Ride the Eel in 1914

In another piece of old film posted to the YouTube, take a train ride down the main stem Eel River in 1914, going through the tunnels and watching a multitude of railroad workers duck out of the way in days long before Cal-OSHA.

For the Eel River history and ecology buffs, 1914 is well after the Cape Horn Dam was constructed in 1908, but eight years before the Scott Dam was constructed upstream.  Cape Horn only diverted water to the Russian River in the winter months, so this footage should be showing traditional late season flows in the main stem Eel River.

This video was linked in the comments, by “Gunther,” under last week’s 1942 logging video. Thanks to Gunther for this.



  • Very very cool Kym. Thank you

  • Thank you Kelley I really like seeing the history of were I’m living, it always amazes me. Thank you and Kym.

  • So enjoyable! Reading about the Eel River, learning ships used to navigate…cool seeing the River before the diversion of most of the water. 104 years ago….only 20 ish years since rails fell into the Eel…

  • Interesting the river looks like it has more water than we have in the summer… does not look low like I was expecting from how the dam officials speak of our rivers summer flows.

  • Old timer told me in 1914 at the end o summer Main stem Eel river was at least knee deep to a horse. Could you show the pics of the huge Chinook fall run salmon, caught near Cain Rock…. the 64 flood really filled the river bed w/ gravel… Imagine how many indian Village were pushed into the river. The site at Kekawaka was huge and ancient…. mostly all gone. there was a site at almost every creek crossing.All used for fill

  • One of your commenters posted this on a previous post:
    “In addition to the reduced flow of the main Eel from the dam building, RR construction had a largely unknown but significant impact on the river. As Ray Mathison shared in The History of Alderpoint: “As they started building along the river, everything was pushed over the bank into the river. This was the beginning of the destruction of the river. Also the beginning of the end of the big salmon runs. By the time the railroad was completed in 1914, a tremendous amount of material had been pushed into the Eel River. A lot of this Eel River canyon had big landslides. When the railroad was built this started the landslides moving. These were also shoved into the river. Then they blew out the falls near Kikawaka slide. This, over a period of years, let a lot of mountain slide into the river.
    Most of this material was put into the Eel River in the wintertime when the river was high, and it got carried down river. It was not many years before the river started to fill in and it wasn’t many years before the ships could no longer run up river as far as Scotia.
    All of this….plus a few dry years in the early thirties caused the big salmon to congregate in the lower part of the Eel River. There were so many of them and with the water being so low, they ran out of oxygen and died by the thousands….”
    Mr. Mathieson describes how when he moved back to Alderpoint in 1940, the largest salmon were gone. Fall runs still brought a salmon run but no more of the six-footers. Fall rains came later and later, the railroad now had bulldozers and shoved material over the banks faster, filling a lot of the big holes, particularly in the lowest part of the river.
    Despite warnings about the RR being placed below the historic flood levels of 1885, 1909, and 1935, RR equipment was left on the tracks and the floods of 1955 and 1964 did a lot of damage.
    “After the 1964 flood when they built the RR back they blew most of the big rocks out of the river (I’ll never understand why) completely ruining most of the fishing holes.
    The holes that are left have been filled to where they are only about 1/3 of the original size.” (as of 1998) “I have a picture of one of these holes taken in 1913; it had three big rocks. Now it has none and is completely in ruins. This was a hole where salmon and steelhead used to school up and rest before going on up the river” He goes on to report casual use of bulldozers by unsupervised RR workers and a look the other way attitude by Fish and Game men: ” I asked the Fish and Game men in 1975 why they allowed this river to be destroyed, they claimed to know nothing about it, and I told them they surely did know. That ended the conversation.” pp. 59-61”

    Excuse the repeat, please.

  • It is so nice seeing video not filmed in portrait mode…
    if it was filmed today, it would look like this:

  • Very nice. Thank you.

  • Just over 100 years ago. Wow, what a difference. In the footage from the canyon the river bed looks to be almost all boulders. Now there are few boulders and huge bars of cobbles, gravel, and sand. Amazing and sad to know that 100 years further back the Eel supported enormous fish runs, complete with grizzly bears, and indigenous people living in harmony with nature. All gone to line the pockets of fat takers.

  • I wish we could have a railroad again. It’d be great to have a way to get goods and people to and from in a more ecological and common sense way. This attitude of ‘it can’t be done’ is ridiculous. We can and we should- the fact is that the economy around here is going south fast. A lot of people who haven’t been here for awhile come back and mention how much worse it has gotten- economically and socially.
    Too bad the enviros are against it. It seems to me the most efficient and ecological way to move people and stuff. Better than an airport or highways. That’s my opinion!

    • There is another way Emily. The cheapest way to transport goods to a remote location like Humboldt is by small feeder container ships. These smaller ships bring the goods from the larger container ports, like Oakland. They have less depth requirements than large ships, and thus require none or less of the dredging required for the large vessels. Cost per mile is less than a railroad, which is in turn less that by truck.

      Humboldt has a deepwater port, which is not used much. Kind of short sighted but there it is.

