Leon Worden

New Study Will Nag SCV Historians
By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 14, 1996

Part 1 of 3.

he first California gold was discovered in Placerita Canyon in 1842. The first commercially productive oil well west of Pennsylvania erupted in Pico Canyon in 1876. The second-worst disaster in California history began in a canyon above Saugus, where the St. Francis Dam collapsed in 1928.
    By and large, the Santa Clarita Valley's best-documented historical sites are also those which are the most visited — those which are located in public parks or other areas that are easily accessible to the public. In contrast, relatively little is known about several historical venues west of Interstate 5, and for good reason. They sit on private land that has been off-limits to the general public for generations.
    You might be aware, for instance, that a Spanish mission outpost once sat near present-day Castaic Junction. But chances are, you can't pinpoint its exact location. Nor, in all likelihood, can you give many details about prehistoric life on the western edge of our valley.
    That is about to change.
    Earlier this month, the Newhall Ranch Company, a subsidiary of The Newhall Land and Farming Company, released the biggest Environmental Impact Report for the single biggest development project ever planned for our valley. While the politicians and the public spend the next few months poring over the 4,700-page document to determine if the company is planning enough roads, schools, water, job sites and other amenities for the 70,000 people who will eventually live there, they will also decide if the company plans to do enough to protect the historical assets that lie within the project area.
    In preparing the "cultural-paleontological" section of the report, the company recruited a team of noted archaeologists to study the area. Finding that all available archival records showed the site "had never been systematically surveyed" before, the archaeologists examined and excavated the region over a three-year period from 1993 to 1995.
    The resulting environmental report is therefore not just an important political tool; the archaeological findings contained therein are a valuable resource that sheds new light on some of our valley's lesser-known points of historical interest.
    They also call some well-established facts into question.
    Here's a passage that should have local historians buzzing for some time to come.
The first documented discovery of gold in California occurred in 1842 when Francisco Lopez, then a resident at Rancho San Francisco [later known as Newhall Ranch], found the placer deposits in Placerita Canyon. ... A variety of lines of historical evidence suggest, however, that gold may have been mined in the Santa Clara Valley region one to three decades before the Placerita Canyon discovery.
    According to a local tale [published by St. Francis Dam chronicler Charles Outland in 1986], a group of about twenty men, led by one Santiago Feliciano, left Mission San Fernando in 1820 to explore the Castaic region. After reaching the Castaic Junction area, they traveled up Hasley Canyon for about 10 miles. There they discovered gold, and the mining camp "San Feliciano" was born. The region from San Feliciano to Soledad Canyon was subsequently prospected and mined, mostly for placer deposits, for a number of years.
    Although there is no clear verification of this tale, there is, nonetheless, fairly strong evidence that the Placerita discovery in 1842 was by no means the first in this region. In 1832, for example, Ewing Young discovered an old ore smelting oven in San Emigdio Canyon, suggesting that gold mining in the area had occurred for one or two decades prior to the 1842 event. A number of other sources [referenced in this report] indicate that the presence of gold in the area was known at least a few years prior to the famous Francisco Lopez discovery.
Troublesome as this account may be to the keepers of our valley's history, you must admit it's plausible. If you had been the first discoverer of gold and wanted to reap the rewards, would you want everyone to know about it?
    We do know a few things "for sure." One: we know we are always uncovering new information that challenges everything we think we know. Two: we know from familiar sources that Francisco Lopez himself was culling gold from the Hasley-San Feliciano area by 1843. Three: we know that after the United States took possession of California in 1848, many of the Santa Clarita Valley's early prospectors returned to Mexico.
    Maybe they took the real secrets of California's first gold with them.
    Part 2: New paleontological and historical data from the Newhall Ranch report.
Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3

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