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Early Black Life in the Anderson Valley

Daniel Jeans was born a slave in 1835 Missouri. After the Civil War he made his way to California and to the Anderson Valley, probably in the wake of families he'd known in Missouri when he was a slave. Mendocino County was a kind of a catchment area for Confederate Missourians before and after the Civil War. Frank James of the infamous James Brothers visited friends in the Peachland neighborhood of Boonville, and Confederate sympathies ran so hot in inland Mendocino County additional federal troops were sent into the Eel River Basin to monitor the Confederate militia formed in and around Covelo if that militia tried to take Mendocino County when the war began.

In 1884, Daniel Jeans homesteaded 160 acres a mile west of what became the Anderson Valley Elementary School. Locals called the Jeans place Ham Canyon, apparently after the Old Testament reference to black people as the sons of Ham and the pretext, until recently, the Mormon Church used to exclude black people. But in 1884 Boonville, the Ham Canyon designation was probably some local's attempt at Bible-based wit. By then Jeans' surname was ever after spelled Jeans, but had been spelled Jaens and Janes on prior documents involving him. It can be fairly speculated that he had been the human property of a Missouri family named Jaens or Janes. 

As a freedman in early Anderson Valley, Jeans married Mary Brown, a native American, and in these two modest representatives of devastated peoples you could say that the entire bloody history of the early United States had survived and were prospering in a tiny settlement called Boonville.

Black people were present in Mendocino County from its beginnings, even before its beginnings. Due west of Boonville on the Mendocino Coast, a black entrepreneur named Nathaniel "Nat" Smith and his partner, Frank "Portuguese Frank" Farnies, developed Cuffey's Cove in 1850, which became the community of Greenwood then Elk. Smith, born free in 1831 in Baltimore, had arrived in San Francisco before the Gold Rush where he ran a ferry between Sausalito and Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was then known. He had come north to Mendocino County with his fellow entrepreneur, Captain Fletcher, and was soon earning his way by ferrying travelers back and forth across Big River, and then he was busy a little way down the Coast where he and Farnies farmed and ran a dogleg port at Elk Cove. Covelo was home to several black families, and a fierce black man whose name is lost to history, functioned as both cowboy and enforcer for Covelo's ruthless cattle baron, George White. 

Five children, all boys, were born to Mary and Daniel on the Jeans place. They grew up in Boonville where their father had cleared the land for the Con Creek School and helped build what we now know as the Little Red School House. Jeans and his sons also contributed their skilled labor to the construction of the Boonville Methodist Church. Of the five boys, four survived into adulthood, two settling permanently in Yakima, state of Washington.

Two comments from 'Mendocino County Remembered' reflect both the times and the community opinion of Daniel Jeans, the first from Tom Ornbaun of the pioneer Ornabaun family who first settled what is now known as the Mailliard Ranch northwest of Yorkville on Fish Rock Road: 

"…My father had an innate lack of discrimination. I remember as a small child I couldn't even have been in grammar school, we were going from Ornbaun Valley to Boonville. We were in a horse and buggy, I think. At this time there was one colored man, black man, in Boonville. And he was called, as usual, Nigger Dan. I think he married an Indian girl. As we were coming along this stretch where you get to Boonville, Dan was in the front and my father saw him. He stopped the horses and he turned around to John and me and said, ‘Son, I want to stop and say hello to my friend. He'll be different from the other people you see. You don't pay any attention and just treat him nice.’ So he stopped and introduced us to Nigger Dan. He just call him Dan. I think everybody said ‘nigger’ then. There was not any derogatory sense to it. That's just what they did. But I think he just said Dan. He knew this instinctively because we had no black people. None. This was the first and probably the last for a long time that I ever saw."

And from an interview with Alice Gowan in Mendocino County Remembered:

"I was going to mention Nigger Dan as we called him. He was Dan Jeans. I knew him. Nice old colored man. My father had some of the boys work for him. We always liked him just as well as anybody else, the same way with the Italian people up here on Signal Ridge. We never called them Dagos like lots of people. My goodness! They were just as good as we were. They never came to the Valley but they stopped at our place. They had to walk clear down to the store after we had a store for their mail."

George and Albert Jeans lived their lives in and around Boonville. Daniel Jeans left his estate to George and Henry Jeans, excluding Albert, his youngest son born in 1880 in Boonville.

