From Hoopa: Stories, Legends and Other Things

A mule train. Mule trains took at least two days to reach the Hoopa Valley from Arcata.


For those of us that have lived in this valley most of our lives, the beautifully rugged terrain that we see every day is a very common sight. With the floor of the valley at three hundred feet sea level guiding an ice cold emerald colored river and the mountains that abruptly  rise sharply three, four and five thousand feet in height; it is truly a magnificent place.

For thousands of years our rugged terrain and remoteness has protected us in many different ways. One of the reasons large scale battles between neighboring tribes never occurred in the old times was difficulties in transporting large groups of warriors over high mountain passes during severe weather. Although warfare was very rare between Northwestern California tribes, if it did occur it was mainly over depleted resources causing hunger and starvation, and that would happen during the winter months.

Our rugged terrain and remoteness also kept out other intruders with evil intentions as well. For over four hundred and fifty years after Columbus landed, we managed to avoid detection from those kinds of people. Other tribes in the country were not so lucky, and after hundreds of years of contact with Europeans, most tribes our size became extinct.

But once outsiders arrived into our area during the early 1850’s, it quickly became desperate times. But because of our rugged terrain, it prevented the “mountaineer volunteers” and U.S. soldiers from using their most effective war time component; the horse. The Indians who at first were without horses would have suffered greatly going up against the Calvary. If we were located in open terrain, the results would have been disastrous for our forefathers, much like what occurred in the Sacramento valley around Fort Redding and Fort Bidwell where many of the people were decimated by the Calvary.

It wasn’t until about thirty years after our reservation was established that the Hupa began to realize some of the negative effects of being so remote and isolated. Although not completely successful, the U.S. government policies of forced assimilation did have some effect on the Hupa during those early years of reservation life, and dependency on supplies from the outside became more and more prevalent as time passed. It was also becoming apparent for those Hupa farmers and ranchers that needed to get their produce and beef to the market on the coast would also depend on better transportation of freight.

During those early years, the only mode of transporting freight into the reservation from the coast was by mule trains. Before and right after the turn of the twentieth century my grandfather worked with his father in packing freight and mail from Arcata into Hoopa and Orleans. He said that they “ran between twenty five to thirty mules and it took them at least two days to come out from Arcata.”

A couple of very interesting stories about the mode of transportation into the reservation during the early part of the twentieth century was found in the Eureka daily newspaper the Standard dated January 27, 1961. The article was conducted with Ernest Marshall, Sr. upon his retirement as Postmaster from the Hoopa Post Office.

In the article, Mr. Marshall who was born in Hoopa in March of 1897 recalled how mail was delivered to the Hoopa Post Office during those early days. “In those days the Post Office was located in the old Brizard Store not far from Supply Creek between the Agency building and the Indian Hospital. Employees coming to the isolation of Hoopa from the East were always anxious for mail as their tenure was usually at least one year.”

He recalled that it was “standing room only on the front porch of the small building waiting for the ‘Steamer Mail’. All eagerly awaiting news from home and the San Francisco papers fresh from the steamer ‘The City of Topeka’ after putting in at Humboldt Bay.”

Mr. Marshall went on to tell how “in the waiting crowd someone would shout, ‘here he comes’ and out of the pitch black night would ride Ike Denny, up on Old Jack and leading Rondo, the pack mule. Soon the singing of the ropes over the canvas could be heard as the diamond hitch was released and the roaring voice of Ike as he shouted ‘get off the rope Rondo!”

In the same article, Mr. Marshall also recounted how he was fortunate to have ridden in the first automobile to arrive in the Hoopa Valley “The owner of the automobile was Mrs. Tomas Bair. She would come to the school and pick up ten boys at a time and take them on a circular route back to the school. She would go up the old County Road (Bair Road) go over to Angel Ranch, Bald Mountain, Redwood Creek and up over Rocky Point, down Three Creeks, up over Gopher Camp, going down from there into Willow Creek. To get back to Hoopa they climbed up Brannen Mountain only to go down again into Hoopa Valley. All in one day! This was an astounding feat to the residents when a round trip over the same route by freight wagon took five days.”

In relationship to this story, my grandfather told me that the first automobile came to Hoopa in 1912, and it was a Packard. So Mrs. Bair must have been driving a Packard automobile. What a ride that must have been!

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January 29th, 2014

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