Mendocino Redwood Company


View from a Distance

To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity.
Roy Basler, co-editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (8 vols.)


Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) owns approximately 228,000 acres of timberland in Mendocino County. As the adjacent map shows, our land is not one contiguous block but an archipelago of forest islands surrounded by state parks, ranchers, private land owners, and state highways. The largest of our area forests is Rockport at 39,201 ac; the smallest, Ukiah at 5681 ac.

We purchased this property, zoned for timber production, as a single unit from L-P Redwood, LLC in 1998. Since the late 19th century, this land has had a succession of small and large land owners, who, for the most part, have been in the timber business.

Back to the Beginning

History, of course, is more than a recounting of recorded deeds—be they deeds of property or deeds of heroism and infamy. The history of any land reaches back to a time when no one “owned” the land and no written records were kept. Long before there was a United States of America or a State of California, there were indigenous people living on what we call MRC timberland.

Anthropologists generally agree that there were people in many parts of present-day California about 15,000 years ago. These early people likely came from Asia over the Bering Strait. Frozen Pleistocene seas or low sea levels may have created a bridge from Siberia to the American continent. The Pacific coastline that the ancient people settled along is now submerged under the sea. Of these people, we can know very little. What we can surmise is based on fluted points, artifacts, and bones unearthed at scattered archaeological sites. According to estimates, there were 64-80 indigenous languages at the time Europeans first made contact with California. Yukian, one of these family of languages, is identified with Mendocino, Lake, and Napa counties. Our historical picture, however, must remain a fuzzy one. "Inevitably, the story of ancient California is a fractured portrait," writes Brian Fagan, "much of it created by generations of mindless archaeology, widespread destruction, a confusing, and often effectively inaccessible literature, and poor preservation" (Fagan, 14).

As for the land itself, we must rely on geologists to read its ancient history in the rocks and fossils. We do know that the land of these ancient people was much colder and wetter, with thick redwood and pine forests extending further south than our present day forests (Fagan, 22).

Nueva España (New Spain)

The written history of MRC land does not exist apart from the history of California. That early recorded history, though sketchy, begins in the mid-16th century—the Age of the Renaissance and the Great Explorers. Spain was the world superpower, enjoying a siglo de oro, a century of gold. An expedition of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1542), under the command of Bartolome Ferrelo, came relatively close to our slice of northern California—all the way to Cape Mendocino. Months earlier, Cabrillo had sailed into San Diego Bay and claimed Alta (upper) California for Spain. Baja (lower) California had already been discovered around 1533 by Fortun Ximenez de Bertadoña, a mutinous Spanish sailor, although it was Hernan Cortes, his expedition commander, who officially claimed it for Spain in 1535.

For the next 200 years, Spain was content to let California be just a spot on a geographer's map. As other European nations began showing interest in the Pacific, Spain decided to protect its claim by building military forts (presidios), mission churches, and ranchos along the California coast. In 1769 a Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra, established the first mission at San Diego. From that date to 1821, all of present-day California was a colonial province of Nueva España. With its capital in Mexico City, the territory of New Spain included what is now Mexico, most of Central America, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Mexican Empire and Manifest Destiny

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and California became Mexican territory. After many bloody battles, including one immortalized by Hollywood—The Alamo—Texas, in turn, declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. Mexico, however, never recognized the Republic of Texas and still claimed the Nueces River, north of the Rio Grande, as the border between Texas and Mexico. This contention over river boundaries in the southwest would soon lead tragically to war.

