Too much married

December 9, 2010

Thanks to Olmanriver for this one !

“Sunday, April 23, 1882
In the year 1844 William Kirkham, now deceased, married in Kentucky & getting the California fever, like many others in “49 & ’50, left his old home & came to this state, & located on Wilson creek. He left behind him a wife & two children, the eldest of which is now 24 years of age. .

Kirkham lived the life of a bachelor here until four or five years ago, when he took unto himself another wife (a dusky maiden), by whom he became the father of two more children. Wife number 1 hearing of this, came from her old home in ~ Kentucky for the purpose of commencing an action against her truant husband for bigamy, & arrived about one year ago, living at Arcata since the time of her arrival. But the second marriage being not properly solemnized, being performed by Lieutenant Halloran, then an officer in the U. S. Army, at Camp Gaston, the proceedings against the much married husband were not commenced. Wife number 1 finding that the law would not sustain her in proceedings for bigamy, was about to commence an action for divorce when Kirkham died, & left surviving, a wife at Arcata, number 1, & two children, the issue of said marriage, & a wife, number 2, at Willow creek, & two children, & an estate of the value of about $4,000, which was willed to wife number 2, & A. Norton, of Mad River, was named as the executor of said estate.

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Joe Russ’s home and… family (?)

July 19, 2010

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…

Fathers that kept their families intact

June 22, 2010

Unfortunately I realized rather late that perhaps I should have posted a more positive blog about fathers because of the holiday.  Ooops. 

I’ll try to rectify that now.

Though there were men who regretted their early domestic choices in Humboldt County, there were far more that built what resembled, at least from the outside, traditional families with their Native wives.

My husband is descended from a white miner who came into the Orleans area in the 1800s and a native woman taken as his wife. 

Unfortunately the wife died-though I can’t remember if it was during the birth of their first son, or shortly after.  After the wife’s death, her sister came to care for the child, as the miner/father was often away in the hills for long periods of time.  Once, when the miner was gone for an extraordinarily long period, the sister took the baby and returned to her village in the hills.  The miner came home and found his son gone.  According to family lore, the miner walked to the village, straight to where his child was, retrieved the boy and left.  It was his child and the fact that he was of mixed race and motherless was irrelevant. 

Today we go to the family cabin in Orleans and see photos of that  first Humboldt County pioneer. And his son, John. And John’s children… You get the idea.   The first pioneer raised his son in Orleans and the family has remained in the area ever since, a legacy intact.

OlManRiver recently pointed out that a majority of the early settlers in upper Mattole, Briceland and Elk Ridge were squawmen and many of those families are still intact, generations later.

And perhaps the others, men like Heacock,   ultimately did their families a favor by going away.

Bad fathers

June 18, 2010

 I belong to Toastmasters, an international organization that focuses on helping folks improve their public speaking skills.  Recently I had the honor of listening to an Icebreaker speech (the first one given by a new member), and the speaker talked about how his father left the family when the speaker was three years old.  This speaker also shared that as he grew and matured, he realized his father’s leaving may have been the greatest contribution his father ever made to the family.


When I began researching Lucy,   I talked to everyone I could find about local history.  

 One member of the Yurok tribe sadly shared a story he had heard about a white man in Weichpec who, when the county became more populated with emigrants, or “whites”, “bashed his own (Indian) child’s head against a rock to kill him-and hide the fact that he had had an Indian family here”.   Some men weathered the social stigma of taking an Indian “wife” and having half-breed children,  but apparently too many did not.  The following was reported by a local military commander, Charles Hubbard, from his camp on the upper Mattole in 1862.  

“So far as I can ascertain, all the Indians in this portion of the country are hostile; in fact, will ever be so, so long as there are no active and vigorous steps take to put an end to cold-blooded murder, kidnapping, and treachery. These are in my opinion the sole causes of all these difficulties with the Indians, more especially in this portion of the country and on Eel River. Cold-blooded Indian killing being considered honorable, shooting Indians and murdering even squaws and children that have been domesticated for months and years, without a moment’s warning, and with as little compunction as they would rid themselves of a dog, and, as I am informed, one man did, beating his own child’s brains out against a tree and killing the squaw, its mother, for no other reason than that he had no means else of disposing of them, and to keep them from falling into other persons’ hands…”

Admittedly this confuses me… maybe the man needed to leave…  I really don’t know and Hubbard doesn’t elaborate, but the resultant deaths of the woman and child are horribly clear. 

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“A good white man”

June 10, 2010

Continued from previous posts, Early Polygamists &  The Ratio


Recently OlManRiver discovered an incredible document entitled:

The Arrest of Jerry Bailey at Usal, Mendocino County, California, 1866, written by Jeremiah “doc” Standley, an early pioneer. *

While Bailey’s arrest is interesting, I am going to focus more on the story of the murder victim, Johnson Heacock.

