Kibesillah, Mendocino Coast

Kibesillah, Mendocino Coast

by | Nov 3, 2022

Kibesillah is the site of a historical lumber-loading chute and for a short time was one of the most important communities on the north coast, about 10 miles (16 km) north of Fort Bragg and 3.3 miles (5.3 km) south of Westport, California. Marine terraces dominate the landscape of the California coast and were initially formed by wave erosion followed by uplifting of the land resulting in a stair-step progression with a predictable sequence of soils with the oldest, more nutrient-depleted soils on the highest terraces and the youngest, more fertile soils on the lowest terraces. The underlying bedrock at Kibesillah formed during the Late Cretaceous to Eocene, or about 100 to 35 million years ago, and consists of Franciscan Complex greywacke sandstones, shales, and conglomerates which have experienced low-grade metamorphism. Indigenous people such as Tolowa, Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Yuki, and Pomo historically inhabited the coastal redwood forests and marine terraces. Native Americans historically used fallen redwoods or redwood trees washed up on beaches for canoes and housing materials. The origin of the name ‘Kibesillah’ may be derived from the Pomo language combining the words ‘kabe’ (rock) and ‘sila’ (flat).

Gold was discovered in northwestern California in 1850 when there were about 2 million acres (809,000 ha) of old-growth redwoods in Northern California. Thousands of Euro-American immigrants crowded the remote redwood region in search of riches. Commercial logging followed the expansion of America as companies struggled to keep up with the furious pace of progress. Timber harvesting quickly became the top manufacturing industry in the American west. At first, axes, saws, and other early methods of bringing the trees down were used. It could take weeks for a hand crew to fell, cut, and transport one redwood tree. By 1853, nine sawmills were at work on the north coast and large stands of redwoods began to disappear by the close of the 19th century. Kibesillah was first settled in the 1860s, and in 1867 a blacksmith shop was established which was soon followed by three hotels, three saloons, a public school, and a Baptist Church. Kibesillah had a lumber chute that loaded posts, cordwood, and tanbark. These products came from a mill located about 2 miles (3.2 km) south in Newport, built by the Field Brothers in the 1860s but was destroyed by fire in 1877. Calvin Stewart and James Hunter rebuilt the mill on the original site and it operated from about 1878 to 1885 with a capacity of 25,000 feet (7,622 m) per day. The lumber produced was hauled by six-horse teams to Kibesillah where it was loaded onto schooners using a gravity chute. The schooners were made fast to several moorings located on rocks and on the shore. The mooring lines were set in such a way that the schooners had a chance of running back and forth with the surging waves.

In 1882, Charles R. Johnson became a partner with Stewart and Hunter and decided that Soldiers Point on Noyo Headlands in Fort Bragg was a better location to expand the mill. The shoreline off the point at Fort Bragg could also accommodate a wharf thereby eliminating the labor-intensive use of a loading chute. Three years later the Newport mill was moved to Fort Bragg where Stewart, Hunter and Johnson founded the Fort Bragg Redwood Company. With few other employment opportunities, the residents of Kibesillah had little choice but to follow the jobs to Fort Bragg. In 1898, the public school had 25 students, and by 1923 only 5 were enrolled, and the school closed in 1928. Today, little remains of the settlement and the gently sloping intertidal rock ramps at Kibesillah are favored study sites for marine biologists studying the effects of the ocean on intertidal life. The hard siltstone ramps are cut by deep surge channels and the wave impacts can be severe, however, the bedrock is still dominated by mussel beds and a high diversity of seaweeds, or macroalgae. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kibesillah and the Mendocino Coast here (map may take a few seconds to load):

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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