By Jerry Reynolds
For The Signal
Friday, December 14, 1984
Motorists roaring along Highway 126 between Castaic Junction and Piru probably never realize that they are passing under one of the most significant archaeological sites on the North American continent. There are no monuments to mark the spot, no brass plaques — only a dump.
If one pauses a moment at the entry to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill and looks up at the mountain rising some 800 feet above, he will see a dark, irregular slit near the crest and slightly to the right. This is Bowers' Cave, which was a treasure house of Native American artifacts, the likes of which have never been seen before or since.
The tale begins 100 years ago, on May 2, 1884, when young McCoy Pyle set out on a deer hunt from his Mud Springs Ranch, where he lived with his brother Everett and mother, Mandy Pyle. As he picked his way along a crumbly sandstone ridge, McCoy noticed a back opening some 50 feet below. Cautiously he crawled down the cliff face, then peered into the gloomy cave. He gasped in wonder as he beheld woven baskets as large as washtubs, stone ax heads, obsidian knife blades, crystals, and four ceremonial scepters. Inside the baskets were headdresses and capes made of woven condor and flicker feathers, strings of beads, and pottery imported from faraway Mesa Verde.
Pyle wasted no time in rushing back to the ranch, gathering up brother Everett and some mules, hauling everything to be stored in the family milk house. Out of the blue, so to speak, appeared the Rev. Stephen Bowers, who had somehow heard about the remarkable discovery, with an offer of $1,500 for the whole collection.
"That seemed like all of the money in the world," Everett later reminisced. "It was like finding a gold mine."
Rev. Bowers was then 52 years old, editor of the Ventura Free Press, and had a thriving antiquities business. The fiery and flamboyant Indiana-born editor, antiquarian, astronomer and preacher was even involved in a street brawl with a Ventura under-sheriff who objected to an editorial.
Bowers did some more excavating, then began to peddle the treasures to museums around the world. Most of the material was purchased by Prof. F.W. Putnam of the Peabody Museum of American Ethnology at Harvard, where it can still be seen.1
Everett Pyle lived to a ripe old age. However, McCoy, who was a deputy constable under Ed Pardee, was killed in a shootout at Castaic Junction a dozen years after his monumental discovery.
The real mystery of Bowers' Cave is why all of the tribal wealth of the local Tataviam Indians was secreted away in a remote hilltop cache. Were the shamans determined to preserve the symbols of the faith in a sacred spot? Were they hiding then from Spanish-Catholic padres, who in 1804 built a small sub-mission within sight of the cleft and only two miles away? No one will ever know.
One mystery was cleared up, only to lead to another. For years archaeologists had found deteriorated, donut-shaped rocks known as "perforated stones" and wondered what they were used for. From the cave came four of them — not lying loosely around, but mounted on wooden handles. Speculation still ranges from them being the property of medicine men used in rituals, to "sun sticks" thrust in the ground to determine seasons. At any rate, they are the only originally mounted, perforated stones ever found in the United States.
To visit the cave today one has to have permission of the owners of the landfill and also of The Newhall Land and Farming Co.2 Be prepared for a grueling climb straight up the side of a loosely formed mountain, not to mention several falls before getting there.
1. The Peabody traded one of the ceremonial scepters (sun sticks) to a museum in Australia in the 1950s.
2. Newhall Land sold the property to Republic Waste Industries in the late 1990s.