22 September 2015

The Kenney Stables of Carbon Canyon, Part 2

As the 40th anniversary celebration of Carbon Canyon Regional Park approaches this weekend, here is the second part of Matthew Kenney's recollections of his family's stable on leased land behind Carbon Canyon Dam.  Matthew's title for the first story is:

Please pass the dynamite; One stick or two?
What goes up, must come down

A rodeo arena needs to be about 150' x 250' to be regulation size that would host most events. The perfect place for it was at the far west end of what is now Carbon Canyon Regional Park. The only small problem was that there was a small grove of eucalyptus trees in the way. One of the engineers that my Dad worked with fancied himself a lumberjack and loved to cut down trees.......I think he liked the big crash when the hit the ground! 

We got most of the trees felled and dug out the stumps with a backhoe. All except the last one, it was truly a giant-sized tree. That one took about a week to get cut up once it came down, what a crash it made! Now to the stump. We tried with the backhoe, but it didn't come loose. We tried digging and cutting roots, but there were too many. It was decided that more drastic means had to be employed...........dynamite.

C. Bob Kenney and Iron Eyes Cody with an unidentified child, Kenney Stables, Carbon Canyon, 1968.  All photos courtesy of Matthew Kenney.  Click on one to see them in enlarged views in a separate window.
In the 1960's blasting supplies could be obtained at most hardware stores if you filled out the right paperwork and had an agricultural permit, which we did. Rather than buy one stick which would have done the job, two sticks were purchased along with 10' of medium-burn fuse and a couple of blasting caps. The extra stick was to make sure the job got done. 

So, we drilled the hole in the stump, crimped the fuse on the caps and put the caps in the dynamite which were then lowered into the bore hole in the stump. Using 5' of fuse allowed for plenty of time to get out of the way. My Dad lit the fuse and made his way to the pickup which was parked about 200' away. We all crouched behind the truck waiting........and then BOOM! It felt like we bounced about an inch off the ground. We all stood up and looked over where the stump should be, it was gone. 

But, then we had to duck for cover because it rained toothpick-sized pieces of wood for what seemed like an eternity. We had just experienced a simple law of physics..........what goes up, must come down.

The Rodeo Arena

After some grading was done, the rodeo arena was built.  Carbon Canyon had more than it's share of characters in the 1960s and 1970s. As we progressed on the project, more and more canyon residents stopped in to see what we were up to. When the rodeo arena went up, so did our rate of daily visitors.... except for law enforcement. 

Those living in the canyon today must understand that you are in a kind of law enforcement dead zone being on the outlying borders of two counties. It was even worse in the 1960s/70s. You couldn't let anything sit out more than a day without it disappearing. Theft and other petty crime were pretty high.

Iron Eyes Cody with Indian tepees near Kenney Stables, Carbon Canyon, 1968.
And then there were all the traffic accidents. Arrival time for any law enforcement was at least an hour. Once we moved in and started living there, things took an interesting twist. We knew some of the sheriffs deputies from both counties and a few of the CHP officers from dealings at our stable business in Fullerton. 

All it took was an offer of a place to take a coffee break to the Sheriff's deputies.  We started seeing them more often in a month than then we ever did in the previous seven years. Word got around to all the "cop shops". Then the CHP officers would show up regularly. They were always greeted with a friendly cup of coffee and sometimes even lunch. Traffic accidents, petty theft and other crime went to an all time low in our area. 

Iron Eyes Cody and family, Carbon Canyon, 1968.
Soon some of the locals from Sleepy Hollow and a little beyond became regulars. They stopped to chat if they saw the main gate open (this is where the main gate for the park is today). Often times Dad would talk them into helping with the work! A little hospitality went a long way. Even today that simple idea could work if a local from the canyon stepped up to the plate.

Lindey Litton, a Real-Life Wild West Cowboy

We met a real diverse slice of people in the canyon, but none were more interesting than some of the area's cowboys and ranchers. We had a conflict with someone who I would say is the closest thing I've ever seen to a real-life Wild West cowboy by the name of Lindey Litton. 

I remember him more than any other simply because he had such a right-in-your-face manner. We met him in the back property that butts up next to Yorba Linda. He was cutting our fence to let his cattle in to graze. This had been going on for some while and we finally caught him in the act. My Dad yelled at him to stop; he was about 60 feet away. 

