Q: Who was ‘Holy Jim’ of Holy Jim Canyon fame?

A: In 1888, decidedly unsaintly Union veteran James Smith bought land in a remote canyon between Santiago Peak and Trabuco Creek. He lived there with his wife, Hat, and raised bees. Although reasonably even-tempered, Smith swore frequently, loudly, long-windedly, creatively, and without regard for the company he was in. Historian Jim Sleeper wrote that Smith could “cuss the devil into a bottle and screw on the cap.” Smith usually sported a hat with an upturned brim, a walrus mustache, a jacket with a big plug of tobacco in the pocket, and no shirt. He earned the nicknames “Greasy Jim” and “Cussin’ Jim.” In 1900, government cartographers named the canyon for its best-known resident, but some bureaucrat in Washington undoubtedly changed “Cussin’ ” to “Holy.” About eight years later, Smith retired to Santa Ana. As an old man, he’d get lost downtown and sheriff’s deputies would give him a lift. Jim swore all the way home.

Chris Jepsen is the Answer Man. Have a question?
Send it to cjepsen@socal.rr.com.

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