Mendocino Redwood Company


Cottoneva Lumber Company

Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.
  Henry Ford (1863 - 1947)
We all have to decide how we are going to fail.. by not going far enough or by going too far.
  Sumner Redstone (1923 - )


W. R. Miller sold his sawmill and timberlands in the winter of 1886. According to a notice in the Mendocino Beacon dated 29 January 1887, an "Eastern syndicate" paid $140,000 for the property. The officers of the newly formed Cottoneva Lumber Company were Joseph Viles (President), H.L. Smith (Vice-President),W. D. McGilvray (Secretary and Treasurer). The company was named after the Cottoneva Creek that ran alongside the sawmill, down to the ocean.

In 1886, Frederick Weyerhauser, who by the end of the 19th century owned more timberland than any other single American, including large forests in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, sent George Gowan from his home in Wisconsin to scout out timber mills for sale (Near 54). On February 4, 1886, George wrote from San Francisco to his second wife, LIzzie, who remained in Wisconsin with their children awaiting the birth of their third son less than three weeks later::

If we should live in Mendocino County we would be about as far West as one can get and be in the U.S. The country there is a little colder than here but a good deal the same nature of climate—never very dry and never very cold. It is called healthy by all I have talked with about it (Near, p.58)

Gowan traveled Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, often on foot. He found a mill for sale in Russian Gulch, Sonoma County, but Weyerhauser was not interested. Hearing opportunity knock,George bought the mill himself and moved his family to California. Profits on the clear redwood proved to be high. Within two years, George and James Gowan decided to buy the controlling interest in the Cottoneva Lumber Company (Near, p. 66). By 1889, George was managing the mill and shipping operations while James oversaw logging and transportation of the logs to the mill. Two other brothers, John and Robert, also joined the mill. Cottoneva Lumber Company employed 200 men and many of their families lived at Rockport. The new town included a hotel, a store, a cookhouse, and a post office.

Over the years, we see various spellings of the name Cottoneva. In a letter to Maria Owen at Rockport Redwood Company, dated 25 April 1966, Victor Golla, of the Department of Linguistics at University of California (Berkeley) wrote about the etymology of the word Cottoneva:

If not Sinkyone, the word would most likely be Coast Yuki. The Yuki language (whence the name Ukiah, by the way) was spoken by several tribes living more or less in a belt across central Mendocino County, directly to the south of the Athabaskans. Rockport, and Cottoneva Creek, were at the northern edge of Coast Yuki territory, which centered at Ten Mile Creek. According to A.L. Kroeber (Handbook of the Indians of California, p. 212) the Coast Yuki called themselves ukohtontilka "ocean people", from uk-hot "ocean", literally "water-big". In the absence of more satisfactory data...on what name, if any, the Coast Yuki gave to Cottoneva Creek, I am tempted to hypothesize that this might have been something like [uk-hot-on-eva], the first elements the same a in uk-hot "ocean". The Yuki language, sad to say, is very poorly known. (Rockport Redwood Company Records, ctn 19, folder 59-6)

A coast survey of 1878 used the name Cottaneva Creek and the Mendocino County History of 1880 gives Cotineva as an alternate name for Rockport. Historical references to the early sawmills at Rockport sometimes use Cottoneva and Cottaneva interchangeably.

Life in Rockport occasionally had its mishaps even for visitors. The following excerpt from an article in the Mendocino Beacon (July 25, 1891) relays an incident about the mill pond in which logs were floated. In the picture below, the mill pond is on the left.

  Mrs. Gray, a San Francisco lady, tried to cross the pond on the logs, the result that she fell in where the water was about twenty feet deep. Frank Hester covered himself with glory and dirty water by promptly taking a header after her and succeeded in getting her safely ashore. He was met shortly afterwards going home singing McGunty.  

The Rockport investment ended in "financial disaster" for the Gowan family (Near, p. 70). When they first embarked on their investment, there were already dire predictions for the lumber industry. Lumber prices in the late 1800s rose and fell. However, initially things went smoothly. Then, in 1892, The Venture, a lumber schooner that the Cottoneva Lumber Company had purchased from Captain Robert Dollar, one of the largest timber owners in the West, was split in two on the jagged rocks at Rockport. There were bigger headaches to follow. The Depression of 1893 proved to be one of the worst in American history. The unemployment rate exceeded 10% over the next five years. The only other time this occurred in US history was following the stock market crash in 1929. Lumber prices fell. John and Robert Gowan decided to return to Canada in 1893 (Nea 74). In November and December of that same year, George was spending most of his time in San Francisco on legal matters surrounding the lumber company, clearly trying to pull out. He wrote to his wife, Lizzie at Rockport on December 7, 1893:

If the managers of the Cottoneva Lumber Co. are trying to be disagreeable we will only have to push our accounts and collect and get away from Rockport. I am not of the opinion they they will dare to be very hostile until they have the money to pay what is due. So far they have been asking for us to be lenient with them and I hope everything will go smoothly. (Near 76)

On June 23, 1895, arbitration found in favor of George Gowan and Joseph Viles was ordered to pay him $9229 within the year (Near 78). By early 1894, George had moved his family from Rockport to a farm in Sherwood Valley where he tried cattle ranching (Near 79).Several years later he would move again to Anderson Valley to raise hops. Many of the Gowan family remain in Anderson Valley today and are known for their orchards and produce stands.

The sawmill at the Cottoneva Lumber Company burned in 1900. Around 1907, the Dusenbury family of Olean, New York, who owned the New York and Pennsylvania Redwood Company, acquired Cottoneva Lumber Company. They planned to build a new mill at Rockport but their plans never materialized. .






Photo Credits

Gowan Family c. 1890-2, Robert J. Lee Collection (Ukiah).
Back row (l-to-r) Byron, Hiram, Uncle Jim, Lester (Jim's boy), and Capt. Johnson of The Venture
Front Row (l-to-r) Mrs. Gowan, Cecil (on lap), Mr. George Gowan, Frank (on lap), and Jud

Miller sawmill, Robert J. Lee Collection (Ukiah)

Cottoneva Hotel, c. 1896 Rober J. Lee Collection, Held-Poage Research LIbrary

Cottoneva Lumber Co. Office, c.1899, Robert J. Lee Collection, Held Poage Research LIbrary

Cottoneva Locomotive, c. 1897, Robert Lee Collection, Held Poage Research LIbrary.

Dusenbury Family, Robert Lee Collection, Held Poage Research LIbrary.

Primary Sources

Rockport Redwood Company Records, BANC MSS 70/184 c, The Bancroft Library (Berkeley, California).

Secondary Sources

Jean Helen Gowan Near. A Genealogical Study of the Descendants of Joshus and Anna Gowan. Private printing: The Letter Shop (Ukiah, CA), 1982.



 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California