George (Washington) Pate on a Wagon (Rio Dell)

November 16, 2020
Source: HSU Special Collection

As some folks know, I grew up in Rio Dell but have been unable to find many old photos of the place. Searching “Rio Dell” online I did find this rather simple but wonderful photo- and I think that is the hill above Belleview Ave in the background.

The information with this photo says George Pate, Rio Dell (?).

I did find Mr. Pate’s information on Find A Grave, and he was, in fact, from Rio Dell. He died in 1907 just after his 70th birthday. He doesn’t look anywhere near that old in this image, making this a pretty old photo…

Mr. Pate was a veteran and suffered “worse than wounds” (I am not sure what this means…- maybe mental health issues/trauma?). I found the following information in his online obituary


“Old Soldier Called”.  Not unexpected came the call of “taps” to Veteran George W. Pate at his home in Rio Dell on Monday, July 22, 1907.  Burdened with years and since the war handicapped with internal troubles contracted during arduous campaigns he at last succumbed.

George W. Pate was born in Maquoketa, Jackson county, Iowa, May 18, 1837.  His youth and early manhood were spent on the farm.  In 1862 when the country needed men he enlisted in Co. F. 31st Iowa regiment and served until the end of the war.  Tho present at Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga and with Sherman during his march to the sea, Comrade Pate was never wounded, though he suffered worse than wounds and was never a well man again.

At the close of the war he returned to the work on the farm.  In December of 1889 he came to California, settled at Rohnerville and farmed.  About 13 years ago he obtained his present home at Rio Dell where he has since resided.

George never married.

George Washington Pate

BIRTH18 Jul 1837 Hurstville, Jackson County, Iowa, USA
DEATH22 Jul 1907 (aged 70)Rio Dell, Humboldt County, California, USA
BURIALSunrise CemeteryFortuna, Humboldt County, California, USA
PLOTBlock 2, Lot 22, Grave 1
MEMORIAL ID17426559 · View Source

Seeking information on Jack Ryan (framed and falsely convicted for double murder in the 1920s)

November 14, 2020
Photo found among the corrupt attorney’s ego collection

Jack Ryan was framed for a double murder by corrupt Humboldt County District Attorney Stephen Metzler in the 1920s during prohibition. I’ve known about Jack ever since I found the DA’s ego collection (newspaper clippings and more) in a trunk in a Eureka antique store years ago. I wrote about him briefly on my blog HERE but I woke up this morning knowing it was time to do more.

And so… I am looking for any and all information, stories, descriptions that anyone might have about Jack, his brother Walter David (strangled with barbed wire in an attempt to get Jack to confess), Metzler and/or others involved in the case. You can email or even share in the chat so others can see it.

Below you’ll find a time line of the case outlined by Northwestern University

Chronology of the case of Jack Ryan

Compiled by Steve Art

— 2006, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law

October 7, 1925 — Twenty-one-year-old Henry Sweet and his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Carmen Wagner, leave their homes in Eureka, California to go hunting on Coyote Flat, forty-five miles to the southeast.

October 11, 1925 — Sweet’s body is discovered in an abandoned cabin. He has been shot once in the back.

October 23, 1925 — Wagner’s body is found in a shallow grave near Baker Creek, a few miles from Coyote Flat. She has been shot twice and has skin and dried blood beneath her fingernails. Later that day, Walter David, Jack Ryan’s half-brother, is arrested in connection with the murders.

October 24, 1925 — Jack Ryan is arrested in connection with the murders. The two brothers have no known connection to the victims and were considered suspects only because they lived in the area and, in the vernacular of the press at the time, are considered “half breeds.” David has a verifiable alibi and is soon released. Ryan is charged with Wagner’s murder, which appears to be the stronger case.

March 12, 1926 — A jury of twelve white men returns a verdict of not guilty at the end of Ryan’s five-week trial.

January 1927 — Stephen Earl Metzler, a lawyer and bootlegger, is elected district attorney of Humboldt County after campaigning on the promise that he would solve the murders within two years. Upon assuming office Metzler sets about fulfilling his campaign promise. Rather than pursuing Bill Shields, an obvious suspect with a clear motive who has been placed at the scene of the crime by an eyewitness, Metzler makes him a strategist and consultant in the renewed investigation.

October 31, 1927 — David, Ryan’s half-brother, is found tortured and strangled to death with barbed wire.

