Before you think of becomeing a Ghost Hunter in the AntelopeValley a.k.a. A.V. lets learn some history
[Portions of the information below courtesy of the City of Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery]
Lancaster-which today calls itself "the heart of the Antelope Valley"-owes its birth to the Southern Pacific Railroad. In the summer of 1876 the railroad laid track through the town's future location and by September had completed a railroad line through the Antelope Valley, linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. The origin of Lancaster's name is unclear, attributed variously to the surname of a railroad station clerk, the moniker given by railroad officials, and the former Pennsylvania home of settlers. Train service brought passengers through the whistlestop-turned-community, which with the help of promotional literature quickly attracted new settlers. The person credited with formally developing the town is Moses Langley Wicks, who in 1884
bought property from the railroad for $2.50 per acre, mapped out a town with streets and lots, and by September was advertising 160-acre tracts of land for $6 an acre. The following year, the Lancaster News started publication, making it the first weekly newspaper in the Antelope Valley. By 1890, Lancaster was bustling and booming, and thanks to ample rainfall farmers planted and sold thousands of acres of wheat and barley.
The town was devastated by the decade-long drought that began in 1894, killing businesses and driving cattle north, though fortunes improved somewhat in 1898 following the nearby discoveries of gold and borax, the latter to become a widespread industrial chemical and household cleaner. Thanks to the five-year construction of the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct starting in 1908, Lancaster became a boom town by housing aqueduct workers. The 1912 completion of Antelope Valley Union High School allowed students from the growing region to
study locally instead of moving to distant cities, and the school boasted the state's first dormitory system to accommodate students from outlying districts. For seven years starting in 1926, a young Judy Garland-then still Frances "Baby" Gumm-lived in Lancaster and honed her skills as a child singer, dancer, and entertainer before going on to become one of Lancaster's most famous residents. The community began a steady growth spurt in the 1930s, starting with construction of Muroc Air Force Base, frequent flight tests, and later space shuttle landings. Lancaster was controlled politically by Los Angeles County until 1977, when it was incorporated as a city. More information about Lancaster can be found in the following sources:
Palmdale, located approximately 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is the offspring of long-defunct Antelope Valley communities Palmenthal and Harold. Palmenthal was founded in 1886 by westward Swiss and German settlers who in 1888 named their new community Palmenthal after mistaking the local Joshua trees for palm trees; initially prospering as grain and fruit growers, many settlers abandoned their homesteads after drought decimated their crops and land scams prevented them from clearing their property titles. Harold-also known as Alpine Station and Trejo Post Office-was founded at the junction of the Southern Pacific Railroad and what is now Barrel Springs Road; but it too went under after the railroad moved the site of its booster engine station north of town. Both abandoned communities blended into Palmdale, so-named in 1899, when residents jointly relocated to a new site near the Southern Pacific railroad station and the stagecoach line between San Francisco and New Orleans.
During the first quarter of the twentieth century, irrigation systems and dry farming techniques allowed Palmdale to flourish as an agricultural community known for its alfalfa, apples, and pears. After World War II, Palmdale's economic base shifted to aerospace and defense industry with construction of Air Force Plant 42 and the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Route Traffic Control Center. Palmdale became incorporated in 1962 as the Antelope Valley's first city and in recent decades has experienced astounding growth: its geographic size increased from 2.1 square miles in 1962 to 102 square miles today, and its population soared tenfold from 12,227 residents in 1980 to about 122,400 people today, making it one of the country's fastest-growing cities. More information about Palmdale can be found in the following sources:
[Portions of the following information are courtesy of the City of Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery]
California's Gold Rush began southwest of the Antelope Valley, contrary to the popular belief that James Marshall found the first gold in 1848 at Sutter's Mill in northern California. The big discovery occurred in 1842 at what was then called Live Oak Canyon when Francisco Lopez, stopping for lunch while searching for stray cattle, pulled some wild onions and found flakes of gold clinging to their roots. In the subsequent gold rush, the canyon was named Placeritas, meaning "Little Placers," and today is called Placerita Canyon.
Gold rushers soon flocked to the canyon and took an estimated $100,000 of gold from the region before heading north to the more exciting discovery at Sutter's Mill.
