Copper North of Crescent City

It was 1860 when seven years of rumored wealth in the hills north of Crescent City proved to be true. In March of that year, several miners took samples of ore to be tested by D.S. Sartwell and Dr. Henry Smith.

The ore tested out to have a large percentage of copper. The news prompted geologist D. C. Gibbs to form a company to take full advantage of the vein — found to be a mile long.

The vein was opened first on a ridge east of Smith River near Peacock’s Ferry.

Eventually, several shafts were dug to 20 and 30 feet to enable the geologists to more accurately determine the ore’s quality. They, too, underscored the high quality of the ores.

Summer 1860 saw excitement rising here, and attention given to the find from as far south as San Francisco. A group of Cornish miners agreed that the ore was high quality, calling it the richest they had inspected.

Better yet was its accessibility. And so the fever spread.

Locals picked up the mining lingo quickly, the streets of Crescent City were thinned of crowds, and McClelland’s Livery Stable had no animals available for hire. The first mining company, ‘Evoca,’ dug its mine about a mile east of the bank of Smith River, on the plank road that led to Peacock’s Ferry from the Illinois Valley.

One mile north of Evoca was the second mine, ‘Excelsior.’ The ‘Pacific’ was one-half mile farther north.  All were on the same ridge.

Soon to join them were the ‘Del Norte,’ on the east side of Myrtle Creek, the ‘Alta California’ on Low Divide (on the wagon road from Crescent City to the Illinois Valley), the ‘Union,’ opposite the ‘Alta California,’ and other mines, including the ‘Crescent,’ ‘Bamboo,’ ‘Mammoth,’ and the ‘Chaplin’ and ‘Bradford’ claims, all near Low Divide. They sprung up during a two-month period, lasted awhile, but petered out 20 years later.

Between 1860 and 1863, about 2,000 tons of high-grade copper ore were mined. High as the value was, however, transportation and labor prices prevented the mines from turning a profit.

At the same time, “Many persons who should have known better seemed to forget that it required a large amount of capital to operate a successful copper mine (and) most of the mines soon failed,” according to the Redwoods National and State Parks Website.

By 1880, only one mine was left – the ‘Condon Copper Mine’ of Big Flat. Wages dropped to $40 per month room and board, and the cost to transport ore to San Francisco to $10 per ton, in spite of the fact that the ore could fetch $50-$60 per ton there.

Bottom line was that the mine owners could not afford to run their facilities.

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Klamath City Established

In 1850, settlers to the Del Norte County region established Klamath City, an attempt that would fail to serve as the envisioned stop on a shipping and mining route. Explorers and miners arrived in the region and set up houses, gardens and farms at the mouth of the river where the Yurok people had long lived.

Shifting sandbars would lead to strandings and shipwrecks that would block the city’s success, according to “A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California.” And a failure to quickly get federal money to improve the harbor would prompt its new residents to abandon the town, according to history information from the Redwood National and State Parks service.

The settlement was one of many along the coast as settlers arrived to seek gold and claim land. It’s not called “gold fever” for no reason.

Although the Gold Bluffs area south of the mouth of Klamath River didn’t yield much of anything during miners’ earlier attempts to get rich there, it took on the aspects of a myth that would not die. Captain Taylor – no first name recorded by early Del Norte County historian A.J. Bledsoe in his his 1881 “History Del Norte County, California, with a Business Directory and Traveler’s Guide” – visited the area in 1872 to harvest the supposedly rich gold-bearing sands he heard were deposited there.

From New York, Taylor couldn’t use a diving bell he owned to assess the vaunted riches of the area. It had been damaged in an accident, forcing Taylor to use a different method.

Use it, he did, returning from his foray with “sufficient” gold-bearing sands to announce that they contained “a great quantity of gold.”  Taylor proceeded to spin tales of black sand that assayed at $23,000 per ton in gold.