November 1927 — Metzler attempts to intimidate Ryan, sending anonymous letters warning that a similar fate awaits him unless he confesses to the murders. This and other tactics to elicit a confession fail.

July 12, 1928 — Metzler pays a woman $100 to falsely accuse Ryan of having sex with her thirteen-year-old daughter. Ryan is arrested and charged with three counts of statutory rape. Out of fear of remaining in Humboldt County, Ryan pleads guilty to two counts of rape; the third count is dismissed. Ryan is immediately sentenced. That night, Metzler intensively interrogates Ryan.

July 13, 1928 — Following the all-night interrogation Ryan confesses to both murders. A second prosecution for the Wagner murder is barred on double jeopardy grounds, but without legal representation, Ryan pleads guilty to the Sweet murder. He is sentenced to life in prison and is taken to San Quentin State Prison the same day.

1930 — Metzler is indicted and convicted of conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act.

1939 — Franklin D. Roosevelt pardons Metzler.

1947 — The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs launches a reinvestigation of the Ryan cases. Metzler acknowledges to agents that he had set Ryan up, and that Shields had likely killed the couple. The Bureau’s report, issued the following year, is instrumental in Ryan’s parole.

May 11, 1953 — Ryan wins parole.

March 20, 1969 — Governor Ronald Reagan commutes Ryan’s life sentence to time served, in effect releasing him from parole.

August 23, 1978 — Ryan dies of natural causes.

April 15, 1996 — Governor Pete Wilson grants Ryan an unprecedented posthumous pardon after an extensive reinvestigation of the case by Richard H. Walton, a local DA’s investigator.

Requa Saloon and more…

November 13, 2020
Source: HSU Special Collection

I was actually looking for saloon pics when I accidentally ran across another great photo of Requa, which is located just north of Humboldt in Del Norte County, near the mouth of the Klamath River. I’m not sure what prompted the crowd, but this offers a great collection of old cars, clothes, buildings and more…

This may be located directly above the boat photo from yesterday (to the left of the Klamath Inn) but it is hard to tell for sure…

Upcoming OLLI Class

October 26, 2020

Humboldt’s Historic Photographs and the Stories They Tell

In the midst of these challenging times, this class is strictly fun.

Coming up Wednesday….

Delve into the history of well-known and familiar Humboldt County sites and events. Discover the fascinating local history of these places, and see how structures and landscapes have evolved over time.

Wed., Oct. 28 • 2-4 p.m.


$20 • Class #: 43949


Humboldt’s Volunteer Relief Workers- Then and Now

September 18, 2020

Humboldt County has a long history of supporting those in need during challenging times, as clearly illustrated by the photo above. It was taken during the 1964 “Christmas Flood”.

In 2020, I am fortunate enough to work in economic and workforce development, where I hear every day about the various individuals and organizations (like the local Red Cross, Pay it Forward Humboldt and Cooperation Humboldt) who are offering support to those affected by the pandemic – AND the wildfires.

I am so thankful to live in Humboldt.

Volunteers with Pay it Forward Humboldt

Crimes from the Past

August 26, 2020


Source: North Coast Journal/Humboldt Historical Society

Just by (another) happy accident, I found this story in the North Coast Journal on the heels of my county jail post. 

Published in 2018 (and missed by me), the story talks about a set of recently discovered ledgers detailing Humboldt County jail bookings dating back to the 1880s. Kim Wear did a great job of prompting more questions than providing answers- and offered many opportunities for more research when winter rains hit and we’re looking for something to do…


Source: NCJ/Humboldt Historical Society

This young lady is Jenice Nelson. I can’t find her in the census but ‘come winter I’ll try again…



New Bench at Myrtle Grove Cemetery Pays Homage to Eureka’s ‘First White Family’ and the Native Woman They Enslaved

August 10, 2020
Lynette Mullen / @ 7 a.m. / History

Reprinted from the Lost Coast Outpost 


Photos: Ryan Burns.


Former Humboldt County resident Suzanne Sevier McBride recently commissioned a new bench for the Myrtle Grove Cemetery to provide seating for cemetery volunteers, to recognize her pioneer ancestors Aristides (A.J.) and Annis Huestis and to honor Silva, a Native American woman who was legally indentured to A.J. Huestis in 1861 and represents an important reminder of Humboldt’s painful past.

