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Living at Kah-la-deh-mun

Harriet Campbell Stanley Rhoades lives on the north bluffs overlooking Noyo Bay. Even in this region of beautiful vistas and peaceful spots, few places can compare with Harriet's. Her back door opens onto an infinity of sea and sky. Wonderfully serene on a clear summer day, in winter it stands full in the face of the mighty gales that can sweep out of the southwest.

Harriet grew up on this spot, as did her children and grandson. For that reason alone, her attachment to the place is unbreakable. Even so, travel takes her far and wide these days. In August, it was to Milwaukee, where she was elected treasurer of the National Indian Council on Aging. In September and again in October, it was Albuquerque, where she served on the selection committee for a new NICOA executive director. In between her longer trips, she heads to Sacramento, where she chairs the Native American Advisory Council for the California Department of Forestry, protecting sacred and archaeological sites and cultural resources affected by logging and forest fire-fighting.

“My philosophy is that you are only on this good old Mother Earth for a breath of time,” she says, “so being involved in issues that will help a group of people is the way I want to do it, and that's how I've structured my life.” 

Growing up by the Noyo

Actually, this is the third house Harriet has lived in, all three built on that same spot. The first was put there seven years before she was born.

“In 1929,” she says, “Union Lumber Company wanted to punch a railroad track right over the bluff here down to the mill, White's mill, which was up the Noyo River where all the businesses are now. So they made a deal with the natives then, in 1929, that if they would move up here, then they could use that land for the road and railway. That was the deal made years and years ago, before my time.”

Harriet's father, Arthur Campbell, fixed up the logging camp bunkhouse that the company brought there into a comfortable home for his wife Georgia, Harriet, and her brothers and sisters, Frank, Lita, Betty, Arlene, Margaret, Patrick, and John.

There they grew up, as Harriet remembers it, playing along the cliffs, beaches and rocks of Noyo Bay - Indian children from the community, as young as four or five, tagged along without adults present, but somehow the older ones always looked out  for them. “None of those young aged children ever drowned and when they were worn out someone just took them home.”

Harriet and her brothers and sisters attended the Noyo School, a white-washed schoolhouse that faced the river, just out of sight of her house over the fields to the southeast. It stood about where the Social  Services building is now. Harriet loved school, she says, often listening to two lessons at once as the teacher attended to the different grades working within the same cozy schoolroom. It was at Noyo School that Harriet made lifelong friends among the Finnish, Swedish, Italian and Portuguese kids and began her lifelong involvement with Fort Bragg.

After graduation, the birth of her children and a few odd jobs, she worked for twenty-six years as registrar at Fort Bragg High School. Once her own kids were in school, she joined PTA and other parents groups. For several years in the late 1950s and sixties, she was the star pitcher on Fort Bragg's women's fast-pitch softball team, the Fort Bragg Mermaids, who were unbeatable in three counties.

Now her daughter Lucy is a key player on the town's formidable women's soccer team.

At the same time, Harriet learned how the people have always lived at Kah-la-deh-mun, a word meaning “surrounded by trees”, which is what the land Fort Bragg stands on was called before there was a fort. Harriet's mother sent her out to pick greens along the bluffside trail, and to collect mussels, abalone, and clams from the bay. She went with her family up to the point at MacKerricher in spring to gather seaweed, then helped dry it so it kept throughout the year.

Harriet offers a visitor a sample from this year's harvest: crunchy, black fronds with a delicate flavor that will pleasantly surprise anyone who knows what most commercially available seaweed tastes like.

“We still go to get seaweed,” she says, “It's just like a normal thing. The people inland make it like a field trip. That's what it's come to down the generations. A lot of tribal people from Cahto (by Laytonville) come over and get seaweed and then all of us here, we go to get seaweed, up at Abalone Point, that's the gathering place, because there's nothing left at MacKerricher.” 


The history of the people at Kah-la-deh-mun is mostly unwritten and, for most of us, unknown.

But for Harriet Campbell Stanley Rhoades, it is family history. From her own parents and relatives, she heard the stories of life here before and after Europeans came. In fact, she puts a lot more stock in those stories than in what has come down in the history books.

“Written history is so inaccurate”, she says. “I tell people: Don't believe every word you read. Because people doing their thesis or dissertation go down to Berkeley and read Kroeber, Bancroft and Merriman's field notes and go by their interpretation of a word or situation, they'll put that down there and then it's carried on as the truth. But it's just the interpretation of people who didn't know the language and, who knows, they might have been hard of hearing, I don't know.”

With that caution in mind, here's a little of what early researchers garnered about the area around  Kah-la-deh-mun and its people, now commonly known as Northern Pomo. Rather than the name of a tribe, Pomo simply means 'the people', and the people have lived here for at least four thousand years. One of their main villages was called Kadiu, situated on a grassy flat, now covered by river dredgings, just below where the North Cliff Motel stands now. That is the place Harriet's mother and father and other natives moved from in 1929, Harriet says.

