Archive for the ‘Pioneer and Old-Timer Accounts’ Category

This story was shared with me by Bob Stansberry, part of whose spread lies on the old Kreps place. I am printing it with the kind permission of Roy Forcier of Ferndale, the son of Myrtle Kreps Forcier. The accompanying photos came through the same channels. Notes in [brackets], subtitles, and captions are mine.

I am grateful to Bob and to Roy, and certainly to Judith Hokman, for making this story accessible. I will not comment on it, but let you enjoy it as is, other than to remark that the day Myrtle was born–August 30, 1913–was almost exactly a century ago. The Kreps family’s pioneer lifestyle, which was the only lifestyle that allowed one to enjoy the advantages of the fresh water and other pleasures of Wilder Ridge in the 1910s and ’20s, is described as something the earliest American settlers of a half-century before, and to some degree the back-to-the-landers of a half-century later, would recognize. John, Charles, and Sylvia Kreps were like latter-day pioneers in search of purity and the American dream, and were willing to work very hard for it. Let’s hear their story:

    The Kreps of Kreps Ridge: A Family History

by Judith C. Hokman

     John Kreps was born in 1850 in The Dalles, Oregon. [However, the writer’s own notes say he was born in Illinois; censuses say born in Ohio of Swiss parents.] He was thirty-two and an accomplished blacksmith when he married Minnie Laura Camron, eighteen. They had a son, Charles, born July 6, 1883, [and] two daughters, Ethel Ann and Mary Elizabeth.  John and Minnie Laura led a nomadic life in Oregon and California searching for the perfect place to live and raise children. They moved from one rapidly growing community to another where John always found work in the blacksmithing trade. Sometimes they moved because the water in a community became impure, causing outbreaks of typhoid fever and hepatitis. The quality of the water became a very important factor in John and Minnie Laura’s search.

            Traveling was hard on Minnie Laura, and she died of consumption in 1886 at the age of 24. [Research indicates her dates as 1864-1888; married to John Kreps September 3, 1882, in Wasco Co., Oregon.] Her two daughters were cared for by their grandmother and an aunt, and stayed occasionally with their father. John kept his son Charles with him as much as possible.

            When Charles was twelve, John heard of the fresh pure water of Humboldt County and moved from Salinas to Rohnerville. Not long afterward, John, more fiddle-footed than ever, left his children with relatives and took a trip to the gold fields of Alaska. He did not find what he was looking for there, as returned to Humboldt and his family. He knew Humboldt had what he wanted, but felt that it was not in Rohnerville, where neighbors could get near enough to pollute his water.

Arrival in Mattole         

      In 1903, Charles Murphy showed John 160 acres of wilderness land he had acquired three years before at a tax sale. The land stood on the Mattole River near the trail which ran between Honeydew and the Garberville-Shelter Cove trail. A previous homesteader had cleared an area of nearly ten acres and planted fruit trees and built a small cabin. A year around spring with delicious soft pure water flowed down this gently sloped side of the jagged mountain. A quarter of a mile from the cabin was a plateau of 10 to 15 acres suitable for raising grain and hay. When the plateau was cleared, the meandering Mattole would be seen at the bottom of a 500-foot cliff.

            John bought Murphy’s 160 acres in August, 1903, for $560.00, and decided to homestead another 160 acres adjoining to the south and west, on which he found several springs and a better southwestern exposure for a homesite. He was convinced that this and an additional purchase of land toward Fourmile Creek would enable him to bring his family, at least his son, near him. When his son should marry, there would be plenty of room for him to settle and raise his family.

Kreps, Sec15, center right

            See Section 15, center right, for Kreps place on this 1921 map by Belcher.

     There was demand for a blacksmith in the Mattole Valley, so John first built his forge and shop, then set about the task of building the house. It was built entirely of hand split redwood, except the living room floor which was fir planking. Redwood shakes covered the roof. At first the house contained only a living room, approximately 20’ x 20’, and two 10’ x 10’ bedrooms. A kitchen and pantry were added to one side of the building, their floor level three steps down from the rest of the house. There was a porch on the pantry end of the kitchen that held a water tank. Water was pumped from the spring by a water ram to the huge oak water tank. From there, the water was piped to the redwood kitchen sink, hand hewn by John. After the house was completed, he built fences and the barn, smoke house and other outbuildings. This was an impressive sight on the sloped hillside of the rugged mountain ridge. The buildings were all made of the same material and spaced to give adequate room for the purpose of each. The hand split fencing was whitewashed and made a nice frame for the seasoned redwood buildings.

            Meanwhile, Charles had grown and was working for shingle mills in the Fieldbrook area. He worked mostly for Burns Shingle Mill at Camp #4, and helped his father at the homestead when he was out of work. Charles drove himself at any job he did. He was never idle. Whether gainfully employed or helping someone else, he worked hard and furiously.

The Hansen family’s eldest daughter

            Sylvia Hansen was a very pretty girl with dark hair and eyes and delicate features. She was small boned and slender which made her look taller than her 5’ 3” height. Born in Wisconsin of Norwegian and German parents, Sylvia was the second of nine children, the oldest being her brother, Henry. Her family came to Humboldt from Elko, Nevada, where two younger brothers had died on a fever blamed on the water. They settled on a homestead site in the Bald Hills area [between Orick and Weitchpec] where after they had built a cabin and outbuildings, and cleared and planted fruit trees, they were told that they were on someone else’s land. The newly disclosed owner paid the Hansen’s $1,000.00 for their improvements on the land. The Hansen family moved to Trinidad, and there Sylvia met Charles Kreps at a young people’s dance.