Meanwhile, the United States continued to grow on the east coast and the central plains—growing in population, in economic wealth, and in political aspirations. Manifest Destiny became a catchword of U.S. politicians and writers in the 1840s. Used to explain and justify U.S. continental expansion, the words implied mission and purpose to some, aggression and imperialism to others. Against this backdrop, the U.S. Congress in 1845 voted to annex the Republic of Texas. That same year, President James Polk sent a diplomat to Mexico City to purchase the Mexican territories of California and New Mexico. Mexico refused the offer. Later, provoked by U.S. troops, the Mexican cavalry fired on a U.S. patrol that was south of the Nueces River—an area Mexico considered its territory. In a message to Congress on May 11, 1846, Polk said that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed American blood." Congress quickly approved a declaration of war. One of the bitter dissenters to that declaration was Abraham Lincoln, a first-time representative in the U.S. Congress. Ulysses S. Grant, a West Point graduate who was destined to command Lincoln's army in the Civil War and become president four years after Lincoln's death, got his first taste of battle in the Mexican-American War. Many years later in his memoirs, Grant reflected that this war was "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation" (Grant, 41). One of Grant's recent biographers, Jean Edward Smith, put the casualties of this terrible war in perspective. "Of the 78,718 men who served during the conflict," Smith writes, "13,283 perished: a casualty ratio slightly higher than Union losses in the Civil War, seven times greater that that of World War II, and twenty-four times that of Vietnam" (Smith, 36). The Mexican-American War finally ended with the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Under provisions of the treaty, Mexico received $15,000,000 and the United States became the new owner of California as well as all the other Mexican territories within what is now the continental USA.

The Gold Rush

As the war with Mexico was ending, the American Dream was beginning—rising up from the American River (Rio de los Americanos) near Coloma, California. "I reached my hand down and picked it up" said James Marshall. "It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold" (Holliday, 33). Marshall's discovery at Sutter's Mill on January 24, 1848, would set a lot of American hearts thumping. For many people, the simple life on the farm or in the hometown would no longer be enough. Americans had new dreams—to get rich quick! California was about to experience its first of many "gold diggers."

By 1850 California became a state and the Gold Rush was in full swing. Estimates are that at the time of Marshall's discovery, the state's non-Indian population was about 14,000. At the start of 1850, it was nearly 100,000. By 1852, the number more than doubled to 250,000. Of course, the other side of that story is the tragic loss of Native American population. Sherburne F.Cook, well known for his anthropological research on aboriginal populations in both California and Mesoamerica, paints a grim picture: "The most devastating wave of foreign impacts was swept into California by the Gold Rush and attendant influx of Euro-American populations. During the single decade of A.D. 1845-1855, the Indian population of California was reduced from approximately 150,000 to 50,000; by A.D. 1900, the number had fallen to 20,000—less than 7% of the estimated preconquest level of 310,000" (Moratto, 573). According to Cook, "this desolation was accomplished by a ruthless flood of miners and farmers who annihilated the natives without mercy or compensation" (Moratto, 573). Among the direct causes of death were bullets, disease, exposure, and starvation. However, Cook adds that the indirect causes were a greed for gold, a hatred of Indians, and a pervasive lawlessness.

Building Dreams with Redwood Timber

Gold was not the only attraction for some California entrepreneurs. Since it seemed, at times, as if the whole world was beating a path to California, particularly San Francisco, clearly there was a need for new housing and stores. For building materials, one only had to look around. Many hills surrounding San Francisco were covered with coast redwoods. Today Muir Woods preserves the last 295 acres of those old growth trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the forests around the Bay Area were disappearing, an unforeseen accident off the coast of Mendocino—the shipwreck of the Baltimore Clipper, the Frolic—would open up new resources in the forests of northern California and create a logging industry in what is now Mendocino County. First, though, the early loggers and homesteaders had to claim the land.

