Archive for July, 2011

(From an interview with Curly Wright, c. 2000. Recently– summer 2011 – i rediscovered these old notes. If something doesn’t make sense, I probably can’t help you, as Curly is unfortunately no longer here to explain. These were handwritten notes, transcribed here just as found.)

Jack Wright, probably in the 1920s. Photo from the Mary Rackliff Etter collection.

“[He never got in] any fights that I know of. He was a hell of a hard worker. When he went out to check traps, it’d be darker than the insides of a cow’s rear end.”

Thus Curly Wright began telling me of his father’s trapping activities in the Mattole Valley, which would’ve gone on all through the first half of the twentieth century and beyond. “Jack” or C.E. (Charles Ellsworth) Wright was born in 1880 to pioneers Martha Rudolph and Marshall Wright. Jack was known as a carpenter who built many of the old homes in the Petrolia area, but he always said he made more in the few rainy months of fur trapping than all year in the building trade.

Jack had a trap line he checked every three days. He’d set out real early to check on his hundred and some traps. He’d have the horse all ready the night before, then before light he’d throw on the saddle.

He’d go up the North Fork—clear up to the Miner place. To the forks of creek, he’d go east to Edmonstons’ over the top of the ridge. The horse knew where every trap was. He had forty or fifty traps he’d check every third or fourth day, depending upon the weather. He’d go up the mountain where you can look over into Upper Mattole—then do down by Hap Stewart’s in Conklin Creek country.

If he wasn’t home by 9 or 10 p.m.—way after dark in winter—his mother would send Curly up Conklin Creek Rd. He’d put his ear to the dirt to see if he could hear horse’s hooves—hear them clicking on the rocks. “Don’t get too close,” Jack would say, “or the horse will smell you and whinny.” Curly never got further than the summer cabins [upstream from the Browns’ place now, but below Conklin Creek]. He’d see the flashlight coming, but Curly “couldn’t even see the damn horse for the furs”—Jack was usually weighted down with his take.

Jack would have taken the carcass out of the trap, thrown it down, and hung the hide. Sometimes he’d have twenty hides or more with him. He’d leave them hanging—it only took him three minutes or so to jerk the hides off the carcasses, when they were hot.

Jack had his plans all arranged before the trapping season, with the landowners and ranchers—Hap Stewart, T.K. Clark, who had a ranch at the creek forks later on… “My dad got along fine with all of those fellas. They were glad to see him. He kept an eye on them, their places. He helped them out a lot by catching the wildcats. And he’d let them know if there was a cow in trouble, or wild hogs. Wild hogs were fair game in this country in wintertime. There was no real season on them. He’d just hang them up and get them next time, or bring ʼem home.”

A Colt Woodsman pistol was Jack’s favorite, and he was a dead shot.

He did drive sometimes, but he knew where he could and couldn’t get with a vehicle, and he’d take his horse to get way out where his rig couldn’t go.

He made awful good money in those days, depending on the season. They’d get awfully heavy—the fat on the hide was heavy.

He’d bring them home alive sometimes. He had a bunch of cages outside, a line about fifty feet long, separated in a few places. He’d throw the live animals in these; sometimes a fight would happen.

Sometimes (not too often) an animal would return to the same trap that’d caught it by the foot once before. Raccoons, mink and otter, bobcats (called wildcats then).

Mink—Dad would stretch out the mink on a rack. They were really expensive. The only way you would have a mink in those days was if you had a trapper friend. Jack hid those traps well… you had to know exactly where they were.

He kept his tools real sharp—wouldn’t let anyone else use his pocket knife. And he had certain blades for certain jobs.

Mast & Steffens, J.L. Prouty, Sears and Roebuck—they bought the furs. For good money.

Jack in the 1950s with a wildcat skin and his great-niece, Helen Etter

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I love trains. But the only way I’ve ever known them is from enjoying Amtrak trips around the country. A surprising number of people are truly “taken” by trains– railroads, model railroading, locomotive engines, etc., and especially their history and folklore. Judging from the emails I got inquiring about the logging and railroads DVD that was shown at the Mattole Grange’s Fourth of July Barbecue, our Mattole Valley Historical Society has a good showing of train buffs.

