Early Stories of Ojai, Part IX (Dog Fights)

Early Stories of Ojai, Part IX (Dog Fights) by Howard Bald

Note: Howard Bald was an early Ojai resident. His reminiscences were written in the early 1970s.

Another well known character of that day was a brawny, brawling Irishman named Tim Dundon. His main hobby was fighting bull dogs. His most famous fighting dog was named Sharkey. A fight was arranged between Sharkey and Fitz (named after the famous prize fighter of that time, Fitzimmons). The fight was held on a Sunday afternoon (about 1902) in a secluded oak-shaded dell in the neighborhood of the Highland Estates.

Fitz was from Oxnard, and most of his backers were from Oxnard. There was an abundance of liquor and the betting was heavy. Tim engaged a horse and cart from the livery stable, and I drove him down with Sharkey between his legs. Some spectators arrived on horseback, some in buggies and some with team and wagon.

I believe the Oxnard delegation arrived in Ventura via train, then rented livery horses for the rest of the journey. I remember that Tim had sixty-five dollars all in gold. He gave me a five dollar gold piece to bet on Sharkey.

After most everyone got pretty well liquored up and the bets were placed, the fight began. Some aspects of it are now rather dim in my memory, such as how long the rounds were and how many were fought. But each handler had a bucket of water, a sponge and towels. Sharkey was the smaller of the two dogs and got the worst of it from the start, but Sharkey was game. Some spectators tried to persuade Tim to throw in the sponge, but he refused.

It looked pretty hopeless for the smaller animal. He could scarcely stand, but he fought on. These dogs I believe were called English bulls, and were snow white. That is, they were white when the fight began, but soon became crimson.

Just when it seemed that Sharkey couldn’t last for another round, Fitz broke loose, turned tail and ran with Sharkey staggering bravely after him. With that Tim grabbed up his dog and claimed the bets. A near riot followed, for Sharkey was badly beaten dog, though he was willing to fight on when the larger dog quit and refused to fight.

Tim stood his ground and collected his bets. Several of those present in my knowledge later became leading citizens and law enforcement officers of Ventura County.

One more little anecdote before going on to happenings of a more lawful nature. It involves the robbing of the Ojai State Bank. George Downing was a widower with two young children. He had been a laborer on the Stetson Ranch, now Col. Frank Noyes’) but left, and moved to town and was working intermittently at the livery stable mostly driving winter tourists about the valley with a team and surrey.

The Ojai Bank had just two employees. The manager, and cashier was Edward Weist. Miss Mable Isenberg was teller and bookkeeper. This noon Mr. Weist was out to lunch and Miss Isenberg was alone when a masked man entered, displayed a gun and demanded the money. Miss Isengerg handed out quite a sum of cash, and the bank robber departed.

Of course the news soon spread, and there was great excitement throughout the valley. That afternoon, as usual, George Downing was driving several elderly ladies from the Foothills Hotel about the valley, and naturally the bank robbery was the chief topic of conversation. At one point George revealed a six-shooter and announced that he was prepared for the bandit.

But Miss Isenberg had recognized George behind the mask and told the men from the sheriff’s office. For several days they kept Downing under surveillance and then one night at Raddick’s pool hall, when he seemed unusually flush with cash, the officers walked in and said, “Well, George, show us the rest of it.”

Note: Other stories about the bank robbery have it that Miss Isenberg recognized George’s boots.

Early Stories of Ojai, Part VIII (Horses)

Early Stories of Ojai, Part VIII (Horses) by Howard Bald

Note: Howard Bald was an early Ojai resident. His reminiscences were written in the early 1970s.

Having a fondness for horses, the livery stable* was the center of much of my attention. I was out of school a good deal and the livery stable was handy. Since horse and buggy, or wagon, or saddle horse was the only means of getting around (except for walking, and there was a great deal of that) there was a great deal of traffic in horses, that is trading and training horses.

Once, about 1903, Tom Clark went to Arizona and shipped in two carloads of unbroken horses. They were right off the range and not even halter broken. Two Spaniards were employed to break certain ones to ride. The corrals were in between the stable and the parking lot.

The bronc riders would lasso and drag a terrified rearing and striking horse onto Main street, where he would be blindfolded, saddled, and mounted in front of the livery stable. Then sometimes would follow some very exciting scenes. Our modern rodeos were pretty mild by comparison. In the first place the animal was not saddled in a shute as at rodeos, and secondly it was not a ten second ride but a ride to the finish, and sometimes the bronc came out the winner.