McBride learned about Silva in 1998 after she received a box of discarded family photos from the Eureka Police Department. In the collection, McBride found two identical photos of a Native American woman and through diligent research eventually identified her as Silva, a young woman legally bound to the Huestis family in 1861 under the 1850 “Act for the Government and Protection of Indians.”

The law allowed for the legal indenture of Native Americans under a variety of circumstances, and allowed “masters” to secure “… care, custody, control, and earnings” of a Native child until he or she obtained the age of majority — 18 years old for males and 15 for females. Under the original law, Native children could be indentured only if the justice of the peace was convinced that no compulsory means was used to obtain the child, but in 1860 the law was expanded to allow for the indenture of prisoners of war. It also extended the terms of indenture. In 1860, boys under 14 could be indentured until they were 25 and girls until they were 21. Children over 14 could be indentured until they were 30 and 25 respectively.

During the “Indian wars” of Northern California, many men and women were indentured under this law, but the majority were children, likely because they were easier to control and less likely to escape their masters. Boys and girls as young as four or five were tasked with childcare and household chores and children as young as seven or eight were put to work in the fields. Demand for these young servants grew and Humboldt County became infamous in the trafficking of Indian children. Traffickers would raid Native villages, often killing the adult inhabitants, and then gather up and sell the children for $50 to $250 each. By August of 1857, the Humboldt Times newspaper was reporting regularly on the practice, asserting that a many Indian parents had been “shot down in cold blood” and the inhuman practice of kidnapping was “going on with the steadiness of a regular system.”

Huestis, serving as a Humboldt County Judge in the 1860s, signed the orders on many local indentures, and also had 14-year-old Silva bound to him on March 5, 1861. According to the original indenture record, Indians on their way to the Klamath Reservation had offered to sell the orphaned Silva to Huestis for $20. Huestis refused to pay for the girl but did offer to let her stay. According to Silva’s obituary, she ran away within days but was captured and returned to Huestis. At that time, when given a choice between staying with the family and being sent to the Klamath reservation, where Native inhabitants faced abuse and starvation, Silva chose to remain.

And there she stayed, even after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in December of 1865, making slavery and indentured servitude — except for those duly convicted of a crime — illegal. After the death of Judge Huestis, Mrs. Huestis and Silva moved in with Huestis’s daughter, Mrs. Nathaniel Bullock and it was in their home that Silva died of tuberculosis in 1893.


“I really wanted to honor her,” Suzanne McBride explained recently when asked why she included Silva’s photo on the memorial bench. “She was in a home of educators so they would have taught her to read and write (this is true according to the 1870 Federal Census) but she was with the family the rest of her life. She never married or had a chance to have a family of her own. She could have left, but I’m not sure how. If she could have found a place….”

McBride prefers to believe that Silva was treated like a member of the family, and the Silva’s studio portrait supports the possibility, though Silva’s obituary described her as a “faithful servant and companion.” The obituary also describes her as kind, honest and “of good impulses.” Silva, it added, died a Christian.

“I just wanted to do something to help us remember what the indigenous people went through,” McBride explained. “I just wanted to acknowledge her and her people somehow…”   While the bench features photos of Huestis, his wife and Silva, Suzanne did not include photos of the Huestis children because “they didn’t count in this regard.” McBride wanted the focus on Silva.

For more information on this history of kidnapping and indenture in Northern California, see “Masters, Apprentices, and Kidnappers: Indian Servitude and Slave Trafficking in Humboldt County, California, 1860–1863,” by Michael F. Magliari.


Lynette Mullen writes about Humboldt County history at Lynette’s NorCal History Blog. On Tuesday, Aug. 11, she will teach an online course for OLLI entitled “Enslaved in Humboldt: The Story of Caroline Wright.” Click the link for details.

THE 1918 PANDEMIC: What Happened When the Flu Overwhelmed Humboldt’s Medical System?

July 19, 2020


Source; National Archives 




Do not call the doctors for information. They have just about all they can do without answering unnecessary questions as to whether you may take your child to the dentist; whether a certain out of town school will be closed; and whether the ice cream parlors are open. – The Humboldt Times, 22 October 1918


In July of 1918, two months after 19-year-old Imogene Lockwood started her nursing training at the Union Hospital in Eureka, she began a diary, realizing, she wrote, that the record would be invaluable “when age and ease have made my present view of life no longer possible.”

In early October of that year, Imogene was still learning how to balance classes, training and patient care when two Austrian travelers staying in Eureka fell ill with Spanish Flu and quickly infected their rooming house hosts. The next day five more cases were identified, and infection spread rapidly in Humboldt County from there.