            Sylvia and her brother Henry were close friends as well as being close in age. Their mother occasionally worked as cook and dishwasher for nearby mills, leaving Sylvia to do the housework and care for the younger children. When he had no paying job, Henry helped her with the household chores. By the time she turned eighteen, Sylvia wanted very much to leave home to make a life for herself. It was very practical for her to accept the marriage proposal of Charles Kreps. He was a mature 28 years old, was of pleasant nature and worked hard. With her meager education and no training for such jobs as a woman was allowed to hold in 1912, plans for her future had to include marriage as the primary goal.

            Charles and Sylvia were married June 1, 1912, and went to live at Camp #4, where some of the cabins were taken over, redecorated and made cozy by young married couples. Their first child, Myrtle May, was born August 30, 1913, in the old Trinity Hospital in Arcata. Three months later, the little family moved to the nearly completed homestead.

            The weather in late November was foul. It took three days to get from Arcata to Petrolia, and almost as long from Petrolia to what had become known to them as Kreps Ridge. The horses mired down in the mud and had to be rested often. There was much concern for the tiny baby, who was wrapped in extra coats to insure her keeping warm.

            Their largest possession to be moved from Camp #4 to the ranch at Kreps Ridge was a piano Charles had won in a raffle shortly before his marriage. The new piano had stood for some time in the dining hall at the camp and was slightly banged up around the edges. It could not be carried in a wagon to the homestead because the trail was rough and the combined heights of the wagon and piano made the load impossibly top heavy. A sled had to be built for it. The piano was then laid on its back on the sled which was pulled by two horses up the trail that ran along the tops of the ridges. It was a slow process, but the piano arrived at the house intact, if somewhat out of tune.

The young Kreps family– with grandpa John

            John adored Sylvia from the first. The quiet-mannered, youthful girl reminded him of his lost Minnie Laura. He soon found out that Sylvia knew little about homestead life. He taught her how to make soap and patiently showed her how to can and dry fruits, salt pork, make jerky, and smoke fish and meat.

            In the midst of all these lessons, Sylvia gave birth to her second daughter on October 11, 1914. Ethel was born in Petrolia at the house of Mrs. Booth [Mrs. Boots, most likely] who was a midwife. Following pioneer tradition, Mrs. Booth often exchanged her skilled services for produce from people with little money. She gave a much-needed service and without her help, there would have been a much higher mortality rate of both mothers and children in the Mattole Valley.

            When World War I started in 1916, both Sylvia’s brothers Henry and Oscar went off to serve their country. She had never been so completely out of touch with Henry. Since she had been at the ranch, he and Oscar had come to visit when they were out of work. Having never been as close to anyone as to Henry, she could talk to no one of the fear she lived with that she might never see her beloved brother again. Her hands were busy with hard physical work, but her mind was uneasy.

            She washed clothes on a washboard for three adults and two tiny babies, which was no easy job. The water had to be carried by the bucketful to the washtub, whether it was heated indoors or out. Clothes, heavy with water, had to be lugged from the wash to rinse tub, then wrung out by hand and slung over a line to dry. It took all day. She was interrupted frequently to feed and care for the babies and prepare meals for two hungry men. In order to ease life for the girl, her father-in-law bought her a treadle sewing machine and eventually a hand-operated washer with a clothes agitator and wringer.

            Charles worked hard and expected everyone to do as much as he. When he ordered Sylvia to help with the butchering, John took over her part of the hated job and sent her and the children for a walk. He thought it enough that she have the job of preserving the meat. Though there were some jobs she detested, Sylvia was not lazy. In pioneer life, there is no room for shirkers. She worked hard in both the summer and winter vegetable gardens and grew some flowers of which she was very proud.

A welcome addition, and a sad loss

            January 1916 came with little word of the war. Sylvia was ready to deliver her third child and there was 18 inches of snow outside the cabin. Her labor started. There was not enough time to struggle through the snow to Mrs. Boots’ in Petrolia. The best Charles could do was to go to Ettersburg for Mrs. Etter. Not long after he had gone, the baby came. John carefully and gently tended her while she gave birth to her son, Clyde Leland. It was a thrill for the old man to hold his only grandson in his arms. During her recovery, he let no one except himself care for the infant. This was what he had been waiting for. The land, this long-searched-for homestead would provide for his children and grandchildren.

            John died suddenly of a heart attack on June 11, 1916 when his grandson was 5 months old. He was buried in a graveyard on the Roscoe place at Upper Mattole. How sorely his gentle nature and kindness were missed by Sylvia. She was separated from the two people she loved most.

            Life, after John’s passing, was extremely lonely for the young mother. There was a period of more than a year that she did not leave the ranch. The only breaks in the monotony of chores and children were occasional travelers who saw the cabin from the trail on a nearby ridge and stopped over for a meal or shelter. Of course, Charles brought her stories about his trips to Petrolia for supplies and mail. The nearest woman with whom to visit lived three miles away over a steep trail. As the children got older and were better able to manage, the trip could be made as often as once a month in summer.

            Henry and Oscar came home from the war in 1918. They had many stories to tell of places they had been and things they had seen. The several weeks they were with Sylvia and her family were spent hunting, fishing and telling of their adventures. The time flew by. Long after the boys had ended their visit, Charles and Sylvia, in their evenings by the firelight, sat and thought about the adventures the boys had had.


 Sylvia and Charley with their children Ethel, Clyde, and Myrtle.

            In the fall of 1920, Sylvia and Charles were raking hay in the grain field. There was an approaching storm that threatened rain, so they both were working at a hurried pace. Sylvia was leading the horse which was pulling the rake. She was deathly afraid of horses, but had learned to swallow her fear in the face of necessary work. The sound of thunder grew nearer.  [Bob Stansberry notes that “During this time of year they were probably planting grain hay (oats) and raking the seed in with a spike tooth harrow.”] The horse grew skittish. At a loud clap of thunder, the horse shied and ran toward the trees. Sylvia kept hold of the reins and ran alongside of the horse until she tripped over a small stump and fell. The rake ran over her, the outside tine catching in the fleshy part of her side just below her ribs. The rake had missed her lung, but she had a terrible gash in her side that had to have the attention of a doctor.