That video, by the way, is available for purchase at

One of the folks who contacted me is Corbett Petersen. He’s a grandson of Bud and Jean (Hindley) Myers, and he lives in Eureka. I will paraphrase his emails to me from the past couple of weeks:

[before July 4, 2011]
“I volunteer with an area group, the Timber Heritage Association (www.timberheritage.org) who, over the last 30 years, have painstakingly been gathering and restoring North Coast timber and railroad equipment, with hopes of one day operating a full-sized excursion train around Humboldt Bay. There has been interest in conversations about long-gone Mattole railroads and where/what/who all was involved. They would most certainly be interested in seeing this video. Or at least myself. Currently we operate an old PL and A&MR RR crew cars on the rails out at Samoa and will have a special presence in Eureka on July 4th, running on the rails in old town.

“FYI, we also maintain and operate the Bear Harbor and Falk locos at Ft. Humboldt. YES they are in fact operational and officially certified to run. We run them at our “steam ups” every 3rd Saturday, with the “speeder” running 4th Saturdays. The Falk has been down to fix some leaks but it runs.

“The 4th of July THA (of which I think Laurence Hindley is a member, actually) speeder run in Eureka was a smash hit, with over 300 people paying $4 for a 15-minute ride through Old Town. And with zero mishaps or issues with traffic and throngs of people that we had anticipated. Comments included that it was a safe, fun, professionally run operation. Although the reality was that the OK from the city came only 48 hours prior, and we had to complete considerable rail flangeway clearing that the City had repeatedly said was remediated. However ,we cleared it ourselves and in the end, had a lot of turnout and some good PR from some of the movers and shakers of the area.

“The “steam ups” of the locomotives at Fort Humboldt are the 3rd Saturdays in summer. Tomorrow is one of those days.

“The 2 locomotives, the Bear Harbor #1 and the Falk, are operational. Only the Bear has run this year on the tracks. Both are state certified to operate (and are operated by trained personnel and retired engineers). The Falk (the one with the wooden cab, and the prettiest looking) has been down with a leaky tube that has been rather difficult to repair (tube is out, but the special 70-year-old tool to fix it also needed fixing). All the while keeping it safe to run and original. Official news can be found at http://www.timberheritage.org.

“The old 1893-built roundhouse at Samoa is open to the public on Saturdays during weekend workdays and on Speeder car runs (next one is on the 23rd) every 4th Saturday in summer. We have A LOT of stuff there. One of the blogs that links to yours, capdiamont, has a photo of the roundhouse with the doors open. The A&MR (Arcata & Mad River) speeder is parked in the photo (and in case anyone asks how we move it….it’s not THAT heavy, it goes on a modified flatbed trailer for use and show-and-tell).”


The blog Corbett is referring to is here: http://capdiamont.wordpress.com/
The Samoa Roundhouse photo is the banner or masthead photo, so you’ll see it instantly.

And by the way, the Timber Heritage Association’s website (again) www.timberheritage.org, is great! It almost makes you into an instant train aficionado!

On another note, I have seen that people want information and photos of the Mattole Lumber Company, and its Engine #1. It is such a big interesting topic that I was waiting until I had time to put the whole story together into a comprehensive article. However, just last week I got ahold of a collection of newspaper mentions of the Mattole Wharf and Railroad, compiled by Susie Van Kirk. She gave me permission to use her work, so soon I will copy over the relevant entries and put those up, with some photos, as a sort of brief synopsis of the story. Meantime, here are a couple of photos to tide you over:

Mattole Engine #1 at the tanbark-loading camp, heading out to the wharf, around 1910. Photo from Mary Rackliff Etter's collection.

Old Number 1 in a bad way. Henry Sorensen dug it out of the mud and restored it. Photo also from MRE collection.