Not many decades before that, just in the immediate area around Kah-la-deh-mun, there were several villages: Djomo at the mouth of Pudding Creek, Noyo at Virgin Creek, Yakale at Bald Hill, Galyetil and Kabetsitu near Cleone, Tcadam at Caspar. Well-worn trails followed the coastline and the ridges that lead from the coast to the inland valleys. There were campsites and villages all along the way.

As Harriet describes it, “Indians did a lot of movement. They would go camping out to get their tanoak acorns and the other things that didn't grow right here. Then there were the main villages. There was the one at Noyo, there was the one at Buldam at Big River, there was the village of Paduh at Point Arena. There was a whole complex where Rossi's is, where Indians came and almost lived permanently, around that area. Pudding Creek was more of a temporary camp. I don't think they necessarily lived all together. I think there were a lot of scattered camps. A lot of them did that, on their way from inland over to get the sea food.”

One story Harriet heard from her first husband, Clyde Stanley, a native speaker of  the Pomo language, does agree with the earliest written account of contact between European settlers and the area's first people.

“My husband said that before the jetty, his grandmother used to send him across the river over here to get seaweed and abalone. He said they used to just wade across (the river mouth) there at low tide. So I guess it was at low tide, there were some settlers coming and the natives helped them pull their wagon across. (Laughs) That kind of goes hand in hand with their nature, their personality. Coastal Pomo were peaceful people.”

The written version of that encounter or one very like it is from a Hudson's Bay Company fur-trappers expedition that headed up the coast from Fort Ross searching for beaver in April 1833. The group consisted of French and English trappers, their Indian wives and mixed-blood children, more than one hundred people in all, according to Robert Winn, who includes the account in his monograph “The Mendocino Coast Indian Reservation.”

The group's leader, John Work, wrote in his journal April 30, 1833: “This was a hard and fatiguing day's work on both people and horses. Passed a band of Indians a little behind. There are also a band near where we are encamped. These Indians are not shy but come to us without hesitation and assisted the people to make their rafts and carry their things.”

Within twenty-five years of that encounter, enough white settlers had arrived at Kah-la-deh-mun for them to raise a clamor with the federal government. The Indians, they said, were stealing their crops. In 1855, a petition signed by fifty-one settlers, including names today attached to local roads, creeks and towns - Ford, Lansing, Mitchell, Simpson, Greenwood, Casper, Sherwood - demanded the government send soldiers.

“We require an answer forthwith,” the petition read, “and, also, that silence, or inaction, in the premises, will be construed as a refusal, and a war of extermination (will) be entered into, by a set of men, maddened by the loss of several years labor.”

Readers may ponder the justice of a war of extermination over stolen potatoes, especially when the Indians own food sources had been completely disrupted by the settlers themselves. Aside from that, Winn makes a case that the settlers' complaints were exaggerated, with an eye toward securing as customer a pork-barrel government outpost near their remote farms. In any case, in 1857, the government did send soldiers and established Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Reservation.

Indians from all over what is now Mendocino, Napa, Humboldt, Lake and Sonoma counties were driven to the reservation, which stretched from just below the Noyo, approximately where Simpson Lane is now, north to Ten Mile River, and east to include Bald Hill and Little Valley.

Many Native people stayed only a short time before taking to the hills again. Some went to work on the reservation's farmlands, in its lumber mill and on its fishing boats. But the reservation, plagued by official corruption and overall ineffectiveness, lasted only seven years. When it was disbanded, the government directed that the Indians be driven to Covelo, where the Round Valley reservation was being established.

Harriet recalls the story she was told: “When they did disband, they drove anybody they had corralled - that's what we say, corralled - and this one had their own Trail of Tears. But you don't read it in any history. My husband's grandmother and grandfather, they were taken in that forced march, Lucy and Jim Cooper. They're buried here at Pudding Creek and he was 123 when he died. I think it was in the Advocate way back then.

“They drove them over there to Round Valley. A lot of these people, they shared the story that there were women nursing their babies and the soldiers were all on horseback and had their rifles and stuff, and if those women couldn't keep up they'd just hit them in the head with the butt of their rifle and leave them there with the baby still nursing. There probably were other things but that's the thing that stands out in my mind.

“So they were driven over. But Lucy and Jim Cooper were used to the hills, and they ran away the first night. There was much confusion, there were fires all over from Indians already being there, horses and dogs and people and noises. So after they got to Round Valley, they slipped away in the darkness and made their way back to the coast. They were the only two (who were taken and came back) that I knew of because the other ones (who stayed) hid.” 

Honor of the Survivors

One reason that the conquest of California's North Coast remains largely in the shadows of history is that there was so little honor in it for the conquerors. Even soldiers' accounts at the time betray frustration and disgust at what they were doing: “There are several parties of citizens now engaged in stealing or taking by force Indian children from the district in which I have been ordered to operate against the Indians,” reported Lt. Edward Dillon to his superiors in 1861. “As many as forty or fifty Indian children have been taken. This brutal trade is calculated to produce retaliatory depredations on the part of the Indians. These men keep the Indians constantly on the alert, attacking and chasing them before us and following in our wake for the purpose of obtaining children to be sold in the cities and ranches to the south.”

