Archive for February, 2020

I am most grateful to Bob Stansberry, a busy rancher, for taking the time to write out this description of processes that would be otherwise unknown to most of us and to posterity.

From #41 of the Mattole Valley Historical Society’s Now… and Then, 

“Tanbarking in the Mattole Valley,” by Bob Stansberry

In 1952 Metten & Gebhardt, a leather tanning company based in San Francisco, entered into an agreement with my parents, John and Clarice Stansberry, to harvest the tanbark on a part of our ranch. They contracted the peeling of the bark out to a fellow by the name of Nelson Miles. The following year, in 1953, Metten & Gebhardt again acquired the right to harvest bark, this time across the Mattole River and on the east side of the ranch. This time they contracted the work to Henry Chapman and his sons, of Phillipsville, Calif. They paid us $8 per cord for the bark that was harvested.

In the summer of 1949 the folks had hired John Buxton to bring in his Allis Chalmers bulldozer (which at the age of four I referred to as “Old Biggy”). With my uncle Arch Smith—who was an expert at blasting out rocks and stumps with dynamite (referred to as a “powder monkey”)—they built access roads to haul the bark out.

Checkie Chadbourne said that he drove a “bob tail truck” (truck without a trailer) out of this area hauling bark, after the closing of the extract plant at Briceland and when shipping out of Shelter Cove was discontinued. Most of the bark from the Upper Mattole was trucked to the railroad station at South Fork, Calif.
In 1946, our neighbor Lee French, who had a ranch at Ettersburg, Calif., purchased a 3-ton International truck. He equipped it with a flatbed and racks to haul lambs, wool, and equipment, for himself and neighbors. He also built a smaller bed with side stakes that he could exchange with the bigger bed, thus enabling him to access the narrow tanbark roads. Lee had a D-2 Cat of his own by this time so he built a wooden sled with steel runners to tow loads of bark out of the woods behind the Cat. He thrived on work!

His son Richard remembers going with his dad to Gary Svendsen’s property on Wilder Ridge to load bark that Gary had peeled and stacked. The bark was loaded by hand, often on a hot afternoon. After a tier of bark was partially stacked on the truck, a rope was tied between the stakes on top of the bark to keep them from spreading. After that the tier of bark was completed. Once the truck was loaded with several tiers of bark (two and a half to three cords) it was taken to South Fork. Richard remembers swamping (tossing) bark back in the hot boxcars.sm,wagnertancrew,frBStansberryCrew working for the Wagner Leather Co., based in Stockton, Cal., who had a refinery in Briceland, besides holding extensive tanoak timber acreage in southwestern Humboldt. Center front with tilted hat is probably Earl Harrow; kneeling front left probably young Jess Stansberry. Photo from Harrow family via Bob Stansberry.

Before the advent of the bulldozer (crawler tractor with blade mounted in front), these bark roads were built with hand tools, dynamite, and horse-drawn equipment (side-hill plows, “V” scrapers, and drag scoops). Lee French said that it took three men to reopen a road in the Spring after the winter rains had caused the inside road bank to fall in: “One to drive the team, one to run the plow, and one to hold the plow beam over against the bank.”

Steve Baxman from Fort Bragg, Calif., told me that he brought the first blade “Cat” into the Mattole to build tanbark roads. This was in the late 1930s. He said that they unloaded it off the low-bed truck in the redwoods near Bull Creek and that it was a long slow trip “walking” it (driving it) over the mountain to Honeydew.

It was about this time, in the 1930s, that John Chambers of Petrolia purchased a D-4 Caterpillar. It was the first blade tractor owned in the Valley and is still used by his grandson, Kelton Chambers. Johnny said that he used to walk it up the valley and build roads for neighbors. At mid-valley, near Honeydew, Lee French would rent it and take it on to Ettersburg, building roads for people along the way. Lee said that while building the road up Crooked Prairie ridge for his neighbor Rod Hinman, Rod somehow got his hand caught between the cable attached to the Cat and a log that they were pulling. The only way he could free Rod’s hand was to cut the cable with an axe. Lee said that “with each blow of the axe Rod would let out a squall.”

smMRE TB 9a 09 forest peelersTanbark peelers, from the impressive Mary Rackliff Etter collection. Photographer unknown [Edit: Ray Jerome Baker took this photo and the next]

My first and only real memory of the actual peeling of a tanoak log was in the Spring of 1952. Dad and I came along on the road where a couple of young fellows had cut down a tanoak tree and were peeling it. Dad had worked as a bark peeler when he was young, as did his brothers (his sister Mabel had cooked in a bark camp), and he felt a need to show these fellows how it was done. As I remember it, he took the axe and laid it lengthwise on the log, this plus the depth of the axe blade gave him about four feet of measurement as was required. After measuring he went about chopping away a narrow ring of bark around the log with the vigor that he always applied to his work.

After the log was ringed at four-foot increments, the bark was split or scored lengthwise and peeled away from the tree in large slabs. These slabs were left near the log where they would dry and curl up like big cinnamon sticks. Later in the season, the bark was packed by mules or sledded to the nearest road and stacked to be loaded on trucks (or wagons in the early days).

smMRE TB 9a 11 steep hill TB wagonCables moved this wagon of tanbark over steep slopes.

