Introduction: Several years ago, my Aunt Joan Case sent me compilations of the extensive research she had done on her husband, Stan Case’s family history. Uncle Stan and my mother, Barbara Case Gauntt, are brother and sister. Included in this treasure trove was an original copy of a special edition of The Willits News which appeared Friday, June 24, 1988, in celebration of the 62nd Annual Frontier Days 1988 Rodeo. The entire 12 page section was devoted to the history of the Case family in Willits and neighboring Little Lake Valley, California. The following is a full transcription of the special edition, the photos that appeared in the article as well as some additional photos my aunt sent to me. I’ve also included snapshots of the actual pages of the edition. Unfortunately the author of the edition is not identified. Hopefully my new friends on Ancestry.com might know. Thank you Aunt Joan!!
[Post Cover Photo: Jesse Clark Thompson and Margaret Cameron Thompson [May Irene Case’s parents] with their grandchildren in 1899. Vern (Left) and Hallie Case are in the front row. I believe Frank Case is standing next to Grandpa Jesse]
Click below for a map of Willits and the surrounding area:
THE CASES-ONE OF THE FIRST FAMILIES TO SETTLE IN LITTLE LAKE VALLEY
When Hal Case died in 1985 at the age of 90, he was the oldest living member of the original Case family which was one of the first to settle in Little Lake Valley.
Hal’s grandmother was Melcena Sawyers, born in 1827 in Kentucky and married in 1847 to James Case. Seven years later the young couple came West in a wagon train with Melcena’s father, Thomas Sawyers, and his family. By that time the Cases had two children of their own, five year old Mary and three year old Nancy.
The trip to California took four months. In later years, Hal would hear his grandparents tell stories of that trip, but the one he always liked best was that of the night they were attacked by a band of Sioux Indians just before the crossing of the Platte River where the wagon train had encamped for the night.
Jim Case had taken his dog out into the surrounding brush to gather wild nuts, and the dog began acting very strangely, indicating something unusual lurking nearby. Jim hurried back to his family and only a short time later the Indians attacked, firing on the terrified travelers with flintlock muskets. The barrage continued for several hours, during which Melcena Case was injured, but not mortally as the bullet passed through and lodged in the wood of the wagon.
“We kept that bullet in our family for years,” Hal said, “but finally it disappeared from the spot where we used to keep it on the mantle shelf.”
In the fall of 1854 the Sawyers and the Cases reached a mining camp by the name of the Rough and Ready near today’s Grass Valley. The men went to work digging for gold, along with hundreds of others frantically seeking the one lucky strike which would bring an end to a lifetime of hard work.
It was a bitter cold winter and many of the group died. The following spring, Jim and Melcena took their children and headed further west, ending up in Petaluma, a farming community north of San Francisco, where they bought a small homestead and planted crops, writing enthusiastic letters to the rest of their family in Rough and Ready.
Old Thomas Sawyers finally gave up his quest for gold and followed the Cases, and then, in 1858 moved on up to a beautifully fertile green valley in the redwoods which had been named Little Lake Valley and where about a half dozen families had already settled.
The next year, in 1859, Jim and Melcena sold their farm and also moved north, buying a section of land from the Baechtel brothers which extended from Ed Hayes’s place today up to the Clark property on Hilltop Drive.
Jim pitched in at once to build a home for his family, felling trees on his property and dragging them by horse to the building site. The house was built across the road from where Vic Guehennec lives today, right at the beginning of Hilltop Drive which of course did not exist at that time.
The only road in the Valley was the narrow dirt road which followed the line of today’s East Hill Road as far as the creek which ran along the eastern edge of the valley and which was at first known as Fulwider Creek and later as Davis Creek.
Jim Case finished his family’s shelter just in time for the birth of their first son, James Lester, in 1860. A second son, Drury Goldman, would also be born in that house five years later.
The two boys grew up as most boys of pioneer families did—which meant they were out in the fields working with their father as soon they could walk. There was a fine artesian well on the Case property, and the crops produced on the cleared land were legendary.
“I remember my Dad (Dru Case) telling that when he was a boy, the grain crops in the Valley were so tall that a man could ride through a field on horseback and the tops of the grain would strike his kneecap,” Hal used to reminisce.
“Although both my Dad and his brother James (he was always called Shady Case in later years) were raised just alike, my Dad was just a natural born farmer and had a real feel for the soil.
“He could make a piece of land do just about anything he wanted it to. Never could stand to see the land standing idle—he was always building something or planting or doing something to improve it. Hardest working man I ever saw.
“But my Uncle Shady now, he grew up kind of worthless—never did like to work and my Dad ended up feeding him, as well as my grandparents after they got old.”
In 1870, Jim Case deeded a plot of ground to the newly formed Upper Little Lake School District and the first school house in the Valley was built. No one is sure today just where that first school house was, but 17 years later George Youde (who had purchased the Case property) would also deed an acre of ground on which the first so-called Sawyers School was built, named for Melcena Case’s father Thomas.
That school was located near Ed Hayes’ place today, and it is believed it may have been the same piece of ground which Jim Case had deeded, but for some legal reason it become necessary for the new owner to redeed it.
This photograph was taken at the early Sawyers School in 1884. The school was located near the home of Ed Hayes on East Hill Road and may have been the site of the original grant deed from Jim Case, who gave one acre of land in 1870 for the building of the first school in Little Lake Valley. The man at the far right holding a child is John Rupe, father of Johnny Rupe who married Emma Muir. The children standing are, left to right, Frank Rupe, Charles Mast, Florence Fulwider, Iva Muir, Rachel Howard, Emma Muir, Adah Haehl, Mary Howard, Lucinda Fulwider, Fred Rupe, Harry Baechtel and Jack Hamilton, the teacher.
In 1872, Melcena and Jim Case’s youngest daughter Nancy married a young man named Parker Hall, an educated man with knowledge of engineering and land surveying who would be one of the first to lay out the various plots of land in the Valley, in Little Lake Village, and later in the town of Willitsville.
The wedding was a big social event, attended by all of the families in the Valley at that time, including Doc and Sarah Whited and numerous sons and daughters. One of their sons, Emanuel Whited (author of the Whited Journal), would later have a daughter marry into the Case family.
