Big River News – A monthly news digest for the coastal Mendocino County

I was in our new library sifting and sorting through a pile of donated magazines when I came across the two pages you see below:

Big River News - November 1984 front page

Big River News – November 1984 front page

Big River News - front page February 1985

Big River News – front page February 1985

I have been the historian for our club for ten years or more but I have never heard of nor seen this “mag.” To say the least I am intrigued. I have just two front pages. If anyone has more or knows more I would be delighted to hear from them.

The Finns in Fort Bragg and Finnish Folk Songs and Poetry

Soon after I came to Fort Bragg in 2000 I became fast friends with Hank Simonson.

Hank was born in 1917. Hank’s father had emigrated from Finland and come to Fort Bragg to join Hank’s uncle falling trees.  His father and uncle emigrated to escape from the Russian pogrom. Hake, Hank’s real name in Finnish, was born nine months after his mother arrived. Hank’s family, like many immigrant families, spoke their native language at home and he did not hear and learn English until he went to school. Hank’s father played the violin and his brother was accomplished on several instruments. The Finns were a large community in Fort Bragg and had their own Sulo band – here’s a picture of the band:

Fort Bragg Sulo Band

Fort Bragg Sulo Band

The Band had ceased to exist many years before I knew Hank. My one and only experience of Finnish Poetry and Folk Songs came when Hank and his beloved wife Flo and I attended what may well have been the last evening of Finnish Folk Song and Poetry ever held in Fort Bragg. Per Wiki, “The folk music of Finland is typically influenced by Karelian traditional tunes and lyrics of the Kalevala metre. Karelian heritage has traditionally been perceived as the purest expression of Finnic myths and beliefs, thought to be spared from Germanic and Slavic influences. ”  I was very polite and said I liked it but in all truth I didn’t understand a word of it!

Now you know how I got “into” Finnish Folk Music and Poetry.

Whilst most of our train Club members think I am a right pillock I do have an appreciation of classical music. Recently I have been listening to a VERY talented Finnish violinist named Pekka Kuusisto.  Whilst looking up his music up on YouTube I found  this vid which is both hilarious and enables you to learn Finnish.

Once upon a time there were TWO Mendocino’s


How do I know this? Well, the book, “History of California Post Offices by H.E. Salley” says so. The book says there were two Mendocinos. One, the one we know, is seven miles south of Fort Bragg. There has been a post office there since December 1st, 1858.

The second Mendocino was named after Cape Mendocino and was located 36 miles south of Eureka. The post office was established there on the 19th of October 1852. Cape Mendocino was then part of Mendocino County and later became part of Humboldt County when it was created on 12th of March 1853. Mendocino #2 later became known as Capetown. The post office didn’t last too long – it closed on the 20th of December 1853.

Post Offices of California

Post Offices of California

How about that then!!!!!!!

Legendary Locals of The Mendonoma Coast by Tammy Durston

Mendonoma Coast Cover

Our website on the history of the Mendocino Coast has, deliberately, included little about the people who lived there – we leave that to the genealogists. So, I was loath to purchase a book with the words “Legendary Locals” in the title. I was glad I did..

First, what is the author talking about in the phrase, “Mendonoma Coast?” This is the author’s map:

Map of Mendonoma

I have added Mendonoma to my lexicon.

I was much taken by some text in the Introduction:

Historian  and novelist Wallace Stegner wrote that, “Local history is the best history, the history with more of ourselves in it than other kinds.” I absolutely agree.

Poet John Masefield wrote regarding the coast redwoods, “They are not like trees, they are like spirits. The glens in which they grow are not like places, they are like haunts – haunts of the centuries or of the gods. The trees rise up with dignity, power and majesty as though they have been there forever.” How eloquent.

From a logging history the book has little to add to that which I have already chronicled in the website. But, it was a good read. Thank you Tammy Durston.


Shipwrecks of the California Coast – a book by Micheal D. White

Shipwrecks of the California Coast

Shipwrecks of the California Coast

The Golden State Coast is one of the most treacherous in the world. More than two thousand ships have been lost along the 840 miles of the California coast. Wow! Our website section on ships chronicles many of these losses along the Mendocino Coast. Just how bad the weather can be along the Mendocino Coast may be gained from this quote:

In November,1885 The Daily Alta California reported, “It has been a month of hurricanes and heavy seas  and some of the staunchest vessels have succumbed to the fierce battle of the elements.” The newspaper, the most widely circulated in the State, catalogued the month’s losses: the schooner Hannah Madison, wrecked at Navarro; the schooner Mendocino and Fairy Queen, wrecked off the rocks at Whitesboro and the Anne Gee, lost at the mouth of the Elk River…… From 1887 to 1897 an average of of one vessel was lost every 2 miles along the 195 mile strip of shoreline between Point Arena and Humboldt Bay. That averages out to almost 10 ships lost on that stretch of coast every year of that decade.

The book contains lots of photos and VERY interesting stories of the tragedies at sea along the Mendocino Coast. At the back of the book is a daunting piece of research – a list of the ships lost from 1540 to 1987. A very interesting read.

Published by History Press in 2014. ISBN 978-1-60949.924.2


Mendocino, a book by Dorothy Bear and Beth Stebbins published in 1973



Club member Earl Craighill brought this book to our weekly Wednesday brekkers meeting a couple of weeks ago. As the club’s historian I am always interested in books, articles, pictures etc. which amplify what we already know of the railroad and logging operations along the Mendocino Coast. Earl, generous soul that he is, soon granted me the opportunity to take it home and have a long butchers.

The book I found out is mainly about the families who first came to Mendocino and their homes – many of which still stand. Their were some new items about which I heretofore had no knowledge. One item was details of the Azorian fishermen who lived in Mendocino:

The Portugese of Mendocino

The Portuguese of Mendocino

When I first came to the Mendocino Coast in the early 1990’s I was told that you could identify the houses of the Azorian fishermen by the abalone shells decorating their houses.

The next interesting bit of history to catch my eye was this picture of the first mill in Mendocino which was perched at the end of the point:

First Mill on the PointIf you look closely at the photo you can see that the finished lumber is being loaded via a chute onto a lighter and not onto a schooner. The photo below shows the Point a little later and shows three chutes. Perched at the end of the first chute is the clapper man – his job was to stop the pieces of lumber sent down the chute to allow them to be passed onto the lighter.

Loading by chute to a lighter

Loading by chute to a lighter

Interesting snippets what! Thanks Earl for the lend.