Like other Wild West towns, the upper San Gabriel Canyon once teemed with colorful characters who centered their lives around the gold dust. The “Old Timers” were post-Gold Rush era prospectors and their families who stayed and settled nearby. Some homesteaded their property, while others simply squatted (The Homestead Act of 1862 made it possible for a private citizen to claim land with legal rights to the property). Canyon names on modern maps still memorialize the settlers who once roamed there.
The information below is based heavily on “The Old San Gabriel and Some of Those Who Made its History” by Cornelius Smith and “Colorful Old Days on the Upper San Gabriel” by Sedley Peck. Both of these articles can be found in the issues of Trails Magazine (1934-1941). Thanks to these records, we know about a few of these Old Timers. Most of these cabins are now gone because of disastrous floods, fires, and the construction of modern roads and dams.
The settlers and their cabins are described in geographical order, starting from high up the East Fork…
Headwaters of the East Fork
Tom Vincent, hunter and fugitive, discovered the famous Big Horn Mine in the early 1890s. Vincent lived a recluse life in his cabin, which was surrounded by horns and skulls of the game he caught. His cabin still sits quietly, high up in the gulch that retained his name.
A rare photo of Charles Vincent Doughtery AKA Charles Tom Vincent. Courtesy of findagrave.com
A rare still from the Big Horn Mining Days. By Chapin, Palmer, via Wikimedia Commons
Fred Clark. Up in Clark Gulch, historian Sedley Peck recalls an old cabin of hand-hewn “slabs and shakes” built by Fred Clark in 1897. It had survived numerous fires and floods and the door stood open to provide shelter for any passerby that needed it. The gulch retained his name.
Hell-in-Gone Cabin. An old miners cabin called the “Hell-in-Gone” stood somewhere above Iron Fork. E.D. Bloomer was the last occupant of it before it was washed away in the catastrophic 1938 flood.
Giddings Cabin built in 1897, stood for 50 years until the 1938 flood. It was located “just above Iron Fork”.
Dan McCarthy and his wife, Annie Potter (a daughter of William G. Potter) homesteaded near the mouth of Iron Fork. Later it would be acquired by George Trogden.
George Trogden. In the early 1900s, George M. Trogden came to Iron Fork as an agent for the Pacific Light and Power Company to measure water flow for a proposed electric power project. He loved the place so much he spent the rest of his life there and his cabin became one of the best known in the San Gabriels.
Trogden’s appearance was said to be comparable to Long John Silver (the main villain pirate in the novel Treasure Island) “…even to the rolling gait, stiff leg and bad eye”
Uncle George’s reputation for being a genial host was well known, “his coffee pot and frying pan were always ready to do service” and his place became the center for nature lovers of all kinds. Trout were plentiful back in the day and anglers who made the trip all the way out to Iron Fork were sure to visit George. His two daughters could outride and outshoot any man who came to camp. He even had a burro named “Coalie” who would help him traverse the dangerous trail above The Narrows by having a steady balance.
Part of his cabin and garden were washed away in the floods of 1938. His son-in-law, John Hibsch and family had planned to restore the beloved old landmark but nothing remains today but memories
Oliver “Old Hickory” Justice, one of the last old-timers in the canyon, built his cabin of “rocks and shakes” just below Iron Fork and mined nearby. He was the first post master of Azusa in the 1870s and former Azusa School Board president. After saloons were voted out of Azusa, he chose the lonely mountain hermits life. Only once in 1920 did he return to Azusa to be a witness in the shooting trial of John Knox Portwood.
In 1929, a ranger found him dead in his cabin. Up in the rafters they found a coffin that he had built for himself. He also had pre-dug his grave on a mesa above Iron Fork. His canyon friends buried him and placed a grave marker. His cabin had survived the 1938 flood but only the ruins of massive stone walls remain
Judge Strunk build his cabin in the 1880s and it has been the home or shelter for many miners since. W.J. “Chicken” Findlay, another canyon character, lived in the Strunk cabin. He received his nickname from killing his neighbors chickens for running loose and destroying his garden. He’d toss the dead chickens back in his neighbors yards. Chicken engaged in mining activities and eventually went blind. He was taken to a County Farm, a sort of community care center, but escaped. While trying to make his way back to the Canyon, he drowned in Little Dalton Canyon stream. It helps to see while swimming?
