Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cap’n Rainbow, Roots & Ancestry

Very early in these Anderson Valley stories and reminiscences, I wrote a couple of articles on the subject “what is a hippie anyway?,” which described a broad spectrum of personalities and careers in our community. Last Saturday, at Boonville’s Mosswood restaurant and community center, I did a breakfast interview with a pioneer and perhaps “archetypal” example of the class, Cap’n Rainbow, a/k/a Robert Salisbury. Rainbow is a talented story-teller and theatrician, as much of The Valley knows from his production and direction of the Variety Show, one of the great annual cultural events we’ve enjoyed for 31 years now.

Rainbow was born in 1951, on a 40-acre farm his father had bought where he raised Karakul black carpet wool sheep right after World War II. The farm was located in Chesterfield, Missouri, south of the Missouri River and less than twenty miles west of downtown St. Louis. His father Everett Salisbury was born in 1905 in Elgin, Illinois a small industrial city some 30 miles west of Chicago. The eldest of a local grocer’s four sons, Rainbow’s dad was apparently born with a genetic inclination to escape midwestern middleclass Elgin and find out about the rest of the world. Rainbow’s childhood sheep farm experience motivated his zeal later in life to want to get back to and “live on the land,” and to explore the world along the way.

At the outbreak of World War II, Everett joined the Army Air Corps wanting to be a pilot. Due to his age, however, the Air Corps assigned him to a cargo plane flight logistics management job and posted him, then a major, to manage the American military campaign assisting general Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army fighting the Japanese in China. These tiny two engine repurposed Douglas DC 3s flew armaments and military supplies from India and Burma over the three-mile high Himalaya Mountains into Kunming in Western China, a pretty boring desk job for a pilot-wannabe, Rainbow noted.

Everett and Mary Salisbury on the Missouri Farm, c. 1946.

Rainbow’s mother, Mary Wisham, was born in 1915 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, north of Boston. She was the daughter of father Clarence, a tool and dye maker for the silver tableware industry, and mother Mae, a homemaker. Her grandfather, Darius Eddy was a remarkable self-taught mechanical engineer who in 1847 had designed and patented the pioneer Eddy insulated wooden ice chest refrigerator trimmed in bronze hinges and hasps for domestic use. Mary spent her childhood and early adult years living with her family now removed from Newburyport to Wellesley, a wealthy suburb a few miles west of Boston. Rainbow described Mary as a devoted Unitarian and do-gooder working in the leadership administration of organizations like the International Association for Peace and Freedom.

Rainbow’s father encountered cancer toward the end of the War and was treated for the disease in a military hospital in Colorado. When Everett took a short leave from the VA hospital to visit Manhattan, a Colorado VA nurse introduced him to Mary, working in The City as a volunteer Red Cross nurse at a NY hospital. A few months later, after a whirlwind romance, his parents married and moved to the Chesterfield farm where Rainbow was born. Unhappily the cancer returned to his father and he died in 1956 when Rainbow was five years old. Rainbow’s mother momentarily moved to the St. Louis suburb Webster Grove with Rainbow and his older sister and younger brother, then back to Wellesley to live with her parents. Having grown up on the rural Missouri family farm, the seven year old Rainbow’s reaction to the effete Wellesley community was, he recollects, “suburbia is boring, it has no soul.”

Older sister Sarah, Rainbow in middle, neighbor friend, Lulu Tindall.

Then to double down on this perspective, Rainbow went from two years of public school in Wellesley to matriculate at a precious second-rate private school in Cambridge, Mass., Brown and Nichols, dedicated to the education of the children of Boston’s wealthy elite. The place is still alive today. Rainbow remembers these kids arriving on campus in chauffeured limousines.

Rainbow described his career at Brown and Nichols as having no engagement with classroom affairs, some interest in sports like football and basketball, and a love of music and theatre — and exploration of drugs, specifically marijuana, rock ‘n roll, and girls. His interest in music had begun in Wellesley where he joined a local Unitarian church choir. His acting career also began in Wellesley with a musical version of the Johnny Appleseed myth where Rainbow played the lead role.

In seventh grade at Brown and Nichols, Rainbow took on a small part in the more sophisticated Aristophanes play, “The Birds,” where his small role gave him the opportunity to bomb the audience with the line, “I will fart my way to heaven…” Later B&N theater activities included working with Buckingham, a nearby girls’ school, to stage more contemporary works like Lillian Hellman’s “Little Foxes” and Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma,” where he played a lead character, the “good guy,” Will Parker.

At the end of his Junior year at Brown and Nichols, and by mutual agreement, Rainbow left school, escaped Boston civilization, went “on the road,” and headed for San Francisco where he planned to enroll at San Francisco State College to further his education in music and theater. In our interview session Rainbow described the difference between his interest in sports and the stage: sports are combative with winners and losers; theater is collaborative, people working together to create a piece of art. Everybody wins.

