How Kneeland got its name

From Kneeland, Feb. 2010

In the early days , shipbuilders would make the climb to Kneeland Prairie, high above Humboldt Bay, where they would dig large trees out by their roots.  Keeping the root as part of the timber gave the beams a natural curve, which were perfect for “knees” (naturally angled brackets used to fasten the ship’s deck to the hull).

This ready supply of ships “knees” give Kneeland its name.  

Lovely story and makes sense.  But it isn’t true.

During the gold rush, a pioneer named John Kneeland settled a big beautiful prairie overlooking the Humboldt Bay.  The area was called Kneeland after him. 

Less interesting, but true.

I recently visited Bill Paddock, whose family has lived on Kneeland for generations, and he shared both these stories to show how easy it is to get history twisted up.  To get it wrong.

These stories also illustrate another point, though.  We can learn from any story.  Even the false ones generally start with ( or have hidden in ’em somewhere) some little bit of truth.  

“Ships’ knees” do exist, and early ship builders may have got them from Kneeland.  Who knows, maybe the name acted as a bright red arrow that led to just the timber the builders needed.   

Stories are fun, even when they aren’t true.  And even stories from the biggest B.S.’er in the world likely have something to offer.  If you hear one especially interesting, true or not, please feel free to share it here.


9 Responses to How Kneeland got its name

  1. Nan Abrams says:

    Have you thought that Lord Ellis summit was named after a Lord? I wondered. No, apparently there was a fellow named Lord and a fellow named Ellis–can’t remember the rest of the story but they must have laid claim to the summit. Anyone else know the rest of the story?

    • lynette77 says:

      Actually I hadn’t thought about Lord Ellis…. I’d love to hear that story, too.

      Dennis Turner wrote this great book, Place Names of Humboldt County. Let’s see if he’s got it.

      Ok, way more info than I feel like typing right now, but the short version of Turner’s explanation is

      William Lord and Edward Ellis organized and were the first two to sign a petition to have a wagon road built over this summit. The road was constructed between 1880 and 1890.

      Turner’s book is really fantastic, by the way, though a little hard to find. I think he’s working on a new edition.

  2. Kym says:

    oooh, I want that book. If it comes out again, let me know.

    (PS I loved your vignette about Kneeland and history twisters)

    • lynette77 says:

      I will definitely let folks know if I hear anything. It’s a great book and worth checking for. Many of the place name descriptions include a lot of local history.

      I think I found mine on Amazon, but then tracked that copy down to Tin Can Mailman in Arcata. Handy, that.

  3. Nan Abrams says:

    I have a lot of information on how Augustus Jacoby was instrumental in getting the road built between Union and Weaverville which includes correspondence to the people of Weaverville via the newspaper there and editorials about it written by the editor of the same(supposedly)paper. I would be curious to know what road Lord and Ellis were advocating for since the road to Weaverville was surely already built by the 1890s. here is a bit of something:
    1856 Feb 23
    Trinity Journal
    Trail to Humboldt Bay: The people at the Bay are again agitating this subject, but we fear as in all previous attempts it will avail them nothing. Uniontown entertains the opinion that Weaver should bear half the expense of making this road . ..

  4. Debbie Williams says:

    I love that whole “Knee” story about Kneeland. My mom was postmaster on Kneeland for 27 years and I was raised there from 3 days old until 49 years old when my mom passed away. I must admit I had never heard of the ship knee tale. Mom always told us kids that John Kneeland settled the area and it was named after him.
    Wikipedia has a very informative page on Kneeland.,_California

    • Nan Abrams says:

      the list of ghost towns below the town description is also very interesting. thanks for the lead.

      • Lynette M says:

        Happy to help. I have a scary-big collection of info, so if you are ever looking for anything in particular, let me know. I can’t guarantee that I can help, but I can promise to try.

    • Lynette M says:

      Yeah, I am sure the area was named after John, but love the other stories…

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