A fine old portrait of Sarah Whited, grandmother of Shirley Whited Case, taken during the early days of the family’s homestead in Little Lake Valley. Like most of the early families, the Whiteds had numerous children and the time this picture was taken, Sarah had already had 13 children
Hal Case, who married Emanuel’s daughter Shirley, recalled that he had a special fondness for his Aunt Nan and Uncle Parker Hill when he was a small boy. The Hills lived on Mill Street, just a block away from where Hal’s parents lived at that time, and the boy was a frequent visitor in their home.
“Aunt Nan was a great cook, and always had all sorts of good things to eat on hand—fresh made cookies and cakes, blackberry jam on bread, fresh and hot. In addition, because her husband was an educated man, they always had lots of reading material—illustrated books and all kinds of magazines from the East. I remember especially the Argosy magazine, but I read them all, stretched out on the floor in front of their fireplace. Later when Aunt Nan was along in years, she always smoked a corn cob pipe, carrying a plug of tobacco in the pocket of the big all covering apron she always wore.
“I remember watching her as she sat in a rocker in front of the wood stove, pulling her plug of tobacco and a small knife out of her pocket. She’d chip away at the plug, filling her pipe and when it was full, she’d open the door of the stove and use a small shovel to pull out a hot coal which she’d put on top of the tobacco and tamp it all down with her bare finger. That finger was burned black with a thick covering that was beyond feeling, I guess. I was fascinated, always waiting to hear her holler, but she never did. She’d just sit there rocking and puffing away. “
About four years before the marriage of Nan and Parker Hall, a new family moved to the area and purchased the former Rogers homestead about two miles west of Willits on today’s Fort Bragg Road, which at that time only extended about four miles West. There was two story house on the Rogers property and the Thompson family would live there for the next 18 years, raising beef and milk cows. The house finally burned down and a new house was built on the spot by the father of Hattie London, who still lives there today.
The Thompsons had a large brood of children, and more were born after their move to Willits, including Mae Irene, who was born in 1871. They eventually had 14 children, but only nine grew to adulthood. Jesse and Margaret Thompson were church going people and they regularly attended the Methodist Church in Willits, along with all their children. Although Hal Case said he never knew how his parents met, it seems likely they might have met through one of the many church sponsored activities for young people.
In any event, Dru Case and May Irene Thompson were married in 1888, when he was 23 years old and she was 17. By that time, the Thompson family had moved back down south where most of Margaret’s family lived, and the young couple were married in Healdsburg enroute to join Mae’s family in Orange County.
Dru went to work in the beet fields there, eventually being named superintendent of a large beet plantation. It was there that couple’s first three sons were born—Frank in 1892, Hallie in 1895 and Vern in 1897. By that time, letters from home indicated that Dru’s parents were getting on in years without much in the way of support from Dru’s brother Shady, so the decision was made to return to Willits in 1899 when Hallie Case was four years old.
Hallie remembers that trip vividly, with the family and all their possessions packed into a covered wagon pulled by a team of horses. Another family in a wagon travelled with them, but somewhere along the way they came to a fork in road. The men argued over which road to take and they split company with Dru taking the family on the lower road, which proved to be the right one.
Hal especially remembered the days they traveled along the narrow dirt road overlooking the ocean. Vern’s highchair was tied to the back of the wagon and kept falling off, so finally father Dru, in a fit of anger, threw in over the cliff into the ocean.
Emanuel Whited, father of Shirley Whited Case, in a portrait taken at about the time of his marriage to Dorcus Branch, when he was 40 years old and she was 19. He nicknamed her “Duckie” and throughout the rest of her life she was known to her family and friends as “Duck.” In the Whited Journal, the first mention of her and their approaching marriage has just been made.
Part of the Thompson family, at about the time of the marriage of Dru Case and Mae Irene Thompson in 1888. The mother, Margaret Thompson, is seated in the front row with some of her grandchildren. In the back row are Sammy Thompson and his wife, Frank Holloway and his wife Maggie, Retta Thompson and Danny Thompson, Maggie’s twin.]
Another time, they passed a troop of gypsies with circus, camped out on the beach and children cried to be taken down to see the show. Sternly, their father said there was no money for “foolishness.”
Hal Case had some special memories of the month-long trip his family made from Orange County to Willits in 1899, including the overnight stop with a family in Los Angeles, first big city the boy had ever seen. While the rest of the family sat around the supper table, Hal stood at the window to watch the streetcars go by.
Later when the family reached the ferry crossing at Benicia, Hal and his brothers expressed great concern because the horses were all blindfolded so they would not spook while making the crossing. Maneuvering the team and heavily loaded wagon on the ferry called for assistance by all the family, with father Dru keeping the team reins firmly in hand.
THE CASES BUILD THEIR FIRST HOME ON COAST STREET IN 1902
When the family finally reached Willits, they rented a house on Mill Street near Aunt Nan and Uncle Parker, while Dru made arrangements to buy two lots at the corner of what is now Raymond Lane and Coast Street and began building a barn, to be followed by a house for his family.
As money was needed for supplies, he also hired out his wagon and team for a hauling business, calling upon brother Shady to help. Their first job was for Dave Coffer at his sawmill out on Sherwood Road past the Northwestern Mill. Dru’s wagon was used for hauling the timbers and shakes from the mill into town, in return for free lumber needed for building the Case home.
The house was a large two story structure with a veranda and wide porch steps, decorated with the gingerbread trim of the time. It sat atop a small rise just above the Fort Bragg Road, now called Coast Street. Nothing remains today of the barn, house and outbuildings which Dru Case built, and a new redwood house built by Fred Mickey stands on the spot today.
Hal’s grandparents, Jim and Melcena Case, were living in a small house further up Raymond Alley, which at the time did not run all the way through to what is now Coast Street, but only to the Case home.
The new house was completed in time for the birth of a fourth son, Foster Willits, in 1902, who would be known throughout his life as “Jake” by his family.
