Fort Humboldt State Historic Park: Wikis


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Fort Humboldt State Historic Park
Location Humboldt County, California, USA
Nearest city Eureka, California
Coordinates 40°46′37″N 124°11′20″W / 40.77690°N 124.18895°W / 40.77690; -124.18895Coordinates: 40°46′37″N 124°11′20″W / 40.77690°N 124.18895°W / 40.77690; -124.18895
Established 1955
Governing body California State Parks

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park, is a California State Park located in the southern portion of the city of Eureka, California, just off U.S. Route 101. The North Coast regional headquarters of the California State Parks is located onsite.




Early Years, 1853–1860

With the discovery of gold in the Trinity River in Trinity County, California in May 1849, the stage was set for conflict between the Native Americans who lived in northwestern California and the settlers and gold seekers that flooded into the region. Northern California tribes such as the Yurok, Karuk, Wiyot, and Hupa put up heavy resistance which would require serious attention from the U.S. Army.

Fort Humboldt was established on January 30, 1853 by the Army as a buffer between Native Americans, gold-seekers and settlers. It was founded by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Buchanan of the U.S. 4th Infantry Regiment. Like Buchanan, many of the soldiers of this unit were veterans of the Mexican-American War. It was placed on a bluff overlooking Humboldt Bay and Buck's Port, named after David Buck, a member of the Josiah Gregg exploration party. Fort Humboldt’s location was chosen because of its strategic location overlooking the bay and to provide the only source of supply to the isolated and scattered areas of the region.

In addition to serving to protect the local inhabitants, it was also a supply depot for posts around the California and Oregon borders such as Fort Gaston in Hoopa and Fort Bragg in northern Mendocino County.

At its peak, the fort had 14 buildings all of crude plank construction. The fort was laid-out in a typical military design with a quad at the center of the post which served as its parade grounds. Along with the two buildings that served as barracks for the enlisted men, there were quarters for the officers, an office, a hospital, a bakery, a storehouse/commissary, a guardhouse, a blacksmith's shop, and a stable.

The period between the fort’s establishment and the beginning of the Civil War was marked by many skirmishes between the settlers and the local tribes. One of the first major conflicts was the so-called Red Cap War, fought in the area around present-day Weitchpec and Orleans. Soldiers from Fort Humboldt were called into action to bring calm back to the area during this conflict. The leaders and soldiers of the fort were often critisized by settlers who sought a more violent response to Indian attacks.

The infamous Indian Island Massacre of the Wiyot people occurred at the end of this period on February 25, 1860. The fort's commander at this time, Major Gabriel J. Rains, reported to his commanding officer that "Captain Wright's Company [of vigilantes] held a meeting at Eel River and resolved to kill every peaceable Indian - man, woman, and child" (Major Rains was quoted by authors Lynwood Carranco and Estle Beard in their book Genocide and Vendetta: The Round Valley Wars of Northern California, page 129-130).

The 1860 U.S. census provides us with an interesting snapshot of life on the fort. Among its residents that year were Major Rains, his wife Mary, and their six children (including 2 daughters age 19 and 16). Also living at the fort were Captain Charles Lovell, his wife Margeret, and their four children; Lieutenant Alex Johnson, his wife Elizabeth, and their four children; Lieutenant James Dodwell, his wife Johanna, and their two children; and Lieutenant Edward Johnson, his wife Christiana, and their two children. The fort's physician Lafayette Guild and his wife Martha occupied the Surgeon's Quarters. In the barracks were 47 soldiers, all apperantly living without their spouses.

Among the many well known soldiers who served at the fort was a young captain, Ulysses S. Grant, who was there for five months in 1854. Charles S. Lovell would be promoted to major and commanded a brigade during the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Robert C. Buchanan became a general during the Civil War. Other famous Civil War generals, George Crook and Lewis C. Hunt served here during this period. Gabriel J. Rains would become a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Dr. Lafayette Guild would go on to serve directly under General Robert E. Lee as the Medical Director for the Army of Northern Virginia for all its major campaigns.

Civil War Years, 1861–1865

By the summer of 1861 the American Civil War was well underway and the resulting national conflict would bring major changes to Fort Humboldt. Federal soldiers were recalled to eastern battlefields and were replaced by units of the California Volunteers. These volunteers were drawn from local settlers who inaugurated a hard-line and violent policy toward the Native peoples.

During the Civil War, Fort Humboldt was the headquarters of the District of Humboldt (also termed the Humboldt Military District), which was part of the Department of the Pacific. The District's posts included Fort Bragg and Fort Wright in northern Mendocino County, and extending north through Humboldt County to Fort Gaston in Hoopa and Fort Ter-Wer in Klamath all the way to Camp Lincoln near Crescent City. Other posts included Camp Curtis (in Arcata), Camp Iaqua, Fort Seward (in southern Humboldt County), and Camps Baker, Lyon, and Anderson.

