Hope you’ve all recovered from the SCV Cowboy Fest last weekend. We’ll have to follow up with our own trailride into our own Western lore. We’ve an interesting trek ahead, filled with the stuff that makes history: gunplay, infidelity, traffic jams, outlaw motorcycle gangs and the biggest hail storm in local history.

And if I may suggest, seeing that you’re already duded up for things Western, after you read the Time Ranger, mosey over to the City’s Cowboy Fest in Placerita Canyon. You can buy admission at the gate at the 13th street entrance.

(PHOTO CAPTION: We just finished the Cowboy Fest. But this week in 1947, the big Newhall Rodeo was in full swing. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail can stop the postman. Ditto with our rodeo. A freezing thunderstorm passed over and scared a few souls from attending. Despite the late April wintry weather, the rodeo went off without a hitch (sorry). Hate to offer such a straight-line, but the star of the show was Miss Newhall, who wouldn’t let a single cowpoke ride her. Miss Newhall was the name of a bronco. Also, Newhall’s Red Lamoreaux and his partner Porky LeBrun took top honors in team roping. Red, a grown man now, was one time the most famous child actor in the world. The Newhall Elementary School student and movie star went by the stage name of Buzz Barton. Porky? His uncle Gus murdered Newhall sheriff Ed Brown in the mid 1920’s…)



• The cattle market collapsed and Mayor of Los Angeles and owner of the Rancho San Francisco (today, much of the Santa Clarita Valley) Ignacio del Valle, was forced to sell his home. In a complicated land deal, front man Thomas R. Bard bought the rancho on April 29, 1865.

• Much of what we know about the Tataviam Indians who populated this valley prior to the 20th century came from the discovery of a cave by two Castaic boys. Brothers Everette and McCoy Pyle, on May 2, 1884, discovered one of America’s most significant Indian caches near the Chiquita Landfill today. It was later called Bowers Cave after the Ventura doctor to whom the boys sold their treasure.

• April 25, 1891, the 23rd president of the United States, passed through Saugus via train. Benjamin Harrison lost the popular election to Grover Cleveland, but won the electoral college.

• With the Cowboy Fest running in the here and now this weekend, thought you might get a kick out of this one.

Winchell “Bugs” Wilkinson, editor of the Ridge Route Rambler newspaper, recalled some colder times compared to the perfect weather of this weekend. A friend of his, north of Castaic, recalled the winter of 1898 in Montana, when four locomotives were burrowing tunnels through the snow with a plow. The rotating blades hit several head of cattle, frozen standing on the tracks. For you knew it, you had cows in the Cuisinart. Joe Sellars, another local cowboy, recalled a winter in Alaska in 1899 when “... it got so cold, the flames on candles froze and you had to blow them out by hitting them with a hammer.” It gets better. Joe said it was so cold, they had to dig a hole in their cabin floor so the mercury in their thermometer would have a place to go.

• Back on April 21, 1907, Mr. Lorenzo La Frank was toiling at Newhall ranch when he was bitten by a rattlesnake. The reptile sprang and fastened itself upon La Frank’s back, twisting itself around his suspenders. But the farmer’s loyal canine  leapt as well, tearing the snake from his master. La Frank was admitted to County Hospital with thin blood, a condition peculiar and particular to a rattler’s bite. Given as bethinned blood soaks through the walls of vessels, ending up in the lungs, La Frank was administered copious whisky to combat the pneumonia he contracted.


APRIL 27th, 1927

• Mrs. Pupka died on this date. Born in Indiana in 1939, she had lived in Newhall just about since Newhall was Newhall. She was the mother of one of the valley’s most prominent citizens, Albert Swall, who owned much of the downtown area, including the old Swall Hotel.

• Considering there were only a smidge more than 500 souls in the SCV, the Baker Ranch (Saugus Speedway) Rodeo was an assault on the senses. The bleachers held 18,000 people and reports were almost as many people were turned away at the gate. The parking areas were crammed with more than 14,000 cars and getting in and out was a nightmare. So was getting out of town. Remember. The main way into the southern border of town was the narrow Newhall Road Tunnel underneath present-day Sierra Highway. Special trains ran from downtown Los Angeles but a couple of thousand passengers found there was no room for them once they got here. As for the event itself, 125 of America’s top cowboys and cowgirls competed, with several world records busted. Included in that list were several local competitors.

• Here’s some fascinating trivia on our old Newhall Tunnel (the car, not the train). During the rodeo, Charley Harbey, who was in charge of state highway work in this neck of the woods, conducted a traffic count during the rodeo. From 6 a.m. and for the next 12 hours, he counted 23,305 cars going through the tunnel. That worked out to about 2,000 an hour. At its busiest, one flivver whizzed through every 1.5 seconds.

• Besides being famous for its caves and being haunted, Plum Canyon was a notorious moonshiners’ den. Feds busted up a big 250-gallon still and hundreds of gallons of moonshine whiskey. The operation was run out of a big cave in Plum. The rancher who owned the place wasn’t home when the Dry Squad raided, but they made it clear they were confiscating his property and everything on it.

• Mr. and Mrs. Enos Corey of Newhall attended a rather small party. It was a Veterans of the Civil War get-together at Oakwood Cemetery, right over the hill in Chatsworth. Apparently, there were a few Civil War vets still living in the SCV, but it was hard to get in touch with some of the old-timers, who lived way out in the boonies.

• The ancient Pathe Co. was filming “Hawk of the Hills” in Towsley Canyon on this date. The rather famous and now-forgotten oater starred Walter Miller and was originally a 10-reeler serial. It was a pretty exciting Western about a half-breed terrorizing a village and burning a beautiful girl at the stake. Big rescue from the cavalry (local cowboys, of course). If you’d like to see some old-time vintage SCV scenery, it’s available on DVD.


APRIL 27th, 1937

• Besides being the famed Italian dictator who made the trains run on time, Mussolini was a world-famous bronc who had never been ridden the full clock. About 15,000 filled the seats at the Saugus rodeo, which had a habit of changing its name. Over the years, it was the Newhall Rodeo, Anderson Rodeo, The Baker Ranch Rodeo, The Newhall-Saugus Rodeo, The Hoot Gibson Rodeo, The Saugus Rodeo and, in 1937, The Hill Rodeo.

• The superintendent made his annual visit to the Santa Clarita Valley. That may seem a bit sparse, but back then, a Mr. Clifton was super and that was when we were under the distant eye of the L.A. Unified School District.

• If you ask me, Joe Ridley and Max Bonar got off easy. Both were smacked with $100 fines. The union goons shoot up a gasoline truck as it came through Newhall Tunnel. The pair were trying to force truckers to join the Teamsters. Big aspect of the trial? The pair were represented by “a woman attorney,” S.E. Garmer.


APRIL 27th, 1947

• Castaic got nearly an inch of rain 60 years ago this week. The problem was it all fell within a 10-minute period and washed away a good chunk of the property around the Castaic Patrol Station at Wayside Honor Rancho (today, Pitchess Prison). Joe Trout and his family kept a ranch next door to the station and were isolated when the cloudburst hit denuded slopes, raked clean from a 1946 fire. Highway 99 was littered with debris.

• Interesting juxtapositioning: “Wild” Bill Elliott was grand marshal of the rodeo. He was also starring with Vera Ralston at The American Theater in “The Plainsman & The Lady.”

• That storm was one of the worst to hit at least the San Francisquito Canyon part of the valley in history. Hail four inches deep piled up near Power Plant No. 2. Every flower and many branches were knocked off the flora. The cloudburst busted up the road and caused a flashflood. Up the road at Power Plant No. 1, it was as clear as a bell with not even a drop of rain.

• Newhall’s Toby Hays was walking around town with a yard-wide grin. He was the owner of Toby J, who not only won his first race, but set a track record — not for speed, but for pay-out. Toby J doled out $904 on a $2 ticket, the biggest longshot in then-track history.

• It had been a gruesome murder, one of the few in the township in a decade and one that had gone unsolved for nearly two years. Police arrested Joe Fewer, aka George Wade, a trucker from Stockton. The body of Lucille Fewer had been found in 1945 at Beale’s Cut, her skull severed from top to chin with a cleaver. Fewer had been the person who found the body and alerted local Sheriff’s deputies. He had said he had just been driving by and saw the corpse along the side of the road. It took investigators a while to link the pair together because of the George Wade/Joe Fewer aliases. George/Joe went on the lam and authorities put out an all-points for him.