Two years after the birth of Jake, grandmother Melcena died in the small house and grandfather Jim moved in with Dru and his family. Hal remembered his grandfather with affection as a teller of tall tales who never tired of the company of wide-eyed small boys begging for Grandpa to “tell just one more.”
Grandpa Case also enjoyed a “snort of good likker” on occasion, and once he found a bottle of liniment on the mantle of the living room. He didn’t have his eyeglasses on to read the label, but it looked like whiskey so Grandpa tipped up the bottle for a quick snort.
Young Hallie walked into the room just in time to hear Grandpa holler and to stare at amazement at the sudden spurt of activity in the old man’s legs as he danced about the room.
“He used to go around with the fly of his pants open,” Hal said. “The women in the family finally gave up trying to reform him, and I always had a feeling he did it just to keep them stirred up. When asked about it, he’d just say that it was more handy that way without any further details.”
The Blossers, who were related to the Cases through the marriage of mother Mae Irene’s sister Vinnie to Tobias Blosser, played an important role in Hal Case’s childhood. Vinnie and Tobias lived on the old Blosser Ranch, called Buck Ranch, with old man Nicholas Blosser out on the Fort Bragg Road. It was located across the road and a bit further west from today’s Cutter Lumber Company.
Young Hallie Case poses with his little brother Jake [Foster Willits], who was born in 1902 in the new home father Dru built for his family at the end of Raymond Alley
A photograph of Vinnie and Tobias Blosser taken on the hill above the Blosser homestead, overlooking the Fort Bragg Road. The entire family of Blossers were musicians and they frequently had musical afternoons for neighbors and friends on this hillside
HARDSHIPS AND PLEASURES OF GROWING UP IN WILLITS IN THE EARLY 1900s
Tobias’ twin brother John and his wife Ora lived in a handsome large house across from where St. Anthony’s Church is today. It was John who built the flour mill at the corner of Coast and Harms Streets.
The entire Blosser family were fine musicians and formed the first City Band, and performed at all church and social functions. They were devout Methodists, as was the Thompson family of which Mae Irene was a member, so the small Cases also attended the old Methodist Church on Pine Street.
Hal said he would frequently ride home after church services with Aunt Vinnie and Uncle Tobias in their surrey with the fringe on top. The small boy would lie down on the back of the seat, looking down through the floor boards at the big turning wheels as they made furrows in the soft thick dust of the road, listening to the clop-clop of the horses’ feet and the deep rich baritone of Tobias singing hymns.
Buck Ranch was built half way up a hillside and the road up to the house was steep and rocky. Hal said he always held his breath as the wagon turned up the road, but always made it with the anticipated overturn.
There was a large spring behind the ranch house, and Tobias had built a series of wooden boxes to put down in the cold waters flowing down a trough to the house, and it as in those boxes that Vinnie kept her milk, butter and cheese.
“They also had an apple orchard.” Hal recalled, “and a special apple house with bins for storing the apples. I can still smell the spicy fragrance that clung to that cool, dark interior—and I can still tasteg those apples—crispy and sweet and juicy.”
Old man Nicholas, the father of the Blosser boys, had built the first sawmill in this area in 1863. It was a water powered mill up Willits Creek, which was later bought by Norton, and still later by the original group of investors who established Northwestern Railroad Mill at what is now Brooktrails.
The first school Hal Case attended was the three story Pine Street grammar school which was built in the 1900 at the corner of Pine and School Streets, where the Grange building is located today. The Case brothers walked up Raymond Alley to school each day, along the narrow dusty road typical of all the “streets” of the town a that time. Hal recalled that somewhere along the way, there was one large rock imbedded in the middle of the road and he invariably stubbed his toe on the rock both coming and going.
“I wore a bandage on my big toe throughout my boyhood,” Hal insisted. “Other than that, remember mostly that the teachers were strict, but I don’t recall ever being hit by one and in fact some of those early teachers were just young girls, not much older than their students.
“There was one, Lula Davis, who used to have fainting spells, like some of the ladies did in those days. First day of school, Miss Davis told us that if she started looking pale and falling over, we should just lay her out on the floor and put a wet rag on her head ‘til she came around, and that’s what we used to do.”
The Case boys all went to Sunday school a the nearby Methodist Church, and Saturday night the ritual of getting ready for church started with baths in a round wooden tub set up in the kitchen to be near the kitchen stove where the water was heated.
Sunday morning, with boys all dressed up in their Sunday clothes, they had to line up for a final inspection by mother, and Hal said he recalled that she nearly always pulled a clean handkerchief out of her purse, wrapped it around her finger and dug into one or more ears which did not meet inspection.
Social life of the families revolved mostly around the church, but there were frequent at-home parties and Hal recalled that their home was always a favorite because they had an organ and his mother could play every hymn known.
“The McNamer family lived on Raymond Alley not far from us (where the Pietrzaks live today) and Art and Cora McNamer both loved to sing. They used to come down to our house in the evening and the Blossers, and Mother would pedal away at the organ while everybody sang.
The Case home as it appeared a year or two after its completion in 1902. In this photograph are Grandmother Thompson and her daughters, including Mae Irene Case and Vinnie Blosser
Hal Case’s mother, grandmother Thompson and Aunt Vinnie Blosser pose with luggage and the Blosser’s surrey on dusty Raymond Alley in front of the Case home. The ladies were leaving on a journey to San Francisco where they went to shop about once every year or so.
“Once there was a big party at the Russe place (where Frances Pullen lives) and I guess that’s the first time I ever saw my dad dancing. He loved to dance but my mother had been brought up in a strict family where dancing wasn’t allowed so she just sat in a corner and watched my dad whooping it up. Later, I remember he used to go to town a lot and spend the evening with other husbands, and I’m sure they did a lot of dancing with any ladies available.”
THE BIG 1906 EARTHQUAKE IS FELT IN WILLITS
Hallie Case was 11 years old at the time of the big 1906 earthquake, and he vividly recalled the stunned reaction of the entire town to the event, first evident by the loss of several buildings on Main Street. It was several days before the full story of the destruction and loss of life in the Bay Area reached outlying areas of the State like Mendocino County, but the people of Willits were sure the catastrophe covered a wide area, based on the amount of local damage.
