From the beginning, Rancho San Francisco was a farming and livestock enterprise, and continued as such for its approximate life of 78 years, when its identity becomes submerged under the new title of the Newhall Ranch.
Beyond the Rancho boundaries there was a very different story. In the areas centered by the town of Newhall, local prosperity has always been dependent to a major degree upon mining, and mining's satellite industry — petroleum. But long before oil became an important factor of our local economy, mining, both placer and quartz, was a major source of income.
One reason for this condition may be found in the Mission system of gobbling the irrigable and arable valley lands. This left only the mountainous, hilly and canyon lands, suitable only for stock raising and agriculture (beekeeping), available for the folks who actually developed the country and lived on the product of their labor. The condition was perpetuated after secularization of the Missions, as the tremendous land grants were given away as units.
Many of the large grants are still intact and furnish a prolific source of study to today's sociologists and economists who see in their very existence a threat to social welfare of the many.
This condition undoubtedly spurred the rapid development of mining. Without the lands necessary for ordinary farming, the settlers grazed both cattle and sheep. The herders naturally prospected the hills in all directions following their charges.
In the story of Rancho San Francisco you read of Placeritas, first of California mining camps, as of 1842. There is hardly any written material on that camp. Its first miners were largely Mexican. Sonoran miners were brought in from Sonora, Mexico, but most of them returned to their homeland at the time of statehood. That was all part of the Rancho San Francisco story.
The second mining camp, or boomlet, it you prefer, was not within the Rancho boundaries. It happened in the San Feliciano Canyon tributary of Piru Creek. Its discovery has been attributed to the same Francisco Lopez of Placeritas. In 1843, Jose Salazar (whom you first met in Rancho San Francisco) is credited with a seasonal cleanup of placer gold amounting to $42,000.
The camp did sort of decimate the labor market in what is now Ventura County. It does not seem to have been bothered too much by Indian raids, such as those which temporarily stopped mining in Placeritas.
In 1846 the Ayuntamiento of the Pueblo appointed a commission to gather information with view to mining camp regulations of the San Feliciano placers. Francisco Garcia became sub-prefect of the camp. The American Consul Larkin, at Monterey, wrote the New York Sun that a common laborer could pick up $2 a day.
Placering was, of course, seasonal, as there wasn't water available in the dry seasons.
In 1854, Francisco Garcia is credited with a seasonal recovery of $65,000 from San Feliciano placers; one nugget, found at the junction of Paloma Canyon and Sheep Creek, was valued at $1,900.
In the 70s, San Feliciano saw quite a revival of mining activity. Chinese, who had been employed on the Newhall Railroad Tunnel [the San Fernando Tunnel through Railroad Canyon in Newhall], seem to have worked the placers on their deliberate way back to San Francisco after the tunnel's completion. The decline of the Soledad Camp, not far distant, also contributed prospectors.
Apparently, it was only after the practical exhaustion and abandonment of the placers that the existence of quartz lodes was recognized, and the next three decades seem to have seen several revivals of the camp.
Over in Piru, one can still hear stories of individual mining successes up the canyon, but it is almost impossible to get confirmation of them, for San Feliciano and the adjacent mining districts of Fraser and Snowy seem to have outletted somewhat into Ventura County, not the Newhall valley.
If the reader wishes to make a personal project of San Feliciano, simply drive to Piru and continue up the Piru Creek. Just before you reach the San Felicia Dam project, now under way [in 1954], turn right, through the Frank Dominguez gate, and go up to the Lechler Ranch Road fork. Take the left fork and start walking. After about a four-mile hike, you will see a large red hill. That is it.
Old mine workings are scattered all over the surrounding hills. In 1876, proposals were seriously made to flume the waters of Elizabeth Lake to the camp, so that mining might be carried on through the dry seasons.
The next, and by far the largest and most important of the valley's mining camps, is a very different story. The mining camp of Soledad was anything but mythical. Confirmation of its development is to be found in any of the contemporary journals of both Los Angeles or Ventura.
The reader may recall the old "Tulare Road to the Mines by the Tulares," crossed over the mountains by way of the "Cañada Alamos" (San Francisquito Canyon of today), as the only known practicable route in 1851.
The United States War Department, then headed by Jefferson Davis, fully realized the ultimate necessity for Western railroad facilities. In 1853, Lt. R.S. Williamson was ordered to organize an exploration and surveying party for ascertaining a practicable railroad route in that country "east of the lower Colorado, and a route connecting that portion of California with the Pacific Ocean."
