Rip-Roarin' Holy Jim Canyon

March 18, 1956
E.J. Leslie, Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach CA)

Jim Smith had a cabin tucked away In a little-used canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains, where grizzly bears and pumas were equally at home. The grizzlies, pumas and Jim Smith are gone now but Jim is not forgotten. Holy Jim Canyon is his monument. It branches left off Trabuco Canyon in the Cleveland National Forest just past the ranger station and the public camp grounds.

Jim was not holy, as the name implies, but was a rip-roarer with little reverence for anything. He was famous according to legend, for the choice expletives that erupted with his tobacco juice on the slightest provocation. He was knows as Cussin' Jim Smith of Cussin' Jim Canyon, California. The more refined element that followed the trail blazed by the roughnecks objected to the lowbrow name, so some wag changed it to Holy Jim.

Trabuco Canyon is cool and pleasant with a brook that plays hide-and-seek along the trail. In one spot the brook trickles over some rocks into a pool and in some areas furnishes water to canyon residents. The thin stream sometimes becomes a flood in spring, marooning the residents until it subsides, according to the forest ranger of the area.

In the hot, dry season fires are a hazard. Tourists are requested to register at the patrol station so rangers will know that everyone gets safely out. The rangers are courteous, helpful and alert, and check frequently along the canyon.

The walls of the canyon are steep and high with some rock formations that might conceal caves. The quiet loneliness causes one to wonder if the grizzlies really have been killed off and if a stray cat might be lurking in the tall trees.

The first famous name band in California stepped off El Camino Real (101) just north of San Juan Capistrano and camped in an arroyo which leads into Trabuco Canyon. Here, according to legend, one of them lost his blunderbus. In this atomic age a blunderbus is eyed with amusement, but in 1769 it was something to cherish, especially if an Indian chief resented any Spanish influence in his home life.

The party rested there for three days instead of the usual overnight stop, until the gun was found. The arroyo was named after the missing musket.

The band was destined to be the VIP's of early California, with such men as Caspar de Portola (California's first governor), Don Pedro Fages, Father Crespi (California's first author), Padre Gomez, Captains Rivera and Costanso, and leather -jackets and muleteers who were to become famous in the history of the Golden State.

Sgt. Jose de Ortega, the pathfinder who saw everything first, went ahead with his company of soldados de cuera (leather-jacketed soldiers) to break trail.

At the point in the trail where El Camino Real crossed a river (the Santa Ana) they stopped to rest and Portola would have slept there also if a series of earthquakes hadn't kept him awake. They gave this river the mouth-filling name of El Rio del Duscisimo Nombre de Jesus de los Tremblores or the River of the Sweetest Name of Jesus of Earthquakes. They said a mouthful.

One of the men who accompanied Portola on this trip was Jose Antonio Yorba, a sergeant of the Catalans. In 1810 he received a grant of 11 leagues of this territory from Gov. Areitlaga. It was called the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana. This famous rancho subsequently had many owners. The Irvine ranch and Irvine Park, Tustin, Olive, Orange, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and part of Newport are all part of it.

Rare Photo of Holy Jim

Holy Jim and Friends