Cut - Treasure Hunting A Pioneer Passage
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
Get up there!" The freight boss yelled as he cracked his lengthy
whip just above the heads of the struggling team of horses. Pulling
the loaded 35-ton freight wagons through Fremont's Pass was not an
easy chore, but the pass was the only way into Los Angeles from Northern
California that made sense.
wagon wheels kicked up a tremendous amount of dirt and dust causing
most people in the immediate area to don wet bandannas so they wouldn't
have to breathe the choking air. Most passengers were forced to
walk along side the wagons to lighten the load. Some even had to
get out and help rotate the wheels through the irregular ruts. As
the wagons rolled by me, dust choked my throat and I felt like I
had to sneeze. The activity seemed to whirl around me. Men walked
by carrying satchels, ladies in bonnets with kids in tow floated
by, and the occasional dog stopped to sniff at my trousers. Someone
kicked at my foot and.....
Treasure Hunter Judy Thompson
uses her Spectrum in the "ghost passage" known as
"Beale's Cut" which is found in the San Fernando
Pass. This article was first featured with cover photo in
Treasure Facts Magazine. Oct 1996.
It was Judy
Thompson, my treasure-hunting partner for this trip, tapping on
my foot. I must have dozed off after eating lunch. I shook the cobwebs
from my head and the visions of wagons and pioneers went scurrying
to the faraway corners of my mind. "Where ya been Jake?"
Judy chuckled. "Oh, I was here all right," I said. "But
I think I just went back in time about 150 years ago." "Wow,
was that a realistic dream or what?" I thought to myself. "What
do ya say, should we get back to work?" Judy asked. I jumped
up and without another word we went to it.
This was my
first trip to this particular "ghost passage" but, it
certainly would not be my last. I recruited Judy to go along with
me on this trip due to her fifteen years of metal detecting and
treasure hunting experience. After telling her of my research on
this area I could barely hold her back.
I came upon
this particular site just after researching Route 66, the "Mother
Road." While daydreaming at my desk I thought to myself, "are
the major routes and gateways into and out of the city the same
as the ones the pioneers used?" Well, I had to find out for
myself and it wasn't long before I read about a major gateway from
Southern California to the north known by a couple of different
names. One was Fremont's Pass and the other was San Fernando Pass.
to me that perhaps these routes were still in use with some minor
re-alignments to accommodate engineering and the progression of
modern vehicles. So, maps in hand I headed out to the area to scout
it out and there just a stones throw away from perhaps the worlds
busiest freeway, Interstate 5, was a lesser known route that as
I snooped around more revealed the original dirt roadway. I went
back to my library and pulled every book I could find that mentioned
Southern California and slowly the story of the San Fernando Pass
came to light.
The pass was
first used in August of 1769 by Don Gaspar de Portola who was looking
for a route to the north to follow out the orders of King Charles
III of Spain, which were to colonize Alta California. Once through
the pass he turned west down the Santa Clara River valley to the
coast and then north to Monterey Bay. Once the mission was founded
at Monterey travelers used this route extensively.
About six years later Father Francisco Garces pushed north from
the pass and pioneered the trail north through the Tehachapis Mountains
into the interior of California. Later another route was discovered
that led from the San Fernando Pass northeast into the Antelope
Valley. "This is great, I thought, a major pass out of the
city used over 200 years ago just out of site from millions of Californian's
and I know just where it is."
I left the
Spanish explorers and headed down the time trail to the first discovery
of gold. No, not Sutters Mill but in Placerita Canyon just a few
miles away. In the year 1842 Francisco Lopez found the golden nuggets
clinging to the roots of wild onions and it wasn't long before a
rush of prospectors from Sonora, Mexico moved into the region. Soon
gold was being shipped from the district to the mint in Philadelphia
and it all went through the San Fernando Pass.
Maj. General John C. Freemont.
From Abbot's Civil War.