As customary, a geologist (W.P. Blake, Esq.), a botanist and zoologists were attached to the party of engineers.
They started from Benicia, California, "to ascertain the most direct practicable railroad route through Walker's Pass ... and the mouth of the Gila — from this point ... to San Diego."
Williamson started his survey from Tejon up Grapevine Canyon, setting up camp near the east mouth of San Francisquito Canyon, close to the Road to the Mines. San Francisquito Canyon is a writhing, narrow defile through granitic rocks with very steep gradients, definitely not adapted to any railroad project then or now. From the top of nearby Mt. Stoneman, Williamson first saw and realized the advantages of gradient and general accessability of Soledad Canyon for railroad trackage. His reconnaissance, carried on during the next few days, bore out his theory.
It is amazing how many successful mining camps stem from original United States Geologic Surveys. Lt. Williamson's geologist, Mr. Blake, charted copper float where, 25 years later, would be the mining activity at Barrel Springs.
He calls attention to the exposed vein of copper ore, later to be the delivery lode deposit of the Soledad Mining District. Incidentally, he mentions that a "little digging had already been done on the vein, probably by Mexican herders, but the vein was too narrow."
About 1861, the mining prospects of Soledad Canyon began to attract attention in the mining centers of San Francisco.
In 1862, Capt. George Clarke came to Soledad from the northern mining camps. In his diary he describes the camp as "about ten houses built of logs on the bank of a creek ... in quite a pretty flat."
The location is known to us today as Ravenna, only a few miles below Acton.
In 1862, the mining activity seems to have centered about Galveston Hill. The "Ravenna City" townsite was laid out in September by Clarke and local associates, the names of some of whom — George Yarborough, Christopher Learning, N.B. Johnson, the Mining District Recorder, and the Abidio brothers — bob up consistently in the next two decades of local history.
Major Ben C. Truman, best known of contemporary California journalists, summarizes this phase of Soledad's development:
In 1861, attention was turned to the Soledad Canyon by the discovery of copper — a great excitement followed and nearly $300,000 was immediately sunk in development. Some of the most beautiful specimens of native copper ever seen were found, many of which were in the formation of leaves, exquisitely frosted with silver. The ore when found was incomparably rich and most of it contained 85 to 90 percent of metal. It was found only in chambers (pockets) however, there being no defined walls.
On abandonment of the copper enterprise ... one San Francisco firm lost $93,000; a large number of Mexicans and others were thrown out of employment. Some of the former wandered around the sand hills a few miles northwest of the abandoned tunnels. ... In 1862 [they] made several discoveries of gold-bearing quartz. ... Some Mexicans got to work ... and put up 10 arrastras ... and for nearly a year quietly took out rock ... from $35 to $40 per ton.
By 1863 the Soledad Mining District and the adjacent Gleason and El Paso mining districts were really running wild, as reflected in the columns of the Los Angeles newspapers of that date.
In January, one notes, "Articles of Incorporation of the Los Angeles Copper, Gold and Silver Mining Company were filed in the office of the County Clerk, San Francisco, for the working of several leads in the Soledad Mining District in Los Angeles County. Capital $546,600, divided into 5,466 shares."
In February, "Mr. J.M. Spence, Superintendent, and Mr. Richard Ryland, one of the trustees of the above named company, arrived here by steamer yesterday, bringing with them outfit, tools, etc. (for) opening the following leads of the Los Angeles Consolidated Copper, Gold and Silver Mining Company (including) the "Miller" (copper, and the) "Eureka, South Extension" (gold). ... The first named is five feet in width, assays averaged 16 to 65 percent. (It is on a) roundabout road (about) 60 miles to Los Angeles. (There are) millions in wealth (along the) recently opened Trail (which is) only 30 miles (over a) good wagon road by San Fernando mountain."
The next week, the Los Angeles Tri-Weekly News said, "During the last six months, there has been a constant chain of travel, freight teams, machinery, between Los Angeles and Russ District, Owens River and intermediate mining districts (including) Soledad. The Los Angeles Copper, Gold and Silver Mining Company will ship ore to San Francisco."
In March, the same paper says:
Everything is encouraging at Soledad. ... The Copper Hill Mining Co. is sinking a shaft on the Mary Delpha Lode, to a depth of 40 feet. (There are) flattering indications (that the) Soledad Company has sunk a shaft on the "Maris" (and at a depth of) 45 feet (and has) struck grey sulphurets of copper ore (which) assays rich. ... The "Santa Clara" Company working on the "Eureka" (gold) lode (and has mined) ore assaying $150 to $200. They worked on arrastra waiting for mill from San Francisco.