There is, though, the honor of the survivors, people like Lucy and Jim Cooper, who returned from  Round Valley to the site of Kadiu and put their lives together again. As the modern town of Fort Bragg grew around them, the local Native people raised their children and kept their culture alive while adapting to the new conditions. Lucy Cooper became a renowned basket weaver, her work sought after by collectors. Harriet's father Arthur was a well-known lumber grader, in demand around Mendocino County for his uncanny ability to size up the quality of cut timber at a glance.

By the time Harriet was a little girl, Fort Bragg as she remembers it was a rough-edged but mostly friendly community of people from all over. There were Portuguese, Italians, Finns, Swedes, and other immigrants, many of whom learned English in their first-grade classroom. The young Harriet Campbell dove right in. She was a standout in sports, played the clarinet, earned membership in the California Scholarship Federation.

“I was just always active,” she says. “I got involved in high school, got good grades, got involved with kids. Then, once I had my own kids, I was a room mother, PTA, all that. After my kids left, I started getting involved with American Indian stuff. I just kind of grew into it.”

Now Harriet is working toward many goals at once. She wants to establish with CDF [California Department of Forestry] a clear permit process that will allow Native Californians to gather traditional medicine plants and basket-making materials on state forests. She'd like to see the Bocah-Ama Council, representing Pomo communities down to Point Arena, realize its dream of building a center for Native culture here, an idea now included in the City of Fort Bragg's millsite planning process. Through her work on the national council, she is focused especially on the health of Native elders.

One of her pet peeves is that, Native culture basketmaking, for instance is often considered more a part of the past than the present.

“It's not true that these are dying arts,” she says, noting that a recent gathering of basketmakers at Hoopa drew hundreds of participants. “The weaving is still alive. It's just that Indians don't make a big deal out of everything they do.”

That's the case with Harriet Campbell Stanley Rhoades, who agreed, politely but not all that eagerly, to interviews for this story only at the writer's request. Hers seems a pretty accurate generalization. 


These days, the main media picture of California Native people is as casino owners. But a little curiosity and a willingness to look (many Native events are not widely advertised) reveals that, right next door to and indeed within our communities is another, vital culture, ages old and yet growing and evolving today. Stick game tournaments attract hundreds year-round all over the West Coast. The activities of the sweat lodge and roundhouse are faithfully practiced and well-attended. Native ways of healing, food gathering and preparation, and spirituality are fully alive, not as museum exhibits, but as parts of people's daily lives and their dreams for the future.

Every American school kid has probably heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, how the natives of that day bequeathed to the new settlers the foods and knowledge that let them survive in the New World. Pumpkin, turkey, potatoes, corn: all these were first cultivated by Native Americans, then spread around the globe.

There is another way the Thanksgiving holiday expresses this continent s first cultures. Last September, at a California Indian Days celebration, a woman from a local tribe said a prayer to dedicate the day. She lifted her right hand skyward and sang in the ancient Pomo tongue. Her voice, indeed her whole body, shook with the intensity of the prayer, with what appeared at first to an outsider as powerful grief. But her words, shifting from Pomo to English, brought a surprise.

She was saying thank you: for the day, for the happy gathering of people, little kids to grandparents; for the golden, oak-covered California hills that surrounded us.

It seemed a timely message from a people who have survived the kind of war and terror that many of us fear these days, that no matter what suffering this world may bring, and whatever it requires of us, the human thing to do is to look around us and say thanks.

Several publications on Pomo culture are available at the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg, near the Main and Laurel Street intersections. 964-4251

 (This article originally appeared in Real Estate Magazine [Mendocino Coast] on Dec. 31, 2007.)


  1. Judy November 21, 2021

    Thank you for this article. I remember Harriet working at the High School (everyone loved her). I also remember our baseball team getting our asses kicked by hers. She’s an amazing woman.
    I would love to see a center for Native culture/education center here. And who is better qualified to do that than those who lived it?
    Again, thank you for the article Chris and thank you Harriet for your story.

    • Jacob November 21, 2021

      This was very interesting to read. Thanks.

  2. David Heller November 21, 2021

    Fine write-up Chris!

  3. John Robert November 22, 2021

    Willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that none of them would appreciate or approve a name change to the town of Fort Bragg.

  4. Frank Hartzell November 22, 2021

    Fascinating history and great write-up. You could write a great book on local Native history.

  5. Patti Fereira November 25, 2021

    Chris!!! Awesome article! Well done! I knew Harriet quite well and went through all of my school years until graduation with one of her daughters. Harriet was a school counselor at the FBHS when I was there… And, I played city league softball with her, too… A compelling family history! Thank you.
    Patti Fereira

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