Bark peeling season began in the Spring (May, June, and July) when the sap was flowing and the bark would separate from the log easily. Charlie Etter said that after you cut the tree down you wouldn’t even stop work for lunch because the bark would tighten to the log after the sap couldn’t flow.

Before felling a tanbark tree, the bark was peeled away from the ground up to four feet. This is where the thickest bark is. Sometimes smaller trees were just peeled up eight feet and left standing; this was called “jayhawking.” Felling was done with axes and two-man “misery whip” handsaws (though in the 1950s chainsaws came into use). Dunnage was probably laid down for the tree to fall on, thus making it easier to roll the log and to access the underside of it. After the bark was removed, the remainder of the tree was left in the woods to rot, though I do remember a large stack of peeled tanoak wood by our house.

Before World War II, most young men of the Mattole worked in the bark woods at some point in their lives. Al Hadley said that he and a friend once walked from Honeydew through the mountains to Elk Ridge east of here because they had heard that they might be able to get a job in the bark woods over there. The Smith boys (Paul and/or his brothers Tom, Steve, and Robert) peeled on the Etter property in the Fourmile Creek drainage between Honeydew and Ettersburg; their broken car of a 1920s vintage still remains in the woods there. Frank Landergen also had a “bark show” in the Fourmile Creek area. Kenny Wallen of Miranda, Cal., said that when he was a kid he and his father peeled bark in the Dry Creek area east of Honeydew and on Bear Trap Ridge south of Honeydew. They employed one mule to pack the bark out of the woods. Earl Harrow once showed his old arthritic hands to me, all bony and rough from wielding an axe when he was young. Ken Roscoe said that these were the fellows you looked for when putting together a baseball team because they had strong arms and good upper body strength.

The bark crews usually camped in the woods near their work and usually by a spring. Some of these camps can still be found, evidenced by an old steel bedframe with a tree growing through it, an old crosscut saw, or a pile of tin cans and an old coffee pot. (Nelson Miles’ crew had a pig pen where they kept pigs to feed the scraps to.) Cousin Bill Lee remembers the chipmunks coming into Nelson’s camp looking for food handouts.

Earl said that when he was working, the job of cooking went to the first guy that complained about the food. Once the guy cooking (tired of his job) decided to load the food down with salt. One of the fellows eating says, “Damn, this is salty!,” then he catches himself and says, “but that’s just the way I like it.”

As with anything, the bark business could be fraught with difficulties. I remember that Mr. Miles brought in a couple of half broke mules and tried hitching them to the sled to bring bark out to the road; they bolted and tore his harness to pieces. In another instance, one of his workers caught the woods on fire with the new-fangled chainsaw. But worse was the big fire that burned the north side of the Fourmile Creek drainage and all of the bark that Nelson had stacked along the road. Bill Woods remembers when he and his step-father, Clarence Stansberry, had the job of peeling and getting the bark out of the big canyon just west of the Industrial Park between Garberville and Redway. They borrowed a mule from Clarence’s brother Johnny Stansberry. The mule soon figured out that he could get out of work by laying down and rolling off the trail, with a load of bark on. After a couple of sessions of this, Bill said, “Dad went down there and walked all over that mule with his cork (calked) boots, and the mule never tried that again.” Some of these mules got so they would go to and from the woods without guidance.

The bark industry was a way for folks in these hills to make a few dollars. Our neighbor, Mrs. Gibson, would go into the woods after the peeling and sack up the bark chips because they could be sold also.

All of this ended in the mid-1950s, replaced by a chemical process for tanning leather and a lack of demand for bark-tanned hides.  

M&MEtter,PackingTanbark,Honeydew,crop&PSMules bound for a wagon or truck with their tanbark loads, crossing creek in Honeydew. Photo courtesy the Etter family.

A few more thoughts on the business from Laura… What happened to the market for tanbark?

       Roger Brown told me that he peeled tanbark in the Mattole Valley in the 1950s. So the business did not entirely disappear until decades after the boom was over. But as previously noted, the tanbark forests of the Mattole Valley were not infinite. Their trees had only come into high demand as the woods around population and trade centers such as the Bay Area were depleted; and as the supply around Southern Humboldt in turn shrank and the chrome (chemical) methods became more common, tanbark harvesting contracts here dropped off.

I found the following info at this internet site:


“A statement written by Susan Lehmann for the City of Santa Cruz Planning and Development Department says that… ‘prodigious amounts of tan bark’ had to be used. ‘Not just the bark but the entire tree was harvested and used for barrel staves as well as firewood to produce steam to run the plants. Although the supply seemed endless, by the turn of the century the oak trees, like the redwoods used for lumber and to fuel the limekilns, were seriously depleted, bringing about the eventual demise of the industries they had created.’

“A diagram in Willis Linn Jepson’s book Tanbark Oak and the Tanning Industry [published 1909] shows the number of cords of tanoak used for tanning in California from the years 1851-1907, with 4-6 trees per cord. The number of cords per year increased over time to add up to a total of 1,722,000 tanoak cords used in that 57 year timeframe. Estimating on the low end at 4 trees per cord, that adds up to 6,888,000 trees felled in California for tanning leather, just within the dates listed (Jepson 5-10).”

