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May these words of love endure

With great gratitude to the late Mary Rackliff Etter and her family, who entrusted her historical collection to the MVHS, I am pleased to share a humble little autograph book i found buried away, moldy and falling apart, in the depths of some heavy and confused box full of all manner of paperwork.

As i perused this tiny volume, one of the questions persistent in my mind was how it could be that in one and a quarter centuries, childhood friendships could go from being remembered like this… to the kinds of rhymes and raps you might see in a youngster’s autographed yearbook nowadays.

I am just grateful to be able to feel the warmth of those people (often lifelong friends, if not family, of Allie’s) all these years later; and i hope some of that feeling is transmitted to you when you see and read these pages.

The book was from Mary Clark Rackliff to her daughter, Alice (Allie) Rackliff, who grew up to marry Mr. Kistner and move to Ferndale. Allie, who was Mary Rackliff Etter’s aunt, was born in 1880.

Opening page:

Opening page: “Miss Allie Rackliff, A Christmas present from Mamma. Petrolia. Humboldt Co. California. Dec. 25, 1888.”

“To Allie. May he who clothes the lilies And marks the sparrow’s fall, Protect and save you, Allie, And guide you safe through all. Your Sister, Jennie M. Rackliff. Petrolia, Jan. 23, 1889.” Jennie was Allie’s elder sister, ten years old when she wrote this.

“To Allie. May Future, with her kindest smile, Wreathe laurels for thy brow; May loving angels guard and keep thee Ever pure as though art now. Sincerely, Emma Giacomini. Petrolia, June 20th, 1890.”

“Dear Allie: Perhaps at some time we must part, and oh! ’tis with an earnest heart That I ask thee, while in glee Or in sorrow, to ‘Remember me.’ From your cousin, Addie Johnston. March 30th, 1889.” Addie was the daughter of Sarah Clark, sister of Mary Clark Rackliff and wife of Charles A. Johnston. Sarah  died young, and Addie and brother William were adopted by their aunt Cavy Johnston Miner.

“To Allie– May your life be blest; With the joys thou lovest best; Is the wish of your teacher; G.A. Cummings. Petrolia, May 26, 1889.” George was Miss Katie Cummings’ father and was one of two teachers at the Petrolia School, located on the spot where the Yellow Rose sits today.

Here’s another angle: a picture of Allie’s schoolmates, with her sitting right near the middle, to our left of the one girl wearing white in the middle of the photograph. With her hair pulled back, she looks a bit like a little boy. Her sister and several others who sign her book are also in this picture, which many of you have seen in the Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery Guide.

1890 student body with teacher George Swain, Petrolia (Mattole Union) School.

1890 student body with teacher George Swain, Petrolia (Mattole Union) School.

Front row, l-r (9 boys): Tommy McDonough, Alvin Johnston, Ben Walch, Jesse King, Charlie Boots, Jim Hunter, Fred Crippen, Frank Wright, Malcolm Cady.

2nd row (10 girls & 2 boys): Alta Dudley, Sarah Johnston, Nora Mackey, Mertie Cady, Della Walch, Allie Rackliff, Lena O’Leary, Daisy O’Leary, Jennie Rackliff, Addie Giacomini, Jim Newland, Arthur Lindley.

3rd row (6 girls & 3 boys): (starts with the girl with round white collar and distinct center hair part) Mary Burris, Nettie Boots, Carrie Giacomini, Joanna Walch, Addie Johnston, Louise Walch, Ellis Hunter, Morgan Wright, Gilbert Crippen.

Back row (after Mr. George Swain, 3 girls & 8 boys): Christa Dudley, Mary Smith, Grace O’Leary, Arthur O’Leary, Albert Boots, William Johnston, Smith Dudley, John O’Leary, John Giacomini, Tom Newland, Joe Mackey.

So, next up in the autograph book, we find teacher Mr. Swain.

” ‘He liveth long who liveth well: All else is life but flung away. He liveth longest who can tell Of true things truly done each day. Then fill each day with what will last; Buy up the moments as they go; The life above when this is past Is the ripe fruit of life below.’ You are now learning the lessons of school; the lessons of life may prove harder, but patience, courage, and perseverance will solve both. Your friend, Geo. R. Swain, Lake Village, N.H. Petrolia, Cal., Apr. 19, ’90.”

“May your joys be as deep as the ocean. And your sorrows as light as the foam. From your Brother, Clark Rackliff. Sep. 19 1892.” Charles Clark Rackliff, father of Mary Rackliff Etter, was born in 1882.

“Cousin Allie, May he, who clothes the lilies And marks the sparrow’s fall, Protect and save you, Allie, and guide you safe through all. Wm. Johnston. Petrolia, Cal., March, 19, 1890.” Yes, he wrote just what his cousin Jennie wrote to her sister!

“Dear Allie, When rocks and rills divide us, And me no more you see, Just take your pen and paper, and write a few lines to me. Your friend, Lou Meng. Ferndale, June 9th, 1891.” The words “truth,” “faith,” “Love,” and maybe “Pray” fill the four corners of the page.

