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Wayward Cattle

Here, along the Albion River, we are getting some much needed rain. A hard rain often sends our cattle uphill. Unfortunately, some of the current herd don't have sense enough to stay close to the house half way up that hill where they get treated like babies with bales of alfalfa and grain hay not to mention apples. Despite the goodies, twice in three days during this past wet week, a varied collection of Herefords and Black Baldies have made their way much farther uphill, going through and/or over gates and fencing that stops human trespassing. On the fortunate side we are blessed with neighbors to the north who have called, herded, and penned in the wayward critters until the Macdonald cavalry arrived with sheets of alfalfa to lead the beasts back to temporary imprisonment in our fenced in yard.

These recent runaways are also suffering through a bovine period of grief and bewilderment at the unexpected demise of an elderly oxen and an equally beloved milk cow, who suffered fatal falls on back to back days in mid-November. Even before the sudden deaths and rainy runaways we had been contemplating downsizing our herd. We've placed notices in various online sites like Craig's List, but let this also serve as an ad that we are looking for a new home for a three-year-old Black Baldie bull who has been an excellent breeder and a new home for two fourteen month old Hereford heifers.

In bygone days Macdonald cattle usually performed their “walkabouts” by traveling east or west, up or down river. A dozen years or so ago, flood waters sent a mother Hereford and her two sons east then uphill to the property owned by the Swanson brothers, one of whom called to notify me and helped herd them part of the way homeward. Three decades or so ago I recall my cousin Jim Boyle having to walk a herd of two dozen or more (mostly) Herefords home from Tom Bell Flats, about five or six miles east of here and eight miles out the Comptche-Ukiah Road from Mendocino.

Approximately two miles west of Tom Bell Flats and about a mile and a half northeast of the forks of the Albion its main branch snakes so precipitously, first north to south then south to north, that maps of a hundred years ago described that precipitous turn of the stream as Cape Horn. In the 1950s our family often camped on the then lightly wooded headlands of Cape Horn. Another half mile north along the main branch of the Albion lie the remains of a farm my father referred to as “the old Heaton place.” I never knew the Heatons. They moved away from that property long before I came along; however, apple trees remained standing, bearing fruit for the picking until recent years. 

Both east and west of here, alongside the Albion, abandoned apple trees and tiny orchards of many varieties survive, evidence of the logging camps moving eastward throughout the later years of the nineteenth century up until the mills shut down at the end of the 1920s. Occasionally, a long time friend or relative will return from a walk down the river with a ripe apple from a tree near Slaughterhouse Gulch or just this side of Deadman’s Gulch.

The Albion Lumber Company operated not only a slaughterhouse from the 1880s through the 1920s, but also grazed a substantial herd of beef cattle in the field on the opposite side of the river. I cannot describe it to readers as truly south or east of the river since here, too, the tidewater of the Albion turns dramatically at the mouths of Duck Pond Gulch, Slaughterhouse Gulch, Pleasant Valley/Railroad Gulch, and Deadman’s Gulch and a couple of more times beyond the boom as it wends ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. The Pomo name for the Albion roughly translates to “crooked river.”

Part of the twenty-first century Macdonald herd are descended from survivors of the Albion Lumber Co. herd or Macdonald cattle who grazed right alongside them in the grass lands between Slaughterhouse Gulch and the mouths of Pleasant Valley and Railroad Gulch; the co-mingling of herds was a relatively common practice in those days, especially when one of the Macdonald brothers, Charlie, worked as chief assistant to Matt Piper at the slaughterhouse in the 1910s.

The elongated meadow across the river was known for more than a century as simply “the field.” In the last couple of decades a few misguided individuals have attempted to refer to it as “the enchanted meadow.” I doubt that the steers taken directly from it to the slaughterhouse felt enchanted.


  1. Chris Hayter November 29, 2018

    Re: the reference to Cape Horn; a) I’ve heard of that spot on the Navarro, but never the Albion. However, upon looking at a map of the Albion right now I do see a similar set of bends in the river. The distances are a bit different tho – its only about a mile & a quarter down from Tom Bell Flat, or a mile & a half up from the confluence (almost midway between Tom Bell & Forks). Or, about a half a mile up from Kaisen/Clearbrook creek.

  2. Malcolm Macdonald Post author | November 29, 2018

    Chris Hayter’s distances for Cape Horn from Tom Bell Flat and the confluence of the Albion River are more accurate. “Cape Horn” is noted on a map made by John Macdonald for Standish & Hickey, circa 1910. A copy of that map should be in the Mendocino County Historical Society’s Held-Poage holdings in Ukiah as part of a large book of maps commissioned by Standish & Hickey during their ownership of the Albion Lumber Company and after their sale of that business to Southern Pacific Co. (which retained the ALCO name). Perhaps the webmaster will change those two mileage references in paragraph four to correctly reflect the measurements for posterity.

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