There was a time when most everybody in Bouquet Canyon knew the story of Flush Toilet Mary and her tragic demise.
The name stuck after Mary bragged that she was the first person in the canyon to have a genuine flush toilet installed in her cabin. And when she died at the hands of her third husband, who had flown into a jealous rage, Mary became part of local folklore.
In her day, she was the talk of the canyon. That was nearly 40 years ago.
Today, Flush Toilet Mary is recalled from time to time only by a dwindling colony of old-timers living in cabins in Bouquet Canyon, deep within Angeles National Forest northeast of Saugus. The canyon has changed considerably over the years, the longtime residents say, and not always for the better. Still, they have no plans to leave.
"I plan to go out of here feet first," said cabin resident Martin Ross.
Ross and his wife, Virginia, both in their 70s, are among about 20 families living year-round in the Saugus District of Angeles National Forest under special permits granted by the U.S. Forest Service. The Rosses and other cabin-dwellers own their homes but lease the land from the federal government. Depending on the location, the residents pay from $130 to $170 a year for their leases, said Lee Urquhart, a resource specialist with the forest service.
The cabins were not envisioned--at least not by the Forest Service--as permanent residences when the agency began granting cabin leases in the 1920s, Urquhart said. Instead, the cabins were to be used on weekends and vacations. As it turned out, many people made the cabins their homes.
In the early 1970s, the Forest Service decided not to allow any more year-round residents in the national forests, Urquhart said. But the agency also agreed that forcing out longtime residents would create hardships for some people, and it decided that anyone who had lived in the cabins since before 1970 could remain year-round.
Of the 112 cabins in Bouquet Canyon, about only 20 have such special permits, Urquhart said. The legal cabins sit along Bouquet Canyon Road, south of the Bouquet Canyon Reservoir. A handful of other cabins with permits are scattered throughout other parts of Angeles National Forest.
One cabin-dweller whose family came to the forest 42 years ago is Arthur Logian, a sign painter who still lives in the family cabin and remembers well Flush Toilet Mary and other characters of the canyon's past. Logian smiled as he recalled an old man, known as Klondike, who liked to talk about the days Bouquet Canyon Road was a stagecoach route.
Klondike would hold court at Big Oaks Lodge, a restaurant built in the 1920s that was run for many years by Logian's family.
The lodge since has changed ownership several times but is still a local landmark.
Logian also smiled as he recalled the canyon gossip, a woman who listened to everybody's conversations on telephone party lines. She never went anywhere, he recalled, but she didn't have to. She just eavesdropped.
Then there was Flush Toilet Mary. "She was the talk of the canyon," said Logian, 51. People liked her, Logian said, but they gossiped about her anyway because she was the only one in the canyon who had married three times.
Logian's twin brother, Louis, who now owns a security business in Newhall, said Mary always told people her last husband was a violent man. She proved to be right.
One day in the early 1950s, Mary's husband accused her of having an affair. They argued. Finally, while Mary sat in a chair facing the fireplace, her husband stepped up from behind and shot her in the head with a double-barreled shotgun. The man then went into a bedroom and shot himself.
The Logians found the bodies.
By contrast, the leading characters in stories told by the Rosses, canyon residents for about 20 years, often seem to be animals.
There was the 5-foot-long rattlesnake on the patio that Virginia shot and killed with a pellet gun. There was the squirrel that learned to sit on Virginia's lap and eat nuts out of her hand. There was the titmouse that became equally tame and then paid dearly for his domesticity when he was caught by the cat.
Wildlife was common 20 years ago, the Rosses said. It wasn't unusual to see coyotes prowling on the patio. Today, the canyon is different.
"I never see a coyote. I never see a fox," Virginia Ross said. "It seems we don't even have as many birds as we used to."
Le Roy Reno, a 70-year-old retired carpenter who moved to the canyon in 1950, agreed that people have pushed out much of the canyon's wildlife. Gone are the days when he and his three sons hunted deer in the woods. Reno would drive his car to a secluded spot, take up a gun and then set out on foot.
"I'd leave a car, sometimes two weeks at a time, sitting up on top of the mountain up there--keys in it and all. Nobody ever bothered it," Reno said.