The enterprising Jeans' place was a prosperous ranch specializing in apples and modest herds of livestock, supplemented by the day labor on other local ranches from Daniel and his sons. Daniel Jeans boasted he could outwork any two white men, and he quickly became highly regarded among his fellow ranchers for his vigor and enterprise. Old timers still alive at the millenium remember, as small boys, Daniel Jeans showing them the whip scars on his back from his slave days.

When the old man died at age 85 in May of 1920, he was remembered by the Ukiah Dispatch Democrat as "well thought of in the community and many an expression of sorrow was heard at the funeral."

The Jeans home had burned to the ground in 1914, and the family eventually moved to a new home on Anderson Valley Way now occupied by Karen diFalco. That home may have been built by Henry and George Jeans — their father was already elderly in 1914 and largely looked after by George until his death. The Anderson Valley Way property was well known locally in the 1960s and 70s for the spectacular summer flower beds planted facing the road by then-owner, Delitha Clark.

It's fair to assume that Albert Jeans was left out of the patriarch's will because he'd become something of an embarrassment to his highly regarded, church-going father. Although a hard worker who was always employed, Albert became notorious in lightly-populated Mendocino County when he was twice the subject of scandals that found their way into court, and in-between his major scandals he logged a Santa Rosa citation and fine for "buying an Indian alcohol." 

Albert Jeans ran spectacularly afoul of the law in 1926 when he shot a Vinegar Ridge bootlegger named Marchesti. Echoes of this event resounded years later in violent episodes involving the illegal marijuana business, but in 1926 the national Prohibition folly, as with marijuana half a century later, came with lots of violence but also created lots of overnight wealth. The victim in the Jeans case, Mr. Marchesti, like so many marijuana planters to come, maintained his wife and children in Cloverdale while he produced his lucrative but illegal brew in the remote hills west of Philo.

The following un-bylined story from the January 2nd, 1926 edition of the Mendocino Coast Beacon tells the story better than a contemporary historian could:

Greenwood Man dies from shot in the leg area

Albert Jeans fatally wounds G. Marchesti

Elk, December 31, 1925. A shooting affray took place Sunday afternoon about 5 miles east of here on the road between here and Philo which resulted in the fatal wounding of G. Marchesti who passed away at the Fort Bragg hospital Tuesday evening as a result of a shotgun wound inflicted by Albert Jeans, a colored rancher and neighbor of Marchesti.

The stories of the shooter and his victim are decidedly at variance. Jeans claims that the shooting was done in self-defense and asserts that his victim had fired one shot at him from a rifle before he opened fire with a shotgun. He states further that after shooting Marchesti with one barrel of the shotgun the latter again raised his rifle with the intention of firing a second shot when he, Jeans, told him to drop his rifle or he would finish him.

Jeans claimed that he had no desire to kill Marchesti and points to the fact that he shot him in the leg whereas it would have been a simple matter to have shot into the body had he desired to inflict fatal injury. As far as can be learned Marchesti’s version of the affair is to the effect that the night before Jeans was in a dangerous mood and had done some wild shooting after which he, Marchesti, relieved him of his rifle. The following day Jeans was still in a belligerent state and Marchesti went to the former’s cabin with the idea of gaining possession of Jeans’ shotgun to prevent him doing any serious damage. When within about 10 feet of Jeans the latter is said to have exclaimed, "You fooled me last night and got my rifle but here is where I fool you," or words to that effect, and fired. The full charge of shot entered Marchesti’s leg inflicting a frightful wound.

 After the shooting Marchesti crawled a considerable distance along the road to the Schneider Ranch before he was picked up by Octavio Falleri and rushed to Greenwood where the injured man was treated by Dr. Sweet who advised his removal to the hospital at Fort Bragg.

 In the meantime a number of our citizens as a result of wild rumors that reached here said to the effect that "Nigger Jeans," as he was commonly called, was on a rampage and was shooting at everything that got within range, armed and rushed to the scene of the trouble as there were a number of unprotected families in that neighborhood.

 Upon their arrival they found Jeans’ cabin deserted and a shotgun and a couple of empty shells on the floor. Later they located Jeans at the Schneider Brothers ranch where he was placed under arrest and brought to Greenwood by Constable Buchanan who lodged him in our local jail until the following morning when he was taken to Ukiah by Sheriff Byrnes who started for here as soon as he was notified of the trouble.

 As there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting it is doubtful if the facts of the case ever will be known.

Marchesti is said to leave a wife and two or three children living in the vicinity of Cloverdale.