Strangely enough, about two weeks before the earthquake, a tremor had dislodged a slide at Ridgewood which had covered the railroad track at that point. The work cred sent to make repairs and shore up the slide area found the land movement was nearly 100 feet in depth and at the very bottom they made an amazing discovery—a perfectly petrified oyster shell which measure 27 inches in circumference. After being kept on view for a few days, the geologic oddity was sent to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and is not doubt still there.
The earthquake struck at 5:155 in the morning of April 18, tumbling most of the local inhabitants out of their beds and inflicting major damage on every brick building in the town. Chief among these was the brand new, handsome Buckner Hotel, which stood where the Sears catalog store is today. James Goodale, who was a guest at the hotel, was the only man awake there, having just entered the lobby at that time. Running out into the street, he looked back in time to see C. L. Taylor, the hotel manager who lived on the second floor, come out of his room onto the balcony that ran across the front of the hotel.
As Goodale watched horrified, the balcony collapsed with Taylor on it, and the man was immediately buried under the falling bricks and masonry. Taylor was killed, the only casualty in town.
Within minutes, townspeople were crowding onto Main Street, and the Case boys joined their parents in hurrying down to join the crowds. Hallie recalled that he had his brothers were told to stay off Main Street and they gathered along with the other children on the footpath that once led from Main Street up to the school grounds, alongside the water tower that stood where the Great Western Savings and Loan is today.
Hal’s uncle Parker Hall was the owner and editor of The Willits News at the time, and the newspaper’s office was located next door to the Buckner on the north side. On the south side of the hotel was A. J. Fairbanks’ butcher shop. Both businesses were badly damaged, but the townspeople pitched in at once to help rescue stock and equipment. Parker Hall and his lone reporter, Alf Pennington, were joined by Dru and Shady Case and the Blosser brothers in rescuing the printing press before the walls collapsed. The men moved it down the street, set it up and a staff was hastily assembled to get out a special edition covering the earthquake.
In the meantime, A. J. Fairbanks had appeared on the scene and was imploring the crowd for volunteers to go into his shop and attach ropes to the big safe so it could be pulled out. As the walls were already starting to collapse, there some reluctance on the part of the crowd, but Alf Pennington finally volunteered. Hal said that Alf’s wife Ora was considerably distressed and her agitation increased after her brave husband disappeared into the dusty interior of the butcher shop. She set up such a commotion, “screaming and hollering and calling on the Lord,” that a group of ladies finally had to take her hand and lead her down the street to sit in Dr. Woelfel’s buggy until the rescue operation was successfully completed.
The churches in town immediately organized drives to collect clothing and bedding, to sen to the homeless people of San Francisco, who in the next few weeks camped out on the beaches at the Bay.
Three of the Case brothers all dressed up in their Sunday best, ready for Sunday school. This is Frank (L), Vern standing and Jake [Foster Willits]. Missing is Hal, who says he doesn’t know why he was not in the picture. “I was probably either in the dog house or the wood shed,” he offers.
May Irene and Dru Case are pictured here with their first baby, Frank, during the early years of their marriage, when Dru was supervising a beet farm in Southern California. This was taken in 1892, seven years before they moved back to Willits.
Food was a problem, because there no cooking facilities left in those areas of the City that were devastated, and of course there were no means of shipping or keeping perishables. So the people of Willits hit upon the idea of pre-cooking large quantities of their famous big potatoes, which were then packed into wooden barrels and taken to the City by wagon because many sections of the railroad line had been destroyed.
Hal remembers the potatoes were cooked in big iron cauldrons set up over outdoor fires in the empty lot next to the stables where Northwestern Mills’ horses and mules were housed, located on the corner where Anker Lucier Mortuary now stands.
As an aftermath of the earthquake, a number of new wells were opened up in the Valley, and nearly every farmer or rancher coming into town in the next few weeks reported remarkable increases in the flow of well water. Austin Muir, who owned a ranch along what is now called Reynolds Highway, reported that the underground gas deposits at his place had been opened up in regular springs of gas, and there was much excited speculation in town that there would be commercial development of the gas with possible prosperity for all.
When Hallie Case was about eight years old, his father Dru was hired by the Northwestern Lumber Company as a foreman of diversified responsibilities. At that time, Northwestern owned the sawmill at what is now Brooktrails, as well as a large planning mill and lumber depot where Little Lake Industries and Mendo Mill are now located.
The Company also had nearly 300 acres of land along Highway 101 and Sherwood Road, and in the Valley, planted in potatoes and other vegetables for use in the big cook house up at the sawmill, and in hay and grains for the numerous pack and work animals owned by the Company. These animals were kept stabled in a long low building at the corner where Anker Lucier Mortuary is now located.
Dru Case was hired to oversee the planted fields and their harvest, and he also had charge of the horses and mules. A favorite hangout of the Case boys was the Northwestern stables, and Hal said he especially remembered how his dad used to hose the animals down after their day’s work, standing them on slated platform built for that purpose.
During the year or so that Dru worked for Northwestern, the Cases lived in the Company house which had been built by a man named Sweeney and which today is the home of Helen Smith on Sherwood Road. The four Case boys slept on the second floor of the house, overlooking a pond which was full of frogs that kept the youngsters awake most of the night with their powerful booming.
They attended the school built for the children of Northwestern mill families, located across the road from the entrance to the St. Francis Ranch. It was a small one room building with a potbellied stove and Hallie did not remember there ever being more than six or seven students on hand for classes.
One other memory he had of the time they lived on Sherwood Road was the night a skunk got trapped underneath the house, driving the entire family out into the yard in their night clothes. Father Dru hitched up his team and headed for town to pick up Louie Bergerson, a neighbor of the Cases back on Raymond Alley.
“Lou Bergerson was one of those men who could do just about anything, like all the men folks of the day, and little bit more. Any kind of problem anybody had they couldn’t figure out, they’d send for Louie.
“Sure enough, soon as dad came back with Lou, he walked around a bit and gave the matter some thought, and then he disappeared on the far side of the house and all at once the skunk came running out and headed for the woods. Never did know what Lou said or did, but that skunk sure took off.”