... Report by ... Senator stock of Consolidated gone from $4 to $7 a foot ... in San Francisco.
Soledad Hill Copper Mining Company (has) capital of $64,000 to develop (Don Abel) Stearns' claims.
Soledad ores are carrying a high percentage of silver.
Mr. A. Woodside leaves San Francisco on the 12th with 20 miners to run a tunnel through Galveston Hill for the "Occidental Copper Mining Company ... also for development of one of "Copper HIlI Company claims. ... Galveston tunnel is about 1,200 feet cut from both sides to Cut Six. Well defined lodes are 400 feet in.
A surprise when arriving at Ravenna City that there is so much life. ... (I) had pictured habitations only of wild beasts of prey. ... There is a tunnel on a hill 590 feet from base ... heavy growth of fuel cottonwood, sycamore, greasewood, willow, sage, oak. ... (There is a) forest of majestic pine and cedar.
Struck it! (At) 80 ft. (on the) "Maris" lode. ... The copper and silver belongs to the "Soledad" Company.
Sacks of copper ore for San Francisco (are ready for) shipment via Wells Fargo.
By May there are editorial proposals in the Los Angeles papers to "tunnel under the San Fernando Hills at lower levels" or the mining camp trade "will go to San Buenaventura," and the newspapers were suggesting a $10,000 appropriation for the work as a starter.
By June there are new discoveries at "La Gloria" on the "Hill copper promontory."
... Discovery of immense copper ledge near Barrel Springs, 25 miles east of Ravenna City ... in Soledad Mining District.
... Among mines, there are (the) Emma Antoinette Copper, Gold and Silver Mining Company, Occidental Copper Mining Company, La Gloria Copper, Gold and Silver Mining Company.
(There is) progress in the tunnel on Galveston Hill. "Soledad Pass Mining Company" in 80 feet ... "Maris" shaft down 95 feet ... "Los Angeles Consolidated" in 70 feet ... tunnel on "Lady Washington" ... Yarborough tunnel in 600 ft.
And Los Angeles County sends a commission over the Huse Trail [very roughly the Angeles Crest Road of today] but the commission finds the trail overrated for wagon road purposes, and the tunnelling project under San Fernando Hill seems a better cut.
The Soledad Stages start.
Small & Company's Express will leave ... Lafayette Hotel on the arrival of each steamer from San Francisco for the "Soledad Copper Mines." ... Parties wishing to visit (can do so) cheap and easy (on our) conveyance.
Small & Co. add a wagon to their staging fast trip.
Complete equipment (sent) for the "Emma Antoine & La Gloria." Mr. Moerenhaut accompanied the materials.
Incorporation of the Laure Johnson Mining Co., Soledad, $280,000 capital — 2,800 shares.
George J. Clarke advertises: "Laborers Wanted At The Soledad Mines."
G. Coronel is exhibiting Soledad ores and has "goods on way for stores at Soledad, where miners are flocking in" at Ravenna City.
"... A four-foot lode struck on the 'Jesus Maria' ..."
"... Strike by a Mr. Turner — ore changed to silver studded with copper."
"... The Consolidated Gold, Silver & Copper Co. have struck lead on 'Maris' ledge, under (the supervision of) Mr. Cornell."
Soledad was really travelling that summer of 1863. Sparro and Mars, San Francisco Mining Stock Exchange brokers, opened a branch office in Los Angeles, under the management of Max Strobel, dealing in mining stocks of the El Paso and Soledad districts.
Phineas Banning succumbed and "bought in" to the District mines. Leon P. Garcia sold his mining claims to the Soledad Hill Copper Mining Company for $20,000. D. Abada sold some claims to Henry Payet for $30,000 and more mining claims to Emil Goux for $5,000.
"El Paso District ore from the 'Twin Sisters' assayed 29 1/2 percent copper, ore from the 'Condor' ran 51 percent copper, from the 'Cornelia' 23 percent copper, from the 'Astor' 19 percent. The claims were owned by McFadden Co., and the ores were displayed at Leon's Grocery on Main Street."
And after all the foregoing? The ore pinched out.
Soledad was left to a few Mexican miners and prospectors who poked about the dumps and abandoned workings for "high grade" specimens and then drifted over the nearby hills just prospecting. Most of the American miners drifted to more active, not to say more promising, mining camps.