By mid-October, local nurses and even students like Imogene were sick with the virus. The mayor of Eureka urged citizens to report suspected cases and local papers published guidance on how to avoid an “An Attack of Dread Influenza Germs.” Local physician Charles Falk did the same, warning that the flu was spread from person to person via “very small droplets” which could be spread by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking and more. Falk urged infected individuals to isolate and recommended that all nurses and attendants wear masks to protect themselves against the disease.

Despite the warnings, local case counts continued to rise, and area physicians grew frustrated, convinced area citizens were failing “to take the simple ordinary precautions necessary to avoid infection.” On October 19, the State Board of Health moved to close “all amusements” – including dances and movies – and local governments followed suit. Just the day before, Mrs. Ira Russ started building a list of individuals willing to help Humboldt’s patients. The list was a “precautionary measure,” Russ reassured prospective volunteers, and the workload would be light.

Instead, patients were transferred from outlying areas to Eureka’s hospital and the patient count quickly topped 100, taxing nurses and doctors. Officials moved to limit transfers and dedicate the Northern California Hospital exclusively for isolation of influenza cases, which would allow fewer nurses to care for more patients in one location. The arrangement stalled, however, when hospital owner Dr. Falk demanded $1,000 a month for use of the empty facility because of its “perfect condition.” Falk didn’t “care to have it filled with contagious disease” but would be willing to bend if the county could meet his price.

At this time, the local Red Cross Committee on influenza assembled a corps of nurses and emergency housekeepers for homebound patients and when the office in San Francisco issued a call for Home Defense nurses, local officials denied them, as all were “urgently needed here.” Organizers also asked “every woman” available to help support overworked nurses. In response, Miss Helen Kramer ran errands in “an auto” and Miss Dorothy Notley provided emergency housekeeping and cooking. Others served as able and volunteer coordinator Mrs. Russ vowed to “get assistance to every case possible which the doctors find in need.” When called upon, at least twenty-five volunteers showed up at the Red Cross office to make flu masks.

On October 20, Dr. N H. Bright, president of the State Board of Health’s predicted “waning” of the flu the same day Humboldt County announced its first flu-related fatality, and in the next few days more local nurses and doctors fell ill. The city of Eureka ordered those serving the public to wear masks and officials reached an agreement to lease Falk’s hospital. Health Officer Dr. Mercer also urged small towns, lumber camps, and other centers of population to follow Scotia and Samoa’s lead in establishing smaller, temporary flu hospitals in their communities to relieve the burden in Eureka.

The Red Cross drug store shut its doors because all employees were sick and local doctors received word that medicine from San Francisco would not be coming due to high demand. Dr. Mercer begged community members to stop congregating in the downtown districts.

As case counts grew, nurses like Imogene had to fight their own fear of the virus. On October 23 after falling ill, Imogene admitted that she was “almost a coward,” and contemplated giving up nursing so as to “not ever hear of germs again,” but she conquered her fear and went back to work, only to relapse just two days later. To her diary she confessed that she was “pretty frightened” and feared her mother and her brother might get sick. At that time, at least seven other nurses were also “down” with the flu.

To help address the nursing shortage, the Red Cross, with Mrs. Russ in still charge, worked quickly to get the Northern California Hospital up and running, outfitted with donated linens and furniture. Within days the facility had 23 cases and could accommodate more than 50. The kitchen was up and running and a number of women throughout town were preparing and donating food. The county librarian managed the hospital office, the requests for assistance were met with the “heartiest cooperation” and the women of Eureka were “finding more ways than those suggested” to be of assistance. When Anne Fenwick arrived from San Francisco to visit her parents, she spent a full day driving a car for Red Cross hospital managers, running errands and collecting supplies, and “was even prepared to move patients if necessary.”

By October 25, Eureka’s officials thought they glimpsed the end of the epidemic and attributed it to “the wearing of the masks and the splendid cooperation of the people in every way,” but the number of cases being treated at the Red Cross hospital continued to rise. The hospital stopped admitting visitors, but volunteers were still needed, and one thankful hospital committee member noted that there seemed “no limit to the response of the citizens” to help whenever difficulties arose.

On October 28, when “only 20 new cases” were reported for the day, Dr. Wing expressed hope that infections were decreasing, believing that anti-flu masks had cut “the sway of the malady short.” To support this belief, Wing pointed to reports from Mare Island, where nurses adopted masks early and with no other precautionary measures, not a single nurse fell ill.