Cabin #123 Above the Narrows. Floyd S. Hayden family’s first cabin washed away in flood of March, 1938. Courtesy of Citrus College, Hayden Memorial Library.
The historic Horseshoe mine is located near Devils Gulch. R.S. Saunders and E.A. Gray patented the Mine and its annex in 1912. But its been through many owners since then and structures have come and gone. The original cabin was built by Richard Saunders and used to sit where an old trail to the Narrows once started up the mountainside “on a windy point”. Sedley described the cabin appearing more “Swiss Alpine style” than it did western style.
One-Eyed Mountain Charlie was an old-time canyon resident who lived and mined near the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon. He was partners with “Twitchlip” Kelly, and together this unique pair mined the riverbed around Devils Canyon. When he died, Mountain Charlie’s body was found long dead by Ralph Follows while on a pack train ride up the canyon. His friends buried him in a a grave near where he lived. His cabin is long gone, having been destroyed by a massive fire in 1919.
Mountain Charlie was known to those who knew him for his elaborate tall tales and lies. He loved telling a story of holding a hungry mountain lion spellbound with his one eye while climbing at Iron Mountain. He grabbed the lion around the neck and held on while they slid down the mountain. When they reached the bottom, the beast was dead. “Yes siren, boys. I just drug him to death, I did”. No one would challenge his story because they wanted to hear another one.
Joseph “Old Joe” Cook once ran a store, inn, and shelter near Laurel Gulch between 1860-1900. Cook was an enterprising miner who undertook ambitious projects with his associates. He started the San Gabriel Mining Company and for several years worked on an underground tunnel that was supposed to stretch from Laurel Gulch all the way to Devils Canyon. The tunnel would serve to take the river underground while leaving the riverbed free to prospect. Years of progress ended in failure after complications arose during construction: water seeped into the tunnel until it gradually filled up. Cook abandoned his project and later would start the San Gabriel Mining Company which mined two miles of the East Fork for many years.
Alonzo Shoemaker. Alonzo Shoemaker, a grizzled miner drifted into San Gabriel Canyon from the Kern River diggings back in 1855. He developed his claim above the canyon that is now named after him. His partner was another Kern River drifter, John McCaslin (husband to Clara Potter, another daughter of William G. Potter) and they worked together on the Shoemaker Mine for many years.
Shoemaker Mine. In 1890 four veteran miners – William T. Heaton, J.M. Striplin, Jim Smith and Joseph Cook- took up a lease to work on the Shoemaker Mine. Together they installed a “self shooter”, a kind of hydraulic system but on a smaller scale. Later they found better prospects on the Good Hope Mine across the river taking as much as “ten ounces of gold in a day” there.
John Robb. George Diley moved into the old Shoemaker place, building a cabin for himself in 1893. But later John Robb, an old miner, jumped the Shoemaker claim when Diley became mentally unwell and left the canyon. John Robb had been in the canyon living at the Forks with his wife, Jane Potter (another daughter of William Potter) and kids before moving to Shoemaker Canyon in 1897. When his family left him for good, he became miserable and withdrawn. One day, after burning some weeds in his garden, Robb set the great fire of 1919, the largest fire in the Angeles National Forest up until then, burning over 60,000 acres.
The Strandbergs. E.C “Dad” Strandberg came into the Canyon in 1903. He was known as the best miner in the canyon in the early panning days. In the 1930s he and his son, Vick and Michael Vas moved to the Shoemaker claim and mined on the old diggings.
Smith Gulch is not labeled in any maps but according to Sedley Peck, its across Shoemakers camp and where Bogus Smith once resided. He was called Bogus Smith because everyone was sure his name wasn’t Smith. He mined in those parts and mainly kept to himself and away from troubles.
Sedley Peck has a clear memory of him. Once, Smith came down to Follows camp while Sedley was the storeboy that day. Smith owed money and was in a hurry so he gave five gold nuggets worth about $100 to square off the debt. He rode a horse into town and was never seen again. Supposedly he struck it rich because he was carrying a water bucket with 4 inches of gold (180 pounds, worth about $26,000).
