More of Mendocino’s Dark Side

Fury Town was not the only enclave where mill workers congregated in the olden days along Mendocino’s coast. Up north, the town of Fort Bragg prospered. As the name implies, Fort Bragg began as a military outpost. Built in 1857, it was named after Confederate general, Braxton Bragg, and established to police local Pomo tribes. The native people had been forced onto a 25,000-acre reservation stretching from Noyo Harbor to MacKerricher. The unpleasant enterprise was short-lived; by 1867, both garrison and reservation were abandoned.

But the town survived, the abundance of redwoods its new raison d’être. Lumber mills flourished along every stream, including Pudding Creek where William Kelley’s brother-in-law, Samuel Blair, joined forces with Alex MacCallum to establish Glen Blair. Daisy married Alex MacCallum and gave birth to a daughter at Glen Blair. She also grew a rose garden there, with “thousands of beautiful blossoms,” and suffered a crippling spinal injury caused by a runaway team.

Daisy preferred the “civilized comforts” of Mendocino and who can blame her? Fort Bragg was a rough and tumble logging town with a thriving red light district. Saloons and bordellos defined Redwood Avenue from Main Street to McPherson. The Golden West Saloon, which still exists, had a brothel upstairs, and the alleyway next to it, crossing Redwood, was littered with shacks housing from one to six girls—cheap girls who serviced working-class men. When a man left a saloon in Fort Bragg announcing he was “going down the alley,” that’s where he was headed.

Girls posed topless in their parlor windows, calling out to the passing men. A back room housed beds and, if one was lucky, curtains. The women who worked these “cribs,” lacked the status of parlor house girls. They tended to be older, ethnic, or scraping the bottom. In San Francisco, the worst cribs were like cages. Trafficked girls, especially the Chinese, were locked in, and when they were no longer productive, a candle was lit. The girl had until it burned out to take her own life. If she didn’t, she would be killed.

Mendocino Coast appears to have been a kinder, gentler place for prostitutes. Madams likely migrated here from San Francisco—working girls that succeeded in the industry and wanted to advance their fortunes. Catherine Coyle, who owned Miss Molly’s Fashionable Boarding House, was likely one of those women. So was Maggie Horn.

The only thing certain about Maggie was she was Fort Bragg’s most powerful madam. She had a bevy of girls working for her, some in the cribs, some in saloons, some in parlor houses. Maggie was a businesswoman and “Rock” McMullen was her bouncer. When things got rough, Rock would pistol whip whoever was out of line—a thief, perhaps, or a john who threatened one of Maggie’s girls. Local folks liked Rock. He looked the part. Tall, dark and handsome, they say, and he dressed like a gangster.

Rock was a local boy born in 1871 in Point Arena. His father had come west for gold and ended up in “the liquor business.” They say Rock lost a young wife to tuberculosis early on, and the tragedy haunted him. He never remarried. He left his estate—some $10,000 strong—to his housekeeper, Alma MacLeod.

Who was Alma MacLeod? Well, like Maggie Horn and Kathryn Coyle, her biography remains elusive. Perhaps the Kelley House has something yet to be discovered about these bold, risqué pioneer women. Hunting down such characters is a challenge, and a reason why anyone with a taste for local history finds the Kelley House Museum intriguing. Come by and see for yourself. www.KelleyHouseMuseum.org