Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Dick Held's Agua Dulce Memories.
Spring 2002.


Geneva Jane Dean was born in 1893 in Corona, Calif. She had three older and very protective brothers: Frank, Ralph, and Forrest. Her younger brother, Leonard was born one or two years later. She grew up in a moderately well-to-do home in Corona, spending her summers in Corona Del Mar and Huntington Beach. In 1912 she followed Forrest to Stanford University. Later she attended a California Normal School and became a teacher.

Her first teaching was in a one-room school in an Arizona mining town, Clifton, near Morenci, where she taught for a few years, moving back to California to teach at Sulphur Springs in another school with mostly children of miners. While teaching she boarded with Walter and Minnie Murphy in the large Mitchell ranch house.

Anthony Rutherford Held was born in Collinsville, Ill., in 1899, the youngest child in a family of two sisters and four brothers. His three much older brothers decided little Tony would not grow up as a coal miner like most of the men in Collinsville at that time.

In the early 1900s the three Held men left their families and moved to California where they took up a homestead near Muroc Dry Lake and began to prepare a place to bring their wives, mother and baby brother. Their first task, not too difficult for miners, was to dig a 200-foot-deep well which proved to furnish water too alkali to drink. The brothers then moved to Los Angeles while continuing to prove up the homestead. They eventually found work with the Boos Brothers chain of cafeterias as managers and bakers.

Once established, they brought their families west and opened a small grocery store on South Vermont, near the present site of Coliseum Park, continuing to work for Boos Brothers. By 1909 they sent for their mother and 10-year-old brother, meanwhile still searching for a more hospitable area to homestead. Sometime between 1909 and 1916 they homesteaded in upper Agua Dulce Canyon, above Vasquez Rocks. After he turned 21, Tony Held also homesteaded a portion of the Rocks which he later relinquished so his friend George Schaeffer could prove it up. The older brothers continued to work in Los Angeles while building a small house for their mother and houses for Fred and Charlie in Agua Dulce. Otto's larger Rock house was started about 1931.

Tony met Geneva while she was employed as teacher of the Sulphur Springs School and in December of either 1922 or 1923 they were married. Dad immediately began to build the small rock house I remember as my first home. He hauled rocks home every day after work in the mine and cemented them in place on Sundays. The house began as a two-car garage. The open end was closed with wood siding. The interior was partitioned to form a living room, a very small bedroom and a small kitchen. The only water was piped to a kitchen sink. An outhouse stood against the small knoll in back. I still remember an excursion one snowy night when I was five. Having no snow boots, I wore my mother's boots, which were much too large and kept filling with snow. A screened-in lean-to type structure was attached to the south end of the garage. This was where Mom, Dad, my brother Bud and I slept on all except the worst winter nights.

We lived in this house until 1932 when Dad and Mother moved to Lakeside, east of San Diego. My grandfather had invested a sum of money with the Sharkey Investment Co. The company went bankrupt and my grandfather received a heavily mortgaged citrus grove for his investment. When his job with the county survey department was terminated during the depression, Dad was offered a partnership in the grove. Father furnished the capital and the labor and ran a very successful operation for many years.

The house in Agua Dulce remained in our possession for some time and we frequently returned for visits with my uncles and cousins as well as our former neighbors. From 1935 until 1950 The Wrights and the Helds took joint vacations in the Sierra Nevadas near Mammoth Lakes. On many of these trips we would spend two or three days with the Wrights at their home in Mint Canyon. Bud, Charles Wright and I spent many happy hours in the Mint Canyon and Agua Dulce Canyon area during those years.

Cows and White Lines

Once Dad and a friend, probably Chet Johnson, drove a small herd of cattle across the old Mint Canyon highway toward the Chickalope Mountains. They left them for some time, and then returned a few days later to drive them home. Dad did not return until late at night. He told our worried mother that during the time the cattle were gone, the county had painted a white line down the center of the highway. When the cattle were driven across the roadway, they would go up to the line and balk, refusing to cross the line. The herders tried everything but could not force the cows across. They finally resorted to roping each individual cow and dragging her across. A couple of hours work turned into a very long day.

The Bulldog and the Bull

Mother had a bulldog as a pet and watchdog. She really loved that dog but could not break it of the habit of chasing cars. Whenever it caught a car it bit the tires, with sometimes disastrous results. After several broken jaws the inevitable happened and the dog was run over and killed. Without a dog, Mom felt lonely while Dad was working so she began to make a pet of a young bull. She also taught it to attack when she sicked it on someone. One day Dad and Mom were horsing around and Mom set the bull on Dad. It chased Dad around the rock house until Dad ran inside and slammed the door. The bull ran from window to window placing its hooves on the windowsills and peering inside while Mom laughed until she cried.

