On January 15, 1875, an enterprising 49-year-old auctioneer-turned-venture capitalist named Henry Mayo Newhall paid just under $2 for each of 46,460 acres of the Rancho San Francisco. An old land grant that had fallen into private hands when Mexican Revolutionaries wrested political control from Spanish missionaries in the early 1800s, the Rancho encompassed most of the western Santa Clarita Valley and stretched out into Ventura County. If $2 per acre sounds like a steal, consider that some pioneer oilmen had paid Don Antonio del Valle's descendants $1.11 an acre for it, ten years earlier. The drought of 1863-1864 had devastated the Del Valle cattle ranch, and the hunt for black gold was on. Henry Newhall purchased the Rancho after various speculators defaulted on loans. Between 1871 and 1875, Newhall acquired a total of 143,000 acres throughout Alta California that had fallen, or would soon fall, into receivership. Newhall had made a fortune in railroads and knew the Iron Horse could bring people, commerce and prosperity to his new holdings. For one dollar, the clever businessman deeded a right of way at the eastern extremity of his local Rancho to Southern Pacific's Charles Crocker (of banking fame) and Leland Stanford (co-founder of the California Republican Party). For another dollar, Newhall sold them a plot of land for a whistle stop near present-day Railroad Avenue. Southern Pacific started designing a new town around it later that year and dubbed it "Newhall." Following Henry Newhall's untimely death in 1882, his widow and five sons sought to avoid the family imbroglios that invariably seem to accompany the division of an estate. Rather than split their California Ranchos among themselves, family members joined forces and created what they called The Newhall Land and Farming Company to manage their agricultural and ranching concerns. On December 23, 1936 — sixty years after Alex Mentry started pumping high-grade crude out of Pico Canyon, a mile south of Newhall property — Henry Newhall's grandson-in-law Atholl McBean finally struck oil on the Rancho San Francisco. McBean changed the old land grant's name to "Newhall Ranch." Tracts of affordable housing started cropping up all over the Southland after World War II. Locally, William Bonnelli, then-owner of what is now the Saugus Speedway, built the first such tract up Seco Canyon. Atholl McBean quickly saw the potential for ventures more lucrative than cattle ranching, onion farming and even oil drilling — as did the County of Los Angeles. L.A. County supervisors, unlike their counterparts in Ventura, decided to tax land at its highest possible value. Property tax rates were now based on housing and commercial potential, whether or not homes actually dotted the landscape. The Newhall Land and Farming Company spent the 1950s and early '60s readying itself for a change in direction. If it must pay taxes for housing, it may as well build. Family members had strong feelings for the land and were loath to sell off portions piecemeal. Instead, they hired cutting-edge urban planners to design a complete, self-contained town with an appropriate blend of homes, schools, parks, shopping centers and other necessities. As Henry Newhall had done 90 years earlier, in 1965 an aging Atholl McBean was ready to sell a right of way for the purpose of building a town. By now the automobile had replaced the locomotive as the primary purveyor of people; McBean sold the right of way not to Southern Pacific, but to the State of California for the construction of Interstate 5. Again a new town would spring up along a major transportation corridor. On the advice of Henry Newhall's great-grandson and former Signal editor Scott Newhall, the town was called "Valencia." Over the past three decades, Valencia has grown to be worth somewhat more than two bucks an acre, and The Newhall Land and Farming Company has parlayed itself into a publicly owned limited partnership that trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, the company is master planning new frontiers in Arizona. Top company brass has always been people who, like Henry Newhall, could foresee new markets and blaze new trails. Company philosophy has consistently stemmed straight from — where else? — Leland Stanford's University. Almost all post-war executives, from James Finch and Jim Dickason to current execs Tom Lee and Gary Cusumano, were products of the Stanford business school that Atholl McBean helped found. Much as its farming and ranching concerns keep giving way to construction, so will The Newhall Land and Farming Company chase new horizons when there are no more nails to drive or boards to hammer on the vast Rancho San Francisco. In 20 years, who knows? Maybe The Newhall Land and Farming Company will become the dominant telecommunications powerhouse of the Pacific Rim. After all, ages ago, Henry Newhall ran a successful Pacific Rim import-export business out of San Francisco. For now, however, housing remains the company's most visible industry. One hundred twenty years after a particular fortune seeker from Saugus, Massachusetts laid claim to the western Santa Clarita Valley, Newhall Ranch is back in the news.
