Odd Old News: Sea Lions Eating Cattle and Exploding Mules–The Stories Seem Mighty Tall Around These Parts
Odd Old News has some tales from the coast this week that feature a few prominent names in early Euro-American Shelter Cove and Mattole region histories.
John Ray, and his brother William, came to the Cove around 1863, according to a newspaper account from twenty-five years later. Oral history has him trading a span of oxen for the rights to graze stock at Shelter Cove from the previous rancher there, a subject for a future Odd Old News article. Like many men who arrived in Southern Humboldt in the 1860’s he took a Native partner (Sally), ran stock, developed the wharf, and ran the Humboldt House hotel
John Mackey ran the Petrolia General store which was the social hub of Petrolia, and with his family, accumulated a lot of land along the coast north and south of Point Gorda, and in the Cooskie region. Whether he went on to fight his war with the Steller sea lions is not known, but it is true that sea lions were being killed along the coast for their oil at this time. A mature sea lion could yield up to 300 gallons of oil. In 1879 the Sea Lion Oil Company was engaged in killing sea lions on Sugar Loaf Rock at Cape Mendocino where the lions would emerge from the ocean in large numbers and bask in the sun on a rocky shelf about the base of the rock. Other entrepreneurs harvested Sea Lions for parts desired by the Chinese for medicine.
As all know, fisherman and sea lions are not the best of friends. Since 1876, “war” on sea lions has since been declared more than once along the north coast, and their populations has been reduced to save salmon runs for human use.
Press Democrat, March 9, 1876
Shelter Cove, March 3, 1876. Shelter Cove is one of the finest locations on the coast. It has about 5OO acres of fine tillable land, with 3,000 acres of good grazing land. It is the headquarters for all the south fork of Eel river country, and will be for the Mattole.
Shelter Cove has some of the finest scenery on the coast. Telegraph mountain–1,400 feet high, has one of the finest land slides one ever saw; it is formed at the head of a gulch that runs into the ocean, and is only about a quarter of a mile long. The slide is one-half of a mile wide at the top of the mountain, with perpendicular walls 800 feet high.
Point Gordo is one of the highest and most westerly points along the coast.
Here is situated a large and fine stock ranch, owned by John Mackey, who, by the way, is a very pleasant gentleman. Mr. Mackey had a large number of cattle grazing along the beach, and during the great snowstorm of February 10th quite a number of them took shelter on the beach under a high bluff, opposite Sea Lion Rocks*. The sea lions came out during the night and made a raid on them, forcing them into the water. As the sea was very rough there were a great number of them drowned. Some of the people supposed that the leader had escaped from Woodward’s Gardens as there had been captured a fine lion on these rocks for Woodward. Others thought they had got a taste for beef from cattle that had fallen over the bluffs.
Mr. Mackey declared war on the sea lion family. He has bought him a 28-pound brass cannon, and has ordered four tons of two-ounce bullets, and a kettle that will hold three hundred gallons. He has ordered one thousand barrels to be made, of California material; he has his furnace nearly completed, and he expects to commence a wholesale slaughter of the lion family about the first of June (if some enterprising Assemblyman don’t interfere), as they are the fattest at this season of the year. Some of these lions weigh as high as 2,500 pounds.
“Petroliani” is a thriving town, it has two stores, a hotel, a drinking saloon, a blacksmith shop and a livery stable. Martin, Sanders and John Mackey, have a large, fine store, and keep a good assortment of goods and sell for low prices. Petroliana is located close to the Mattole river, it has a fine farming and shipping country but no shipping point, which makes it inconvenient for the residents, having to pack their goods forty or fifty miles.
As John Ray was bound down the coast to Shelter Cove, with his pack train, on the 15th of February, while going around a windy point during a heavy gale, one of his pack mules, loaded with four hundred pounds of giant powder for parties prospecting a gold quartz ledge that was struck this winter on the south fork of Eel river, she got too close to the bluff and was blown into the sea from the height of eighty feet, as she fell, she struck on a rock, which exploded the powder; the wind was blowing such a fearful gale that it was impossible for Mr. Ray to ascertain the result. The explosion of the powder and the force of the wind caused the rest of the train to make better time for about two miles than Ray had ever known them to make before. Parties visiting the spot next day declared that there was fish enough on the shore to load a schooner; among the rest was a shark of the man-eating species that measured eighteen feet in length.
*The Mattole Lumber Company built a long pier from the mouth of the Mattole into the ocean across Sea Lion Rock in 1908, and the area got its shipping point.
Earlier Odd and Old News:
There are many more, but here are the most recent:
- The East Branch Oil Well Story
- Petrolia’s Ocean House Hotel is Delightfully Described
- The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Humboldt County
- The Third Wave of the 1918 Pandemic in Humboldt County
- The Flu Season in Humboldt County in the Winter of 1919-20
- Mountain Lions Come Too Close
- It’s a Gas–A Look at ‘Oil Springs’ and Fuel ‘Escapes’ in Our Local Area
- Mrs Mills’ Bonnet
- Beware the Calathumpians