Final Years and Abandonment, 1865–1867

The end of the Civil War heralded more changes to Fort Humboldt. The California Volunteer units were disbanded in 1865 and U.S. regular troops returned to the fort from battlefields in the east. Six months after Appomattox, the first Regular Army unit to return to Fort Humboldt was Company E, 9th Infantry Regiment, on November 8, 1865 (Strobridge, Regulars in the Redwoods, page 255). Company E was one officer and 49 enlisted men.

By 1866, all forces, except one company of artillery, were withdrawn from Fort Humboldt. This unit was Company E, 2nd Artillery Regiment, lead by Major Andrew W. Bowman, the first Regular Army commander at Fort Humboldt since Captain Lovell in 1861 (Strobridge, Regulars in the Redwoods, page 257). The fort becomes a sub-depot maintained primarily to provide supplies to Fort Gaston in Hoopa. Property belonging to the Quartermaster was auctioned on April 25, 1867. Items sold included 120 cords of wood, 2 boats with oars and sails, a heavy wagon, and an ambulance wagon.

On September 14, 1867, the last unit was withdrawn from Fort Humboldt and the post was abandoned,[1] although the Humboldt County journalist Andrew Genzoli recorded that "January 1867 was the last Monthly Post Return for Fort Humboldt. Sergeant Antoine Schoneberger, Ordnance Sergeant, was on duty during the period 1866-1870."

The Humboldt Times reported the sale of other government property on August 10, 1870, including 32 buildings ($655) and 13 mules ($602).

Commanding officers

  • Colonel Francis J. Lippitt, 2nd Infantry Regiment, California Volunteers, 1862-1864
  • Colonel Henry M. Black, 6th Infantry Regiment, California Volunteers, February-June 1864
  • Major Andrew W. Bowman, Company E, 2nd Artillery Regiment, 1866


Ten soldiers are known to have been buried at Fort Humboldt:

In May 1894, the remains of the U.S. soldiers buried near the site of Fort Humboldt were relocated to the Grand Army of the Republic plot in the Myrtle Grove cemetery in Eureka, California.

Cooper period, 1893–1928

After abandonment by the military, the lands were transferred to the Department of the Interior on April 6, 1870 and the fort fell into ruin. In 1893, the land and its one remaining building were sold to W. S. Cooper. Cooper reportedly subdivided the property as soon as he acquired it, naming the new subdivision Fort Humboldt Heights. Cooper's daughter reported that on two occasions her father partially restored the remaining building as he realized their future importance.

The old cavalary barn was destroyed by fire on October 21, 1895.

On Febrruary 7, 1925, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze plaque which reads - "Fort Humboldt. Occupied by U.S. troops from 1853 to 1865 [sic]. General U. S. Grant was stationed here in 1853." The plaque is still at the park, though hidden by trees. The tablet is bronze mounted o a huge rock blasted from Medicine Rock near Trinidad. The original plaque was stolen and later replaced by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

In 1929, the "Fort Humboldt Post" of the American Legion spent several days restoring fort buildings.

The first wireless radio station in Humboldt County was located at Fort Humboldt. The United Wireless Telegraph Company began operating the station around 1900 with the call sign "PM Eureka." This was many years before Humboldt County had a "wired" telegraph which run south to Petaluma. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company took over from 1911-1917, changing the call sign to "KPM." Also during this era the hospital building received some restoration.

Upon Cooper's death in 1928, his wife gave the land to the City of Eureka.


In the 1930s, local veteran organizations became interested in restoration of the Fort. They took pictures, sent to the National Archives in Washington D.C. for plans ans specifications of the Fort, and began restoration of the area and development of a museum. The job turned out to be larger then they could, and soon the W.P.A. was worked into the project.

Fort Humboldt was registered as a California State Historical Landmark, Number 154, on January 11, 1935.

Also during the 1930s, the "Days of General Grant" was a four-day celebration centering on the Fourth of July. Local businesses went all-out making storefronts look like pioneer days. The male citizens grew beards, and both men and women dressed in 19th century clothing. The celebration repeated four or five years in a row. Prior to the fourth annual celebration in 1939, the Humboldt Standard newspaper wrote that "it is an event which holds promise of becoming one of the lasting pioneer pageants of the West, comparable in importance to the Salinas Rodeo, the Pendleton Roundup, and the Portland Rose Festival."

By the 1940s, the fort had become a City of Eureka museum devoted to General Grant and local memorabilia. At some point, statues of General Grant and General Robert E. Lee (which were apparently made of wood) were placed in the park and were still there in 1947 as can be seen in the Shuster aerial photographs from that year.

In 1952 Robert Madsen was elected Mayor of Eureka and during his administration more headway was made toward actual restoration of the Fort as the City Council showed a great deal of interest in the project. Through informal meetings with the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, it was decided to approach the State Division of Beaches and Parks to see if they were interested.

