CULTURAL RESOURCES OVERVIEW
Written by DPR staff
The information contained in this overview is to provide a general summary of cultural resources. Owing to its vast size and the fact that surveys of the park's cultural resources are incomplete, there is still much to be learned about the human history and prehistory of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This body of information will grow as future survey work is completed.
Most of what is known about the Lolangkok Sinkyone came from the late George Burt, who was one of the few surviving members of this tribe and one of the last to live and work in the area. In 1922, Burt provided linguist C. Hart Merriam with tribal place names, stories, and other information about Sinkyone culture.
Lolangkok Sinkyone people inhabited the lower reaches of the South Fork of the Eel River. They controlled all of the South Fork, except for its headwaters. They spoke one of the many Native American Athabascan languages. Prior to Euroamerican contact, as many as 2,000 Lolangkoks lived in approximately 15 independent villages along the South Fork and another located near the confluence of Bull and Cuneo creeks. The Sinkyone had political loyalty only to their own village and were linked to others in the watershed of the South Fork solely by their dialect.
The Lolangkok Sinkyone who occupied the Bull Creek watershed moved seasonally, following food supplies similar to those of other northwestern California tribes. They were primarily dependent on the acorn, with tanoak being their favorite. In the summer they dwelt on open mountainsides and various hillside prairies where they successfully hunted small game such as rabbits, gophers, other rodents, and birds more commonly than deer or elk. They probably snared or drove deer with dogs rather than shooting them with arrows. Vegetable food consisted of bulbs and grass seeds from the open prairies and berries, which they picked all summer.
After the first rains caused the South Fork to begin rising, they came down to fish. The smaller streams were better for taking salmon, which they caught with nets and harpoons, because the water was usually too high on the South Fork. They constructed dugout vessels from single logs to use on large streams, similar to the canoes used by the indigenous peoples of British Columbia and Alaska. The South Fork was the farthest south that this type of craft was used. They spent most of the winter at permanent home villages on Bull Creek.
Similar to most tribes of northwestern California, wealth was a very important part of the culture and had many purposes. The Sinkyone used dentalia shells for their standard currency.
The first Europeans to see the South Fork and Bull Creek Flats were members of an exploration party led by Josiah Gregg seeking a direct route to San Francisco from the Eureka area in 1849. Following the Gregg party reports, settlers began arriving on the northern California coast in 1850. The incoming Euroamericans viewed the Native Americans as impediments to their "manifest destiny." This created a serious conflict between resident Native Americans and the land-hungry settlers.
The Sinkyone were not prepared for dealing with these unfamiliar aggressors. The traditional Sinkyone manner of settling disputes through ceremony and payment could not match the deadly intent of the settlers. So alien were the immigrants to the Indians' experience that the Indians did not even consider the new arrivals human, but referred to them as "Kyoi," which means "spirit."
In 1851, the United States Government sent Redick McKee, newly appointed Indian commissioner, to Humboldt County. He arrived with a military escort empowered to remove Native Americans from lands desired by the settlers. The ensuing war was comprised mainly of settler raids on Indian lands and Native American raids on remote homesteads. In 1852, an Army post was established at Fort Humboldt in Eureka to protect new settlements. By the 1860s, the indigenous cultures in the South Fork Eel River region had been virtually destroyed. The surviving Sinkyone people were forced to move onto reservations or rancherias at Hoopa and Round Valley. In 1910, only 100 Lolangkok Sinkyone were estimated still to be living, and by the 1920s, their numbers were so few that a census was not possible.
George Burt was a fortunate survivor. He was born in a Sinkyone village on Bull Creek about 1850. While still a child, he was taken from his birthplace to the Smith River Reservation in Del Norte County and later moved to the reservation in Hoopa. By 1905, he had returned to his homeland, having obtained a homestead on Cuneo Creek near his birthplace. In the 1920s, he shared knowledge of his heritage with C. Hart Merriam.
Euroamerican settlers came to the South Fork area in greater numbers during the 1860s as the Homestead Act of 1862 offered farmers and ranchers the opportunity to acquire inexpensive property. The settlers generally established small agricultural communities. They avoided the tall redwood trees, seeking the natural clearings and meadows they could easily cultivate. One of the first settlers was Jesse Whitlow, who acquired a homestead in the mid-1860s near the confluence of the South Fork and the main stem of the Eel River. A few years later, Elias and Sarah Myers settled onto a farm south of Dyerville. They started an orchard and eventually founded the town of Myers Flat.
By 1870, almost 300 new settlers resided in the southeastern part of Humboldt County. Early arrivals included John W. Logan and his family, who settled in the 1870s near land that later became Miranda. Tosaldo and Addie Johnson arrived at around the same time and established a homestead above Bull Creek. Another early settler was James Carothers, who was granted a homestead patent in the late 1870s near the current park headquarters. By the 1890s, most of the region was homesteaded. Early farmers raised hogs, sheep, and cattle and harvested apples, pears, plums, and nuts from their orchards. They shipped their produce from Dyerville to the mouth of the Eel River and then down the coast to San Francisco.