Town trip, circa 1920

            Charles had not been to Petrolia for their winter supplies of flour, sugar, coffee, tea, and spices, so decided to go to Eureka for those supplies as well as to get Sylvia to the doctor. He loaded the wagon with hay and grain for the horses and boxes of pears and other produce from the garden. Food, cooking utensils, blankets, clothes and other things needed for the three-day journey were added to the load. Sylvia struggled to prepare her family for the trip despite the wound in her side. They arose at 4:00 the next morning for their long ride.

            It was the first time the children had been so far from home. They watched the stars go by as if they were a special show put on only for them. The first night’s camp was made at Bull Creek Flat and the awesome redwood forest was met before dawn the following day. At the second night’s camp near Scotia, a train passed by in the middle of the night and spooked the horses. Charles got up to calm them. The children were wild with excitement and were almost uncalmable themselves with so many new experiences in the middle of the night. Late afternoon of the third day, they could see Eureka.

            A horse-drawn wagon with a canvas cover, carrying a pioneer family was a rare sight in Eureka in 1920. Automobiles had already taken over the majority of the roadways. Children and dogs chased behind the strange looking wagon, but older folks, their eyes full of nostalgia, watched as it traveled the streets of Eureka to Sylvia’s parents’ Eureka home.


      Team and surrey was the family transportation before 1921 when the family purchased their first car, a Model T Ford. Sylvia, Ethel, and Myrtle are in the backseat; Charles, Clyde, and unknown passenger in the front [per Bob Stansberry].   


      Nearly seven years had passed since Sylvia had seen her parents and their younger children. She divided her time between listening to her mother’s reports on the family’s activities during their separation, introducing her own young family, and visiting the doctor’s clinic.

            The trip lasted over a week, then the trip home began. Supplies were packed in the wagon where produce had been before. Fresh hay and grain were loaded. Clothes, camping equipment and children were made ready for the long trek.

            Hours from Eureka it started to rain, pouring day and night. Small slides that had to be cleared in order to pass caused them to take an extra day to get as far as Pullen’s Elbow. There they had to stop to clear away a huge slide. The slide took nearly two weeks to clear. During that time, Sylvia and the children stayed in a cabin owned by Charles Davalt. The kind bachelor moved into his barn to make way for the family. Clyde, nearly five at the time, was fascinated by the fact that chestnuts covered the entire floor of one room of the cabin.

            Home was reached over a month after it was left. The animals had been turned out to fend for themselves and had to be gathered up and brought home. Supplies had to be dried out and put away. Then life settled down for the winter.


 Between house and woodshed on Wilder Ridge place. Charley and Sylvia holding horses with results of the hunt in the saddles. Myrtle said that they would hire out with their horses for work on the county road, at times [per Bob S.].

            In November, Henry was out of work. He and his brother Chester, then a clumsy teenager, went to the ranch to visit and hunt. Sylvia was always glad to see her favorite brother even though extra work came with him.

Fate’s cruelty

            One morning shortly after they arrived, Henry and Chester went on a bird hunting trip toward Upper Mattole. They crossed a new bridge being constructed near the old Way summer home. As Chester followed Henry across the wet slippery boards that rainy morning, he tripped and knocked the gun against a projection on the bridge which released the safety catch. The gun discharged and Henry took the full load of shot in the small of his back. Chester pulled him off the bridge and laid him in the road bed. Then he ran for help.

            Henry was so badly wounded that only a doctor could save him. Stan Roscoe had a Studebaker Special with high clearance between the frame and the ground. It was the only car in the valley that could possibly make the trip over the deep muddy roads to Eureka. There was room in the back of Stan’s car for a cot to be made for Henry to lie on. A trained nurse who lived in the valley had morphine and administered it to him to ease his pain. At what seemed to be hours later, the car was ready to go to Eureka.

            Between Upper Mattole and Honeydew, the car bogged down several times. Near the Honeydew bridge, stuck again, the cause seemed hopeless. Chester and the three other men making the trip with Henry frantically dug the car out again, then went to check on Henry. He was dead. He died with no last words, under the big oak tree on Hadley Flat [this should probably read “Hindley Flat”].

            They took Henry to the Hindley Ranch to await the coroner. After the coroner came, he was taken to his family in Eureka who buried him in Ocean View cemetery. Chester went alone to tell Sylvia of her brother’s death, a most pathetic boy who would carry a great burden with him ever afterward.

            Sylvia did not attend Henry’s funeral. Winter was coming on and Charles thought it unnecessary for her to go to Eureka. She could do nothing for Henry. She grieved alone in the cabin on the ridge.

Expanding horizons

            That winter, Clyde turned six. Since there was no school near enough for his children to attend, Charles had to move his family to a place nearer a school. In the spring of 1921, he purchased 15 acres on the east bank of a bow in the Mattole River just west of Honeydew. The Kreps family moved to the site and lived in a tent while Charles built a cabin with the help of some of the men in the valley.

            Three redwood logs used as a foundation for the cabin gave a feeling of solidity except during earthquakes when they would roll, causing the cabin to pitch violently back and forth. The children had been dreadfully afraid of earthquakes all their lives, having had quite a number of them at the ranch. When they were small, their Uncle Henry used to scare them with a tale of the 1906 earthquake in Bald Hills. He said that the trees leaned over so far they almost touched the ground. An earthquake in the rocking house was a far worse experience for the timid children.

