Coast Newspapers, A Brief History
by Malcolm Macdonald, December 7, 2016
The publisher of the consolidated Mendocino Coast newspapers is retiring. In modern parlance her 23 years as publisher is considered a long tenure. Long before those two papers were taken over by corporate interests and merged the original Mendocino Beacon was published by just two people over an eighty-nine year period (1877-1966). The two were father and son, William and Auggie Heeser. Auggie served as editor and publisher of the Beacon for sixty years (1906-1966).
Through the early decades of the twentieth century Fort Bragg supported two different newspapers, the Advocate and the News then being separate entities. That ceased in 1927. A Healdsburg Tribune article from April of that year provides the particulars, “According to announcement of the interested parties, the deal which has been pending for several weeks whereby control of the Fort Bragg News passes to A.A. Heeser, of the Mendocino Beacon, and the ownership of the Fort Bragg Advocate goes to E. P. Thurston of the Dispatch-Democrat of Ukiah, was completed last week. The News and the Advocate are to be merged, the unnecessary equipment obtained in the buying of the two plants will be disposed of and Fort Bragg will have but one newspaper hereafter. The editors of both The News and The Advocate died and for some months the widows of the dead publishers have conducted the papers.”
Coincidentally, the elder Mr. Heeser, William, had founded the Advocate in the 1880s. He published that paper for several years until turning it over to his then editor, Charles Cavanaugh, who ran the Advocate for decades along with his son.
Auggie Heeser's birth year, 1877, coincides with the founding of the Mendocino Beacon by his father, though the boy predated the newspaper by a few months. In that same year the lumber schooner Electra, a two masted vessel, was constructed at Little River by ship builder Thomas Peterson. The so-called doghole ports of the Mendocino Coast would not accommodate the heavier schooners of the era. Thus shipbuilders like Tom Peterson made quite a livelihood, and reputation, for themselves creating schooners of a lighter draft. Draft determines the shallowest depth at which a ship can navigate. That minimum depth can be ascertained by calculating the total displacement of water and then using Archimedes Principle.
The Electra is mentioned here because it frequented Mendocino Bay in the 1880s. William Stanton, the son of the ship's captain, became a frequent playmate of young Auggie Heeser. The two of them often boarded the Electra when she was under the chute and loading lumber. On fine summer days the ship's mate, a fellow named Julius, allowed the two lads to take the schooner's lifeboat for expeditions around the bay and into the mouth of Big River.
Though Auggie Heeser was about as authentic a Mendocino citizen as could ever be found he was not born in that community. His mother, Laura Nelson Heeser, had suffered three miscarriages, so at the age of forty she decamped temporarily to the city of San Francisco to receive the best prenatal care possible at the time in California. Her physician was Dr. Hugh Toland who, in 1864, had founded the first medical school in San Francisco at Stockton and Francisco Streets.
When Laura Nelson Heeser saw Dr. Toland, the physician had just passed his seventieth birthday. Auggie came into the world in the Mission Street lodging house his mother was staying at, Dr. Toland attending. More than once Auggie stated that their lodgings stood next to the Grand Opera House, which would place it on Mission between Third and Fourth. Auggie also claimed, though this writer has never seen anything to verify, that the room of his birth had once been rented to George Armstrong Custer during a visit to the city by the bay.