“Dear Allie–Love for those who love you For those whose hearts are true For the Heaven that smiles above you. And the good that you may do. Your Friend, Emma Edmonston. Island, July 16, 89.” (Island meant that area southwest of Fernbridge that used to bounded by the Eel and the Salt River.)

“The virtues of modesty candor and truth In woman exceeds all the beauty of youth. Your friend Joseph Collins. July 29th, 1889” Mr. Collins was a bachelor, born in England, 47 years old at the time of this writing.

“Let not our friendship be like the rose to sever. But like the evergreen may it last forever. Your Loving Friend, Joanna E. Walch. July 21, 1889.”

“In the golden chain of friendship Regard me as a link. From a friend, Clara Miner. June 10th, 1891 Ferndale.”

“May you walk the path of duty, Whether strewn with thorns or flowers. Till you reach the land of beauty, Where there are no storms or showers. From your sincere friend, Grace O’Leary. Petrolia, Cal., April 9, 1890.”

“Dear Allie, May your cares all fly away, Like dew before the sun, And when you’ve nothing else to [do], Just think of me for fun. Your friend and Schoolmate Nettie Boots. Petrolia, April 21st 1890.” Nettie was the daughter of Flora Hadley and Martin Boots, and first cousin of Jim Boots. She grew up to marry Peter Hansen; their daughter was Hattie Hansen Titus, the lady who befriended the Coast Guardsmen in the 1940s.

“Dear Allie, May your path be strewn through life with roses. Your Sincere Friend, Stella Benjamin. Ferndale Cal. June 7th 1891.”

Although the public school was obviously not a Christian school per se, you can certainly see that the Rackliffs and their close friends and relatives were strongly influenced by the teachings of the Bible. But not all the entries are that way:

“Dear Allie, As sure as comes your wedding day, A broom to you I’ll send; In sunshine use the brushy part, In storms the other end. Your friend, Louise Walch. May 30, 1889.”

But let’s end this on a more sublime note. These lines were penned a hundred and twenty-four years ago:

“Dear Allie–When the name that I write here is dim on the page, And the leaves of your Album are yellow with age, Still think of me kindly, and do not forget, That where I am I remember you yet. Your friend Jennie Atkinson. June 10th 1891, Ferndale Cal.”

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Here are some more pictures i like, from various sources as credited.

The J.A. Dudley place, two miles upstream from Petrolia. From the Hum. Co. Dept. of Public Works, possibly donated by Lyn Chambers

Jacob Allen Dudley, a son of James Newton Dudley (who had the sawmill at the mouth of East Mill Creek) owned land in the SE quarter of Section 11, T2S, R2W… that is, across the river, roughly, from where Alex Cockburn now lives and perhaps on the spot once called “the Raiches place” where Sterling now has a trailer. George Cummings had the land by 1911, and later it was marked Sam Adams. Probably this was Samuel F., or Frank, Adams, who was married to Addie Maud Burgess. Her brother was the photographer who took this photo. It’s a good one to zoom in on. I love the detail… how very tidy the buildings are, and how much work must’ve gone into felling those trees.

The Petrolia Hotel after the 1906 earthquake. Photo, by Eakle, from the online Bancroft Museum collection

There were other pictures of a “Petrolia Hotel” on the Bancroft site, but it turns out they were taken down south, not in a town named Petrolia, but maybe in the Coalinga area. However, i am pretty sure this is our hotel, the one that was on the path south from the square toward the cemetery. This back (west) wing is an addition since some of the earlier photos, but must have been rebuilt after the earthquake damage, for in the photo below, eight years later, it is a full-on two-story extension.

Downtown Petrolia looking south-southwest, 1914. Courtesy Dave Stockton

You can see the Reynolds place (later the Maude and Gib Langdon place, up near Mary Etter’s/now Jim Groeling’s), the bright white hotel with its back “ell” off toward the west (right), the corner saloon, the old Rudolph, then Hunter, store; the Hart and Johnson store, which burned down in the 1992 earthquake; and the livery stable on the site of today’s Fire Department.

Honeydew School in 1915, courtesy Tom Slack, son of Janice Peers Slack

Another beautiful old building that went down. Janice Peers’ mother, Verna Hawley Peers, was a teacher there in 1915 (see previous post about Shinn house). It was on what’s Alex Moore’s place now, the old Shinn home… or at least, the schoolbuilding’s ashes are. I heard that when he learned that we knew it was there, Mr. Moore torched it immediately lest the Preservation Police came and took away his rights. Pretty unlikely considering it was already just a pile of rotten wood…

And speaking of schools:

Mattole Union School Chorus, 1934, courtesy Velma Hunter Childs Titus


Front row: Bernardine Hunter, Gwen Fox, Dora Mae Clark, Carmen Davis (Gill), Velma Hunter.
Back row: Barbara Albee, Doris Johnston (Clark Loudermilk), Ellen Reynolds, Elaine Albee, Virginia Hunter.
I would like not just a picture, but a recording of their voices raised in song!

Cape Mendocino, from an old postcard print. Courtesy Hum. Co. Dept. of Public Works

An oldie but goodie. Note the wooden fences following the winding road up “the Wall.”

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