As time went
on the traffic increased through the pass being traveled by miners,
merchants and soldiers. General John C. Fremont marched troops through
the pass on his way to sign the Cahuenga Capitulation Treaty which
ended the war with Mexico. At that time the pass was named Fremont's
It was a very
steep climb for wagons and at the very top was a four-foot step
that caused many passengers to have to disembark and help push the
wagon over the top. Sometimes wagons were unable to make the grade
and rolled down the mountainside.
After the discovery
of gold in the north in 1848 and the founding of Fort Tejon in 1854,
also in the north, pressure was put on the government to build a
better road. A toll road was started and by 1855 it was open for
traffic. They say it was still a fearsome ride. Folks still had
to get out and push and one description of the pass has the wagons
beating the horses to the bottom of the hill.
This slot called, "Beale's
Cut" was dug by pick and shovel in 1859. It was a major
pass from Los Angeles to the northern part of the state.
landowner E. F. Beale, having traveled the pass for personal reasons
many times, decided to do something about the dangerous conditions.
In 1859 he took fifty men and with simple hand tools he made a cut
in the mountain side 50 yards long, 65 feet high, and twenty feet
wide. Finally the wagons could pass through with reasonable ease.
In 1862 Beale was awarded the franchise for the toll road. Wagons
were charged a quarter and passengers were charged ten cents. A
team of horse was kept nearby to assist wagons in getting over as
the hill which was still quite steep, especially for the 35 ton
loaded freight wagons. Thankful teamsters named the area Beale's
Cut. Soon the name Fremont's Pass was forgotten and San Fernando
Pass was again adopted, but the slot in the sandstone mountain will
forever be known as Beale's Cut.
In the years
that followed, the San Fernando Pass and namely the Beale's Cut
area became Los Angeles's first traffic and air pollution problems.
Wagons became backed up waiting to get through the toll road because
it was so popular. In the dry months the wagons kicked up so much
dirt people could barely see. Sprinkler wagons were brought in to
wet the area down. Staging areas were set up for stages and passengers
to wait in turn while the wagons went through.
These slots held the tollbooth
roof beams, which spanned "Beale's Cut." You can
still make out the pick marks over 140 years old in the sandstone.
The pass was
used until the early 1900's and did get to see its first car, a
1902 Autocar. The car had to go up the hill backwards due to its
gravity flow of gasoline to the carburetor. On the decent the wheels
were chained to keep some semblance of control.
A tunnel replaced
the use of the pass in 1910 and that in turn was made obsolete by
the building of four lane highways in 1939.
I think you
can understand why we were excited to hunt this site. Visions of
Spanish explorers, Civil War soldiers, and merchants crossing through
the pass dropping coins along the way for us to follow with our
Spectrum detector's. All we had to do is walk along and pick them
up! Wrong! After five long hours of working the Beale's Cut we had
little to show for our troubles. Old nails, a few bullets, and a
brass knob from a chest of drawers. There was little if any trash
at the site, which was a good sign that it truly had not seen much
traffic since the thirties. After some analysis we determined that
there was an overburden of sand that may have dropped off the sides
of the cut and may have added as much as two feet to the floor of
and my little cat nap, Judy worked an area just over the hill and
I went above the cut finding an old trail that led from one side
of the cut to the other. From my vantage point on top of the mountain
I could see the spots that appeared to be the staging areas and
the likely spots a wagon might have flipped over spewing its wares
across the ground. Then, looking down into the cut from the top
was a dizzying site that brought me back down the trail holding
on to scrub bushes all the way.
I hate to say
that we were skunked that day. For Judy it was a first, for me,
well, I'm used to it. It was just one day though, and like Judy
told me, "It's here, we just have to find it."
more trips to the site in the future and I plan to investigate more
old roadways since I enjoyed my trip to the "ghost passage"
1. Russ Leadabrand,
A Guidebook To The San Gabriel Mountains of California, Ward Ritchie
2. Andy Griffin, Gypsy Jaunts, 1964.
3. Don J. Baxter, Gateways to California, Pacific Gas and Electric
4. Allan Nevins, Fremont Pathmarker of the West, D. Appleton-Century