I remember one bronco in particular. He was a chestnut and far above the others in appearance. He had thrown the Spaniard twice, and the Spaniard had given up trying to ride him. My father fancied the animal and struck Tom for a trade. It galled Dad when Tom told him he wasn’t horseman enough to ride the animal and it might hurt him, but finally a trade was made.

Then for three weeks Dad kept “Arizona Charley” at his stable, each day grooming him and getting acquainted. Finally, with no one around, Dad saddled him and got aboard. The scene that followed was the talk of the village for many years after. They crossed the open lot where Rains store now is, and through the alley west of Barrow’s hardware store and east of Main street.

The more Charley bucked, the more incensed he became at being unable to dislodge Dad, and the louder he bellowed. To my everlasting disappointment, I was not a witness to the affair, but many eyewitnesses for years have told me that the bronc could be heard for blocks bellowing with rage.

I don’t remember that Arizona Charley ever bucked after that, but he never became gentle and was finally sold in Santa Barbara for a polo pony.

Some horses of that lot were trained for driving. A very handsome Spaniard and a fine horseman named Steve Rios was employed for that job. A high seated, heavy farm wagon was used, for the broncos would kick an ordinary buckboard or surrey to pieces. That animal was always hitched alongside an old steady horse.

Steve would be up in the seat; two or more helpers would get the team hitched to the wagon, then hand the reins up to Steve. Often that process had to be done all over again with another, more substantial wagon, or repaired harness.

To me the bronc riding was the most exciting, I suppose because it was beast against man, and sometimes the beast would win. Whereas with the wagon, the odds were greatly against the horse.

* The livery stable was located on the northeast corner of Ojai Avenue and Signal Street.

Early Stories of Ojai, Part VII (Downtown Nordhoff)

Early Stories of Ojai, Part VII (Downtown Nordhoff) by Howard Bald
Written in 1972 by longtime Ojai resident Howard Bald.

Main Street of Nordhoff

Nordhoff (now Ojai) has generally been described as a quiet, peaceful little place, and generally it was. Several oak trees strung along Main Street from Tom Clark’s livery stable [Ojai Village Pharmacy] to Schroff’s harness shop [Ojai Cleaners] furnished the only shade, for there was no arcade until 1917.

There were three gaps in the row of buildings on the north side of Main Street. One was between Lagomarsino’s saloon and Archie McDonald’s blacksmith shop at the east end of the business block [the Hub], and Barrow’s hardware store stood alone. There was an alley on both the east and west side of that building, which I think was the site of the present hardware store [Rains].

Corner of Montgomery and Main looking west.

The east alley was used by pedestrians. I think the board sidewalk prevented vehicles going through. But the sidewalk ended at the west corner of Barrow’s hardware, so that alley was quite generally used by horsemen as well as pedestrians.

West of that alley was Bray’s plumbing shop, and from there on to Signal street was the livery stable with its buggy sheds, corrals, and hay sheds. West of Signal on the site of the Oaks Hotel stood a small, whitewashed, clapboard building where Chet Cagnacci was born at the turn of the century and later, I believe, Tommie Clark.

Corner of Signal and Main, looking east.

Across the street about the site of Van Dyke’s Travel Agency [Library Book Store] stood Dave Raddick’s residence, then easterly a break then the meat market [The Jester]. On the southwest corner of Signal and Main was The Ojai newspaper printing office where the theater now stands and easterly across the street, where the present post office is located, was Charley Gibson’s blacksmith shop. There was a gap between the blacksmith shop and Lauch Orton’s plumbing shop, the barber shop and post office. Through that gap could be seen the Berry Villa, which is now the Post office employee parking place.

A little distance east of the post office, briefly, stood C.B. Stevens little grocery store, then the entrance and exit to the Ojai Inn, which is now our city park. A leaky, redwood horse trough and a hitch rail extended onto the barranca. It was always shady, and teams of horses and buggies were customarily tied there while the out of town folks did their shopping.

The Ojai Inn.

I once had a Plymouth Rock hen who would bring her brood through the alley between the saloon and blacksmith shop to scratch around where the horses were tied. Sometimes she would miscalculate and be overtaken by darkness, so hen and chicks would simply fly up on a vacant spot on the hitch rail and settle down for the night. Our stable and chicken coop was just back of Dr. Hirsch’s office [Dr. Phelps], and more than once at about bedtime, I would carry them back to their own nest.

Schroff’s harness shop east of the barranca stood high enough from the ground that one could step from a saddle horse onto the porch, which was convenient for ladies riding sidesaddle to dismount and mount.