George W. Clarke went down to Los Angeles, bought a newsstand, and opened an office as Notary & Conveyancer. His wife joined him, and he built a fine two-story residence fronting Fort and Hill Streets, below Fourth.
E.F. Beale, who had personally ended the editorial conflicts of tunnel-versus-high wagon road over the mountains, by completing Beale's Cut which impartially served both the San Francisquito and Soledad Canyon routes, couldn't have been too happy.
There was deep silence in Soledad Canyon for several years and then, believe it or not, rumors sifted about that some of those Mexican miners, left up at Soledad, had been doing very nicely working the Soledad ores in their arrastras, or if you prefer, their Mexican mining mills.
An arrastra is nothing but a big, tough boulder, dragged around and around in a stone-lined trench by means of a long pole hitched to a mule or maybe a water wheel for motive power. Ores dumped in the trench are pulverized by brute force and awkwardness. The crushed ores are then panned or riffled over canvas riffles (grooves) for metal recovery. The whole contraption is called an arrastra. The device dates from prehistoric times.
It wasn't copper the Mexicans were recovering.
This time it was gold.
The merry-go-'round goes 'round and 'round all over again.
Somebody — it may have been the ubiquitous Major Ben C. Truman, who, as a practicing publicist, knew simply everybody; it may have been George J. Clarke, who, in 1866, had been appointed postmaster of Los Angeles (after all, Clarke was a consistent contributor to such publications as the Alta, the leading San Francisco newspaper); or maybe it was a combination of Truman and Clarke — but however it happened, the interest of the Alvinza Hayward group at San Francisco was definitely revived, and a fresh stream of payroll cash started dribbling into the moribund camp.
In August of 1868, the pot seems to have boiled over. Clarke reports to the Los Angeles Star that work at Soledad is "progressing."
"The McMurtry mine soon to have Mill ... 200 men working in district. Po & Kabler are awaiting arrival of their modern 10-stamp mill. Searles & Yates are digging ditch for water to their mill. ... Ravenna City now has three stores and a blacksmith shop. ... E.J. Bettes brought down, for Newmark & Co., $400 in gold dust, a 6-day cleanup of two arrastras."
In September, it is suggested that "a road by Way of Tejunga [sic], to Sisters of Charity ranches, take left fork and come out at Polk & Kablers mill. ... Direct road to Clear Creek and Havilah, shortening distance to Soledad 20-25 miles, to Havilah, 40 miles." The Beale tolls apparently were unpopular.
"Henderson & Searles have completed road from Soledad to timber. ... Polk & Kabler have two water-run arrastras — there are about 20 horsepower arrastras worked by Mexican miners. ... Now four stores in Ravenna City and L Marks is opening another."
By late November, "The Polk & Kabler mill running good ... seven ledges, two being worked ... on Eclipse tunnel to ledge four feet wide. Another ledge on 'Saratoga' ... many shafts. Searles Yates Co. mill run by water. ... Oldest ledge is 'Eureka' belonging to Postmaster Clarke who sold part to Mr. Truman, California postal agent."
"Ygnacio Valle [sic] sells 30 feet in Soledad mine for $250. ... First quartz mill in County on McMurtry mine ... Clarke reports 300 men working in mines. 14 arrastras running."
"Searles & Yates now running a good hotel. The Indians are getting tough. ... Joseph Miller has store. ... Polk & Kabler mill ran $1,000 in six-day run by water power. ... Scott and Edgerton running four horse arrastras. ... Handsome returns."
October 14, 1868, a United States Post Office was opened at Ravenna City with George Gleason as postmaster. Now, one of California's oldest communities was the Mission town of Soledad, about 20 miles north of King City, and the Los Angeles newspapers were warning folks not to address at "Soledad" if they meant Ravenna City, because their letters would wind up in the north — that was the basic reason "Ravenna City" had been so named instead of the logical name of "Soledad." The first railroad timetables, a decade later, listed "Ravenna City/Soledad."
In the fall of the year, Thomas R. Bard made a trip into Soledad. In his opinion, "the rock is very rich, but the veins are narrow in this district, but it is possible there will be an improvement in this condition. ... The Piute Indians in the spring of the year when some vegetation is found on the desert come over to this country to steal horses and cattle and only last Spring they killed several men in the locality where we were."
