(recent history, that is…) This will be old news to anyone who has studied Mattole history much, but not to everyone. The chronology is a basic MVHS document. If you dispute any of these happenings or interpretations, please comment. (George Roscoe told me he disagreed with the idea of markets being a factor in the downfall of the sheep industry, for instance; he believed if it weren’t for the coyotes, the Mattole would still be known for its lamb, and ranchers could make an honest living with them. I kept both reasons in there because other ranchers have told me there’s no way local lamb can provide a living with the prices as they have been for the past few decades.)
Chronological Mattole History Sketch
6,000-15,000 years ago: Native Mattole, an Athapaskan-language-speaking people, arrived here from north. Sedentary (permanent villages) but not agricultural with likely exception of tobacco cultivation. Acorns and salmon dietary mainstays. Culture assumed to be similar to that of Sinkyone, group to the south, and Bear River Natives, just to the north.
A.D. 1500s to 1800s: Exploration by sea of coastal area by hopeful colonial powers–French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Russians, Americans. Likely Native awareness of some of these explorers and traders.
1848-9: First claim of white settler, A.A. Hadley, to have travelled Mattole Valley.
1854: First published account of Mattole Valley’s attractions by Mr. Hill. Excellent rangeland, climate, soil, and plentiful fish and game attract white settlers. Conflict with Natives inevitable and rapid.
1859: School district, third in Humboldt County, established. District and town called “Mattole,” a Native word for this place and themselves, meaning “clear water.”
1861: Discovery of oil in the Valley first publicized.
1864: All but a dozen or two of the least troublesome Natives killed or captured. Indian troubles considered over. In 1868 measles kills most survivors.
1865: First oil shipped out by Union Mattole Co. Principal town established and named “Petrolia.” Oil boom short-lived, though experimental drilling and subsequent oil excitement recur periodically.
1869: Road to Ferndale well-established, including beach stretch south of Centerville.
1871: Regular stage service to town (Ferndale).
1880s: Wildcat Road completed with Chinese labor. Transportation still major impediment to commerce. Mattole Valley quite self-sufficient with three grain mills in lower valley, much fish (supporting locals and vacationers) and game, feral pigs, turkeys, successful vegetable gardens, and a thriving cattle industry. Many services and businesses in town of Petrolia; Upper Mattole also home to post office and schools. Sheep introduced at unclear date.
1890: About 90 students in Mattole district.
1880s-1910s: Tanbark harvesting begun, reaching peak with Calvin Stewart’s Mattole Lumber Co.
1900 (about): Telephone service to Valley.
1908-1913: Mattole Lumber Co. wharf at mouth of Mattole River, served by short railroad stretch on north side of river. Tanbark, also nuts and fruit, esp. apples, shipped out in quantity. Rough storms and high maintenance costs destroy wharf.
1920-22: Good roads with bridges out of Valley in three directions. Last gristmill closed.
1930s: Depression weathered fairly well here. “Nobody went hungry.”
1940s: Electrical service to most of Valley floor. Previously a few hydroelectric systems. Livestock trucks replace cattle drives. War-stimulated economy creates Cats capable of logging steep hillsides. Chemical processes replace tanbark leather processing.
1940s-60s: Standing timber tax, new machines, and market demands create logging boom. Douglas-fir now profitable. Population and businesses flourish.
1955 and 1964: Huge floods take down much unstable landscape. Late summer, 1964, fires consume over 28,000 acres.
Mid-1960s: Timber mostly taken; salmon fisheries nearly dead.
1970s: Sheep industry gone down; many blame coyotes but markets also a factor.
Late 1960s-70s: First hippie-style “back-to-the-landers.”
1980s: Marijuana economy functional; C.A.M.P. (marijuana control) program created, causing high prices for product. Mattole Restoration Council, Mattole Salmon Group, Petrolia School begun. Mattole Valley Community Center (formed in 1976) integral part of community of newcomers.
1992: Late April earthquakes (largest 7.1 Richter reading) rock Mattole Valley. Petrolia’s Store and P.O. burn down in resultant fire, but are soon replaced.
Lately: More retirees, dot-commers, urban refugees looking for suburban lifestyle with rural views. Less polarity, more mainstreaming. Tourism looked to by many as economic hope, usually with “ecotourist” angle. Restoration of forest and stream ecosystems also a significant business and volunteer orientation. Ranching continued by many families, often with creative, fresh approach.