Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Homesteading at Elizabeth Lake.
By Arnold Munz.

Letter, 3 pages, from Arnold Munz to an unidentified recipient (evidently someone compiling a history of Palmdale), dated February 27, 1971.

Arnold Munz was a son of John Munz (1850-1925) and Amalia Tischauser Munz (1860-1898), who operated a general store in Palmenthal (Old Palmdale) until Amalia's death in childbirth, when John relocated with numerous children to a 160-acre homestead between Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth.

Letter resides in the Los Angeles County Lancaster Library. This copy courtesy of reader Jesse Lee.

John Munz homestead at Elizabeth Lake. Why this BLM map shows only 120 acres, we don't know. He patented 160.24 acres: Within Section 25, the east half of the northwest quarter, the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter, and the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter. It would seem that a box immediately north of the shaded quarter-section at left should also be shaded. His land patent was issued May 5, 1904, approximatly 5 years after filing.

Munz's earlier Palmenthal homestead, also 160 acres (northeast quarter of Section 8), was at the southwest corner of today's Pearblossom Highway and 47th Street East. The patent was issued October 8, 1892.

Arnold Munz
1422 Hill Drive
Los Angeles, Calif.

February 27, 1971

My Dear Friend:

I received your letter some time ago. Although I was born in Palmdale 77 years ago, I hardly qualify as a real pioneer [of Palmdale] as we moved away from Palmdale in 1899 when I was just six years old.

I know my father arrived in Old Palmdale (Old Palmdale was two miles east of the present Palmdale) from Fairbury, Illinois, in 1882 with his wife and four children. He had emigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland some ten years earlier. I was the eighth child, born Aug. 7, 1893. One more child — a girl — was born after I was.

When my folks first lived in Palmdale my father operated a general merchandise store. He wasn't a good storekeeper, so he sold his store to Ferninand Tetzloff. We had a nice little farm, just 10 acres. We raised some alfalfa and had a nice orchard. At that time everybody had plenty of water, but for some reason or other a new water company was formed, and all of those first settlers lost their water rights and they were really out of luck. My father dug by hand and windlass a well 250 feet deep. One thing I will assure you, he wasn't at the bottom doing the digging — he was on top working the windlass. How he ever got anyone to go down there and do the digging was always a mystery. They got plenty of water for domestic use and he put up a windmill and that part worked out fine.

Well, things went from bad to worse — trying to farm without irrigating water, but then the real tragedy happened. My mother passed away when the last child, my little sister Lotte, was born. Then my father was in real trouble. Nine children to raise and no mother.

Something had to be done, as there simply was no chance to make a living in Palmdale. Somewhere along the liner my father got in touch with a French slicker by the name of Leon Vicett. Vicett's nephew was supposed to have filed on a 160-acre homestead at Elizabeth Lake — 20 miles west of Palmdale. Vicett made a deal with my father to trade his homestead right (which he never had in the first place) for the 10 acres of land in Palmdale (which wasn't any good, either).

So, in 1898, the family proceeded to move to Elizabeth Lake. We had four bony but faithful horses and an old wagon, and how we ever got the moving job done is another mystery. The homestead had no buildings of any kind, no water. The land was solidly covered with brush and timber of all kind. Put yourself in that spot and then try and see how it must have felt.

* * *

My father got some old friends from Palmdale to help him build a house. I remember the carpenter's name as Byer. He was German. They dug a well not 250 feet but got fine drinking water out at 20 feet. There wasn't much water in the lake at that time. Our land joined the lake, and there were about two acres of very moist and rich soil where we raised about everything you could think of. In fact, we just about lived on the stuff we raised in that garden.

Next began the job of clearing the timber and brush off the land. That really turned into something right quick! My father decided to try to burn the brush — and burn it he did. He started the biggest forest fire of all time. It burned for five days and nights. None of those mountains had ever been burned, so you can imagine what a fire it made. It burned all the neighbors' fences for miles, so my father wasn't very popular with the neighbors about that time. If a person started a fire like that now, he would probably be safely put in the hoosegow for at least 20 years.

Even then, about a week after the first was out, the Forest Service sent a ranger up from Newhall. His name was Douglas, a very fine man. Mr. Douglas rode up on a big mule. All of us kids were scared to death when we saw him coming. We thought sure they were going to put my father in jail. Mr. Douglas talked for a while, watered and fed his mule, and he sized things up around there and I guess he figured that John Munz had troubles enough trying to raise all those kids. Then he shook hands and rode back to Newhall, and that was the end of that.

* * *

Things started getting a little better from then on. My father was instrumental in getting the first Post Office. He operated it for at least 25 years right at the ranch. We al stuck together and worked hard. We never had any money. In fact, I didn't know what money looked like until I got a job when I was 12 years old driving the horses on a hay baling crew. I received 75 cents a day for a ten-hour day, and my meals. The man I worked for was a real old-timer in the valley; his name was Frank Frakes, a fine friend and neighbor.