            Clyde remembers an earthquake that came in the middle of one night after he and his sisters, all with colds, had had their chests plastered with rendered skunk grease, given a homemade cough remedy and sent to bed. Uncle Willie was staying with them. The earthquake hit. It dumped Uncle Willie and his bed over, whipped things out of cupboards onto the floor and threw the sourdough and all the medicines into a giant mess all over the kitchen. Clyde was sleeping in a cot by the piano. With each tilt of the floor, the piano bashed his cot, moving it halfway across the room. In the midst of the chaos, the house gave a lurch, the door flew open, and the shotgun fell out, the stock leaning against the outside wall. The house lunged back again and shoved the gun’s barrel into the ground. Although he was scared out of his wits, Clyde’s fear was overcome by relief that all those old medicines were ruined.

School days

            The cabin, which was almost exactly halfway between Honeydew and Upper Mattole schools, was in the Upper Mattole School district. The children walked three miles to Upper Mattole school until the road slid out making it dangerous for them to pass. From then on, they walked three miles to the Honeydew school. Spring, summer and fall were the months school was in session, leaving the winter with its bad weather for vacation time.

            After adjusting to being with children other than themselves, school in the one-room schoolhouse was fun for the Kreps children. Clyde, young, inexperienced, and gullible, took the longest to adjust. He thought school an unnecessary evil that kept him penned up inside and he wanted out. Believing everything anyone told him, he was more than happy to help the older boys when they said they knew of a way to close down the school forever. He filled a tobacco can full of skunks’ stink bags and one afternoon smeared them all over the schoolhouse. Caught by the teacher, who could smell him a mile away, he was made to clean the stink off the building. She was very angry with the boy and threatened him with reform school. This made a believer out of him, and all trouble he was a part of after that was minor. He didn’t realize for years, though, how she had known he was the culprit.

            Charles divided his time between the place on the ridge and the 10-acre garden he and Sylvia had made on the river. Wherever he worked, his family went with him and worked right along beside him.  One would have thought they were all men, the way he worked them.

Seven-year-old man

            When Clyde was between seven and eight years old, Charles decided to take him on a sheep drive to the railroad at South Fork. Sylvia argued that the boy was too young, but Charles could not be dissuaded. He must learn the ways of men sometime, and there would never be a better time.

            The Lindley, Etter, Shinn, Roscoe, Hindley and Kreps families put their sheep together for the drive. There were more than 3,000 sheep to drive to the railroad. Each family packed a roll of fencing which when connected together, corralled the sheep at night. They also packed provisions and camping supplies for the three-day drive to South Fork. The sheep were all brought to Honeydew where the drive began.

            The destination of the first day was Nigger Heaven, where the sheep were weighed. Halfway through the weighing, it started to rain. The job was hurriedly finished, as they buyer didn’t want to pay for water retained in the wool.

            The second day the sheep were driven to Bull Creek Flat, rounded up and corralled for the night. People who lived in the Bull Creek area came to visit the camp that night to trade news and gossip. Guy Curless and one of his sons were among the visitors. The son, while wandering around in the dark, stepped ker-splatt into the frying pan. This was one of the high points of the trip for seven-year-old Clyde.

            By dark the third day of the drive, the sheep were loaded in the railroad cars. The job finished, the tired herders ate supper in a diner made from a railroad car. They were relieved that the successful drive was over. The camaraderie of the men in the diner was loud and jovial, making a comfortable happy feeling for the exhausted little boy.

            The next day brought them home. Sylvia became anxious for her son as he slept the clock around, talking in his sleep the whole time. On his waking, she and the girls enjoyed the vivid account of his trip.

A boy and his dream

            When he was 11, Clyde wanted a bicycle. Since he had been trapping animals for quite some time, his father told him he could trap and sell pelts, using the money to buy a bike. The one in the Montgomery Ward catalog cost $39.00 plus shipping. It seemed like an impossible amount, but Clyde was determined to have his bicycle.

            With the company of his dog, Mush Hound, he spent the winter trapping. Skunk pelts brought $1.50, and raccoons, $2.50. A mink hide, which Mush Hound assisted in catching, sold for $10.00.

            Of course, one could not work all the time. When trapping was slow, Clyde used to tease Mush Hound. The dog loved to eat hard Christmas candy. He would stand and chew and chew and chew until he had finished the candy. Clyde piled a few pieces of candy in the middle of the trail and while Mush Hound slowly ate them, he ran as fast as he could up the trail, then stopped, doubled back on his tracks for a way, and jumped off into the brush where he could watch the dog.

            Mush Hound finished the candy and raced along the trail Clyde had taken. When he came to the end of Clyde’s tracks, he nosed around trying to find the boy. After several moments, Mush Hound doubled back along the trail and finally found his friend. Both boy and dog delighted in this game and it was played over and over.

            Clyde used to take a .22 caliber rifle with him when he checked his trap lines. One winter day, darkness overtook him long before he reached home. Since he did not trust the dark, he saw things and heard noises all around him. As he rounded a bend in the trail, he saw the unblinking green eyes of a panther staring straight at him. He stopped dead in his tracks and with his heart beating wildly, raised his gun to his shoulder. he shot. he saw feathers everywhere. His dangerous panther had turned out to be a harmless old owl.

            He had one other mishap with a bird. He caught a large grey heron in one of his traps. Its leg was not hurt, but it was held fast by the trap. He did not want this bird and approached the trap to set it free. The great wings of the huge bird flailed away at him. When the heron was free, it flew away with no thanks to the bruised and battered boy on the ground.

            By the end of the winter, Clyde had earned $80.00 and the bike was on its way. By coincidence, he and his father were at the Honeydew store when the bike came down the hill aboard the Albee Stage. The boy waited excitedly as John Albee untied the carton from the side of the big Dodge truck. Clyde and his father took the bike right home and put it together. He was proud to ride his new bicycle the three miles to school. He worried, though, for the safety of this prized possession when he was naughty at school and had to stay in at recess. the other children would play with his bike, while he sat fidgeting at his desk, hoping they would leave it in one piece.

