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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Forgot His First Love

October 27, 2010

(Maybe) Willie Childs (with Jim James) in her later years

The following newspaper excerpt came to me from SoHum historian Olmanriver.  Thanks, River ! 

“The Arcata Union” Arcata, California

Saturday, February 25, 1899


Willie Childs, an Indian woman, has laid claim to a half interest in the estate left by William Childs, a Humboldt pioneer. According to her complaint, her marital relations with Childs commenced at Trinidad in January 1855, & continued until January 1886, in which year Childs left Humboldt to return to his old home in Massachusetts where he had come into a fortune of $50,000, & where he had married Christina Childs, a white woman, to whom he transferred all his property, before the close of his earthly career. The deserted Indian woman claims that the property was transferred for the purpose of defrauding her of rights in the property & she asks the courts to declare that the white wife is entitled to only one half of the property so conveyed & that she is holding the other half in trust for the plaintiff. The suit only affects the property in Humboldt county. The estate consists of stock & ranches valued at $15,680 & about $3,000 for the personal property. The complaint was filed last Saturday, the action being entitled Willie Childs vs Christina Childs.

Per Olman:

I have read where it was very unusual for an Indian wife to get her white partner’s inheritance and that Fannie Briceland was a big groundbreaker in that regard down here [Southern Humboldt/Northern Mendocino] I think that was Mary Anderson’s insight…

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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…

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…

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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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.