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A Tree Growing Below Barbed Wire

“That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected. While we cannot anticipate this result but with painful regret, the inevitable destiny of the race is beyond the power or wisdom of man to avert.” — Governor Peter H. Burnett, first governor of California, January 7, 1851.

As I drove up Highway One on my way to the Ten Mile Court last Monday I passed the round slice of redwood bearing the town's name and founding date in white letters; “FORT BRAGG 1857.”

In 1856 the Bureau of Indian Affairs established what was called the Mendocino Indian Reservation north of the mouth of the Noyo River. The native peoples who lived in the coveted hills and valleys of the newly created County of Mendocino were seen as mere obstacles to be overcome by the white settlers. Those who were not murdered, kidnapped, or sold by the relentless newcomers were round up and marched to the reservation on the coast. Conditions were desperate for the Indians. They were underfed and under-clothed for the cold days and nights on the coast.

A mile and a half north of the mouth of the Noyo River a military stockade was established on June 11th of 1857 by Lieutenant Haratio Gates Gibson, who at the time was serving at the Presidio in San Francisco. The purpose of the fort was to keep control, order, and obedience among the relocated Indians. It was named after Braxton Bragg, a perceived hero of the Mexican-American War, who later became a Louisiana sugar plantation owner, then a general in the Confederate Army. In the mid 1860's the fort was abandoned and the reservation was dissolved soon afterward. The surviving Indians were force-marched to the reservation at Covelo. The rez land became available to settlers to buy for less than $2 an acre. Lumber was milled at the mouth of every stream then shipped from the port at Noyo Harbor.

These days, just north of the mouth of the Noyo, is the Ten Mile Court building in the town of Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg-based crooks burned down the old courthouse in 1987. Judge Andria K. Richey sat in for Judge Clay Brennan. She had a sweet and bubbly demeanor and called the deputy DAs “you folks.” But her eyes were serious, sizing up each defendant.

In the afternoon she called Michael Hennessy of Fort Bragg. He had been arrested on June 17th on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon with a special allegation of committing great bodily injury. To a woman. Hennessy was already on probation from an October 2010 incident when deputies searched his home in Fort Bragg and found a loaded gun, 2.8 grams of meth, and various drug paraphernalia.

Hennessy was represented by Mr. Tim O'Laughlin. Deputy DAs Tim Stoen and Sergio Fuentes told the court that Hennessy must be taken in to custody immediately.

“At this time he's not going to do anyone in the community any good.”

The Judge agreed. I heard the jingle of Bailiff Kent Rogers’ cuffs just before they were tightened around Hennessy's wrists.

I thought of when a tree grows below a barbed wire fence, however crooked, it still grows. The barbed wire is ultimately a part of the tree, entering one side and coming out the other. Even if the fence were to be removed, the wire cut at the trunk, jagged and rusted pieces would forever be intertwined. A reminder of its beginnings.

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