Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The San Fernando (Newhall) Pass.
12. Developments During 1860-1861.
The Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, March 1948.

1860. No one had been more aware of the hard struggle it was to move freight and supplies over the San Fernando Pass than the local citizenry of Los Angeles. In the early summer, in June 1860 the Big Blue Mine came in, when gold was discovered high in the Sierras, on the North Fork of the Kern river,1 a bonanza strike.

The great hot plains of the southern Tulare Valley, where the Kern river wandered, and the slopes of the foothills, were becoming more valuable for sheep and cattle. Don David Alexander had discovered that as he freighted through them on his way to the gold mines. He had a herd of 20,000 cattle grazing over them in 1861 and he used the Rancho San Emigdeo [Emigdio], spreading out from a large canon to the west of the Canada de las Uvas as his headquarters.2

1860, April 7. Los Angeles Star.

Added to the new heavy traffic of supplies to the Kern river and the moving herds of cattle going over the Pass, the Star newspaper announced "a train of U.S. wagons from Fort Tejon" crowding the steep grade on their way over the mountain for repairs. With the trains coming in from Salt Lake and Fort Mojave, the Star said, to have their wagons and harnesses gone over too, there was an order, altogether, of 600 horse shoes needed.

On top of all this flurry of new business there was the miraculous achievement that year of a telegraph line put in through the great lonely stretches of the Tulare Valley from Visalia, south to Fort Tejon and then from the Fort, over the mountains, to Los Angeles. All the heavy, square, redwood poles3 for the south, had been shipped down from the north.

1860, June 9. Los Angeles Star.

"Load of Poles. That load of poles required for the construction of the telegraph is to be landed at San Pedro. Major Banning has been engaged to transport them to their destination which will be done with his accustomed promptness, he having fifty teams ready for the work." They would make a long, winding line of heavily pulling horses slowly dragging those poles over the tough pass to their location.

All of the rich development in the mines, and the opening up of the Tulare Valley, were the forerunner of prosperous years. But as always, between the market and the consumer, between the growing town of Los Angeles and the Tulare Valley, stood the sharp divide of the Santa Susana Mountains and the steep San Fernando Pass climbing over it.

Colonel Edward F. Beale, in the early fifties, had been Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California. In the late fifties he had headed the expedition that surveyed the Great Wagon Road from Fort Defiance, New Mexico, west to the Colorado river. At the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861 President Lincoln appointed him Surveyor-General of California and Nevada. Colonel Beale wrote Lincoln of his disappointment in not being given more active duty. The President however, felt he could be of greater assistance in the west he knew so well by helping to preserve California in the Union.4

After his appointment then, in 1861, Colonel Beale returned to California and spent the years of the Civil War there.5 Previously, during his sojourn in southern California, he had picked up all the land he could of the immense early Spanish grants bordering the Fort Tejon Pass.6 In the nearly two hundred thousand acres he ultimately owned, were the Rancho El Tejon itself, extending along the foothills in the southern part of the Tulare Valley and up into the Pass; the Castec [Castaic] Rancho bordering the Canada de las Uvas; the Rancho Los Alimos Y Agua Caliente and Rancho la Liebra, lying to the east and southeast of Fort Tejon.7

It can readily be seen, any work to improve the tough San Fernando Pass and make the growing town of Los Angeles easier of access to these immense properties, would be of great interest to Colonel Beale.

At that time the San Fernando Mountain was still almost "impassable for heavy teaming," which must have been stopped entirely during the downpour of winter rains. "It became necessary therefore, to consider a means of over-coming the difficulty, much money having already been spent by the County in an abortive attempt to build a tunnel. This second plan likewise came to naught."8

However, it was not the citizens of a small pueblo and the county itself that this time undertook to improve the San Fernando Pass. It was apparently a move made by three private individuals as an investment. Charles H. Brinley, Andres Pico and James R. Vineyard were the men who in 1861, petitioned the state legislature for permission to build a turnpike road over the San Fernando Mountain and an approach to it on the north and the south.