Fire at the Neighbors'

One afternoon in 1930 or 1931 Dad came home with his right wrist bandaged and bloody. He had been driving by a neighbor's house when he noticed it was afire. He stopped and joined some others around the house, looking to see if he could help in any way. He saw some guns inside near a window. While breaking the window to save the guns his wrist had been severely cut.

Agua Dulce Creek Crossing

One evening in the spring of 1927 Mother and Dad had been visiting some neighbors and were driving home through the lower portion of Agua Dulce Canyon. That year the road was being rebuilt and Dad was employed as a powder man on the project. The car became stuck in the muddy creek bottom next to where a Caterpillar tractor was parked for the night. Although he had never driven the tractor Dad decided to use it to pull the car out of the creek. Being only 9 months old, I was in Mom's arms as she sat in the car. That model tractor did not have a driver's seat; the operator stood and used hand levers to steer and brake. When the center of gravity of the backing tractor passed over the edge of the creek bank the back end suddenly pitched down causing Dad to lose control. By the time he was able to stop, the tractor was sitting on the car hood. Dad looked for Mom and when he saw her she was traveling up the middle of the creek in full flight with me in her arms. The car was then pulled out uneventfully, but without Mother and me inside, afterwards they continued home, a testimonial to the durability of the 1923 Dodge coupe.

A few years earlier Dad had worked as a muleskinner, driving a team of six semi-wild mules that pulled a large Fresno scraper. Later in life he attributed his rather substantial colorful vocabulary to that period.

The Bootlegger Episode

This episode, as with many others related here, I did not witness. It probably happened before my birth and is one of my father's stories.

One year Uncle Charlie was working in Los Angeles and had moved his family to the city. He rented the outbuildings on his property to someone from Los Angeles for use as storage. After a short time it became obvious that the buildings were being used to store illicit whiskey and the lease was terminated. The bootleggers refused to pay past due rental. Since the buildings in question were in sight from our house and Charlie could not leave his job in town, he asked Dad to guard the buildings and prevent the removal of the still until the rent dispute was settled. When men arrived to remove the equipment, Dad and a friend went over armed with their 45 caliber revolvers. They accosted the movers and took one prisoner while the rest went back to report the happenings. Dad and his friend took the prisoner and tied him to a chair inside the rock house, which made a great fortress. Mom took her rifle and a chair and went over the hill to guard the main road while the two men spent the afternoon taking target practice outside the house. There was a great deal of gunfire including the firing of a full magazine by fanning the revolvers. When the captive was suitably terrorized he was released and told to go home and report to his bosses. After he disappeared over the hill on foot, a couple of shots were heard and he reappeared running and waving his arms while yelling, "Save me! A crazy woman with a gun is over there." Mom was then informed the release was intentional and the former prisoner left, still on foot.

Later in the day a sheriff appeared with orders to arrest Dad. He refused to surrender until the sheriff, a friend, agreed to allow Dad's companion to go to Los Angeles and bring back Charlie so Mom would be protected. That settled, Dad was escorted to Newhall and placed in a jail cell. Early the next morning, after insuring that Mom was safe, Charlie arrived at the jail to try to get Dad released. When he met the sheriff he was told, "That damned Tony Held. Just because I forgot to lock the cell, he walked out and went home." Charlie drove back to Agua Dulce but passed Dad walking along and gave him a ride. When they reached home the bootleggers had taken advantage of their absence to remove all their equipment and depart. They were never heard from again. Years later I saw Mom handle a 30-30 and I doubt very much that she needed any protection. She was the best shot in the family.

St. Francis Dam

My father was hired as a brush cutter on a Los Angeles County survey party late in 1927 and soon was promoted to rear chainman. Early in 1928 the party was working near the St. Francis Dam. They were finishing up one day but needed to shoot one more elevation near the crest. The transit location was near the dam base so Dad as lowest member on the party and the youngest and most agile was sent to the survey monument site at the crest while the others in the party waited to take the shot. Dad would then climb back down and the surveyors would go home. The climb took more time than expected so it was dark by the time the work was finished. Dad had no flashlight to use while coming down the rough, brush-covered slope. He reached top of the dam and walked out, yelling for directions. The dam keeper spotted him, stranded, and began a long climb up a rickety wooden ladder on the dam face with a light. Reaching the top, he and Dad then descended through what was described to me as a veil of water spraying out of dozens of cracks in the dam face. Two or three weeks later the dam went out killing the man along with hundreds of others.