Hear Sedley Peck himself talk about Bogus Smith in this video:
Sedley Peck briefly mentions an old timer named Uncle Jimmy Grayson who settled close by this area with his cabin and burro corrals.
Opposite of Smith Gulch another old timer resident, Old Man Armstrong lived in his shack
A bit further down the canyon, the cabin of One-Eyed Alexander stood by the trail next to a big oak tree, a typical “House By the Side of the Road” for 30 years until the East Fork Rd obliterated it.
Billy Heaton. When William Tecumseh Heaton first came to the canyon in 1891, he prospected in Coldwater Canyon, the Shoemaker Claim and Good Hope Bar before settling on Peachtree Flat. He filed a claim here in 1902, building a crude shack of stone and wood. His mine, the Billy Heaton, also known as the Queenie Mine was worked on “everyday, rain or shine” until his death in 1924. His daughter, Jane Heaton married Ralph Follows and together they built the most popular resort in the San Gabriels, Follows Resort. Heaton’s grandson is our canyon historian, Sedley Peck. Peachtree Flat is now known as Heaton Flat, the start of the Bridge to Nowhere hike, where thousands of hikers pass without a clue of its history.
“Dead Man’s Hill” got its name from a dead miner’s body that was recovered from a coyote hole (on some maps its labeled as Coyote Flats). A Mexican miner was working in the tunnel when it collapsed and trapped him inside. Supposedly the corpse was later found with a leather pouch full of gold.
Luisenna, the Indian. Down the river from Heaton Flats, an old indian named Luisenna lived. A local legend of a lost gold mine persisted around him. No one knew where he came from or how long he had lived there. When his supplies would run low, Luisenna would disappear for 4 or 5 days then reappear with a bag of gold dust. He’d leave at night so no one would follow him to his secret claim. No one ever knew where he mined but the story was that it was somewhere on Iron Mtn and it must’ve been a very rich mine since he was well off for a few months between each trip.
Bartholdi, the Italian. On the mesa above Luisenna’s, an Italian shoemaker named Bartholdi “Bismark” built a crude shelter of rocks and mud as well as a cabin below near the river with a vineyard. The year before, he ran a successful shoe repair shop at the Forks for the miners before embarking on his own mining ventures.
Bartholdi met his untimely death from a burro bite. While out on a ride, a rattlesnake startled the burro and unseated Bartholdi off but his foot remained tangled in the stirrup. As he tried to free up his foot, the burro bit him, causing an infection from which he died. His vineyard was badly damaged from the 1938 floods but the place was still possessed by Bartholdi’s heirs. It was used as a picnic place for an Italian Club known as “Club Baton”.
John Knox Portwood was a fugitive Southerner from Virginia who came to the canyon in 1895 where he mined and operated pack trains into camps. He was the canyon’s notorious bad man, committing offenses through out his life (read more about his life here) . His cabin of hand-hewn shakes and granite rocks was built in Cattle Canyon above Camp Bonita. After he was killed, Ben Heaton (Sedley Peck’s uncle) took over it.
In the junction of Cattle Canyon and the East Fork, once stood the rowdy mining town known as Eldoradoville. The historic flood of 1862 washed away the entire town.
Camp Bonita. At the junction of the East fork and Cattle canyon, Camp Bonita once stood nestled among oaks and sycamores. The retreat was founded by Jay Gardener Scott in 1909. He briefly called it Scott’s Camp before changing its name to Camp Bonita.
Fishing club members on the edge of a mountain stream near a tent, ca.1910-1920. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection at USC.
Camp Bonita reached its popularity under Henry Willard. It boasted the “only Cobble Stone Hut Camp” in the mountains. It had tennis courts, dance floors, a dining room, and a general store. When trouts used to be bountiful in San Gabriel Canyon, Camp Bonita was the favorite haunt of anglers. Three times a week the Camp Bonita Stage would pickup masses of fisherman and campers.
The last owner of the Camp Bonita resort and store was Dr. Davenport. Unfortunately the disastrous flood of March 1938 washed the resort away. The Forest Service thought the damage was irreparable so they did not renew the lease.
