Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Ballfield Named for CCC Worker Killed While Battling SCV Brush Fire.


Eighteen-year-old Eugene Arnette died while fighting a 60-acre, lightning-sparked brush fire in Bouquet Canyon on Saturday, August 12, 1933, as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp crew out of Iron Canyon. Evidently to outrun the flames, he attempted to scale a mountainside but slipped and fell 100 feet into the burning brush below. The official cause of death was incineration.

The CCC was a federal New Deal program that employed young men in forestry, parks and public works projects around the country during the Great Depression. Arnette, a high school senior, was one of a group of "boys" from eastern Ohio assigned to the Bear Canyon CCC Camp for this particular three-month rotation. To honor his memory, his cohorts named the ballfield at the camp "Arnette Field."

The ballfield is long gone, the CCC camp is a faded memory in a community of luxury homes, and young Gene Arnette's sacrifice would have been completely forgotten locally if not for an inquiry 87 years later from a nephew who knew the story, heard of an "Arnette Field," and wondered where it was. Researcher Tricia Lemon Putnam did some digging, longtime area resident George Starbuck provided vital clues ... and the rest, we're happy to say, is history.

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Location Scroll Over Map

CCC Company 551's Bear Canyon/Saugus camp[1] was located east of Sand Canyon Road in Iron Canyon. The living quarters consisted of canvas-covered, wood-frame barracks as seen here. They stood at what is now the east side of the intersection of Iron Canyon Road and Knochaven Street. (Scroll over the 1938 aerial view above to compare it to a 2020 view, and see a "then and now" transposition here.)

Arnette Field was a softball diamond and field[2] that sat in a natural amphitheater formed by low hills southeast of the barracks. Today it's buried under driveways and the asphalt of an Iron Canyon Road extension.

The camp also boasted a large, concrete-lined lake with a diving board, as seen here. It was actually an irrigation reservoir that had been constructed earlier by the property owner and was filled from a dam up the canyon.[3]

The camp has been newly rehabilitated in the 1938 aerial photograph above.[4] The composite photograph was made between May and July of 1938, shortly after the Great Flood of March 2. The camp required repairs, which the "boys" quickly effected.[5] The roads also shifted slightly over the years as a result of repeated flooding.

Bello Homestead.

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Bello's homestead property (only). He owned additional acreage at the northeast. Click to enlarge.

The CCC camp sat on property owned by Michael Bello[6], a grape grower and bootlegger during Prohi­bi­tion.[7] An Ital­ian immi­grant,[8] Bello home­steaded approximately 120 acres in 1916 and 1922.[9] As shown on the map (inset, orange squares), his homestead property ran north-south from a point above Iron Canyon Road to the Angeles National Forest boundary.

Some of Bello's grapevines and olive trees are visible in the 1938 aerial image. He also grew melons in the sandy soil and sold them under the "Bello Mello Saugus Melons" label.[10] (The area was considered Saugus; the name "Canyon Country" was a 1960s invention.) Michael Bello and wife Josephine lived on the homestead property immediately south of the CCC camp.[11]

Bello also owned adjoining acreage in Iron Canyon that was never part of a homestead. Rather, it had been state land under the 1853 California Enabling Act and probably entered private ownership in early days.[12] Bello's non-homestead land extended eastward along the current Iron Canyon Road alignment, to at least the modern-day Josel Drive intersection where a son, Mike Jr. (1925-1969), made his home in the 1950s-60s.[13] (In 2003, Mike Jr.'s property was purchased by Steve Borden[14], better known as the wrestler, Sting.)

The CCC camp used a portion of Bello's homestead land and, at least for the swimming hole, a portion of his non-homestead land. The camp would have been more aptly named "Iron Canyon/Saugus," but somebody probably spotted a big bear there.

Camp Bear Canyon/Saugus remained active until late spring 1939 when its personnel were transfered to the CCC camp at Castaic, which sat on government-owned land.[15]

George Starbuck IV isn't quite old enough to remember the Bear Canyon CCC camp first-hand. He was an infant during its final 24 months.[16] But he is aware it was located in Iron Canyon just west of the property he and sister Gayle inherited in 1973 from their great-grandmother. Their 38 acres abutted the eastern border of the Bello property at North Iron Canyon Road, and stretched eastward to the Angeles National Forest boundary. It was also former state land, never a homestead.

George believes the Starbuck property had been larger when it was acquired shortly after the turn of the 20th Century by George Starbuck (the First) and wife Calla, a medical doctor. It may have extended west of North Iron Canyon Road at one time — although not as far as the CCC camp. "The property we inherited came into our family around the (1910s) or '20s. It started out as a weekend cabin," George said. His ancestors, the pioneering Walker and Reynier families, also grew wine grapes, olives and other fruit trees in the area.

— Leon Worden 2020


NOTES.

1. CCC Company 1647 was assigned to the Bear Canyon/Saugus camp in 1934-1935 and apparently 1935-1936. See The Signal, November 22, 1934 (arrival), and June 6, 1935 (departure). For 1935-1936, see this set of photographs.

2. The Signal, September 28, 1933.

3. George Starbuck IV, personal communications, May 17-19, 2020. (This includes all Starbuck attributions infra.) Starbuck: "The swimming hole was actually an irrigation reservoir constructed by Mike Bello and filled from a dam up the canyon. The dam is still there and parts of the 8-inch concrete pipe are visible on the sides of the canyon. Mike cast the sections [of pipe] up in the canyon with sand from the creek bed." Later, in the 1950s, Starbuck's gr-grandfather, George Starbuck I, who was Bello's neighbor to the east, collaborated with Bello "to supply water to a reservoir that George built just east of the creek. Also, Mike [Bello] developed a spring at the base of the dam. The water from the spring was piped down to the Starbuck property and stored in a 1,000 gallon tank."

4. Flight AXJ-1938, May 5 to July 28, 1938, altitude 13,750 feet. Flown by Laval Company Inc. for the USDA Agricultural Adjustment Administration.

5. The Signal, April 14, 1938: "Captain Floyd B. Rutherford of the district staff made the monthly inspection at Camp Bear Canyon on [March 31]. He gave the outfit a fine rating and expressed surprise at the speed with which the work of rehabilitation had been accomplished following the flood."

6. The Signal, July 6, 1933: "Lieut. H.A. Sears, of Bear Canyon C.C.C. Camp (Bello Ranch) was a Newhall visitor Saturday." Parentheses in the original. Also, September 7, 1933: "Mike Bello, owner of the land on which the camp is situated, has resided here twenty-two years..."

7. The Signal, November 28, 1924: "Federal Prohibition officers ... found a concrete tank eight by ten by ten feet in size, filled with red wine. ... Bello was ... charged with violation of the Vollstead Act." Also, Valley Times, November 20, 1942: "Sand Canyon ... boasts Mike Bello, who left a silver mine job at Bisbee, Ariz., 35 years ago because of rheumatism. Now he's a grape grower and a good one."

8. Bello's World War II draft card shows he was born in Cantalupa, Italy, on February 21, 1879.

9. Bello's land patents were approved January 5, 1916, and April 4, 1922, for a total of 119.38 acres within Township 4 North, Range 15 West, Section 36, under the 1862 Homestead Act. The 1916 patent included the 40-acre orange square at top on the map and 30 acres of the 40-acre middle square. The 1922 patent included the remaining 10 acres of the middle square and the 39.38-acre bottom square.

10. Gayle Starbuck on "Legacy: Placerita Gold, with George and Gayle Starbuck," SCVTV, 2002.

11. Michael (Sr.) and Josephine Bello lived at 15558 W. Iron Canyon Road, according to his voter registration records (1956 and 1962) and her death certificate (1959). Michael Bello (Sr.) died August 7, 1964, and was buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery. (Public document research by Tricia Lemon Putnam.)

12. BLM record for the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 36, Township 4 North, Range 15 West. Further research is required, but it was probably a vested mining claim.

13. George Starbuck IV, personal communication, May 17, 2020. Also, voter registration records for Michael (Jr.) and Lalamae Bello show and address of 15300 W. Iron Canyon Road, at the southwest corner of Iron Canyon and Josel. Mike Junior (Michael Morris Bello) had moved to northern California by the time of his death on September 15, 1969.

14. Records of title. Borden graduated from Hart High School in 1977.

15. The Signal, March 24, 1939, and June 2, 1939.

16. George Starbuck IV was born July 13, 1937, and grew up in Sand Canyon.

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Gene Arnette Killed During Forest Fire.

