River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, March 14, 2012

The river rolls on, but time and circumstance have a way of altering the river’s course.

Some of you may be reading my words for the first time. Others may be familiar with a similar column that ran in another Mendocino County newspaper for a quarter century, authored first by my mother, Margaret Macdonald, and for the last several years, researched and written by me.

The river that I view out my window is the Albion. Some readers might wonder what connection the Albion has to Anderson Valley. The ties run quite a ways back, some are literal, as in railroad ties. For a half century a railroad ran from the mill on the Albion Flats upriver, through the Macdonald Ranch, alongside the south fork of the Albion River all the way to its Anderson Valley terminus at Christine Landing. Right here, I should offer a prize to the first reader who can correctly pinpoint where Christine Landing was/is. Perhaps the appropriate reward would be a walking tour of the only lengthy section of that railroad where ties still exist. Almost all of the ties were pulled out in the late 1940s to make way for Masonite Corporation’s oversized truck roads. The steel was lifted in the late 1930s and shipped to Japan. A similar process occurred with all the steel rails near Gualala.

At the March meeting of the Mendocino County Historical Society, R.T. Anderson, of Gualala, regaled the audience with tales of lumbermen, shipwrecks, and moonshiners from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Mr. Anderson witnessed or participated in most of these stories of shootouts, choker setting in mill ponds, and the step by step process of setting up a mill. The Whitesboro Grange, on Navarro Ridge, played host to the Historical Society as it has for a dozen years in March. Bob Canclini prepared his renowned corn beef and cabbage. A few readers may remember that Bob attended one of the last one-room schoolhouses, just up the hill from this ranch. He was taught there by my late aunt, Georgiana Hathaway Macdonald, who when she wasn’t at school lived in Navarro. Her husband, my uncle, Jack Macdonald owned another 40 acres just north of Floodgate.

Those who followed River Views in The Mendocino Beacon may remember that two February columns recounted the history of Alexander Wentworth Macpherson from his birth in Inverness, Scotland to his employment with Jardine, Matheson, & Co. in the opium smuggling trade between India and China during the 1840s. In the early 1850s Macpherson, on behalf of Jardine, Matheson & Co., sailed to San Francisco and through a circuitous series of events acquired (with financial backing from Jardine, Matheson & Co. partner Alexander Grant Dallas) the rights to 10,520 acres of timberland along the Albion River.

On February 26th of this year I submitted a third column with Mr. Macpherson’s story at the core, but beginning with this paragraph:

Recent reports put the value of sales for Mendocino County marijuana at a billion dollars per year. Some of that has been done above board through local medical marijuana laws. Recent federal crackdowns, however, seem intent on driving marijuana production completely outside the law again. Hard as it may be to believe, there are local growers who do pay taxes on their income. They are probably not in the majority, but they exist. There are long time growers and regular users of marijuana among our “first responders” as well as sitting on local boards, commissions, or councils. This should come as no surprise to anyone paying the slightest amount of attention.

The next paragraph went on to state that it should also come as no surprise that Mr. Macpherson, one of Mendocino County’s earliest entrepreneurs, got his start smuggling opium. When the paper came out on March 1st, however, that opening paragraph had been excised.

The column, as I wrote it, went on to describe Macpherson’s late 1850s moneymaking schemes, which included using Native American labor for next-to-nothing wages and charging any ship that anchored at Noyo a docking fee. The March 1st column, as it appeared in the Beacon ended with a line about Macpherson using these fees to purchase more timberland near his Albion and Noyo mills. In actuality I had written another paragraph:

Though marijuana may be a billion dollar a year crop locally, no citizen should be confused as to where influence lies in political circles. The original 10,520 acre Macpherson holding has expanded so that Macpherson’s direct successor in interest, Mendocino Redwood Co., now owns nearly a quarter million acres in Mendocino County. Mendocino Redwood Co. in turn is owned by the conglomerate that runs The GAP, Inc. The GAP Inc. includes Banana Republic, Old Navy, and other retail apparel brands. GAP, Inc. had estimated revenues of $4.3 billion for the most recent business quarter. This corporation is largely controlled by a single family.

I did not notice that the opening and closing paragraphs had been censored until Saturday, March 3rd. Late Monday morning I called Beacon editor Connie Korbel to ask for an explanation. The only response she gave was that the two censored paragraphs were “not appropriate.” She hemmed and hawed some more and said that she wanted to have a meeting which would include publisher Sharon DiMauro, who apparently was out of town for some time. A tentative meeting date of March 16th was established, I wished Korbel a good day and the conversation was over in four minutes. I brooded over the matter for another five minutes or so then called the Anderson Valley Advertiser, explained the censorship problem, and was cordially invited by Bruce Anderson to continue the column, uncensored, with the AVA. The clock read 12:15pm, still time for a chicken sandwich for lunch before going outside to split kindling and fill the wood box for the coming cold snap.

Contact Malcolm Macdonald at: malcolmlorne@yahoo.com

One Response to River Views

  1. mk Reply

    March 15, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Christine Landing: Wasn’t that across Highway 128 from Holmes Ranch (and Handley Cellars)? I think there is a little Christine Woods winery in that area now.

    And didn’t Highway 128 used to be called something like “Macdonald’s to the Sea”? Some connection, perhaps?

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your censorship story. “Inappropriate” indeed.

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