It may come a surprise to Sunland/Tujunga locals that mining is a part of this area's rich history. In fact, Rancho Tujunga, is directly connected to the first discovery of gold in California. Long before the cry of gold was heard on Sutter's Mill in Northern California, stories were told of the yellow flakes being found on property near Saugus that was once owned by Mission San Fernando. This was in 1834 during California's Mexican period. Small shipments of gold were being made to New England during the days of hide and tallow trade. The Indians apparently brought gold to the old mission. It was believed that the padres were secretly mining the gold, and hiding it on the mission grounds. By 1840 or 1841, an Indian, named Rogerio, supposedly found gold in Little Tujunga Canyon.
In 1842, Francisco Lopez sat down to have his lunch under one of California's huge old oak trees, in the area we now know as Placerita Canyon. While sitting there with his servant, he remembered to dig up some wild onions as his sister had requested he bring some back for her. He dug around the soil where he had found the onions, and discovered more flecks of yellow. Soon the cry of gold was to be heard in the pueblo of Los Angeles. The cry quickly spread on throughout Southern California, from Santa Barbara, to San Diego. The Mexican prospectors began digging and washing the canyons, yielding two dollars per day per miner.
Francisco Lopez was a member of a prominent California family in the early days. His father was a leading citizen of Los Angeles, and a Latin scholar. His mother was a teacher, and was also from a prominent family of the time. His aunt and cousin, were owners of Rancho San Francisco. His brother Pedro, was mayordomo of the Mission San Fernando. Pedro and Francisco Lopez were both granted ownership of the Rancho Tujunga lands. A scholar himself, Francisco, had been educated in Mexico City, where he learned techniques of prospecting and mining at the famous Colegio de Mineria. Two years before his fateful dig for wild onions, Andres Casstillero, a famous Mexican mineralogist, joined Francisco, in Southern California. Near San Fernando they had found water-worn pebbles of iron pyrite. From there, Francisco obtained mining tools and began searching for gold around the areas. Perhaps, it was more coincidence that he found the wild onions for his sister, while he was actually on a search for gold, and the rest became the story that many of us have read in our California history books.
From 1842 to 1855 the areas of Rancho San Francisco, in and around Placerita and San Feliciano Canyons were mined. In 1843, Francisco Lopez brought another visitor from Mexico, Francisco Garcia. Upon visiting the placer locations in these canyons, Senor Garcia returned to Sonora. He came back 6 months later with experienced placer miners, known as gambucinos. In San Feliciano Canyon, 212 pounds of gold were taken out. Over several years, Sonoran Jose Salzar found $12,000 worth of gold. It's interesting to note that the first parcel of California gold dust coined in the U. S. Mint in Philadelphia, was taken from the San Fernando Placers. Abel Stearns, a Los Angeles merchant, shipped 18.34 ounces of gold around Cape Horn and it was deposited at the mint July 8, 1843. Gold was shipped to the mint for several years afterwards. As late as 1859, miners in the San Fernando hills, still reported discoveries.
Along with gold discoveries, there are always legends of fabulous lost mines. Supposedly, San Fernando Mission Indians brought gold from "Lost Padres" gold mine to the Fathers. The mine was located somewhere in the mountains north of the mission, and worked in the early 1800's. One tale has it that the mine was located in Pacoima Canyon under the flood control reservoir. Another version, appearing in October 29, 1987 in the Pasadena Union, hits close to home for Sunland/Tujngans. The Union reported that "30 miles up Tehunga (Big Tujunga Canyon) is said to be the location of the 'Mina de los Padres'." Of course the exact location of the mine was unknown, but tremendous wealth was apparently pulled from the mine, until the Indians supposedly massacred the padres and removed all traces of it. Many believed the San Fernando Mission padres were hiding away their great gold discoveries for private use. Before the mission was restored, treasure hunters would excavate the grounds hoping to find what the padres had hidden away. In 1904, a visitor to the San Fernando Mission, claims huge holes were within the church itself. The main alter was torn apart in the search for the treasures. In 1915, vandals apparently looked for gold "buried in the bosoms" of dead monks. For more than a century, people searched for the Los Padres Mine, but to no avail.