East Liverpool Youth Trapped After He Falls 100 Feet.

Gene Arnette, 18, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Arnette of 319 Briar alley, a member of the civilian conservation corps which left East Liverpool May 21, was burned to death Saturday at Newhall, near Los Angeles, Cal., after he fell 100 feet while scaling a canyon wall in an attempt to escape a forest fire in which he had been trapped with two companions.

Arnette and his companions, Ellis Ryan and Raymond Bochant, were among 200 members of the conservation corps battling nine fires started by electrical storms in the Angeles National forest.

A sudden spread of the flames forced them to seek escape up the canyon wall. Ryan and Bochant attempted to rescue their companion when he fell but were driven back by the spreading flames. Arnette was the first forest fire casualty in that area this year. The fires were later brought under control.

Arnette's body, which was sent from California Sunday, is expected to arrive here Wednesday.

Arnette, who was born here Oct. 23, 1915 [sic: 1914], was a senior in high school. Besides his parents, he leaves several brothers and sisters.


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Young Fire Fighter Dies When
Trapped by Blaze in Coast Woods.

Los Angeles, Aug. 13. — (AP) — Trapped with two companions in a steep banked canyon while fighting a forest fire near Newhall, Jene Arnette, 20 [sic: Gene, 18], of East Liverpool, Ohio, fell nearly 100 feet in attempting to scale the canyon wall and was burned to death late yesterday, it was disclosed today.

Arnette and his companions, Ellis Ryan and Raymond Bochant, were among 200 members of the civilian conservation corps who were battling nine fires started by electrical storms in the Angeles national forest Friday and Saturday.

A sudden spread of the flames forced them to seek escape up the canyon wall. Ryan and Bochant attempted to rescue their companion when he fell but were driven back by the spreading flames. Arnette's charred body was recovered and will be sent to East Liverpool tomorrow. His was the first forest fire casualty in this area this year. The Boquet canyon fire, in which the three fought, burned over more than 40 acres. The other fires were brought under control.


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C.C. Worker Loses Life in Fire.

Jean Arnett [sic: Gene Arnette], C.C.C. worker in the Bear Canyon Camp, lost his life on a forest fire in Boquet Canyon Saturday afternoon. Arnett, with 7 other men from the Bear Canyon Camp, were working along one side of the forest fire when it took a sudden spurt and started to burn rapidly. All of the boys but Arnett ran into the burn and got out with little difficulty. Ellis Ryan, one of the men working near Arnett, looked back and saw Arnett coming behind him. Arnett then apparently became panic stricken, and turned and ran up a steep slope trying to get out ahead of the fire that way. It is believed that he either slipped and fell or became overcome with smoke and could not get out. All other men in this crew escaped with no great difficulty, although two received minor burns in crossing hot ashes to safety on top of a ridge.

Forestry Notes.

The lightning storm that broke over the mountains Friday evening started two fires on Mt. Gleason, above Acton, one fire on Alamo Mountain and another near Mt. Pinos to the west of the Ridge Route.

Saturday's storm was more severe, bringing a series of fires in its wake that sent rangers and C.C.C. men into many different sections. The lightning was hitting so often and so near the Mt. Gleason Lookout tower that the observer was forced to leave his post for a short time. Back on his tower a few minutes later, the observer again began sending in report after report of strikes in that vicinity.

All fires were stopped before they spread to large size with the exception of the Boquet Canyon fire, which started when lightning struck in dense brush. This fire was brought under control after having burned approximately 60 acres by C.C.C. workers.

* * *

Bear Canyon C.C.C. No. 551 held open house Sunday. 125 guests enjoyed the dinner. The program was not given, by reason of the death of Jean Arnett, their buddy who was burned to death Saturday in the Boquet Canyon fire.


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[Brief.]

"Eight to three" in favor of Bear Canyon, is the score of the nine-inning game of soft ball, played Sunday afternoon. September 24th at Arnette Field, Camp F-136, Bear Canyon, between the Bear Canyon "first" team and the "first" team of C.C.C. Company 550 of Grassy Canyon [near San Fernando].