Hal said Lou Bergerson was also famous for the neat work he did in rocking up the sides of wells, and was much in demand to help when a new well was being installed.
“He was crazy about buttermilk—he could drink more buttermilk than any man I ever saw, and the ladies used to always keep plenty on hand whenever Lou was doing any work about the place.
“One funny thing I remember about Lou. He was coming home one night, walking along Mill Street, and he passed the John Hardwicke place just as John and his wife were having a big argument.
A view of Main Street on the morning of the 1906 earthquake. In the background is the water tower built over a large spring which provided water for the town, and which was alongside the footpath leading up to the Pine Street School grounds. It was right at this point where the young Case brothers sat to watch the excitement across the street where the Buckner Hotel was located.
Hallie Case’s uncle Parker Hall, whose first wife was Nancy Case and whose second wife was Dorcas Whited, Emanuel Whited’s widow. At the time of this photograph, Parker was the owner and editor of The Willits News, and was also the town surveyor.
“It sounded and looked pretty bad, so Lou stepped into the yard and grabbed John by the arms, thinking to keep him from killing his wife. Well sir, that wife turned around and started beating on Lou with a stick—dang near beat him to pieces before he could make his way back out of the yard.”
The first job Hallie ever had was for Billy Magill, who had a 30 cow dairy farm alongside the old Fort Bragg Road, across the road from the Case home on Raymond Alley and covering the area where Ella’s Laundry is now located. Hal’s job was to help Billy milk the cows and fill the bottles which were then delivered throughout the town in a horse drawn cart. Hallie sat up on the driver’s seat and held the reins while Billy took the bottles of milk and put them just inside the customers’ doors.
One of those customers was the “house of ill repute” which was located along a narrow dirt alley running between Main Street and Humboldt, the street which today separates the Bank of Willits and Al’s Redwood Room. The house stood in the area of the Bank’s parking lot, facing south.
One day when Magill’s dairy cart pulled up in front of the house to make the milk delivery, Hal as usual remained on the driver’s seat while Billy took the milk up to the door. Just as he reached the door, it banged open and a group of hollering, angry-faced women appeared, struggling with a man whom they were attempting to evict as he was still attempting to get into his clothes, hopping on one foot as he pulled his trousers on.
“I never had heard such language before,” Hallie chuckled in remembrance. “Those ladies were really mad. Don’t know what this fellow did—or didn’t do—but he was getting a real royal heave-ho.”
THE CASES MOVE BACK TO LITTLE LAKE VALLEY
While Hallie Case was still 11 years old, his father decided he had enough of “living in town.” His work as overseer of the extensive crops planted by the Northwestern Company serve to hasten his decision to get back to the soil and farming on land of his own. A deal was made with the Baechtel brothers to buy a 33 acre section of land along both sides of Davis Creek, bisected by a narrow dirt lane that today is Center Valley Road.
Will the help of this sons and neighbor George Youde (who had bought the original Case homestead on East Hill Road where it splits with Hilltop Drive), Dru Case pitched in to develop his new homestead, putting in a well and garden first and then building a barn and other outbuildings, the house itself going in last.
The barn was built next to a large walnut tree, and although the barn is long gone, the walnut tree still stands near the home of Doug and Skip Case who today live on the spot where Doug’s grandfather built the home in which the family would live for the next four years.
Hal Case said that George Youde was considered a very clever man when it came to building things. He was the man who designed and built the Octagon House for Alfred Sherwood, and when a giant redwood tree fell diagonally across the house in 1902, Youde was called back to supervise the rebuilding.
By the time Dru Case was building his first home in the Valley, Youde was already well along in years, but was still a very active man. He was in charge of maintenance and repairs at the Sawyers School, and was a member of the School Board who took his appointment seriously and made frequent unexpected visits at the school to see how things were going. The children sat at double desks, and Hallie said he could remember old man Youde slipping into the classroom and into an empty desk chair next to one of girl students who would blush furiously in embarrassment at having the elderly man squeezed in next to her.
“He had an expression that sounded something like ‘Higillies,’ and that’s what he’d say on almost any occasion when he got excited,” Hal remembered.
“I remember once when my mother had gone up to the City and us boys were in the kitchen making breakfast while Dad was out tending the stock. Old man Youde stopped by and we invited him to have breakfast with us. I was just taking the biscuits I’d made out of the oven, and Youde took one of those hot biscuits, put a slab of butter on top and popped the whole thing in his mouth.
“I stood there anxious as an old hen, waiting to hear his reaction. Well he rolled his eyes around a bit and then he slapped his leg and said ‘Higillies! That’s good eatin’! Best I ever it.’
“I’ll never forget that.”
Hallie also remembered Mrs. Youde as being a fine woman, but one living under the shadow of her husband.
“He’d take his horse and buggy and head for town, never thinking to ask his wife if she’d like to go too. Chances were, she’d have some errand or other to do in town, so once old George was gone with the family buggy, she’d put on her bonnet and take off for town on foot.
“She was a kind of soft-spoken lady. I remember once I was up at the Youde place and I was really mad at one of the Valley boys for something or other and was going on about it at great length. Finally Mrs. Youde said in that soft voice of hers, ‘My Hallie—that’s a fine exhibition of righteous indignation.’
“I’d never heard that expression before and it really pleased me—sounded so grown up and important.”
George Youde was also one of the most productive farmers in the Valley, helped to a great extent by the fine artesian well on his property, a well that is still flowing today. Nearly everyone who lived in the Valley at that time remembers the Youde blackberries as being something exceptional, and Hallie said Youde also grew the biggest string beans he ever saw, and used to plant three crops of corn two weeks apart.
Speaking of crops, Hal said it had been his observation that the planting seasons in the Valley had never been the same since the 1906 earthquake, with the change building up slowly in the following years until eventually there was no more big scale farming done as there was in the Valley’s early days.
“In the early days, everything was on a regular schedule. October and November were the plowing months, following the first rain. Then the heavy winter rains and snow came in December and January—up to 80 inches of rain in a season. Come February, there’d be a little dry spell, and that’s when everybody planted seed, before the second round of rain sets in.
