Shelter Cove History

Prior to settlers coming to Shelter Cove and naming it, many different Native American tribes inhabited the Pacific Northwest. At least one Shelter Cove Tribe within the Wailaki Group of Indians lived here. Native artifacts are still occasionally found in the Cove.

The Bureau of Land Management has a field office in Whitethorn, CA with more information about the local tribal history. Also our Shelter Cove General Store has a short historical summary too!

As soon as there were people in Shelter Cove, fishing was an important part of life on the Lost Coast. A short summary of Shelter Cove fishing history is found at our page: Shelter Cove-Overview.

In the early 1850’s, two white men, Hamilton and Oliver, came to the Shelter Cove slope where the Indians lived, to claim “squatter’s rights” on the land that was so rich in grass for their cattle. Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Oliver began to miss some of the stock. They could ill afford to lose any cattle to the Indians, so they followed the Indian trails to a gap in the coast range above Shelter Cove where the two white men engaged in a battle with the Indians and Mr. Oliver was killed. That pass was called “Oliver’s Gap” by later settlers in Southern Humboldt County. Mr. Hamilton who escaped the Indian arrows, made a hasty retreat and decision to leave. He rode out over Telegraph Mountain without a backward look at his ranch, stock, or living quarters, toward the south and the Mendocino coast.

Mr. Hamilton met the three Ray brothers, who were on the way up the Mendocino Coast. They were traveling along the ocean with stock looking for land to take up. John, William, and James Ray traded Mr. Hamilton a span of oxen in return for the whole of the Shelter Cove Ranch and went on north to claim the land and squatter’s rights relinquished by Mr. Hamilton. The Ray brothers did the only sensible thing: they married Indian women and held the Shelter Cove Ranch ranging their stock on the rich, grassy slopes and increasing their herd.

John Ray’s home 1940’s,

In 1873, a family named Yates arrived at Shelter Cove. They formed a partnership with the Ray family at the Cove. Mr. Yates later dissolved his partnership with the Rays and a man named John Dies bought into the dairy at the Ranch and operated it with the Ray family; he also came to disagree with the Ray brothers and their families. Mr. Dies filed on two claims, homesteading the sections for some years and eventually selling the two land claims to the Notley brothers in 1906.

William Notley Ranch 1906

By the 1880’s Shelter Cove had become a vacation getaway, offering camping, fishing, hunting, mussel and abalone gathering. Coming in by wagon or horse and buggy by land or steamer ship by ocean.. Shelter Cove was a very popular spot for summer excursions. With travel being slow in those days, vacationers stayed for extended periods even entire summers.

Shelter Cove Hotel 1909, The first hotel was completed in July 1886, costing $1000.00.

Humboldt Times, Daily Humboldt Times, Eureka, California, Volume XLIII, Number 95 Page 6 Garberville, April 18, 1906 – The severe earthquake shock this morning a few moments after 5 o’clock created a panic among the people in this part of the country and at Shelter Cove. The damage to building in this town was not so great as at Briceland, only a few houses being moved from their foundations a few inches, but the contents of every building in the near town were more or less destroyed, especially in the breakable line, as all crockery, lamps, pictures, clocks and moveable articles were thrown about promiscuously. Chimneys were shaken off houses and every fireplace was completely demolished, stoves and stove pipes knocked over and broken. J.W. Hamilton’s loss in his general store by breaking of crockery and glass canned goods will be quite a stunt, as will also W.H. Bowden’s, as the drug store shelves were shaken clean of bottled drugs and notions and all wrecked. The three saloons were flooded with all kinds of drinks mixed without any help of hands. The housekeepers suffered the loss of glass canned goods, lamps, dishes and everything breakable.

Briceland was more badly shaken up than this place. J.W. Bowdens store and Ben Harris’ Hotel were both moved from their foundations and the store was badly twisted and shaken on one side. A fissure some inches wide runs the length of one of the streets. J.P. Cannon’s house was racked badly and everything breakable in the rooms was destroyed; even the large range stove was broken to pieces.

At Shelter Cove, the people are panic stricken over the many shocks they have had at that place today. Aaron Boots of Briceland came from there late this afternoon and reported that the severe shock at 5 o’clock, with the help of the ocean waves, washed about twenty acres of land near the wharf into the sea, leaving a deep depression. The wharf road from the top of its bluff to the warehouse is completely destroyed by a huge slide, making it impossible to reach the wharf even on foot and what is the fate of the tons of freight stored at the warehouse will not be known for some time. The damage to the company at the Cove is estimated at over 1,000 to rebuild the road so it can be used to haul the freight out. Many shocks have been felt at the Cove during the morning hours and a chasm over a foot wide was made a few feet from the hotel. The roads are blocked with fallen trees everywhere out this way.

A major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 that occurred on April 18, 1906 at 5:00 a.m. off the northern California Coast. Running 45 – 60 seconds with many after shocks. The earthquake fault line went from Shelter Cove to San Juan Bautista. The 1906 Earthquake is often referred to as The San Francisco Earthquake which lasted 115 minutes and rated at 7.9 magnitude.

George Notley Ranch Prior to 1906 Earthquake

The San Francisco International Fish Company went bankrupt in 1939 and moved out of Shelter Cove. They were the original owners of the wharf and freight buildings. The 900 foot wharf soon fell into disrepair with end falling into the ocean first.

Bunk House 1920’s. The North end was used as the First Post Office in Shelter Cove. The first Post Office was established in July 1892 with John Ray appointed Post Master serving until 1899.
Cattle Drive 1922

In the middle of the 20th Century, changes from the logging of Tan Oak Bark shipped out to San Francisco.

Tan Oak Bark being transported to wharf for shipping

1916 Tan Oak liquefied to the thickness of molasses and put into Barrels for transporting, 900 foot pier.
Fishing Boats
This photo was on Facebook “Remembering Southern Humboldt”

This was also when certain key individuals and families settled the area and helped shape Shelter Coves’ future. The history of some of these important people still define and shape Shelter Cove today.

In 1946, Machi Brother’s, Mario, Babe & Tony bought what is now Mario’s Marina and the Shelter Cove Deli once belonged to them. With deed to Shelter Cove Property in hand they set out to start a fishing business, boat rental, launching, assets included a second-hand surplus jeep, an old battered open trailer, a set of carpenter and mechanic tools, a few personal belongings.

Mosquito Fleet, note this bell is now hanging in the church here in Shelter Cove

It is our hope that we can help archive and allow access to some of this important history through stories and interviews of some that are still around. We would also like to preserve some of the memories of those who are no longer around.

More to come. . . .

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