Confusion Hill, Santa Clarita, California
Recent aerial view of Confusion Hill (in red circle) from Google Maps. It is bordered by Sierra Highway on the east, Mikelyn Road on the south and west, and the San Gabriel Fault zone (which is below Golden Valley Road) on the north. The little x is the location where the next photo was taken from.
Panarama view of Confusion Hill recreating 1949 photo from the SCVHistory website. There is virtually no oil activity today. The wells with pumps are not being operated. The hill I was standing on has been cut down somewhat since 1949, so my photo is a little lower then the original. The view is toward the southeast and was taken where the little red x is in the previous photo just inside of the large circle. The 14 freeway is in the right distance. Quigley Road is the paved road in the foreground. Click here for a larger version of this image. (Photo taken on 6/3/2016)
Where is Confusion Hill in the Placerita Oil Field? Why is it called Confusion Hill, who named it, and when was it named?
Sources include "Placerita Oil Field" by Barton and Sampson in the Summary of Operations, California Oil Fields, Thirty Fifth Annual Report of the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, Vol. 35, No. 2, July-Dec 1949, pages 5-7, Time Magazine article "All's Well that Ends Well" from 1949 (see below for this), and the People vs. Yant Court of Appeal decision (see here to read that).
On the SCVHistory website, Alan Pollack's story on Milfred Yant is an excellant source.
Also see other SCVHistory website articles on Confusion Hill by A.B. Perkins and Jerry Reynolds. Perkins first calls Confusion Hill Mad Mountain and Reynolds embellished it to the Battle of Mad Mountain, but I have found no document that uses that term except for one 1953 newspaper article about a brush fire in the area of the Mad Mountain oil field. I have seen no Division of Oil and Gas document using Mad Mountain so I believe that Perkins just used the term to indicate the madness that was going on. The newspaper article was after Perkins and Reynold just copied Perkins, so Perkins appears to be the source. However, one of the roads running west from Sierra Highway up Confusion Hill is called Mad Road.
In 1935 Milfred R. Yant, the president of the newly formed Yant Petroleum Corporation, bought four wells in Placerita Canyon. He also purchased the North 1/2 of the Northeast 1/4 of Section 31, T4N, R15W, from Tom Frew for $50 per acre. This area would become the seed for Confusion Hill. Now, Confusion Hill is meant to include the whole hilltop and not just the area that Yant purchased.
This is from the Mint Canyon Quadrangle Topo Map of 1960 (photorevised in 1988). The black square is about the N 1/2 of the NE 1/4 of Section 31. Sierra Highway is the main road running through it (Golden Valley Road did not exist here at that time). The location of wells Juanita 1 and Kraft 1, the two wells that started the Placerita oil boom, are indicated in blue (based on published DOGGR coordinates).
This is from the Berry Petroleum Company Investor Conference of 2008 (see resources) showing the Placerita Oil Field. Confusion Hill is a lease that they don't own.
Yant then subdivided and started selling parcels as small as 7/1000th of an acre. However, many of the parcel descriptions on the deed were wrong. The original purchase was assumed to be 80 acres but was actually only 71 acres because the section boundary lines were incorrect. Most of the sale transactions included an oil and gas lease by the Yant Petroleum Corporation, but they never did any drilling under this lease. In late 1936, the Yant Petroleum Corporation went bankrupt. Since Yant was implying that there was oil on the property (he would show prospective buyers his derricks nearby), he was able to make a huge profit. But in 1938 he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 1 - 5 years in prison. He was released after two years.
From Selected Papers Presented to San Joaquin Geological Society, Volume 3, November 1965, "California Blue Sky Laws and the Geologist" by Walter L. Rowse, pp. 57-58
Time Magazine article from December 19, 1949. This article, and more information, can be found on the SCV History website here.
In the 1930's and '40s there was very little drilling in the Placerita area until 1948. At that time the Nelson-Phillips Oil Companies well number "Kraft" 1, in the SE 1/4 of Section 31 on the Roy Kraft lease, was spudded on March 29, 1948 and completed on April 20th at a total depth of 2219 feet. The initial production was 70 barrels of oil per day. The success of "Kraft" 1 initiated an increase of drilling activity and, as other wells became successful, this part of Placerita Canyon became the Kraft-York area (the York Oil Company was also drilling in the vicinity). The two oil bearing zones were designated the Upper Kraft and the Lower Kraft.
From the Summary of Operations, California Oil Fields, Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, Vol. 34, No. 2, July-Dec., 1948
In Hollister, California, where he was now living, Milfred Yant heard about the new successful drilling going on in Placerita Canyon. He still owned much of the land in the N 1/2 of the NE 1/4 in Section 31. He made a deal with a wealthy Hollister cattle rancher he knew named Jose Ramon Somavia to pay for drilling a well on his property. This well, the "Juanita" 1 (named after Somavia's wife), was spudded on February 14, 1949 and completed on March 3rd at 1,835 feet. The initial production was 340 barrels of oil per day. "Juanita" 2 was completed in May of 1949 with an initial production of 700 barrels of oil per day. This new area was designated the Juanita area. Somavia and Yant were rich. With the discovery of two important oil areas (the Kraft-York and the Juanita), the Placerita Oil Field was formally named.
