Mendocino was truly part of the wild wild west. Most people don’t know, but in 1860, the California Legislature created a Joint Special Committee on what was Known as the Mendocino War to investigate incidents of Indian Stealing and killing of the settler’s stock and alleged atrocities committed by the white settlers against the Indians. This is where militia’s, were killing men, women and children indiscriminately and where Indian children were also caught and sold. In fact the state of California set-up a reservation here in Mendocino county at Covelo located at the North Eastern part of Mendocino county where it is still there today. In fact Fort Bragg had a military post established to protect the white settlers from the Pomo Indians. To read a little more about this part of the wild west of Mendocino, click Mendocino War for more of the story.
But that is only a small part of the story. Most people relate to the wild west with cowboys and Indians. But there was a very strong and determined breed of settlers that settled here in Mendocino. Mendocino was founded because of the logging industry. The loggers here were a very special breed of settlers. They were inventive, to learn how to handle the giant virgin redwoods. This industry was and is one of the most dangerous industries in America even today.
Over a hundred years ago the Mendocino coast was a working industrial landscape. Everything revolved around the timber industry. All the towns that you can see on the map today, like Albion, Caspar, Cleone, Elk, Fort Bragg, Glen Blair, Little River, Mendocino, Navarro, Noyo, Point Arena, Russian Gulch, Westport and many many others were all tied to the logging industry.
If a person was not chopping down a tree, he was hunting for a logging camp cookhouse. A man could grow hay to feed the oxen that pulled the logs through the woods or later be the engineer behind the controls of a logging locomotive. Mechanical contrivances sprouted off the headlands to get lumber from the sawmill onto ships for transit. Human ingenuity and hard work took a standing tree with enough lumber for five houses and turned it into piles of boards bound together for shipment on the waiting schooners.
As with any settlement pattern, the native people, the Pomo Indians got shoved aside as thousands of young men, families and women of ill-repute flooded Mendocino.
And for this part of the wild west of Mendocino county was and still is Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg today is still the biggest city (population 6,000) between San Francisco and Eureka. At one time Fort Bragg “boasted” of having 37 brothels and over a hundred bars, where on Saturday nights “the boys” came in from the woods were definitely “hot” for a night on the town. The Golden West Saloon on Redwood Street is still there after a hundred years. It also had a brothel upstairs. If you venture inside the Golden West Saloon you will find that the interior has not changed much over the century. You can still see the site of the last brothel in Fort Bragg. Go up Laurel Street, where it runs from the California Western Railroad depot, and halfway up the block on the left is an alley. The first building on the right in the alley behind the store is the studio of the well-known artist Erin Dertner. When Tomas, Erin’s husband, renovated the building he found that it was purposely built for the “trade” and that the “ladies” had left a number of “artifacts” behind in cupboards built into the walls. And of course the Coast Hotel, on the corner of Franklin and Oak Streets is another of Fort Bragg’s old brothels.
“The Island of Joy” (Picture from Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society)
Fort Bragg’s most famous brothel was reached by a suspension bridge! It was located off Fort Bragg on a rock at the foot of Pine Street. The suspension bridge pictured above took “patrons” out to the island. It lasted about a decade until it burned down in 1921. The local paper reported that “the town was blessed” when it burned. The island was dynamited so that it could not be built again. The rocks where it once stood are clearly visible at low tide.
Out of all the brothels, one of the most interesting of the “fashionable boarding houses” was on an offshore rock near Ten Mile, north of Fort Bragg, which customers would access by way of a long wooden bridge over the freezing waters. Drunken men repeatedly fell and met their death in freezing waters during the wee hour of the morning. For more reading about ladies of the night click here.
So come enjoy the beautiful Mendocino coast where the land meets the sea of the blue Pacific Ocean and enjoy part of the California Coastal National Monument (CCNM), the big timber of both the virgin redwood groves, and second growth of redwoods or sip and taste wine from the many bountiful award winning wineries or get a picnic and play on the many sandy beaches and of course visiting the multiple museums to learn about the rich history of Mendocino.