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Anderson Valley, a Brief History

Anderson Valley was rather unique in northern California, for while it was bordered on the east by three Mexican land grants and on the west by two land grants, it had been overlooked. It only had to be discovered to be homesteaded and settled and it was the Walter Anderson family that discovered it.

In the Babcock Cemetery on the Mountain View Road there is a monument that reads in part, “Rhonda Couch, born in Kentucky, 1805; married Isaac Beeson, 1826; married Walter Anderson, 1840; Died, 1857. She is my Woman in History today, for she typifies the pioneer women who helped settle the west. She is Anderson Valley’s Pioneer Woman.

In the 1830s Isaac Beeson moved his family to Missouri. He died there, leaving Rhoda with three children. In 1840 she married a widower, Walter Anderson, at Boonville, Missouri. He had kids, she had kids and they had kids and they joined a wagon train bound for California in 1845. Her daughter, Martha, and his older children stayed behind, but Henry Beeson, 17, and Isaac, 16, and three of Walter’s children, made the journey with the two youngest ones. They reached Sacramento and were camping near Sutter’s Fort when their little daughter Rhoda was born; the first white child born in that area. Can you imagine traveling pregnant on that long journey!

They moved on to Sonoma, and then to Dry Creek near Healdsburg when young Henry was caught up in the excitement of the movement for California independence. He was the youngest member of the Bear Flag Party and a monument in the Babcock Cemetery recognizes him as the oldest and last survivor.

The family moved on to the Lower Lake area and it is recorded that Rhoda Anderson was the first woman settler in Lake County. In the fall of 1850 the young men were on a hunting trip into Sonoma County when they followed a wounded elk over the hills and came out at Burger Rock above the Forestry Station and saw this beautiful valley spread before them; perhaps the first white men to see it.

They went back with such glowing reports that in the spring of 1851 Walter Anderson brought his family to the valley which would be open to homesteading. They camped just west of the present airport and Ornbaun Road and were beginning to make logs for a cabin when the Indians came and made signs for them to get out. They hurried to get out and Rhoda was so frightened that she simply gathered her small children and left her spinning wheel behind.

They went back to Dry Creek and in 1852 returned to the valley. This time other families, names unknown, came with them. Walter and Rhoda led the way down into the valley, each riding horseback with a small child behind the saddle. Again they camped on the west side and built a cabin that stood for over 100 years on property much later owned by the Canerass’s. Mr. Anderson began raising cattle and pigs that had to be driven over the hills and down to Petaluma to market.

In 1852 J.D. Ball came from Wisconsin and settled near Con Creek. He is credited with planting the first apple orchard in the valley. Other settlers were coming in and sheep were introduced.

In 1854 the Prather-Burgess party was the first to settle in the mid-valley. When a settlement grew, Cornelius Prather was authorized to open a post office and he named it Philo for a cousin.

Several families came from Switzerland in 1855 and took up land near a great stand of redwoods at the lower and of the valley. John Gschwend built a mill and the house he built is still occupied by his great granddaughter, Esther Clark and her husband, Earl. His daughter, Christine, born in 1857, was the first white child born in the valley. When a post office was authorized for the little hamlet, it was named Christine. The Conrads were one of the families. Leila Rose Rohmer told me that her great-grandmother Conrad insisted on moving farther up the valley, for she was afraid the bears would eat her baby. They moved up to what would become the Schoenahl place near Anderson Creek Bridge.

Also in 1857 the Ingrams came and settled near the Prathers. And in 1857 Rhoda Anderson died. The valley was getting a little too crowded for Mr. Anderson. He sold out to Joseph Rawles and may have taken his family back to Dry Creek. But Henry Beeson stayed. He had acquired his own property and his mother, Rhoda was buried on his land. Our member Ruby Hulbert and her family are descendants of Rhoda Anderson.

A settlement called “The Corners” was growing up around the place where the byways to Ukiah, Cloverdale and Point Arena intersected. There was a general store and a blacksmith shop and in the 1860’s a Mr. Levi and Mr. Straus made the first Levis there. A Mr. Kendall built a hotel about a mile north and their store was moved there. After Mr. W.W. Boone took over Kendall City became Boonville. There was some objection to a saloon being built there, but the proprietor said he was going to build it anyhow and that is what it was, the “Anyhow Saloon.”

The Valley grew like so many rural areas, with one room district schools, churches and farms. The Methodists held meetings in homes until the present Boonville church was built in 1878. About that time the Boonville Hotel was built and one of its early guests was Frank James, who was hiding out there after he and his brother, Jesse, had failed in the Northfield Bank robbery.

In 1904 a shingle mill was built at the deep end of the valley and it became a lumber mill where the bustling mill town Wendling was laid out. When the mill became the Navarro Lumber Company, the town’s name officially became Navarro.

In 1906 Jack London and his wife, Charmian, made a horseback trip through the Valley, gathering background material for a book.

In 1923 there was an important change in Anderson Valley. A fine new Union High School replaced the cluster of cabins that had served since the high school was started in 1913. It immediately became a community center. The high school principal’s wife, Jeanette Hendricks organized the Unity Club. It was the first organization that brought women from out at Yorkville and through the Valley to Navarro together in one activity. This year the Unity Club is celebrating 70 years in Federation.

Elinor Clow’s son Norm Clow notes:

I think a dedication to my dad is in perfect order, as my mom evidently had in mind. As many of you might know, my mother was almost entirely blind for most of her adult life, and my dad willingly acted as her eyes for over 50 years, the result being that he gave up a lot of his own life to that end. For this project, as for many others, he was also her loyal narrater, proof-reader, collator, chauffeur, recording secretary, and finder of all mis-placed items. Not bad for a man often more comfortable on a horse, training a young sheep dog, making applesauce, playing with his grandkids, or listening to a Giants baseball game on the radio.

My mom was an amazing historian who combined her education in history at the University of California at Berkeley with her natural talent for research, writing and teaching to make a valuable contribution to local history preservation, and who never let little things like lack of eyesight stop her from living her life to the fullest extent possible.

My sister Janice Miller joins me in thanking Mary Darling and all the others who helped bring this book to fruition, and agrees that if Mother were to write a dedication, it would probably go something like this: ‘To my husband Bub, who gave up so much of his life so that I might live mine.’ ”

One Comment

  1. Marshall Newman April 30, 2020

    A fine read. Thank you, Elinor and Norm

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