“That was the pattern all the Valley farmers followed, year in, year out, until after the earthquake, when the weather began to change. Nowadays, nobody knows what to expect of the weather from one week to the next. It’s all changed—like a lot of other things.
“Old man Pedroncelli, who had a hotel and bar on East Commercial Street where my father used to go, once said he believed my dad would dance with a broomstick if he couldn’t find anything else. I don’t know as the men folks did anything wrong, it was all sort of goodnatured fun, but I do know that the women folks missed out on a lot of that fun. It was all part of the times, when women worked around the clock taking care of the family. The men worked hard too, but nothing like the women.”
Hal said he does not remember ever seeing his father show any affection toward his mother, or for that matter to any of the children.
“He had a real temper, and I recall once when he got mad at Uncle Shady for something. They were standing in the barnyard, and Dad picked up a wooden neck yoke and started to hit him. Shady ducked just in time—he probably would have been killed for sure.
A typical gathering in the form of a picnic held in Baechtel Woods, off East Hill Road in the Valley. Beginning on the left are Dru Case and his wife May Irene; Vinnie Blosser; 10 year old Hallie Case and his cousin, Bessie Hall; Willits (Jake) Case; Bessie’s father, George Hall; Mrs. George Youde with a couple of little Halls. George Hall was the son of Parker and Nancy (Case) Hall. The Youdes bought the original Jim Case homestead on East Hill Road.
“Another time, Dad was looking for a bridle and couldn’t find it. He thought one of us kids had probably lost it, and he got really mad and told us we better find it or else. He had a big Black Beauty buggy whip, about five feet long, and he kept snapping that whip and hollering. Vern and I were so scared we were running around in all directions looking under beds and every place. In the meantime my mother had quietly sent our brother Frank down to John Blosser’s place, because she was pretty sure that’s where the bridle was. Turned out she was right. When he came running into the barnyard with it, Vern said ‘See, we didn’t lose it. Daddy, aren’t you sorry for yelling at us?’ My father just turned around and walked off, didn’t say a word. I never forgot that. He was a good man though, always doing kind things for folks who needed help. And of course he cared for his parents and Uncle Shady.
“Shady got that name because whenever he was driving a team, anytime he came to a little patch of shade alongside the road, he’d stop and take a rest. That’s the kind of man he was.
“So although he was supposed to be helping my dad in the hauling business, he couldn’t be depended upon and my dad did most of the work. He not only hauled for the Coffer mill out on Sherwood Road, he made his wagon and team available for any kind of hauling needed around town.
“A man’s wagon and team wee about his most important and valuable possessions in those days,” Hal said. “Seems like everybody did some kind of hauling. I remember a man named Jim Blakely, who hauled shingles from the Melville mill out off the Fort Bragg Road, and he invited me once to ride along with him out to the mill when I was about seven years old.
“Coming back into town, he stopped the wagon to check the load and about that time some buzzards sailed over. Jim thought he’d have some fun, so he says, “Look out, Hallie—them buzzards are gonna puke on you.’
“I hopped out of that wagon in nothing flat and crawled underneath, stretched right out in the dust while that danged Jim Blakely laughed his head off.”
ROMANCE BLOOMS WHEN HAL CASE MEETS LITTLE SHIRLEY WHITED
Hallie Case was 12 years old when his parents moved with their boys into the new home father Dru had built for them in Little Lake Valley. By the time the place was completed to the point the family could move in, Dru had already planted fruit trees and a garden, and of the first chores the Case brothers had was to take the horses and wagon down to Davis Creek and fill up big barrels with water to take back for watering the trees and garden.
In doing this, the boys came in contact with the heavy growth of poison oak along the creek banks and it wasn’t long before most of the family had severe cases of the unpleasant malady. May Irene also feel victim to the unfamiliar plant, and finally she asked Hallie, who was the least affected of the family, to go over to the nearest neighbor and ask for a remedy to ease the family’s distress.
The nearest neighbors were Emanuel and Dorcas (Duck) Whited who lived just east of the Case land, and Hallie struck out across the fields of tall grain to seek help. When he arrived at the Whiteds and knocked on the door, Dorcas Whited answered, with nine year old Shirley hiding shyly behind her mother’s skirt. Looking back on this momentous occasion, Hal says all he could see at the time was a tangled mass of black curls and big dark eyes and he was so fascinated that he had trouble trying to concentrate on what Mrs. Whited was telling him.
From that day on, Hallie Case never gave a serious thought to any other girl, and he recalled sort of drifting back home across the fields in a state of light-headed buoyancy. He did manage to remember to tell his mother that Mrs. Whited recommended the use of alder bark, gathered from along the creek bed, chipped into small bits and then boiled to make a pink liquid which was to be spread upon the areas of skin affected by poison oak. The cure proved effective, as Hal recalled.
Shirley Whited was the second youngest of her family. Her younger brother Doug was six years old the summer the Cases moved to the Valley, and she had two older brothers—Reuben who was 18 and Jim who was 15.
The annual threshing season in the Valley began shortly after the Cases settled into their new home. This was a community-wide event with all the men in the Valley taking part, although the actual equipment and threshing operation were the property of the Blosser men. The season lasted for 30 days, during which the men worked from dawn to dusk seven days a week, and even the women were called upon to lend a helping hand in addition to cooking for the crews. It was hard, hot and dusty work, but Hal remembered it as being a time of carnival spirits and good fun.
On that first threshing season after meeting Shirley Whited, Hal rigged up a small pony cart with two billy goats pulling it, and drove it over to the Whited home to ask Shirley to go riding. Both Hal and Shirley were hazy about just what the lad said or did to convince the shy little girl to get into his cart, but get into to it she did and he proudly took her riding around in the fields where the threshing crews were at work. It was the beginning of a romance that would end in marriage nearly ten years later.
That fall the Case boys entered Sawyers School, attending along with the Whiteds, the Sawyers, Halls, Masts and Winans. I was a happy carefree time for the youngsters of the Valley who found plenty of time for play and fun, even with the daily rounds of chores expected of them all at home.
