Monday, July 20, 2009

The View from Big Rock, Orleans

Permanent overlooks often beckon photographers throughout the decades, and thus can serve as long term photopoints. In Orleans, the aptly named "Big Rock" is such a point, and I have come upon several photos taken from this spot at Humboldt State University Library's Humboldt Room and in the Online Archive of California. These photos provide information about how the town and landscape have changed over time. This first photograph is from the C. Hart Merriam Collection at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, showing the rock itself upslope from the old Orleans Bridge (circa 1918).

On the third floor of the Humboldt State University Library is the Humboldt Room, which has several historical photograph collections containing images from the Orleans/mid-Klamath area. I found five images of the view from Big Rock there: 3 bird's eye views looking over the town and 2 looking up the Klamath River.

While researching these Big Rock photographs, I learned from several Karuk tribal members that Big Rock is a culturally important place to the Karuk people. They expressed the importance of being especially respectful of such places, and that Big Rock should not be considered a tourist destination. I also learned that Big Rock is located on private property.

None of the Big Rock photos from the Humboldt Room are dated, but comparing them and applying background information about when key buildings were built can help determine their relative order. What appears to be the earliest of the bird's eye photos is this one by A.W. Ericson (Ericson Collection). There are several landmarks that I know of (please add your comment if you know of others) that are visible in this photo. In the photo, the river is flowing from north (right side of the photo) to south (left side of the photo), and I will describe things according to this orientation. The key landmarks shown in this photo include a madrone tree on the northwest corner of the orchard, a westward-running road now called "Downs Ranch Road" and the Orleans Cemetary (a diamond-shaped cluster of trees up the westward road in the center right of the photo). These landmarks are made much more apparent when compared to the other bird's eye photos. A second copy of this photograph is also located in the Humboldt Room's "Humboldt County Collection" (HCC Photos)." On that copy, Susie Baker Fountain (a prolific 20th Century Humboldt County historian) identified several significant buildings, including the court house, hotel, and Brizard Store. These are all on the left half of the photograph.
The next photograph is looking slightly downriver from Ericson's. The writing on it is that of Susie Baker Fountain, from whose private collection the photograph came. In this image, you can see the Orleans Cemetary outlined with a white fence. The orchard in Ericson's photo is not in this one. This photograph is also part of the Humboldt Room's "Humboldt County Collection" (HCC Photos), which is composed of individual loose photographs that are not part of larger, cohesive collections.

In this next photograph (also from HCC Photos), you can see the Orleans Cemetary with the white fence, a larger madrone tree, and new buildings. Across from the cemetary on the other side of the westward road is a house with two sheds. East of the Cemetary is a white house. Both houses were built by F.W. Gent in 1927, which dates this photo after 1927 and the other two bird's eye photos prior to it. Near the madrone is the Episcopal church. This church is no longer standing in Orleans, and is on the site of the current Forest Service compound.

I found two photographs looking upriver from Big Rock. One of them is this one from Ericson:

This photo shows a similar view, with a clearer image of the Pearch Mine (also known as Salstrom's Mine and McGain's Mine). This photo has houses on the right-hand side that are not in Ericson's image, which suggests to me that the Ericson photo was taken earlier.

The last photo shows the bird's eye view from Big Rock today, with a similar scope as Ericson's initial shot. From this photo you can see substantial vegetation growth blocking much of the view Ericson and the other photographers saw. However, the westward road (Downs Ranch Road) follows precisely the same path in all of the bird's eye photos. The cemetary and the F.W. Gent house accross from it are unable to be distinctly identified due to vegetation. The roof and upper story of the white F.W. Gent house is visible, as is the now much larger madrone tree.
Please leave a comment if you have additional knowledge or thoughts about these photographs!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Diary of a (Momentary) Salmon River Miner

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. It just so happened that I was pregnant and overdue at that, and I knew that this was going to be a rare opportunity to take a look at a diary I had found in the UC Berkeley catalog some time ago. I had taken interest in the diary because it connects two places that are very special to me: Gloucester, Massachusetts and the Salmon River in California. I have spent summers throughout my life visiting the town of Gloucester, as there is an ocean front summer house there that has been in my family since the late 1800s. When I was eighteen I first visited the Salmon River and fell in love – with the region and with my future husband. The diary at the Bancroft was authored by a man who sailed from Gloucester to San Francisco (around Tierra del Fuego) in 1849, and then later travelled on to the Klamath and up the Salmon River, in 1851. Once I read the diary and realized how much interesting content it contained, my husband and I teamed up and transcribed its entirety.

