James Brookings

James Brooking became one of Del Norte County’s pioneers because of his reaction to receiving a pick and a pan as his pay from an irate sea captain. History writer Esther Ruth Smith does not explain in her book, “Del Norte County Pioneers,” why a pick and a pan was his pay.

But Brooking, son of James Brooking, Sr. of New Hampshire, gave up the sea and went mining because of the insult he perceived. He had left his home in Grofton County, New Hampshire, when he was 11 and had seen much of the world during the eight years he was at sea.

On Jan. 13, 1849 at the age of 20, Brooking sailed from Boston on the brig Colonel Tayloe, under the command of Captain Charles Leavett. Their destination was Sacramento around Cape Horn. He was to be paid $1, of which 65 cents was to be held for “hospital dues.” It was a stormy voyage, and they had to wait five weeks off Cape Horn for the weather to ease. The ship reached San Francisco on Sept. 14 and continued up the river to Sacramento where the sailors expected to receive their pay.

Brooking had informed the captain that he was leaving the ship to prospect for gold. The captain was irate and refused to pay Brooking and instead gave him a pick and a pan for panning gold. Stranded Brooking was stranded with no money and had to do odd jobs to earn enough to reach his destination. He finally reached Redding Springs, and after working for six weeks was able to purchase two oxen then proceeded to the Trinity River.

From there he went to Redding Springs in January 1850 and lost the $5,000 he’d earned from gold. Brooking went to Salmon River and then on to Clear Creek where he contracted to build a dam.

This undertaking proved disastrous. The soil was too sandy to hold water and washed out of the stone work.

That spring, Brooking started a stores in Yreka and Jacksonville. He sold his business in 1852 for $3,000 and went to Scott’s Valley.

After operating mercantile stores in Yreka and Jacksonville, Oregon, Brooking headed for Waldo to organize a group of 11 people to explore the coast.

With the beginning of the California gold rush it became apparent that an ocean front settlement was desirable to transport supplies and materials to the interior mining operations. Brooking went to Sailor Diggings on Illinois Creek with a man named Picket H. Kennedy.

They set up operations to mine for gold. However, after three weeks J. F. Wendel showed up in Sailor Diggings eager to reach the coast and found a town.

The group formed for the purpose of preparing an agreement to found a new town on the coast. The agreement was called the ‘Paragon Bay Agreement.’

The company was the ‘Point St. George Exploratory Company.’ This agreement was signed on Jan. 31, 1853.

It established a company to locate and build a town on and near Paragon Bay, on the Pacific Coast near the boundary between the State of California and the Oregon Territory.

The group left Waldo, California, in early October 1852. Unfortunately for the group, the food they’d arranged to be delivered did not reach them and they were forced to return to Waldo a month later.

The town became Crescent City, and Paragon Bay became the Crescent City harbor. Losing his claim James Brooking  returned to Waldo in April 1853.

During his absence, many settlers had arrived and he found that he had lost his rights to the land that he had settled on. Undaunted, he went to Gold Beach in the Oregon Territory.

He remained in Gold Beach for four years and took part in the Indian Wars which were such a bloody part of the history of Oregon and bought a 320 acre ranch in Smith River Valley in 1856. He married Sarah A. Lane four years later and settled in.

However, shortly after the wedding he went on a very successful mining expedition in the Oregon Territory. Upon his return to Del Norte County, he resumed his ranching activities in the Elk Valley for three years.

In 1868, he built the ‘Brooking Hotel’ in Smith River, which at one time housed the first post office to serve the growing community. The hotel was moved at one point and was operating by the Brooking family until 1900, when the Brookings sold it to William Bates Plaisted.

James and Sarah Brooking had five children, Bertha, Walter, Helen, Harry and George.

Their oldest son, Walter, was born in 1861. In November 1900, Walter left his home at Smith River Corners with his dog to meet his friend Paul Fredericks at his cabin in Winchuck, about 10 miles away.

They were to go hunting together, but Walter never made it. The next day search parties were sent out, but no trace of Walter or his dog were ever found.

Bertha Brooking married Henry Westbrook Sr.

Brooking was a well-liked and important member of the Smith River community eventually becoming the town’s postmaster for 19 years, justice of the peace for 21 years, notary public for 28 years and county coroner in 1890.  James Brooking died on November 23, 1913, at the age of 85.


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