So, almost seven million tanoak trees cut down before 1907, which just happens to be when Calvin Stewart began bargaining for tanbark in the Mattole Valley. It is easy to see how a decade sending our bark either to the San Francisco, Santa Cruz, or Stockton-based tanneries, or to the Wagner refinery in Briceland, could take out most of the Mattole watershed’s supply.

According to quick internet searches, the most “efficient and effective” method of tanning, among many chemical choices, is to use Chromium (III) Sulfate. This technique (“chrome tanning”) has been known since at least 1840, but did not come into widespread use until around 1920, then became far and away the preferred process after the technological advances spurred by World War II. However, “vegetable” tanning continued to be used. It is a much less toxic process, and suited to treating leather for certain uses, mainly in furniture, footwear, belts, and other accessories, as it does not produce as flexible a leather as treatment by either the principle chemical or animal (brains, as used by Native Americans) means. Deer-brain-tanned deerskins, for instance, are wondrously soft.
Vegetable tannins occur in the bark and leaves of many plants; chestnut, regular (Quercus) oaks, and hemlock, as well as many tropical trees, have high tannin levels. These compounds bind to the collagen proteins in leathers, making them less water-soluble and more resistant to bacterial rot. (The largest tannery in the world in the 1840s was a hemlock-fed plant in upstate New York.)   •                ~LWCsm,PS,22loading SouthCoastmouth,RJBaker

Another R.J. Baker shot of the Mattole Wharf. The wood planking and iron rail situation looks a bit busy and sketchy. Still, they managed to get those bundles onto the high lines and into the vessel.


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This is the rest of the Mattole Lumber Company and wharf information, reprinted from #41 of the Now… and Then newsletter. The article was subtitled there, “The Wharf 1908-18: Opening the Valley.”


by Laura Cooskey

Here are some lines written around the time of the big Grand Opening Ceremony party of Aug. 22, 1908 (headline: “One of the Most Enjoyable Days in the History of Southwestern Humboldt”),  “by John Ross, of the Mattole section, and relative to the new wharf constructed near the mouth of the Mattole river by Mr. Calvin Stewart and his business associates” (Ferndale Enterprise, Sept. 4, 1908):


Our place connected with the sea.

No longer seems remote;

Our produce goes without delay

To distant towns of note.


Some said our wharf could not be built.

But enterprise was here;

And now our commerce has increased

With places far and near.


And he who made the work complete

Its prestige will maintain.

And those who scoffed now cease to say,

 His work will be in vain.


For all the produce of the place,

A market now we find:

And many things are now ahead

Which long have been behind.


 In winter when the roads were bad,

 Much trouble then had we;

But now the people are made glad—

They traffic by the sea.


And since a landing has been made,

We cherish it as gain.

With care our landing has been made,

And long may it remain.


Perhaps we should put some of this entrepreneurial joy in perspective. While Petrolia and the Mattole Valley flourished in the 1880s, the ʼ90s, despite a “Gay Nineties” reputation, were depressed economically. Then came the fire that destroyed many of downtown Petrolia’s businesses and a couple of homes in April, 1903, and the huge San Francisco earthquake of three years later, which caused substantial damage in the Mattole. There was much to fear and not much promise of progress.
But by August of 1907, the first automobiles arrived in the Mattole Valley. That initial motorcade carried California’s Governor James N. Gillett, a pro-business champion of railroads, waterfront development, and highways, who presented a banner to the citizens of the Mattole Valley for enjoying the highest percentage of Republican voters of any precinct in the state. Perhaps his speech helped motivate Mattolians to embrace the vision of Calvin Stewart and the Mattole Lumber Co. for railway and steamship delivery of our bountiful raw materials to eager world markets. At any rate, once the privately-funded wharf was on its feet, several public-interest projects helped carry on the spirit of material progress: In 1911, Fernbridge, the Queen of Bridges, opened our world west of the Eel River to easy access by automobile traffic from the outside; in 1912, the Punta Gorda lighthouse lit up on the coast south of the mouth of the Mattole River, bringing long-term employment to at least three families, and the worldliness of federal governmental presence as well; also in 1912, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, funded by Georgia Mackey on land donated by the Zanone family, added a settled note of civilized life, and of substantial and picturesque architecture, to the little village of Petrolia. And of course, by late 1917, trouble in Europe was drawing young Humboldt men, including at least a handful of Mattole boys, to the battlefields of World War I. The Valley would never again be as isolated and independent as it was before Governor Gillett’s visit.

Let’s look again at the newspaper record for some of this bustling enthusiasm. FE (Ferndale Enterprise), Aug. 2, 1910: “A steamer having landed a large quantity of lighthouse material [for Punta Gorda] at the Mattole Wharf the latter part of last week, teamsters Hough & Kelsey returned Monday to the mouth of the river in order to resume hauling… Several men have arrived from Briceland during the week to work in the bark camp on the Dudley place…”

FE, Aug. 23, 1910: References to bark and extract and wool being taken on steamer, threshing machine finishing work and going to Petrolia, peaches ripe, and heavy apple crop…

Arcata Union, Oct. 9, 1913: “Within a week the last boat of the season is expected at the Mattole Wharf for a shipment of bark and freight for San Francisco. The vessel has been running regularly this summer between  [here and] San Francisco, carrying tanbark.”

