A May 24, 2017 piece in the AVA chronicled the early history of English sailor William Richardson's arrival at San Francisco Bay in 1822, his subsequent marriage to Maria Antonia Martinez, daughter of the presidio commandant, and his acquisition of a land grant for much of what is now southern Marin County.
In 1844 Captain Richardson received another grant for all the lands from the Rio Grande (Big River) south to the Garcia River and several miles inland, amounting to tens of thousands of acres. The land was given to Richardson in lieu of back pay for more than seven years service as the Captain of the Port of San Francisco. The wording of the grant gave Richardson dominion over the area from 38 degrees, 48 minutes, north latitude to 39 degrees, 18 minutes, north latitude (from the Garcia to Big River) and two leagues inland. Richardson's acquisition occurred at a time when Mexico's finances were so dire that the loss of such an extensive piece of remote property was less of a burden on the government than a cash payment. The last lines of the grant signed by Governor Manuel Micheltorena displayed a far different mindset than what Anglo-American governance a few years later had to offer: “If it suits you, you may take possession and occupy the land from this date, under the condition of protecting the Gentile [non-Christian] Indians from individuals who continually steal their children and sell them. You will teach them [the indigenous people] to work, and you will scrupulously take care that foreigners do not get possession of these lands and that all that you produce will be advantageous to the benefit of the nation.”
Once the U.S. of A. took over California, Richardson got screwed over financially almost as badly as the native Californians did in all aspects of life. A couple years after the Gold Rush, William Richardson, once the most prominent citizen of the bay region, fell on dire economic straits. He mortgaged and re-mortgaged what he called the Albion Rancho land grant in Mendocino County, hoping to use that money to save his Marin property. One of those mortgages led to an 1854 deed for 10,520 acres along the Albion River. This recorded document shows Mr. Sherman Peck as grantor to grantees Alexander Macpherson and Donald Davidson.
Donald Davidson, a geologist and fortune seeker, went on to fame in the Comstock Lode of Nevada at the end of the 1850s. The mountain that bears his name is the most prominent topographic feature of the Virginia Range in western Nevada. As of last look, a flagpole still stood at the summit of Mount Davidson in the same spot where Mark Twain recounted seeing a flag in his book, Roughing It.
In 1852, men under the employ of Capt. Richardson operated a water powered mill just a bit upstream from the mouth of the Albion River. Strong flooding in the ensuing winter destroyed that operation. Alexander Macpherson took over as per that 1854 deed, running a mill there for the next quarter century. Almost immediately after setting up at Albion, Macpherson also began milling near the mouth of the Noyo River on land that was supposed to be used as an Indian reservation. Macpherson and his woods superintendents used Pomo workers for no pay beyond meager food offerings while the company and Macpherson amassed great profits. He built what was, at the time, an extravagant home for himself and his family on the north side high ground, overlooking the mouth of the Noyo.
Beginning at almost the same time that Macpherson acquired the Richardson property along both sides of the Albion, a handful of homesteaders claimed lands in twenty, forty, and eighty acre parcels on the periphery of Macpherson's 10,520 acres.
“The shameless and greedy destruction of the celebrated redwood forest of Mendocino County...” Sounds like a phrase from a “Redwood Summer” protest of the 1990s, but it was written in the 1870s by a lawyer for more than a half dozen settlers appealing to the Secretary of the Interior to prevent Alexander Macpherson's lumber company in Albion from taking away considerable portions of their homesteads. The sixty-nine page “brief” now resides in the library of the California Historical Society in San Francisco, but what it makes evident is the manner in which much of the lands along the Albion River watershed were first acquired.
That legal brief proved just one strand in a tangled web of court proceedings which dragged on from the 1860s, throughout the 1870s, and into the early 1880s. Those court actions showed that Alexander Macpherson was not the actual owner of the Albion Mill Company nor the surrounding 10,000 acres. The owner was a man named Alexander Grant Dallas. Stay tuned to these pages for just who Alexander Grant Dallas was, and the role he played in what historians call The Pig War.