Is Tomato Springs a Real Place?

Signs mentioning it are everywhere. But where is it?

Tomato Springs is tiny but legendary. In 1769, Father Francisco Gomez of the Portola expedition—the first Europeans in California—discovered a source of fresh water he called San Pantaleón. Later explorers called this campsite the Aguage de Padre Gomez (“Spring of Father Gomez”), until those who followed 100 years later renamed it Tomato Springs, for the surrounding wild tomatoes. The spot didn’t get much press until 1912, when a 200-man posse tracked suspected rapist Joe Matlock to the springs and a major shootout ensued. Undersheriff Robert Squares was killed and three other men were injured before the “Tomato Springs Bandit” killed himself. Developers recently gave the area yet another name: Portola Springs. But in the 1990s, the Transportation Corridor Agencies named the nearby toll plazas Tomato Springs. This year, the toll plazas became history, too. Yet the springs still flow near Old Bee Canyon Road on the outskirts of Irvine.

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