Press "Enter" to skip to content

A Slice of Life from 1911

Here on the Macdonald ranch mid-autumn is a time to pick apples. In my youth, keeper varieties were stored in rectangular wooden bins on the kitchen porch. Rhode Island greenings were peeled and cooked into apple sauce or sliced to become part of baked goods. In 1911, when my father was four and his little brother, Forrest, only two my paternal grandmother would have been busy baking pies. Her husband and boys, along with visiting grown sons and her brothers, were all voracious pie eaters. Fortunately those Macdonalds had planted dozens of apple trees, many of the varieties chosen because they held off ripening until the fall, ready to bake up, piping hot from the oven, for pie after pie.

That very season in that very year, offered up a slice of life if one took the time to stop and look around. The first rain of the season in Mendocino County didn't arrive until fall was well underway. A downpour of more than half an inch on the night of September 30th into the morning hours of October 1st left campers scrambling for shelter and grape growers suffering minor losses. Locals could tick off the names of significant vineyards on one hand.

The times they were a changin'. In Mendocino City one could get your horse fed and stabled as well as your team's harness repaired at the Mendocino Harness Shop. Just a short way across town at the Skating Rink Hall, on Tuesday and Saturday nights, you could watch five reels of the best films at 8:15 of an evening.

The Hills estate ranch hosted a bull riding contest on October 1st. Only one bull showed up, but his owner offered five dollars to anyone who could successfully stay on the beast's back. No saddle for the riders, just a rope surcingle. Nary a one of the coastal sports captured the five dollars.

Bill Pickle suffered a broken leg in his second wagon rollover in a week. No report of injury to his horse. On the very same day, Pete Hansen, familiar to many as a sawyer in Caspar, had three ribs broken and his shoulder damaged in an auto accident. Hansen was a passenger in a machine driven by Charles Dahl. On the road north of Fort Bragg, with the auto motoring at a high speed, Dahl apparently applied the brakes too suddenly and with such force that the vehicle went into a skid before flipping over. Another passenger, Fred Johnson, suffered a broken collar bone. 

The steamer Sea Foam sailed from Mendocino on Saturdays, bound for the rebuilt City with stops at Point Arena, going and coming. She carried a dozen passengers on a typical trip as well as lumber for San Francisco. On her return north she could easily bear a hundred tons of freight goods for the ports from Point Arena through to Shelter Cove. She usually made it back to Mendocino in five days time.

Hunters a few miles inland from Shelter Cove noted a scarcity of fawns that autumn. Locals in southern Humboldt counted many partially consumed bodies, laying the blame on coyotes lurking in the thick underbrush of the region. A buck story of another sort occurred a few days before the close of hunting season. Harry Steudeman's dogs got on the trail of a big buck heading east from the Company ranch on Big River. Instead of making for the river itself, the large four-pointer dashed north up the hill toward Little Lake Road. The dogs followed the scent into the next day. The chase proved so long that several people saw the buck and heard the dogs. Eventually, all but one of Steudeman's dogs gave up the chase. But that one well-trained fellow wouldn't turn tail. Ruel Perkins, with his own rifle in hand, found the end results: the wounded four-pointer, which he dispatched, and a short distance away the dog, with a hole clean through its body where the buck had finally turned and confronted his tormentor, goring it clean through. Perkins found the dead dog nearly cut to pieces by the buck's hooves as it had no doubt stomped the canine repeatedly. The buck bore the evidence of the encounter, too, with numerous bite marks.

Elsewhere hay baling took up much of the time for farmers. Bill Oppenlander brought a wagon load of tomatoes into Mendocino. Some of the handsome crop were over six inches across. Residents of the coastal city bearing the county's moniker were still marveling about the brush fire that broke out a couple weeks earlier in the Catholic cemetery. By the time the denizens of downtown reached the hillside the blaze had been stopped by one man beating it down with furious swats from a single branch of green brush he'd broken off. The hero of the day: an older gentleman known to one and all to be completely blind.

Whether he received a thick chunk of pie as part of his reward is not recorded for history.

(No pie, but slices of life at

One Comment

  1. George Hollister November 19, 2018

    Thanks to Malcolm for his historical writings. People of my age knew people who lived here in 1911. Much has changed, and it wasn’t that long ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *