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Camp Josepho History - Before 1940  

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Native American & Early Inhabitants of Rustic Canyon 

          The original inhabitants of the Santa Monica Mountains were the indigenous Tongva Indians (after 1771 referred to by the Spanish missionaries as "Gabrieleño" because they were in the jurisdiction of Mission San Gabriel). The first Europeans to visit the area were members of the Portola expedition of 1769. The land expedition sought to follow the coastline north, but was stopped by the coastal mountain cliffs ("Malibu" is a Tongva place-name meaning "Where the Mountains Meet the Sea"). At some point up the coast, they turned around and went inland along the northern edge of current-day Westwood/Bel Air, finding an opening through Sepulveda Canyon (route chosen for the I-405 freeway in 1956) into what is now known as the San Fernando Valley.
          Under Mexican rule, the land between Topanga Canyon (location of the former Camp Slauson) and present-day Santa Monica was in the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica. It was used
for grazing and firewood by the prominent Spanish Marquez, Reyes, and Sepúlveda families. During the latter 19th-century, Rustic Canyon was known as a camping and picnic area near the beach hotels and resorts of nearby Santa Monica.

Abott Kinney          Abbot Kinney, developer of Venice Beach, established a
6 acre, experimental forestry station as part of a 247 acre Rustic Canyon parcel purchased in 1887. One of his objectives was to test trees, primarily eucalyptus, as cash crops. Despite succeeding in growing the trees, it was clear they were not suitable for building lumber. Kinney sold or gifted the forestry station to the University of California in 1893.             Notwithstanding a devastating fire in 1904 that burned the Forestry Station to the ground, many of the trees survived creating the plentiful eucalyptus groves in Rustic Canyon today. A plaque was dedicated on August 18, 1971, officially designating the eucalyptus groves as a California State Historical Landmark.
          The current name of Rustic Canyon came into use around 1890. Prior to that time, the canyon was known as Canada de Casa Vieja, possibly referring to an adobe built by Ysidro Reyes or Francisco Marquez & wife Roque Valenzuela near the present-day intersection of Sunset and Chautauqua Boulevards.
          An early, if not the first, non-native resident in Rustic Canyon was Sam Carson (1826-1902). Some reports say Carson moved into Rustic Canyon as early as 1875 while others put the date into the mid 1880's. He was characterized as a "well known and picturesque, old pioneer", who spun endless tall tales of his background and adventures including claiming to be the son of Western legend Kit Carson (a claim disputed by Kit Carson's friend and employer, General John C. Fremont). He further claimed to have shot Grizzly Bear in Rustic Canyon before they became extinct in the Santa Monica Mountains.
           Carson squatted a small piece of land up in Rustic Canyon where he built a rag-tag shanty made of tin cans and sacks. Tourists were encouraged to "drive" up Rustic Canyon (presumably by horse and buggy) on a gravel road winding through heavy underbrush and majestic live oaks that led to "Castle Carson". Old Sam Carson, as he became known, died on December 2, 1902, a few days after being bitten by a spider. He was buried a week later next to the site of his shanty. It has been said, but never verified, that his body and that of his dog were subsequently moved and buried together in the Pascual Marquez Family Cemetery in Santa Monica Canyon.
           A more traditional cottage was built by George W. & Katherine Edmunds in 1896, on land originally leased from Nevada Senator John P. Jones, co-founder of the City of Santa Monica.
The parcel was located at the southern opening to Rustic Canyon in what would become Pacific Palisades thirty years later. George and Katherine's cottage was left to daughter Julia, becoming known simply as the Julia Edmunds Ranch.
          A big part of the allure of Rustic Canyon in the late 1800's was its proximity and inaccessibility from Los Angeles. The Los Angeles & Independence Railroad created a line in 1875 allowing beach goers to make the 16.67 mile trip to Santa Monica for $1.  The right-of-way for the original tracks has changed hands many times since then and most currently opened as the Los Angeles Metro Expo Light Rail Line in 2012. Once in Santa Monica, access into Rustic Canyon was by horse, buggy, bicycle and walking along small local dirt streets and trails.
          Dirt roads that later became Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, were started in 1895 & 1896. They allowed for alternate means of travel (including by automobile a few years later) between Los Angeles and Santa Monica, opening up the beauty of coastal beaches and mountains to thousands more Los Angeles residents. With the roads and trains came more development.


