Castaic Range War

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Castaic Range War
Date 1890-1916
Caused by Land disputes, family feud
Resulted in Jenkins victory
Parties to the civil conflict
William Willoby Jenkins
Los Angeles Rangers
William C. Chormicle
Lead figures
Units involved
Casualties and losses
21-40 killed
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The Castaic Range War, also known as the Jenkins-Chormicle Affair, was a range war that happened in Castaic, California from 1890 to 1916, between ranchers and farmers William Willoby Jenkins and William C. Chormicle, who both staked claims on a piece of land in the territory. The feud started when Jenkins fell into a dispute with Chormicle when the latter purchased 1,600 acres of the same land he had settled in years ago. When the problem couldn't be settled on court, violence then erupted between the two which lasted for over two decades, in which dozens of men from both sides were killed and ended with the murder of William Chormicle. The Castaic affair was one of the largest range war in American history, as well as becoming one of the bloodiest event in the state.[1][2]


William Willoby Jenkins was a rancher and gambler who staked a claim of land in Castaic, California in 1875, during the great migration of settlers into the West in the late 19th Century.[2] Jenkins was 16 when he moved from Ohio to Los Angeles with his family in 1851. He ran a successful ranch and an oil company in Castaic, as well as a profitable cat business during a rat infestation in the county.[2] He would later develop a reputation as a gambler and a gunman and was once deputized as a constable in the county. In one incident, he was sent to repossess a guitar said to have been stolen by a Mexican named Antonio Ruiz. When Jenkins arrived at Ruiz's home, a fight broke out between the two that forced the Jenkins to shoot and kill Antonio. This angered the local Mexicans and they soon formed a mob of 200 people to hunt Jenkins down and lynch him. Jenkins on the other hand was locked in a jailhouse awaiting his trial together with other lawmen. While the Mexicans failed to get him, the sheriff was wounded during the scuffle.[2][3] He would then enlist in the Los Angeles Rangers and his first mission was to hunt down ad capture the leader of the mob that tried to lynch him which he successfully accomplished. By 1872, he staked a claim near the Lake Hughes and Castaic Creek, before building a ranch he called the Lazy Z.

In 1890, a fellow rancher and frontiersman by the name of William C. Chormicle bought 1,600 acres of the land that Jenkins have already settled and built his business there.[3] When the dispute was not handled in court, both sides took desperate and violent action to solve the problem. Violence started in the same year when three of Jenkin's men accidentally moved two wagon loads of lumber near Chormicle's cabin. Chormicle and a friend named William A. Gardner indiscriminately fired on the intruders, killing two of them, while the third, Jose Olme, managed to escape by horse.[2] Chormicle and his friend soon surrendered to the sheriffs and a trial was set. The two pleaded for self-defense, saying that they were only trying to protect their property. The trial lasted for 18 days and was one of the longest trials ever conducted in Los Angeles County at the time. On June 1890, the jury finally found Chormicle and Gardner not guilty; a decision that infuriated Jenkins.

Soon, the feud evolved from a simple land dispute into conflicts concerning mining claims and water rights.[2] The two parties participated in various barn burnings, ambushes and running gun battles on horseback in which a great number of men were killed. One fight resulted in the accidental death of a young girl who got caught in a crossfire.[1] At one point, even future president Theodore Roosevelt sent a peacemaker named Robert Emmett Clark in 1905 to end the feud.[3] Though he succeeded in stopping the conflict for some time, it was only temporarily and the feud soon reignited in 1913. In one event, Jenkins group burned the house of Chormicle's foreman and friend Gardner, killing him and some members of his family. Chormicle retaliated by lynching Jenkins' son David in Bouquet Canyon and also sending an assassin into the Lazy Z who shot Jenkins in the chest but survived.[4] In 1916, Chormicle m was shot and killed and the locals put the blame on Jenkins. With the death of Chormicle, Jenkins finally took possessions of the land they were disputing. The final shootout of the feud happened in the same year when Jenkins was shot by Chormicle ally William B. Rose while herding cattle, but Jenkins again survived the fatal encounter. Overall, Jenkins survived being shot seven times during the feud and survived.[3]


The range war claimed the lives of 21 to 40 people.[1][5] William Jenkins would survive the feud and died of old age while visiting relatives in Los Angeles in October 1919.[3] Much of the land disputed by the two ranchers, which was supposed to be located in the intersection of Lake Hughes and Castaic roads, is now submerged at the bottom of the reservoir behind Castaic Dam. In 1998, almost 80 years later after the feud, workers building a housing development unearthed a makeshift caskets of pine boxes in Jenkins' long forgotten cemetery. The boxes contained the remains of an infant and four adult men who met violent ends, and were supposed to be victims of the range war.[2]

The Bouquet Canyon where Jenkins' son David was lynched was nicknamed the Hangman's Canyon or Dead Man's Canyon in honor of the young cowboy.[1][4]


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  4. 4.0 4.1 Boston, John. Santa Clarita Valley (Images of America) Arcadia Publishing; Probable First Edition edition (April 8, 2009). pp. 32. ISBN 978-0738569383.
  5. Pollack, Allan. Legendary Locals of the Santa Clarita Valley, California. Arcadia Pub (Sept. 10 2012). p. 28. ISBN 978-1467100274.

External links