Historic Humboldt Bay

Historic image gallery

The history of Humboldt County is a rich tale with a varied heritage. From Native Americans to immigrants, from Spaniards to settlers, the County's early foundations remain evident in its architecture, people and mix of cultural offerings. Aside from its majestic ancient coastal redwoods, Humboldt County's first residents hailed from the Yurok, Karuk, Wiyot, Chilula, Whilkut and Hupa Indian tribes, among others. These people, who settled on the Pacific coast and along the banks of the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, were the first to discover the area's now renowned salmon and trout fishing, and rich farmlands. These tribes also developed fine artistic skills in woodworking, stone working, and basketry, setting the stage for Humboldt County's current thriving art colony. However, this hidden idyll soon was discovered by others eager to share in its bounty.

As early as the 15th century, explorers such as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake began to sail along the County's coastline, observing landmarks and harbors and searching for a mythical cross-continental passage. It wasn't until 1775 that a Spanish vessel, captained by Juan Francisco de Bodega, would brave the unpredictable winds and rocky shoreline to land at Patrick's Point in Trinidad. Bodega and his men left a crude cross on Trinidad Head to signify their claiming of the country for the King of Spain. In the late 1700s, Trinidad bay served as a port for fur trading and Chinese trade expeditions. Among the ships that anchored there was the first American ship to land on the Humboldt coast, the Leila Byrd. All the while, captains and their crews, seeking greater access to land trade routes, searched in vain for other sheltered ports.

Humboldt Bay was finally "discovered" in 1806 by an exploration party from the O'Cain - a vessel jointly commissioned by the Winship brothers from Boston and the Russian-American Fur Company. However, the O'Cain's mission to hunt sea otters soon ended and the ship sailed out of Humboldt Bay, with no one on board documenting the bay's location on a map. The location of the bay's entrance, hidden among rocky cliffs and sand dunes, once again became a mystery!

The search for Humboldt Bay was renewed during the early years of the California Gold Rush. The discovery of gold in the Trinity region of Northern California in 1848 caused a population explosion in Humboldt County. The explorers, traders and trappers, who had come seeking adventure and wealth, now gave way to miners seeking gold and settlers anxious to claim the rich farmlands. Companies that supplied interior mining settlements began looking for coastal supply ports as alternatives to the slow and expensive overland Sacramento Valley route then in use.

Dr. Josiah Gregg, a supply company merchant, and his party traveled west on foot from the Trinity mines and found Humboldt Bay on December 20, 1849. The next year, a dozen expeditions were mounted from San Francisco to search for the port at Humboldt Bay. On April 9, 1850, the Laura Virginia, captained by Douglas Ottinger, found the entrance to the Bay. A small boat was launched and sailed into the harbor by First Mate H.H. Buhne. These founders christened the Bay "Humboldt" after the popular naturalist and author Baron Alexander von Humboldt. Four days later, Warnersville, the County's first town, was established on Trinidad Bay. The founding of Humboldt City, and the towns of Union (now Arcata) and Eureka soon followed.

The establishment of these settlements gave rise to hostile relations between the settlers and Native Americans. Small-scale skirmishes gave way to larger engagements, ultimately leading to the building and equipping of Fort Humboldt in 1853. Several famous generals of the Civil War, including Ulysses S. Grant, served at the Fort.

However, not everyone in Humboldt County was a miner or a soldier; other commercial trades were developed during this period including farming, shipping, shipbuilding, fishing and the brewing of steam beer. Logging and the lumber trade soon dominated the area because of the plentiful supply of timber and the great demand for lumber in San Francisco. When Eureka's charter was granted in 1856, the city boasted seven sawmills that produced two million board feet of lumber every month.

Whether hiking among ancient redwoods, marveling at Indian basketry in a local tribal museum, casting a fishing line into the Klamath River or touring a working lumber mill, visitors to Humboldt County will experience the rich legacy of California's historic and colorful past.

With thanks for this brief history to
The California Institute For Rural Health Management (CIRHM)
Wikipedia History of Eureka, California