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Book Review: Maurice Tindall’s ‘Down To Earth’

Are there many of us left in The Valley who remember Maurice Tindall, never mind even know who he was? The other evening I was idly perusing my book shelves looking for some good after-dinner reading material. Judge Tindall’s journalistic reminiscences from his Mendocino County life arrested my eye. The Mendocino Town Historical Society had collected this work, mostly newspaper articles in Homer Mannix’s Anderson Valley Advertiser between 1969 and 1985, and published them in book form with photographs, some 200 pages paperbound in 8 X 11” format.

Maurice Tindall, longtime Anderson Valley resident, was born in Largo, along the Russian River south of Ukiah, in 1893 and died here in The Valley sometime in the 1980s. As I reread his news article memoirs, two remarkable things about his life story struck me. Based on my knowledge of many local settler families, from the Hiatts and Ornbauns out Yorkville to families up and down The Valley, from the Junes in Boonville to the Ingrams near Navarro, and the Italians and Finns on Greenwood Ridge, I had an image of the pioneer settler story being to arrive, find a piece of land to log and farm, then to live on and improve over several generations. Yet Tindall’s memoir told me another story, a decade of regular migration around Mendocino County from one work opportunity to another before the family found a suitable place to buy, settle down and live on permanently.

Maurice reports that his mother, Eleanor, a school teacher, arrived in Largo in 1886, his father in the early 1890s. His dad, whom he curiously never names, had the misfortune at the beginning of what turned out to be the historic Great Depression of 1893-7, to purchase and stock with beef cows a small farm along Felix Creek south of Hopland. Father had to abandon and sell the place a couple of years later, and the Tindalls moved to a rental home in Ukiah where his dad held several jobs including farmhand work on cattle and orchard ranches. His mother found school teaching assignments, not in Ukiah but west on the Mendocino wagon road at “Halfway House,” then near Comptche at a schoolhouse on Oppenlander land west of town. I wish he had identified what and where “Halfway House” was. Maybe Orr Springs area about half way to The Coast?

Thus began the Tindalls’ decade and a half long odyssey from town to town, job to job, driven by both his mother’s teaching reassignments and his father’s dissatisfaction with the texture of labor opportunities around Comptche and the Mendocino Coast. The family’s coastwise and inland migrations between 1896 and 1908 are far too kaleidoscopic to describe here, as his Mother’s movements were totally independent of his father’s. He describes her teaching at Caspar, “Fury Town”, wherever that is, four or five different schools around Comptche, some of the locations familiar to me, like Docker Hill, while others like Hazlett Hill, he never locates and I’ve not heard of. During those years Eleanor relentlessly led and encouraged her son’s formal education and his curiosity about the world around him via informal reading. On some Comptche area school assignments, Tindall and his younger sister accompanied and lived with her for the semester or year, while his dad stayed on The Coast. 

In those years his dad found employment first at the Mendocino mill, then on the logging railroad up Big River, then the lumber company dairy providing milk to the woods and mill cookhouses, and finally leasing some of the mill land upstream to run cattle on. Always trying out a new occupation.

Maurice, too, was actively using his extra-curricular time to explore the world around him, at age 13, working at the timber booms at the mouth of Big River where the raw logs for the sawmill were stored each year. He also had a small boat he explored the local ocean with while also catching bottom fish, salmon and crabs to sell to local neighbors, guided but not closely supervised by his nameless father. What a way to learn about how the world of rural industrial America, west coast version, worked.

With great delight Tindall reports on page 24 “I first saw Anderson Valley in 1906 and knew it was the place for me.” Having a similar first encounter with The Valley myself back in 1968, it was a thrill to read Maurice’s recollection. Returning to The City from a weekend with friends in Mendocino, my companions and I drove into The Valley at dusk one full moon early October evening. Seeing those graceful barns at Ingram, Guntly, Day Ranch, Art Gowan’s and so on, lower sidehills covered with sheep, orchards and apple dryers along the highway, and those two Boonville social centers, The Lodge and Little Casino, I knew I was coming back.

In 1908, The Tindalls moved to the Valley, finding a place to rent up in Peachland. Again it was his mother’s profession that catalyzed the move. Eleanor took a job at the Peachland grade school. The whole family had gotten tired of the Mendocino Coast weather, the fog and wind, and long hours milking cows, and his article about the move observed “the climate in Peachland was the year around about as good as it could possibly be.” Peachland in those days also had its own Post Office, though no store, and the family arrived up there in a four-horse wagon up the “new” Peachland road. The old one, he reports, wouldn’t have accommodated their wagon.

Their new home and 40 acres of land the Tindalls at first rented from a family named Heryford. Within a year they had bought it. Maurice describes them all pitching in to farm and garden a small, what he calls call a “semi-self-sustainable homestead,” mostly raising food for the household table, some stock and produce to sell locally for the income. The father and son immediately went to work at A.J. Bledsoe’s nearby shake mill, earning $1.25 a day. They also cultivated some ground, planted grain, ran cattle and hogs, had some barnyard chickens, and most important had a productive home garden raising corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, cabbage, melons, and so on. The first spring the cabbage crop was so successful, some twenty pound heads, Tindall’s father took a wagon load to Boonville to sell on the street. Not much success; everyone had a home garden in those days.

The Tindalls, including Maurice, like many other Peachland families also put food on their table hunting and fishing in the Peachland-Indian Creek watershed. Maurice’s principle interest though was managing the family garden. He reports that as a teenager he appreciated books, reading his way through the family’s Charles Dickens novels and a weekly subscription magazine Youth’s Companion. But his principal reading during the winters was a catalogue distributed every autumn by an eastern US seed firm, William Henry Maule. He spent weeks perusing the catalogue and designing his gardening program for the next spring. Come April, his father would plow the ground, horses I presume, and Maurice would do the fine cultivation and planting. “I spent a lot of time out there with a hoe most evenings and never a weed got started,” he reports.

It also turned out, Tindall reports, the family moved on again from their Peachland home. In a single sentence he notes that they lived in Stockton where “there wasn’t much to do,” during the 1930s, while keeping ownership of the Peachland home ranch, probably something to do with surviving the 1930s Depression. When they moved back to The Valley in 1936, they rented a home in Boonville from one Looney. Bill “Fat” Clow advised them to “start up a meat market, we need one in the Valley.” 

The family rented the “Pig Butcher Shop” with a walk-in refrigerator and added a compressor and fan to circulate the cold air, meat counter, scales and other retail business accessories. “Tindall’s Market” opened in early 1937, and in its first years both bought and sold meat locally, including beef, pork and lamb, later on chicken and rabbits. They bought carcasses locally, butchered them into saleable units, and actually sold meat out of a horse-drawn wagon weekly traveling between Boonville and Navarro. Everyone in the family worked in the store, and Maurice became the principal butcher preparing carcasses for the local customers. As the Valley’s prosperity grew during the war and more dramatically in the post-war logging boom and population growth, so did the success of Tindall’s market. The family bought the building, added a second room to the north side of the building to house the Boonville post office and a warehouse outback to store groceries, stock feed and other items sold in the Market. 

Other stores appeared in The Valley, of course, in Boonville itself, Philo, Christine, all providing meat to the community. In the late 1950s the post-war timber boom petered out, the Valley population aged and shrank, and by 1969 “Tindall’s Market” was running out of steam, the family shuttered the business and tore the building down. I had a hard time translating where Maurice located the market, though I believe it’s the building Aaron Weintraub built as a replica of “Tindall’s Market” just north of the fire station.

Meanwhile, the adventuresome Maurice had broadened his occupational horizons by finding employment with the USDA Soil Conservation Service, then the Mendocino County Farm Bureau “livestock project,” which may have been an attempt to create a sellers’ coop for negotiating prices with the feedlot/slaughterhouse industry. This part of his employment career took him all over Mendocino to work with ranching families in what is after all the second largest County, after Inyo, in California. Then to cap off his career in 1962, he was elected Judge for the Anderson Judicial District, replacing the retiring Harwood June. By this date, his parents must have retired or passed on because Tindall remarks his wife Alice had to hire help to continue running Tindall’s Market as his judicial duties took many hours every day.

(Next Week: Maurice Tindall, renaissance man and natural philosopher.)

3 Comments

  1. George Hollister October 23, 2021

    Regarding Halfway House: That was east of Comptche on the ridge that divides the Big River, and Navarro River watersheds. This was a stage stop operated by Eiler Oppenlander on the route from Ukiah to Mendocino. The Philbrick Ranch, now Royal Redwood Ranch, is immediately to its east. The Halfway House burned, but the school house survived. That would have been the Hanson School. In the 1950s the location became the Boomershine Mill. There are still some mill houses remaining on the site. The current owners moved, and remodeled the old school house. The likely reason Tindall didn’t provide more detail was because he assumed everyone knew where and what the Halfway House was.

  2. George Hollister October 23, 2021

    Hazlett Hill is in the larger area currently referred to as Sky Ranch. I was unaware that there was ever a school there. Same for Docker Hill. There was a school at Keene Summit, one that served the Orr Springs area, likely one at Melbourne. The old timers I knew, all went to the Comptche School. Malcolm Macdonald knows better than me.

  3. George Hollister October 23, 2021

    Brad, thanks for your writing.

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