Twelve year old Hallie Case and his dog Mutt float along Davis Creek in the wooden dingy his father made for his sons. The creek was considerably deeper then, and followed a slightly different course than it does today. This picture was taken about where the creek bends just under the bridge into the Gary Ford ranch.
Davis Creek followed a slightly different course than it does today, and had deep swimming and fishing holes that were kept cleared of channel debris by Dru Case and his team of horses making a sweep along the Creek’s length at least one a year. One of the largest swimming holes enjoyed by the Valley children was located just behind where Graf’s gravel plant is today. Dru made a small boat for the youngsters and Hallie used to remember poling along the creek with his dog named Mutt and his girl named Shirley for some of the happiest hours in his memory.
The youngsters usually walked to school together, or sometimes rode horseback on horses, as many as four youngsters to a horse.
There were lots of picnic gatherings of all the families—sometimes at the school, sometimes at individual homes, sometimes in the woods along East Hill Road or up in Pine Mountain.
Wintertime was a period of decreased work activities for everyone, with the men concentrating on hunting for the family larders and keeping up with the tremendous daily drain on the woodshed in every barnyard.
The annual heavy snowfall was eagerly looked forward to by the children. Hal especially remembered one winter when he and his cousin Jinks Hall worked all night long at the Hall home (formerly the Mast house, and where Sherman Schwartz lives today), making a snow sled. The youngsters had spent a day in the woods up on Pine Mountain to find four curved sections of madrone to use as runners, on which they set a platform of redwood slabs.
Jim’s father was George Hall, a son of Parker Hall, and he was married to a girl from the Hopper family for whom Hopper’s Flat in Pine Mountain was named. A brother of hers, Louie Hopper, lived with the Halls. Hallie said the night he and Jinks spent making the sled, Uncle Louie Hopper sat nearby throughout the entire operation, reading out of the Bible to the boys, just to keep a nice balance on such frivolous activity.
DRU CASE BUILDS ANOTHER HOME FOR HIS FAMILY IN THE VALLEY
No sooner had May Irene Case and her four boys settled into the home Dru had built for them on Center Valley Road, with the outbuildings completed and the orchard, garden and well all in—than Dru began to look around for new fields to conquer. A man with a compulsive urge to work, Dru even leased extra fields throughout the Valley to plant in grain and potatoes. He was never satisfied—every job had to be done over until perfect—every chore had to be done today, with nothing put off until tomorrow.
So, as soon as he felt there was nothing more to do to develop his home and barnyard, he decided to tackle the portion of his land which lay on the other side of Davis Creek. He took his team of horses across (there were no bridges then) and began to plow the big open pasture which lay on the other side of the trees rimming the creek. And, at the far back of the pasture in a grove of big oaks, he decided to build a new and larger home for his family, complete with the usual barn, outbuildings and water tower.
That house was finished and the Cases moved in shortly before Hallie Case’s 15th birthday, so it was that house which Hallie used to reminisce about as being the scene of various social gatherings during the period he was courting Shirley Whited.
The family continued to go into the town of Willits to attend church services at the Methodist Church, but only infrequently and for special occasions. Mother Case taught a Sunday school class for Valley youngsters at the Sawyers School, and church services were also held at the School or in the Valley homes.
Hallie recalled there was a preacher by the name of Schomp who lived on Center Valley Road in a house which for some reason was always called “Snug Harbor” by Valley residents. It is still standing, just at the bend of Center Valley Road across from the bridge into Gary Ford’s place.
“He was a preacher, but I don’t recollect ever hearing him preach, or seeing him doing anything but sitting in his kitchen with his feet on the stove and book in his hands,” Hallie said.
“He had about five children, and all the other Valley families helped take care of those kids. My dad kept them in potatoes every winter, and always shared whatever he brought in from a hunting trip. I remember those Schomp youngsters used to come over to our house with a can, or tin cup, asking for sugar, or flour, or coffee or something like that. Every time they’d say, ‘Papa’s going to town tomorrow so we’ll pay you back,’ but they never did.
That’s the way folks were in those days—nobody really minded, everybody knew we had to take care of the Schomps, so we just did what we knew needed doing. No need for food stamps, or welfare payments, or all those good things folks expect today,” Hal would philosophize.
During all the time the Cases lived in the house across Davis Creek, there was no bridge except for a swinging foot bridge. Asked what they did about getting across the creek in wintertime, Hal said, “We just didn’t take the wagon and team across.”
The first barn built by Dru Case on the land he purchased from the Baechtels along what is now called Center Valley Road. The house, built just to the right and front of the barn and out of sight in this picture, has been rebuilt and is the home today of Dru Case’s grandson Doug Case and his wife Skip. The barn is no longer standing, but the walnut tree is.
Photo on Page 10: The original Willits Methodist Church, located on the site of the present church, is shown as it looked when it was being attended by the Cases, the Thompsons and the Blossers. The church later was enlarged and remodeled with a slightly different steeple and, in the end, replaced by today’s structure.
NEIGHBORS ENJOY A LIVELY SOCIAL LIFE
He also recalled that the first time he kissed his girl Shirley goodnight (after at least two years of getting up the courage to try), he went to bed at home in a state of non-alcoholic intoxication with no memory at all of crossing the bridge on foot. With a twinkle, he explained he has always believed that he flew over the creek that night.
On another occasion he took Shirley to a dance in a big barn which was located where the Harry Peters house is today, at the foot of Pine Mountain.
“I don’t know who owned that barn, but Joe Raymond lived nearby, and he used to hold dances in the barn and everybody in the Valley went to them. Ted Fulwider played the fiddle, and Bey Barnwell, and Bob Wright—he lived in that house at the corner of Bray Lane and East Valley, across from where the Southwicks live today, but in those days it was owned by the Whiteds and Ruelles.
“So, one night I borrowed my Dad’s horse and buggy and slicked all up and took Shirley to a dance up at Raymond’s barn. Well, it was a pretty moonlit night, so I drove on up the road a bit (Ridgewood Road today) and then I sort of casual-like wrapped the lines around the whipstock and inched over next to Shirley to put my arm around her. Just about then, something spooked the horse and he bolted, running up on the bank and tipping the buggy just enough so that Shirley fell out in the ditch.