Pioneers and Wilderness

As soon as California became part of the United States, its land became part of the public domain. A Board of Commissioners was established to sort out earlier land grants (the ranchos and pueblos) from the Spanish and Mexican governments, as well as Indian claims, and determine which would be recognized by the U.S. Government as private lands. Almost another quarter century would pass before Americans grew nostalgic about the passing of the "'wilderness" and set aside public lands not just for townships and public schools but for national parks and national forests. President Abraham Lincoln, on June 30, 1864, signed a bill giving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as a public trust. For the first time in history, a federal government protected "wilderness." A few years later, Lincoln's triumphant general, now President Ulysses Grant, created the world's first national park, Yellowstone, on March 1, 1872—2.2 million acres for the people. "To the laborer in the sweat of his labor, the raw stuff on his anvil is an adversary to be conquered," Aldo Leopold wrote of the wilderness and the pioneer. "But to the laborer in repose, able for a moment to cast a philosophical eye on his world, that same raw stuff is something to be loved and cherished, because it gives definition and meaning to his life" (Leopold, 188).

Claiming a Piece of the American Pie

Laws pertaining to the dispersal of public land date back to the earliest days of the thirteen colonies. when, in 1775, the Continental Congress promised land to Revolutionary War veterans in lieu of pensions. In the ensuing years, Congress enacted numerous Public Land Laws. The Land Ordinance of 1785, for example, established a survey system that must precede any sale of public land. In 1812, Congress created the General Land Office (GLO) under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department. The GLO had the huge task of keeping on file all land records for the United States. Plat maps from the GLO show that all MRC land was surveyed between 1856-1902, with the earliest surveys in the Big River and Navarro blocks.

One of the most important pieces of legislation for the American West, including those laying claim to lands in Mendocino County, was the Homestead Act of 1862. Signed into law by Abraham Lincoln, it allowed anyone who was a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, and head of a household (including single women and former slaves) to stake a claim on 160 acres at $1.25 per acre. Even greater impact for the lands that now comprise the MRC forests was the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. Through this Act, the United States sold timberland in California and other western states in 160-acre plots at $2.50 per acre. Any land that was considered "unfit for farming" could be sold for logging and mining—timber and stone. Not surprisingly, some land speculators had great expanses of land classified as "unfit' so that they could amass large tracts of timberland.

Major Players in the Mendocino Timber Industry

The first sawmill in Mendocino County was the California Lumber Manufacturing Company, organized in 1852 by Henry Meiggs and operated by Jerome Ford and E.C. Williams. After the financial failure of that company, it became the Mendocino Mill Company in 1855 and the Mendocino Lumber Company in 1872, both of these companies under the continual leadership of Jerome Ford and E.C. Williams. As the decades progressed other companies began to emerge and consolidate, including the W. R. Miller sawmill in Rockport (1877-1886), Caspar Lumber Company (1880-1955), Albion Lumber Company (1891-1928), Fort Bragg Lumber Company (1885-1892), L. E. White Lumber Company (1884-1916), Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company (1916-1930), Union Lumber Company (1893-1968), The Mendocino Lumber Company (1906-1945), Rockport Redwood Company (1938-1957), Masonite Corporation (1950-1986), and Boise-Cascade Corporation (1968-1972). By 1986, two major players were left standing: Georgia-Pacific (1968-1999) and Louisiana-Pacific (1973-1998). Both continued their acquisition of small private tracts of clear-cut and new-growth lands. Georgia-Pacific was finally succeeded by Hawthorne Timber Company (1999) and Louisiana-Pacific by MRC (1998).

Author: DMS

Secondary Sources

Fagan, Brian. Before California: An Archaeologist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants. Walnut Creek, CA: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003.

Grant, Ulysses S. Memoirs and Selected Letters. New York: The Library of America, 1990.

Holliday, J.S. The World Rushed In. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, 1949.

MCHS. The Mills of Mendocino County. Mendocino County Historical Society, 1996.

Moratto, Michael J. California Archaeology. Orlando, Florida: Academic Press, 1984.

Robinson, William W.. Land in California: The Story of Mission Lands, Ranchos, Squatters, Mining Claims, Railroad Grants, Land Scrip, and Homesteads. Berkeley: University of California, 1979.

Smith, Jean Edward. Grant. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Sturtevant, William C., General Editor. Handbook of North American Indians: California (Vol. 8). Robert F. Heizer, volume editor. . Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.



 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California