Newhall Gunfight 50th Anniversary

In the early morning hours of 6 April 1970,  a  fierce gunfight raged in a small parking lot off The Old Road and Henry Mayo Drive in Newhall, California. When the last echoes of shotgun and handgun fire faded, three young California Highway Patrolmen lay dead, and a fourth lay critically wounded (he wouldn’t survive the trip to the hospital).

The Newhall Gunfight was the worst day in the history of the California Highway Patrol, who had never lost so many officers in a single day. But the Newhall Gunfight had a much broader reach, which stretched beyond the edges of the Patrol itself, and touched the entire American law enforcement community.

“Newhall” would influence the tactics, training, equipment, and culture of American policing in a dramatic way. The fledgling “Officer Survival” movement of the era would get kicked into high gear as a result of Newhall, and many cops would benefit from the blood lessons taught by Officers George M. Alleyn, Walter C. Frago, Roger D. Gore, and James E. Pence, Jr.

Today, we at RevolverGuy salute these men, their families, and the brave men (including an unarmed citizen, Gary Kness, and many fellow officers) who risked their own safety to help their brothers in need and stop the killers’ escape. We recognize their collective sacrifice and pray for them all.

It’s been 50 years since the gunfire faded in Newhall, and we’re still learning the lessons from that fateful day, and working to honor the kind of debt that can never be repaid.

The CHP dedicated a new memorial to the fallen Newhall officers on the 47th anniversary of the shooting. This memorial is the third and latest in a series of Newhall Area Office memorials that honor these men, and continues the tradition of Italian Cypress trees to represent each of the officers.
Officer Alleyn was the passenger side officer in Unit 78-12, the second CHP vehicle on scene. After exiting his vehicle under fire, he fought an extended fight with the felons with his Remington 870 shotgun and S&W Model 19, before he was mortally wounded.
Officer Frago was the passenger side officer in Unit 78-8, the first CHP vehicle on scene. He was ambushed and killed while making an approach to the passenger side of the suspect’s vehicle. This tragic event set the gunfight in motion.
Officer Gore was the driver of Unit 78-8, the first CHP vehicle on scene. He was searching the driver of the suspect’s vehicle when he saw his partner, Officer Frago, get ambushed and killed. As he was firing upon his partner’s killer with his Colt Python, Officer Gore was shot and killed at close range by the driver of the suspect’s vehicle.
Officer Pence was the driver of Unit 78-12, the second CHP vehicle on scene. After unexpectedly driving into an ambush, Officer Pence exited his vehicle under fire and engaged the suspects with his Colt Python revolver. When it ran dry, he retreated to cover to reload his weapon. As he worked, he was shot numerous times by a flanking attacker, but he never gave up trying to feed his cartridges into the cylinder of his gun, one-by-one. Unfortunately, he was killed before he could get back into the fight.
Gary Kness, a former Marine who served in the Korean War, ran into the middle of the gunfight to assist Officer Alleyn, who had just been wounded. When the pair came under fire, Kness fought back with Officer Alleyn’s revolver, and forced his killer to flee before Alleyn’s gun ran dry. He was recognized for his heroism by the CHP during the 5 June 1970 memorial wall dedication ceremony at the Newhall Area Office. (Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/du1972.htm )
Sergeant (Ret.) Harry Ingold, the driver of the fourth CHP vehicle on scene, points to where he found Officer Roger Gore when he rushed to assist that night. Photo taken at the May 2016 dedication of the Newhall exhibit at the California Highway Patrol Academy Museum. ( http://chpmuseum.org )
CHP Officer Roger Palmer was partnered with Officer Harry Ingold that night, and arrived on scene as the last shots were fired. The getaway car took off as he was maneuvering to get a shot with his Remington 870. He pursued on foot and searched the parking lot for the suspects after they abandoned their car. Roger later planted four Italian Cypress trees–one for each of his fallen friends–at the Newhall Area Office off Lyons Avenue. When the CHP office moved to a new location, four new trees were planted there, because the originals could not be uprooted without killing them, as the roots had grown together as one. The four originals remain standing today at the old office location, which is now a CalTrans office. Pictured is Roger Palmer on the 47th anniversary, with his wonderful and enduring tribute.
Officer Frago’s service weapon, a Colt Officer’s Model Match, is on display at the CHP Museum. http://chpmuseum.org
Excerpt from Governor Ronald Reagan’s statement on the Newhall Gunfight.

 

Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a certified revolver nut, an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor, and a columnist at PoliceOne.com. He is also the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

23 thoughts on “Newhall Gunfight 50th Anniversary”

  1. Both academies I attended (in Ohio) drew lessons from this event. I hope we never fail to give our budding Officers these lessons learned.