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(From the Ferndale Enterprise, transcribed by Mary Rackliff Etter in 1964 for her weekly column, “News from the Mattole Valley.”)

Here is another daily journal, kept by a schoolteacher in the 1860s. His take on the Mattole area is quite different from Hindley’s, and it’s easy to make a mental picture of a bored intellectual, out of his element in the wilds of recently-named Petrolia and Upper Mattole. His school building was the two-storey structure that sat on the flat on the east side of the North Fork bridge along the county road just west of Petrolia.

Mattole School, Petrolia, 1888

I would sure like to see the original or a copy of this diary. I have only read these newspaper entries.

Mary made some comments, which I have italicized. My own notes will be [bracketed]. Quaint misspellings are retained.


JUNE 1, Friday, 1866, Pleas. This evening the ball comes off at Centerville. The people expect a good time and we hope they may have one. There is too little sociability among the people here. Staid at Andersons. [Anderson’s was an inn on the Table, up near the eucalyptus trees northwest of Petrolia.]

JUNE 2, Sa. Cloudy. Went to town, had a very sociable time. Read history and Harpers Monthly magazine. This is a very popular magazine here. Many are taken here. [I think when he says ‘town’ he means Petrolia.]

JUNE 3, Sunday, Pleas. Went to town, then to church. Heard a sermon by Mr. Burnel. Went in afternoon to singing school, then on the beach where there were horse racing. [Joel Burnell was a well-known preacher and judge, whose name pops up frequently in countywide history. His name is misspelled ‘Bunnel’ on some maps and documents.]

JUNE 4, Monday, Pleas. Studied Quackenboe’s Grammar, although this work has been adopted by the state board of education, it certainly is not the best. I think the members of that board must have been influenced by interested parties.
[G.P. Quackenbos, 1826-1881, published An English Grammar in 1862.]

JUNE 5, Tues. Pleas. Read the Union and Times. It is thought by some that Congress will adjourn on the 4th of July, cannot think so. Gen. Fremont and Parsons and others have purchased a large portion of the R.R. from St. Louis to Fort Riley. Ben. Butler and others have purchased large track in Lower Cal.

JUNE 6, Wed. Pleas. Went to Mr. Stansberry’s, found most of the family unwell. Read the Banner of Light. There is to be a convention of Spiritualists at San Jose in a month.

JUNE 7, Thurs. Pleas. Went to Mr. Butler’s, spent the evening in conversation and in reading the Ledger. This paper still sustains its character as a literary journal.

P.S. In the diary, 1866. The horse racing took place 1 ½ miles west of Petrolia, up the Jeffery hill to what is commonly known as “the Table,” close to where the Eucalyptus trees now stand. At a later date the trees were planted and cared for by Ellis Hunter, now 87, when he was a young boy. The purpose of the trees was to make a windbreak for the creamery that stood just south, across the road. [Leah Kausen told me her father, Jack Smiley, planted that line of trees just around the turn of the century. By then Ellis Hunter would’ve been about 23. Who knows?]

JUNE 8, Friday, Rain. Had a very small school on account of rain. Spent the evening in conversation. Wish people understood the labors of the teachers. How tiresome, how wearing on the system.

JUNE 9, Sat. Rain. Went to town. Read in the Laws of Cal. And in the school law. Petrolia is now a rather dry place. Nothing for excitement or amusement. Most of the people are much discouraged in regard to oil.

JUNE 10, Sunday. Cool. Studied grammar. Read an account of Gen. Scott’s death, which took place May 29th. In him we lose a brave soldier and a true patriot. There was quite an excitement in horse racing. Several races—much money bet.

JUNE 11, Mon. Cool. Misty. Spent evening in conversation. How strange the influence which one person has over another, a magnetic influence, yet one may use good language and have good subjects on which to converse, yet have but little influence.

JUNE 12, Tues. Pleas. Read the Times and Flag. The Cholera is spreading in N.Y. Many deaths have occurred already. Many on vessels coming from Liverpool. War in Europe is almost certain. Napoleon is the grand mover.

