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Updated 4:23pm - Sep 16, 2014

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Smith River's earliest pioneers

A stagecoach operated in Smith River; it's shown here circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of National Park Services).
A stagecoach operated in Smith River; it's shown here circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of National Park Services).

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

Smith River got its start in the , shortly after Crescent City was founded.

The first white settlers in Smith River Valley were a man named Domini, who lived near Domini Creek, a man named Davis, and James and Daniel Haight, a father and son, who arrived in the area in 1853, according to Grace Hight, who wrote the booklet "Early Days of Smith River" during the mid-20th century. She summarized the booklet during an address to the Smith River Women's Club given Sept. 3, 1948.

Another old family was the McVays, pioneers who crossed the Great Plains and settled in Smith River and the Chetco Valley, she told her audience.

The oldest home in Smith River in 1948 was owned by Agnes Maris. It was built in 1867 by Joe McVay for his bride. Next to the home were black walnut and butternut trees, and a fuschia, planted 60 years before by Lizzie Hargraves, bloomed next to the door.

The home was first owned by Daniel Haight. From him it passed to Henry Westbrook.

A building then known as the Old Hotel originally stood on a corner by the creamery's willow tree, and had housed the town's first Post Office.

The willow tree had been planted 70 years before by Walter Brookings, Hight said. He had stuck a willow switch, which he'd cut to encourage his pony to trot a little faster, into the ground, where it rooted and grew.

Hight told her audience that she was especially fond of Smith River's Village Cemetery, where the "real pioneers" were buried: Hulda Tryon in 1863, Laura Tryon, born in 1797.

The graves of Mary and Henry Blake are also in Village Cemetery. Mary's father and three brothers were killed by Indians when she was 13, and she, her mother and baby sister were taken prisoner.

The mother found out her child was alive when an American Indian woman told her that she was taking care of the daughter.

Mother and daughters were later reunited and returned to their community through negotiations conducted by Charles Brown and his Indian wife, Betsy.

A part of the cemetery that was called "new" in 1948 had originally been the school yard

Hight remembered a Chinese man, "Old Dock," who she said refused to leave when the Chinese were ordered out of the county. He went instead to a place called Lone Ranch and lived with two people called Nettie and Lollie, who later moved to a site called the Rigg Place with the Chinese man.

Until he came to the Smith River area, he had worn his hair in a queue since he was born in 1850.

Besides face-to-face memories of pioneers, Hight remembered an "Old Fishery" built by August Ulrich, who escaped from Germany at age 14 and worked on ships before moving to Smith River in 1876.

She also told about how local preacher Rev. Jeffries organized the Methodist Church in Del Norte County in 1880, and that its pews were hand-hewn.

Hight regaled her women's club audience by telling them of her voyage to Del Norte County from San Francisco, describing it as 36 "seasick hours."

 


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