Logging occurred in the South Fork and Bull Creek watersheds from the time of first settlement. Settlers cleared land for agriculture, cut trees for railroad ties, grapestakes, fence posts, and shingle bolts. They stripped tanbark oak trees of their bark to extract tannin for leather curing. However, logging did not become important in the region's economy until after improvements in transportation, such as the completion of the Northwest Pacific Railroad and the Redwood Highway, during World War I. The Redwood Highway replaced an earlier wagon road along the South Fork around 1915.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the original two-lane Redwood Highway was supplanted by Highway 101 through the eastern part of the park. The old segment of the Redwood Highway that passed through much of the park was officially redesignated as State Route 254. It became the park's main transportation artery and was better known to the public as the Avenue of the Giants.
Completion of the Redwood Highway made Humboldt County much more accessible to the motoring public. It also contributed to the preservation of old growth redwood trees by making it possible for many tourists to see the beautiful groves and become aware of threats to them. In 1917, a group of biologists and businessmen set out from San Francisco in search of an impressive grove of redwoods they had heard about. What they found was Bull Creek Flats. Here, they saw widespread destruction of the forest by logging and discovered that not one tree was owned and protected by either the state or federal government.
For the next two years, they worked to obtain state government protection for the Bull Creek area with little success. They enlisted the help of other well-known conservationists and, in 1919, organized the Save-the-Redwoods League. The group also secured aid from the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce, which launched a funding drive for a proposed redwood park. At the same time, a group of Humboldt County women formed their own local Save-the-Redwoods League.
In 1921, the State Legislature passed a $300,000 appropriation to purchase redwoods in Humboldt County. That same year, the Save-the-Redwoods League purchased 2,000 acres of redwoods along the South Fork of the Eel River, the first step in the formation of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Also in 1921, the park's first memorial grove, Bolling Grove, was dedicated. The money to buy the grove was donated by the family of Colonel Raynel C. Bolling, the first American officer of high rank to be killed in World War I.
Following this early success, the Save-the-Redwoods League began enrolling members and collecting donations. Humboldt County contributed $55,000, which was matched by a state subsidy. Additional old growth redwood groves were acquired along the Redwood Highway, and on June 16, 1922, Humboldt Redwoods State Park opened to the public.
From this beginning, the League next turned its efforts to acquiring the great groves of redwoods in the Dyerville and Bull Creek flats. Laura Mahan, president of the Humboldt Women's Save-the-Redwoods League, and her husband, James, were instrumental in accomplishing this feat. In 1924, the Mahans heard that Pacific Lumber Company was logging in Dyerville Flats. Their efforts enlisted the public support from throughout Humboldt County, the state of California, and the nation that was needed to preserve the ancient trees.
||In the years that followed, major funding for purchase of groves came from the
National Federation of Women's Clubs and prominent San Francisco bankers. In 1926, John D.
Rockefeller, Jr. donated $1,000,000 to Save-the-Redwoods, initially requiring that his
gift remain confidential. Following passage of the 1928 State Park Bond Act, he offered
another $1,000,000 if it could be matched. In 1931, the Dyerville Flats and Bull Creek
flats redwoods were successfully acquired with these funds, creating what has become the
heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided the muscle and expertise behind the early development of the park. Their first camp was established at Dyerville in 1933. The CCC worked throughout the park constructing buildings, campgrounds, day use picnic facilities, roads, trails, parking areas, restrooms, washhouses, and water supply systems.
In December, 1937, a flood washed out most of the land upon which the Dyerville camp stood. The camp subsequently was moved to Burlington. However, park headquarters remained at Dyerville until after the devastating flood of 1955, when it was relocated to Burlington. The CCC program officially came to an end in 1942, after many of its members joined the armed forces when the United States entered World War II.
Flooding has had a major impact on the natural and cultural histories and on the economic development of the South Fork and Bull Creek watersheds. Major flood events in 1937, 1955, and the most catastrophic in 1964, reshaped the region's topography, destroyed residences and towns, and caused park facilities to be abandoned, rebuilt, or relocated. The Bull Creek watershed was the last major acquisition for the park in 1962. Just two years later, the park's largest single flood event occurred. The water rose 30 feet above ground level at the town of Weott. Most of the communities along the South Fork were virtually destroyed and have never fully recovered. The extensive commercial logging that had occurred in the upper Bull Creek watershed following World War II exacerbated the problems. Denuded slopes dumped sediments into both Bull Creek and the Eel River. Logs broke free from lumber millponds and created river logjams that raised water levels even higher. Now that the Bull Creek watershed is protected within the park, efforts to rehabilitate damage due to earlier erosion are in progress.
Today, between federal and state ownership, over 250,000 acres of coast redwood land is protected in California. However, the vast majority of redwood acreage, including a few remaining uncut stands of old growth, still belongs to large timber companies.
PREHISTORIC ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES
Flooding may have washed away or deeply buried the remains of Lolangkok Sinkyone villages located along the South Fork and Bull Creek. However, some prehistoric sites have been identified in and around the park, and isolated artifacts have been found. Owing to its size, the majority of Humboldt Redwoods State Park has not been surveyed for cultural resources.
Hundreds of historic sites, including homesteads, historic orchards, roads, trails, and barely discernable foundations exist within the park. As with prehistoric resources, more investigation is needed to identify all of the historic resources in the unit.