Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

30. The North Forty

Legends of man-eating grizzlies grew in the late 1800s, thanks to the rude inscription that a Lieutenant Richardson had found in an oak tree at the top of Grapevine Pass — "Peter LaBeck, killed by an X bear, Oct. 17, 1837" (see Chapter 23).

Within two years after its 1852 discovery, the inscription was mentioned in official reports. General Beale speculated on who LaBeck was and what he was doing up there. Was he a settler? A trapper? Just passing through?

It is known that a party of Hudson Bay hunters were in the area at that time, but there is no record of a LaBeck or LeBeck being employed by them.

In lieu of fact, legends grew about the man who was, in the final versions, chewed up by a dinosaur-sized grizzly bear. In 1895 a group of Bakersfield residents known as the Foxtail Rangers dug in the ground on the south side of the mysterious tree and, six feet down, found a skeleton. It was a man about six feet tall with one hand missing. Whoever he was, the town of Lebec is named for him.

Just east of modern Lebec is a small lake which the Indians named Kashtuk, meaning "eyes." On Nov. 22, 1843, Rancho Castac (Castaic) was granted to Josť Covarabias, who sold it twenty-three years later to Edward F. Beale.

In 1864, Private James Gorman was mustered out of the army at Fort Tejon. He promptly homesteaded several hundred acres which became a regular stage stop. The town of Gorman still serves tourists.

Juan Cordova had first seen Castaic Canyon as a scout for Fremont. Now he established a cattle ranch there, followed in May, 1867 by Juan Josť Lopez, who settled on 120 acres and built an adobe house on the site of what would later be the Trueblood Rest Stop.

Five generations of the Ruiz family have lived, loved and died in San Francisquito Canyon. Farther up were the Arujos. Their son Pablo became a renowned mule skinner, delivering supplies for the old Los Angeles aqueduct system.

Juan Bautista Suraco settled in Bouquet Canyon, enlarged an existing adobe home in 1858 or 1859, and became a hard-working rancher.

Out in Sand Canyon, Captain Cunio staked a claim to a couple of thousand acres, becoming the first non-Indian resident of that now very high-priced real estate. Nearby rose the home of Remi Nadeau, who made a fortune with his freight wagons, supplying the miners of the Soledad. (Editor's note: Different guy. The Remi Nadeau who lived in the SCV was the grandson of the freighter of the same name. The freighter Remi Nadeau lived in Los Angeles.) Nadeau's home was enclosed by a deer park which in later years became a tourist attraction. It is now called North Oaks.

The Reed family operated a stage stop at Lake Elizabeth for many years during the 1860s. In 1873 Patrick Hughes trailed a flock of sheep down from the San Joaquin Valley and built a small house on the shores of West Elizabeth, which is now Lake Hughes. The population had grown enough by Aug. 24, 1878 to warrant a post office.

The little pond sandwiched between lakes Elizabeth and Hughes was named for John Munz, a latecomer who arrived in 1898 with his wife and nine children. They set out orchards of citrus and cherries. In an outburst of patriotic fervor right after the Spanish-American War, the sag ponds were renamed Lake Roosevelt for the famous Rough Rider, but that did not last long. By 1900, maps were showing Elizabeth, Munz, Hughes and Quail lakes — names that are still with us.

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