At this junction, an old ranger station was built in 1912 by Jack Sanborn, a veteran firefighter. It was operated until 1937 when a new ranger station was built further downstream. However, the floods of 1938 destroyed the new station so the old station was recommissioned.
Maley’s Flat. Fred Maley was one of the later canyon pioneers, coming in the 1890s. He built his stone cabin on the flat below Cattle Canyon and gave his name to the flat (but modern maps do not show his name). He prospected above the Cattle Canyon junction, successfully recovering $60,000 worth of gold. After muddying the waters, he received a notice to cease and desist all mining in the area.
In 1905, a newspaper reported that Maley discovered an old mining shaft that lay hidden and forgotten for centuries. At first, when Maley and his partners began working there were no signs that mining had ever been done before. But soon they started stumbling on antique tools laying half buried. When they dug about 100 feet they broke into an old tunnel which they explored. It widened out into broad chambers and ran back 300 feet into the hill. They supposed the tunnel and mining artifacts belonged to the Indians during the Spanish Mission days.
In this vicinity was also where a Doc Wlson lived and mined for many years as well as “Dad Murray” and finally “Saylor“. Saylor died in 1937 but left the place for his nephew Joe Saylor. In March 1938 the catastrophic floods washed away the old cabin and mine.
Troubadour Rodriguez. Further downstream was the domain of a hardy Yaqui Indian named Troubadour Rodriguez. He built a cabin and planted an alfalfa field across the canyon that was naturally watered by a lovely spring. While mining, he was seen carrying his pay dirt in sacks made of hide and hunted game with a sling shot. Rodriguez came to the canyon when Azusa was still a ranch. Allegedly when he was young, he killed a man in Mexico and fled the country. The miners and packers stayed away from him as he was known to be tough. Rumors would spread about fights between Troubadour and miners. He’s remembered as a colorful character to those who spent their life in the canyon because of his mysterious identity. His cabin was removed to make way for the new East Fork Road in 1936. His alfalfa fields and another cabin belonging to a John Malone of Azusa were washed away during the 1938 floods. Today Oaks Picnic Grounds takes Troubadour’s haunt.
James (Jim) Williams opened his camp in 1913. According to John W. Robinson be became known for his “home brew” during the Prohibition Era. His wife was Mary Jane Lloyd (“Sister Mary”) an Irish religious lady. His original cabin was built high up on a bench in the mouth of Horse Canyon. His resort thrived in the 1920s and into the 1930s but Jim Williams was more involved in his few mining claims than the resort business.
With his wife’s passing, Jim became debilitated and was taken out to a County Farm (public facility to support and provide housing for the dependent or needy) where he died at the age of 91 in 1936. Camp Williams Resort is still open today and is the only deeded land in the East Fork.
In 1896 Follows Camp was established and became the most popular hostelry in San Gabriel Canyon. Located 3 miles up the East Fork, it boasted several tents, good fishing, home-cooking and a famous 4 horse stage.
It was Ferdinand B. Kennett, a former policeman from St. Louis who first settled in this parcel in 1880. He had come west for his wife’s health hoping that the mountain air would be of some ailment. However, tragic circumstances would soon develop. Kennett, in desperate need to collect a debt, murdered a man (a former employee, Alfred B. Lawson). He received a 10 year sentence (but was pardoned in only a few months). Kennett then sold out his interests to a new buyer in town.
In 1891 a frail Ralph Follows came to the San Gabriel Canyon from England in hopes of improving his failing health. He had tuberculoses and only weighed 90 pounds when he came on a stretcher with the help of his brother Jack. They rented a cabin in the old Roberts-Fergusson mining camp. His health improved right away and he decided to buy up the Kennett property for a resort buisness.
By 1897, Ralph Follows married Jane Heaton, daughter of William T. Heaton (the veteran miner who settled in Heaton Flats) and together they built an empire out of their camp resort. It was their warm hospitality that popularized this camp, aside from the home-cooked meals, good fishing, and scenery that attracted thousands. Ralph Follows was a man “could do more things at one time and well than anyone who ever lived in the canyon”. Their resort was backed by high-profilers of the day. A single page of the old Follows Camp register shows the following names:
Henry W. O’ Melveny,
Jackson A. Graves
Harry Chandler, J.M. Elliot
James Bullion, Von Zimmerman
The famous Follows four-horse stage carried guests from the Santa Fe station in Azusa to his resort in the East Fork. The twelve mile canyon ride was torturous involving many crossings and road washouts.
