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Geographical Index > United States > California > San Diego County > Article # 243

Media Article # 243

Tuesday, August 27, 1996

A Horrible Tale From the Pages of Local History

By Herbert Lockwood
California Daily Transcript

Editor's Note: In recognition of the Daily Transcript's 110th anniversary, we're republishing some of the best writings of retired staff writer Herbert Lockwood.


Mysterious ethnic monsters are all the rage today. Best known is the Abominable Snowman of Tibet. Then there's the Yowie of Australia, Bigfoot of the Northwest, "Nessy" of Loch Ness, Scotland, and the Wildman of Hubei in China.

Yet, San Diego County wasn't left behind the door when the monsters were passed out. Not only was the "Monster of Dead Man's Hole" just about as nasty as they come, it was reported long before the monster-come-lately's mentioned above.

Dead Man's Hole is located near Oak Grove, a former stage stop of the Butterfield line. It is located about 10 miles northeast of Warner Hot Springs.

The story of the horrid events leading up to the discovery of the monster was told many years ago by James Jaspar, editor and owner of the Julian Sentinel.

When the Butterfield stage line was established, it ran by the then-nameless Dead Man's Hole, then filled with clear, sparkling water. Often a stop was made to refresh men and horses before resuming the trip.

Behind the hole, a canyon slices back into the steep hills growing darker and darker and narrower as it winds back into the still wild and roadless escarpment frowning over a pleasant valley below.

As it gets deep into the mountains, the canyon walls are so steep and its trees so thick and somber that sunlight only penetrates to the bottom for an hour or so at noon.

One bright morning in the spring of 1858, the northbound stage stopped at the hole, and the driver got out for a drink. As he leaned over the pool, he saw to his horror the partly decomposed face of a dead man bobbing gently in the water. This was the first known victim of Dead Man's Hole.

As time went by, news was received in San Diego that several men, both Indian and white, had disappeared without a trace, but since people were always running away from their families or going off to seek gold, not much notice was paid to these reports.

In 1870, an unnamed French sheepherder was found dead at the hole by his squaw. In 1876, a passenger lighting from the stage for a drink said he had seen a naked "thing" covered with long black hair staring at him from nearby bushes. When the creature saw he was discovered, he vanished down the canyon.

A few years later, a man named William Blair was found strangled in the dark woods near the hole. He had influential and wealthy friends in San Francisco, and they came down to the area determined to find his murderer. But no clues were found. Later that year, the strangled body of an Indian girl was found not 200 feet from where Blair's body had been discovered.

In March 1888, two hunters, Edward Dean and Charles Cox of Julian, determined to explore the dark and mysterious canyon behind Dead Man's Hole. After a hard struggle, they managed to get about a mile up the canyon through tangle of fallen logs, boulders and underbrush.

As they paused for breath, they heard a crashing nearby. Cox climbed up the rocky side of the canyon to see what was making the noise. He almost fell off in astonishment.

An immense unwieldy animal, resembling a bear from the back, was taking rapid strides through the narrow defile away from the hunters. Cox said its legs were long and the creature looked something like a gorilla.

Its hair was dark brown and the beast was more than six feet high. Cox climbed down and whispered the news to Dean. Both began to follow the "thing." Cox, to arrest its progress, fired a shot in the air. At the report, the beast turned its face toward its pursuers.

The face was human!

Then, the creature started climbing the canyon wall toward a cave opening. Cox fired and, with a terrible cry, the monster fell to the canyon floor -- dead.

Cautiously approaching the body, the men later reported the face was Indian, but the teeth were like a bear's fangs with pointed ends. The creature's feet were huge and covered with black hair.

Fearing they would meet the monster's mate, they climbed gingerly up to the cave mouth, then entered. It was empty, but in one corner eight human skulls grinned from a rock ledge, while a half-consumed sheep carcass lay on the floor. In a corner a pile of leaves and weeds indicated the creature's bed.

In a report given in a San Diego paper of the 1888 era, Jaspar said the monster's body had been placed in a wagon and taken to San Diego, where it was to have gone on exhibition the next day.

But examination of later papers said nothing of the monster. Local historians pondered the question and there was no answer, since Editor Jaspar and his contemporaries were long dead.

Then this reporter saw a glimmering of light. He noticed the date of the edition of the paper in which the story had been published : April 1, 1888 !!

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