This end of the season game was for the championship of eastern Ohio players in California. Each team had strongly determined to win this game and capture the pennant. The prestige accruing from this game reaches back to Ohio — to the home towns of the players. The folks at home will share with their sons, brothers and sweethearts in Bear Canyon the grand and joyous exultation over having conquered the Grassy Canyon team. The boys comprising both companies come from the same towns, and many of them attended the same classes in the public schools, hence the rivalry was of the very keenest, particularly because each team has to its credit a string of victories. Grassy Canyon had lost only one game to any team since their arrival in California, so each camp believed its team was the best.

Saturday afternoon, boys from Grassy Canyon began arriving in Bear Canyon to see the game Sunday. The early arrivals stayed overnight. More came Sunday, including the twenty-three members of the team that came together in one truck.

Various bets were made; apparel and personal effects were wagered. Two boys bet their shirts; one won a shirt, a belt, a cap, a mirror and five cents.

A considerable crowd, including neighboring ranchers and their ladies, witnessed the game. The diamond had been roped off and seats erected for a considerable number of spectators. The field has been named Arnette Field in honor of Eugene Arnette, who lost his life, fighting a forest fire in a canyon last month.

Quite an ovation was given Lieut. H.A. Sears, former commanding officer, who unexpectedly arrived at the beginning of the ninth inning to observe the winning of this game by some of the boys whom he had brought from Ohio, and organized to play ball here. He was recently transferred to Company 556, San Marcos Pass, where he is the commanding officer.

William Jones is the hero. He batted five runs, drove a home run, and brought in two men; again drove two men in from bases. Other than Jones there were no individual stars on either team.

Shea and Jones were the unbeatable battery for Bear Canyon, and their work brought the spectators to their feet repeatedly. Shea pitched the entire game. The team as a whole played "air tight" ball and did not make a single error. Standley for Grassy Valley made a very difficult and thrilling catch of a liner to center field, returning to the side, two men on bases. Weil made a spectacular catch of a line drive thru third base. Dolan and Dilerato also picked a number of flies. Umpires were Vitt for Bear Canyon and Bonebrake for Grassy Canyon.


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Farewell Party.

A good-bye party was held Monday evening, October 2nd, in its amphitheater on Arnette Field, by Company 551. Forty-three boys put on thirty-seven numbers, comprising speeches, monologues, comedy skit, mock trial, quartet, vocal and instrumental trios, duets and solos, also three boxing contests, all the numbers except one, a musical number by a Forestry foreman being by the boys, the officers of the camp being merely spectators. It was a night of the boys, by the boys, for the boys.

Two-thirds of the boys will depart for Ft. Knox, near Louisville, Kentucky, and shortly afterward will leave for their homes in the various towns, most of them in the eastern part of Ohio.

The boys will realize that the departure from Bear Canyon will mean the separation of pals in many instances. Sentiment permeated the entertainment, many of the boys experiencing sincere emotion as they entertained, possibly for the last time, many of the fellows for whom they have strong affection. Their offerings included the entertainers' favorite piece, which, characteristic of him, is his "theme" piece, as it were — it symbolizes "him." So, with heart throb and an occasional break in the voice, pal sang to pal with a charm never before sensed between them. The memories will linger long.

C.N. Woodson of Columbus, Ohio, and James (Kid Big Bear) Workman, of Youngstown, Ohio, staged a fast and dynamic three-round boxing bout. The two, before enrolling in the C.C.C. were already veterans in the "manly art." The boys came out of their corners fighting and mixed up strenuously, each trying repeatedly to land a K.O. The first and third rounds were each a tie, but a knockdown in the second resulted in Woodson getting the decision.

The entertainment participants were: John Baker, Harry Bartle, George Breckenridge, Wallace Brooks, George Bush, Henry Byers, Edward Cain, James Cheekier, Harry Cook, R.P. Davis, Dominic Dash, Raymond Dechant, John Diloreto, L.C. Dolan, Robert Farish, Judge Gillen, Aloysysius George, Jack Hall, Paul Vernon Hayes, Leland Hoon, Wm. Hurd, Frank Irby, Edward Kell, James Kirkpatrick, John Kovach, John X. Christian, A.T. Krokosky. John Monihan, Tony Mele, Tony Noceria, Tony Nardille, John R. Phillips, D.M. Parrish, Frank Reeder, Floyd Reynolds, Don Romero, Marvin Spires, Edward Scavnicky, Ernest Totter, — Vitt, W. Wilson, N. Woodson and James Workman.


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