In 1971 the Southern Pacific Railroad demolished Lang Station, the last remnant of a community, ranch and health spa that dominated the history of Soledad Canyon for a hundred years.
The depot was named for John Lang, who arrived in California from New York in 1854. He met with moderate success panning for gold in the Mother Lode country and chasing silver rainbows near the Comstock before marrying and settling down in San Francisco.
The damp air was bad for his wife's health, so they moved to the drier climate of Los Angeles, where he farmed some thirty-five acres during 1870. According to Harris Newmark he was known as "Lang Number Two," as there were no fewer than four John Langs in the area at the time.
During the spring of 1871, "Number Two" bought from the railroad 160 acres of Soledad Canyon about a mile east of Colonel Mitchell's spread. In time this would grow into a 1,200-acre dairy.
Lang got together with his neighbor Thomas Mitchell and formed the Sulphur Springs School District in September, 1872, making it the second-oldest school district in Los Angeles County. For half of the year seventeen children — two Langs, three Mitchells, three Mannings, two Suracos, three Smiths, two Cuneos, an Erwin and a Lorbeer — were taught by Martha Mitchell at her adobe. For the other half of the year the students trudged to the Langs' place.
By 1886 there were far too many students enrolled to keep shuffling them from one house to the other. Lang built the first Sulphur Springs School on a site donated by Mitchell.
The district and later schoolhouse were named for a number of foul-smelling, sulfurous wells that bubbled up in the region. In 1873 Lang tapped ten of these white springs, piping the waters down to a two-story, 36-by-36-foot resort hotel. Pools were created for health seekers to bathe in and "take the cure."
At the same time the Los Angeles freighter, Remi Nadeau, began his run up to the Cerro Gordo silver mines in Inyo County. Nadeau contracted with Lang to provide a station stop for the one hundred men and eighty teams involved in the long haul. Warm meals and soft beds — perhaps even a splash in the spa — were luxurious to men used to camping out and cooking over open fires.
In those days Owens Lake was really a lake, and freight had to be loaded onto a paddle-wheeler called the "Bessie Brady," to be ferried across the waters. After that it was only eighteen miles up to the silver mines. Back the straining teams would come, as many as twenty mules pulling high-sided, blue wagons that groaned under a load of high-grade ore, bound for a stopover at Lang Station, as it came to be known. In fact, the station may have been more profitable than the spa.
Countless stories about the ferocious grizzly bears were told and retold around the state, from the days when bulls and bears were goaded into battle by Mexicans in downtown Los Angeles, to Peter LaBeck being eaten alive up Grapevine pass, to Grizzly Adams roaming the Tehachapis around Fort Tejon with his pet.
One of the most celebrated stories involved a bear that wandered down out of the San Gabriels into the Soledad, dining on seven men and one hundred head of cattle before the fateful day of July 7, 1873. The grizzly fell on the banks of the Santa Clara, his career ended by John Lang and his big Henry rifle.
Lang claimed that the bear weighed 2,350 pounds, making it by far the largest bear ever bagged anywhere in the world (the record for a Kodiak bear is only 1,670 pounds). The skin was sold and finally wound up in Liverpool, England.