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First Jail

With how modern the Antelope Valley is today, it may be easy to overlook its roots as a "cowboy town". Like a scene straight out of the Wild West, early Lancaster saw its fair share of shoot-outs, prison breaks, bank robberies, and illegal cattle-rings.

Those that were arrested for their crimes were held at the Lancaster jail, which was just a small two-cell wooden shack with a single barred window located on Antelope Avenue (now Sierra Highway) behind the Oak Bar. This small structure, measuring only 8 feet by 10 feet, served as the town jail from the 1880s until 1916. The door was often mistakenly left open, leading to numerous jailbreaks. It was common for the arrested criminals to not give their true names, with a common alias being “John Lancaster”.

While most of the early Lancaster Constables were decent men ensuring the well-being of Antelope Valley residents, Mace Mayes was quite the opposite. Mayes served as Constable of Lancaster in the late-1880's and early-1890's while he also worked as the keeper of a local saloon and meat market. During this time, he and his nephew Newton Morris were accused of running a cattle-rustling ring in Palmdale. It was determined that their illicit activities were conceived at his local saloon. He was tried and found guilty by Judge Bulkley, who sentenced him to 6 years in San Quentin. This was hailed as the AV’s “Trial of the Century”, with a majority of the Antelope Valley’s population coming to witness the 10-day trial.

"Gurba, Norma H. Lancaster. Arcadia, 2005.

Photo courtesy of MOAH Collections"


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