JUNE 13, Wed. Pleas. Marshall Wright and others stopped with me at Mr. Anderson’s. We had a pleasant time. Mr. Anderson went to Eureka. Read the Union. The prospects for gold in Montana still appears good in places.

JUNE 14, Thurs. Warm. This is the only real warm day we have had for a long time. The season has been a very singular one. The oldest inhabitants never saw one so wet. The grass has been benefitted, but the corn has been injured.
[Wonder if by “oldest inhabitants” he meant Natives. Since the Whites had only been there basically 9 years– 12 if you count the first couple of bachelors and scouts– the phrase can’t mean much unless it does refer to Natives.]

JUNE 15, Friday, Warm. Read in the history of the United States. In this work, Howe’s many incidents are related for the early settlement of each of the states. It is an excellent work for young persons, because it is calculated to please.

JUNE 16, Saturday, Warm. Went to the Upper Mattole Valley to take the census of the school children. I found a great many persons living with their squaws and have many children—about 25 in the Valley.
[The 1860 Mattole census concurs with this, and is quite an interesting document to peruse.]

JUNE 17, Sunday, Warm, Rain at night. Considerable excitement, several horse races, much betting, card playing, drinking etc. Well, we cannot blame persons much, they must have amusement, some excitement—none here but this, gardening and trapping gophers.

JUNE 18, Monday, Pleas. Read in Howe’s history. He gives an outline history first which merely narrates the principals of events which transpired in the different periods—it is divided in three periods.

JUNE 19, Tuesday, Pleas. Read the Flag Times and Journal. The great excitement in the East now is the Ferrian (?) movement in Canada. In Europe the prospects are that war is inevitable. In South America the Brazillians and Paraguayans are still fighting.

JUNE 20, Wed., Pleas. Probst the murderer has made his confession—it is one of the most brutal murders on record. Read the history of our whole country. Spent most of the evening in amusement.

JUNE 21, Thurs. Rain. Read in history. This is the most rainy spring and summer that has ever been known. Much of the crops in the lower country are spoiled by rust—crops here look well.

JUNE 22, Friday, Pleas. Had a very interesting time at school, Spelling, etc. Considerable excitement about the 4th. We anticipate a good time. Captain Smith was here.

JUNE 23, Sat. Rain. Read in history. Went with Marshall Wright after horses. Had a terrible storm overtake us. Rain and hail with a wind—blowing a perfect hurricane. Strange weather for June, surely.

JUNE 24, Sun. Rain in the morning, pleasant in the afternoon. Some excitement. Two races, quite a number of persons present. Read in history. Spent part of the day in conversation with Mr. J. V. Hunter and others.
[Mr. Lane’s handwriting may have been misread by Mrs. Etter. Mr. John Henry Hunter might have been here—though my records show he arrived 1867—and Thomas, Walker, Shelby, and Paschal M. Hunter, his brothers, came at various times around that decade… but I can’t think who Mr. J.V. would be. Maybe from another family that has since disappeared.]

JUNE 25, Mon. Pleas. Read in History. I think Greeley’s History will be one of the Standard works on this subject yet in many respects it is unjust, if not unreliable.

JUNE 26, Tues. Pleas. Read the Flag, Union & Times. The trial of Jeff Davis [Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy] postponed until October. No doubt but what the President is using his influence in a secret way to liberate him. I do not believe he will be hung.

JUNE 27, Wed. Pleas. Read some articles on the Mines of Montana. From all we can learn there are many persons who will never realize in that country what they anticipate. A few will make fortunes.

JUNE 28, Thurs. Pleas. Read some in the Newspaper and spent some time in amusement and conversation. The great objection to this valley is that there is no amusement of the proper kind.

JUNE 29, Friday, Warm. Went to Stansberrys, read the Banner of Light and Journal. There are few papers I prize more highly than these. In many points they are similar, and we think should be in more [homes?—or in more points?].