APRIL 27th, 1957

• We dodged a big old bullet on this date. Trash czar Louie Visco abandoned his plans to build a megadump to the entrance of Newhall at the corner of San Fernando Road and Sierra Highway. Visco had bought the old Henry Clay Needham ranch off Sierra Highway in the south part of town and had planned to turn the beautiful acreage into a garbage dump. Visco sold the property to Santa Monica cemetery developers Gates, Kingsley & Gates and turned a tidy profit. And yes. That’s when Eternal Valley was created. GKG made good on their promise to turn the land into “long-term and dignified plan, designed to take full advantage of the natural beauties of the area.”

• The Hart District’s budget topped the million-dollar mark at $1.2 mil. Almost half of that went to build a new cafeteria, three new classrooms and other improvements. A little trivia, by the way. The Hart Auditorium (it’s technically the Henry Mayo Newhall Auditorium, because Newhall Land was kind enough to donate it and, plus, there’s still a plaque out front saying so) cost $540,000 to build and the old gym cost $180,000. I still miss that old place...

• Here’s some cool trivia for you. On this date, my pals the Keysor family got permits to open a polyvinyl plastic plant in Saugus, across the street from the Saugus Cafe. It would eventually be called Keysor-Century and be one of the valley’s biggest employers, making — and I’ll say this word slowly for our younger readers — records. Those are big round black things the size of a really big CD that played music. But here’s the cool trivia part. You know what the building was before? It was the world corporate headquarters for the Newhall Rodeo Association.


APRIL 27th, 1967

• A water crisis so severe hit Val Verde, threatening to obliterate the serene community.  Residents learned that their ancient system was ranked as one of the worst in the entire state and had to be upgraded, at a cost of millions. In the predominantly poor African-American community, residents were already paying rates 15 times higher than residents in Newhall — for a rotten, nearly useless system.

• Our local version of the Hell’s Angels, the Rebels, were unwanted guests at a local liquor store. Two were arrested for weapons charges. I’d mention the names but they still may live in town and I’m too mature for fisticuffs before lunch.

• Work was going nicely to build the massive Castaic Lake Reservoir. Engineers were construction a giant 450-foot-tall surge tower, which was designed to accommodate surges of water from the California Aqueduct.

• Bill Cornwell of Canoga Park applied for a license to open the valley’s first — and I believe, only — “Hippy Night Club.” Called The Lemon Tree, it would open in Tex Williams’ old joint on SF Road, right darn next to the Newhall Nursing Home. There were only four other “hippy” clubs in the entire county, including the famed Whiskey A-Go-Go.


APRIL 27th, 1977

• Often, the terms “strange” and “Worker’s Comp” are not at odds. But this is one of the weirdest claims I’ve come across. On this date, the state Workers Compensation Appeals Board awarded former county supervisor Ernest Debs $30,047 to be doled out at $70 a week. Debs claimed that his relationship with our 5th District super and former KABC anchorman Baxter Ward was so acrimonious, that he suffered heart disease.

• Art Baum retired on this date. He was one of their original Regional Planning Commissioners, first appointed in 1954 by the county and oversaw the growing megalopolis eat the Santa Clarita. Baum was 91.


APRIL 27th, 1987

• The War of Whittling was finally over. LAFCO, the state agency which okays new governments, sliced down the original vision of the proposed City of Santa Clarita down to 40 square miles, gerrymandering out all the new developments on the outskirts. Commissioner Ruth Bennell, who had taken a hardline “take the offer or shove it” stance with city planners and who seemed to take personal pleasure in thwarting the new municipality, could easily make the top 5 Most Influential people in the last 50 years here — in a notorious way.

• More than 200 folks were evacuated from their Circle J homes. Keysor Century’s plastic factory had a fire and a cloud of toxic fumes was headed Circle J’s way. Interestingly, several Hispanic families living just about across the street from the record-maker weren’t asked by county emergency crews to evacuate.

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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