Unfortunately, the number of cases continued to fluctuate. Fortuna established an emergency hospital at the Firemen’s Hall at Newberg and the Red Cross also took over a lodging house to care for patients in Arcata.

Fatalities continued, and doctors and nurses felt the strain as they fought their fears and cared for patients. On November 1, Imogene visited her mother but stayed on the porch, feeling like “some sort of pestilence.” Dr. Mercer, exhausted from “overwork” was forced to take time off and Miss Murial MacFarlan, who took over as Acting Health officer when Dr. Mercer fell ill, suffered what was believed to be a nervous breakdown “due to overwork.”


Union Labor Hospital (Humboldt State University Special Collections)

By the first of November, the Union Hospital was down ten nurses and Imogene, whose health improved, was thankful to volunteers who took over “everything but the actual nursing.” Local papers recognized the “valiant work” being done and many lives saved through the effort of local volunteers, though some, like J. F. “Buck” Buchanan, who was “on call wherever and whenever needed,” also fell ill.

By mid-November, the county was sadly losing nurses, but some, like Miss Neska Alexander, recovered and went back to work. Retired nurses were asked to “come forward as a matter of patriotism,” but younger women were discouraged from volunteering, in part because they were considered more vulnerable to the virus.

Physicians and officials implored the public to follow health recommendations, wear a mask and socially distance. If not, Dr. Mercer believed the disease would continue to spread and the “toll of death” would rise. Thankfully, many heeded the warning. On November 11, while Imogene Lockwood and others recognized the end of the war, their celebrating was “tame and hampered” due to grief over losing fellow nurses and their inability to see the “merry smiles behind a mask.”

Growing compliance with the mask ordinance was credited with a decline in cases in Eureka, but cases continued in outlying areas. Arcata was forced to repurpose the Women’s Club House into a Red Cross Hospital and officials toured the county to encourage adherence to safety measures. Eventually case counts started to fall throughout the county and by November 17, temporary “isolation” hospitals, like the one in Scotia, were able to close. The Red Cross hospital in Eureka shuttered its doors when the last patient was discharged on November 20. After fumigating the building with formaldehyde, which “not even the most hardy and tenacious bug known to science” could survive, it was turned back over the Dr. Falk.

Over the next few months, the flu resurfaced throughout the county, but it never again reached the extremes faced in October and November of 1918 when countless residents fell ill, and many died. Undoubtedly many more were saved thanks to the tireless efforts of health care workers and volunteers.

On Jan 1, 1919, with the trauma of the epidemic behind her, nursing student Imogene Lockwood wished her diary a “Happy new year!” She also resolved to study, put her profession first, guard her tongue and strive to be more cultured and refined. She and the other students faced extra work because of the time they lost caring for flu patients, but by 1922, Miss Imogene Lockwood and many of her classmates were registered nurses, caring for patients right where they had trained – at the Union Hospital in Eureka.


NEXT WEEK: The impact of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic on education, religious services, jails, and the business community.

Barefoot boy with a store-bought lunchbox (repost)

July 14, 2020

One of my favorites…

Grizzly Bluff, c. 1915

This is all I could find on Grizzly Bluff (from Wikipedia)-

The Grizzly Bluff School was an historic school in the farm fields outside Ferndale, California.[1] Students came from the surrounding Eel River valley to attend a one-room school earlier than the construction of the first known school building.[2]

Tom Dix and John Davenport built the current building in 1871, and the ornamental windbreak was planted in 1878.[3] In the 1880s, the building was moved away from the road and placed on a new foundation.[2]

In 1900, more space was needed to support a large number of students and the old Presbyterian Church nearby was converted to schoolrooms.[2] By 1976, the school continued only grades one through four. Students from fifth and attended Ferndale Elementary School.[2] Grizzly Bluff School closed its doors for the last time on 30 June 30, 1989.[4]

OldGrizzly Bluff School.jpg Presbyterian Church at Grizzly Bluff

Grizzly Bluff School in 2012

THE 1918 PANDEMIC: How Humboldt Tried to Slow the Spread

July 12, 2020


Reprinted from the Lost Coast Outpost




In the fall of 1918, as cases of Spanish Influenza started to rise across the country and in Humboldt County, health officials recognized the virulence of the disease and how gatherings of even a few people could feed an exponential spread. In mid-October, the U.S. Public Health Service cautioned:

It is now believed that influenza Is always spread from person to person, the germs being carried with the air along with the very small droplets of mucus, expelled by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking, and the like by one who already has the germs of the disease. They may also he carried about in the air in the form of dust coming from dried mucus, from coughing and sneezing, or from careless people who spit on the floor or on the sidewalk.

