One of the most colorful characters ever to gallop across the dusty Santa Clara River plain we have already met. This was William Willoby "Wirt" Jenkins, who pursued a career both inside and outside of the law.
Born Oct. 12, 1833, on a farm near Circleville, Ohio, Jenkins accompanied his family to the gold fields of California. By the time he was eighteen, "Wirt" had learned the fine art of gunslinging while holding off attempts at claim jumping on the American River. Two years later he drifted into old Los Angeles where his prowess with a six-shooter came to the notice of Alcalde (Mayor) Don Ignacio del Valle.
As we have seen (in Chapter 25), Don Ignacio was having some law enforcement problems in the town. Several of his sheriffs had either left suddenly or been killed, so he formed the California Rangers, a group similar to San Francisco's notorious Vigilantes.
Horace Bell was major, with Cyrus Lyon, William Reader and Bill Jenkins as captains. Within two years, by 1855, it was safe to walk the streets again.
The methods were unorthodox, to say the least. Typical was the case of Antonio Ruiz, who was finally run down by Jenkins near Lyon's Station. Jenkins claimed that Ruiz tried to escape and he had to shoot him — in the back. This incited a riot in the Mexican community that lasted several days. Finally Judge Hayes had Jenkins arrested and quickly tried. Found innocent, the lawman was besieged at the jail by irate Mexicans, who were finally driven back in a hail of lead. Jenkins always referred to the incident as "a rebellion."
In 1869 he spring-poled the first oil well in Pico Canyon with Sanford Lyon and H.C. Wiley, and later as undersheriff accepted the surrender of Tiburcio Vasquez's estranged partner Abdon Leiva. Jenkins had staked a claim on Castaic Creek in 1872 but did not settle there until 1878 when he married Olive Rhoades. Two daughters, June and Anita Ruby, were born on his ranch, the Lazy Z.
Jenkins held a claim to Alcatraz Island dating back through Gov. Downey to John Charles Frémont. As he pursued his interests in federal court, Horace Bell started calling him "The Baron of Alcatraz and Casteca" in his newspaper, The Porcupine.
Although unsuccessful in his quest for ownership of Alcatraz, Jenkins was not about to be discouraged from laying claim to Castaic. The aging Ranger outfitted a boat with wheels in order to "sail" government surveyors over a few parched acres he claimed were swamp lands. Some of this property was held by the Carmichaels and Roses, who took exception to the obvious land grab and started a feud that raged over the Castaic hills for years, complete with night riders, running gun battles, house burnings — and 21 deaths.
Forest Ranger Robert E. Clark met Jenkins in 1905 and described him as "a great knife thrower, always (wearing) a vest with a throwing knife in a holster under it. He generally rode in a buggy and (had) his six-shooter on the seat beside him."
Clark managed to bring an end to the feud, for which he was rewarded with a brace of pistols from Theodore Roosevelt.
The final act in the drama happened during the spring of 1916 when Bill Jenkins moved some cattle up into Charlie Canyon. There Billy Rose was already camped with his herd. An altercation ensued, shots were fired and Jenkins rolled from his saddle, dropping to the ground with a thud. He convalesced in Los Angeles where he died five years later.
All that marks the Lazy Z today is the Stonegate housing tract along Lake Hughes Road where it intersects with the Ridge Route.