The corner of South Montgomery and Main was open and was used mainly by Thacher boys to tie their

Presbyterian Church on southeast corner of Main & Montgomery.

horses while attending services at the Presbyterian church, which then stood where [Jersey Mike’s] parking lot now is. That building is now the Nazarene Church [Byron Katie’s headquarters] on N. Montgomery and Aliso.

I could go on and on and on with details of the village of Nordhoff at the turn of the century, but I fear that would become too boring, so I will get on with some of my memories of the activities of the time.

Early Stories of Ojai, Part I

Early Ojai Stories, Part One by Howard Bald

Note: Howard Bald was an early Ojai resident.  His reminiscences were written in the early 1970s.

The Ojai Valley in those days was a popular winter resort for wealthy eastern people who would come out for the winter.

Other than playing tennis and cards, about the only entertainment was horseback riding, and for the elder people, a team and surrey with a driver would trot them about the valley, up Matilija Canyon (the road ended at Wheeler’s Hot Springs) up through the Upper Ojai valley and onto Sulphur mountain, or over to Shepherds Inn via Casitas Pass and sometimes on to Santa Barbara. Shepherd’s Inn, situated on the line between Santa Barbara and Ventura County was a popular, rustic inn frequented by both Santa Barbara and Ojai tourists.

The Casitas Pass was approached only via what is now Foster Park, and the road followed along the foot of the north side of Red mountain. But the east and west passes were virtually the same as of today. One popular ride was to follow the beach from the Rincon to Ventura when the tide was low. I believe it was sometimes done with team and wagon. I did it only on saddle horse.

The livery stable was not only the site of horse trading and training, but also some lively prize fights were held there, sometimes right out on the street and sometimes in the stable. When held inside buggies would be crammed into a corner to make room for the spectators. Some of the younger fry had their first lessons in boxing there.

I well remember one time when the men had Mayor Smith and me matched together. We were fairly evenly matched and things were going smoothly until Mayor glanced over his shoulder to see how near he was to a horse’s heels in a nearby stall. At that instant I uncorked a left to Mayor’s jaw. Mayor considered that unfair tactics and retaliated with all he had. The riot was quelled by Sam (Mayor’s father) dragging him across the street to their home back of the post office.

Occasionally the village quietness was broken by a local hoodlum riding his horse down the boardwalk, and if a Chinaman happened to be within reach, wrapping the end of his cue around the pommel of his saddle and galloping to the the end of the boardwalk. (The Chinese all wore a long single braid down their back. I’ll mention them in particular later.)

One smart alec rode into Clyde Stewart’s grocery store and roped a fellow and dragged him over the counter. But that episode is getting into the second decade and I am trying to confine myself to the first decade. And besides, that smart alec (notice I don’t use the term hoodlum) was myself.

One November night the village stillness was suddenly shattered by a series of pistol shots accompanied by unearthly yells. It turned out to be only Johnny Joshlin celebrating the beginning of the fall rains. After emptying two six-shooters, he returned to Lagomarsino’s saloon and all was quiet again. Now I wonder how Johnny happed to have two six-shooters, for he was not a gunman.

The only law enforcement officer the valley had was constable Andy Van Curren. He was a familiar sight with his flowing gray beard, riding about the valley on an iron gray horse.

His home and the jail (they were separate buildings) occupied the area where the new Security Pacific Bank [Bank of America] and Loops restaurant [Cattywampus and Beacon Coffee] now stand.  [See Ojai’s First Jail, by Ed Wenig]

I don’t remember there ever being anything in the jail but spare coffins, for Andy sometimes acted as undertaker. I am sure that on such occasions he substituted the gray saddle horse for a team and spring wagon. (I have recently learned, though, that Mrs. Van Curren would prepare meals, and one of the small daughters would carry them over to the inmates.)

There was story of one of the valley’s most notorious rowdies (I will not mention his name, as it might offend highly respected present day descendents). His appearances before justice of the peace McKee were becoming rather frequent, and each time the fine would be a little higher. Finally, the judge fined him $10. The fellow blinked and with characteristic oath said, “Judge, ain’t that pretty steep for a regular customer?”

Another time Constable Van Curren called at his home to make an arrest. His mother met Van Curren at the front door and parlayed with him while the intended arrestee skipped out the kitchen door, saddled and mounted a horse, and rode off to the Upper Ojai.

“Reminiscences of Early Ojai” by Howard Bald, 1973