by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As part of a major transportation route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield and points further north in California, Tejon Pass is traversed by the multi-lane Interstate 5. We tend to forget that the pass was also a route for native aboriginal peoples for many thousands of years and then as a main access point for Gold Rush cattle drives long before it was part of the Ridge Route, a two-lane highway, parts of which are still intact.
Several distinct Indian tribes resided in the area around Tejon Pass and Pedro Fages was an early European who, in the early 1770s, ventured through the region. In the early 1800s, the name of Cañada de las Uvas was bestowed on a section because of the wild grapevines found there–hence the name of “the Grapevine” frequently used today.
In the early 1840s, Governor Manuel Micheltorena, of the Mexican department of Alta California, granted the Rancho El Tejon to Antonio Aguirre and Ygnacio del Valle, the latter best known in Mexican-era Los Angeles politics and as owner of the Rancho Camulos along the Santa Clara River northwest of modern Santa Clarita.
When the Gold Rush erupted just after the American seizure of Alta California, greater Los Angeles’ rancheros used the Tejon Pass as part of the route to drive cattle up to the gold fields. Among these were Jonathan Temple, his younger half-brother, F.P.F., and the latter’s father-in-law, William Workman. The usual destination was the southern mines, especially Columbia, Sonora and Springfield in Tuolumne County.
In summer 1854, the federal government established Fort Tejon as an Army outpost in Grapevine Canyon, north of Tejon Pass, and it was stated that the reason was to both “protect and control the Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation” as well as to “protect both the Indians and white settlers from raids” by other Indians, including the Paiutes, Mojave and others from the interior deserts. The Fort had a brief life, closing after a decade, but it is now a state historic park.
A few years after it was established, the fort gave its name to one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded in California. The 9 January 1857 tremor, estimate to be about 8.0 on the Richter scale (which didn’t come along until much later, ran along the San Andreas Fault, which was ruptured for a few hundred miles. In sparsely populated Los Angeles, the shaking was intense, but loss of life and property damage limited. We are still, by the way, waiting for the next “Big One,” as we have not had an 8.0+ quake since.
Also in 1857, Aguirre sold his half interest in El Tejon to Jonathan Temple. Several years later, as the cattle industry was battered by the decline of the Gold Rush, competition from imported breeds of cattle, and flood and drought, Temple and del Valle sold the ranch to Edward F. Beale, an ambitious and enterprising former Army officer, who was a federal Indian agent with supervision over the natives in the Tejon area, and united the ranch with three others (Castac, La Liebre and Los Alamos y Agua Caliente into a much-expanded property.
At about the time Temple and del Valley sold Tejon to Beale, F.P.F. Temple and David W. Alexander acquired, through a sheriff’s tax sale, the nearby Rancho San Emigdio, which lay to the west. Despite the difficulties of the late 1850s through mid 1860s, there were still cattle being raised in the area and William Workman’s son, Joseph, who returned to California in 1854 in company with his uncle David Workman and family, settled at San Emigdio and remained there for over fifteen years.
So, Tejon, which was in was a part of the Workman and Temple family’s lives during the last years of what has often been called the “Rancho Era,” though conditions changed by the 1870s. Beale, however, was the master of a vast domain and also had land holdings in what became Santa Monica and also co-owned 5,000 acres of Workman’s portion of Rancho La Puente.
Beale died in 1893 and Tejon Ranch stayed with his family for about another two decades, but, in 1912, his son Truxtun (whose name was to be given to the seaside community that became Santa Monica) sold the ranch to a syndicate including prominent Los Angeles-area developer Moses H. Sherman and Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler.
The Tejon Ranch Company was formed and went public in the mid-1930s with the Chandler family often using the ranch for vacations before it sold its nearly one-third interest in the late 1990s. In recent years, the company has greatly expanded its development program, including commercial development and plans are underway for residential projects and more commercial uses, as well.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a great photograph taken on this date in 1924 and showing a part of Tejon Pass, including the narrow two-lane road traversing it along with the winding Tejon Creek, cultivated farm land, a ranch house, barn, other outbuildings, and some animals.
Taken from one side of the pass on a steep slope with short brush and chaparral, the view looks across to a broad swath of largely barren hillsides, perhaps due to intensive livestock grazing, and, in the distance, taller mountain peaks.
It is remarkable to look at this bucolic scene and then think about what it would have looked like some seventy years earlier when agriculture was likely non-existent, though livestock might have grazed those hills and seasonal cattle and sheep drives, like those for the Workman and Temple families, came through on the long six-week trip to the gold fields.
Then, we can imagine the busy interstate running through it today and filled with a different type of drive, those of autos and trucks making the run to and from greater Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. The higher elevations would not look markedly different, at least for now depending on much future development the Tejon Ranch Company carries out and where!