                              Uplifters Ranch & More Fires

In 1920, the Uplifters, an offshoot of the prominent Los Angeles Athletic Club, purchased 40 acres at the mouth of Rustic Canyon, (reportedly for $1,000 per acre) from Julia Edmund. Her original ranch home was expanded and remodeled by the Uplifters in 1921, ironically becoming their clubhouse for the all-male, invitation-only, social club. Uplifters continued buying land, building a pool, trap range, tennis courts, campfire and even dormitories. Many ranch and cabin style houses were built by members, on lots leased by the club, as second homes for weekend and annual retreats. All-male theatrical productions called "Low Jinx", were staged, much like those of the exclusive Bohemian Club and Grove on the Russian River north of San Francisco.
          During Prohibition, Uplifters Ranch was known as a high-class drinking club, whose membership included prominent local politicians, industrialists, entrepreneurs, artists and Hollywood celebrities including Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Busby Berkeley, Leo Carrillo, Harold Lloyd, Donald Douglas, Edgar Rice Burroughs; Hal Roach and Darryl F. Zanuck,. The relative isolation of the area provided an ideal retreat for the wealthy and powerful members of the club, who lived primarily in the upscale areas (of the time) near downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena and Beverly Hills, to indulge their appetites without undue notice or interference.
          Fires in Rustic Canyon were a frequent occurrence (1904 & 1910) and two more separate fires threatened the Uplifters Ranch within a year of each other. The first, on December 15, 1921 burned 100 acres up in Rustic Canyon but caused no damage to the Ranch. The second, on December 27, 1922, burned down the newly remodeled Uplifters clubhouse along with a valuable John Bond Francisco painting valued at the time at $4,000. Arson was suspected but apparently never proved. The house was subsequently rebuilt and expanded at the direction of architect and club member William J. Dodd in 1923. It has been designated by the City of Los Angeles as Historical-Cultural Landmark No. 663.
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Will Rogers & Anatol Josepho

           Access into Rustic Canyon was made easier when Beverly Boulevard was extended west from Beverly Hills to the ocean in 1926. The route, which would soon be renamed Sunset Boulevard, coursed across the northern border of Santa Monica; into the new development of Pacific Palisades and around the Uplifters Ranch, separating it from the entrance to Rustic Canyon. This road location was not without controversy. Bordering property owners, possibly including the Uplifters, initiated litigation (shades of things to come) over the right-of-way, delaying completion of the new road.
          Another property owner, writer, humorist, movie star and Uplifters member, Will Rogers, had purchased a 240 acre tract directly north from the Uplifters Ranch in 1923. Rogers was two years into building his personal weekend estate and retreat when the new road route divided his ranch from the Uplifters to the south. Issues were soon worked out with the neighbors and Sunset Boulevard was completed as the first paved thoroughfare bypassing Santa Monica and connecting Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades, the entrance to Rustic and Temescal Canyons. Rogers, who lived in Beverly Hills and never intended to make the Rustic Canyon Ranch his family's primary residence, continued buying land in Pacific Palisades. By 1928, his property extended midway up Rustic Canyon and southwest all the way to the ocean.
          Through his membership at Uplifters Ranch, it is believed that Rogers met a young millionaire inventor named Anatol Josepho around 1930. The two became close friends, riding horses and flying together in Rogers' plane. As the story goes, it was on one of these plane rides that Rogers flew Josepho over his estate, showing him a large parcel further up Rustic Canyon owned by Mountain Park Associates, the land company of Alphonso Bell Sr. (developer of Bel Air and Pacific Palisades). Josepho and his wife, Ganna, purchased 100 acres bordering and north of the Rogers property in 1932, where they began construction of their own ranch, originally called Ganatola. They lived there with their two sons until 1946.
          While Rogers probably enjoyed having his friend move in "next door", there was a practical component to having a neighbor and development up-canyon from his estate. Rustic Canyon, along with most of the other canyons along the Santa Monica Mountains, had a long history of periodic wild brush fires. Development of the Josepho Ranch midway up the canyon would provided a buffer property, complete with its own water storage tank and separate access road, that potentially could serve as a first line of defense against a wild fire roaring down the arroyo towards Rogers' development.