Follows camp could accommodate as many as 200 guests in all their tents and cabins. A few Western silent films were shot here, taking up guests as extras.
The maintenance of the canyon road was always a major headache for Ralph Follows, needing to appeal to the city of Azusa for help. However, when the canyon road was finally built in 1925, the early automobile made the trip to Follows Camp “too easy” and the romance died.
Ralph M. Follows was killed when his new touring car overturned during a trip to Redlands in 1925. By that time, the resort was steadily declining, being visited by Jane Follows only on holiday.
Benny Lee, an old English Sailor, was well-known in the canyon. He worked in the O’Melveny ranch then at Follows camp.
Next, west of Follows camp and downstream was the Ferguson lot. William Ferguson first took up land here in order to start his hydraulic mining venture in the 1870s. Heirs of the Fergusons still frequented this place until the 1930s. Old timers tied to this place include Soldier Thompson, Charlie Hagan, and “Two Gun” Don Rosenkrantz.
Of Graveyard Canyon, Sedley Peck said: “The ruins of of the Massey stamp mill and cyanide tanks in Graveyard Canyon are evidence of the buried hopes of a too sanguine miner of earlier days”
The Massey Black Rock Bonanza Property included 11 claims in or near Graveyard Canyon. The mine was discovered by A.C. Massey in 1903 and fraudulently based its claim on future wealth on black rock formation containing high grade gold. It spent about $20,000+ in investments with nothing in return. Even the cook demanded to be paid in back wages owed to him.
Near Susanna Canyon, Ernest F. Fricke built his Orchard in the Sky on a high mesa above the East Fork. He was a former miner turned farmer who once had several gold prospects up this canyon. Back in 1908 he took a placer claim on the mountain side below where his orchards now grow. While mining, he discovered an all-year round spring and took out an agricultural lease in 1921. He grew apples, figs, pears, walnuts, and almonds as well as bee stands to collect honey.
Ed Lattin, son of a Gold Rush miner, lived in a cabin at Fricke’s Ranch
The Everhardys, a Swiss family, lived in a chalet perched on a cliff and made their living by mining and tending to all their goats. Joe Everhardy was a long-time miner of the canyon with criminal tendencies. He’d occasionally hire a partner to do more extensive mining work on his claims.
A dispute with one of Joe’s mining partners, A.O. Copp ultimately escalated into a fight. After several rounds of beatings, both men resorted to using hammers. Copp escaped to the city where he pressed charges on Joe for assault with a deadly weapon.
Joe Everhardy had a track record from previous offenses. In order to protect his property from alleged trespassing, he’d send huge boulders rolling down the hill from his camp onto passerbys. He almost killed several riders and injured a few horses.
Another legal case that made the newspapers was the land dispute between the Everhardys and Judge Curtis D. Wilbur. When the Everhardys secured a mining location in 1905, Joe asked Judge Curtis D. Wilbur to finance the expenses of tunneling in exchange for undivided half interest in the land. If Joe could not luck out on pay dirt in ten months time, Wilbur was to take title to the twenty acres. A few years later, Joe tried to give Wilbur the deed but his wife refused to sign it. Therefore, Wilbur took to the courts and won title to the land. Owning the land allowed Judge Wilbur to preserve his Baraca school building, a camp designed for christian youth. No trace of the Everhardys nor Judge Wilbur’s camp remains.
Mountain View Ranch
This place was originally located by Domingo Arviso and his wife when they came to the canyon from Sonora. The large Arviso family built cabins, farmed, hunted, and fished.
William G. Potter
Bill Potter was an old timer who came to the canyon in the 1860s. His first mine was at the Tom Driver Hill near the narrows. But the great flood of 1861/1862 drove Driver and Potter out.
After some time in the city, Bill married to Ruth Durfee and moved back to the canyon at Ferguson Flat. He worked as a carpenter for William G. Ferguson’s hydraulic mining company. In 1878 he acquired Mountain View where he built his pretentious mountain home for his large family (they had 10 children!).