But already by February of 1914, the not-so-pacific ocean was having its way: “Mattole people regret to learn that the Mattole landing was so badly damaged by the storms that the company will probably not repair it. This does not mean that there will be no shipping but it is said that a wire chute will be rigged, such as those used at points down the coast… The company’s railroad track from the yard to the wharf was badly damaged also” (FE, Feb. 10, 1914). However, by the April 17 Enterprise report, Calvin Stewart and his partners were feeling positive. “The Mattole Lumber Company has decided to rebuild its wharf, which was badly damaged during the heavy January storms. Frank Adams has been cutting the piles and the company took advantage of the recent rise in the river to run them down.”

And by late summer of the next year everything seemed to be going smoothly: “The bark is now nearly all hauled to the landing. A few more days will see the last load in” (FE, Oct. 19, 1915).  Perhaps part of this shipment was the 1200 cords of tanbark mentioned on June 1 as being contracted for the Gardner brothers to take off E.J. Etter’s land.

However, the winter brought more troubles. FE, June 2, 1916: “Mr. Winning and son [Arthur and Archie] will be employed by the Mattole Lumber Company in repairing the wharf at the mouth of the Mattole river…” The repairs were successfully made, and the tanoak trees continued to be stripped; “Only a few more loads of bark remain in Upper Mattole. A day or two more will see all the bark hauled to the landing…” (FE, Oct. 20, 1916).

Before the 1918 tanbark season, the wharf closed down for good. According to an interview with Arthur Kelsey in 1977, in that year “… even though the company had operated at a profit since 1910, Calvin Stewart decided to close down his operations. Most of the available tanbark had been peeled in the area, and at this time there was a sharp decrease in the demand for the bark. But the main reason was the upkeep of the wharf. Every winter the combined action of heavy pounding waves, the drifting logs and debris, and strong currents along the coast would destroy part of the long wharf. And every Spring the wharf would have to be repaired” (Steam in the Redwoods, by Carranco and Sorensen, p. 168).
And that was pretty much it. No more mentions of the wharf in the newspapers. It seems that Calvin Stewart and his wharf surrendered to the sea as soon as the Valley’s tanbark supply dried up. So much for all the promised sea-route markets for apples, walnuts, peaches, beans, wool, turkeys, hogs, cattle, and lumber, etc.
However, when the wharf’s unreliability appeared to be irrelevant because of new transportation possibilities, resourceful Mattolians could scare up some untouched tanoak pockets. Contracts for new road construction were being signed. In March, 1919, Joseph Bagley (owner of the extensive orchards on what’s now the Yonts and Burroughs properties near A.Way Park) was enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded by this transition to engine-powered trucks: “Already representatives of big tanning interests are in the field securing options on tanbark holdings with a view to starting development in the immediate future. The bark will be taken to South Fork over the new highway and shipped by rail to its destination” (FE, Mar. 28, 1919). The new highway, what we now call the Bull Creek Road, was traversed successfully by George Lindley that August (FE, Aug. 15, 1919); however, with no bridges, the river had to be forded several times between Upper Mattole and South Fork. By Jan. 2, 1920, the Enterprise reports that the Humboldt Co. Board of Supervisors let the contract for construction of the Honeydew Bridge, with plans for the Concrete Arch (Mill Ford, near Squaw Creek’s entry) and the Shields’ Ford (near Cooskie Ridge Rd.) bridges soon to follow. There was now no need for ocean travel.

LoadingTan Bark,crop

A close-up from the R.J. Baker photo #109, Loading Tan bark, Petrolia. Here you can see the many men at work on board.

LoadingTan Bark,Petrolia,109

    Photo from which the little crop above was taken. Vessel is anchored as described in Part 1 of this story.


Although the wharf itself shut down, the Mattole Lumber Co.’s business office and general merchandise store stayed open until at least 1922. The company made its last ledger entry that year, according to Roger Frick as quoted in Steam in the Redwoods. Frick says that the store originally opened by May 22, 1908, the summer the wharf was being constructed, and that it was called the Stewart and Johnson Store. However, most often I see it referred to as the Mattole Lumber Company Store, or simply Johnsons’, since Tom and his wife Lavinia Stewart Johnson ran it. It was also known as the Union Lumber Store, according to Sam Stockton, as quoted in Andrew Genzoli’s Redwood Country column. This store was located in the downstairs of the old Knights of Pythias building, on the northwest corner of the Petrolia Square—the site of the planned new MVHS museum.
Calvin Stewart and most of his family stuck around the Mattole Valley, living below Crane Hill on the flat now owned mainly by the Bushes and the Senns. On Nov. 23, 1938, Calvin Stewart passed away at 91 years of age. Grandson Charles Calvin “Hap” Stewart, who passed away in 1990, was known and loved by many Mattolians still around today.


  Mattole Engine #1 approaching Sea Lion Rock and a waiting steamer. From the Mary Rackliff Etter collection.


The old steam donkey engine sat atop Sea Lion Rock, separated by the surf from dry land and most human scavengers, until about 1939, when it had finally rusted away, according to T.K. Clark. The locomotive itself was rescued from the mud which encased it after decades of abandonment at the Mattole Landing and restored to pristine and functional condition, in a tale worthy of its own headline. Henry Sorensen was the hero of that story. Today it resides at Sacramento’s California State Railroad Museum.


