John Boston's Time Ranger & SCV History: When Pirates Attacked the Saugus Speedway

Posted on: 06/22/2017 00:00

For some — especially the unwashed masses who recently moved here — it can be a mystery as to how their particular town earned its handle.

Saugus, for example, was taken from the ancient city of Saugus, Mass., birthplace of 19th-century force of nature and millionaire, Henry Mayo Newhall.

The word, “Saugus,” comes from the Narragasut Indian word, meaning: “Sandy spit of land.”

I’ll lay off the “spit” straightlines.

For a while.

A smidge back, I got a call from the editor of the Saugus Advertiser, the daily newspaper in our sister city in New England. They were compiling a special edition featuring Saugus, Calif. The editor asked if I could donate something that linked the two cities.

For about 20 years, I taught a class on the history of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The very first lesson I gave is one from kindergarten. It’s a game called Telephone. I always take the first person in the first row, stage right, pull them aside and whisper — several times — the same, exact sentence:

“Ten Wolves — was the war chief — who first discovered — the Santa Clara river valley — in 1066 B.C.”

It’s a nonsensical statement, completely made up and relating to nothing. It’s just a test to show the students how something simple can get lost in translation after translation, telling after re-telling.

You know. Like history?

Or journalism?

I used to let the silly little ditty get all the way around class. Over the years, I started stopping it first half-way, then when it got to the end of the first row. A few times, out of wickedness, I’d ask the second person to repeat the sentence.

It’s always, always wrong.

People hear things incorrectly.

So it was with the fable of the bloodthirsty pirates of Saugus, California, back in the early 1700s.

Our valley historian emeritus was this tall drink of water and scholarly fellow named Arthur Buckingham Perkins. Ol’ A.B. passed along this story scanning 60 years about how a band of cutthroat brigands had been raiding the foggy coastline along Ventura and Santa Barbara.

This always struck me as odd.

In the early 1700s, there were maybe eight white people from Mexico to Washington state. That number may have actually been closer to zero.

Still. Mr. Perkins was a creature as close to an intellectual god as you can get in Southern California and his word was never questioned.

These pirates caused such a reign of terror, that Spanish sailors were sent to bring them to justice. A posse of musket-wielding navy men finally found the band of buccaneers, engaged in a brief scrimmage, then chased them up our mighty Santa Clara River.

There’s another part of the tale that made me wince.

Our valley is bisected by the Santa Clara. It runs about 70 miles to the sea. It’s one of those peculiar California desert rivers. In a severe flash flood, you could float a nuclear aircraft carrier on it. Most of the time, you’d pretty much have to carry your canoe. Sailing upstream?

That would require a mighty wind.

Still. The story comes from A.B. Perkins. One would be safer questioning the New Testament.

The sailors finally caught up with the pirates near a present-day monument called The Saugus Speedway. It was a world-famous rodeo ground in its day. Later, it was used for Figure 8 stock car racing and now, it’s a flea-bitten weekend swap meet.

Firing single musket shot and engaging in hand-to-hand saber duels, the Spanish sailors backed the faltering but fierce coastal raiders into a nearby cave.

Another wince.

I grew up out here.

There are no caves in that area.

On the other hand, the sailors supposedly sailed up the dry riverbed with a large cache of dynamite (which, I don’t believe, had been invented yet). They blew up the entrance to the cave with the pirates still in it.


The pirates had a fabulous (and extremely heavy) treasure they had brought with them. Note again:


Up stream.

In a dry river.

One thing about the Saugus, California area. We supposedly have more misplaced buried treasures from forgotten gold mines, outlaws, Indians, crooked politicians and pirates than the late King Solomon. In my class, I always offer extra credit should any of my students actually bring in a cache of gold, emeralds or someone’s unsigned platinum Visa card.

As lower case rural historians do, I was rummaging through some dusty archives a few years back. There, I came upon a story that made me smile, followed by a good jag of solitary laughter.

It seems that in the mid-1940s, an odd happenstance occurred here.

A teacher— from Saugus, Mass. — retired here — to Saugus, Calif.

He recalled his hometown’s rich history and shared a fable.

Yes. It was about pirates terrorizing the eastern coast of Mass. British soldiers chased the brigands inland. Big battle. Bad guys retreated into a cave with their loot. The redcoats sealed the cave tighter than Tupperware, burying the pirates alive.

I don’t know how many retellings it took before the sharp edges of fact were filed off. But, soon, the bothersome detail of location was lost.

East coast.

West coast.


Today, Saugus, Mass., is an ancient treasure trove of American history. There’s two graveyards. The “new” one starts with people buried there from 1776, I believe. The “old” cemetery goes back to early American history into the 1500s. Not only is Saugus the birthplace of Newhall’s founder (Henry Mayo Newhall), it’s also the home town of: Nathan Miles (inventor of the elevator); Stephen Bachiler (the remarkable 16th-century Saugusian, minister, gunpowder maker and creator of a movement to separate church and state); Wade Boggs (the baseball guy?); Michael Cresta (Scrabble genius); Deborah Moody (the only woman to found a colony in America); Josiah Warren (America’s first anarchist); and William Moulton Marston (feminist, psychologist and the comic book writer who created “Wonder Woman” and, aren’t they all?).

But, who knows and who am I to say?

Perhaps today, there are the skeletons of pirates in a Saugus, Kansas or Saugus, Argentina, clutching a fabulous fortune to their bony chests.

While I don’t teach my class any more, I’d be happy to assign valuable extra credit points to you if you bring in the treasure.


Any treasure.

No questions asked.


Until the next time I see you — vayan con Dios, amigos!


(SCV Historian John Boston also writes The John Boston Report blog for your SCV Beacon. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website — http://www.johnbostonchronicles.com/ —you’ll be smiling for a week…) — © 2017 by John Boston. All rights reserved.

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Order Boston’s gripping international thriller, ADAM HENRY


AND THEN, order his 5-star cult classic adventure comedy novel, NAKED CAME THE SASQUATCH




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