Charles H. Brinley at one time, had evidently been interested in merchandise trade in the Orient. Some twelve years before, in 1849, he had been in Canton, China. That year, Jacob Leese of San Francisco, a merchant who traded in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sonoma, under an agreement with Thomas Larkin of Monterey, had taken to the Orient the sailing ship Eveline, which subsequently returned with "the richest and most valuable cargo of Chinese goods ever brought to this market."9

In a letter Jacob Leese wrote to Thomas Larkin from Hong Kong, giving an account of the "state of funds and investments of the ship," he listed $8,000 advanced from "A. Heard and Co. a/c of Mr. C.H. Brinley, a gentleman with whom I have made arrangements for business, and who has a proportionate interest in the whole investment and business."9

By 1851, Mr. Brinley was back in California again, a prominent enough citizen to have been appointed Secretary of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance.10 It was this Executive Committee that conducted the trials of the prisoners. Shortly after, however, the early fifties found Mr. Brinley in southern California and, interesting to note, as major-domo for Don Abel Stearns on his Rancho Los Alametos.11 In 1861 he was still associated with Don Abel Stearns in business but no longer major-domo on "the Rancherito." This was the year he joined James R. Vineyard and Andres Pico in a petition to the legislature for a franchise to improve the San Fernando road.

James R. Vineyard had first been a northerner, living in Sacramento, and in 1855 represented that city in the State Assembly. The same year, however, he had been given the commission of Indian Agent.12 He had lived then, most of the time on the Rancho El Tejon where he ran large flocks of sheep.13 He was usually called Colonel Vineyard or just plain Jim Vineyard by some. He had ridden the rough road between the Tejon and Los Angeles on many a hard trip. In 1860 he sold his sheep on the Tejon to the Jewett brothers, Sol and Philo, for their Rio Bravo Rancho near the Kern river.

When his commission as Indian Agent expired in 1861 Colonel Vineyard left the Tejon to live in the small town of Los Angeles. That same year, with C. H. Brinley and Andres Pico he petitioned the State Assembly for the franchise to improve the San Fernando road. He was sitting in the Senate himself, representing Los Angeles County,14 as its senator.

General Don Andres Pico, in 1861, was still living in the middle part of the old San Fernando Mission. He had lived there a long time. Being a native Californian, in the early days he had gone over the precipitous Cuesta Vieja on the Camino Viejo on horseback or perhaps in a rumbling Spanish carreta. He had watched the building of the new San Fernando road. He had furnished beef from his cattle on his large ex-Mission rancho, to Sanford and Carson, the contractors putting the road through.15

But now, again, even the new San Fernando Pass was inadequate for heavy teaming.16 It was bad enough in itself, but the road from his home in the old mission was equally rough. Men had to take "a circuitous route over poor roads" even to get to the pass.17 Don Andres Pico was "a leading and trusted citizen"18 in the town he had known as a pueblo. The year before, in 1860 and in 1859 too, he had also been a State Senator from Los Angeles County.19 He had good reason to be one of the three men petitioning the legislature they be allowed to put a turnpike road over the San Fernando Mountain.

This is what was known then, about these citizens, C.H. Brinley, Colonel Vineyard and Don Andres Pico, as they walked among their friends and business associates in the every day life of the small town of Los Angeles.

That year of 1861, besides Colonel Vineyard as senator and Don Abel Stearns as representative sitting in the Legislature, there was a man at Sacramento who must have been vitally interested in this project. He was none other than the Governor, John G. Downey, also from the town of Los Angeles. Seven years before, the firm of McFarland and Downey, druggists, with Don Abel Stearns and other public minded citizens, had made their contributions towards changing the San Fernando Pass on the Camino Viejo over to the new road. Now, with the discovery of an even richer gold mine up on the Kern river, and visualizing future development of the Tulare Valley, Governor Downey must have seen the necessity of lowering the steep, sharply curved grade of the San Fernando Pass. It would also facilitate stage and mail communication between the northern and southern parts of the state of which he was Governor.

1861, March 30. Los Angeles Star.

"San Fernando Road. In the Senate at Sacramento on 22nd inst. Mr. Gallagher introduced a bill authorizing Charles Brinley20 and Andres Pico to build a wagon road over the San Fernando Mountains in Los Angeles County."

1861, April 20. Los Angeles Star.

"We believe it is considered by some persons that the best road across the mountains from this city into the Mojave Valley and Salt Lake road is by what is known as William's Pass.2 Those who argue thus, should remember that the San Fernando Pass has to be crossed and that alone is a formidable obstacle to heavily laden wagons. Thousands of dollars have been expended on this pass by our county, yet it is almost impassable. We think the argument" (discussed "by practical and scientific gentlemen") "was altogether in favor of the improvement of the Cajon Pass road."