    Again, I am pleased to credit the recently departed Susie Van Kirk with the compilation of a list of Mattole newspaper references, which I drew on extensively for the quotes from news related to the Mattole Wharf.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

     In the next post, you will find a most welcome article by Bob Stansberry on the tanbark business itself in the Mattole Valley. One little note I wanted to add by way of introduction is that we must recognize how valuable this bark was—worth handling about a half-dozen times, paying many workers’ wages, before even making it to the Bay Area refineries. How could it be so precious? Consider the many uses of tanned leather a century ago… pretty much all replaced by plastic now, if not serving virtually obsolete needs. Harnesses, saddles, collars; boots, shoes, and belts; leather springs, industrial pulley belts, furniture and wall coverings, auto upholstery; book covers, desk blotters, wallets; bags, briefcases, portfolios…  softened and processed courtesy of tannic acid, often from the bark of the tanoak tree.

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This article, from Issue #40 of the Mattole Valley Historical Society’s Now… and Then newsletter, was originally titled “Mattole Lumber Company: A Man, A Plan, and Tanbark.” Please excuse my reprinting material here that members of the MVHS will have already seen; as a rule, I would rather post unique content on this blog. However, I think that having articles online about some of the most noteworthy periods in Mattole history, and including some basic informational lists and compilations, might be valuable to researchers near and far.
I will begin with three articles about the Mattole Wharf and the tanbark business.


by Laura Cooskey 

You are probably aware of the economic cycles of the Mattole Valley over the past 160 years or so. Plans for growth and development have repeatedly been hatched, shown some promise, then fallen away. Each time around, a lot of people had plenty of work for a little while. A few bigwigs made quite a bit of money, then either lost it or got lost before things got much worse. Between these exciting episodes, things settled down… the folks who had always loved living here, through thick or thin, and the new ones who just discovered that it was worth sticking around, even without the fast money, went back to doing whatever they could do that kept them here.

One of these “Heydays in Mattole” (title of a Neb Roscoe book that doesn’t happen to be exclusively about this topic) was the decade of the Mattole Wharf, 1908-1918, built by Calvin Stewart for the Mattole Lumber Co. The MLC specialized in harvesting the bark of the tanoak tree and getting it to the Bay Area refineries that could turn it into the extract used in tanning hides.

The principal player in this promise to bring the world’s commerce and culture to the Mattole Valley was Calvin Stewart, who came to us from Iowa by way of big business in Mendocino County. His partner and son-in-law, Thomas Johnson, was the brother of a previous partner in Fort Bragg, Charles Russell Johnson.


The Man

Calvin Stewart was born April 4, 1847, and crossed the plains with his family, arriving in California at the age of six. After some moving around, to Washington State and Half Moon Bay, the Stewarts settled by 1857 at a point down the coast subsequently named for the family—Stewarts Point, Sonoma County. Calvin’s parents began buying up large tracts of timberland on the Mendocino-Sonoma coast. In 1872, at the age of about 25, Calvin “established shipping points”—according to the book Steam in the Redwoods, by Lynwood Carranco and Henry L. Sorensen, 1988—which is a huge bundle of work barely hinted at in the short phrase. Imagine those barely-accessible “landings” in dogholes, suffering treacherous ocean conditions where, up above the cliffs, timber was thick.

By 1875, Calvin was in Ten Mile River, which opens to the sea ten miles above Fort Bragg. According to Carranco and Sorensen, James Hunter, a brother-in-law of Stewart’s, joined Calvin in a partnership which bought up farmland for raising stock and produce. (I haven’t determined if this supposed bro-in-law was one of our Mattole Valley Hunters.) In 1877, in Kibesillah, Mendo. Co., Calvin married Frances Cooper. She came from Ohio, born in 1855, and was a niece of the driven Indian fighter, Stephen G. Whipple.

Stewart and Hunter rebuilt the Newport Mill, on Ten Mile River, in 1878. This facility had a double circular saw, a single edger, and a planer, and a cutting capacity of 5000 feet a day; it had burned down the year before. In late 1882, Charles Russell Johnson arrived at Newport, and the company was renamed Stewart, Hunter and Johnson when he bought an interest in the mill. Purchases of vast timber holdings; financial help from Johnson’s family and friends in Michigan; the Union Lumber Co. and most of the land under the present Fort Bragg combined to create the firm called the Fort Bragg Redwood Co. The Fort Bragg railroad was established to get the lumber out of the forests, first running up Pudding Creek. By 1889, Calvin Stewart became the first president of the Fort Bragg bank. That was a big year for these men and their enterprise.

According to a quick glance online at the history of that city (wikipedia), “Fort Bragg was incorporated in 1889 with C. R. Johnson as its first mayor. Calvin Stewart did the plat maps for the town. Built in Fort Bragg for Horace Weller in 1886, the Weller House is the oldest existing house in the city. Since 1999, this house, converted into hotel, has welcomed tourists from around the world.” Horace Weller was Frances Cooper Stewart’s brother-in-law, and the namesake for the Stewarts’ second son. (The Old Stewart House was also open as an inn but seems to have closed recently. That’s where I met Linda Galli, the proprietor, who shared a few pictures of the young Stewart family during their Fort Bragg years, including the one on this page.)