Group of people at Potters Camp. From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California
Potter built a reputation as “Lying Bill” for his tall tales. Sedley Peck remembers: “One time a group of fisherman going out of the Canyon thought to alarm Bill by telling him a fake story of a terrific forest fire raging up above and certain to burn right down to his place. Bill calmly turned to his son Hayes and said, ‘Well, Hayes, that accounts for them fish you caught this mornin’ with their fins and tails burned off!'”
Another account about his tall tales read:
One day, coming to Azusa, he passed the Roberts home at a rapid rate. ‘Hey Bill’ someone called. ‘Wait a minute can’t you? We want to hear one of those stories you tell. Haven’t you got time for a lie?’ ‘No’, Potter called back. ‘I gotta be getting along. My wife’s sick. When I left she was dying and I have to hurry to town for help.’ The shocked inquirer saddled his horse and hurried to see what he could do for the dying woman. When he arrived, there sat Mrs. Potter, in the best of health. Roberts couldn’t complain- he’d asked for a lie and gotten a good one in a hurry! Azusa Pomotropic October 20, 1937
One day, coming to Azusa, he passed the Roberts home at a rapid rate.
‘Hey Bill’ someone called. ‘Wait a minute can’t you? We want to hear one of those stories you tell. Haven’t you got time for a lie?’
‘No’, Potter called back. ‘I gotta be getting along. My wife’s sick. When I left she was dying and I have to hurry to town for help.’
The shocked inquirer saddled his horse and hurried to see what he could do for the dying woman. When he arrived, there sat Mrs. Potter, in the best of health. Roberts couldn’t complain- he’d asked for a lie and gotten a good one in a hurry!
Azusa Pomotropic October 20, 1937
After Potter’s passing in 1903, his son Hayes attempted to convert the home into a resort buisness but failed financially. Ralph Follows bought him out and ran the place in conjunction to his Follows Camp.
Charlie La Strand planted an orchard in the Potter Ranch of grape vines, fig and other fruit trees from San Gabriel Mission.
The Mountain View area eventually became Camp Oak Grove turnoff. The camp now belongs to Los Angeles County and is used as a fire camp and a correctional facility
From Mountain View to the Forks there was Arch McNabb’s Ranch, Jose Maria’s cabin, Hessert’s Flats (mine worked on by F.R. Hessert), Jimmy Neal’s Cabin and Bill Bassett’s “artistic gorge” home
Of Burro Canyon, John Robinson noted: “An old pack trail once ran up canyon and over the ridge to the mines of the upper East Fork and Iron fork. There was considerable mining in this tributary canyon, and you can still find tunnel remains and remnants of mining tools with diligent searching.” You’d have to go exploring carefully since the Burro Canyon Shooting Range now owns this area.
John McCaslin built a stone cabin at the mouth of Burro Canyon when he married Clara Potter. As noted previously, John Mccaslin was a 49er who drifted into the San Gabriel Canyon from the Kern River Gold Rush and who would later mine with Alonzo Shoemaker.
Vaughan’s Corral, the slaughter house and meat market for mining camps once stood here. After mining slowed down, John Robb settled in the Vaughan property and “planted several acres of fruit, raised chickens and turkeys and ran a pack-train in the canyon. The flood of 1891 washed out buildings, stock and orchard, Robb and his wife barely escaping with their lives by climbing the mountainside.” (Cornelius Smith)
In the 1890’s Fred Thorpe built a cabin which was later acquired by Judge Curtis D. Wilbur as a summer home. He then sold it to the County Flood Control
Bob Hastings lived at the Forks was known for years as the “Mayor” of San Gabriel Canyon. As the stages arrived each day at the Forks, he’d greet and welcome all visitors. “Old John Clemens” also lived at the Fork and would serve every incoming stage with a bucket of cold spring water
This is not a complete list of all of those who resided in the Upper San Gabriel Canyon (East Fork) but only a partial list collected from the memory of two historians. “The Old San Gabriel And Some of Those Who Made its History” and “Colorful Old Days on the Upper San Gabriel” were both published in the Trails Magazine of 1930’s thanks to the mountain historian Will Thrall whose invaluable efforts have preserved history otherwise lost.