Farewell to all that

            In 1929, the Kreps family was forced to move again. It was time for high school for Myrtle and Ethel and junior high for Clyde. Charles was determined that his children would have a better education than he, so moved his family to Eureka.

            The children, old as they were, were beings of the forest. City noises and the great numbers of people encountered there, confused and frightened them. Sylvia saw how terrified they were. She remembered her search in the woods for three very small children who had run away from the cabin on the ridge. Uncle Willis had told them he would cut off their ears if they were naughty. But that was many years ago. This was 1929. They would adjust. She had known the loneliness of life out there and would never go back.


            A short while ago, Clyde’s grandchildren visited the ranch at Kreps Ridge. The original house and outbuildings had burned down years ago and had been replaced by a summer cabin. Though the trees are old, Murphy’s orchard and the orchard on the homestead still bear fruit. There is no electricity or telephone there, and the springs still run sweet and clear. The solitude and quiet of 1903 still prevail.


*Notes from writer Judith C. Hokman, from 1976: “This account was written with love of history and even more love for some of the people in it. Thank you all who helped me so unselfishly. Special thanks to: Mrs. Elizabeth (Toots) Clark, Mrs. Myrtle Forcier, Mrs. Ethel Armstrong, and Mrs. Martha Roscoe [all of Eureka]. Very special thanks to Clyde Kreps of Bridgeville, whom I love and for whom this story was written.”



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Here is a continuation of Grace Hunter’s memoirs, which i first posted on September 5, 2011–click on this link to read the introduction. Grace, daughter of George Walker Hunter and Ida Ellingwood Hunter, was born in 1895, so would’ve begun school around 1900 or 1901. At the end of that first post, she had just been writing about starting classes at the old Petrolia School, located near the site of the recent (and soon to be again) Yellow Rose Restaurant.


In each classroom was seated about 60 pupils. The teachers were very efficient and helpful, but very strict when it came to behavior—they each had a large whip they were forced to crack at times, but I’ve never known them to have to use it because the parents in those days knew the teachers to be fair and they cooperated.

The exams at the end of the year came sealed from the Superintendent’s Office in Eureka, so we had to be thorough in all lessons or else it wouldn’t only look bad for the child but for the teacher as well. If a pupil needed help, it was generally demonstrated on the blackboard which ran the length of the room behind the teacher’s desk, either by a pupil or the teacher. I remember three of the older girls had taken a large shoe box and made a doll house with cardboard and colored tissue paper. We could each have a look inside for one straight pin or three looks for a safety pin.

There were children from the following families in attendance: The George, Elias, and Johnny Hunters; Lucian and Marshall Wrights; William Clarks; Charles Johnstons; Jacob Dudleys; Fayette Titus’s; Martin and Albert Boots; Patrick O’Learys; Weaver Denmans; Charles Goffs; William Rudolphs; Fidel Guglielmini’s; William Belloni’s; ____ Saunders; Henry Duffs; James Harts; Frank Gouthiers; Levant Cooks and nephew and niece—the Fruits—who made their home with the Cooks. The families were large, mostly ranging from 8 to 12 children.

What a wonderful time they all had to gather on Fourth of July picnics, dances, parties, and midnight suppers in the Petrolia Knights of Pythian Hall. Mothers stayed up to finish making pretty tucked and ruffled dresses the evening before these occasions sometimes until two o’clock a.m. Dress goods at that time ranged from 10 cents to 25 cents per yard, stockings from 5 cents to 15 cents per pair depending on the size, shoes from 25 cents to $1.50.  Dress shoes, if you could afford them, were slightly more, hats were from 15 cents to 50 cents. Children’s underwear for most families were home-made from bleached flour and sugar sacks as were some curtains and pillowcases.

Most of the furniture was homemade—the chair seats laced with rawhide strips that our fathers had tanned from hides. The mattresses were made of strong ticking and filled each year with fresh straw and laid on hand-split boards. Feathers were always saved for pillows.

Long benches were placed on each side of a long table with a chair at each end.

The women’s blouses had long sleeves and high collars and were worn inside the skirt band—the long flared skirts stirred dust on the bare floors as the women walked. Petticoats were heavily ruffled at the bottom—their shoes were high-laced.

Because of the food my father George Hunter raised and the wild game and fish, it cost but $100 per year for flour, sugar, kerosene, coffee, and a few other necessities. Meat and fish they smoked, dried, salted, and canned. Two-quart jars with old-fashioned lids and rubber rings held the winter supply of food including jelly, jam, preserves, and fruit butters.

The Mattole Valley was beautiful in those days with the large painted farm houses with locust trees, moss and tea roses—including many old-fashioned shrubs and climbing vines. The heavenly aromas that came from the kitchens tickled the noses of anyone who chanced to be around. And the large orchards were beautiful and enchanting as we watched the blossoms and the baby birds in their nests among the branches—with their mouths wide open waiting for a worm from their mother. The songs of the many different birds were enchanting especially the meadow larks with their loud distinctive warble.

The barn was large and boasted a blacksmith shop at one end where us kids at times would work the billows to liven up the fire for our Dad so it would soften the metal he wished to hammer out and shape. The barn was our playground during winter weather—the rest of the year, we did what was needed to be done whether it was pulling mustard from the large oat field, picking wild berries, or cutting and stacking wood.