But by 1892, the ever-active Calvin Stewart was ready for new horizons, and he sold his interest in the Union/Fort Bragg Lumber Co. to C.R. Johnson in order to start again in the lumber and tanbark business on his own. He and former partner J. Hunter, with a couple of other partners (Pollard and Dodge), bought the wharf at Bear Harbor and 12,000 acres of timberland. In July, 1893, together with A. B. Cooper (Mrs. Calvin Stewart’s father), these men formed the Bear Harbor Lumber Co. They immediately ordered locomotive No.1, and built a ten-mile track from the harbor to Indian Creek, including a 600-foot rise where horses were used to move the rail cars. At Indian Creek they constructed several utility buildings, and nearby, a little town known as Moody sprang up. In 1896, the Bear Harbor and Eel River Railroad was established with plans to extend the railroad over to Garberville, and in 1898 locomotive No. 2, a Baldwin 24-ton 2-4-2T, was bought for that run. But when a huge wave destroyed the wharf in 1899, con-struction ceased. By 1902, with his Bear Harbor cohorts involved in a new sawmill project involving investors from Washington State, Calvin eventually moved on.
With his sons Horace and Calvin Cooper Stewart (Calvin II—he wasn’t actually a Jr., as senior Calvin did not have the middle name of Cooper, as is often mistakenly assumed), the elder Mr. Stewart had been harvesting tanbark in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties. By 1907, he found enough enthusiasm here in the Mattole Valley for an active tanbark business, a wharf for convenient access to the outside world, and a railroad for getting the bark and other products out to the wharf. He decided to settle and invest heavily in the Petrolia area.


The Family

Calvin and Frances Cooper Stewart had at least seven children:

 Calvin Cooper, born 1878. Generally active in the family business.

Lavina or Lavinia, born 1880. She married her father’s business partner, Thomas Johnson, and ran the Petrolia MLC Store with him.

 Horace H., born 1883, also a right-hand man to his father; he married Minnie Johnston, a daughter of Charles A. and Evaline Langdon Johnston. Horace and Minnie were the parents of Charles Calvin Stewart, born around 1910—a.k.a. Hap Stewart.

Walter C., born 1885; he married Mattole schoolteacher Elsie Holtorf. Laborer, stage driver and truck driver, Road Master for County on local road jobs. Walter and Elsie’s son was Joe Stewart, and daughter was Josephine Muriel Fielder, who is on our list later in this newsletter—1915-2012.

Ella, born about 1887.

John C., born about 1891, who married a Eunice and later moved to Garberville. Farmer and County road worker.

Queen Esther, born 1893, known as Queenie Stewart, who married the painter Carl Sammons.

The middle “C” initial in three of the brothers’ names is for their mother’s maiden name, Cooper.


               Calvin Stewart, late 1870s


In 1900, while still involved with the Bear Harbor Lumber Co., the family appears on the Westport, CA, census; by 1910 they are in the Mattole Valley, where they at last put down roots. In 1930, Walter, 44, Elsie, and family are practically next door to Calvin, 82, widowed, who is living with two more offspring, John, 38, and Lavinia Johnson, by now 48 and herself a widow. Also living close by are Horace and Minnie, with son Charles Calvin (Hap) Stewart.

The main family home of the Stewarts was down on the flat below Crane Hill, in to the east of the County Rd. where some Senns have recently lived. It was very near —the properties abutted one another—to the home of close friends the C.A. Johnstons, birth family of Minnie (Mrs. Horace) Stewart. Both stately houses are long gone, but the Johnston home site is now the Dick Cogswell place, including Lost Coast Vineyards, on Conklin Creek Rd.


The Planning

Calvin Stewart and sons found not only enthusiasm, but enough tanoak trees growing here to make for an economically feasible harvesting operation. The first signs of this wave of excitement were notices in the newspaper. The Ferndale Enterprise noted on Oct. 18, 1907, “C. Stewart and T. Johnson, business men of Bear Harbor, Mendocino County, are guests of ‘Laurelwilds’ this week while attending to matters relating to tanbark in this section.” By the first of November, 1907, schoolteacher Leslie Gould (a brother-in-law of T.K. Clark’s) waxed emotional about these matters: “That Petrolia is to receive a boom soon is evident on every hand… a real business opportunity… A wharf for an outlet of Mattole’s products has been a desire of our town since its beginning and now comes the good and substantial promise of the building of a wharf and the construction of a railroad by Messrs. Stewart and Johnson… in order to ship from this valley and the surrounding hills the vast quantities of tanbark found thereon which has been growing there many years to swell that particular industry… the promoters of this enterprise mean business and are men of their word. It is one of the greatest opportunities this community can ever expect, so it stands on every property owner in hand to boost the proposition and help it on with their shoulders to the wheel for its earliest construction and completion. It means a cheaper and more rapid way of marketing your beef, orchard and farm produce and thus increase their production and make such industries profitable ones. It will bring ten people here where there is only one now, and all this means more work, more money in circulation, cheaper living than that of today and more financial chances to any of the existing businesses or those that may be begun, and you should not forget that it will give the oil companies a chance to bring their operating machinery here and land it almost upon the fields of proposed operation, and what better prospects of prosperity could anyone ask than the creating of such an industry as oil mining…”


