Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mentally Sensitive in Laguna

I was looking at a map of Aliso & Woods Canyon Park in the Laguna Beach area recently and noticed that it included “Mentally Sensitive Trail.” Of course, I immediately wondered how it got its name.

It's no secret that Laguna has its share of folks with a tenuous grip on reality: Artsy types (distinguished from actual artists), cultists, occultists, rich hippies, and people who pay a fortune to balance their homes on the edges of cliffs. But would one celebrate this kind of "mental sensitivity" with the naming of a park trail?

Probably not.
Photo of a newer trail sign, taken by Yelp user "Yvonne N."
Perhaps the trail was named in honor of the snowflakes in our universities, who are so "mentally sensitive" that they are unable to cope with even the micro-ist of "micro-aggressions" and who melt when exposed to opinions different from their own. But again, why would anyone commemorate something so embarrassing?

Actually, it turns out the real answer is slightly less silly, but still kinda weird. 
Detail from OC Parks trail map of Aliso & Woods Canyon Park.
According to OC Parks Resource Specialist Rick Schaffer, the oral tradition is that "it was originally an unauthorized trail with a sign that read, 'Environmentally Sensitive Area'" but that "someone scratched off the 'Environ' letters, leaving 'mentally Sensitive Area'" on the sign. In 2011, this steep trail was developed and made official, but the old name stuck.

Sadly, the creatively vandalized sign is long gone, but a new and official "Mentally Sensitive Trail" sign has replaced it -- which is almost better/funnier.

Rumors circulate that this and other colorful trail names may be changed to new and boring names. Really?!? Why is boring always considered "better" in Orange County these days?

UPDATE, 2-1-2021: Retired OC Parks Ranger Tom Maloney wrote to me with a first-hand account of the Mentally Sensitive saga:

“It was back in the late 1980's and early 1990's… After [we] Park Rangers were chastised for using the negative word ‘no’ in regard to what was not allowed in the park (i.e., no guns, hunting, camping, fires or off trail-usage) we tried an environmentally friendly tactic. We made up some signs to appeal to the ‘good’ folks, mostly from Laguna Beach area to use only official trails, and not to make new trails of their own.

“One such ‘outlaw’ trail went down an incredibly steep ridgeline down into lower Aliso Canyon in an area not open to public use at the time.   

“We placed signs on a sturdy post at the top near Top of the World and at the bottom in Aliso Canyon.  We were attempting to educate the public not to use this and other trails of this type by stating the area/habitat was ‘Environmentally Sensitive.’ And it was. The California Gnatcatcher (bird species) used this as prime nesting habitat. However, use by hikers, mountain bikers and dogs disrupted and disturbed this and other endangered species in the park.

“The local outlaw mountain bike group vandalized these signs, and where they could not tear them out of the ground and hide them, they snapped off the fiberglass signs.  Hence the remaining sign that read ‘...Mentally Sensitive.’

"Obviously being nice did not work."

UPDATE, 11-21-2022: Avid trail runner and former Orange County Register reporter Greg Hardesty informs me that the trail's name has now been changed to Sheep Run Trail. It appears that the rumored threat of boring new names for park trails has come to pass. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Silverado Days

Silverado Canyon. Photo by Clara Mason Fox courtesy O.C. Archives.
I’ve been looking a bit at the story of the brief silver boom that launched Silverado. The canyon had earlier been known as Canada de la Madera (Canyon of the Timber) or simply Madera Canyon. This small silver rush in the Santa Ana Mountains in the late 1870s and early 1880s may not have been that tremendously significant to the development of Orange County, but it has lived for over 140 years as a key element of our folklore and “local color.” The boom itself went bust in 1882 when miners learned the hard truth: The Santa Ana Mountains contain almost any mineral you can name, but not in large enough quantities to make mining profitable.

If the topic interests you, I suggest starting with Phil Brigandi’s recent article about Silverado, which is posted to his O.C. Historyland website. The page also links to a bunch of primary source material from contemporary newspapers, which is pretty remarkable.) But I’ve got some additional information handy, so I might as well share it here.

What follows are some interesting excerpts about Silverado from Jim Sleeper’s A Boys’ Book of Bear Stories (Not For Boys): A Grizzly Introduction to the Santa Ana Mountains and from an article entitled “Silverado Days” by Robert S. Farrar, which appeared in Orange County Illustrated in Feb. 1965. Admittedly, the Illustrated article as highly derivative of pages 49-59 of Terry E. Stephenson’s much superior Shadows of Old Saddleback. But I’m not retyping ten more pages for you.


…In the summer of 1877, a chance discovery of silver-bearing ore in Pine Canyon unleashed the greatest mining flurry the Santa Anas have ever known. The strike, and several others that followed within the next four years, changed not only the face but the disposition of the hills…
If repetition of story counts, the Henry Smith and Bill Curry get the credit for touching off Silverado’s explosion. An oft-quoted passage from [Terry E.] Stephenson’s Shadows [of Old Saddleback] has done much to perpetuate their names and what now appears to be a dubious fact of history.