The Hunting Trip

I mention this incident only because some children of the participants may remember the trip.

Dad, Wes Mitchell and a friend went on a hunting trip about 1930 or 1931. Dad returned with the skin of a fox he had shot. The skin was tanned and served as a chamois skin for many years whenever anyone in the family washed a car. The friend was the only one to get a deer. The deer appeared sickly and had a rack about the size of a six- or eight-point buck. Dad said the rack was covered with small points, about 28 of them. I understand that because of the poor condition of the animal, it was not used as food.

The Loaded Rifle

When my brother Bud was about 18 months old, my mother walked into the bedroom and was horrified to see him seated on the floor with Dad's 30-30 rifle in his lap. He was working the lever as fast as he could, intrigued by the loaded ammunition flying across the room. Mother retrieved the gun safely, but from that time, the guns and the loaded shells were kept in different locations, a practice I followed all my life. Bud and I were taught at a very early age to never point a gun at anything we did not wish to kill. The consequences of killing an animal were explained. A loaded gun was never allowed in the house and we never fired a gun unless we could determine that the bullet would strike in a safe location without ricocheting.

Grizzly Bear Capture

Our family spent a week in San Francisco in 1936. We visited the zoo near the old Presidio where Dad pointed out a monstrous grizzly bear. He explained that it was the last bear seen in the Soledad-Newhall area and was captured in a log cabin trap built in near Newhall. The capture was about 1913 and Dad witnessed the transfer of the animal from the trap to a mobile cage. I remember the sign on the cage confirmed most of the story.

Agua Dulce School

The advancing depression caused the County of Los Angeles to downsize a great deal and Dad lost his job as a surveyor about 1930. Mother was hired to teach the Agua Dulce School that year. Since baby sitters were scarce to nonexistent in the area, I was a frequent unofficial student. Mom placed me in the front row and handed me a first grade reader with instructions to sit and be quiet. Though only four, I was probably the most attentive and studious child in school. Frequent questions on the way home resulted in further reading lessons. Coats were hung in a small room at the back of the one main room. Lunches went on a shelf above the hats and coats. Heating was furnished by a large cast iron woodstove. Recesses something to anticipate and involved various interesting games such as dodge ball and drop the handkerchief. Baseball was the favorite sport for the older boys and some girls. My mother frequently pitched to the hitters.

The school being one room with eight grades, there was a great deal to learn besides first grade reading. I soon developed the habit of listening to the teacher's lectures to all the other classes instead of doing the exercises assigned to the first grade students while the teacher taught the other classes. This advanced knowledge served me well when I officially entered school two years later.

Familiar Neighbor's Names

"Old" John Mitchell;
Rubeen and Wes Mitchell;
Minnie and Walter Murphy;
Clare and Glenn Wright, with sons Stan and Charles;
Rita and George Schaeffer, with children Jim and Marilyn;
The Glousers;
The Johnsons and son Chester;
The Dodrells;
The Dyers;
The Hiettes;
Mickey, who lived on the hill northwest of our house;
Joe Shoaf.

Night Filming at Vasquez Rocks

One evening, probably in late 1931 or early 1932, we drove to Vasquez Rocks to watch a film crew. The scene being filmed was of a horseman fleeing a group of riders. The single rider rode to the crest of a rock or cliff and jumped his horse off into a pool. I remember the large pool, surrounding cliffs lined with huge carbon arc floodlights illuminating the scene and the horse and rider landing in the pool. I also seem to remember a waterfall landing in the pool. Years later I tried but was unable to locate such a waterfall and pool. It must have been a mile or less southeast of the large trademark rock formation often shown in movies and commercials.