His boasts spurred the formation of a new company organized explicitly to exploit the Gold Bluffs area a year later. Called Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co., its officials chartered the steamer ‘Monterey,’ loaded her with mining machinery and sailed north to Gold Bluffs.

“The existence of vast deposits of gold-bearing sands on the sea coast … has been a matter of notoriety for a quarter of a century,” Bledsoe wrote.

Even Bledsoe bought into the belief that the wealth of the deposits “is fabulous.”

“So great was the rush of miners to this new locality, that it was feared the placer mines … would become depopulated,” Bledsoe wrote.

Of the beach mines, Gold Bluff was “the most extensively worked,” he wrote as he traced the workings from 1852. One claim harvested $25,000 in gold in a year.

Miners theorized that gold was washed from the bluffs when the surf broke across the beach at their base at an angle, but not when it smacked them head-on. The gold was so light, that it floated on the water’s surface.

During the three weeks that the Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co. operated, it raised more than 100 tons of sand from an area one-half mile up to 40 yards from the bluffs, in depths of 24 to 48 feet. Of that quantity, hardly any gold was found by an assayer imported from San Francisco to examine the sands.

Gray sand, black sand, coarse gravel and shells — but no gold after sucking sand from the ocean floor down to bedrock. Despite the high expense and disappointing results, more miners came to check the area for themselves.

As information posted by the National Park Service on its Web site puts it, “where gold was involved, such words of caution had little effect.”

Several months after the failed submarine company attempt, a party of Humboldt County residents led by a Captain Buhme, Frank and Robert Duff, and Harry Rogers visited Gold Bluffs. They, too, returned with reports of “very rich” beach deposits of gold.

True to form, the Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Co. began negotiating with the group for its exploitation — and the legend of gold laying of the beach perpetuated further.

General George Crook: Indian Fighter

The man who would eventually battle famous Native American warriors Crazy Horse and Geronimo came to Del Norte County during one of his first Army missions. In 1853 George Crook followed the Lost Coast from Fort Humboldt toward the Klamath River, where he encountered Gold Bluffs and everything they had to offer – gold and 49ers.

Crook was widely considered one of the Army’s best Indian fighters. In 1876, Crook went into the Black Hills of South Dakota to fight the rising Lakota and their chief, Sitting Bull. In a fight at Rosebud Creek, Crook and his company were forced to retreat from Lakota and Cheyenne warriors led by the indomitable Crazy Horse.

This may have contributed to the massacre of Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer at Little Bighorn because he did not have reinforcements. The last time Crook fought in the Indian War was from 1882 to 1886 against Geronimo, who was the leader of the Apache’s in Arizona.

During those four years, Crook was unable to subdue the ever-defiant and aggressive Geronimo. Crook was relieved of his command. His rival General Nelson Miles conquered the Apache leader and exiled him to Florida.

Returning to Crook’s northcoast exploits, the miner’s told Crook – who was one year out of the West Point military academy – that the area contained an estimated $40 million worth of gold. Unfortunately for the miners, their method of collecting the gold was so slow that the ocean would wash much of the precious metal out into the open sea.

From the Gold Bluffs, Crook continued north to fight Indians, notably the Rogue River and Yakima tribes of Oregon and Washington, respectively.

Even though Crook spent most of his career fighting and killing Indian’s, he was thoroughly respected by his adversaries. He was known just as much for his negotiating skills as for his tenacious pursuit of his enemies.

Red Cloud, a Lakota chief who fought against Crook, said about his adversary, “Crook never lied to us. His words gave the people hope.”

Crook died of a heart attack on March 2, 1890.

Bumper-sticker Shock

Driving is always an adventure of sorts for the person truly seeking an adventure. One of my favorite past times while on the road is reading bumper stickers and license plate wrap arounds.

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers is, “Warning! I flick boogers.” Just last week I saw a license plate wrap-around that made me do a double take. It said, “I like to drive topless.” It was on a little, red convertible sports car driven by a red-headed female.