By the end of October, the State Board of Health would warn that simply by talking, an infected person spread invisible droplets that could give the virus to anyone located within four feet. Coughing increased that radius to 10 feet. Wearing a mask, advice often repeated in the months to come, offered the “greatest service in preventing the spread of the disease.” Those who fell ill were urged to isolate themselves immediately to avoid dangerous complications. Perhaps most importantly, the agency warned that “As in most other catching diseases, a person who has only a mild attack of the disease himself may give a very severe attack to others.”


As local case counts continued to rise in Eureka and the surrounding communities, local medical providers voiced concern about their ability to adequately respond to the crisis. On October 19, Humboldt had its first flu-related fatality, reported on page 12 of the Humboldt Times. Victor Tonini, a longshoreman and member of the Italian Order of Druids, left a wife and five children, the oldest 11 years “and the youngest but three months of age.” The same day, the Eureka Board of Health closed all public meeting places, including theaters, fraternal orders, clubs, and dances, prohibiting public meetings and other “assemblages of people.”

Three days later, after over 150 people were diagnosed with the “flu” in Eureka alone, including many nurses and two physicians. Eureka’s officials heeded the State Board of Heath’s advice and ordered “all persons serving the public” to wear influenza masks to slow the spread of the virus. Humboldt County’s Board of Health followed suite, ordering that every person employed in a store, hotel, restaurant, hospital, streetcar, saloon or “in any way waiting upon or serving the public” wear a mask. The order added, “If in doubt as to whether this means you, wear one.” The mask could be simple folds of gauze or cheese cloth. and tied to cover the month and nose completely. Initially people were advised to keep the mask damp with a disinfectant, but that recommendation did not last.

The downtown streets were washed down to dispel any dust that might carry the disease. Many lumber camps, like that owned by William Carson, where men shared close quarters, were closed and fumigated though at least one camp manager took a different approach. According to Matina Kilkenny in her story “Missing Faces,” Carl Munther, superintendent of the California Barrel Company’s McKinleyville camp, kept his camp running and workers healthy by quarantining each employee as they returned from town. Upon arriving back to camp, workers were required to stay for four days in a tent set up away from the workers’ cabins. This policy discouraged workers from leaving in the first place and it kept the disease at bay, with not a single case recorded at the camp during the epidemic.

On October 23, Dr. Wing, Eureka’s Health Official, reported 182 new influenza cases in a single day, up from 125 new cases the day before but still insisted the illness could “soon run its way out” IF [emphasis added] all directions and precautions of the Board of Health were followed. Volunteers set about making anti-flu masks “as rapidly as scissors, fingers and sewing machines could be made to operate” but many still refused to use them, asserting that they had no fear of the disease.

Local businessmen did, if only for the impact on their bottom line. In desperation, they paid for a full-page newspaper ad and made posters imploring the community to wear masks to keep the city’s business interests from being “paralyzed.” The ad seemed to work, as the next day the Humboldt Times reported a “veritable bread line” for masks. Streets, alleyways, homes and businesses were also ordered to be cleaned regularly to stop the spread of germs.

Ad in The Humboldt Times, October 24, 1918

Despite increasing case counts, at least ten deaths and drastic closures in the community, the editor of the Humboldt Times encouraged the community to “keep smiling”, reassuring readers that the world would not “be turned into a howling wilderness” because of the epidemic, as long as people avoided crowds and wore masks. Even if they thought it unnecessary, the editor admonished, they should wear them “to set an example for others whose lives may be saved by It.” The editorial also prescribed “copious doses of common sense… well digested.” After all, he observed, common sense never did any harm.

On October 25, the County Council of Defense issued “drastic orders”, enforced by the police, that closed non-essential businesses in Eureka and required residents and visitors to wear masks. Smokers, who were used to pulling masks aside to enjoy their habit, would not be excused.

Unfortunately, the country was now fighting two wars, one against the virus and the other against the “Huns”. The new demand for masks diverted 500 yards of gauze marked for surgical dressings for the war front in a single day and to save the precious material, citizens were encouraged to boil and reuse their masks or make them at home using handkerchiefs or other “sanitary” material. Instructions on mask making “so easy, even a child could do it” were included in multiple papers.