  2. Thank you Mike, for honoring these men and helping to keep their memory in the front of our consciousness. I join you today in prayer for their families and colleagues still affected by their loss. They fulfilled their oath with their blood and their very lives and are worthy of our respect. May their sacrifice continue to better the mindset of peace officers serving.

  3. Thank you Mike for your insight and working to keep everyone aware and safe. You have made us mindful and alert to the “lessons learned” on that tragic night. You have worked tirelessly to help memorialize Roger, Walt, Skip and Mike and to keep their families in our thoughts and prayers and not let that tragedy be forgotten. I sincerely appreciate all you have done, and continue to do, but most of all, I thank you for your friendship

  4. Colonel, thank you for reminding everyone that this tragedy still has many lessons to teach the current generation. It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years already. Cripe, I’m getting old !!

    When I started ‘patrol school’ in 1972, Newhall was still a very fresh and open wound. It was a glaring example of the price of failed training. Newhall was used by our instructors to drive home the point that no encounter can be taken for granted, that nothing is really as it appears to be until it has passed, that you train for a worse case scenario at each and every traffic stop or response to traffic accident. Even backing up sheriff’s deputies on periodic crazy adrenalin dumpers (you know, like ’10-33 traffic, shots fired’) Newhall still lingered in the background.

    May those CHP officers, and the far too many others whose EOW came far too early never be forgotten !

  5. My uncle lived in Newhall during this very sad time in LEO history. When I became a LEO he told me all about the tragic event. Rest in Peace my brothers in arms

  6. The Onion Field, the Newhall Massacre, the Black Panther Shootout, and the SLA Shootout are the biggest reasons I went on the job. No way was I gonna stay on the sidelines.

  7. I went through the sheriff’s academy in California in 1976 and retired in 2002. This battle was a huge subject then. I believe the tragedy of these four brave men’s deaths saved many of us in the future. I hope we all meet in eternity.
    Thank you Mike

  8. Mike,
    Thank you for your hard work and dedication to make sure the price paid in blood at Newhall will never be forgotten. I hired a fine young man this week as a brand new Police Officer. Today he sat in my office as my Seargent and I talked about Newhall. He will benefit from those hard lessons and from your book. Rest in peace Officer’s Gore, Pence, Frago and Alleyn. Your sacrifices were not in vain, we are still teaching the lessons learned at Newhall.

  9. Thank you for remembering and honoring these four young officers. It is much appreciated.

    Celeste Frago
    (Walt Frago’s daughter)

    1. Ma’am, it’s our distinct honor and duty to do so. You and your family sacrificed so much, and we want you to know that something good came from this horrible tragedy. The lessons learned from your father’s experience helped to protect all those who have worn a badge since. God bless you and your family, and thank you for your comment!

  10. Mike,

    As always, your research and dedication to this tragic event is a thorough and valuable lesson on what happened and how law enforcement was ill-prepared to safely respond. I have your book, Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, and am slowly working my way through it.

    Thank you for sharing this information, and I appreciate that you included the photos of the memorials.

    WGJ

  11. Thank You! Great tribute. I read and studied the Newhall gunfight when I started in law enforcement in 1978. I still study LEO involved shootings.

  12. Thank you for all the kind comments, folks. What I appreciate most of all is that you’re out there sharing this story and these lessons with a new generation. I’m proud to count you all as my friends!

  13. I was in the 11th grade here in Missouri when this happened and I remember the local police officers and state rods talking about it. I think the whole 1960s and 1970s experience really changed the way officers thought of their jobs, their duties, and their risks. You can’t blame them. Our local marshal didn’t even carry a gun, until a horrible bank robbery in our town in 1973, when a whole family was killed by the criminals. Something my dad, a former cop himself pointed out; there sure were a lot of even rural police carrying 1911s after this.

    Hey, excellent writing and a great tribute to those officers.

  14. I really love the memorials. There is just something about the fact that they’re around that makes me feel the honor of the fallen. So many times officers are killed and the place where it happened disappears from history. 50 years. Wow. You’re doing a great job of keeping this story around because it’s still relevant.

  15. Mike,
    That relatively short period in history changed everything. The 1966 UT shooting, the Manson murders and Newhall were major events changed not only LE but in how people saw the world in general. Between those events and Vietnam being the first televised war, people in general became much more jaded and cynical. That period started something that I feel has only got worse over the years.

  16. Several years ago I put together a class on the Newhall shooting and I’ve conducted it more than a couple times at my agency. When your book was released I incorporated it into the training and I know a couple officers who have purchased it.

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