According to Standley,  

“Heacock had apparently migrated from somewhere on the Atlantic slope as an escapee from justice, having killed a man in self-defense. Innocent or guilty, he was on the run from the law and chose to leave and head “out west” for the isolated… Leggett Valley… inhabited by a tribe of half-civilized Indians and a few white pioneer settlers.”

Once in Mendocino, he met and formed beneficial trading relationships with the local indigenous people.  According to Standley, the Natives came to trust Heacock and when he asked for the hand of a local Indian maiden, her father Ishoma was “… delighted that his daughter, Lillie, was to become the wife of a good white man like Mr. Heacock…” 

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When the ratio of men to women was 76:1

June 8, 2010

There was a California census taken in the summer of 1852.  At that time there was no Humboldt County and so folks here were enumerated in the Trinity County census.

The information reported to the state legislature was:

Population: 1,764


Male: 1,741

Female: 23

The number of females noted neglects to count the number of Native American women that were in this area when the whites came in.  I would like to think that at least some of the early (male) settlers missed, and wanted, more domestic lives (and not just sex),  and these numbers help to explain (to a limited extent) why so many became “squawmen”.

Though taking a native “wife” was not uncommon in the early years of the settlement period, it was also not widely accepted by the wider population, as this short article, like many others,  shows…

1859, Dec. , Humboldt Times, DUEL Indians MATTOLE. … The duel occurred between a Mr. Lafferty and his brother-in-law.   The social positions of the parties is about equal, one of them being an Indian, and the other , though claiming to be white, lives with the Indian’s sister.  They were both wounded at the first fire, after which a reconciliation was brought about by the sister.  Unfortunately their wounds are not considered dangerous [emphasis mine].

Many squawmen didn’t care about public opinion, and at least a few, like “Duncan” of Eel River,  legally married their wives.  Unfortunately, many others came to regret their early relationships, and chose to hide them (or worse) instead.  

To be continued…

Polygamists in Early Humboldt

June 1, 2010


Mad River Joe and his two wives

Just this weekend I had reason to look at 1900 Indian Census and noticed that one of the questions included in the bottom section, “Special Inquiries relating to Indians” was “Conjugal Relations; Is this Indian, if married, living in polygamy?”

 Which indicates that the government, at least, believed multiple wives to be common among the local natives.   Early census records and stories (about Jack Mann, for instance, and Sherwood ) give evidence that more than a few white settlers took up this practice when they arrived on the isolated north coast. 

I thought this to be a bad thing from the women’s perspective , but Ol Man River’s comments about the Heacock situation show (if the account is accurate) that at least some of the women (or girls, let’s face it, they were young), preferred not to be alone with these strange, white men.

Per the account that ‘River discovered, when Heacock took a “wife”, she ran away and refused to return until Heacock arranged to have her sister move in with them.  Later, the two girls insisted he take in a third.   All three then acted as “wives” and bore Heacock’s children.

Which may have been okay had Humboldt stayed isolated forever.  It didn’t.  And the influx of settlers (and modern “society”)  brought disastrous consequences for many of these native “wives” and their “half-breed” children.

To be continued…

Truth cloaked in “fiction”

May 28, 2010

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.

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Lynching in Eureka

February 24, 2010

On Sunday my husband and I attended the annual Humboldt Historical Society Luncheon, and in a silent auction I “won” a series of books written by Peter Palmquist and Lincoln Killian.  The books focus on the history of local photographers, and though I’d seen them before, I  hadn’t realized they also contained a lot of great local history.  Great, well written, local history.   This sounds terrible, but I figured they weren’t written by Palmquist and on a hunch, I successfully tracked down the co-author, Lincoln Killian.   Killian had, indeed, written most of the text for the series.

We chatted for a while, and as I always do, I shared the story of Lucy.  He remarked, rather surprised, that he hadn’t heard the story before (though he worked in the HSU library’s Humboldt Room and spent years steeped in local history).  He said that it was important to share the stories that no one knows…

Which got me thinking.  And thinking… And thinking. 

I work with a lot of clients doing marketing and public relations projects and last night I attended a workshop on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) so that I could do more in that realm for my clients. I did pay attention (at least some of the time), but mostly I thought about the murder of James Casebeer and the lynch mob killing of the two Indians accused of the murder.  Two Indians named Jack.  I realized that I need to tell their story and I will start by doing it here.

Hasty loveless union with no escape but death

February 18, 2010


Jan 31, 1863, Humboldt Times:

Marriage ought always be a matter of choice. Every girl ought to be taught that a hasty loveless union stamps upon her great dishonor, and that however dreary and toilsome a single life may be, unhappy married life is tenfold worse–an everlasting temptation, an incurable regret–a torment from which there is no escape but death.


This is quite ironic given all the forced “marriages”  endured by local Native American women during the settlement period.  I’ve come to realize that many of the women in those situations were incredibly courageous.  They endured, had and nutured families.  Fortunately, there were even some,  like Amelia Lyons  (per Susie Van Kirk), who  did enjoy loving and caring unions with their white “husbands”.

And for the most part, like it or not, it is the descendants of these unions that make up a majority of our local Native American population today.