In the summer of 1952 representives of the State attended a luncheon meeting held in Eureka and there stated they were interested in setting the Fort up as a State monument. They explained that they would eventually make an authentic restoration.

In 1955, the area was deeded to the State of California with the understanding that the State would reconstruct the historic buildings and interpret the settlement of the northern California coast. Ranger C. D. Thompson was the first Monument Supervisor and began living at the Fort in 1956. He first remodeled the old building into an office for District One of the Division of Beaches and Parks. The office was headquarters for the District Supervisor, whose staff consisted of the Assistant District Supervisor, a secretary, the Ranger-Monument Supervisor, District Carpenter Foreman, District Accounting Technician, and possibly a Landscape Architech and typist.

An archeological survey was conducted during the late 1950s by Donald Jewell and John Clemmer. The Timber Heritage Association's Web site states that the present logging display at the park was established in 1962.

Fort Humboldt was designated a State Historic Park in 1963. The park seems to have been added to the National Register of Historical Places, Site #70000927, in 1970 but this hasn't been confirmed. Some restoration ensued, with the hospital the sole remaining building of the original construction. The General Plan, created in 1978, developed by California State Parks, calls for a re-creation of the entire fort complex. Although the Surgeon's Quarters was re-created in 1985, this General Plan has been slow to be implemented. Several archeological digs were also conducted during this period and a bronze plaque stating that the fort is a California State Historic Landmark, Number 154, was placed near the parking lot about 1980. In 1986, exhibits were installed in the hospital to tell the story of the fort and the intercultural conflicts.

Late 20th century and a new millennium

In more recent years, several Civil War re-enactments were held at the fort in the 1990s, but were moved to Fortuna in 1998. In 2000, students from the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program planted a historic garden next to the hospital which contains medicinal, edible, and ornamental plants typically found in a 19th century garden. This garden received a "Keep Eureka Beautiful" Award of Merit in 2001.

The park marked Fort Humboldt's 150th anniversary in January 2003. A color guard from Eureka High School's Naval Junior ROTC hoisted a replica American flag with 36 stars. The original flag that was first raised over the fort in 1853 was also on display. This flag was kept by the soldier (Private Joseph Snedden) who helped raise it. Snedden became a Humboldt County resident after he left the Army and eventually gave the flag to Mrs. Vera O'Conner-Berry. She, in turn, gave the flag to the Redwood Forest Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1923. This organization started a presevation project in 1990s to stablize the flag. The flag is now kept by the Regent of the Redwood Forest Chapter.

In October 2008, permanent interpretive panels went on display in the nearby Bayshore Mall's food court. These eight panels, part of a collaborative project between California State Parks and the North Coast Redwood Interpretive Association, explore the early frontier life of Fort Humboldt and Buck's Port where the mall now sits.

2009 State Budget Crisis

Fort Humboldt is on the list of state parks slated for closure due to the state's budget crisis.


In addition to various displays of the trappings of military service and a vintage mountain howitzer cannon, the hospital building houses artifacts and particularly rousing accounts (including extensive signage) of the Native American experience of European settlers. A culturally and historically correct dugout canoe constructed of the heart of a redwood tree is on display.

Though not directly related to the military history of the site, fully operational trains that operated on local standard gauge railroads in the early days of logging are present on the site. The logging equipment exhibit includes a Donkey engine. Invented in the 1880s by John Dolbeer of the local Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company, the machine is included among other logging equipment showcasing advances over the 150 years of local logging history.

Visitor information

Fort Humboldt is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and the property includes the regional headquarters for the California State Parks system. Permanent displays are augmented by special events during the year.

Of particular note, are the prominent views of Humboldt Bay, the Samoa peninsula, and portions of Eureka from the bluff occupied by the park and structures.


  1. ^ Report of the Secretary of War. Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1867. p. 122.  


  • Bledsoe, Anthony J, Indian Wars of the Northwest: A California Sketch, Bacon and Company, 1885.
  • Carranco, Lynwood and Estle Beard, Genocide and Vendetta: The Round Valley Wars of Northern California, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.
  • Humboldt Historian, "The 'Days of General Grant' Recalled," Jul-Aug 1977, 3.
  • Kyle, Douglas E. (ed.), Historic Spots in California, 4th ed., Stanford University Press, 1990.
  • Nash, Glen, "The Growth of Wireless in Humboldt," Humboldt Historian, Jan-Feb 1987, 7-9.
  • United States Department of War, Report of the Secretary of War, Government Printing Office, 1867.
  • State of California, Department of Parks and Recreation, Fort Humboldt State Historic Park: Resource Management Plan, General Development Plan, and Environmental Impact Plan, August 1978.
  • Strobridge, William F., Regulars in the Redwoods: The U.S. Army in Northern California, 1852-1861, Arthur H. Clarke Company, 1994, ISBN 0870622145.

External links


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