I remember distinctly my mother tying a large wooden dry goods box to a sled that my brothers Ray and Ira had hitched to a gentle mule and horse, and with my younger brother Donald and the twins, Russell and Blanche—who were then around one year old—placed in the box with our lunch and a bundle of diapers; and we were off for the day, the boys to cut and stack willow wood up the north fork and I to care for Donald and the twins while Mother, Levina, and Dora—the eldest—baked and cleaned house at home.

We learned responsibility young in those days for the families were large and there was much to be done and money was hard to come by. If we had holes in our shoes and patches on our clothes, we knew that many of our school mates had the same problem. Most of the boys went barefoot and the soles of their feet were as tough as leather. Our fathers had what it took to half sole and mend shoes and our mothers taught us early in life to darn stockings and socks and mend our clothes. We were always grateful for what they taught us. It gave us self-reliance for we were an ambitious bunch—when my two older brothers and I weren’t helping with those younger than ourselves or doing chores of some sort, we were making stilts, bows and arrows, sling shots, toy wagons, sleds and boats. Having no sisters close to my age, I became a real tomboy—I even learned to whistle fluently—which my mother didn’t approve of and she told me that “whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends” which in plain words meant unladylike.

When I was eight years of age, I contracted typhoid fever and pneumonia at the same time. Our local doctor stayed beside my bed for three days and nights while my life hung at a balance. After I passed the crisis the two school teachers and neighbor ladies took turns with mother for a short time. My sisters gave me rag dolls they had made and dressed, my brothers—with eager and happy smiles—gave me a whistle they had made from a willow branch. They said “Now Tis (my brother just younger than me couldn’t say Grace so Tis became my nickname for many years)… if you want something just blow the whistle.”

It was nothing to see from twenty to forty deer in one place and quail, robins, and blackbirds were so plentiful all you had to do was aim the shotgun at a bunch and you had enough meat for a family meal. Many times Dad found baby wild animals on the range that had lost their mothers, perhaps to a hungry wild animal, which he brought home and we fed, cared for and loved until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Then Dad insisted that their rightful place was with the other animals and we let them go. It didn’t take long to catch thirty trout in those days either.

Then there came an epidemic of diphtheria and a few people died. Two were Charles Goff’s daughters, Grace and Agnes. [1902- ed.] We saw Halley’s Comet with its long tail a few evenings and we thought it was really something to see. [1910-ed.]

There were times when we would all go with Dad in the spring wagon. Mother would make a large potato salad and sandwiches, put in a fry pan for trout and a bowl for wild strawberries. The boys would fish and the girls pick berries and a tasty lunch was served at one o’clock which was the time when Dad rode back on his saddle horse which he always tied behind the wagon when he had to ride the range and see that all was well with the stock and fences, whether it was near the mouth of the Mattole River or at Davis Creek near the beach farther north. Always our black trained Shepherd stock dog followed him. It was a sad day for us all when the dog was missing for a while and then we saw him laboring hard—blood was staining the water from his hindquarters and floating downstream. He had not only been a stock and watch dog, but our staunch friend and protector. He had been shot with a shotgun so badly that our father had to kill him to stop his misery. We all felt bitter toward a person who could do that to a dog that would hurt no one unless they hurt him or one of us.

It wasn’t long from that time that we moved from the large stock ranch to a small place across from the church where we lived for a few months until Mother and Dad bought Grandma Ellingwood’s 160-acre parcel called Shenanigan, four miles southeast of Petrolia, for around one thousand dollars. [This is now the John and Glenda Short place—ed.] My youngest brother, Lewis, was born there April 5th, 1906. Five days later we experienced a very hard earthquake. [This must have been the great San Francisco quake, which occurred on April 18, 1906. –ed.] It was early morning and daylight was showing outside. Mother had left the kerosene lamp burning low all night so that she could see to care for the baby. It crashed to the floor breaking the chimney. Dad jumped out of bed and grabbed the lamp fearing it might start a fire. He cut his bare feet on the broken glass in the struggle to keep his footing. After he reached the outside door and threw the lamp outside, he looked up and saw the large fir trees swing and their tops hit the ground first on one side and then the other. The beds with casters rolled over the bare floor with us in them, which tickled us afterward at the thought of it. In the old-fashioned narrow pantry, there were broken dishes, sugar, butter, bread and other things that happened to be on the shelves, all on the floor with milk and cream from six pans spilled over them.

The Petrolia school and a few other buildings tipped backwards so we had classes in the church until a new school house was built. The earth shook so hard the dirt from a cliff slid down and made a dam across the river and there were slides the width of the road.


There is more to come from Grace.


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Dan Huddleston gave us the memoirs of Grace Hunter Christensen from which I draw today. His grandmother, Fran Graves, was given them by Grace (although Fran’s mother, Hazel Kelsey Flowers’, name is handwritten on the typed document).

Grace Ellen Hunter was born in 1895 in Petrolia to George Walker Hunter and Mae Maud Ellingwood. Her siblings included Levina, Dora (Mrs. Oscar Smith), Ray, Ira, twins Russell and Blanche, Clara, Myrtle, Lewis, and Madge. Her father, George, was the son of Walker S. Hunter, who for a time owned the business center of Petrolia, and Nancy Bellamy. Grace passed away in 1985.

I have omitted some of the earliest descriptions of Petrolia’s history from this entry, as they are Grace’s retelling of stories she heard secondhand and not, in my opinion, reliable. You may read the entire document if you ask me for a copy to borrow. Here I begin with, mainly, Grace’s memories of her own family’s tales, and the start of what she titles the story of her life. [My notes are in brackets.]


Grace's great-grandmother, Eliza Ann Martin Hunter (1804-1894), mother of Walker Sanders Hunter.

Walker Hunter’s mother [Eliza], whose husband was killed in the Civil War, lived with her son and his family. Walker and Nancy Hunter’s children were Ann, Elvira, Maggie, Angie, Sarah, Pascal, Elias, George [Walker], Thomas and Edward. [Hunter family genealogists: I am not sure about Sarah. Grace also doesn’t mention Melissa, who died at the age of 15, either through drowning or from a fever.]