By the time Don Gaspar de Portola and his party of missionary scouts reached Castaic Junction in August of 1769, another people had inhabited the Santa Clarita Valley for 1300 years. They were the Tataviam, or "Dwellers of Sunny Slopes," a small offshoot of the powerful Shoshone Indians. We once called them "Aliklik," but over the last couple of decades our historians determined that "Aliklik" was a pejorative term associated with the clicking sound of their language, and that "Tataviam" was more accurate. The Tataviam lived in brush huts and migrated from hill to valley as the seasons changed. Like all California Indians, they were hunters and gatherers — though the women and children did a lot more gathering than the men did hunting. At least, that was the conclusion of Dr. David Whitley of the UCLA Institute of Archaeology, formerly with the state Historical Resources Commission. Whitley and another archaeologist, Joe Simon, were hired by the Newhall Ranch Company to determine the significance of any historic and prehistoric artifacts they might find between Interstate 5 and the Ventura County line, where the Newhall Land subsidiary plans to build a new town. Whitley discussed his findings at a public meeting earlier this month. What surprised Whitley most was the scarcity of prehistoric sites in the project area. Though they scoured the 19 square mile region, the archaeologists found only eight indications of prehistoric habitation — far fewer than expected. Two of the eight sites were not intact. A third and fourth contained a scattering of surface deposits, with nothing below. A fifth was a cave, looted before the turn of the century. The three final sites were significant winter encampments. Each provided shelter for 20 to 30 people, 800 to 3500 years ago. "We didn't expect this in a million years," Whitley said. "On 12,000 acres, we found just three camp sites. It's the lowest population this side of the Mojave Desert." Whitley said it was "scientifically interesting" that the area was not occupied until 3500 years ago. Prior to that time, the western U.S. was extremely hot and dry. People migrated west when the climate got wetter. Equally interesting, the Newhall Ranch sites were abandoned around AD 1200, when a long period of drought again swept the West. "There still were Native Americans in the area," Whitley said, "but not on the Newhall Ranch." This may explain why the earliest known area map (1843) refers to the mountainous region as lomas esterilas, or "sterile hills." An aside: As a youngster in 1970, I joined my parents on a UCLA dig beneath what is now Castaic Lake. Several miles from the area Whitley investigated, I unearthed many mortars and pestles; rare spear points; stone beads that are now on display at Saugus Station; and a curious, perfectly round disk that nobody could explain. Most of this treasure trove wound up in a box in the deep, dark recesses of Cal State Northridge, just like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dr. Whitley could not show slides of his Newhall Ranch findings to his audience. Our government doesn't want scavengers and vandals to know where to dig. Archaeological discoveries are exempt from the federal Freedom of Information Act for this reason. In general terms, Whitley discussed what the artifacts reveal. The Tataviam arrived about AD 500. We don't know who lived here earlier. Women and children gathered plant food — sage, wild seeds, agave (century plant) and ground acorn meal — which comprised 80 to 90 percent of the Tataviam diet. Shell beads would indicate trade routes to the coast. While some have been found elsewhere locally, from later periods, none was found at Newhall Ranch. The absence of shell beads suggests an ethnic boundary between the Tataviam and their Chumash neighbors to the west. The presence of obsidian arrowheads and soapstone, however, evidences trade routes through Agua Dulce to the east. When the Spaniards arrived in the late 1700s, the entire Tataviam tribe numbered just 1,000, Whitley said. According to local historian Jerry Reynolds, the last speaker of the Tataviam language was a fellow named Juan Jose Fustero, who died in 1916.* Few Tataviam words remain. Kashtuk (Castaic), Piiouku (Piru) and Islay (Hasley, as in Canyon) are notable exceptions.
Henry Mayo Newhall