1869 opened cheerily, as there were "no brawls on the New Year ... Searles sold out to England at the Hotel ... Supper was served at Folks ... Polk & Kabler were dropping five stamps ... Jose Sanchez puts in another water operated mill ... Ore from "Rattlesnake" mine ... Clarke & Gleason have five men on 'Eureka' down fifty feet with an eight-by-four shaft on 30 inches of rich ore."
Late January saw more Indian trouble. Noah Crisco received an arrow wound.
By March, "Eureka down eighty feet with 30-inch vein ... Cameron opening butcher shop, down from White Pine ... Harper now running stage from Los Angeles to Jennieville."
Then, "Searles & Yates start ten stamps dropping ... celebration ... Mrs. England starts mill of 'Enterprise Mining Company'."
In May, J.D. LaRue was elected Justice of the Peace of Soledad Township. (He must have been about the first to hold that office.)
In June, Dennis Searles, et al., filed petition for organization of Soledad School District, the boundary to be three miles southerly of the Santa Clara river and paralleling it. The census showed 121 eligible children in Soledad. San Fernando had 39.
In June, Hayward & Co. received 59 ounces of gold from a nine-day run at the "Eureka." In July, they displayed 180 ounces from the same source, and in August '74, the shaft was down 160 feet to four feet of rich ore. J. A. McClellan, J.A. Hayward, Robert T. Polk, George Gleason, Capt. Clarke and Ben C. Truman attended the directors' meeting on the "Eureka."
Then the lower mill on Soledad Creek closed for "lack of water." The leading mines were the "Padre," on the eastern spur of Mt. Gleason, the "New York" and "Red Rover" — the latter worked profitably and successfully by the Gage interests within the last decade [the 1940s].
Lode Gold Mine in the Gleason Mining District, Los Angeles County, early 1900s. From California Division of Mines Report 33, 1937.
The County Board of Supervisors announced that the franchise for the Toll Road in the Soledad Canyon narrows would expire Feb. 15, 1870, after which date the road would become a public highway. The franchise had been held by C.M. Benbrook Co. It could not have been too profitable, for Henry T. Hazard, as Secretary of this Toll Road, was advertising an assessment of $1.25 per share as of Jan. 1, 1870.
Land Office records for May 1870 list five patent applications:
George Gleason, Henry Colson and George J. Clarke ask for 2,400 feet of the Gleason Lode, March 31, 1870.
George Gleason, Sanford Lyon, Alexander DeWitt and George J. Clarke, known as "Lyon Mining Co.," apply for 1,800 feet on the Lyon Lode, land and water privileges, Township 4N, R12W San Bernardino meridian — this was in the Gleason district.
George J. Clarke, George Gleason, Christopher Leaming, Benjamin C. Truman ask for 1,400 feet for the Amazonia Mining Company and on the Amazonia lode. This was in the Soledad District, Township 5N, R13 West S.B. meridian.
George J. Clarke, George Gleason, H.H.W. Clarke, Sanford Lyon, Christopher Leaming, Benjamin C. Truman, ask for 1,000 feet on the Eureka lode in the Soledad mining district.
George J. Clarke, Henry Colson, George Gleason, as Scott Mining Company, ask for 1,500 feet on lode, land and water privileges in the Gleason district.
You will see many of these names reappearing as the story rambles on. In July, work was suspended on the "Eclipse."
In 1873, G.W. Coffin, R.I.P. engineer for the abortive Atlantic & Pacific Railroad of Thomas Scott, describes Soledad as follows:
... 12 miles from the desert at Barrel Spring ... are 12 or 15 buildings that go to make up the town of Soledad. ... It is not an old town ... the offshoot of a mining town with 1,000 inhabitants ... It has a school house, two stores, a hotel, a blacksmith shop ... nearby are two large quartz mills.
Shortly afterward, the school had left its batt and board structure at Ravenna City and moved into a new brick structure at nearby Acton — which inherited both the people and buildings of old Ravenna City. Acton offered both farm and mine possibilities.
The said brick structure was remodeled into a residence somewhere around 1944, but is still readily identifiable by the bell tower platform, which now serves to hold a television aerial.
From the Los Angeles Evening Express in 1877: "Notice of Regular Miners Meeting at Bell home to elect a Recorder" (G.D. Rush was elected) ... to change the name of the Soledad Mining District to Cedar Mining District. T.H. Scannell, Secretary; John Bell, President."
Soledad had become a "ghost town" because its local miners had gradually moved over to Acton, far nearer the center of the active mining district.
