Thursday, June 05, 2008

The hanging tree, continued...

Today, I'm continuing yesterday's topic of the old hanging tree. The top photo comes from the Santa Ana Daily Evening Register in 1920. The caption read, "Here is a picture of the sycamore limb on which Gen. Andreas Pico hanged two desperadoes, member of Juan Flores' gang, in 1857. The tree stands in Precito Canyon, a side-canyon of Limestone [Canyon]. In the picture beneath the limb is J.E. Pleasants, pioneer, who in 1860 helped bury the bones of the bandits."
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The second photo comes from The Westerners' Brand Book #10, and was taken in July 1930. The caption read, "Terry E. Stephenson and Wm. McPherson under the branch from which the bandits Ardillero and Catabo were hung in January 1857."
Pleasants described the scene this way:
"The bodies of the two bandits were left strung up to the sycamore for six months when some vaqueros who lived over in the Santa Ana canyon cut them down and buried what was left of them in a shallow grave at the clump of sycamores. It was two years after that that I became foreman of the Wolfskill Ranch.... Two men, named Armento and Canyero, who were working for me, told me that they had helped cut down the bandits' bodies and bury them. The coyotes had dug into the shallow grave, and the bones of the two men were scattered around on the surface of the ground. I went to the place with Armento and Canyero, and we dug a new grave about four feet deep, gathered up the bones and put them in it. My remembrance is that one of the skulls was missing."

Upon visiting the site in 1920, Pleasants noted that "The limb is several feet lower than it was sixty years ago when it was first pointed out to me by Armento and Canyero." He continued, "We put some stones around the grave, but they are all gone now."
Stephenson described it as "a spot on the north bank about fifteen or eighteen feet from the limb on which the men were hanged."

Phil Brigandi (who supplied me with most of these references) writes,
"I believe we found the tree when we were there in 1989, but that was based on old photos and a general sense of what looked right. My recollection is that the branch was quite thick -- probably 18-inches or more across -- and ran out rather straight, but as the Judge says, closer to the ground in old age. I don't think it was even tall enough to stand under when I was there.
"The best single source is probably still Don Meadows' 1963 article "Juan Flores and the Manillas" which appeared in The Westerners Brand Book #10 from the Los Angeles Corral of The Westerners."
.Phil also says he's not sure the tree is still there. But now I'm really curious to find out. However, it's in a difficult-to-access spot on private land, so who knows if I'll ever get to check it out for myself.

13 comments:

colony rabble said...

Field trip......

walterworld said...

Interesting story on the Hangman's Tree. Definately worth a follow up visit...Have fun!

outsidetheberm said...

What a neat quest. But Sycamores... I don't know. I'd heard their life span was only about 100 years. Hope I heard worng and that it's still there. Let us know!

Chris Jepsen said...

If I get out there, I will take photos and and report back here. Even in a worst-case scenario, there should still be a stump left, right?

Captain said...

I was always told that the sycamore, at Modjeska Cyn Rd and Santiago Cyn Rd, with the long horizontal branch that's being propped up with a concrete pillar was an old hanging tree. In fact, there's a canyon right across the road from it called Hangman's Canyon.

ockid said...

The tree just below Modjeska Canyon Road has been popularly mis-identified as the hanging tree since at least the 1950s, and the concrete pillar was in place by that time. The limb itself has been cut off in recent years. I'm not sure how that myth got started, but there is no doubt the real tree was in Presita Canyon. I saw it there about 20 years ago, easily recognizable from photos taken in the 1920s and '30s.

And actually, sycamores can live several hundred years.

Phil B.

EL BOCHO said...

Great info on this blog? Since this appears to be a forum of O.C. historical experts, I'd like to ask a question regarding the "Indian Mystic Rock". This large rock was referenced in the book, Shadows of Old Saddleback by Terry Stephenson. It is located somewhere on a ridge between Bell and Trabuco Canyons. Does anyone have more specific location info on how to reach the rock. I'd love to see the intricate designs made by native Indians back in the day.

Captain said...

El Bocho, do you mean the rock that gave Bell Canyon its name? If so, it's in Bell Canyon, up canyon from the Audubon Preserve, between Bell and Dove Canyons. On preserve land, if I recall correctly.

It's possible to see it, with permission from the Audubon people. How one would get that, I don't know.

If you do get back there, don't miss the grove of olive trees that have been producing since the late 18th century. Hopefully they're still there.

Chris Jepsen said...

el bocho: First off, my hat is off to you for finding and reading the somewhat rare Shadows of Old Saddleback. I don't know Indian Mystic Rock, but it can't be the same as Bell Rock, which I believe was hauled into Santa Ana and is now part of the Bowers Museum collection. (Can anyone confirm that?)

I've never heard of Bell Rock having petroglyphs on it. In fact, I can't remember ever hearing much about petroglyphs (rock art) in O.C. until just recently. A few months ago, the Pacific Coast Archaelogical Society (PCAS) hosted a tour to see O.C.'s petroglyphs. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the tour. I believe, however, that their tour headed up the Ortega Highway from Capistrano.

EL BOCHO said...

The "Bell Rock" and the "Indian Mystic Rock" are not the same. Photographs of both rocks are illustrated in the Stephenson book. I also heard that the "Bell Rock" was at the Bowers Museum. The "Indian Mystic Rock", according to the book is 6 feet long, 3 feet high and weighs around 8 tons. On the face of the rock are petroglyphs that resemble a maze type of design. The book goes on to state that the rock is located on a ridge between Trabuco and Bell Canyons. That's a lot of ground to cover. If anyone has more detailed info on the location, it would be greatly appreciated. I'd love to see it.

ockid said...

Both Sleeper (A Boys' Book of Bear Stories, 1976) and Friis (The Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum and its Treasures, 1967) state that the Mystic Rock (perhaps better called a Maze Stone was moved to Bowers Museum. Friis says on November 15, 1936. I suppose someone should go check if it is still there (if they can afford the steep admission fee).

Terry Stephenson's original article on the Maze Stone appeared in the Santa Ana Register on October 17, 1921.

Maze stones are not uncommon in Southern California. The big one near Hemet is a State Historic Landmark, and there is another smaller stone from Murrieta in the Ramona Bowl Museum in Hemet. I'm sure there have been a number of articles by the archaeologists over the years.

--Phil B.

Mike B said...

I am a Docent for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, the managing organization for the area where Hangman's Tree is located.

I first became aware of this tree and plaque from a guest on one of my hikes this past Saturday. A subsequent online search for information brought me to this great local history blog.

This morning Dave, our public programs director, and I went to the Hangman's Tree location. Please note that this is private property and legal access must be through the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

From the access road we hiked down to the plaque. From that location the actual tree is to the left. The stand of sycamores are in a gully, about 20-30 feet below ground level from where I was standing. The area is also overgrown with black mustard and milk thistle which stand about eight feet tall, further obscuring the trees.

We hiked down to the bottom of the gully and turned left to view the Hangman's Tree which had some superficial scorch marks from the fire last October. There is also an active bee hive in the tree.

I took several pictures of the tree and of the actual branch which I will send to Chris
Jepsen. The tree is remarkably in good condition considering its age.

We have decided to add this location to our public programs and will also visit the nearby
1965 crash site of a military transport which took off from El Toro in heavy fog and failed to clear Loma Ridge. 72 Marines and 12 crew perished. The location still has aircraft remnants.

The hike to these two locations will be available in a few months. Please check our website for information on our hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian outings: http://www.irvineranchwildlands.org/

Mike

Alan said...

I visited the plaque today while working at a nearby cell site. Thanks for the historical information!