Mining changed the region's history in profound ways, as gold seekers settled permanently in the valley's southwestern corner during the 1850s and 1860s. The area further grew during the Civil War, as gold, silver, and copper were extracted from the Soledad Canyon region and Fremont's Pass was enlarged to facilitate and speed up ore shipments. However, in a more sustained fashion
mining helped valley residents survive the drought between 1894 and the Great Depression of the 1930s, though desert mining imposed numerous hardships that included high equipment costs, broken-down wagons, temperatures that swung between bone-chilling winters and scorching summers, fatal mine shaft accidents, a shortage of lumber for buildings and fuel for fires, looting in camps and supply stations, and lack of water. Mining continues today in and around the Antelope Valley, where besides gold, silver, and copper, the ores and minerals extracted over the years include antimony, borax, calcium, chloride, feldspar, granite, gypsum, iron, lead, lime, limestone, marble, potash, rotary mud, salt, silica, tungsten, uranium, volcanic rock, and zinc.
Tiburcio Vasquez was a legendary and much-feared 1870s California outlaw who was considered a hero by Californios and a villain by the Anglo population. Born in 1835 to a wealthy and respected family in Monterey, Vasquez was a well-educated teenager with a poetic flair when, following a fight at a dance in 1852, he and two other men were accused of killing a sheriff. The only one of the three to escape a mob lynching, Vasquez opted to live a life of crime rather than obey mainstream laws. Imprisoned twice for petty theft and stealing horses, upon release he and former prisoners formed a gang and held up stagecoaches, stole horses, robbed cattle, and otherwise cut a wide criminal swath throughout central and southern California.
The target of the greatest manhunt in California's history, Vasquez eluded his captors for almost twenty years in mountainous and rural areas that included the vast Antelope Valley. There, he found an ideal rock fortress near Agua Dulce springs-a spot known today as Vasquez Rocks Park-that he used as a hiding place by passing himself off as horse buyer Ricardo Cantuga. In April 1874, with a $8,000 bounty on his head, Vasquez was caught by a posse near what is now the Hollywood Bowl, put on trial in San Jose, and hanged in 1875. More information about Tiburcio Vasquez can be found in the following sources:
Florence Leontine Lowe Barnes, nicknamed Pancho, was a colorful and fiercely independent socialite who made her name as a pioneering female pilot. Born in Pasadena in 1901, the high-spirited Florence thwarted the efforts of her fundamentalist parents to channel her energies in a conventional direction; though they arranged their debutante daughter's marriage in 1921 to proper Episcopalian minister C. Ranken Barnes, she left him after receiving a half-million dollar inheritance following her mother's 1924 death. Thus began her life as a freewheeling globe-trotter and hostess: she headed for South America on a luxury liner, returned to the United States to entertain movie stars and pilots such as Bette Davis and Amelia Earhart, crewed on a south-bound banana boat, and trekked across Mexico, where she indulged her rebellious streak by adopting the nickname "Pancho."
A life-changing experience occurred in July 1928, when Pancho took her first flight out of Ross Airfield; the next week she bought a Travel Air 4000 aircraft and started taking flying lessons, and in September she made her first solo flight. From then on, flying became her passion and claim to fame, perhaps no surprise given her lineage as the granddaughter of Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, who during the Civil War commanded observation balloons for the Union Army. In 1930 alone, Pancho won the women's world's speed record of 196.19 miles per hour (beating the record previously held by Earhart), was the first woman to fly into Mexico's interior, and won her first Tom Thumb race. Several years later she also started the Women's Air Reserve and trained women in flight exercises, first aid, and parachute drops.