Before Grandma [Nancy] bought a spinning wheel and small sewing machine on which the wheel was turned by hand, she made the boys pants and jackets of buckskin. When they thought the buckskins had become too dirty and stiff from being wet, they’d ask their mother to make new ones and she’d answer that they’d last for some time yet. So, the boys would take turns lightly sitting on the grind stone while another turned the wheel until a hole appeared—so of course new ones must be made.

Later there came the grist and small sawmills. They had wheat and corn ground for their own use and bought lumber for new homes. Nancy Hunter had the first wood stove that was shipped in. Her first cookies were made of very short baking powder biscuit dough, rolled thin and sprinkled with sugar. Each year there was a beef stock round-up. The cattle were driven by trail over the hills to Sacramento where buyers were waiting. The Indians liked the white man’s bread and if a few along the way saw the herd, they would gather white worms from the bark of trees, ask for two slices of bread, place the worms between, and to them it was a delicious sandwich.

In 1863, because of the killings and atrocities done by some of the boldest Indian warriors there was a massacre at Squaw Creek. They killed every Indian they could find in the encampment including women and children. The Indians’ cruelest warrior, called Snagle Tooth, was also killed at the time.

The Mountaineers gathered and captured many and took them to Round Valley Reservation, but there was quite an encampment left at the mouth of the Mattole.

Trust was something unknown between them for some time. One day when my father was walking home with his sisters and brothers, three Indians came riding by—one of them swooped him up and placed him in front of him as he rode. His father and some hired hands saw it as they were riding the range not too far away, they took chase and got him back before the Indians reached their encampment.

Most of the Indians living there died when an epidemic of measles hit their tribe. Most of the ones left were taken to a reservation. Those left built cabins, the men worked when it was available, the women dug willow roots, dyed them with solution they made from certain weeds and flowers and sold them to anyone wishing to buy.

Grandpa Hunter [Walker Sanders Hunter] was the first to start a dairy in Mattole—he bought wooden kegs from my Grandfather Giles Ellingwood who owned a cooper shop in Port Kenyon to put his butter in for market—the milk he fed to the calves and hogs. One day when he had the kegs of butter packed on horses and was taking them by trail to Ferndale, some Indians suddenly appeared. They took his horses, broke the kegs, and wiped butter all over the trees—he was lucky to get away with his life.

Walker S. Hunter, father of George Walker Hunter; Grace's grandfather.

In the mid-1890s, Grandma Hunter died of cancer. Grandpa had saved his money and wanted to extend his holdings, so he bought the business part of the small town of Petrolia which consisted of the stable, general store, saloon, and barber shop. Times had been hard and many couldn’t pay their bills. The former owners had lied about their heavy indebtedness which Grandpa found out when he took over the businesses. In those days a new owner was responsible for past indebtedness—this was Grandpa’s downfall. Rather than lose everything he turned two of his large ranches over to his foreman, Mr. Zanoni, who was supposed to return them as soon as business was straightened out and things cooled off. But when the time came, Zanoni would have no part in returning them nor would he with a Mr. Wright who had trusted him with his large ranch the same way. There was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t know the laws until they were confronted with them.

[Walker Sanders Hunter was in a partnership with Charles Gill at the Petrolia Store in the early-mid-1880s… the partnership did dissolve, and I never saw his name associated with the store after that. Don’t know if the order of things is mixed up in Grace’s memory, or if we are missing written information re: the mid-1990s. Nancy Bellamy Hunter did indeed die in 1893–very close to the time of her mother-in-law, Eliza’s, death.]

Grandpa was downhearted and disgusted about the whole thing—he sold all he had—salvaged enough to return to Missouri where he married a widow with a family and bought a ranch. Times were hard and after a few years his ranch was gone, his wife and family didn’t want to support an old man, so he came back to Mattole. He spent the end of his days in Tehama County with a daughter. Times were hard too for the land owners in Eel River Valley. Incomes were low and taxes extremely high. The only one my mother knew who was able to keep his ranch was Mr. Chapin. One traded his ranch for a team of horses. He could get fair wages for himself and his team.

Some Danish men and their families came to Eel River Valley, cleared land of brush and trees, sold the wood and trees to help build their houses and barns. Everything they did themselves with hand tools. Their children went to Port Kenyon school at the same time as my mother. She shuddered at the sight of their eating lard on their bread instead of butter which they couldn’t afford. Ingvard told me after we were married that they cooked onion in the fat and added a touch of salt. Professor Inskip was their teacher.

My Grandfather Ellingswood was born in England. He didn’t like his home life so when in his early teens, he stowed away on a ship headed from Maine, which perhaps stopped at New Brunswick Island [?] for it was there he lived until he married Alice Guptil at Portland, Maine. From there they came to California. He was a cooper at Santa Cruz for a few years before they and family settled at Port Kenyon.

Mother told of how the Chinese worked so cheap in the fish [business] that it took work away from the people living in the valley. They finally got tired of it—they rounded up all the Chinese except one man named Moon who had married an Indian girl, and because the people liked him, they let him stay. The others they took to the beach and told them to swim to China—they all drowned in the ocean. People made many of their own laws in those days. [That is not the way the deportation of the Chinese from Humboldt County happened… at least I hope it was not some incident that occurred apart from the well-known story of the roundup in Eureka!]

There wasn’t any road between Petrolia and Ferndale and my dad [born 1866] as a young man almost lost his life and that of his saddle horse in the heavy surf on the beach just south of Centerville on his way to Ferndale. Even after a road was built, they still travelled the beach from the Ocean House, where the Russ home stands, [south] to the foot of Domingo Hill, the old road to Petrolia [now Zanones’ corrals, at the foot of the road up to their and the Scientology places].