In 1860, working mines included the "Padre," some 6,000 feet up, and about six miles south of Acton railroad station. At 400 feet altitude, the "New York" was still working in the Cedar Mining District and, a quarter-mile westerly, the "Red Rover."
In 1894, placering was reported in Soledad Canyon between Lang and Ravenna. Southeast of Acton, in the Gleason mining district, the "Padre," "Mt. Gleason," "Kelly," "Peerless" and "Casa Grande" were still active.
Toward the mouth of Soledad Canyon, at Russ Station, a small furnace was installed to handle the magnetite deposit there, but was shortly afterward abandoned.
The "Free Cuba" and "Mooney & Williams" mines were reported active in 1908. The "Free Cuba" was owned by Ira Houser of Acton. The "Red Rover" and "Governor" mines were acquired by California Gov. Henry Gage and associates, and were profitably operated. There were periods of work cessation — until the government discouraged gold mining at the time of World War ll.
Soledad was far and away the best publicized of our local mining camps. Both George J. Clarke and Major Ben C. Truman, excellent publicists, were financially involved, especially in the revival of Soledad in 1868, and they saw to it that the public was fully aware of any promising developments in the camp. Contemporary testimony, however, indicates that at no time was the camp other than a "one saloon" settlement.
In 1870, when the camp had already passed its peak, Major Truman, writing in the Los Angeles Star, describes it as:
... a dozen houses, including two stores, a school house, blacksmith shop, livery stable, hotel and last, but not least, that indispensable, adjunct of all mining camps, a saloon — but only one.
Whether this lamentable state of affairs is due to a lack of enterprise among the saloon keepers, or to any conscientious scruples on the part of the honest miners in regard to the quality — not quantity — of the liquor they are prepared to get themselves outside of, or to any lingering respect they may have to the Total Abstinance laws of the Good Templars, I am at a loss to determine — although I am under the impression, erroneous perhaps — that it is the latter — anyhow it is highly probable that there is an open speculation for any man in the liquor business who wishes to emigrate.
The arrastras which used to exist in Sand Canyon and Placerita Canyon are supposed to have dated from the 60s and to have been periphery activities of the Soledad camp.
The Palomas Mining District, around the present town of Castaic, was apparently an extension of the San Feliciano field.
It may have been contemporary with Soledad, but its activities did not include contemporary newspaper publicity. W.W. Jenkins, a Castaic pioneer, was the District Recorder. Jenkins placered in Charley, Palomas and Texas canyons at various times and undoubtedly had production records. Proximity of his ranch to the placers (now occupied by his daughter, Mrs. Kinler, and still marked by the "door plate" erected by the "Mayor of Castaic," as Jenkins was entitled by the contemporary writer, Horace Bell), dovetailed, as he could farm when he couldn't mine — water supply always being the controlling factor.
Fanning out from the mining in Soledad, placering seems to have been active in Buque (now called Bouquet), San Francisquito, and intervening canyons.
Where did our California placer gold come from? Arthur S. Eakle answers the query in fairly understandable words in Bulletin 9 of the State Mining Bureau. He says:
Gold was brought into California with the intrusion through the Mesozoic sediments of the mass of igneous granitic rock which forms the core of the lofty Sierra. Lifting the overlying sediments ... metamorphosed the Cretaceous sediments on the flanks of the uplift into ... and in joints and fissures of granitic and metamorphic rocks gold-bearing quartz was deposited.
"Then followed a long period of erosion, in Cretaceous and Tertiary times, in which the high mountain masses were planed down. ... Gold became concentrated and deposited with gravels along stream beds, in valleys and canyons forming the numerous placer deposits.
"Volcanic eruptions took place in late Tertiary ... much surface became covered ... old placers buried under this mass of volcanic rock and mud ... new river channels, valleys, canyons, new placer deposits formed by the extensive erosion.
There was apparently a prehistoric stream bed which ran, very roughly, northerly and southerly — as opposed to the present drainage system of the Santa Clara River due easterly and westerly. Wherever the prehistoric stream bed was cut by later canyon erosion, and "red dirt" exposed, placering seems to have been successful, while below the red dirt, almost on the bed rock, white sands were encountered even richer in gold content.
(After the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, the floodwaters scoured widened channels to bedrock, and the new rock exposures were well scoured by placer miners with good recoveries.)
About 1875, Governor Gage purchased the Bard holdings in Bouquet Canyon and erected a water storage dam with the intent of fluming the waters down for placering. The gold dust was present but proved to be too fine for profitable recovery.
