believe, but you could still homestead land in the SCV. Walter Allen and John Nunnely both filed separately for 160 acres each in the outer canyons.

• Hector gave his life for his master on this date. Joe Gibson was working on rodent eradication when he heard the telltale rattle. His dog, Hector, leapt in just as the rattler went to strike Joe in the leg. Hector intercepted the bite in the throat and died. Joe shot the snake.

• You don’t see a sight like this any more. Frank LaSalle drove a flock of more than 2,000 sheep through downtown Newhall en route to the higher country for grazing. Everyone lined the sidewalks to watch the parade. Some sported — sorry — sheepish grins at the spectacle. Some were rather upset about the presents some of the grazers left behind.

 

APRIL 13th, 1947

• One of our patriarchs and old-time lawmen, Jim Biddison, passed away. Jim Biddison came to work on the railroad here in Saugus in 1902 and homesteaded land in Bouquet Canyon to build his ranch. Shortly after moving here, he got a job with the Forest Service, then became a deputy constable for the local court in 1924. Four years later, he was named head bailiff and worked in that position for 21 years.

• Weird weather. It had just SNOWED the week before here in Newhall. A few days later, the mercury climbed to 95 and there was a brush fire warning.

 

APRIL 13th, 1957

• The grand opening of the Corral Drive-in Theater up San Francisquito and Dry Canyons was on Tuesday night, April 16th. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ostrum were the owners of the 7-acre outdoor theater. It could hold 400 cars and a 1,200-foot concession stand/projection room. The screen was 30-by-70 feet and was suspended 50 feet in the air. The canyon’s natural terracing helped provide the tiered viewing. Telephone number back then was Newhall 1476. Admission was 75 cents for adults, 60 cents for students and kids under 12 were free. I believe Walt Disney’s “Cinderella” was the first film shown on the outdoor screen.

• One of the oddest parentheses in our history was when all these residential properties in the middle of downtown Newhall began digging oil wells — some in their front yards. From Arcadia to Cross Street, quiet residential neighborhoods were awakened by the sound of heavy machinery and drilling for oil.

 

APRIL 13th, 1967

• One of the charmingly most crooked developer stories goes back 40 years to Tick Canyon, or, the Pine Tree community in Canyon Country today. Back then, there were hardly any people in that neck of the woods (named after the annoying little bugs which would burrow into everything from sodbusters to coon dogs). A developer bought a big chunk of the land and sponsored a bond measure to get $6 million from the state to bring water to his project.

On this date, Charles Griner, the agent and legal advisor for the developer of Tick Canyon was convicted of two counts of grand theft in a San Francisco courthouse. Seems in the special election in which only 12 people voted in the sparsely populated area, eight of them were moved into mobile homes by Griner rent free and later voted for the bond measure. Griner had earlier been convicted of swindling a 75-year-old widow out of the original property.

Even MORE interestingly, this was the second trial. In the first one, a juror was accused of being bribed and influenced by the defense.

• The feud between the CHP and Greyhound Bus took a new turn when 17 transit passengers showed up in court to testify. Several drivers had complained that the CHP was unfairly targeting them, possibly as part of some game. The witnesses testified that the CHP officer had pulled over their driver to doing more than 70. Several passengers had testified he hadn’t been going more than 55. One CHP insider stated that some officers were giving out extra tickets so they could collect overtime. The officers then were given OT to appear in court. The Greyhound pilot, Robert Young, who was charged with doing 72 in a 65 zone, was found not guilty by a local jury.

• Ironically, while this circus was going on, the same week, a Greyhound bus flipped on the icy Interstate 5 north of Castaic, injuring 38. The only fatality was a two-year-old baby. The bus was coming down the 5-Mile Grade. Reports were the tires on the bus were past bald. The mother of the toddler was just returning with her child, which she had just won back after a custody battle.

• I loved the movie marquee from the Plaza Theater 40 years back. It was for “Riot on the Sunset Strip.” The teaser: “MEET THE TEENYBOPPERS — with their too-tight capris... THE PARTYGOERS... THE HIPPIES... out for a NEW THRILL... a NEW KICK!!” Makes you want to run and scream, doesn’t it?

 

APRIL 13th, 1977

• Up until this date, there had been two bodies that had disappeared into the cold waters of Castaic Lake. On this date, one of them was found. Esteban Romero Guillen fell out of a boat two years earlier and drowned. He popped back to the surface on this date.

 

APRIL 13th, 1987

• Two decades back, the tiny white chapel that used to sit in Callahan’s Old West village up Sierra Highway was moved. The church originally sat in Robert Callahan’s Old West Village when it was in Culver City. A little project called the Santa Monica Freeway in 1963 caused the retired ad exec to move his collection of old buildings out to Canyon Country. When it was in the L.A. location, such notables as Wyatt Earp, John Wayne and a host of Hollywood who’s who had filmed movies there. This “Ramona Chapel,” that still sits at Heritage Junction today, was designed by Carrie Jacobs Bond, who was noted for composing the old crooner ballad, “I Love You Truly.”

• P.W. Gillbrand wasn’t winning too many friends in the Sand Canyon area. He wanted to start a titanium mine in the tony ranch area, removing hundreds of trees and habitat. The developer felt that the area had the biggest titanium reserve — in excess of 100 million tons — in the continental United States.

Come back and visit next week here under the warming glow of your SCV Beacon. I’ll be waiting with another thrilling trailride into the yesteryears and history of this wonderful Santa Clarita. Until then — vayan con Dios, amigos!

(SCV Historian John Boston also writes The John Boston Report blog for your SCV Beacon. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website — http://www.johnbostonchronicles.com/ —you’ll be smiling for a week…) — © 2017 by John Boston. All rights reserved.

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