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The Year Was 1878…

One doesn't run across references to streptococcus bacteria in news accounts of the 1870s very often. Nevertheless, in a July, 1878 edition of the Russian River Flag, a Nicholas Klink is cited as carrying a hand in a sling due to his being afflicted with erysipelas. That word comes to us from the Greek, meaning “red skin.” Indeed, a full fledged erysipelas rash manifests itself in an inflamed patch of skin, often caused through a bacterial infection setting into a scratched area of the face arms, legs or feet.

Nicholas Klink's erysipelas did not stop him from venturing out to hunt one day. With an arm in a sling and the other toting a shotgun, he strolled through the summer grasses tinged brown by the sun. He stopped to load the weapon with just the one good hand. Maybe perspiration caused the slip. More likely, he fumbled the piece and the shotgun discharged. The blast took off the entirety of the middle finger of his left hand. The shot also seared the man's cheek, cutting to the edge of the bone while other pellets tore open the brim of his hat.

Curiously enough, one week later a coastal Mendocino County newspaper noted, “The Rev. Mr. Klink has been heard from and says he will be here to preach on the 18th instant.”

The use of “instant” in print meant the current month. In the case at hand it referred to August, 1878. The summer heat continued to drive people to water. An unfortunate man named Smith went for a swim in the Russian River near Cloverdale only to end up drowned.

In Ukiah, news apparently remained sparse. The fact that Mrs. McCowen, of that city, experienced the unpleasant sensation of a bug literally in her ear proved noteworthy enough to make the newspapers not only of the county seat but at least one coastal publication as well.

While the Russian warship Shah steamed close by the Mendocino Coast in the first week of August, 1878, Len Barnard opened a new stagecoach line that ran from Cuffey's Cove to Mendocino City, with connections north as far as Kibesillah. Another stage proprietor, Duncan Walker, received official notice from Washington D.C. that his stage company had been awarded the right to run the U.S. mail along the Mendocino to Kibesillah route. Walker won the contract with the lowest bid offered.

Commonplace violence of the time occurred at a stage stop in Mendocino. The stage driver and a hostler got into a heated discussion over a pipe. With the hostler engaged in unhitching the team, and more or less pinned between horses, the driver struck enough blows that the justice of the peace felt compelled to fine the man $5.

An accident took place that same week in Welle & Phillip's shingle mill. A falling block crushed one of Gus Hyman's big toes. Dr. Goodsir dressed the wound, reporting that he hoped the toe could be saved. The injury marked the third time Gus suffered the same injury, dropped block to big toe.

In Caspar (which in the 1870s was sometimes spelled “Casper”) a Mr. F.H. Vessel apparently stabbed John Erickson in the breast. Coastal news accounts stated, “It is impossible to get the particulars as they are given in too many ways, each person [witness] having a different way of telling it.” One of the reporting parties claimed Erickson either threatened or struck Vessel with a bung-starter. That instrument being the mallet used to loosen the bung, or stopper, of a cask. Dr. William McCornack attended to Erickson's wound. Constable Bill Host conveyed Vessel to Mendocino City where he was bound over on a $500 bond. The Mendocino newspaper concluded, “Cause of the row, too much barley juice.”

Mendocino County had its share of serious crime as well in 1878. As August commenced, Governor William Irwin issued a notice for a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the murderer of A.J. Shrum of Round Valley. Mr. Shrum had been found shot dead on his property on July 18 (More on this and its connection to an even more heinous murder case at a later date).

Locales just over the county line seemed to have the corner on tragic circumstances in early August, 1878. Isaac Bickle, a fifty-three year old saloon keeper from Sanel, drove his wagon to Cloverdale to pick up a hop dryer at the depot. Upon arrival, he unhitched all but one of the horses in his team then, for some unknown reason, the animals took fright and bolted. The one horse still in its traces dragged the wagon around, knocking Bickle to the ground, the wheels running over his body. Two men rushed to him, carrying the injured fellow inside a restaurant about a hundred yards away. Bickle complained of pain in his stomach, a doctor was sent for, but within ten minutes Isaac Bickle died from internal hemorrhaging.

During the same week, in Lower Lake, a young man named W.H. Kelly (apparently no relation to the Mendocino pioneer William H. Kelly, later Kelley) was bitten by some sort of venomous insect. According to accounts of the time, Kelly's face swelled to enormous proportions and burst. After a few days of agony his suffering was relieved by death. The Lower Lake Bulletin recalled, “He presented one of the most horrid human sights we have ever seen.”

On the lighter side of early August, 1878, an Anderson Valley peddler stopped by the office of the Mendocino newspaper, selling multiple samples of his delicious fruit at reasonable rates. He left without asking for any publicity nor did he give a name.

A Mr. D.N. Phelps of Healdsburg announced that he had discovered a way of treating new wine to give it the appearance and body of aged wine. One newspaper editor in Mendocino County quipped, “He should now devise some method by which an old wine-colored nose would appear and have the body of a new nose.”

(Sobering tales sloshed about at

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