From the Summary of Operations California Oil Fields, Thirty-Fifth Annual Report of the State Oil and Gas Supervisor, Vol 35, No. 2, July-Dec., 1949, p. 44
From the Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Vol. 34, No. 6 (June 1950), pp.1914-1031, "Developments in West Coast Area in 1949" by Graham B. Moody
1939 photo showing Ramon and Juanita Somavia (from here)
Oil leasing in the Juanita area began and so did the problems. The area had been sub-divided by Yant in 1935-36 and now it was discovered that there were so many over-lapping parcels that in many cases there were multiple claimants as owners to the same parcel. Plus there were false owners because not everyone filed their deeds when they purchased their parcels from Yant. So it was very difficult to determine who owned what.
Then there was the Spacing Act law of the State of California which said that only one well could be drilled per acre. With wells being drilled within a week with excellent initial productions of oil, more and more wells were demanded. Some wildcatters just went in and drilled wherever there was space. The constitutionality of the Spacing Act was then challenged and, on September 23, 1949, Judge C.M. Hanson declared the law unconstitutional. Not only did drilling become even crazier, with wells drilled as close as five feet from one another, but dangerous."
Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1949. Juanita 1 is successfull and Yant and Somovia are rich.
Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1949. Placerita Oil Field created.
Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1949. Title problems thanks to Yant.
Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1949. Problems.
Long Beach Independent, September 24, 1949. Well-spacing act declared unconstitutional.
Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1949.
Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1949. Clashing on the oil field.
Oxnard Press Courier, October 27, 1949. Feuding.
Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1949. Fence needed.
Bakersfield Californian, October 29, 1949. "Confusion over oil leases".
Bakersfield Californian, October 31, 1949.
Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1950. Overdrilling results.
With drilling going on everywhere and conflicts of land ownership, the Juanita area was justly named "Confusion Hill." But who first called the area Confusion Hill and when? As far as I can tell, it was geologist Robin Willis in 1949 in a Bulletin of the AAPG.
Page 2061 of the Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Vol. 33, No. 12 (December 1949). Abstract for "Geology of Placerita Canyon Oil Field" by Robin Willis.
Aerial view of Confusion Hill and vicinity in 1947. Sierra Highway is cutting through almost vertically on the right of the photo. The Quigley Canyon siphon of the Los Angeles Aqueduct is the short, almost vertical, line in the lower left. Placerita Canyon is just out of view below (south of) this photo. There are no visible signs of any kind of oil activity anywhere in the photo. (Photo from historicaerials.com.)
Same Aerial view in 1952. The difference is quite dramatic. Put a circle around that activity and you have Confusion Hill.
1959. Similar to 1952.
Confusion Hill in its prime. Aerial view toward the west with Sierra Highway the road on the bottom. Photo courtesy of the SCVHistory website. A larger image, a panoramic view of Confusion Hill, and more information, can be found on the SCV History website here. The San Gabriel Fault zone is the northern boundary of the Placerita Oil Field and it cuts off the lower right part of this photo into a triangle. The zone is between the two dirt roads intersecting with Sierra Highway at the bottom of the photo. You can see a couple of wells in the zone in the small valley between the two dirt roads. There are only tanks to the right of the fault. The road intersecting Sierra Highway on the left is called Mad Road.
This is about the same direction as the above photo except at ground level. We can see that the road on the left intersecting Sierra Highway is still being used and is paved. It is called Mad Road. The road on the right is dirt and has not been used in many years. The lower area between these two roads is the San Gabriel Fault zone, which, of course, also extends many miles to the northwest and southeast. Photo taken on 4/5/2016.
Here is a closer look at the San Gabriel Fault zone from Sierra Highway looking east. The lower part of Confusion Hill is on the left. The fault is the northern boundary of the Placerita Oil Field. The two wells circled in the middle of the photo can probably be seen in the aerial photo above. These wells are "shut ins" - not abandoned and not being used, but still available if needed. Photo taken on 4/23/2016. I was standing just off of Sierra Highway about in the middle of the previous photo. As you drive up Sierra Highway from Placerita Canyon look at the road cuts to your left. The rock layers from Placerita Canyon to this little canyon are nearly horizontal. North of this canyon, the San Gabriel Fault zone, the layers suddenly dip south about 45 degrees. This is due to the fault.
Here is the sliver of land between Sierra Highway and Confusion Hill on the left (west) and Highway 14 on the right (view to the north). Based on DOGGR published coordinates, the well Kraft 1 is located in the distance near the red arrow. The success of Kraft 1 directly led to the drilling of Juanita 1 by Yant and Somavia. Photo taken on 4/23/2016.
Here I am on the probable site of Kraft 1 looking south. There was definitely an oil well here, but there is not enough evidence to positively identify it. Kraft 1 was spudded in 1948 and its success initiated the interest in the Placerita area. Highway 14 is on the left and Sierra Highway is on the right, above the burnt slope. In the far distance is the intersection of Placerita Canyon Road and Sierra Highway. Photo taken on 7/19/2017, just after a large fire in the area.