Agua Dulce Entertainment

My brother and I spent much of our time at Grandma's house, barn and garage. The garage contained, in addition to Grandma's seldom driven Model T sedan, a big windup phonograph and a large collection of records. Bud and I would spend hours cranking that phonograph and listening to "Barney Google and his goo-goo-googley eyes". The rickety, vacant old barn was also a big attraction with its second story hayloft. Cousin Charles, about three years older and a "man of the world," often met us there. We planned many an escapade with his help. Most, like flying our homebuilt airplane, a box with two wheels and a board nailed on for a wing, were foiled by parental intervention. We had planned to push Charles out the second floor loft door and watch him fly. One plan, however, did reach fruition, an unescorted trip to Vasquez Rocks. Eight-year-old Charles on his bicycle, 4-year-old Bud on his tricycle, and I, five years old on my bicycle, set out for the Rocks. We reached the large entrance formation uneventfully and undiscovered. After several hours of climbing and exploring we became hungry and headed home. Bud, on his tricycle was a little slower than Charles and me on our bicycles. Consequently when we met a very concerned group of searchers (Grandma, Mom, Dad and Charles' mother and father) Bud was nowhere in sight. We quickly backtracked and found him safe and sound but a little disgruntled. I was treated to a very forceful lecture about my responsibility to oversee and protect my little brother. The presence of cousin Charles, three years older, did not relieve me of that duty.

1942 Return to Agua Dulce

The Spring of 1942 found me 16 years old and a student at Grossmont High School east of San Diego.

I had a new drivers license so my friend, Gale Scott, and I entered a Santa Monica tennis tournament. We were allowed to drive my Father's pickup truck to the event. Afterward, I wanted to see for myself the destruction caused in Soledad Canyon by the flood a few months earlier. We turned off the Sierra Highway at Solemint. There was little damage until we neared the Murphy driveway. Near that point the heavy railroad bridge from above Sulphur Springs lay twisted and rolled into a ball. Much of the new section of Soledad Canyon Road below the mouth of Agua Dulce Canyon had been undercut and washed away. Just up Agua Dulce Canyon we turned right into the Schaeffer drive and I could see that water had cut a channel about six to eight feet deep through their fruit orchard. About half of the trees had disappeared without a trace. We continued up Agua Dulce but the upper end was completely undisturbed. The flood seemed to have been quite localized.

While driving on what I believe is now called Tyndall Road I noticed a mailbox with the name Ferdinand Held, which puzzled me a great deal. When I returned home Dad said yes, that is your grandfather. I had never heard his name mentioned and never met him. I planned to go back and find him but the next year I joined the Army Air Force and after the war ended, I completely forgot the episode. Any information about Ferdinand Held would be greatly appreciated.

Borax Mine

My father and his older brothers worked at the Sterling Borax mine in Tick Canyon from about 1918 until it closed.

Dad started as a kid and he told the story of how he learned to swing a double sledge. He started as part of a team of three men who drilled holes in the mining face for dynamite. One man would hold a long star drill against the rock face with a man swinging a large, long-handled sledgehammer standing on either side. The tool holder stood astride the drill and facing the drilling wall. The end of the drill protruded out behind him. His job was to turn hold the drill in place and turn it before each hammer blow. These blows were struck with great force, alternately by the men with the sledges. The men with the hammers developed a rhythm and an accuracy that was amazing. All the while the foreman walked back and forth behind the men urging more speed and more power. Day after day, hour after hour with only a short lunch break. This was the life of a miner before the advent of the powered jackhammer.

After a time, Dad was promoted from tool holder and given a hammer to replace the drill. He proudly picked up his hammer, took his first mighty swing and missed the drill, hitting the new holder instead. You can imagine how hard it was to get someone to hold a tool for Tony Held after that.

Years later, when I became tired while loading bales of hay, sacks of wheat or boxes of lemons, I would be reminded of Dad swinging a double jack with a foreman pacing back and forth behind him yelling, "Faster, Tony, quit loafing," hour after hour, day after day.

Dad later became the engineer for the mine railroad and hauled supplies from the main line at Sulphur Springs to the mine. He later worked as an assistant to the mine electrician until the mine closed. He probably received this last job after an unfortunate incident in which the locomotive jumped the track and ended up on its side in a gulch.

My father also told of the times his older brothers were late starting to work so they would run up the east side of Saddleback Mountain and slide down a ventilation shaft into the mine so as to be at work on time.

Once, about 1938, my brother and I wandered off while Dad and Mom were visiting Uncle Ott and Aunt Kate. We climbed up the side of Saddleback Mountain and found an old tunnel. We followed it about 100 or 200 feet back into the hillside. It ended at an old sealed wood door. After examining the door we started back out but at the tunnel mouth the temptation was too much and we threw two or three rocks at a large rock projecting from the tunnel ceiling. When one of the thrown rocks hit the boulder in the ceiling, it broke loose and the whole ceiling collapsed. That was our last exploration of forbidden abandoned tunnels.

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