The little handwritten book was authored by a man named Theodore Kimball, a carpenter. At the time of his journey, San Francisco was still a place where immigrants were able to stake a piece of land and build on it; the city was being built up quickly and people were flocking to it to get in on the economic boom there. Mr. Kimball did find some construction work in San Francisco initially, but fell ill with dysentery and then rheumatism, and when he recovered was unable to find much steady work. He realized that he was going to have to try something else or go home. There was a steady stream of men heading to the Klamath River "diggins" to strike it rich mining for gold, and Kimball decided to head that direction with a group of men he had met in San Francisco. They set out together first by ship to Trinidad, then by mule to Big Bar on the Klamath and finally, to Salmon River country.

In his diary, Kimball revealed his vulnerabilities and trials in what is largely a story of his persistent failure to get rich in the West (presumably one of the most common types of experiences of men during the gold rush). He also provided unique description of some places in northwestern California soon after the first white settlers had begun to arrive there. The following summary contains highlights from the portion of the diary covering northwestern California, but there is much more to be read from the full text. The text quoted here has been lightly edited to allow for an easier read. Feel free to email me if you would like a copy of the complete (and unedited) transcription.

Highlights from Kimball's journey to the Salmon River:

Kimball and his two partners, Mark Lane and William Thursby, paid $20 for their fare to sail from San Francisco to Trinidad. The first attempt to make the journey was met with poor weather conditions, and the ship had to return to shore before trying the route again weeks later. Once he finally reached his destination, Kimball was struck by what he found in the outskirts of the town of Trinidad:

"We landed on the 18th and pitched our tent about one fourth of a mile back of the town at the edge of the woods, where we found fifty or sixty men encamped, some of them in tents and some in brush camps and some in holler trees. I was into one tree where two men encamped with all their fit out for the mines. They had sufficient room for to keep a good fire and to sleep. This tree is twelve feet in diameter. There is another tree standing close by that contained three men and all their baggage."

Several days later, he described an uncharacteristic storm for Trinidad:

"On the 19th a storm of rain and some snow commenced, which lasted six or seven days. On the 22nd the rain blew a perfect gale. There were at this time five vessels laying at anchor in the harbor, and one brig and three schooners were drove on shore and lost. The weather continued stormy and unsettled up to the first of April."

Soon after they began their trek to the mines, they came across "Bedwood River", across which a large Redwood had been felled to allow mule trains to cross it. Kimball recounted this story he had heard about the tree:

"This tree was cut down by some men from Trinidad that carried on the packing business. They drove a large train of mules loaded with provisions to the mines. Soon after the tree was cut down, two Yankees from the state of Maine that were bound up to the mines stopped here and encamped in a holler tree, and took toll of every man that crossed on the log. Their price was one dollar for a mule and fifty cents for a man. They stopped here ten or fifteen days until the men that cut the tree went on to them, armed with rifles and revolvers, and drove them from their new toll bridge. They said they did a good business what time they were there. Some days they took near one hundred dollars in a day."

Their first mining stop was at Big Bar on the Klamath River. They were there for some weeks before heading over Salmon Mountain to the Salmon River. They started mining on the South Fork Salmon River, but decided after a short time to head instead to the North Fork. Their journey proved to be difficult:

"Here we made up our minds to cross over to the north fork of the Salmon River, it being about twenty miles across. On the 26th Mr. Thursby and Mr. Lane and myself started alone to cross the mountains. At 3 o'clock a heavy rain storm set in, and at 4 o'clock PM we found ourselves completely lost. There was but a few tracks that we followed all day, but here we could find none. It rained very hard at this time but we travelled on until night. When night came on we found ourselves high upon a mountain in a thick growth of white oak timber and some ten or twelve miles from any human being, and the rain poaring down upon us as if the windows of heaven were opened. This was the heighth of misery. We had nothing to eat or drink but a piece of cold bread and nothing for our mules but oak leaves, but here we pitched our tent and unpacked our mules and tied them to a tree and gave them some oak leaves."

