Hidden in O.C.'s foothills, a gnarled reminder of California's past

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Wildfires destroy, but they can also reveal. For years, a monument marking the site of one of Orange County's most infamous killings sat largely obscured amid a thicket of mustard plants a hundred yards or so from the Foothill toll road.

But when the 2007 Santiago fire ripped through the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, firefighters discovered something that longtime residents of the rural area and local historians already knew.People were lynched there.

A few months ago the conservancy, which manages thousands of acres of open space in Orange County, began offering docent-led hikes to the Hangman's Tree marker, erected in 1967 by an equestrian group.

These living monuments have often been treated with a detached whimsy rather than as sobering reminders of the state's long history of extrajudicial killing, much of which was fueled by racism.

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