Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

21. Buttons and Bows

As the Couts brothers were driving their cattle northward to feed the hordes of hungry miners, a Constitutional Convention was called at Monterey on September 1, 1849.

Among the forty-eight delegates, eleven were Californios, or property-owning Spanish Mexicans. Their views were so radically different from those of the Yankees that splitting the territory into two separate states was seriously considered. A compromise was finally hammered out and sent to the U.S. Congress.

The application for admission to the Union dropped like a bombshell into the collective laps of the senators and representatives. California submitted an anti-slave constitution which would upset the carefully maintained balance of power between northern and southern states.

A great debate was set off among the towering giants of the U.S. Senate — men like Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster. At last the historic Compromise of 1850 allowed the "Golden State" into the Union in exchange for a strong fugitive slave law. On September 9, President Millard Fillmore signed the bill making California the thirty-first star in the U.S. flag. The South was placated and the Civil War delayed for a decade.

Meanwhile, Hispanic dons were cashing in on their new-found wealth extracted by frenzied gold diggers. They thought nothing of laying out two thousand dollars for electrum bridles or hand-tooled saddles trimmed with silver. Golden spurs of immense proportions jangled from boot heels. Caballeros spent five hundred to a thousand dollars for a suit of clothing and wrapped their ladies in yards of silks and satins.

Adobe homes were expanded to include Brussels tapestries, massive Victorian furnishings and Persian carpets on packed earth floors.

The long cattle drives that brought all of this wealth to the southland were not without their problems. In spring, 1852, Cave Couts wrote to Abel Stearns:

"The nest of thieves in the Santa Clara did all they knew how to make me loose [sic] a lot, but not all. By believing all they told me to be false and threatening a couple pretty closely, I escaped.

"I learned that they got about one hundred head of Forester, fifty from José Antonio Arguello, seventy of Machado's, all of Castro's, and others in proportion."

On July 12 the Couts brothers arrived at San Jose to find fifteen thousand cattle milling about, the grass burned, and vast swarms of mosquitoes making life more unpleasant. But rustlers, flooded streams, withered grass and clouds of choking dust were forgotten when the animals were sold. Expenses ran about five dollars per head, including paying off the vaqueros, leaving a net profit of seventy dollars for each steer.

The most arduous part of the trip was getting over the mountain pass between San Fernando and the Santa Clara.

In late 1852 Henry Clay Wiley arrived on the scene and set up a substantial wood-frame hotel-restaurant-saloon in partnership with Ygnacio del Valle. At the top of the hill Wiley installed a massive windlass that could lower both animals and wagons down the precipitous acclivity — for a fee, of course.

After swinging between heaven and earth for several minutes at the end of a length of rope, even the most dedicated teetotaler sometimes ordered up a dose of "nerve tonic" at Wiley Station.

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