This one I call my all-time oxymoron award winner. It was on a car driven by a woman who looked to be about sixty years old.

The wrap-around stated, “If you’re going to ride my butt, pull my hair.” And in the passenger side of the rear window was a sticker decrying “Don’t Abuse Women!”

Someone needs to tell her to make up her mind.

The holy trinity of stickers is the U. S. Marine Corps insignia, the National Rifle Association insignia and the Number 3 Dale Earnhardt Memorial Sticker, all on the same back window. No they don’t need to be in that order, but you can bet that if the Corps insignia is first then that’s what branch of service they were in or are in.

Don’t mess with the driver of this vehicle!

There is a part of me that worries about the poor soul that has the bumper sticker, “My President is Charlton Heston.” Two things have occurred in this driver’s life. They have either confused Charlton Heston with Ronald Reagan because they both have the same disease or this driver some how thinks Moses is now a political figure.

Seeing “Rush is Right,” bumper stickers crack me up. I cannot help myself, because I know that eventually that driver is going to have to turn left at some point and where does that leave their sticker? It’s just a point of observation.

Then there’s the “Barbie has everything…” crowd. Uh, driver — Barbie is just a very well-built toy.

A Fiery Fourth

The first celebration of Fourth of July in town occurred during 1853. Still, an event in 1855, perhaps carries the deepest significance in festivities.

On June 24 of that year, a fire destroyed the Steamship America and stranded 132 soldiers of the 21st U.S. Infantry. After delivering mail to the city and unloading a few passengers, the steamship ‘America’s’ side-wheel began burning while the vessel was anchored.

Smoke bellowed from the ship. Every attempt was made to stop the fire, and the boat was run into shallow water about 150 yards offshore. Residents used buckets, ropes and ladders to fight the fire, but the America burned.

While in transit to San Francisco for rebuilding, the hulk of the ‘America’ broke loose and sank mid-ocean. Fittingly, ”America’s’ cannon were salvaged from the wreck and moved to Battery Point.

The 1855 festivities began with the firing of the cannons on Battery Point followed by a parade. At the park, a salute of 13 guns was fired at sunrise under the direction of Capt. Thos. R. Lawson.  The 13 guns also were fired at sunset.

A lantern was fixed on a pole at Battery Point in place of the lighthouse. A procession including the stranded soldiers marched through the city under with the command of Maj. Henry Prince, accompanies by the Crescent Hook and Ladder Co. and local military companies. It traveled down E Street to Front Street, down Front Street, through J Street, up the beach to Battery Point, and to the Ball Park.

W.A. Hamilton was grand marshal and J.J. Arrington and F.E. Weston were the assistants. The Declaration of Independence was read by J.B. Roseborough and the invocation was delivered by Jno. J. Hayness.

One Year Later

It has been a year exactly today since my mother passed away. I did not handle her death very well, I am sorry to say. I had to struggle and learn a few lessons along the way. I fought with those lessons so hard that I nearly destroyed myself a couple of times . Now I have to live the rest of my days with out her and all I have are my  memories.

One of my favorite memories is coming home on a rainy afternoon from grade school. I rode the bus home. I would get off old Number Six at Camp Marigold and walk up our street passed the firehouse.

Once inside, the warming aroma of fresh-baked cookies from mom’s oven would greet me. I would rush to strip myself of my wet rain slicker and boots and hurry into the kitchen. I always wanted the bowl holding the last little drippings of batter and the beaters, and then I would scramble for a cooling cookie or two along with a fresh glass of milk. To a seven-year old this was as close as a kid could come to heaven with his feet still planted on the ground.

A couple of years later I invited several school friends home because my mom was going to make a pineapple upside down, cake. I bragged all over school about my mothers skill at baking this particular goody — although I had never  really seen her do it before. Talk about a kid being embarrassed when he discovered that his mother really wasn’t going to stand on her head to make the cake as he had informed everyone.

