While digging through the books in the county library, oh, probably 2 years ago, I ran across Blaxine, Halfbreed Girl, published by Garberville resident Margaret Cobb in 1910.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, but here is the “gist”:
A young man, Stanley Carwood (I just double checked the name) moves to small, isolated Sargent Valley to board in the Sargent house and teach at the Sargent School. Living in the house are Sargent’s young , sweet white wife and four “half-breed” children, that Sergeant claims as his . The children have different Native mothers and Sargent and the white wife are raising them. The mothers (except the one killed by another mother/squaw) live in a nearby Indian village and stay involved, to one degree or another, in their children’s and Sargent’s lives.
“Carwood” predictably falls in love with one of Sargent’s daughters, drama ensues, and all eventually ends with… well, e-mail me if you want to know the ending, otherwise I’ll let you read it yourself.
The thing that struck me, though, and the point of this post, is that Cobb’s “fictional” story didn’t feel like fiction. The multiple Indian mistresses/wives in the background, the innocent, lovable white wife… it all felt too real. And when I accidently ran across the census records for Alfred Sherwood, something clicked. Sherwood “founded” Sherwood Valley, just northwest of Willits, in the 1850s.
In 1860, Sherwood was living withhis son, a 3 year old half-Native boy, Robert. There is no woman in the house.
In 1870, Sherwood is married to Ellen, a 23 year old white Wisconsin native, and raising “half-breed” boys Ethan, 8, and Andrew, 6. Sherwood lists both boys as his sons.
In 1880, he is still with Ellen, now known as “Nellie”, and has moved Joseph (a year older than Andrew at 17), Samuel-13, John-11, Hellen-19, and Mary Ann-16, into the house. All the kids are listed as “W” for white, but later census records reveal that all of them had Indian mothers. Later census records also reveal that Nellie, Sherwood’s wife, only gave birth to one child, and that child did not survive.
It fit and I became convinced that Cobb based her book on the Sherwood family story. I shared my theory with Ol ‘ManRiver, a preeminent SoHum historian, but he poo-poo’d me (sorry Ol’ Man), and I let it go. Until… Ol’Man sent me this (along with a wonderful, humble apology)…
2069. Hogshead, John Samuel. “A Chronological Sketch or Narrative of My Life: Covelo, California
1933-1938.”1933. checked, UC Berkeley – Bancroft Library.
Abstract: CXXXII: While teaching at Sherwood Valley school he had 2 indian half-beed pupils old
man Sherwoods’ girl and boy. The boy was dull, the girl was smart. She smiled knowingly
but said nothing when Hogshead mispronounced the word “Sioux.” “Their mother was probably
the ‘Cream Ellen’ of Maggie Smith’s Blaxine character.”
CXLV: “Then I got the Farley School. That is where, as you know, I had Maggie Smith, who
afterwards wrote ‘Blaxine, The Half-Breed Girl.'”
So there you go. This… shit (sorry) happened. Cobb was born in 1871 and grew up on the South Fork of the Eel River, where she would have known many “half-breed” children, children born of the white men who came into the area and their Native “wives”. I don’t know (yet) if she knew the Sherwood kids, or just heard stories about it later, but it stuck. Stuck enough to inspire her to write a whole book about the family, cloaked in “fiction”.
To be continued…