Castaic Range War

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Castaic Range War
Date 1890–1916
Location Castaic, California
Caused by Land disputes, family feud
Resulted in Jenkins victory
Parties to the civil conflict
William Willoby Jenkins
William C. Chormicle
Casualties
21–40 killed

The Castaic Range War, also known as the Jenkins-Chormicle Affair, was a range war that happened in Castaic, California from 1890 to 1916, between ranchers and farmers William Willoby Jenkins and William C. Chormicle who both staked claims on a piece of land in the territory. The feud started when Chormicle purchased 1,600 acres of the same land Jenkins had settled on years ago. When the dispute couldn't be settled on court, violence erupted between the two, lasting for over two decades, with dozens of men from both sides killed. It was one of the largest range wars in American history and one of the bloodiest events in the state.[1][2]

History[edit]

Background[edit]

William Willoby Jenkins was a rancher and gambler who staked a claim to land in Castaic, California in 1875, during the great migration West following the Homestead Acts in the late 19th Century.[1] He was 16 when he moved from Ohio to the Los Angeles area with his family in 1851. In Castaic, Jenkins ran a successful ranch, an oil company, and a profitable cat business during a rat infestation in the county.[1] He later developed a reputation as a gambler and gunman. At one time Jenkins was deputized as a Los Angeles County constable. In one incident, he was sent to repossess a guitar from a locally popular Mexican man named Antonio Ruiz. A fight broke out during which Jenkins shot and killed Ruiz. Jenkins was jailed to await trial for murder. A mob of about 200 Mexicans formed to lynch him; the sheriff was wounded during their failed attempt to swarm the jail. Jenkins later enlisted in the Los Angeles Rangers, a local militia. The group pursued the men who had shot the sheriff, arrested their leader, but later released him. By 1872, Jenkins staked a claim near Castaic Creek, building a ranch he called the Lazy Z.[1][2]

Feud[edit]

In 1890, another rancher and frontiersman by the name of William C. Chormicle settled nearby, claiming to have bought 1,600 acres of the same land as Jenkins from railroads. This claim conflicted with that by Jenkins and the two came into conflict. The men failed to resolve the dispute amicably in court and it escalated to violence. The same year, Jenkins sent three men onto the disputed land. Chormicle and William A. Gardner, a friend of his, fired on the intruders, killing two of them, while the third, escaped by horse. Chormicle and Gardner surrendered to the sheriff and a trial was set. They pleaded self-defense, saying that they were protecting the property. The trial lasted for 18 days in June 1890, one of the longest trials in Los Angeles County history at the time. Jenkins was infuriated when the jury found Chormicle and Gardner not guilty.[1][2]

The two men began to dispute mining, grazing, and water rights in addition to road building. A number of barns were burned on both sides, and men were killed in gun battles. In one incident, a young girl was killed in a crossfire. Later, forest ranger Robert Emmett Clark, appointed in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt, was sent to end the feud. Clark succeeded in keeping the peace until 1913, when he left Castaic. That year, Jenkins was shot in the chest at his Lazy Z home by a man working for Chormicle, but survived.[1][2] The feud continued, and a group of men working for Jenkins burned down William Gardner's house, killing him and some members of his family. Chormicle retaliated by having his rival's son, David Jenkins, lynched in Bouquet Canyon.[3][single source]

The long-running conflict began to draw to a close when Chormicle was shot to death in 1916. Jenkins had recovered not long before and was blamed by locals for the murder. Sometime in the next few years, Jenkins was shot while herding cattle on the disputed land by a man named Billy Rose. Rose's, William B. Rose, had testified on Chormicle's behalf in the 1890 trial, and carried on the feud after Chormicle's death. Jenkins again survived, and the feud drew to a close. Jenkins eventually died of an illness in October 1919 while visiting relatives in Los Angeles. He was either 84 or 86, and had reportedly survived a total of seven gunshot wounds.[1][2]

In total, the Castaic Range War claimed the lives of 21[1][2] to 40 people.[4][single source]

Legacy[edit]

Today, much of the disputed land, near what is now the intersection of Lake Hughes Road and Castaic Road, is submerged under Castaic Lake behind Castaic Dam.[1][2] In 1998, workers at a housing development site unearthed the pine boxes containing the remains of an infant and four adult men. The site was believed to have been the site of the Jenkins family cemetery, and the bodies some of the final victims of the range war.[1] Bouquet Canyon, where William Jenkins's son David was killed, has been nicknamed both "Hangman's Canyon" or "Dead Man's Canyon", in reference to the lynching.[5][single source]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rasmussen, Cecilia (April 15, 2001). "Castaic Range War Left Up to 21 Dead". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gray, Peter C. (February 20, 2011). "The Great Castaic Range War". The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. Retrieved December 20, 2015. 
  3. ^ Boston, John (8 April 2009). Santa Clarita Valley (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-0738569383. .
  4. ^ Pollack, Allan (10 September 2012). Legendary Locals of the Santa Clarita Valley, California. Arcadia Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1467100274. 
  5. ^ Boston, John (8 April 2009). Santa Clarita Valley (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. p. 32. ISBN 978-0738569383. .

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