“Thus it was, a quiet canyon with hardly a half-dozen mountain homes in it, when one day in the fall of 1877 Hank Smith and William Curry, both of Santa Ana, hunting in the upper mountains, came upon some rock that looked to them like silver ore. An assay was reported as showing the rock to be a blue and white quartz carrying silver to about $60 a ton. These two men staked a claim that they called the Southern Belle and soon ran in a tunnel some fifty feet.”

Since then, the myths that have turned up regarding Silverado’s first mine would fill a book,... Suffice it to say that the Mexicans prospected Madera Canyon long before any gringo swung a pick there, and records show that the Southern Belle was really discovered on August 12, 1877, by H.C. Purcell and G.F. “Goldie” Slankerd. A week after their discovery, the Santa Rosa Mining District (named for that mountain) was organized.

Though a half dozen claims were staked that summer, the mineral wealth of Pine Canyon was little publicized until almost the end of the year. Even then, there was no rush into the Madera until after the spring rains subsided. Once the human flood tide began, however, every bored farm boy and village slicker who could borrow a shovel and steal the time poured into the hills. Most couldn’t find their way across creek without a compass, and their knowledge about mining ranked right alongside that of a duck. Among those so qualifying was W.F. Heathman, a pioneer Santa Ana resident and for years its city attorney. Recalling the silver stampede of ’78, Heathman wrote:

“…like all other mining excitements, many strove to reach the mountains and stake off a claim, and with others I went also. In a brief period of time there camped on the site of what was known as ‘Silverado’ over six hundred persons intent on making their fortunes . . . I secured a claim which a mining expert declared to be worth one hundred thousand dollars. I fully believed him and wrote to my brother in the east that I had surely made my fortune. The mine petered out and I was sorry I had made the statement.”

At the apex of the excitement, a portly Anaheim product named Pharez Allen Clark, who ran a toy shop and lending library when not hustling real estate, acquired the flat at the end of Madera Canyon. There he platted a townsite which he called “Silverado City.” City proving a bit sanguine, “camp” was generally substituted and describes it much better. Nonetheless, according to H.S. Knapp, four or five hundred prospectors came upon the place and staked half again that many claims.

“…a post office was here established that fall, and in a very short time the new town of Silverado boasted of three hotels, three stores, seven saloons, two blacksmith shops, two meat markets, a select school, and all the other industries of a first-class mining camp. Town lots sold as high as seventy-five dollars each, yet nearly all the dwellings were canvas tents, and the occupants of board shanties were looked upon as ‘bloated aristocracy.”

…One mine was the “Grizzly,” just off Pine Canyon. In August of ’78, the Grizzly was renamed the “Maggie,” for Maggie Gillett, who ran one of Silverado’s meaner hotels. It is not known whether this honor paid off a board bill or was a tribute to Mrs. Gillette’s disposition.

A mining village sprang up at the fork where Pine Canyon enters the main Canyon. P.A. Clark, a real estate man from Anaheim, laid out the townsite. Appropriately, he named it Silverado, and Canada de la Madera became Silverado Canyon. Population soared … Three stages rain daily from Santa Ana and two from Los Angeles, and seats were at a premium.

The next few years were filled with excitement. J.D. Dunlap, a Deputy United States Marshal sent to arrest a Mexican outlaw hiding in the mountains, never succeeded in apprehending the fugitive but caught the mining fever instead. Dunlap located the mine which has become the most famous in the area, the Blue Light. He put a crew to work, opened up some rich galena ore, and helped to spread the exciting news of silver. Soon a company of eastern financiers formed the New York Mining Company. They located all the property that had not already been staked out, put a large force of men to work driving tunnels and sinking shafts, and spent a sizable fortune on this development.
The Western Zinc Company, composed entirely of French stockholders, began operations in Silverado and installed a quartz mill to handle the ore. In the shadow of the bigger companies were the lone prospectors and “pardners.”

…"'Dad' Justice, a most colorful character filled with the prospector’s perennial optimism, pronounced “a great silver ledge, as great as the richest Virginia City . . . has ever known, lies buried in the Silverado’s ridges awaiting the lucky strike of some miner’s pick."

The lucky strike never came. The Blue Light mine offered the greatest promise. Once the owners believed they had struck the Mother Lode: they pierced the whole side of the canyon with tunnels, in search of the great ledge of ore they knew must be there. But disappointment was their only reward, and the dream of wealth became more and more a myth. . . . By 1883 the last family left, the post office shuttered, and Silverado stood deserted.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Jim Sleeper is here to stay

It's been almost seven years since the passing of Orange County historian Jim Sleeper (1927-2012). Since then, his papers have landed at UCI's Special Collections, the Orange County Historical Society has published a volume of his previously uncollected work, a bit of video of him speaking has surfaced, and many rare volumes from his research library are now available at the Orange County Archives. Younger generations of historians continue to reference and be inspired by his work, the public continues to enjoy his books, and the Orange Countiana journal and County Courier newsletter he helped create in the 1970s are still being published. I doubt there will ever be a time when he isn't still a tremendous influence on the study and practice of Orange County history.

