A typo here, a mistaken conclusion there, and pretty soon the
Santa Clarita Valley's historical "facts" aren't facts at all.
The following is intended as a guide for future SCV historians who,
encountering conflicting dates and circumstances from one source
to the next, might not immediately know what is correct.
This information should not be interpreted as criticism of
anyone's efforts to preserve and pass on our valley's history; heck,
this writer is as guilty as anyone of unwittingly taking
erroneous information and repeating it — at least, until better information comes to light,
as it often does.
All of the following "myths" have appeared in print at
one point or another. The corresponding "truths" are divined, in this writer's opinion,
from the best available sources, often from the primary sources — or as primary as they get.
That said, there is inevitably the possibility that the information
passed on here as "truth" may itself one day be discounted. In the meantime,
if you've read something somewhere that seems fishy, please e-mail us here.
ACTON HOTEL FIRE.
Myth: The Acton Hotel burned down in 1942.
Fact: The Acton Hotel burned down on the evening of Oct. 19, 1945. It was probably
arson, although this does not appear to have been proven. (Contemporary account in
The Newhall Signal newspaper.)
ASISTENCIA/ESTANCIA DE SAN FRANCISCO XAVIER.
Myth: The Estancia de San Francisco Xavier (1804) was elevated to "asistencia" (sub-mission) status in 1810.
Fact: The estancia, a mission outpost, was probably never elevated to an asistencia. The Mission San Fernando Rey de España had two asistencias, and neither was in the Santa Clarita Valley. (Anthropologist
Dr. John Johnson of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2006), one of the foremost experts on the Indian lifeways of the Santa Clarita Valley area, based on his study of mission
FREMONT PASS/BEALE'S CUT, No. 1.
Myth: Beale dug his cut on the site of Fremont Pass.
Fact: Fremont Pass was located about 1/4-mile east of Beale's Cut, along El Camino Viejo. (Ripley, et al. A common mistake, thanks to some unfortunate ca. 1908 picture postcards.)
BEALE'S CUT, No. 2.
Myth: Troops from Fort Tejon under Beale's command dug the cut.
Fact: They might have been under his "command" — but only in the sense that he might have hired them. He wasn't in command at Fort Tejon. He was a civilian when he won a $5,000 contract in 1862 from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to improve the roadway over the pass.
It's unclear who actually did the digging. Some say it was troops from Tejon. Some say Chinese laborers did the work. (Ripley, et al.)
JAMES DEAN'S LAST MEAL.
Myth: James Dean ate his last meal — pie and milk — in the SCV at Tip's Restaurant.
Fact: Maybe he stopped at Tip's. Maybe he didn't. If he did, it wasn't the last thing he ate. (Click here for a thorough discussion.)
JUAN JOSE FUSTERO, No. 1.
Myth: Juan Jose Fustero was the last full-blooded Tataviam Indian.
Fact: Fustero was at least one-quarter Kitanemuk by birth. He may have been three-quarters Tataviam. (genealogy.)
JUAN JOSE FUSTERO, No. 2.
Myth: Juan Jose Fustero, the last Tataviam speaker, died in 1916.
Fact: Fustero died June 30, 1921 (see death certificate), and he didn't speak Tataviam. He spoke Kitanemuk and Spanish.
The last Tataviam speaker was Juan Jose's mother, Sinforosa, who died in 1915. She was multi-lingual.
"GENE AUTRY SHOW."
Myth: "The Gene Autry Show" was filmed at Melody Ranch.
Fact: Many movies and television series were filmed at Melody Ranch while Gene Autry owned it,
but "The Gene Autry Show" wasn't one of them. (Per Gene Autry.)
LOU HENRY HOOVER.
Myth: Lou Henry Hoover, wife of President Herbert Hoover, was born and raised (or at least grew up in) Acton.
Fact: She was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and grew up in Whittier and Monterey, Calif. In 1891, at age 17, Miss Henry spent the summer camping at nearby Mt. Gleason with her father, Charles Henry. The assumption that she lived in Acton probably stems from a photo, shot that summer, showing her at Rudolph Nickel's store in Acton. (Personal correspondence from Lou Henry Hoover in 1938.)
WILLIAM W. JENKINS.
Myth: William W. Jenkins, the "Baron of Castaic," was shot to death by Billy Rose.
Fact: Rose may have shot him, but if so, it wasn't a fatal wound. Jenkins died a few
years later at the home of relatives in Los Angeles. (Obituary in the Los Angeles
STEPHEN WATTS KEARNY.
Myth: It's spelled Kearney.
Fact: People have been misspelling the name of the commander of the Army of the West ever since he
court-martialed John C. Fremont. It's KEARNY. Incidentally, he pronounced it "Carney." (Kearny biographer Dwight L. Clarke, 1961.)
Myth: His surname is spelled Kingsbury.
Fact: We've gone back and forth with the spelling of this man's surname for years: Does it have one "R" or two?