In 1876, at completion of the Newhall [San Fernando] Tunnel of the Southern Pacific Railroad, several hundred Chinese laborers found themselves out of a job. Many started back overland to San Francisco, stopping as they travelled, at old placer mining camps. The Tunnel was completed in September, so, after cleaning up the job, the Chinese arrived at the placers about the beginning of the rainy season. Their first camp — still referred to by local old-timers as Chinese Camp — was located at the food of the hills just northeast of Andrews (Lyon) Station. Some Chinese seem to have been mining on the mesa between Elsmere and Quigley Canyons in the early 80s. The late John T. Wilson, San Fernando pioneer, has told of seeing the same area operated by Chileans in 1883. Much fluming seems to have been done there, the ditches of which were pointed out to the writer by Mr. I.C. Gordon in 1929, when they were still plainly outlined.
Others of the Chinese revived activities in Placeritas, San Feliciano, and intervening points. They were satisfied with a couple of dollars a day recovery from their washers and the local placers were always good for that amount. Incidentally, a contemporary Ventura paper in 1876 reports a three-ounce nugget found at San Feliciano, which, enjoying its revival, was planning the diversion of the waters of Elizabeth Lake to San Feliciano for all-year mining operations.
The late Mr. Will Delano told the writer in 1929 that he came through here with his father, T.A. Delano, in 1875. Soledad was practically abandoned (living seems to have been more pleasant at the newer town of Acton). The Delanos mined with no success from Piru to Texas Canyon, finally working in Bouquet Canyon, where they worked on the Gage sluices.
In 1890, Mr. John C. Haskell acquired his ranch in the canyon now known as "Haskell," and very profitably worked the placer areas on his ranch. (Local residents Fred and John Haskell, who worked in these placers, live today in Newhall.) However, there is no production record available. (Such records are generally based upon Wells Fargo express shipments of dust. Where there was no express agency, there are seldom records.)
1890 seems also to be the date of "Ratsburg." If one looks at the gopher holes indicating gopher mining of a past day, in the low hills at the junction of the Bouquet and San Francisquito canyon roads, the camp's name seems appropriate. All a miner needed in this "wet weather" camp was a shovel, a pan, much patience, and a necessary dollar with which to pay John Arnett, then superintendent of the Newhall ranch, his weekly rent. If the week's recovery had been too bad, it was customary to "hole up" in the back of the diggings until the Collector was out of sight.
In 1889, the State Mining Bureau notes: "1 1/2 miles southwest of Newhall ... Mr. Brophy is mining for coal ... started incline shaft dipping 25° N ... strike runs east and west ... stratum 32 inches thick ... they say 72 percent carbonaceous, 25 percent ash."
That reference is to the Brophy Tunnel, over by the Colored Sands, near the easterly line of the Lasalle Ranch.
E.B. Preston, reporting for the State Mining Bureau, describes the local placers: "Richest part of gravel in streaks marked by heavy deposit of iron oxide ... accounts of yields conflicting ... Large area of auriferous gravel on other side of Charley Canyon ... to work by hydraulic ... ditch from Elizabeth Lake ... gold not coarse as in San Feliciana."
In 1894, the same source reports placers operating "along Soledad Canyon, northeast of Newhall, as well as between Lang and Ravenna ... several gold districts reached from Acton Station ... Cedar Mountain ... chief properties Red Rover and New York, now idle ... southeast of Acton Mt. Gleason district ... chief mines of 1896: the Padre, Mount Gleason, Kelly, Peerless and Casa Grande ... idle — little remembered ... chromium near Acton."
In 1914, the State Mining Bureau reports: "Borax ... Sterling Borax Co. ... five miles north of Lang in Tick Canyon." Also, "graphite ... claims in branch of San Francisquito, 18 miles from Saugus." Silica deposits one-half mile southwest of Ravenna Station were reported in 1916.
"Minerals of California," published in 1923 by the State Mining Bureau, reports graphite as a "stratum running from the head of San Francisquito Canyon across to Charles Canyon;" copper at the "Free Cuba mine, near Acton;" chalcocite (copper glance) "occurred in the mines at La Soledad pass;" silica "6 miles northwest of Acton;" magnetite "solid masses at Russ Station in Soledad Canyon;" chromite near Acton, colemanite at Lang, magnesite in San Francisquito Canyon, labradorite near Lang and on Mt. Gleason, steatite (soap stone) near Acton; Fullers earth "six miles west of Saugus;" gypsum in Charley Canyon and two miles north of Lang; kalinite (alum) near Newhall.