The Humboldt TimesBlue Lake Advocate and others now regularly reminded readers that masks were “the best preventative in other cities” and within days of the orders, Dr. Wing proclaimed that the worst of the disease was over, thanks in large part by wide use of masks.

Blue Lake Advocate, October 19, 1918


But compliance was far from universal. Non-masked arrivals to Eureka, many from the mills and shipyards across the bay and accustomed to dropping into a saloon on their way from the boat for a drink or two before going home, were escorted by officers to the nearest drug store to purchase masks. Others received warnings. On October 28, 1918, Ole Olsen was arrested for refusing to pull the mask under his chin up over his nose and mouth and Jesus Lopez was booked for refusing to wear one at all. Lopez was the first “mask slacker” to be fined, and his $5 was forwarded to the Red Cross. Other “mask slackers” were required to “buy themselves a mask”, the price/fine varying depending on the amount they had in their possession.

At the end of October, Arcata followed Eureka’s lead by closing public places and required masks in public and on November 5, at a special meeting, the County Board of Supervisors passed a new ordinance requiring masks and authorizing a maximum penalty of $25 and up to 10 days in the county jail for violators. The city of Eureka passed a similar ordinance shortly thereafter.

On November 2, officials in San Francisco were declaring the epidemic under control and some county officials proclaimed the same, explaining that deaths were still increasing only because the epidemic was running “the end of its course”. Local physicians, like Dr. C. Mercer, then bedridden with the disease, disagreed, blaming the “stubbornness of the epidemic” on the “laxity prevailing among many citizens with respect to the wearing of anti-flu masks.”

Unfortunately, Mercer was right. On November 7, San Francisco reported seventy-three new cases, up 23 from the day before and 48 deaths. Local reports included 78 new cases in two days and one fatality. The Board of Health again emphasized the necessity of “taking every precaution possible, especially the wearing of masks, and the avoidance of crowds, whether indoors or out.” Violators risked arrest and fines, but some, like Gunder Christiansen, arrested twice for wearing his mask under his chin, still stubbornly resisted the order. On November 9, at least 22 people were arrested and fined for similar offenses in Eureka and on November 11, following celebrations dedicated to the end of the war, another 40 were arrested, most of the them drunk. Another arrested was Florence Ottmer, a well-respected local doctor, who apparently wore a mask in public from then on.

Sheriff Redmon and his deputies toured the county’s smaller communities to answer questions and encourage compliance, but some, including residents of Alderpoint, disputed their authority. In response, the local District Attorney assured them that “the quickest and surest way of ascertaining the validity of the ordinance is to appear without a mask, be placed under arrest by the constable, hire an attorney and plead the case.”

In Eureka, though, things were shifting, likely in part from pressure from businesses feeling the economic impact of reduced hours and/or shuttered doors. On November 16, the city of Eureka’s Board of Health pulled the trigger, allowing businesses to resume as normal, as long as people did not congregate and masks were consistently worn. On November 17, with no deaths reported in two days and a continued decline in new cases, the Humboldt Times happily reported that Eureka was “taking on a more lifelike and uplifted air” with more people on the streets and increased traffic in the business district. Perhaps, the editor surmised, the epidemic was at last controlled, and soon the city would return to “a normal condition of life and pleasure.”

While schools remained closed, starting November 19, saloons that prevented crowds could again extend their hours a and ice cream parlors and theaters could open the following Saturday. Dances were allowed to resume on November 24 but permission was rescinded on November 28 after the health board warned that, ” that in a crowded dance hall, in a hot and perspiring condition, the danger of contagion would be at its height, and probably result in another outbreak.”

Dr. Wing continued to reassure the community that the epidemic was played out and the current fatalities were a “normal condition” after such a crisis. He suggested that mask restrictions be discarded within a five-block radius of Eureka’s business district (perhaps as Eureka’s health official he was responding to political pressure?). At the stroke of midnight on November 28, the mask order was rescinded. Fortuna also proclaimed the flu bug “captured” and celebrated with a large gathering in front of the Star Hotel but other communities continued to battle the virus and as residents would soon discover, the crisis was not over….


Next Week:

The medical response to the Spanish Flu, including a plea for volunteers, setting up satellite hospitals, the death of healthcare workers and more.