One day a Mattole man accidentally cut his leg with an axe. Two men helped the best they knew, and made him a bed in the back of a spring wagon and headed for Ferndale and a doctor. On the way, a hungry cougar smelled the blood and they had a hard time keeping him out of the wagon.


The first thing I distinctly remember of my life was my first day at Grammar School—I walked about a mile with my two older sisters, Levina and Dora, and two brothers, Ray and Ira. The large two-storey school house had two class rooms. First to fourth grade taught by Laura Cuddeback; the upper floor, the fifth to eighth, by Nelly McSweeney. A high board fence surrounded the large play yard on three sides and one down the center which divided the boys from the girls—sometimes the teachers would sit cross-legged on the ground and correct papers while the boys and girls played together in the front part of the yard. It was interesting to play with the pollywogs and minnows that nestled near the edge of the north fork of the Mattole River which wasn’t far away. [This was the school building on the east side of the lower North Fork, just west of downtown Petrolia, which was deemed unsafe after the 1906 earthquake.]


Photos here are lifted from ancestry.com. The one of Walker Sanders was put up there by Carl Christensen. More next time, folks!
See Part 2 by clicking this

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Lately i have been reading many pioneer-era accounts of first glimpses of the Mattole Valley. The Now… and Then newsletter i am working on will feature an article printing many of those descriptions of the people, flora, and fauna from the 1850s, before the oil boom really put us on the map.

Here is a shorter story, from a bit later on. The document is courtesy of Dorothy Klemp Price of Eureka, and is told by Linwood Clark, Sr., a first cousin of her great-great grandfather, William “Grampy” Clark, the father of T.K. Clark. William Clark and Linwood Clark were the sons of Charles Clark and James Clark, respectively. Charles and James had another brother, Thomas; together, the three made up the extensive Clark presence in early Petrolia.

James Clark, Linwood’s father, was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1820. He had emigrated to America in the early 1830s, and had made his way to the gold mines by 1850. During the ’50s he and his brothers were herding cattle between Petrolia, Oregon, and the San Francisco Bay area, with many gold-mining-associated adventures along the way; Linwood’s written accounts vary widely in their dates and story lines. However, what is clear is that by 1867, James had married a woman named Lucinda, or Cinda, Tyler, in Bangor, Maine; brought her back to Humboldt via Panama; and fathered a son– our Linwood Clark, Sr. As Cinda was homesick for the civilized life back East, James returned her to Maine, packing little Linwood on a mule as they crossed the Isthmus of Panama. Cinda died soon thereafter, leaving Linwood to be raised by his grandmother Tyler, as his father James had returned to California (via the first ticket sold in Boston for a through pass to the West Coast by railroad).

Meantime, in Humboldt County, the three Clark brothers decided to split up their land partnership. Linwood writes: “In the division Father took the ranch at Ferndale and 16 acres at Bucksport, just south of Eureka, and a lot he had bought in Oakland, and his third of the livestock and money on hand, which was quite a considerable amount. He also had a home in Eureka, where he intended to live with my mother and me, but on her death he had rented part of it to the U.S. land office. His money loaned out on notes at good interest, but land office burned down, destroying the notes, and he could not collect a lot of the money, thus losing a lot…

“For a while the three brothers contracted to carry the mail from Eureka to Petrolia, but this was a losing business, and James gave this up. The roads were bad and no bridges and too often, in winter, [he] had to swim the Eel River on horse-back with the mail tied to the saddle! He would go up to about where Fortuna is now and hit land on the other side five miles lower… this likely had to be repeated at Bear River and again at Mattole to get home.

“When I was ten, my father (James Clark) sent for me [in Maine] after he married again. This was in the winter of 1877-78. [He] met me at the mole [a stone or cement breakwater or pier] in Oakland, with my step-mother, and after a few days [we] went to Humboldt on a little steamer not much bigger than a good-sized ocean tug. We were fifty-four hours making the trip to Eureka, later being reported as lost. We went to Ferndale, then in a mud wagon, and that took about six hours, crossing the Eel River on a flat boat strung to a cable, which was an experience! In those days the roads were all hub deep in mud and it took half a day to go to Ferndale from our place, so we only got mail once a week.

“I was given a horse; he was a little old, but safe, and about 24 years old, I think. His name was Harry, and he was the horse that had packed Will, Mary, and Sarah from Oregon! However, I learned to ride. Will Clark traded him to an Indian for an Indian pony; a gray roan with big white pinto spots on him.

“My first year I did not have much work to do but by my second year (winter), I had learned to drive a team and I began to push a plow handle and follow the harrow after Father as he seeded by hand. In those days seeders were unknown in Humboldt and Father was the only man who could sow with both hands, making a double swath and lots of people used to try to hire him because he could sow so evenly with never a missed space. At that time he was nearly sixty years old, but very active. He could ride anything that had four legs and was also good with a four- or six-horse team.”

(Notes: The story of the three children of Charles and Martha Clark travelling to the Mattole Valley from Cottage Grove, Oregon, packed in boxes on each side of the saddle, can be found in T.K. Clark’s Regional History of Petrolia and the Mattole Valley.

Although Linwood does not mention his father James having gotten any Mattole property in the 1870s partnership dissolution, they are apparently living in the Valley in 1876. The 1870 census shows us a James Clark, 49 years old, living with the James and Mary Goff family along with a Whipple, a Robert Elvish, and a Culter or perhaps Coultas– a family name by his sister Sarah’s marriage. The household was all involved in stock raising.)

There is more in these papers from Dorothy Price about Linwood’s hunting skills and his dogs, but that will have to wait for another time.

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