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::
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:
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.
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
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:
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)
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. .
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.
Rockport Redwood Company Records,
BANC MSS 70/184 c, The Bancroft Library (Berkeley, California).
Jean Helen Gowan Near. A Genealogical
Study of the Descendants of Joshus and Anna Gowan. Private
printing: The Letter Shop (Ukiah, CA), 1982.