Masters Thesis

Exploring and settling Humboldt Bay

Humboldt Bay is tucked away in redwood country at the northern end of California. Since its only entrance was hard to see and maneuver through, it was not explored nor used by anyone other than the members of the local Native American nations until 1806. The history of the Humboldt Bay area is reflected in the fact that explorers tend to be motivated by three things: the opportunity for financial gain, to convert others to their religion, and/or for adventure. This project will provide information on how the Bay’s own geography slowed European and white American exploration of the region. This fact is due mostly to the Bay’s natural opening from the ocean at only 3000 to 3500 feet wide, and its high water area at 24 square miles and the low water area at around 13 square miles. It will show why people came to this area, in what order they arrived, and how exploration of Humboldt Bay by the Americans, as related by Owen C. Coy in The Humboldt Bay region 1850-1875, brought about social and economic changes to the Humboldt Bay region for the white settlers as well as the American Indians. This project will examine the claims made by the British, Spanish, Russians and Americans. It will show in 1805, the American ship the O’Cain, under Captain Jonathan Winship sailed along the California coast to hunt sea otter. After Winship and the O’Cain came the ship the Laura Virginia with E. H. Howard and H. H. Buhne who were the first recorded white Americans to enter Humboldt Bay. Overland came the Josiah Gregg party in search of a water route from the Pacific to the gold mines which eventually lead to the settlements of Union Town, Bucksport, and Eureka. Humboldt Bay’s exploration is often neglected in local classrooms due to a lack of classroom ready resources and the emphasis on the national story. However the story of white exploration of Humboldt Bay illustrates the larger American story such as the conflict and cultural exchanges between natives and American settlers, the economic and political motives of Manifest Destiny that “ . . . bolstered a sense of national superiority and an expansionist mentality (Jeffrey Nash, The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society), and the settling and economic development of the western frontier. In this project I will make these connections to the larger American story. This project will provide an eighth grade lesson that will incorporate a description of the various groups that came to the Humboldt Bay area, and those that called Humboldt Bay their home in the first half of the 19th century. Also the geography of the physical environment and the development of their economic lives will be covered. Students will explore why Humboldt Bay was an important resource for those who settled here. They will also discover how the timber, shipbuilding, and fishing industries developed by those early settlers shaped the Humboldt Bay region’s economy of today. All of these topics will reflect the main theme of the unit that explorers tend to be motivated by three things: the opportunity for financial gain, to convert others to their religion, and/or for adventure. Finally, students will understand how the local history of Humboldt Bay fits in with California State Standard 8.8.2: describe the purpose, challenges, and economic incentives associated with westward expansion, including Manifest Destiny and the territorial acquisitions that spanned numerous decades; and California State Standard 8.12.1: trace patterns of agricultural and industrial development as they relate to climate, use of natural resources, markets, and trade and locate such development on a map.