“I don’t remember much more about that night, she was so doggone mad at me. I remember she said, ‘From now on, why don’t you just stay on your side of the creek?’
“Another place we used to go for big doings, dances and the like was at Walnut Grove Ranch, at the south end of the Valley. That was Eugene McPeak’s home originally, but later it was owned by Amy Requa Long and leased to Home Mitten before his wife died and Homer married Mrs. Long. Today Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Shuster live there. Right near there, Conklin Creek runs into Davis Creek, and everybody pitched in and built an outdoors dance platform there. We’d build a big bonfire on the creek, and dance to the firelight all night long.
“Once a fellow named Guy Hall—his wife was quite heavyset—and two of them were really stamping and whooping it up, and she went right through the floor. That broke up the dance that night.”
Continuing Hallie Case’s memories of his early teens in Little Lake Valley, he said his mother and father always welcomed groups of neighbors into their home for evenings of music, even though they were not always in agreement as to just what kind of music was “proper.” May Irene liked church music—Dru preferred something livelier.
When Hallie was in his early teens, his dad ordered a player piano by mail, out of a catalogue. It came up on the train, and all four boys went into town with their father to pick it up at the station and bring it home in the wagon. There were some anxious moments crossing eh creek, with the weight of the piano causing the wagon wheels to sink considerably deeper than usual, but they finally got it across and into the house.
From then on, the Cases usually had “open house” every Sunday afternoon and most of the Valley would come to sing and listen to the newest rolls of music from the city. Orietta Gowell (later Nelson) was one of the “town girls” whom Hallie recalled as a regular Sunday afternoon visitor. On those occasions, boards were laid along the picket fence for ladies to walk upon, so they wouldn’t dirty their skirts in the dark, rich soil of the plowed pasture.
Dru Case stands on the narrow dirt road which ran in front of his house and barn, seen in the background. This is today’s Center Valley Road. Note that there were no other houses on that side of the road. This was taken about 1912.
FAMILIES GOT TOGETHER TO ENJOY EACH OTHER’S COMPANY- AT COUNTRY DANCES MUSICAL AFTERNOONS, OPEN HOUSES AND TAFFY PULLS
The musical afternoon would usually end with a taffy pull in the kitchen, or sometimes all the women would have brought baskets of food and they would sit out under the oak trees for a picnic lunch. Picnics were, in fact, one of the favorite social gatherings of Valley families and there were a half dozen or more favorite spots for holding them, including the Baechtel Grove along East Hill Road, Conklin’s place up in Pine Mountain (near the junction of Conklin and Davis Creeks), and the Walnut Grove Ranch.
Considering the number of hours of work put in by every man and woman every day of the year, it is a wonder that there was any social life at all, but Hallie remembered those early years as being especially full of gun and good times.
“For one thing, we used to make good times out of work—like when we were threshing, or building roads or barns or just about anything,” he recalled.
In the new house across the creek, the Case brothers had reached an age where they were doing men’s work so they were able to help with much of the heavy wok around the place. There was a particularly large garden behind the house, planted in potatoes and vegetables, as well as berry bushes of all kinds. Keeping that large area weeded and watered was an on-going project in which all the family shared.
Hauling water up from the creek became such a chore that Dru and the boys finally laid in piping from the house down to the creek and had their own irrigation system for the garden and fields of grain. Like most families, the Cases also had a large flock of chickens and ducks, as well as a mil cow, goats and hogs. Despite all the dozen chores at home, Hallie still found time to hire out now and then to work for other families in order to earn a dollar or two in those days when cash was a particularly scarce commodity. Typical of such jobs, he once helped Bill Moore plant an open acre of pasture land up on Pine Mountain.
Hal remembered that the 100 pound sack of grain seed was purchased by Moore from John Hellesoe, father of Alex Hellesoe. The Hellesoe Ranch, which was the old original Moore Ranch, was on the one land dirt road leading up into Pine Mountain, and today is the home of Paul Krause. After picking up the sack of grain and loading it into the back of Moore’s horse-drawn wagon, the two made their way up to the Conklin place by the roughly rutted wagon road which was the main access to Pine Mountain at that time.
“There were several families scattered around up in the Pine Mountain region then, some of them going back to the 1880’s and 90’s—the Conklins, for instance, and the Hoppers, for whom Hopper’s Flat was named,” Hal said.
“Eventually, Amy Requa Long bought up all those old homesteads and all of Pine Mountain and the lands to the east, clear over to Highway 101. She started out with the Mariposa Ranch of some 640 acres in Redwood Valley and the western flank of Pine Mountain. Then she began to buy up those old homesteads and before she was through, she owned about 20,000 acres.”
One of the properties bought by Mrs. Long was the Walnut Grove Ranch at the foot of Pine Mountain, which covered the south end of the Valley floor. There were two fine old houses on that ranch. One which was located where the Shuster home is today, was leased by Homer Mitten and his wife and was a favorite gathering place of the Valley families. The other house was just below where the Harry Peters’ live today, and it was near that house that the Joe Raymond barn dances were held. Both of those old houses were lost to fires in later years.
“That Mrs. Long, who eventually married Homer Mitten after his wife died, was quite a lady. She provided work for lots of us young fellows during those years. Always had a project or other going on up there in Pine Mountain, building corrals and fences, cutting brush and clearing land for the cattle she ran up there. Guess there’s some remnants of those old fences we built for her still up there in those woods.”
The top photo is of Doug Whited, Shirley’s younger brother, who was a frequent visitor to the Case home and hunting companion of Hallie’s. He is shown in the first full dress suit with long pants at the age of 16. Below, Shirley Whited and Hallie Case posed together at Dos Rios when Shirley visited him there while he was working at the railroad freight station. Shirley was properly chaperoned both by her mother and Hallie’s mother.
The beautiful photograph above is of Shirley Whited taken when she was the teenage sweetheart of Hallie Case during the years when they were courting and attending the barn dances and home parties held in Little Lake Valley. Below are Frank and Vernon Case as the appeared when they left home in 1917 to serve in the U.S. Army in World War I