Dutch Fred & William Kelly

by Malcolm Macdonald, November 29, 2017

Most people know that Bald Hill is north and slightly east of Fort Bragg, but few have ever seen the monument astride the top. It rests alongside a giant eucalyptus that's been shattered by storms and time. Beneath the monument lie the remains of Dutch Fred Heldt.

Dutch Fred was not on the first ship that brought workmen to Mendocino in the 1850s, but arrived soon thereafter. Along with his then partner, Si Osborne, Heldt established the first thriving saloon along Main Street in Mendocino, catering to mill workers, woodsmen, and one Mr. Caspari, from whom the community of Caspar derives its name.

Caspari is mentioned in the earliest Jerome Ford family diary. The notation concerns Mr. Caspari shooting his gun off wildly on the street (which was either just dust or mud, depending on the time of year and the weather). The key word in Ford's journal entry is “again,” as in Caspari was a regular practitioner of inebriated discharge of guns. Fortunately, there's no diary entry about Mr. Caspari ever hitting a person or domesticated animal during one of his shooting sprees.

There are enough stories about Dutch Fred to fill a chapter if not a book. Along with his saloon business he rather astutely gobbled up a sizable chunk of the Mendocino Indian Reservation land in the 1860s, much of it being in the vicinity of Bald Hill.

One of the lesser known facts about Fred Heldt pertains to his business relationship to William Kelley (written “Kelly” during much of his life). The Kelley family imprint on early Mendocino is still present in the Kelley House Museum on the south side of Albion Street, the Kelley Pond that fronts on Main St. below the museum, the MacCallum House, which Mr. Kelley had built for his daughter Daisy and her groom, Alex MacCallum, nowadays sits on the north side of Albion St.

In the era before the MacCallum-Kelley marriage, Dutch Fred ran a mail contract business. The mail was carried on the back of a mule owned by William Kelley and borrowed by Fred Heldt. Not too long into the mail delivery venture the mule was the victim of a fatal mishap. Mr. Kelley asked Dutch Fred for $200 in reimbursement for the mule. At the time Fred did not have the money, but he did have land. Thus the Kelly/Kelley family acquired forty acres east of Bald Hill.

If you go into the Corners of the Mouth store on Ukiah Street in Mendocino to get your organic groceries you may well know that the building was originally a church, having been built for Eliza Owen Kelly (Mrs. William Kelly).

With that background one might think that the Kellys were among the more staid characters of Mendocino in the 1800s. Mr. Kelly's store, just up from the corner of Main and Lansing Streets, contained a vault that was used to collect and store property tax money until the county sheriff came around late in the fall to return said tax money to the county seat in Ukiah.

Just to the west of the Kelly Store, the proprietor also owned a barn. Inside the barn resided barrel after barrel of liquor. Mrs. Kelly did not allow her husband to sell it out of the seemingly more respectable storefront. Many a citizen of Mendocino, and elsewhere, walked around back to the barn to purchase their alcohol from William Kelly. According to some of those customers the booze was adulterated by the addition of water. Mr. Kelly was also alleged to have added nails that would rust and plugs of tobacco to the watered down alcohol to mimic its original color.

The Kelly barn far outlasted the business. It stood until an October wind storm blew the old boards to the ground in 1962.


(Partake of unadulterated tales (no nails) at: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)

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