River Views

Recent River Views recounted the feud between the Frost and Coates families of Little Lake, the 1867 gunfight that killed Elisha Frost and five Coates men, and the subsequent violence of Frost family members. Mart Frost, who single-handedly shot down Abraham, Henry and Wesley Coates also commanded an 1879 vigilante band that lynched three young lawbreakers, including his nephew Elijah.

In March, 1882 Mart testified at a coroner’s inquest regarding the death of his cousin, Ben Frost, on the Little Lake Road east of Mendocino. The culmination of said inquest included this report by the coroner’s jury: “Ben Frost died by a shot from a pistol in the cantinas on the saddle of John Robertson’s horse, accidentally discharged by the horse shaking itself.”

Some readers may know that a cantinas is akin to a pouch or saddlebag.

John Robertson was my great grandfather; a stockman who made a living herding everything from cattle to turkeys from the Little Lake area over the hills to the logging camps on the Mendocino Coast. His principal delivery point in the early 1880s was the boom town of Pine Grove, just east of Point Cabrillo. His younger children often traveled with him to assist in herding the livestock. Though the coroner’s jury neglected the detail, a newspaper account of the shooting of Ben Frost did note that a young boy accompanied John Robertson.

Both the newspaper and coroner’s report indicate Ben Frost was drunk that fateful day. Mart Frost may well have been inebriated too. He had taken to heavy drink after the lynching of his nephew.

Here’s what actually happened on March 12, 1882 when John Robertson and his eleven year-old son John Finley Robertson encountered Mart and Ben Frost east of the junction of the Caspar Trail (today’s Road 409) and the Little Lake Road.

The Frosts had their revolvers drawn with the intention of robbing John Robertson of the money he’d made selling livestock at Pine Grove. The Frosts ordered Great-grandfather Robertson down from his saddle horse. He complied and stepped to the ground.

Much like the Frost family, all of John Robertson’s children had been taught how to handle and shoot firearms at an early age. Perhaps due to inebriation the Frosts failed to pay careful attention to young John Finley Robertson as he sat on the seat of the family wagon. The Frosts trained their pistols on John Robertson while his son raised a revolver and shot Ben Frost dead. The discharge caused Mart Frost’s horse to bolt, throwing him to the ground. By the time the renowned gunman got to his feet both Robertsons held revolvers aimed at him.

The story of the deadly shooting horse was concocted on the return trip to Little Lake. The Robertsons would ignore Mart Frost’s attempted armed robbery in exchange for no mention of young John Finley Robertson’s name at the inquest.

Soon thereafter John Robertson moved his family from Little Lake to a ranch near Albion where his son went to work in the woods. Wary of the Frost family penchant for revenge, John Finley Robertson used his first paycheck to buy a long barreled revolver.

Vengeance rode a different path. On December 29, 1883 Mart Frost was shot dead by his nephew Jimmy, the younger brother of the lynched Elijah Frost. In April, 1885, Mart’s brother Isom used a rifle to kill Jimmy from ambush.

John Finley Robertson lived a long, full life without the public knowing he had shot down one of the feuding Frosts.

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