During the 1940s, the outspoken, cigar-smoking Pancho ran a tavern/inn sixty miles north of Los Angeles known as the Rancho Oro Verde (also known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club"), which included Sunday brunches for pilots, exciting rodeos, training programs for civilian pilots, and Wednesday night dances; the inn was frequented by pilots and future astronauts testing aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base. Her fortunes took a bad turn during the 1950s and 1960s when the Air Force took her property for expansion and she suffered ill health, but circumstances improved about a decade before her death in 1975. Over the course of her eventful lifetime Pancho was also a barnstormer, movie stunt pilot and movie double, songwriter, and animal trainer. Valerie Bertinelli portrayed her in Pancho Barnes, a 1988 made-for-television movie. More information about Pancho Barnes can be found in the following sources:
[Information courtesy of the Antelope Valley Indian Museum]
Today it is hard to imagine large groups of Native Americans living off the land in the Antelope Valley. Hundreds of years ago, however, the landscape of the Antelope Valley was very different. Vast plains of tall native bunch grass covered the valley floor and active springs and pools were plentiful. The lush vegetation and abundant water supply supported many types of wildlife which are no longer found in the valley. Archaeological evidence from what appear to be several major village sites indicate that substantial numbers of Indians occupied the valley floor year round at one time. Major trade routes from the coast to the eastern Mojave and Southwest, as well as north-south routes from the Central Valley and Owens Valley to the Los Angeles Basin also crossed the Valley.
Archaeologists believe that Native Americans have been living in, or at least visiting, the Antelope Valley for at least 11,000 years before the present. Over time, many cultural groups have passed through the Valley and left their mark. The original inhabitants were Paleoindians. These peoples were probably hunters of large game animals that have since become extinct. Among their weapons were spears with fluted projectile points. Little is known of the culture of these original people and only their artifacts survived.
From 9000 to 7000 years ago, as the Ice Age ended, great lakes formed in the Valley. Evidence exists of large groups living near these lakes. Many grinding tools have been found from this era pointing toward more dependence on plants for food, however, hunting remained an important activity. Many archaeologists believe that during this period, the atlatl (spear thrower) became more important as hunting activities became centered on faster game animals such as dear and antelope. Some people have speculated that these early people may have been Hokan speakers, the language ancestral to present day groups like the Chumash, Pomo, and Dieguenó. These groups may have formed the oldest semi-permanent settlements in the Great Basin.
During the period from 6000 to 4000 years ago, larger groups began to establish more permanent settlements. Game animals became smaller as evidenced by the increased use of dart points and other archaeological evidence. Plant processing also became more important in everyday life. As these settlements became more advanced toward the end of the period, a complex religious life began to emerge as well.
Starting about 4000 years ago and lasting until 1500 years ago, the people of the Antelope Valley became seasonal hunters. The mountain sheep was of major significance in this culture. Many of the rock art sites throughout the Coso Mountain Range near present day Ridgecrest appear to celebrate hunting and the mountain sheep. Archaeologists theorize that the rock art constituted a form of "hunting magic." These peoples often had summer and winter camps which were spread throughout the Antelope Valley and nearby mountains. These camps helped in the seasonal gathering of food. The ceremonial life that evolved to produce such beautiful rock art is little understood.
After about 1500 to 1000 years ago, people depended more on gathering than on hunting. Hunting itself also changed considerably during this period. The invention of the bow and arrow forever changed the way the people hunted. Fewer men could acquire game more quickly and with more stealth.
From the period 1000 years ago, and perhaps earlier, until the Spanish arrived in California, the culture of the Antelope Valley changed dramatically. It is believed that this is the time the "Shoshonean Wedge" swept through the Great Basin and California. The Uto-Aztecan (Shoshonean) speakers more or less took over the Great Basin and parts of Southern California during this period. The details of their origins or how rapidly they spread remain controversial.
More is known about these people than about those that came before them. The cultures that developed during this time are what we today call the Great Basin people. They lived in summer and winter homes. They created the great communal grinding stones found throughout the Antelope Valley. They supplemented their diet of acorns and piñon nuts with small game and deer. These are the people the Spanish first encountered when they began to explore the Antelope Valley.
When the Spanish and other Europeans began to come to California about 400 years ago, the Antelope Valley's population had already begun to decline, probably because of the increasingly arid climate. Groups of Serrano, Kitanemuk, Tataviam, and Kawaiisu were living in and around the Valley, but not in great numbers. Many of these groups shared the Paiute culture with the people living further north in the Owens Valley. Some Chumash influence also existed in the Valley, as evidenced by different language groups. Trading among the different groups was extensive. Obsidian from the Mono Lake area and sea shells from the coast are still frequently found today throughout the Valley.
