Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 9)

The following article was written by Howard Bald and appeared in the May 30, 1973 edition of the Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission. Bald used the same titled for his many articles. So, this article has “(No. 9)” added by the Ojai Valley Museum.

Reminiscences of Early Ojai (No. 9)
Howard Bald

A much later resident of the Sespe was a moronic homesteader named Jake Hartman, after whom the Hartman place was named. (I believe it is now used by the Forest Service as a guard station.)

Jake’s fame stemmed mostly from entertaining Sespe campers with tales of the men he had killed or was about to kill.

Earle Stanley Gardner, who was a Ventura attorney of that period, was greatly amused with Jake’s boasting and encouraged him to spin more yarns by suggesting that he kill someone, as things were slack in the law business.

Jake would wag his head, saying if the goldarn rangers and game wardens didn’t stop snooping around, he would have a job. Gardner would return to camp and tell me everything Jake had said, knowing that I was the only ranger or game warden in that areas, and that outwardly Jake and I were good friends.

An impressionable, overgrown, teenage boy and his mother had come to live with Jake, and it soon became the boy’s ambition to be a badman like his friend.

An elderly, rheumatic man camped most of that summer at the Sespe Hot Springs to soak in the hot mineral water. His camp was some six miles from the Hartman’s. A feud developed over the alleged theft of a gun, and Jake and the boy threatened to kill him if he didn’t leave the Sespe. I did what I could to cool off the two factions, my only fear being that they would beat him up.

At the end of the fire season, November 1917, I moved out of the Sespe and in two weeks was on my way to the forests of France. Shortly after that the boy shot and killed the old fellow. Although Jake was not present at the murder, the dimwitted kid certainly had plenty of encouragement from him.

The trial was held in Ventura, and I was told that Gardner put up a hard fight in his defense. But of course Gardner lost, and Billy was given a 10-year prison sentence. Mercifully he died before this term expired.

I don’t believe that Gardner got a penny for his services. And I was grateful that I was thousands of miles away, for I would have been a very poor witness for the defense and lawyer.

A few years ago I visited the old man’s grave site in a side canyon of the Sespe. There was not a name or date on the wooden cross, and I am not too sure now what his name was. But somehow “Corocoran” sticks in my mind. Since he came from the San Joaquin valley, it could have been that Corcoran was his home town.

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