      • I agree with you John. The railway is dead and is nothing but a huge money pit. With all its use it was barely profitable in all its existence. It was the most expensive railway to maintain in all of the US when it was in use. Utilizing Humboldt’s port is definitely what needs to happen, for transportation, goods, and tourism. The idea that the state is going to re-open the railway and install a rail trail is a pipe dream. So many sections of the RR have fallen away into the river it would take numerous large heavy equipment and earth moving projects just to get a grade to install a level trail. Otherwise, the only cheap option would be to remove the tracks and clear the trees where possible, using the existing gravel as the trail. When you come to a landslide area where the tracks and grade are gone completely, or covered up, you would then build single file trails, like a backpacking trail. I still like the idea of rail-banking the RR but I feel like if it isn’t done on the cheap, without heavy equipment, it is nothing but a political tool to get re-elected and make local representatives look like they are actually doing anything.

    • Fact: trains have a lower carbon footprint than cars or planes. Some “enviros” are dumb.

    • [edit]Take a geology course

  • Humboldt Historian

    There is a book titled Habitat of the Wailaki available online in PDF format, this book lists with site descriptions all the Villages in the Island Mountain portion of the Eel River, it was put together by University of California in the 1920’s by taking 70 year old indians into the back country of So Hum , Northern Mendo and South Eastern Trinity to learn the place names, village names and stories of this back country. It is exceptional in every way, including village locations and villages on the North Fork as well as main stem of the Eel River. It also includes maps. The entire section of river had Wailaki villages on every bend and curve of the river with literally thousands of inhabitants which would later be the target of genocide and extermination by Volunteer Companies of 20-40 “ad-sals” or better known as white men. I have the links to this book if anyone is interested in the real history of our area.

  • A respectful "ad-sal"

    Maybe references to locations of ancient Wilaki and other tribal village sites should be held confidentially, or at least not broadcast to the public. Looting, collecting, desecration, and vandalism of American Indian village sites is rampant and especially in the Eel River canyon and other remote and private lands in our county..

    Recently came across a woman at the Arcata Farmers Market displaying artifacts she said she dug herself and in a very remote are of the county that no one had ever been to before. I commented that the Indians had obviously been there. You all know what happened to those cultures during the California genocide Their artifacts, which persist on the landscape today, are the tangible aspects of that deep past and abrupt ending. They still belong to the indigenous peoples. What if you were visiting Aushwitz, and found a gold ring in the dirt at the location where the trains made the Jewish victims undress. Would you collect it and put it on display on your mantel or wear it as a pendent on a necklace?

    I encourage anyone interested in collecting Indian artifacts from private or public lands to read and watch the following video. Looters are not always the neighborhood tweekers. Although there was very little prosecution of the perpetrators, three of the many that were arrested paid the ultimate cost.


    • Thank you!

    • Interesting thought.

      What If by some chance you could go back in time, and warn the native American people, that the immigration of “white folks” would mean the end of their respective cultures. They might look at the white folk as one of sea going traders groups who came and went, but always left.
      Looking back, is there any lesson to be learned from the forced mixing of cultures and the inevitable decimation of the less favored one?.
      If you want to keep repeating history, as the scholars say, then continue to ignore the hard learned lessons of the past.

    • The Bundy gang stumbled upon rat feces infested boxes of arrowheads and other artifacts during their cleaning of one of the main BLM storage garages in Oregon. (Malheur or however it’s spelled). They reported them to the local Natives, but they refused to get involved. They didn’t care to get them back.

  • It’s clear there was zero regard for the environment back then.

  • So much of past Eel River and RR times.

    Even tho there’s the sad tinge in Go West Young Man! -and the looting of origines artifacts in Utah, with the resulting trial and extra-sad suicide of Dr. Redd, i appreciate the history presented in such a professional manner.

    Thanks to above posters one-in-all.

    You can’t beat free speech -that’s why its the First Article in the Bill of Rights – ratified and functioning as of December 15, 1791.

    ~thank you Kym.

  • Dismayed by the devastation created

    The devastation of the land around the railroad… wow. No regard for anything except building that railroad. There were a few places in the film that revealed clear cutting, too. It almost hurt to see how much damage was done to build something that didn’t last very long. And the damage is permanent. So sad.

  • I can’t find a resource to purchase the book: The History of Alderpoint. Any suggestions?

    • Bill- sorry for the slow response… I imagine that it is out of print… I have seen a copy at the Garberville library and would think/hope that the county library or Historical society would have copies.

      • “Ray and Louise Mathison published 500 copies of their book, “The History of Alderpoint.” It cost them $4,000 for 500 copies.”
        I would imagine a copy would be hard to find. but the NCJ 11-12-98 has a lengthy summary of it.

  • I remember riding the passenger train from Island Mountain to Eureka back in the 1960’s. I counted 270+ deer until it got too dark to see, somewhere around South Fork.

  • THANk YOU; For the posting of the flm and all;

    I am an OLD SHIVELY RESident arriving there in 1940, when the RAILROAD was in full swing.
    Rode the train many times forth and back to Eureka, and further South to Island Mtn. and beyond
    for our Buck Hunting expeditions .

    WE knew the NWP R/R Dispatcher, with him being our neighbor in Shively so we had privileges for
    transportation forth & back. WE thought those days would last forever, without appreciating it back
    then as we should have. BEING an old DUFFER now, and after having had some consruction experienceI I
    can certainly appreciate this monumental effort back in that early day.

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