Having found a place to live in Haight/Ashbury near the Park Panhandle, a matriculation problem arose for Rainbow. SFSU required a high school credential. So Rainbow headed for Mission High’s night school where he finished with a diploma and became the graduation day class valedictorian because, he claims, he was the only student who spoke fluent English, the other students being mostly new immigrant Mexican kids and their parents, and a few local Black kids.

Rainbow matriculated at San Francisco State in 1969, the same time I was an adjunct history teacher there. It was a year of campus turmoil with weekly anti-Vietnam war protests and a student strike virtually shutting the campus down in November that year.

As it happens, Rainbow and I participated in the shutdown strike demonstrations the day the school’s president, S.I. Hayakawa, invited the San Francisco police tactical squad, mounted on horses to disperse a crowd of about 500 people, arresting maybe fifty or so, and injuring a lot more, often recreationally hitting them on the head with five foot long truncheons. An exciting day. I enjoyed it because I escaped arrest; Rainbow hated because, he told me, he disliked violent street encounters pursuing political causes.

At any rate, Rainbow lasted only one semester at San Francisco State. It was time to get “on the road again” and have some new adventures.

After leaving San Francisco State in early 1970 he joined a Haight neighbors’ band called “Easter,” where he played the tambourine and sang. Soon after the band assembled its playlist it launched a National Tour which consisted of three gigs but no income. The band’s next attempt at collective survival involved starting a farm-to-table self-supporting commune on a 20-acre farm south of Bellingham, Washington. That communal project’s farm productivity was low enough that many of its members went to work picking apples in the Wenatchee and Yakima valleys to avoid starvation.

The harvest episode also created for Rainbow a domestic tragedy wherein while he was apple-picking his girlfriend abandoned him to take up with one of his best friends at the commune. In mourning he packed up his few belongings, jumped into his 1946 Dodge hand-crank tilt-windshield pick up truck and headed south to find his next Shangri la.

Post-harvest winter found him living at a domestic buffalo ranch in Eatonville near Tacoma. Rainbow described this home as a “loose commune” run by a “lunatic” named Buffalo Don Murphy.

Rainbow turned 18 while at San Francisco State and became eligible for the draft at the height of the Vietnam War. With the assistance of Richard Kossow, whom he had met while back in Wellesley during his Unitarian youth activity days Rainbow filed an affidavit with the local draft board as a conscientious objector. Kossow had migrated to California and was at the university across the bay in Berkeley, and gave his friend guidance in the filing. At the same time Kossow and his wife Ginger were participating in their own form of back-to-the-land affairs, helping plan the curriculum for a rural communal university Richard claimed Rainbow named “Compost College.” Does any reader remember Compost College?

“Compost College” leased the abandoned resort called Bear Wallow outside of Boonville which in 1970 consisted of a kitchen and dining hall surrounded by a couple of plastic-walled lean-tos on a sidehill above Mountain View Road about four miles west of Boonville near Rancheria Creek. Joe Carpenter, a descendant of the early settler Lambert family (after which Boonville’s Lambert Lane is named), leased this small piece of the 1,300 acre family homestead that stretched along the ridge above Mountain View Road almost back to Boonville to the College participants. But by 1972, when Rainbow arrived in Anderson Valley coming south from his adventures in Washington state, Compost College had already closed, its members moved on.

So homeless, with a handful of “leftover” Compost College students Rainbow moved onto a piece of the dead campus, a place called Greengate just east of Rancheria Creek, where he lived in a small cabin he believes to be the original home of the pioneering Lambert family. Once settled at Greengate Rainbow began to do a mental reconnaissance on where his next adventure might take him.

Captain Rainbow at his Boonville Cabin in the 1970s

While we reviewed a rough draft of this story at the Grange Hall breakfast last Sunday, Rainbow reflected on his life-long adventures “searching for what?” Like much of the whole post-World War II generation, he was restless, “on the road,” to find out. “We white, privileged middle class kids had ‘the gall’ to question…well, everything.” In retrospect half a century later Rainbow feels so lucky, he calls it dumb luck, to have made it through those times with his sense of humor and optimism intact. “We were going to save the world through love, peace, revolution, psychedelics being one with Mother Nature, etc., etc., etc., all tempered by ‘experience’.”

Rainbow also reminded me that life “on the road” back in the 60s and 70s wasn’t all a romance. There were frequent encounters with “straight” Americans, including the police, afraid of the “counter-culture,” as it was identified back then, being called out in public as a “dirty, longhair hippie,” etc. Several times he was almost beaten up on the streets, and either managed to talk his way out of combat or to run real fast. “I never did any jail time,” he noted. So just a tad wiser, Rainbow found himself half a century ago in Anderson Valley, but still not sure how long he’d stay.

Next: Rainbow finds his “end of the road” and settles in Anderson Valley.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *