The first sawmill in Del Norte County was established in 1853 in a gulch near the intersection of Third and C Streets in Crescent City. The machinery shipped from Pomona and it was F. E. Watson who built and operated it for R. F. Knox & Co. of San Francisco.
Much of the lumber was hauled over Howland Hill from Mill Creek. To transport the logs, loggers used “two large wheels about twelve feet in diameter, with an axle between and a long tongue, on which the logs were loaded, and partly dragged and wheeled by oxen.”
The mill was enlarged and relocated in 1855 to the corner of G and 7th Streets. It was destroyed by fire in 1856, and some of the equipment was salvaged by a Mr. Kingsland who used to build a small mill on Elk Creek.
Meanwhile, W. Bayse built a water-powered mill on Mill Creek. And while the road over Howland Hill was improved, the cost of transportation was too high and Bayse soon went bankrupt.
Finally, a horse-powered mill operated briefly near where the Elk Valley Mill subsequently stood. It was not considered a good investment and soon shut down.
There was also small sawmill at the Waukell Agency on the Klamath in 1859, but its production was reserved for the government. Jus’ a few miles away, after all, was Fort Ter-Waw which housed Company B, 4th Infantry, U.S. Army.
But it was further north, where A. M. Smith built his mill on Smith River, where it was later spanned by the bridge built by the Crescent City & Smith River Railroad. The Fairbanks Brothers also opened a small mill near Smith River Corners. Later, N. O. Armington became interested in this undertaking and a grist mill was added.
It is in the Smith River area where a number of clashes took place between settlers and indigenous peoples — namely the Tolowa. Generally, speaking, the Tolowa came out on the losing end of these battles.
Historian A. J. Bledsoe recounts in his book, “The History of Del Norte County,” about 50 Indian settlements were destroyed along the Smith River between 1855 and 1863. However, recent archaeological evidence shows his figures were off as much as 100 settlements.
He has been criticised for misrepresenting the figure — but it must be pointed out, many of the 100 settlements not listed were not know about at the time. In fact it wasn’t until the early 20th Century that archeologist rediscovered many of these places.
What’s also from missing from Bledsoe’s account are references to paying for Indian scalps. But a semi-annual Statement of Audit printed in the Crescent City News, February 16, 1894, shows the county paid out $50.20 in 1893 for bounty on scalps.
Then there’s the letter L. F. Cooper, who had served as a Del Norte county board supervisor as well as district attorney, sent his son August 26, 1895. In it he told him not to bring any scalps to Del Norte County as the county was no longer paying for scalps taken in Siskiyou County.
In fairness to Bledsoe though, his recollection is missing this information because the book he authored was printed in 1881.