Feb. 18, 1908, Enterprise: “Mr. Stewart, Sr., and his son Horace and Mr. T. of Needle Rock, have been looking for tanbark options in Upper Mattole the past few days. It is to be hoped that no one will withhold options and that all possible encouragement will be given the gentlemen. Most… seemed to realize that this is indeed Mattole’s opportunity, but it is said that some have held back, hoping, possibly, for better prices later. The price of the bark is a small thing in comparison to the development of the county as a result of a landing…”

From the Enterprise, dateline Petrolia–Feb. 28, 1908: “The gentlemen with Surveyor Logan and crew of assistants commenced surveying the wharf site and rights of way for tracks roads, etc., between here and the proposed landing… This work looks good to Mattole people and gives them great hopes…”

A few days later, March 3: “The landing is a certainty and it is hard to estimate what this may mean to the Mattole. For this valley is not like the little communities further south where, when the bark is exhausted, there is nothing left to support a landing. We have the capacity to raise apples equal to those of Hood River and with the same care in cultivation, spraying and packing, ought to be able to gain the same reputation and command the same price. We have many other products, also, such as lumber, and there is a large country to be drawn upon if transportation can be supplied, and it doubtless will be. And so the people of Mattole are feeling jubilant…”

By May of 1908, Calvin Stewart bought the old Dudley flour mill property at the mouth of Squaw Creek. “The property is the key to the Squaw Creek country, which is well timbered.” (F.E., 5/12/1908). If you look at a property-ownership map from 1911, for some reason you don’t see too many properties owned by Stewart or Mattole Lumber Co. Upstream, between Honeydew and Ettersburg and on the ridges north and east of the river, there are blocks owned by Eberhard Tanning Co. (Santa Clara), Kron Tannery (Santa Cruz), and Wagner Leather Co. (Stockton). By 1921, though, on the Belcher’s map, you can see many more pieces labelled some variation of Stewart, Johnson, or Mat. Lum. Co., and several that have both a landowner’s name and the note, “Timber, Stewart & Johnson.”

MRE 3teamsters,5mules

Getting the tanbark out of the forest (from the Mary Rackliff Etter collection)


It’s not as if every single Mattole resident were in favor of this wharf and the explosion of the tanbark industry. The newspapers of the day almost always pushed for economic development, so the naysayers get only scornful notice (FE, 5/12 and 5/15, 1908): “It seems strange to hear mutterings of discontent. For years the wheels of nearly every industry save stock raising have been stopped for the lack of an outlet. But this spring when the papers are full of the financial stringency of the times, we are looking forward to the most prosperous season we have ever known.” And then, “Just when the outlook for a wharf… seems brightest, along comes one of her citizens with a petition of such a nature that when properly signed and presented to the Board of Supervisors that honorable body would have power to condemn the wharf site. The exact reason for the act can hardly be explained even by the party circulating the petition…” And, on May 19, “Considerable indignation is expressed throughout the Mattole valley because of attempts that are being made to prevent building of the wharf. For twenty years and more a landing has been earnestly desired by our people…”


But the allure of jobs and trade with the outside world held sway. Peripheral businesses profited from the excitement over the wharf. In that Spring and Summer of 1908, oil prospectors had visited the area, predicting another petroleum boom; the sawmills were running full blast and expecting a high demand for lumber; property values jumped 20 percent in a few days; and the rush for timber claims was noted. Fruit and nut growers were especially excited about the possibility of relatively fast transportation to the great markets of the Bay Area.


The Can-Do Spirit

By late May, 1908, Calvin Stewart had moved his family, including Thomas Johnson, from the Needle Rock-Bear Harbor-Westport area to Petrolia. Then began the earnest work.

By June 2, a crew of men was on the job felling trees and hewing timbers for the wharf. The men stayed at a camp with board provided, on nearby Erwin property. Ten days later, “Wharf construction is now in full blast. George Fleckenstein is in charge of the pile driving crew, composed of Eureka boys [though Walter Selvage was the contractor for wharf construction and  pile driving]… while there is a crew.. grading a road to the wharf site, and still another… getting out the piles and necessary bracing timbers.”  A “bull donkey” (a sort of steam engine powerhouse) was brought to drive the piles, and by late July the rough structure reached the big rock that had formerly been a resting spot for sea lions.


This must have been taken from Mattole Point, where the tracks go from running on the sand to the trestle

(Freeman Art Co. photo postcard, MVHS collection)

On July 1, William Clark, owner of most of the ranch land on the north side at the mouth of the river, signed a contract allowing Mattole Lumber Co. use of “Sea Lion Rock to build their wharf and set their donkey engine for the purpose of running a high line out to load tanbark onto schooners for transportation to S.F.” (from T.K. Clark’s Regional History of Petrolia and the Mattole Valley).