Bob Kenney and Iron Eyes Cody swap hats, Carbon Canyon, 1970.
Lindey pulled this hand-cannon out of his gun belt and said "make me". My dad swung the shotgun he was holding up and said "this shotgun has a slug in it with his your name on it, make your play" to Lindey. My Dad said he had no intention of letting anyone pull a gun on him and his sons. Lindey then apologized for pulling his gun saying he never drew his gun when kids were around. After we fixed the fence together my Dad invited him to the trailer for lunch!  It was there they found out they had a lot in common in the way of where they had been on the rodeo circuit in their youth. 

Lindey had a bad habit of pulling his gun on people, something that never changed. It was part of his "Wild West" persona. One day, he was in the trailer swapping stories with my Dad and two sheriff's department cars rolled up. I guess they had received a complaint of a man brandishing a firearm earlier in the day and knew it was Lindey from past encounters with him. 

The deputies knew where to find him, he was having a coffee break! They got on the PA and said "Lindey Litton, come out with your hands up!". He gave his gun to my Dad and complied. My Dad gave the gun to the deputy, while Lindy was put in cuffs and loaded into one of the sheriff's cars, which then left. The other deputy stayed and had lunch with us. Lindey was back a couple days later, and said it was a misunderstanding. Canyon life could be interesting. Even though Lindey had his personality flaws, he sure could "cowboy" when he wanted to. 

Iron Eyes Cody's Indian Pow-Wows

Around about 1968 before we moved there, a group decided to have a benefit Indian Pow-Wow on a neighboring property to the east where the redwood trees stand today. The weekend of the Pow-Wow was a total disaster because of some unexpected Santa Ana winds..........it blew all the teepees down and made a real mess. 

We helped with some of the cleanup and found out one of the leaders of the group putting on the Pow-Wow was Iron Eyes Cody. My Dad knew him from many years earlier and offered him a spot to hold the Pow-Wow for free in our newly created rodeo arena.

Bob Kenney in Iron Eyes Cody's Indian costume near a tepee, Carbon Canyon, 1968.
We had the best Pow-Wows there for three years running. All I have to prove it is some pictures of the events, doesn't seem like any of the papers picked up on it at the time. I've also recreated the sign(s) we put up to advertise the Pow-Wow that first year as they just don't exist anymore. How could I remember what they looked like? It's because I made them. I was always a very good artist from an early  age so I always got those type of tasks heaped on me.......but that's a completely other story for another day. 

We used to get Christmas cards from the Codys every year, but lost contact with them in the late 1970s after my Dad passed away. I was sorry to hear of Iron Eyes passing in 1999, but he did make it to the ripe old age of 95!

Matthew Kenney's reproduction signs for the Indian Pow Wows.
Someone told me that the stars of the TV show "American Pickers" had bought some Iron Eyes Cody memorabilia on one of their recent episodes.  I don't watch much television, so I looked it up on a video-streaming service, as I wanted to see what they bought.  One of the things they got was Iron Eyes' personal tepee.  I sent them a brief history of it, as it wound up being donated to the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire, Iowa.  They didn't know what it looked like set up or its age, so I sent them some of the pictures included above, including the one with the Cody family.

Editorial note:  This is a sensitive topic, given the issue of native Indian identity, but it should be noted that "Iron Eyes Cody" was actually Espera Oscar de Corti, the son of Sicilian immigrants and born in Louisiana in 1904 (Cody claimed he was born in Oklahoma and was of Cree and Cherokee descent).  After his parents divorced, Corti moved with his brothers to join their father in Texas and then the trio came to California.  All three worked in the film industry and changed their surname to Cody.

"Iron Eyes" began his movie career in the late 1920s and appeared in something like 200 films, as well as working in television from the early 1950s.  He is most famous to people of a certain age for his appearance in a 1971 commercial for the anti-litter campaign, " Keep America Beautiful."  The commercial showed Cody in his costume shedding a tear as trash lands at his feet from someone tossing it out the window of a car.  His performance was a powerful stimulant to the environmental movement then gaining momentum in America.

Cody married archaeologist and ethnologist Bertha Parker, an Indian through her mother from the Abenaki and Seneca tribes of New York, who was long associated with the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles as an assistant to Mark R. Harrington, who was married to Bertha's aunt. The Codys adopted two sons, said to have Indian blood from Dakota and Maricopa (southern Arizona) tribes.  The photo above shows the family together.

Bertha Parker Cody died in 1978 and Iron Eyes Cody paseed away in early 1999 at the age of 94.  It is said that Iron Eyes did much to benefit native Americans, though others have expressed disappointment at his "passing" as an Indian.

For more, click here for film historian Angela Aleiss's 1996 expose on Cody's Sicilian heritage in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

No comments: