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Mendocino’s Great Register of 1894

Want to be a voter in this county in 1894? A potential voter provided the following information: name, age, height, color of complexion, hair color, eye color, visible marks or scars on your body, occupation, country of nativity, place or residence and naturalization information if not born in the USA. Correctly named the “Great Register” the Kelley House Museum has a reproduced copy spiral bound across the top and this register is actually two feet wide so all a voters information could be listed one one line.

As an interesting aside, and the kind of thing that leaves a historian wondering — in every line in this register is the same handwriting. That means only one person ever made entires, OR, sometime in the past one person doing research meticulously hand lettered a reproduced copy. Bless whomever for legible script. Any way you look at it this is an interesting peak into county history.

First, as an example, may I introduce you to Charles Fletcher, who I chose literally because he was the biggest man listed. At age 65 and from Navarro the man was 6 feet 5.5 inches tall with a light complexion, gray hair and eyes, his occupation was ships carpenter and he was born at sea spa had no country of nativity. His home is now a part of state park property at the mouth of the Navarro River.

Next, since I am a resident of Comptche, I looked at who registered to vote from here. I found 47 men, aged 21 to 63, and half were farmers ranchers or and 13 said they were woodsmen. The biggest ethnic group was nine men born in Denmark.

Going down the list of “visible scars” on county wide voters it went from bad to worse. Some scars were minor, “left thumb amputated at first joint” or “small pox marks on face” to “left arm six inches shorter than right arm” to “partial paralysis left side”. Worse was “end of nose chopped off” or “left eye out-uses stone eye.” One man had a gunshot wound visible on his left wrist, another had a disfigured right ear.

It was the occupations that had me fascinated. I kid you not, there were over 100 different occupations listed. Along with job titles everyone would expect — farmer, rancher, woodsman, merchant — here are more unusual occupations. There were railroad conductors, hostlers, brick masons, musicians, wood carvers, cigar makers (Ukiah grew tobacco during and after the Civil War), capitalists, wholesale liquor distributors, hop pickers, wagon makers, plasterers, orchardists, band saw filers, sewing machine salesmen and shingle makers.

Also employed were expressman, furniture dealers, mail contractors, raftsmen, umbrella makers, stone cutters, soda works managers, insurance agents, road overseers, wall paper hangers, ministers of the gospel, a superintendent of the water works, justice of the peace and, best of all, a lighthouse keeper.

Looking at just 1894’s registers I realize all registers before and after show equally interesting stories if the reader has time to delve into them. At the Kelley House Museum in Mendocino we just have one year and it’s out on public display. I’d guess the voter registrar in Ukiah has stacks of them but I don’t know if theirs are available for the public to inspect.


  1. Laura Cooskey November 13, 2023

    Good insights! The 1890s registers are particularly interesting and valuable because we don’t have 1890 censuses.

  2. George Dorner November 13, 2023

    When I first came to Mendo in 1983, I caretook a ranch on the Mendo/Trinity line. It had been a polling place in the late 19th and early 20th century. The old election records showed that about a third of the local voters were registered Socialists.

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