I recently came across the following article about Sleeper, written by historian and Jose Antonio Yorba’s great-great-granddaughter, Mildred Yorba MacArthur. It was published in Laguna Federal Savings' Laguna Federal Highlights (Vol. 30, No. 3) in September 1977:

Jim Sleeper: An Orange County Original
 by Mildred Yorba MacArthur

The inspiration for this piece is a letter received from historian Jim Sleeper, December 10, 1974, thanking me for some old Orange County mining pictures.

He wrote, “Great pix. Have run down dope on mine (1899) and believe I can identify most of the gents. Will respond more fully when I get a moment. Right now I am stepping around like a blind dog in a meat house. In the meantime, get off of your big fat Spanish veranda and get something into print.”

Well Jim, this is it!

He hasn’t been around long enough to take himself or anyone else seriously, for he was born April 16, 1927, at Santa Ana, the son of Boyd Sleeper and Italia Perrine Sleeper. He’s a third generation Orange Countian, the grandson of “Big” Jim Sleeper, who was an early sheriff and later the county assessor for 34 years. He says, “When it comes to local pride, I’m not just provincial, I’m downright bigoted.” Whatever it is, he hues to well-documented facts, which he records with comic overtones and the end result is delightful reading. He is the past president of the Orange County Historical Society, lecturer, speaker, and listener.

At any meeting he is the quiet one, fondling his pipe, taking in that which he thinks is important and only voicing an opinion when called upon. At the ripe old age of 46 he became the founder-president of the Old Timers’ Annual Picnic. Only sudden death can keep a member from missing one of these events, held in late June, rain or shine, at Santiago Park on North Main Street in Santa Ana. That day Jim becomes host and president.
For several years, Jim was staff historian for the Irvine Company. He wrote and edited their San Joaquin Gazette, starting with a Christmas edition in 1966. It took his readers on a 130-mile stagecoach trip from San Diego to Los Angeles, which included “43 miles of bladder-busting road,” with stops and pictures of Anaheim, Tustin, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano in the fifties and sixties. This issue and all others that followed were instant collectors’ items, as are all his writings.
Jim Sleeper’s other accomplishments include his Orange County Almanacs, replete with a hole plugged in the left hand corner of their bright orange covers, through which a cord could be run, for hanging purposes, for easy reading in primitive locations.

Never has so much been crammed into so little space, for Jim is the master of the footnote. It is positively unsafe to skip even one line of the fine print, for you may unearth your own family skeleton in some remote corner. Don’t be afraid to resort to the use of a magnifying glass, for the rewards are great. He also includes pictures of old and young people, places and things. His tables of contents include such gems as, “Tried and True Health Remedies; Rainfall Records; Handy Argument Settlers; Wild Animal Log Book; Official City Flowers; Bumper Crop Reports; and Pithy Political Promulgations.” There are also some puzzles and his favorite recipe for orange spice cake.

The space usually reserved for fillers by other authors is used by Jim to record his own musings, such as, “Ecology boils down to whether someone is going to build a house blocking your view; Justice is when your side wins; He who cuts his own firewood is twice warmed;” and to farmers, “Don’t plant your land. Wait for a developer to make an offer, then haggle like hell.”

Jim’s full-length book, Turn the Rascals Out, published in 1973, is advertised as the story of Orange County’s Fighting Editor, Dan M. Baker, but in it he follows his man from one end of the U.S. to the other and his stormy publishing activities in Orange and Los Angeles Counties. It is a scholarly piece of writing, replete with indexes, annotations, and a fat bibliography, but it is never dull. The book is dedicated to the late John “Sky” Dunlap, a gentleman-journalist who assisted and encouraged so may writers on their way up.

Jim is not a selfish historian, for if he comes across an old clipping or a quote, he’ll pass it along. Recently, he sent Miss Lorna Mills a faded clip, dated August 10, 1900, from the Santa Ana Weekly Blade. It was about her Uncle Fred B. Mills, who lived on a ranch at Ocean View, now Huntington Beach. While digging for a water well he discovered bitumen at a depth of 125 feet. He was sure there was coal thereabouts and his neighbors were heating and lighting their homes from their own gas wells nearby. However, Lorna’s Uncle Fred preferred to go on raising celery which was bringing a fine profit,” without the element of uncertainty incident to mining ventures and oil drilling propositions.” Then came the Huntington Beach boom! Lorna’s uncle and her beloved Dad, the late James H. Mills had other distractions, as Jim Sleeper reports on page 54 of his 2nd Almanac, under the title “Ducks.” “Firing only a single barrel, Fred managed to down 35 wild ducks. The following day he added 32 more sprig in the same fashion.”

The best way to explain Jim Sleeper’s sense of humor is to refer to page 4 of his 2nd Almanac, where Mrs. Calvin Lambert of Tustin wrote, “I enjoyed the Almanac so much and thank you and your wife for getting you to do it. Please write another and tell us her name.” Jim’s answer, immediately below, “Her name is Mrs. Sleeper.”

I ran that one down in the fine print, where he hides that which he prizes most, and it said, “Her name is Nola and she is a school marm.” The Sleepers have a rustic retreat in the mountain area of Holy Jim Canyon and a home in Tustin, where Jim answers the phone.