The first fully documented contact with the people of the Antelope Valley came in 1776 when a Franciscan priest, Father Francisco Garcés began a trip to Monterey through the Mojave Desert. Garcés's diary of the trip has been used by many scholars to identify the people, cultures, and language groups living in the Antelope Valley at this time. For several years, the contact with the Spanish was limited and benign, however, increasingly the people of the Valley began to be "resettled" to the San Fernando Mission. In 1808, the Spanish sent a military expedition into the Valley. There is no documentation of any violence during this expedition, but it began the continual and eventually deadly contact with the Spanish. In 1811, Mission records indicate the "resettlement" of two entire villages.
The slow decline in the population of the Antelope Valley followed that of other native Californian societies. Disease spread by contact with the missions and forced labor continued to take its toll. To the Europeans, tribal and clan affiliation held little meaning. As with many California cultures, the old ways began to die along with the people.
Many revolts were staged against the Spanish, as various tribal groups attempted to free themselves from the oppression of the government-sanctioned Mission system. Only a few succeeded, and then only for short periods. In the mean time, the Spanish, by then under the flag of the Mexican government, and other Europeans began to establish farms and ranches in Southern California, thus dislocating the original people. By the time California was transferred from Mexico to the United States in 1848, the people of the Antelope Valley were losing their struggle for survival.
While the Gold Rush did not directly impact the people of Southern California, it was important in many ways. The massacres of many tribes to the north cut off centuries old trading patterns. As more people came to California in search of gold, many filtered south for the rich farming land of the San Joaquin Valley. The United States government began a policy of relocating Native Americans to give the best land to the European settlers. In 1853, Fort Tejon was established in the mountains on the western edge of the Antelope Valley. The United States government established a reservation there to "protect the Indians." By 1864, the 1000 people living there had deserted the fort in an attempt to return to their ancestral lands in the Tehachapi Mountains and in the Antelope Valley. However, the government continued its reservation and relocation program well into the twentieth century. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most native groups remaining in the Antelope Valley simply faded into the European culture growing up around them. More information about native populations in the Antelope Valley can be found in:
[Information courtesy of the City of Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery]
Cowboys and cattle ranching began in the Antelope Valley as early as the 1840s and became more prevalent in the following decade after the gold rush led to a demand for beef. One of the most important jobs for cowboys was to round up calves in the spring-and perhaps again in the fall-and to brand, castrate, dehorn, and vaccinate them. Among the best known cowboys were Ted Atmore, Emery Kidd, and Forrest Patterson. Cattle ranching was especially important in the region between 1886 and 1910, though it was hurt by the drought between 1894 and 1904. Cowboys and farmers sparred over a number of factors, including competition for land and crop damage by livestock; the tension prompted farmers to erect fences to keep cattle out and led ranchers to discourage prospective farmers from settling in the region. By the 1920s the cattle industry had slowed down tremendously in the valley due to a growing population and disputes with sheep herders and alfalfa growers.
There is a local oral tradition among Little Rock residents about a highwayman named "Llargo" [Largo?] who is said to have held up a stagecoach gold shipment to San Francisco in the vicinity of the Little Rock cienaga. He is also said to have taken up residence in the adobe structure at the cienaga. Whatever the truth may have been about this, the legend was motive enough for treasure hunters to tear up the remains of the Garcia adobe in the 1950s looking for loot. The structure is shown still standing in map surveys dating from the early 1930s.
The story about Largo is part of a larger tradition of outlaw activity involving the Little Rock Creek drainage. As we have noted above, the 1850s in particular was a period of great lawlessness in southern California. Travel from San Fernando to Antelope Valley in the early 1850s could only be carried out in well-armed parties due to the routine presence of highwaymen on the trails. It is reported by Episcopal Bishop Ingram Kip, who traveled up the canyon in 1853, that just prior to his visit there six robbers (four American and two Mexican) living in a house at the foot of the canyon had been lynched by a posse from Los Angeles. Even as late as the late 1860s it was routine for persons traveling up San Francisquito Canyon west of modern Palmdale to un-holster a weapon when encountering an oncoming vaquero, this as a measure to prevent horse theft.
In addition to the industry of assaulting travelers, the rustling of stock had become a big business by the 1850s. Famed Death Valley survivor and hero William Manly, commenting on conditions at Los Angeles in 1850, noted that any livestock that was not directly under its owner's observation was liable to disappear from the pasture while the latter's back was turned (Manly 1894:270ff).
