Joe Russ’s home and… family (?)

Fern Cottage,

Yesterday a friend and I made the trip to Ferndale to take a tour through Fern Cottage.

“Fern Cottage is the 30-room home of pioneers Joseph and Zipporah Russ, built for their growing family in 1866.  Architect/Builder George Fairfield designed Fern Cottage for the cattle-ranching family and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.  Nearly all of the furniture and furnishings in Fern Cottage are original, so visitors will see it much as it was in the 1870s when the family lived there.  

Located three miles west of Ferndale, Fern Cottage sits on 1,600 acres, surrounded by pastoral fields.

Public Tours
are available Wed – Sun
   Memorial Day Weekend through August 31 from 11am to 4pm. “

 There is a great video about the cottage and some Russ family history HERE

Of course, the video doesn’t address rumors that early in the settlement period, Joseph Russ kept an Indian girl as a mistress and had a child by her.  The narrator doesn’t talk about Russ’s missing ear–and tell me whether it was damaged because a bull bit it, or because, when Joseph Russ grew tired of his Native concubine and tried to drive her and their child away, she attacked him and bit part of his ear off.

It also doesn’t contain any interviews with a Russ descendant I met once in Ferndale who said, “Oh yes, Gus-Joe Russ’s Indian child.  We know about him.  Some family members tracked the family down once, but they didn’t want to have anything to do with us. Said they were happy with life and didn’t need any of the Russes from Humboldt County…”

I must admit all of that is simply gossip, rumor.  But Gus Russ did exist (I found him the Mendocino Census).  And apparently Joseph Russ was missing part of his ear…

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10 Responses to Joe Russ’s home and… family (?)

  1. Jendocino says:

    Bull bit it off – an excuse for the ages…

  2. Ross Rowley says:

    Just so you know, the narrator, Bill Morrill IS a descendant of Joseph Russ. I’ve heard Zipporah Russ was a gold fields prostitute and tried to stab and drown Joseph but, alas…it’s just gossip and a rumor.

    Although I will admit it is gossip and a rumor, Zipporah did use knives in her kitchen and there is a pond named after her.

    • lynette77 says:

      Hey now, most “history” is subjective, you know that, and most even “official” history is often the product of gossip and rumor .

      I do know I would have loved to meet Zipporah–especially if the prostitute story is true :).

  3. Julia Russ says:

    I have never heard about this “story” but I am Gus Russ’ grand daughter and yes…our grandma was Wailaki Indian. We don’t know too much about our Grandpa Gus’ family the Russ Family but we thought that his dad drowned in the Trinity River. Grandpa Gus’ mom passed away and he was raised in the Long Ridge area and finally ended up moving to the Round Valley Indian Reservation where he is an enrolled member. I am and always have been very curious about my Russ Family and would love to meet family members. I live in Willits and my dad, Joseph Russ, Sr. still lived in Covelo on the Round Valley Reservation.

    • Lynette M says:

      Hello Julia,
      I am so glad you posted.
      I was actually just sharing the Russ story with a friend just the other day.
      I will post your comment as a post on my blog.
      Perhaps I’ll get a response from local Russ descendants.

      Very nice to meet you.

      ~Lynette

  4. […] name is Julia and she ran across my post about rumors regarding pioneer Joe Russ. She lives in Willits and I’d love to use this blog to connect her to her extended family up […]

  5. Hi Lynette,
    I am touch with a woman who wrote a book on Russ family genealogy. I just sent her a link to this post… we’ll see what she has on Gus, if anything.

    Welcome back to blog world, by the way… i will have to jump back in soon, myself!
    ~Laura

  6. Julia Russ says:

    Hi Lynette, Yes it’s been quite a while since I curiously searched for information about my Russ family. My dad Joe Russ passed away in 2012 and I’ve not thought much about old history. But we are family and that cannot change. I’m back living in Covelo on my family land and I’d like to meet some of my Russ family…I think it would be interesting and fun. It’s been several generations since my Grandpa Gus came into the world and I’ll bet we’re the only Native American relatives in the family tree. I have two children and two grandchildren and I want them to know their identity with my paternal grandpa’s side of the family. I don’t imagine it was a “love story” but there was a child born and that’s important to document…right?

  7. olmanriver says:

    I have seen some wonderful pictures of Gus Russ, he looks like a remarkable man.
    In my newspaper searches I have seen two different local articles about the bull and Russ’s ear. ?
    And… the author of The Origin of Mattole- Through the Eyes of a Salmon told me that his mother had shared the story of Russ Sr.’s struggle with a Native woman who sliced his ear in a bar that his mother said was out near the King’s Range.
    Nothing definitive here, but some more stories for the family, if they check back in.

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