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…