Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

William C. Chormicle and the Castaic Range War.


The Men Lose Their Lives In Attempting To Put A Shanty On A Government Claim.

The Quarrel in Castac Canon, near Newhall, between the Chormicles and several other settlers on railroad land came to a bloody ending yesterday morning, when two men met death.

The news was brought to this city by W.H. George, who has taken a hand in the quarrel to the extent of having two of the Chormicle boys arrested for tearing down his fence, but he claims to have had nothing to do with the shooting of yesterday. To a TIMES reporter Mr. George gave the following account of the tragedy:

"Three days ago George Walton, a young man who has been in the settlement about three months, hauled some lumber to section 23, of which he had filed a homestead. The land is railroad land, but there is a dispute between the Government and the railroad company, and this dispute has caused all the trouble in that part of the country. This same section is claimed by W.C. Chormicle, who owns a large tract in the neighborhood. To reach section 23 Walton had to pass a shanty on the section just below 23 which was put up by Chormicle. The lumber was hauled there three days ago, but before Walton could put up his shanty Chormicle had it moved and thrown over a fence below his shanty. This created hard feelings between the two men and this morning Walton got Jose Olme and D. Cook to assist him to haul his lumber to the spot where he wished to build.

"They got two wagons, but before they had loaded them Chormicle and W.A. Gardner appeared on the scene, and a quarrel took place between Walton and Chormicle. They finally came to blows, and Walton struck Chormicle in the face. Before any serious damage was done, however, Olme and Cook separated them. Gardner was armed with a rifle, and raised it, but Olme claims that he made him put it down. Chormicle and Gardner then went to Chormicle's shanty, and the three men loaded their wagons and passed within a few yards of the shanty to where Walton intended to build.

"They soon unloaded and passed by the lumber pile. In a short time they had loaded their wagons a second time, and started off with Waltonís wagon in the lead. Olme was seated on Walton's wagon next to that individual but furthest from the shanty. Cook was a few yards behind them, and as the first wagon reached a point opposite the shanty, Chormicle and Gardner appeared at the window armed with rifles and pistols and opened fire on the wagons. Walton fell from the wagon riddled with bullets, and Cook fell over on his seat with a bullet hole through his left shoulder and into his body. He died in about three hours afterward, and Walton died almost instantly.

"Olme escaped in a most singular way. When the firing began, Walton, who was between him and the shanty, and the shock, when Walton was struck, caused his body to fall against Olme, throwing him to the ground. Olme picked himself up almost instantly and ran back to Cook's wagon. A number of shots were fired at him while he was running, but he escaped, and reached the horses in safety. He saw that Cook had been shot, and, just as he reached the heads of the horses, they started to run away. He grabbed the harness of the horse furthest from the shanty, and ran along by his side past the house. The firing was still kept up, and the horses were struck several times, but they shielded Olme, and he escaped without a scratch. He was the only witness to the shooting, and is of the opinion that fire was opened on both wagons at the same time.

"As soon as the last shot had been fired, Chormicle and Gardner rushed out of the shanty and made for their saddle horses, which were hitched near by, and made off up the canon as fast as they could go.

"The news of the tragedy spread like wildfire, and in a short time the whole neighborhood was aroused. Some one started for Newhall to notify the constables, and at 1:30 they were on the track of the murderers, but, when I left, no trace of them had been found, and I don't think they have been arrested.

"When I reached the scene of the tragedy, I found that Cook was still alive, and, from the looks of his wound, we thought he would recover. His wound was dressed, and all that was possible was done for him, but he died in about three hours after the shooting. Only one ball struck him, and, as near as I can judge, it passed near the heart.

"Walton was dead when we reached him, so we did not disturb him, but left his remains for the Coroner, so I do not know how many times he was shot, but he looked as if he had been riddled.

"There were no arms about the murdered men, and I am sure they were not armed. Olme was not armed, and he says that if his party had been they would not have had a chance to use their weapons, as they were not expecting an assault, and Walton was killed instantly.

"When they passed with the first load and the men in the cabin did not molest them, they thought there would be no further trouble.

"There was considerable excitement, and the citizens did all in their power to assist the officers in making the arrest, but the murderers were on good horses, and the chances are that they were some distance up in the mountains when the officers reached the scene of the shooting.

The neighbors expected trouble for some time, but they did not think it would end so seriously. The land dispute should have been settled by the Government long ago, for at present we don't know who to look to for our titles, for some claim their land under the Government, while others hold under a railroad title.

"Walton was only about 25 years of age. He came there from San Diego about three months ago, but I think he has only been out here from the East a short time. He was a single man, stood high and was well liked by all who knew him.

"Cook was a married man and leaves a widow and four children. He was about 35 years old, and owns quite a nice little home. He was part Spanish, and stood well in the community. He had taken no part in the quarrel, and was simply assisting Walton to haul his lumber to his land.

"Chormicle is one of the best-known men in that section. He is about 60 years of age and has several grown children. He has a large ranch at Santa Paula, where he spends the most of his time, while his wife and several of his sons run the ranch in the canon a short distance from where the shooting took place. He has always stood well, and up to the other day he has taken but little interest in the quarrels.

"It was I who had his ten-year-old son and another young man who worked for his wife arrested for tearing down a fence on land over which we have a lawsuit, but that had nothing to do with today's shooting.

"Young Gardner, who assisted Chormicle in the shooting, is about 25 years of age. He lives with his father on their ranch near by, and has always borne an excellent reputation. He is a single man and has never to my knowledge been in trouble before. Why he should have been drawn into this by Chormicle is a mystery to everybody. They were not particularly good friends before, and I can't understand it.

"When I left Saugus for this city to inform the authorities the constables were of the opinion that Chormicle and Gardner had come to Los Angeles to give themselves up, but they have not been here, and I think that they are back in the mountains. I have a letter to the supervisors which I shall deliver to them in the morning. I don't know whether the Coroner has been notified or not. I have not seen him, but I will see him in time for him to go out in morning.

"It is looked on by the people out there as a cold-blooded murder, for Chormicle and Gardner knew that their victims were not armed, and even if they had been they gave them no chance."

The only other information received in this city last evening was a dispatch from a constable at Newhall, to the Chief of Police, asking if Chormicle and Gardner had given themselves up for murder. The Chief replied that no such men had visited his office. They did not appear at the County Jail either, so it is almost certain that they do not intend to surrender unless they are caught.

This double murder is one of the saddest affairs that has occurred in this county for some time. It is possible that there is another side to the story, for Chormicle and George cannot be the best of friends under the existing circumstances, and George may have colored his narrative to a certain extent.

Officers and detectives will visit the scene today, and further developments are expected.

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