The next day they found the trail again and some days later they reached the North Fork, which they found to be crowded:

"The river was all claimed five miles distance each way from us, and the men had just commenced damming the river. It was thought that there was fifteen hundred men then to work on ten miles distance on the river."

The men tried mining at many different spots, keeping on moving when it was evident that they were not profiting. The following passage is just one example, selected because it also describes the kind of dams that were being built on the Salmon River during those days:

"Mr. Lane and I bought to shares in a company called the Island Dam Company for which we paid two hundred and ten dollars for in cash before we began to work. On the 3rd day of June we begun to build the dam. There being eleven of us in number, we built the dam in twenty three days. This dam was about one hundred and sixty yards long and five feet high at the highest part. When the water was all cut off we found the bed of the river to be almost one solid bed of large rocks. We commenced prying up the rocks and digging gold. We worked here until the middle of July and found that we could not make any more than our expenses. We sunk holes in different places in the bend of the river, but by the time that we dug down eight or nine feet the water would come in so fast that we could not keep the hole clear of water with two pumps, and could not get out gold enough to pay our expenses."

In general, the men did not find mining to be profitable, though they did find one place where they were able to make money for a time:

"Mr. Thursby and Mark and myself then bought a small claim in the bank, about a mile up the river and went to work on it. When we first commenced on this claim we made about eight dollars a day, but in two or three days we begun to make twelve, fifteen and twenty dollars a day and from that up to twenty-seven dollars a day to each man. This was the highest wages that I ever made in the mines. But in about three weeks we worked this piece of ground out. We then went to work in the banks of the river in different places but could not make more than five dollars a day."

After this brief success, Kimball began getting sick again and decided to return to San Francisco. However, travelling would possibly entail contact with local Indians, and in one passage Kimball described how Indians were generally perceived at that time by the miners:

"At this time the Indians were very troublesome, and men did not travel except in large companies, and then they stood watch all night. At this time the Indians killed every man that they found alone. Ten men started from Besville the first of August to go down to Trinidad after provisions and the first night after they crossed the Salmon River. They stopped and built a fire and took supper and then lay down before the fire and went to sleep. The Indians saw their light and went to them and murdered nine out of ten of them and almost every day previous to our leave here we would hear of some men being murdered by the Indians."

Once Kimball returned to San Francisco, he continued to struggle to earn the money he sought, and he went on to Stockton to see what kind of work he could get there.

Chronology of Kimball's travels/activities:

December 21, 1849 - June 17, 1850 – sailed from Gloucester, MA to San Francisco, CA on the Barl Izete

June 19, 1850 – August 23, 1850 – worked as a carpenter on various jobs in San Francisco

August 24, 1850 – November 3, 1850 – took ill and was not able to work for most of that time, taking two short trips to Stockton from September 3-8 and September 15-26

November 4, 1850 – December 27, 1850 – went back to work "packing shingles" on the ship Bark Gallileo

December 27, 1850 – January 7, 1851 – performed odd jobs in San Francisco

January 7, 1851 – January [30], 1851 – took ill again with rheumatism and unable to work

January 30, 1851 – reports difficulty finding work in San Francisco

February 25, 1851 – March 6, 1851 – sailed on Bark Josephine from San Francisco headed for Trinidad, but had to return to S.F. to re-provision due to difficult weather conditions at sea

March 8, 1851 – March 17, 1851 – sailed from San Francisco to Trinidad

March 18, 1851 – April 7, 1851 – Trinidad

April 11, 1851 – April 23, 1851 – Trinidad to Big Bar (on the Klamath River) by way of mule train

May 10, 1851 – May 17, 1851 – Big Bar to Forks of Salmon

May 19, 1851 – May 20, 1851 – Up the South Fork of the Salmon River

May 26, 1851 – May 28, 1851 – South Fork to North Fork of the Salmon River

May 29, 1851 – September 10, 1851 – mined various places on the North Fork of the Salmon River

September 11, 1851 – September 16, 1851 – Salmon River to Trinidad

September 17, 1851 – September 19, 1851 – Trinidad to San Francisco by way of steamboat

September 20, 1851 – October 17, 1851 – worked odd jobs in San Francisco

October 17, 1851 – San Francisco to Stockton by way of steamboat