[I googled one of these magazines and got the following:
‘Banner of Light, a weekly subtitled “An Exponent of the Spiritual Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century,” had the largest circulation of any spiritualist paper in the world. For three dollars a year, subscribers would get “a first-class eight-page Family Newspaper containing forty columns of interesting and instructive reading.” Features included a literary section offering occasional French and German works in translation, but specializing in “Original Novelettes of reformatory tendencies.”
Banner of Light also featured reports of spiritual lectures by “able Trance and Normal speakers,” original essays on spiritual, philosophical and scientific subjects, general interest current events, and a very special service: messages from the dead.’
The Camp Meetings were also part of this Victorian trend of investigating the supernatural .]

JUNE 30, Sat. Warm. Marshall Wright and I went to Bear River in the afternoon. Had a very pleasant time. Staid with Stewart. Charley is with him now. Charley has had some difficulty lately with Mr. Davison and family.
[Thomas Stewart’s was a familiar stopover in Bear River/Capetown.]

JULY 1, Sun. Warm. Went to Camp Meeting on the Eel River. Quite a large attendance, but little excitement in a meeting of this kind. Came back to Mr. Frances [Ferndale] and staid all night. Had a very pleasant time with Miss Nook and others.
[Miss Cook, perhaps? ;-)]

JULY 2, Monday, Warm. Went to Eureka and back to Mr. Frances. Eureka is very dull. Some excitement in regard to reported discoveries of silver a few miles from here.

[No entry July 3.]

JULY 4, Wed. Pleas. The glorious 4th again! How we hallow its sacred memories! We had indeed a good celebration for a place of this kind. The Declaration of Independence was read, the oration was delivered by John DeHaven. A ball in the evening. [Not sure if he is in Ferndale or Petrolia for the Fourth.]

JULY 5, Thurs. Pleas. Did not feel much like being at the horse races, yet the excitement drew me out. Yesterday we had several, today we had five or six. People must have some kind of amusement, if it is only this.

JULY 6, Friday, Pleasant. Went down town, had some racing; considerable betting. People do not care for money here. It is easily made and they do not appreciate its true value.

JULY 7, Sat. Pleas. Read some newspapers, wrote some letters, went to town, and to Mr. Stansberry’s to stay all night. Mrs. Bassett was there to pay her last visit before starting to Australia. Mr. Fry and lady start to San Francisco on Monday.
[Mr. Bassett was one of the backers of oil exploration in the early 1860s. Oil drilling equipment was delivered to Bassett’s Landing , just north of the mouth of the Mattole. The Mrs. was likely his wife, perhaps headed to better prospects.]

JULY 8, Sunday, Pleas. Went home, spent the forenoon in conversation, the afternoon in looking at the races. The excitement now is about over, there will be a few more races, but no excitement like what has been.

JULY 9, Monday, Pleas. School again. Well, we have had a good vacation and ought to be ready to work again. Mr. Jones, our County Superintendent of Schools, paid us a visit. He expressed himself as being well pleased with the advancement of the school.
[The local school year used to take its longest break in the winter months, when the rivers were difficult to cross and travel was generally daunting.]

JULY 10, Tues. Pleas. Read in Goldsmith Natural History. He makes a statement which I have not seen elsewhere, that the natural age of all inferior animals is equal to his age when he arrives at maturity, multiplied by 7. Read articles on the hare and rabbit.

JULY 11, Wed. Pleas. Read the Union. It appears that all attempts to settle the difficulties between the European powers have proven futile. The new Pacific R.R. bill has passed the Senate.

JULY 12, Thurs. Pleas. Read Thomson’s Spring. There are many beautiful passages in this. “Love can answer love, and under bliss secure.” His power of picturing the common things of life is very good. His remarks on jealousy are good.


Well, that about brings us to our current posting date. I hope to add to this, bit by bit. Much gratitude to the late Mary Rackliff Etter, who typed up the original newspaper copy.

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