by Albert Simonson
The ashen light of dawn revealed a nasty hole above the right eyebrow, and a face charred by gunpowder. The corpse lay flat on its back, both arms straight out like a crucifix, and the feet wrapped in old rags. This corpse would remain well and truly dead.
A shotgun at full cock lay in the damp and rutted road, just sixty feet up the hill from George Webb’s new house at the fork of the Webb Road and the Flinn Road. The dead man was Pascal Beilles, from a ramshackle sheepherder’s camp a mile up the old barley oxcart road toward Viejas. It was November 16, 1875.
Much had happened since Adam and Caroline Beaty came out from Texas in 1870 to the western fringe of the old Viejas rancho. They had settled first by the present park in Harbison Canyon. Their closest neighbor had then been a blessed five miles distant. But within just a couple of years, they found themselves living cheek-by-jowl with the Webbs, who settled just over the top of the canyon (by present MacQueen School). Then came John Harbison and all his bees, and a big bee boom was underway. Up in Viejas Valley the lead balls flew pretty regularly, and Royal Barton had just caught one in the leg. And now a killing down here!
George Washington Webb was a Georgia flatlander who must have been mightily impressed by our “alpine” topography. He learned all about it while hacking out Julian’s Banner Grade with a pickax. Then in 1871, he established the San Diego and Julian Toll Road Company, and proceeded to build a toll road from his place through present Alpine, Viejas Valley, and on up to the Stonewall Jackson Gold Mine at Cuyamaca.
Newspapers hailed the sensational improvement over the old Camino de Secuan where oxdrawn barley carts had rumbled during the exciting rancho years of the 50’s, and where mules of the San Antonio and San Diego Mail Line had plodded. The most difficult stretch of the toll road is still visible, even from the freeway, just upslope from Viejas Grade as it climbs out of Viejas Valley toward Descanso. The oldest Webb son found true love there, and soon married, but the younger Warren was not so lucky.
The Webb’s favorite word was “alpine.” They named their little place “The Alpine Ranch.” Then they got state money for an “Alpine School District” encompassing a vast but unsettled area, and hired a live-in school teacher for the kids. Young Miss Everhart was the reason for the corpse in the road.
On Monday at midnight, the daintily clad Miss Everhart had been dreamily gazing from her tall bedroom window toward the starlit stillness of the creek, when she suddenly caught sight of the scruffy Frenchman standing on the road, his feet wrapped in simply horrid rags. Startled, she uttered a gasp. Young Warren Webb, not far form her door, burst instantly into the demure damsel’s boudoir and he perceived that the moment of maidenly distress called out for his manly prowess. He grabbed a gun and charged out to the road to bombard the presumed voyeur with a crude concatenation of obscenity, which probably did little to endear him to the grammatically correct femme fatale.
Perhaps the Frenchman did not catch the gist of the raw frontier language. Perhaps he shrugged as Frenchmen do, with hands, and held shotgun, raised high. In any case, the hotheaded youth shot him on the spot.
The homicide investigation was covered in running installments by the San Diego press. The “Alpine” ranch name became known, indeed famous, in a perfect prelude to the Grand Shootout at the Campo Store.
Captain Beaty and Caroline soon built a new house which still stands at 2116 Tavern Road in Alpine. Their old Texas friend, Joe Harden, had 160 acres (now downtown Alpine) in the middle of the old mission’s Valle de las Viejas y Mesa del Arroz. Harden had settled here to be close to the Beatys. Mesa del Arroz was a grassy mesa, important to ranchers and sheepherders, just south of Harden’s little house and corral (behind today’s post office).
Perhaps they had hoped for peace and quiet, but it was not to be. By 1885, hordes of people sick with tuberculosis and in search of pure mountain air settled into tent camps of a pre-smog village then forming on Harden’s old place. They disdained the dusty old ex-mission rancho name, preferring the airy “Alpine” name. When they got a U.S. post office on November 11, 1885, for all those get-well letters from back home, the new name became official. This would have pleased the Webbs, but they had already moved on to Arizona. The Beaty’s stayed in Alpine, living octogenarian proof that Alpine air did wonders for longevity.
The old barley oxcart road is now barely discernible under a century’s growth of brush. Poor Pascal and our pioneering schoolmarm are well forgotten. Yet some things endure, like the Alpine School District, and Captain Beaty’s new house up the road, and rough language in Harbison’s Canyon, and the mixed-up feelings that boys have for pretty schoolteachers.
Captain Beaty built his new house entirely with his own hands, according to the 1/15/1899 San Diego Union. It began as a two-room board and batt house. Typical of a traditional British folk house style common in the Tidewater South prior to 1830.
The wraparound veranda was added later. An early newspaper says that Alpine ranchers like to sleep outdoors, “in order to get as much ozone as possible.”
The Beaty house was originally located about a mile south of its present location. Adam died in 1903 in the house he built. Caroline stayed on and died in 1911. The house was occupied by caretakers on the estate of Colonel Balentine (of General Pershing’s World War I staff).
The house was relocated in 1998 to land once owned by Captain Beaty’s close friend, Hugh Field, next to the house of their neighbor, maverick doctor Sophronia Nichols.