1861, May 7. "The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

"Section I. Charles H. Brinley, Andres Pico and James R. Vineyard are hereby authorized and empowered to build and construct a turnpike road from the ex-Mission of San Fernando, across the San Fernando Mountain and across the Cajon Hill and through the Cajon Pass,22 to the Arroyo de Santa Clara in Los Angeles County,"23 Etc.

To Charles H. Brinley, Andres Pico and James R. Vineyard then, was finally given the franchise to "build and construct a turnpike road from the ex-Mission of San Fernando to the Arroyo de Santa Clara ... to cut down the San Fernando Mountain where said road shall pass or cross over the same, at least fifty feet from its summit." They were "authorized and empowered to levy and collect such rates of tolls as the Board of Supervisors of said county shall fix from time to time, with the exclusive right, privilege, and use, of all tolls collected, for a period not exceeding twenty years." The road was to be finished within one year after the passage of this Act, or by May 7, 1862.

1861, June 15. Los Angeles Star.

"The Messrs. Pico, Don Pio and Don Andres, have been called upon by E.F. Beale, U.S. Surveyor General of California, to define their relation to the Union and the Federal Government."

Don Pio, who had been the last of the Mexican Governors, said in substance that his previous acts and his vote for Lincoln "the worthy President," would prove his loyalty to the Union.

"Don Andres replies that 'in face of the attack made against the Federal Government and unconditionally24 and at all hazards, I am for the Constitution and for the Union entire; to maintain which I would cheerfully offer as a soldier, my sword, and as a citizen, my fortune.'"


1. A few miles north of Kernville.

2. History of Kern County. Wallace Morgan.

3. Alta California, Oct. 20, 1860. Forgotten Fort Tejon. Clarence Cullimore, p. 42.

4. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Stephen Bonsall, pp. 258-260.

5. Colonel Beale in 1876 was made Minister to Austria-Hungary by President Ulysses Grant. The Story of El Tejon. Part One. Helen S. Giffen, p. 50.

6. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Stephen Bonsall, p. 278.

7. Story of El Tejon. Part One. Helen S. Giffen, pp. 45-46.

8. Sixty Years in Southern California. Harris Newmark, p. 323. The first mention found of an attempt at a tunnel. "This second plan," coming "to naught," Mr. Newmark must have considered the first plan the new 1854 San Fernando Pass or the work put on it in 1858, for the Butterfield stages. He should have been well acquainted with the hard grade and the attempts to improve it, as he had a store at Fort Tejon in 1859, p. 248.

9. Society of California Pioneers. Vol. 7-9, 1930-32. The Leese Scrap Book, pp. 31-32.

10. Papers of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, p. 88.

11. Gaffey MSS. The Huntington Library, San Marino. Don Abel Stearns came from Lunenburg, Mass. C.H. Brinley from Pepperell, Mass., only eight miles distant.

12. Los Angeles News. Sept. 7, 1863. Obituary. Sacramento State Library contributed by Miss Gillis, Librarian.

13. The Journals of Charles E. DeLong, 1854-63. Edited by Carl Wheat, p. 277.

14. A Historical Sketch of Los Angeles County, p. 69, Reprint O.W. Smith.

15. On the account rendered for the San Fernando Road by Sanford and Carson. Gaffey MSS. Huntington Library, San Marino.

16. Sixty Years in Southern California. Harris Newmark, p. 323.

17. Sixty Years in Southern California. Harris Newmark, p. 323.

18. Editorial, Evening Express. Feb. 14, 1876.

19. An Historical Sketch of Los Angeles County, p. 69. Reprint O.W. Smith.

20. A misprint for Brinley.

21. Williamson Pass original name. "It is approximately equivalent to the present Mint & Soledad Canyon." Walter Stalder. Oil World, Nov. 12, 1941, p. 39.

22. "El Cajon (the box or canyon)" Place Names of California. Nellie Vande Grift Sanchez, p. 358. The Canyon of the new San Fernando Pass was originally a "box" canyon until the road was cut through the rock on top. This may account for its being called locally, in Spanish, "Box Hill" or "Box Pass."

23. There are six sections to the Act found in the Statutes of California 1861, p. 303, also an amendment thereto, Statute 1862, p. 282. County Law Library, Hall of Records, Los Angeles. The existence of the Act and its amendment and their location given through the courtesy of Mr. Arthur Perkins of Newhall, California.

24. An exact quotation from the Star as Don Andres expressed himself.

Toll House
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