Black Star Canyon is a very remote location that is found in the Santa Ana Mountains in Southern California. The canyon’s name sounds ominous, so it is fitting that its bloody history, stories and legends can be a bit spooky as well…
The Tongva-Gabrieliño tribe and early Spanish, Mexican and American eras
Historians consider Black Star Canyon an important archaeological site since many artifacts from the Tongva-Gabrieliño Native American tribe have been found there. These artifacts have provided clues as to how the Tongva people lived.
“It is known that many of the native Tongva people fled to the mountains in the summer, searching not only for relief from the heat, but also for acorns, their main source of food, which were easy to find among the canyon’s many mature oak trees. It is very likely that the settlement – located in the upper part of the canyon – was inhabited for only part of the year.”
Since the grizzly bear population was much higher back then than it is now, Indian settlements in the Santa Anas were sparse at best. Many relocated to desolate areas, such as Black Star or Bell Canyon, where grizzlies did not frequent much. Archaeologists have found signs of habitation, such as ‘pothole grinding rocks‘ and other tools used by tribe members at the time.
In 1831, an armed confrontation between American fur trappers and the Tongva Indians occurred. Recounted by settler J.E. Pleasants and led by William Wolfskill, the trappers traveled from New Mexico to modern-day California in pursuit of horse thieves who were thought to be from the Indian tribe. Spaniards (Mexicans) owned the stolen horses and were susceptible to these thieves after their ranches were left defenseless as a result of the disbandment of missions, fortifications and settlements that provided support and protection.
Armed with rifles and various other weapons, the American trappers, looking to please the Spaniards and improve relations between the two nations, eventually arrived at the Santa Ana River and moved eastward through Villa Park and up Santiago Canyon. The men traversed carefully through rough terrain, which included mountains and heavy brush, knowing that after every turn, there was a prime opportunity for a devastating ambush.
After a few hours of climbing, the trappers eventually reached a windswept plateau where they were afforded a strategic vantage point. In the distance, smoke billowed from Indian bonfires while the inhabitants feasted on horse meat.
According to the original story:
“Perhaps it was the crack of a long rifle, the staggering of a mortally wounded Indian that gave the natives their first warning of the presence of an enemy. Among the oaks and boulders an unequal battle was fought. There were no better marksmen on earth than these trappers. They had killed buffalo. They had fought the Comanche and Apache. They were a hardy, fearless lot, else they would not have made their way across the hundreds of miles of unknown mountain and desert that laid between New Mexico and California. The Indians were armed with a few old Spanish blunderbuss muskets and with bows and arrows.”
“The battle was soon over. Leaving their dead behind them, the Indians who escaped the bullets of the trappers scrambled down the side of the gorge and disappeared in the oaks and brush. Of those who had begun the fight, but a few got away. The stolen horses were quickly rounded up. Some of them were animals stolen months before. The herd was driven down the trail to the Santiago and a day or two later, the horses were delivered to their owners. In the battle, not one of the frontiersmen was wounded.”
In the late 1880s, coal deposits were discovered in the canyon, which prompted entrepreneurs, such as August Witte, to open mining companies. Witte’s operation, called Black Star Coal Mining Company, was founded in 1879 and gave the canyon the name we currently use.
A total of six to ten tons of coal was extracted from Witte’s mine (which included nearly 1000 feet of tunnel). Since the coal was considered low-grade, Witte, as well as the land owner, James Irvine, eventually lost interest in the operation. The Black Star Coal Mining Company was later dissolved and replaced by two other endeavors: the Santa Clara Mine and AT&SF Railroad. All mines ended up closing permanently in the early 20th century.
Many items and points of interest from the original mining company can still be found today in Black Star Canyon, including rusted mining picks and other equipment, scattered piles of (mostly unusable) coal and even fully-intact, but abandoned, mine shafts.
Brooke Staggs, a journalist for The Orange County Register, visited the area with Paranormal Investigators Matt Harvey and Cris Arranaga shortly before Halloween in October of 2013. In her article, she mentions sightings of ghostly “American Indian warriors” and a figure called “The Miner.”
During their travels along one of Black Star Canyon Road‘s many curves, Harvey stopped the small group and said, “This is where ‘The Miner’ walked out at me.” He recounted its appearance: a shadowy specter outfitted with mining tools.
Others have reported seeing similar entities; some even acting aggressively by knocking over personal items or “scratching” and “bruising” those who dare to explore the canyon in the wee hours of the night.
