By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
Leaving the East Coast and coming to California in search of gold, Greenleaf Curtis first happened upon Del Norte County as a soldier, and later returned as a pioneer.
Curtis left his birthplace of Maine and came to California like many in search of riches. However, while in San Francisco, Curtis joined the California Volunteers and was stationed at Fort Ter-waw near Klamath in 1861.
In his journal which is kept at the Del Norte County Historical Society Curtis noted the Klamath River and its spectacular ecology.
April 29, 1862: "The river is literally alive with small fish that I call smelts. The Indians scoop them out by dozens and barrels and smoke and dry them."
Curtis and his fellow soldiers did not enjoy the Klamath River long, as they were forced to move northward to a newly established base, Camp Lincoln, which was north of Crescent City in the Smith River Valley. Again, Curtis wrote in his journal about the camp, where today the officer's quarters and one of the barracks still remain.
June 23: "The place where the Company is in is christened Camp Lincoln. It is a deserted farm on the reservation. The officers live in the house, the men in tents and the barn. As there is no oven, the baker makes up the dough and the men bake their dough in frying pans, tin plates and on pieces of shingles."
In 1864, Curtis returned to San Francisco and was discharged from his duty in the California Volunteers. He decided to move back to Del Norte in hopes of breaking in to the mining business.
While mining in Crescent City in 1865, the Brother Jonathan a 211-foot steamer collided with the St. George Reef and killed 213 passengers.
Curtis heard a rumor that possibly some of the passengers were still alive clutching to rocks, so he and others decided to row a boat into the ocean waves and search for survivors. However, when he arrived he found, "Nothing but sea lions...very lame, hands blistered...completely done up."
But out of the Brother Jonathan shipwreck came some hope for Curtis at least.
The wreck killed a man, Joseph Lord, who left behind a wife Mary Lord. Curtis would end up marrying Mary in 1872, and having three children; Mary, Mabel and Julia. The last child being the first to be named in the register of births in Del Norte County (not to be mistaken for the first birth in Del Norte County).
Curtis became very active in the Crescent City community and quit mining to become a foreman at the Hobbs, Wall & Company sawmill, which eventually overtook all the local sawmills in the Crescent City. The mill closed its doors in 1939, 19 years after Curtis' death, due to labor unions.