As part of this rustling boom, a regular stolen stock route developed. It ran up Big Tujunga Canyon to Alder Creek, Chilao and Horse Flats and then down either the Santiago Canyon or Little Rock Creek- Pallet Creek variants of the Little Rock trail (Robinson 1991:22-23; Thrall 1948:81ff). The use of this route became necessary as the Mormons at San Bernardino closed the rustler's traditional Cajon Pass escape route, and the Santa Clarita-Soledad Pass route to the desert became more subject to closure as well. Both cattle and horses were driven up to the high altitude flats around Chilao, Horse Flats, and Barley Flats and pastured. Stock were often rebranded here as well. They would later be taken down one of the Little Rock Creek trails to the desert. Livestock could be taken to various points to the north, including the Cerro Gordo and Panamint mines and the Kern River country, to be sold. It was reported in the fall of 1861 that a band of outlaws with 46 horses had been apprehended in what appears to have been the upper end of Little Rock Creek (Cleland 1941:70).
From the 1850s through the early 1870s Tiburcio Vasquez and his confederates used the San Gabriel Mountains and other mountain areas, including the Sierra Pelonas and the Tehachapis, as hideouts. Chilao was a favorite place to hide and to stash stolen livestock. The Little Rock Creek drainage was also used to pasture stolen stock. In early September of 1873 Vasquez and his gang, including Clodovio Chavez and Abdon Leiva, had fled from Santa Clara County to Elizabeth Lake and thence to the Little Rock Creek area, with a posse in pursuit. Accounts of the incident are somewhat contradictory, but recent research by David Earle has pieced together the following.
The Sheriffs of Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties xxxx had met at the San Fernando Pass toll house on September 5th and had received information from the Sheriff of Kern County that Vasquez might be hiding in the upper Little Rock Creek drainage. The three sheriffs then met on Little Rock Creek on September 6th, spending the day looking for Vasquez's hideout. It is not clear what route was followed to reach the creek from the Santa Clarita basin.
On the morning of the 7th an "Indian trail" was followed from the Little Rock Creek drainage to Big Rock Creek. This was presumably the Little Rock Creek- Pallet Creek trail mentioned previously. From the mouth of the Big Rock Creek canyon the Cajon-Tejon wagon road on the southern edge of the desert was followed to the westward, and the previous night's camp of gang member Abdon Leiva was found. Leiva, perhaps the same morning, had driven a wagon to the house of Charlie Moore, who lived somewhere to the west of Little Rock Creek. Leiva was angry at Vasquez for having made off with his wife, and wanted to turn Vasquez in. He was talked into accompanying another man to San Francisquito Canyon, where he turned himself in to a Los Angeles County undersheriff.
Meanwhile, the sheriffs' posse had followed horse tracks up Little Rock Creek canyon, where the posse encountered Clodovio Chavez. Some shooting ensued, as Chavez returned the fire of the posse. Some accounts also maintain that Vasquez had accompanied Chavez in returning this fire. Shortly afterward the pair escaped up canyon, and could not be located. They abandoned some 19 stolen horses in their flight. A camp in the canyon occupied by Vasquez was located after a search, and various items were recovered there.
Vasquez then managed to make his way from Chilao back to Elizabeth Lake, where he retrieved Leiva's wife, then allegedly passed the pursuit posse while returning once again to Little Rock Creek and the Chilao country.
Will Thrall (1948:88) states that Vasquez's camp was located "near the present site of the Little Rock Creek Reservoir dam". It does appear that the camp was fairly far downstream, because it was not discovered during the posse's searches of the 6th of September.
By the time of the heyday of Vasquez in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the increasing development of freight and stage traffic from Los Angeles to the the mining districts of the southern and eastern Sierra made holdups on the routes to the desert an attractive alternative to rustling. Vasquez held up a stage near Soledad in February of 1874. Even after Vasquez was captured in May of 1874, Chavez and a gang of men under his command continued to operate in the region. The Willow Springs stage stop, northwest of Lancaster, was sacked by his gang as late as November of 1875, for example (Los Angeles Star 11/18/1875). The coming of the Southern Pacific railroad would change transportation arrangements and cut into the opportunities for highwaymen. However, on a more local and limited scale, rustling would remain a problem for decades to come, and mountain canyons would continue to be popular places to stash stolen livestock.