Baking was not the only skill my mother had. I was nine years old when we got into a dirt clod fight. I believe I started the fight by throwing a clod at my mother. She picked one up and flung it back.

Earlier my father had developed a grand idea of creating a large rose bed in our back yard. We called it the ‘ditch’ in secret because it was nearly eight feet wide, five feet deep and fifty feet long and all dug out with a backhoe.

her aim was deadly accurate as she hit me squarely in the crotch. I happen to have been standing on a five-foot high fence at the time and I fell off it and into the ditch. It was the first, last and only time I threw anything at my mother even in play.

Six months before she died I visited with her one final time. We were sitting at the dinner table at her home, talking about the things we did and did not remember. I suddenly thought to ask her about the old witch that visited my eighth grade class. I wanted to know if she knew who it was. This witch had come into my class unannounced the day of Halloween.

She was clothed from head to toe in black. Her face was hideous green shade and her nose was long, bent and pointy. On the one side it had a wart her chin supported a mole that sprouted several hairs. She howled and laughed a haunting cackle as she served each of us a small plate of cold noodle-worms and ice-cold, pea-green punch from a black cauldron that steamed as she moved from aisle to aisle.

She smiled warmly and answered that it was she. I nearly fell out of my chair at that revelation.

The evening she died, my son and I rushed to be at her bedside. I promised mom that I would be there, as did her grandson. We cried and we prayed and we cried some more . When she had breathed her last, I spent some time washing her face and combing her hair. It was difficult to say the least.

Yeah, all I have are memories now. But they are some of the best memories I could have ever asked for.

Crescent City: The Beginning

As miners seeking gold moved into Del Norte and Humboldt counties, the distance between them and the supplies they needed became a sore point. Some of the mines were clustered near the Oregon border.

The distance to the port cities of Trinidad and Humboldt Bay probably seemed longer each time miners traveled it. In eyeballing the area for a likely supply-oriented town, residents hit on the road and anchorage south and east of Point St. George — laying out a town there during spring 1853 and calling it Crescent City after the name of its beach.

The town was born when A. M. Rosborough bought a land warrant in J.F. Wendell’s name for the 320 acres of land that became Crescent City. T.P. Robinson surveyed the area that month and divided it into town lots, according to “A History, Del Norte County, California,” written by A.J. Bledsoe and printed by The Humboldt Times in Eureka during 1881.

Twenty-eight people bought lots in the new town for prices ranging from $100-$1,000. Of them, seven had invested in an expedition to Point St. George.

“These gentlemen should be looked upon as the founders of Crescent City,” wrote Bledsoe.  He included F.E. Weston, G.W. Jordan, A.K. Ward, R. Humphreys, P.M. Peters and J.K. Irving in the group.

Because Wendell’s land grant was later declared void, the U.S. Government claimed the land. Those who had invested came close to losing their lots and money, but were spared the loss when the Common Council of Crescent City bought the land at $2.50 per acre and issued investors certificates of title.

The area soon grew from a small collection of tents to “a good-sized town,” writes Bledsoe.

Workers opened a road into the interior, and the town immediately went into the business of supplying miners. The area boomed that summer, quickly bypassing Trinidad in size and logistic importance.

Large numbers of settlers, attracted by the area’s mineral and agriculture resources, soon arrived. Although inland mines didn’t produce as much as those of other parts of California, they yielded enough gold to whet miners’ appetites.

So legislators acted in February 1856 to make Orleans Bar the county seat for Klamath County, which encompassed what later would become Del Norte County. Although voters in Klamath favored the idea by a large majority, Crescent City’s residents found it a lot of trouble to transact any business there because of the mountains that separated the two places.

In 1857 legislators carved Del Norte County from the northern portion of Klamath, making Crescent City the new county’s seat. Twenty-three years later, the state’s legislators approved a measure annexing the territory of Klamath to the counties of Siskiyou and Humboldt, disincorporating one of the old California counties completely.