As a matter of fact, intensive mineralogic prospecting of our nearby mountains by Capt H.F. Babbitt of San Fernando within the past five years proved existence of many more minerals than are above reported.
Mining has always been more or less actively carried on. They was, maybe is, placering on coarse gold in Henry Thomas Canyon. Bear Canyon saw both placering and lode mining, as evidenced by the "postage stamp" mill (two stamps) or "coffee pots" (single stamp mill), or recently existent.
In 1928, the placering in San Francisquito Canyon, after the breaking of the St. Francis Dam, has been mentioned.
During Depression days, 1932 or thereabout, scarcely any of our canyons were completely free from "dry washers" (for isolating gold dust), "rockers" (another device for the same purpose), or gold pans, the latter being an important item of the stock of our local stores at that date. Average daily recoveries probably did not exceed $2 a day (there were some good production records), but that was $2 more than was otherwise available then.
In 1933, the outstanding successful local placering operation was that of the Soledad Placer Corporation, headed by William J. Clark (still with us, but now heading the most successful alfalfa operation within our valley). This company acquired acreage in the Bouquet Canyon on an exposure of the prehistoric stream bed heretofore mentioned. Handicaps of local placering operations have always included lack of adequate water, gold existent in "flour" form, impossible for profitable recovery, and too much "black sand" (metallic sands of nearly the same weight as gold), impeding light flake gold recovery.
The Soledad Placer Co. put in six conventional sluices, or long boxes, two feet wide, with riffles and cocoa matting lining, to catch and recover the placer gold.
Too much black sand in the gold-bearing clays blocked recovery. After considerable experimentation, Mr. Clark finally developed the following successful technique for profitable recovery of local placer gold.
The recovery plant itself was fed by material from a 110-foot "drag line," which brought the gold-carrying clays, locally known as red dirt, to a "grizzly," which crushed rocks too large for later treatment, and dumped them into a 28-foot "trommel" set with baffle plates. Rotation of the trommel, agitation and dropping of the contents, helped by the addition of larger rocks which made the trommel a small-scale "ball mill" (used for crushing ore), sent most of the contents through a screen of one-quarter inch mesh.
Then came the crowning and highly original method of recovery. Mr. Clark had made six cast-iron bowls, 36 inches in diameter. These were riffled on the interior, and set up to mechanically revolve at 50 rpm (precisely the same theory as a milk separator). The centrifugal action forced the gold dust into the riffles, from whence it was removed by cleaning at frequent intervals.
The treatment was entirely successful and profitable. More than $50,000 in dust was recovered in 1934, but operations were stopped by action of farming interests down the Santa Clara River, who objected to the muddying of the stream. Clark had secured water from the city aqueduct, which he conveyed to his portable mining set up by way of fire hoses, thus making it possible to move his recovery units whenever a site showed signs of gold exhaustion.
This was the last successful placering operation in our area and one of the most successful recoveries in our local history.
For the record, George J. Clarke, whom you met in Soledad and will meet again when we discuss petroleum development of the 60s and '70s, is not related to William J. Clark of the Soledad Placer Corporation, whom you will also meet again in the story of petroleum development. They were each positive factors in stages of our local history. Future mining developments, which will undoubtedly come to pass in our canyon and mountain areas, will not be part of Newhall's history, the boundaries of which shrink with the passing of each decade.
Up until now, at least, Newhall has always been an oil town (a phrase synonymous with mining camp), but in Southern California communities, population has flowed over and practically submerged oil fields. An oil derrick shrouded with soundproofing, situated amongst the most modern homes, or an oil well on the pump, against the curb, draws little attention in the Los Angeles Basin.
Mining camps die quickly. Calico, Darwin, Panamint City, Julian, Rhyolite were all but shadows of a decade's length. They were true mining camps. Huntington Beach, Dominguez, Inglewood, Lawndale, Long Beach, Montebello, Seal Beach, Whittier, Wilmington were all once oil towns. For some the later "city" status has obscured to the point of forgetfulness a town's origins. That is what is now happening here.
Our newcomers, very welcome, greatly outnumber our older families, and find it difficult to believe that the town's economy was so largely based upon the petroleum industry. If one cannot see an oil well in the vacant lot next door, the latter point is obscure.
©1954, SANTA CLARITA VALLEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY • RIGHTS RESERVED.