Discharge Your Chinamen

by Malcolm Macdonald, February 8, 2017

Once upon a time Mendocino was a real town with businesses extending beyond food service and B&Bs. In 1879 A.T. Rogers's blacksmith shop carried two thousand horse and mule shoes. An advertisement in the local newspaper boasted,”Two of the best shoers on the coast waiting to put them on your horses and mules for $1.25 per set, and reset them for 75 cents.” The ad finished with this line, “Trot them to the old stand.”

If you rode your horse north from Mendocino in those days you didn't have far to go to obtain satisfying liquid repast. Mr. Sass, the proprietor of the Pine Grove Brewery, bragged about his lager beer, “which cannot be surpassed in Californa.” Sass put up his beer in five and ten gallon kegs, or barrels, and delivered them by the wagon load to just about anywhere on the coast. Readers wondering where Pine Grove existed need only think of the location of the Point Cabrillo Light Station. The community of Pine Grove was ever so slightly inland. In 1879 and the 1880s it thrived to the extent that it boasted a race track where the horses ran frequently. For full personal disclosure: my Robertson/Macdonald grandmother worked at the Pine Grove Hotel in her teens during the 1880s. Already a Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) member, she referred to Mr. Sass's enterprise as, “That cursed brewery.”

Horses were most likely not racing in January or February 1879, unless they were determined mudders. Then as now, rain prevailed enough that the overland stagecoaches from Eureka to San Francisco ceased operation for the winter. The mail was carried on horseback, one horse at a time. One of the routes that has not changed much over the course of time is the road north from Usal, parelleling what has come to be called The Lost Coast. Undoubtedly it was this same section of the Eureka to The City trail that was impassable in the muck and mire of mid-winter, 1879.

Six inches of rain fell on the town of Mendocino in the last week of January of that year. The town dentist was laid up for several days with a sore arm, but by the time the rain slowed, Mr. Heeser the newspaper editor reported that Doc Wheeler would soon be “able to follow his avocation of polishing ivory for his patrons.”

Slightly more ominous news wended its way up from Albion where the mill company reduced the employee wages by five dollars a month. The pay cut was less than appreciated by the laborers at the mill and they struck. A new workforce was soon procured; the mill continuing operations. Within a week newspaperman William Heeser had this to report, “John Hopkins had three fingers of his right hand sawn off at the Albion Mill last Thursday morning,” lending literal translation to the laboring term “scab.”

A couple of weeks prior Mr. Heeser ran a short notice foreboding something even more dangerous, “Residents of Napa Valley are receiving incendiary notes containing matches and an order to discharge their Chinamen.” It wouldn't be long before many, if not most, communities all over California and the West would be burning the homes of Chinese immigrants, even Chinese-American citizens, and otherwise violently trying to obliterate an entire segment of the populace.

In the town of Mendocino, Chinese New Year was reported thus by the Beacon, “Last Monday night at 12 m., the Chinese New Year was ushered in amid the firing of crackers, bombs and rockets, and other noise-making and powder burning implements, which for a time made the night hideous with the noise. The day was generally celebrated by our Celestials, but the affair was very tame compared to former years. The number of Chinamen in this place has decreased very considerably within the year, and therefore the unusual quiet of the occasion.”

Within a week of that celebration it might prove interesting to note that Justice of the Peace, G. Canning Smith fined an Anglo citizen named John Wilson a dollar for discharging his revolver on the streets of Mendocino.

One Response to Discharge Your Chinamen

  1. George Hollister Reply

    February 14, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Always interesting and much appreciated. Thank you, MC.

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