The ‘Hidden Ranch’ in Black Star Canyon
In 1899, the canyon was almost completely devoid of both miners and Native Americans. Homesteaders from Mexico and the United States settled down in the area, hoping to start a new life for themselves and their families.
A piece of property called ‘Hidden Ranch‘ was owned by Henry Hungerford, who hailed from the city of Norwalk, and George M. Howard of Anaheim. Hungerford’s brother, Thomas, also resided on the ranch.
Author Terry E. Stephenson wrote about the tragedy that occurred at the location in his book, Shadows of Old Saddleback:
“On the evening of June 8, James M. Gregg of Centralia and his brother-in-law, Decatur Harris, and a 13-year-old boy, Clinton Hunt, arrived for the purpose of driving out some stock that Gregg owned. Gregg and Henry Hungerford quarreled. It seems that Howard owed Gregg $10 on a horse trade, and Gregg insisted that Hungerford and Howard accept $7.50 in settlement of their pasturage bill of $17.50.”
“That night, Gregg, Harris and the boy slept on the ground in front of the house. When Gregg was rolling up his blankets the next morning, Henry Hungerford came out and the dispute resumed. It ended in shooting. The Hungerfords, each armed with a shotgun, and Gregg, with a revolver, fought it out. When the shooting ceased, Gregg was on the ground with charges of birdshot and buckshot through him. The Hungerfords hitched up a horse and drove down Black Star and on into Santa Ana, where they gave themselves up to Sheriff Theo Lacy. In the meantime, Gregg was laid in a spring wagon by Harris and the boy and was being taken to a doctor when, near the Irvine Park in Santiago canyon, the wagon was met by Sheriff Lacy and District Attorney R. Y. Williams. A doctor was found at El Modena and it was at a house in El Modena that Gregg died.”
Visitors to the area where Gregg was shot often tell about feeling an eerie presence, as if the murdered man has lingered there since the time of his death. Some have even seen a ghostly vision out of the corner of their eye or moving in between nearby trees.
Another tragedy took place decades later in 1970. Website Only in Your State reports:
“There was a school bus that traveled the area on a daily basis as part of its route. On one school day a freak accident occurred and the driver lost control of the bus. It spiraled into Black Star Canyon killing most everyone on board, including the school children. The crashed bus remained on the property until 2012. People have reported over the years that as they got close to the bus they could see ghostly apparitions that appeared to be children trying to get away from the vehicle.”
Image Credit: Vincent L. Long
Beginning in the 1980s, Black Star Canyon became a popular hiking destination due to many of the stories and urban legends we’ve discussed so far. Enthusiasts from all over the country, and perhaps even the world, began exploring the canyon in hopes of catching a peek at something paranormal. Although, what some of them discovered might have been more than they bargained for.
“…The canyon was used as a meeting place for a Satanic cult. Hikers often mistook the cult to be the Ku Klux Klan, since many bonfires were seen in the canyon during the cult’s gatherings.”
“…We drove up to the canyon road and got out because the road is blocked off at the entrance. As we walked away, my friend quickly locked the door and we descended into the canyon. It felt as though the darkness engulfed us the deeper we went. We would pass by random shacks and trees that looked like people. Suddenly, we heard a loud unholy screech…”
“…Reluctantly, we pressed on.”
“We eventually saw a hole in the ground next to a shack. I realized it was an old pool. It looked really old and weathered as vines crept in and cracks grew in the walls. The pool was filled with what looked like trash, but as I looked at it longer, I noticed a table with four sets of ropes at each corner, candles, and a large white star. One thought came to my mind: Satanists…”
“…Someone in our group yelled at us from a distance, ‘Hey guys, you gotta see this!'”
“We walked over to the shack and my body went numb with fear. The shack was like a necromancer’s workshop. There were diagrams for rituals, a chalk pentagram on the floor with candles at each point, what looked like a ram’s skull, some dead rabbits hanging from a laundry line, a chalice [and] a bloody knife.”
The user then describes how just as they were about to leave, ten people dressed in white robes, with hoods covering their faces, appeared. While hidden, the man and his friends witnessed a strange ritual involving animal sacrifices.
Whether the story is true or not is unknown, but given the various accounts of satanic activity in the area, it may very well be.
Have you ever visited Black Star Canyon? If so, leave a comment below and tell us about your experience.
Main image credit: The Orange County Register
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