Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Thornton Edwards in "Riders of the Dusk"
Monogram Pictures 1949

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It wasn't much of a stretch for ex-lawman Thornton Edwards (left) — real-life hero of the 1928 St. Francis Dam Disaster — to portray a deputy sheriff in the Whip Wilson vehicle, "Riders of the Dusk" (Monogram Pictures 1949).

We don't know where this film was made, but the odds are pretty good that it used Ernie Hickson's Placeritos Ranch in Placerita Canyon, which was under contract to Monogram at the time. We say only "pretty good" because some (but not all) Monogram-Whip Wilson pictures were made there, and Hickson was usually (but not always) credited as art director on films made at his ranch — and he's not, in this instance.

Directed by Lambert Hillyer (who directed about 21 William S. Hart pictures), "Riders of the Dusk" also features Andy Clyde, Reno Browne, Tristram Coffin, Marshall Reed, Myron Healey, John Merton, Mike Ragan, Lee Roberts and Dee Cooper. Uncredited cast includes Jack Hendricks, Ray Jones and Bob McElroy. Monogram cameraman Harry Neumann is the cinematographer.

About Thornton Edwards.

Thornton Edwards (born July 15, 1894, in Maine) came to Hollywood and appeared in about two dozen short features from 1916 to 1921 before leaving the business to become a motor officer in the San Fernando Valley. He ended up in Santa Paula where he joined the police department in the mid-1920s and then became a state motor patrolman (precursor to the California Highway Patrol, which formed in 1929).

Far away in Saugus, at three minutes before midnight March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam collapsed, sending a wall of water down San Francisquito Canyon. The floodwaters hit the Santa Clara River and turned west, taking aim at the little towns that stood along the route to the Pacific Ocean — including Santa Paula.

At 1:30 a.m. on the 13th, a Pacific Long Distance telephone operator called Santa Paula's night operator, Louise Gipe, and warned her of the coming flood. Gipe alerted Thornton Edwards, who hopped on his Indian motorbike and rode door to door, telling residents to get to higher ground. Actually he made double time by riding to every other door, telling people to warn their next-door neighbors.

The floodwaters hit Santa Paula at 3 a.m. Many more people might have perished if not for Thornton Edwards' wild ride.

Edwards left state duty to become Santa Paula's police chief, but the love affair was not to last. Some say his moment of heroism was drowned out in booze; whatever the case, by the end of the 1930s he'd been fired.

Edwards returned to Hollywood in 1939 played minor characters in some 30 low-budget (B) movies, including a few Gene Autry and Johnny Mack Brown vehicles, before retiring from the screen in 1949. Most roles were uncredited; several called for a contrived Latin accent, and when he was credited, sometimes it was as Joaquin Edwards. He did appear briefly (as an uncredited motor cop) in at least one big picture: John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) with Henry Fonda.

Edwards would live out his days — another four decades — in Tulare, Calif., where he died at age 93 on Feb. 1, 1988.

Further reading: Thornton Edwards, Hero of the St. Francis Dam Disaster.

LW3603: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2019 by Leon Worden.

• Thornton Edwards, Hero of the St. Francis Dam Disaster


Badge for Bravery / St. Francis Dam 1928



Film Clip: The Grapes of Wrath 1940


Film Clip: Desperate Cargo 1941


Panther's Claw 1942


Robin Hood of Monterey 1947 (Mult.)


Riders of the Dusk 1949

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