Once Upon A Time In Mendocino
by Malcolm Macdonald, March 15, 2017
Anyone who has ever been to Mendocino can direct you to the McCallum House on the north side of Albion Street, cattywampus from Daisy McCallum's parent's house on the south side of the same street. It was at this Kelly (as the family once spelled their surname) House that Daisy Kelly wed Alex McCallum on a Tuesday, September the 2nd, in 1879.
During that same month of September, 1879, the local newspaper, edited and published by William Heeser, ran several stories that displayed how quickly happy occasions could be displaced by more sobering events. In his newspaper's September 13th edition Mr. Heeser wrote, “Francis Stephenson was employed in the Caspar woods as a chopper. On that morning [Tuesday, Sept. 9th] Stephenson proceeded to fell a tree, but when he had it nearly cut down he found that the wind was in the wrong direction to permit the tree to fall the way he wished; he thereupon left the tree and began cutting another near by. In the mean time the wind blew quite hard and broke the first tree down, falling it in the direction where Stephenson was chopping. He, seeing the tree coming, started to run, but too late, the top of the tree striking him on the head, mashing off the whole upper skull, crushing his shoulders, tearing off his arms and breaking all his ribs, which protruded through the flesh, leaving him one mangled mess.”
The modern day Mendocino Beacon may pull punches, not so its founding father. Two weeks later, Heeser was at his bluntest, some might say darkly comedic. “A new but very successful way of committing suicide comes to us from Copper City, Shasta county (it was not the fashion of Mr. Heeser's day to capitalize several words we would today), where a young man named LeClerk placed a giant powder cartridge in his mouth and lit the fuse. In an instant his head was blown to atoms.”
Two items from that same late September, 1879, Beacon fit oddly together. The first reads innocently enough. Readers might have wondered, then and now, if it was merely a paid advertisement written out in story form. “Tintypes! Tintypes! You can now have your pictures taken in Mendocino City, for Bonine is here with his tent, located on the lot adjoining Wheeler's dentist office. As good pictures can be taken in foggy weather as clear, and generally better. Album size four for one dollar. Large size for frame one dollar each. The tent will be here for a short time only.”
The lot adjoining Doc Wheeler's dental office was just up the hill from Norton's Hotel and Livery. Whether the photographer was camping out or paying for a room at the hotel, the following story, from the same Beacon edition, might make a reader ponder just what sort of noises woke the taker of tintypes that week.
“Tom Bell, who resides near Prairie Camp [several miles out the Comptche Road], some six months ago captured a young bear, and on Monday last boxed it up and sent it to this place intending to make Dr. Witherell [a former druggist in Mendocino then residing in The City] a present of it. The box was placed in Norton's barn where it was to be kept until Thursday, when it would be sent to San Francisco on the steamer, but in the night the bruin broke out of the box and began roaming about the barn. Finding himself still imprisoned he became frantic with rage, and wreaked his vengeance on some twenty sacks of barley which he tore up and scattered about promiscuously. There being no way of getting him back into the box, Dr. Wheeler was called to shoot him.”
The barley in Mr. Norton's barn was undoubtedly purchased from William Heeser himself. Every week the paper ran a brief note about barley for sale at the Beacon office. Dr. Wheeler was the one called to dispatch the bruin for a reason. The coastal paper ran a number of brief and/or lengthy accounts of Doc Wheeler's prowess with firearms, from prodigious hunting feats to shooting at prowlers. It's unlikely, though, that any of Mendocino's residents of the 1870s had the faintest idea that Dr. Wheeler had once killed none other than Bigfoot. Of course, that's a story for another time and a space all its own.
(Bigfoot or man, all species welcome at the author's website: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com)