Five months later, Jeans was convicted by jury of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years in San Quentin. Judge Preston stated that he did not believe that Jeans was a bad man, but that liquor had caused his downfall.

A model prisoner, Albert served 8 years and returned to Boonville where he was soon again the subject of legal attention, this time because of his alleged relationship with a married white woman.

The morning of 17 March 1934, a man named Charles Miller, already drunk despite the early hour, loudly announced in the busy Boonville Post Office that he was going to kill Albert Jeans because, Miller alleged, Jeans was "annoying" Mrs. Miller. But ancient whispers explained the relationship more explicitly than newspaper euphemism. Those excited whispers said that Jeans and Mrs. Miller were regularly intimate in an uncoerced relationship discovered by Mr. Miller one afternoon when he spotted Jeans climbing, shirtless, out of Mr. and Mrs. Miller's bedroom window.

Later that day, about 4 in the afternoon, Jeans was working as part of a hop-planting crew on the Boonville ranch of Jesse Ginochio when Miller appeared some three hundred yards from Ginochio carrying a .22 rifle. Jeans was another few yards beyond Ginochio, but having spotted the armed Miller, and knowing he was the target of Miller's wrath, Jeans promptly fled into the nearby hills.

Jesse Ginochio, owner of the hop field, was the Anderson Valley's resident lawman, his rank being that of constable. Miller strode straight at Ginochio, pausing while still some distance away to load his rifle. When Miller reached Ginochio he was yelling curses and threats at the back of the fleeing Jeans, but never did raise his rifle to shoot. The intrepid constable simply grabbed the rifle and placed the irate cuckold under arrest.

Miller was duly convicted of attempted murder but won his appeal on the grounds that he never did either raise or fire his rifle at his wife's playmate.

George Jeans was clearly his father's favorite son. Born and raised in Ham Canyon, he lived all his life in the Anderson Valley and, like his father Daniel, enjoyed a reputation as a solid citizen, as reflected in the newspaper notice of his passing.

Ukiah Republican Press, June 5, 1940. Wednesday.

Kind Colored Rancher Died As He Slept 

Body is undiscovered for two days after passing 

George Jeans Taken 

Glasses in hand, he expired painlessly, belief is 

Special correspondence of the Press 

Anderson Valley, June 4, 1940. — Death came silently and swiftly to George Jeans, 71, colored, and the time of its coming can only be estimated but it is thought to have been Tuesday evening. He appeared asleep. J.H. Lockard was to have helped him cut wood Thursday but when he called at the Jeans home he found him apparently asleep with a newspaper over his face and did not disturb him. While he while in town late in the afternoon someone asked if he had seen Mr. Jeans and suggested he go back and see if anything was wrong as he had not been seen since Tuesday. Died peacefully. Mr. Lockard drove the three quarters of a mile north of Boonville to the Jeans home and found what he had taken for sleep was death instead, but death that came so quickly and painlessly he still held his glasses in one hand a newspaper in the other and his crossed feet showed there had been no death struggle. He had apparently retired for the night and was reading in bed and his kerosene lamp had burned dry and gone out. Has two brothers. George Jeans was a native of Anderson Valley. His father, the late Daniel Jeans, was in early life a slave and to his death carried the scars of lashes on his back. Two brothers survived him: Albert Jeans of this place (Ukiah) and Henry Jeans of Yakima, Washington whom he had been visiting and only recently returned to his home here. Funeral today. At 10 o'clock this morning funeral services will be held at the Boonville Church with the Reverend Glenn Akers officiating. Eversole Mortuary is in charge. Brother collapsed. Albert Jeans was in Cloverdale having dental work tended to when advised of his brother's death. He caught a ride home but was in such condition due to shock he had to be taken back to Cloverdale for medical attention as Dr. Robinson of this place was out of town. K. B. Wallach and B.M. Brinegar took him down during the night and Dr. Sohler treated him and he is being cared for by a colored friend here.

The Jeans' 160 acres, tucked away at the north end of Ornbaun Road, was long ago absorbed by the June Ranch, and much of the June Ranch subsequently absorbed by the Wasson Ranch. All that remains of the Jeans place is a remnant apple orchard and a collapsed outbuilding. It is not known what became of Albert Jeans, the last of the Mendocino County Jeans, but on clear summer nights, standing where the Jeans home once stood, you can imagine yourself welcomed by this uniquely American family who made their lives in the long gone Anderson Valley.


  1. David Heller July 2, 2020

    Good article Bruce!

    • George Hollister July 2, 2020

      Yes, it is.

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