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The Newmans of Comptche’s Keene Summit

Local history explorations often start with something as simple as a piece of paper. Walking into the Comptche store recently owner Belinda Pollack handed me a sheet of paper and asked “Who was Amanda Newman?”

The paper was an artifact of a mid-century tradition — a “Floral Tribute Contribution List.” When a local Comptche resident died everyone pitched in donations for a floral tribute at the funeral home and graveside services. The storekeeper kept the list and you contributed 50 cents or a dollar back then. There were 44 names on the list and two names, both men, are still alive. But what year was this? Pollack saw her grandma on the list and knew she’d died in 1959, so we knew the list was produced before that time.

Newman is a family name that has been on Keene Summit area of Flynn Creek Road more than a century. A trip to the Kelley House Museum took me to the archives where there are files of hundreds of family names and their histories. Sure enough, there was one on the Newman family. I made notes.

Otto Paskeasalon (or Pakhasall) was from Pyhajoki, Finland. Interestingly enough, this is about 10 miles from Marijarvi, Finland where my husband’s family lived. Work for men in the redwood forests of California spread, and many Finns followed their neighbors west. That’s what brought our family to America. When Otto arrived in the USA he said he felt like a new man in a new country and changed his difficult to pronounce Finnish last name to Newman.

Arriving at Salmon Creek near Albion in 1888 he worked in logging camps until he’d saved enough money to send for his wife Amanda and son Oscar in 1895. So I’d discovered WHO Amanda Newman was and found her obituary in the newspaper for her death in 1957 and date for the floral tribute list.

In the archives I also discovered a scrapbook album with over 80 funeral cards of old Comptche families, including Amanda Newman. Being a researcher and a retired librarian I immediately wrote out an index of all the names in the album to help other researchers in the future.

The Newman Ranch on Keene Summit was purchased from Anna Mattson in 1902 for the growing family. I’ve often wondered who planted the palm tree you can see from Flynn Creek Road. What’s a palm tree doing in Comptche anyway? The Newmans went on to have 12 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. There was Oscar, Walter, William, Nathaniel, Miriam, Signe, Hulda and Esther.

When my husband and I first came to live on family land in 1975 I was introduced to Miriam through the Grange organization. This woman went on to live 104 years and was a wealth of stories about the good old days. She told a story of two of her siblings dying within a week of diphtheria. Their small white coffins were loaded on the Albion Lumber Company railroad car (lines reached Comptche at that time) and taken to Albion where they were loaded on a wagon and taken to the family plot in the Little River Cemetery.

There were two houses side-by-side on the Newman Ranch, the boy’s house and the girl’s house, as much of the family stayed close to home all their lives. With eight growing kids Miriam remembered a seamstress from town came once a year and stayed a week and did nothing but sew enough clothes to last everyone a year. Amanda must have been a busy woman with cooking, cleaning, gardening, and making butter for sale.

I don’t know Amanda’s religion but for the transplanted Finn’s in Comptche religion played a large part in their lives. Ministers fluent in Finnish would come from Fort Bragg frequently to provide services in the language they all loved and responsibility for hosting the event passed between families. The immigrant woman loved having someone to talk Finn to and would finish their morning chores, walk two miles to have a cup of coffee with another Finn, walk two miles home and get back to chores.

During WWII an enemy aircraft observation post was maintained on their high point of land and staffed by Newman’s and neighborhood woman in eight hour shifts.

At age 88 in 1957 Amanda Newman passed on. Her children remained on the ranch into the 21st century and the Koski/Coulson family now owns it and grows grapes. Interestingly the pallbearers listed on Amanda Newman’s funeral card later passed away and a funeral card for each of them was found in the scrapbook in the Kelley House Archives.

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