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                               Murphy's Ranch & Nazis

          Around the same time, Rogers subdivided a 55 acre parcel from his own property situated between the northern part of his lands and the Josepho Ranch. This new parcel was purchased in August, 1933, by a (fictitious?) "Jessie M. Murphy, widow". Her name is not known to appear on any other public records and by 1938, was considered a front to cloak the actual purchasers: Norman and Winona Stephens. The Stephens' were an American couple of unknown means with some interest in National Socialism (Nazis) and Hitler's New Order in Germany. While considered extremist by today's standards, American views of Nazism and Adolf Hitler in the mid 1930's were mixed. American aviator hero, Charles Lindberg, along with many other prominent Americans, were also known to be Nazi sympathizers in the mid 1930's and the United States fully participated, without protest, in the 1936 winter and summer Olympics held in Germany.
          The story of the Stephens is long on folklore and short on documented evidence. Winona, who is said to have been "seriously into the para-normal", came under the influence of a mysterious Nazi known only as Herr Schmidt. The Stephens are said to have spent more than $4 million, much of the money reportedly coming from Nazi Germany, on architectural plans and development of their estate into a sealed-off, "Utopian" Nazi hide-a-way which became known as Murphy's Ranch (the fabrication of Jessie M. Murphy notwithstanding). 
          Plans for the ranch included a  large, four-story, mansion and outbuildings designed by architects Paul Williams (prominent African American ) and Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright). Pools, terraced fruit orchards, a 395,000 gallon water tank and 20,000 gallon diesel fuel tank, dual generator power station, steel garage and servants quarters, bomb shelter and other structures were planned that, today, might be characterized as a fortified "survivalist" stronghold. Hearsay accounts attribute Schmidt to believing that in a coming war with Germany, America would be destroyed by the self proclaimed "German Master Race". Then, a year after America's downfall, American Nazis would re-emerge into the wasteland that had once been Los Angeles, to establish an Aryan Civilization allied with Hitler and his Third Reich. The Murphy Ranch soon became a meeting place throughout the later 1930's for the Silver Legion (aka Silver Shirts), a fascist, anti-Semitic arm of the American Nazi Party.
          It is unclear how the Rogers' and Josepho's might have felt upon learning of the Nazi intentions of the real owners of the Murphy Ranch. Will Rogers, spending most of his time traveling and performing away from home, may have never really known. He perished in a 1935 plane crash over Alaska along with his friend Wiley Post. Anatol Josepho, a Jewish immigrant born in Siberia, could have been very troubled by the situation although, to-date, there is no record of his thoughts at the time.
           The day after the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, local police (or Federal agents according to some) raided and occupied the so-called "world headquarters" bunker compound, detaining members of the 50-strong caretaker force of Silver Shirts (see > Herr Schmidt was arrested as a German spy (again, hearsay) and his whereabouts from that point forward are unknown; not appearing anywhere in the historical record. Norman and Winona Stephens were released and never charged by authorities, also disappearing into whereabouts unknown. The Murphy Ranch fell into disrepair, remaining abandoned for the next seven years.

Scouts in Rustic Canyon

          Because of its proximity and seclusion, Crescent Bay Council Troops had routinely scheduled hikes and camp outs in Rustic Canyon going all the way back to the beginning of the Council in 1922 and earlier. A 1916 weekend encampment of twenty-five Troop 1 Santa Monica Scouts in Rustic Canyon made the local paper when tents were reported stolen. Rustic Canyon was also considered by first Scout Executive, Donald Monroe, as one of the possible locations for Crescent Bay's first summer camp in 1922, losing out to a location in Temescal Canyon located one canyon to the west.
          In February, 1927, Crescent Bay Council hosted the annual Regional Scout Executives Conference and arranged to hold the big meeting at the Uplifters Ranch. Attendance was estimated to be over 500 Scouts, Scouters and members of the public, boosted largely by the attendance of Chief Scout Executive James E. West.
          As the 1930's came to a close, Crescent Bay Council's camping program faced some changes.  After 15  years of summer camping at Emerald Bay on Catalina Island, the lease was not renewed. Camping in Sequoia National Park was resurrected with the opening of Camp High Sierra-Wolverton in 1939. Both existing troop camps from the 1920's, Slauson and Trefoil, remained operational. But no one could have anticipated that the 1940's would bring a shift for Crescent Bay Camping into a location very familiar to most scouts on the Westside: Rustic Canyon.

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