In 2012, local historian Pat Saletore came upon a World War I registration card signed in the man's own hand. It's KINGSBURRY. (Pat Saletore.)
JOHN LANG AND THE BEAR FLAG.
Myth: John Lang shot and killed a grizzly bear that became the model for California's bear flag.
Fact: John Lang shot his bear July 7, 1873. The bear flag was first hoisted in June 1846. The current California
bear flag was adopted in 1911. The model for the current flag was "Monarch," the last California grizzly
— and that's how this myth was born. See below. (Multiple sources.)
JOHN LANG AND THE "MONARCH."
Myth: John Lang shot and killed a grizzly bear that was known as the Monarch of the Mountains.
Fact: Lang's bear was known as the Monarch of the Coast, according to Lang's biography, written during his lifetime and undoubtedly with his input,
as published in "Pen Pictures" for L.A. County. All grizzlies were known generically as
monarchs of the mountains, but the bear known as THE Monarch of the Mountains — believed to be the last California grizzly —
was captured 16 years later in October 1889 in the San Gabriel Mountains and caged in a zoological garden in San Francisco until he was euthanized 22 years later (the same year
he was immortalized on the state flag). (Multiple sources.)
LOPEZ GOLD DISCOVERY, No. 1.
Myth: Francisco Lopez's March 9, 1842, find in Placerita Canyon was the first gold discovery in California.
Fact: His was the first documented discovery (the filing of the state's first gold mining claim makes it so),
but it wasn't the first discovery. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence
to suggest that Mexican miners were playing the canyons in the two decades prior to Lopez's discovery,
while California was under Spanish, then Mexican, control. Again, this is anecdotal information,
and thus — to this writer's knowledge — not documented, and therefore not technically verifiable. (Multiple sources.)
LOPEZ GOLD DISCOVERY, No. 2.
Myth: Francisco Lopez was a lucky rancher who was sleeping under a tree in Placerita Canyon,
dreamed of discovering gold, awoke, dug up some wild onions and found gold clinging to their roots.
Fact: Lucky rancher? Sure, but Lopez knew what he was looking for, having been
schooled in mineralogy at the university in Sonora, Mexico. Did he dream of gold beneath the famous oak?
Maybe. Or maybe it was just a fancy story he made up. In any case it's an old
tale, and worthy of repetition. (Ruth Newhall.)
LOPEZ GOLD DISCOVERY, No. 3.
Myth: Lopez discovered gold under an oak tree.
Fact: Lopez discovered the gold amid a nearby grove of sycamores, after napping under an oak tree. Onions don't grow under oak trees (and neither does much else). (Melba Fisher and George Starbuck; see videos: "History of the Santa Clarita Valley With Jerry Reynolds" and "Legacy" with George and Gayle Starbuck.)
ALEX MENTRY DEATH.
Myth: Charles Alexander Mentry, of Mentryville fame, died as a result of a bee sting or a bug bite.
Fact: According to his death certificate, Mentry died from typhoid fever, with chronic kidney disease as a contributing factor.
MENTRYVILLE 'BIG HOUSE.'
Myth: It was completed in 1898.
Fact: The exact date of completion is lost, but it was definitely finished well before 1898 (which would
be two years before Mentry's untimely death). Best guess for a completion date is 1890.
(Carol Lagasse; and photos believed to date earlier than 1898.)
Myth: Remi Nadeau, the famous L.A. freighter of the 1870s-80s, operated a deer park in Soledad Canyon.
Fact: The freighter died in 1887. His grandson, Remi Nadeau, ran the deer park on land he purchased in 1908. A third Remi Nadeau,
a historian and author, is great-great-grandson to the freighter (and is not descended from the deer park owner).
(Error in Reynolds 1992; See various obituaries.)
HENRY CLAY NEEDHAM.
Myth: He was a Prohibition Party candidate for U.S. President in 1920.
Fact: He was offically a candidate in 1932, although he at least toyed with the idea of running in earlier years. In 1932, Needham would have been in line to be nominated for President by the Prohibition Party, but he was suffering from a severe case of phlebitis and would have been unable to accept the nomination had he received it..
(Los Angeles Times obituary and family accounts.)
NEWHALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
Myth: The first Newhall School was built in 1887.
Fact: Newhall children were first schooled on the Lyon ranch at the top of Pico Canyon Road (Valencia
Marketplace today) in 1878; the first permanent school building opened in 1879 at the northeast corner of Ninth and Walnut streets.
It burned down in 1890. (Multiple sources and photographic records.)
OLD NEWHALL JAIL.
Myth: Nobody knows exactly when the adobe jailhouse was built.
Fact: The Sheriff's Department does. It was completed in 1906. It is unclear whether a wooden building preceded it. (LASD records gathered by Estelle Foley.)
PIONEER OIL REFINERY.