My father would work at anything he could get besides working on the homestead. In the summertime he would work for Max Goode or Bill Radloff, two of the real old-timers in the valley. On the hay baler job he would get $1.50 per day, and on the thrasher $2.00 a day. For a ten-hour day that was the standard pay. Of course, his meals were included. These people were all great friends, and they used to really celebrate on New Year's Eve at the John Ritter Winery, located eight miles west of Palmdale.

* * *

Another tragedy happened in 1911 when our good friend and neighbor Gottlob Ritter's daughter, Martha, 15 years old, was accidentally shot with a shotgun, and it practically shot off her left elbow. Had that happened in this day and age, the worst would have been a stiff arm.

The accident happened at four o'clock in the afternoon, and no doctor within 30 miles. My brother, Eli, got his best team of horses and drove most of the night to meet the four o'clock train in the early morning. The Los Angeles County Hospital met the train in L.A. with an ambulance, and inside of two hours a fine surgeon operated on the arm. But it was too late. Blood poison had set in, and he had to take the arm off at the shoulder. The doctor gave her one chance in a thousand to survive, and luckily, she did. She is the most remarkable girl in the world — and I should know, as she has been my wife for 47 years.

* * *

So, that is the way we go through life. My three brothers, Emil, Eli and Eric, are all gone. I have one sister in a convalescent hospital in Pasadena, who was 88 years old last Wednesday. She is Mrs. Ingeborg Holland, and she lived all her life up in the Antelope Valley. She is the one that is most responsible for raising all of us kids, and she also took my baby sister, Lotte, to Switzerland when she was 13 years old. My baby sister was adopted by some very wealthy folks in Switzerland, and she has always lived there. She is 75 years old. She visited all of us about 10 years ago.

The last good lifelong friend that I had was Emil Ritter, and he is gone, too. So, one by one we slip away.

I retired from my garage business in 1958. I hope this letter won't be too boring, as it is quite long. If it is, throw it in the waste basket.

Your friend,

Arnold Munz

P.S. The old original house that my father built is now on exhibition at Glen Settles' Gold Mine at Rosamond.

About Munz Lakes.

The Munz Lakes Resort was established at what is now 17000 Elizabeth Lake Road, between Lake Hughes on the west and Lake Elizabeth on the east, by the heirs of John Munz, a Swiss farmer and merchant who settled on the property in 1898.

John Munz (b. 1850) immigrated in 1878 to Illinois where he met his Swiss-born bride, Amalia Tischauser (b. 1860), and set up a farm. In the 1890s they relocated to the German/Swiss Lutheran colony of Palmenthal, aka Palendale, aka Palmdale, Calif., where they operated the Munz General Store. The couple had eight children before 1898 when Amalia died in childbirth.

Faced with his wife's death as well as a drought that compelled many of his customers to abandon the settlement, John Munz traded his store in 1898 for a 160-acre homestead at Elizabeth Lake and started over.

John and his children established the region's first big turkey ranch on the property. John became a justice of the peace, and one of his children was appointed Elizabeth Lake postmaster in 1914, running the post office inside the family home.

Sometime before 1934 — and probably after John's death in 1925 — his children dug and filled the 6.5-acre, 5-foot-deep Munz Lake. (Unlike the 123.2-acre Lake Elizabeth and the 21.4-acre Lake Hughes, Munz is man-made. Its water comes from wells, rain and runoff, partially from Lake Elizabeth, and it discharges into Lake Hughes. As for Munz "Lake" vs. "Lakes": While it might surface in multiple pools, regulatory agencies consider it a single water body.)

It was around this time that John's descendants established the Munz Lakes Resort. The lake was apparently expanded to 26 acres. According to L.A. County Assessor records, one building that still stands on the property was erected in 1950. The signature building, the Locust Tree Grill — located across the street from L.A. County Fire Station 78 — undoubtedly predated the 1950 structure, but it was torn down in the early 2000s when actor and philanthropist Paul Newman purchased the property for The Painted Turtle, a nonprofit camp that provides focused activities for chronically ill children. The initial camp buildings were erected in 2003, and the camp opened in 2004.

The property was heavily impacted on the evening of June 1, 2013, when the Powerhouse Fire ravaged the lake communities. The Painted Turtle's many buildings narrowly escaped the flames — only a barn and two sheds were lost — but the grounds were devastated and the structures sustained heavy smoke damage. The organization had to cancel its 2013 summer program schedule and started raising money for restoration.

HB1903: Download individual pages here.


Arnold Munz Story



Manzanita Room


Locust Tree Grill


BSA Bivouac 1959


Entrance ~1960


Boating 1962

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