Meantime, a very important order was placed: On July 11, 1908, Johnson & Stewart ordered from Vulcan Iron Works of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Mattole Engine No. 1. It (or “she”) was a Type 0-4-2T saddletank, 36” gauge, wood burning steam engine. It weighed only 17,500 pounds. An odd contradiction I found in the documents was that “officially” the engine was shipped to Mattole Lumber Co., Eureka, on August 22, 1908—then it is said to have traveled overland to reach the mouth of the Mattole. However, although on that date a huge celebration—the wharf dedication—was  held in a grove near the almost-completed pier, there was apparently, after an impressive list of dignitaries’ long-winded honorifics toward Calvin Stewart and the people of the Mattole Valley, a slightly embarrassing detail to divulge: “It was expected that the steamer would arrive a week or more ago with the locomotive Mr. Stewart had ordered from the east. The machinery was due to arrive in San Francisco the 15th of this month, but for some reason has been delayed in transit, and its arrival at the new landing cannot be stated with any degree of certainty.”  Daily they hoped, they waited. Almost a year later… on July 20, 1909, the Ferndale Enterprise reported: “The steamer which arrived at the wharf about ten days ago bringing the locomotive, five flat cars, rails and ties for the railroad, sailed again Friday night. As soon as possible she will make a return trip bringing with her provisions and ten extra flat cars now in readiness in the city.”


Mattole Engine No. 1, 1956, in McKinleyville after restoration by Henry Sorensen (at the controls)


The narrow-gauge track ran, for part of its length, on a wharf about 2000’ (3/8 mile) long, half of that on a trestle above the high-tide line which hugged the cliff from Mattole point north toward Sea Lion Rock, and half over the water. The wharf was 20 feet wide and was supported on pilings of “red fir”—Douglas-fir. Railroad ties were also made of this locally-abundant and hard wood (though technically a “softwood”). At the terminus on the rock, there were rail sidings for the flat cars that brought the tanbark out, and the steam donkey engine for wire-chuting, or high-lining, the cargo onto waiting ships.

The procedure for getting the tanbark from the trees to the ships bound for the city was as follows: First—peel the tanbark. This tanbark peeling was an art and science that should be more thoroughly addressed another time. Let’s just say that as the weather warmed up in summertime, the sap rose up in the tree and the peeling got easier. Also, the bark was then lighter and easier to handle if it had a little time to dry… so the summer months were the peeling season. Basically the tree would be “ringed” at four-foot intervals, the bark occasionally pulling off in neat, complete cylinders. Next, the bark curls or rings were loaded onto horse- or usually mule-drawn wagons and brought to a point on the north side of the river, about a mile and a quarter from the end of the wharf on Sea Lion Rock—on the little piece of land raised a bit by run-off sediment from Collins Gulch. This point was called “The Landing,” where the railroad tracks began. Further up the line, almost a mile away, was “Mattole Point,” where the rails climbed onto the trestle or wharf extension.

Contrary to some old maps and word of mouth, close study has assured me that this point below Collins Gulch—not another ¾ mile or so east, opposite Bear Creek, on Michael Evenson’s land nowadays—was the actual beginning of the railroad tracks. Here at the Collins Gulch landing, bark was loaded onto specially-designed flatbed cars with solid 4 x 4 corner posts on several racks holding the stacked tanbark. The locomotive pulled the loaded flat cars over the tracks, west then turning north to Mattole Point. From there, the tracks on the trestle continued north for a few hundred yards before bearing left, out into the waves and to the railroad terminus on Sea Lion Rock.

1921,MLC rr,wharf,MattolePt.,asterisk

1921 map showing railroad from terminus to Mattole Point (my spidery asterisk)—about 2000 ft. or 3/8 mile. Then to the Landing at the foot of Collins Gulch, the left “Mattole Lbr.Co.,” where the tracks ended—another 4500 ft. or 7/8 mile. All the way to the right “Mattole Lbr. Co.” label, that spot opposite Bear Creek (not shown here), would be another 4000 ft., or ¾ mile. There was some regrouping and storage at this eastern point, two miles from Sea Lion Rock; but it was not “The Landing,” which featured cabins, a cookhouse, barn, blacksmith-railroad shop, and engine house. The entire Landing flat was washed away and is now river channel.


Instead of the products (tanbark or any other) being loaded directly onto waiting ships from the wharf, though, the vessels lay a couple hundred feet out from the rock and were loaded via the high wire. “Each rack was picked up by the high line, run out to the schooner, tipped (by a sailor pulling the rope) and dumped on board. Sidings were built at the Rock for accumulating flat cars with empty racks,” says the report written by Marlene Greenway (Grangaard) as the California Dept. of Parks and Recreations’ Primary Record on the Mattole Lumber Company Wharf and Railroad, 1997. (Much of my information is from this concise summary.)

An article by Roger L. Frick, from the Times-Standard of 3/25/1975, describes the moorings for the waiting ships. Each ship tied off to four points—outside and inside head, and outside and inside stern. The outside moorings were each in 11 fathoms of water, and the inside moorings in 8 fathoms, using an almost two-ton anchor. (A fathom equals six feet.) The heaviest anchor was on the outside head mooring, and it weighed 4900 pounds. Imagine the heft of its 30-fathom chain. 


Many of the passages from the Ferndale Enterprise that I quoted were from a compilation of Mattole River Newspaper References put together by Susie Van Kirk, recently deceased… bless her and her painstaking work! 

See next two posts for a follow-up to this article, and one by Bob Stansberry focussed more on the process of tanbarking itself.



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