Myth: The first refinery was built at Lyon's Station in 1876 and moved to Andrew's Station in 1878.
Fact: The first refinery was built at Lyon's Station in 1874 and a new one was built at Andrew's Station in 1876-77 (and the old stills from Lyon's were moved there). (Standard
Oil Co. of California archival records.)
JUDGE JOHN F. POWELL.
Myth: Judge John F. Powell was the first justice of the Soledad Judicial District.
Fact: Powell might — might — have been the second, but he wasn't the first. The first was J.H. Turner. (Court records. Mistake attributed to misinterpreted handwriting in 1940, when "1878" was mistaken for "1873.")
POWELL'S PALACE SALOON.
Myth: Judge John F. Powell owned the Palace Saloon in 1870s-80s Newhall.
Fact: The proprietor of the Palace Saloon was MIKE Powell, John's brother. (Probably stems from the assumption that there was only one Powell in early Newhall.)
ELVIS PRESLEY AND THE MELODY RANCH FIRE.
Myth: Elvis Presley was at Melody Ranch during the 1962 fire and helped douse the flames.
Fact: On Aug. 28, 1962, Elvis was at a recording session in Hollywood and went home sick.
ST. FRANCIS DAM VICTIMS.
Myth: The ocean carried the bodies of St. Francis Dam victims as far as San Diego.
Fact: Bodies are known to have been carried as far as Oxnard. (The source of confusion might be a report that a body washed up on the "Silver Strand Beach." There is a Silver Strand beach in San Diego, but the one in question is in Oxnard. Source: Ann Stansell.)
Myth: It was called Tolefree's Eating House.
Fact: The correct spelling was Tolfree, and the business name was Saugus Eating House.
The founder was James Herbert Tolfree, as shown on his grave marker, which bear the date of the death of the founder as reported in the press (it's the same person).
(A: Source document from the Saugus Eating House; B: News reports and headstone.)
SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY, No. 1.
Myth: The derailed locomotive was Engine No. 59 (alternately Engine No. 29).
Fact: The TRAIN was No. 59 — aka the San Joaquin Daylight, which ran over the Tehachapi Loop. The train was No. 58 from Los Angeles to San Francisco and No. 59 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The ENGINE had a four-digit number (No. 5042). (Bill Jones, Member, Gateway Model Railroad Club.)
SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY, No. 2.
Myth: "Buffalo" Tom Vernon was released from Folsom Prison in the 1960s and died soon thereafter from syphilis.
Fact: Tom Vernon was paroled by 1935 and pardoned in 1964. According to his death certificate, he died Aug. 18, 1967, from septicemia and bronchopneumonia. And he wasn't "Buffalo" Tom (see below).
SAUGUS TRAIN ROBBERY, No. 3.
Myth: Train robber Tom Vernon, alias Tom Averill, was a famous rodeo cowboy known as "Buffalo" Vernon.
Fact: Tom Vernon was in prison for larceny (as "Thomas Vernon") while the real Buffalo Vernon — Jesse Shisler — was making a name for himself in 1910 and 1911. Tom later stole his identity. Also, while we haven't conclusively disproved it, it is extremely likely that our robber's claim to being "Tom Averill" was also a fraud. (Prison records.)
(FIRST) SOUTHERN HOTEL.
Myth: The Southern Hotel burned down in 1887.
Fact: News reports prove the hotel burned down Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1888. The fire started at 8:15 a.m. and the hotel was gone by 9. It had been built in 1878.
SPANISH LAND GRANT.
Myth: The Santa Clarita Valley was a Spanish land grant.
Fact: The Rancho San Francisco (SCV) was a Mexican, not Spanish, land grant. They aren't the same thing. The Spanish crown did award a small number of large land grants, but the SCV wasn't among them. The SCV was under the control of the Mission San Fernando (missions didn't "own" land; the king did) until Mexico's Secularization Act of 1833 dealt the final death blow to the mission system and California's Mexican governors started giving away ex-mission (and other) lands. Gov. Juan B. Alvarado granted the Rancho San Francisco to Antonio del Valle in 1839.
Myth: Melody Ranch was the setting for the town of Lordsburg in the 1939 John Ford film, "Stagecoach."
Fact: No part of "Stagecoach" was shot at Melody Ranch. It was shot primarily on the Republic lot, although
several other locations were used — including Beale's Cut. (Several film historians.)
STANDARD OIL COMPANY.
Myth: Standard Oil Co. of Calfornia was acquired by Chevron in 1977.
Fact: Standard Oil of California (SOCAL) created the "Chevron" trademark and used it successfully for many years prior to
1977, when SOCAL decided to rename its domestic operations "Chevron USA Inc." In 1984, SOCAL made the rebranding complete when it
acquired Gulf Oil, eliminating the "Standard" name all together in favor of "Chevron." (Reader Paul Millner, Business Development Manager, Chevron Richmond Refinery, 2008.)