Culinary Chaos

A Headline in the November 23, 1918 issue of the Mendocino Beacon read: “Drunken Woodsmen Wreck Cookhouse – Raise Hades at Little Valley Camp” 

Head Cook Wah Bow with his crew at the cookhouse door of Caspar Lumber Company’s Camp #1 in 1900-1920. Lee Sing John cooked there in the early years and Wah Bow worked there later. Many other Chinese men worked in the Mill Cookhouse and in those at the Company’s outlying camps. (Source: Harry Wakerley Collection, Kelley House Museum Archives)

This is the story about cooks and their customers.

Union Lumber Company had a logging crew in a recently established camp in Little Valley east of Cleone in an extensive stand of fir. Members of the camp got inebriated and destroyed the cookhouse and its contents. Why? 

At first, investigators thought it might be a political statement…an International Workers of the World disruption, or an Anarchists contingent with a labor gripe, but no. It was reported as a group of sore-headed Finns who got excessively tanked up in Fort Bragg and decided to take out their spite on the camp cook who was not treating them right.

In an intoxicated condition they ran the Chinese cook and his steward out of their cabin, looted it, then turned their attention to the cookhouse. They destroyed all the windows, smashed the wood range and broke all the camp dishes. Then they littered the place with food and provisions. Scattering flour, sugar, beans, coffee and more over the floor, they ended their orgy by shooting up the camp.

The Marshal came out the next day and corralled the raiders, bringing them to town and lodging them in jail. The miscreants were Charles Waara, John Konu, Otto Saari, Enar Johnson and Issac Jacobsen, the camp boss. So, what caused the outrage? They’d recently been employed at the Company’s camp on the Noyo River near Irmulco, where a small bunch of timber was being cut on the railroad right-of-way.

The Chinese cook at the Noyo camp had favored this Finn contingent in every way possible, giving them lunches between meals and all the sugar they wanted. When they found they were to be transferred to the coast they endeavored to have the cook transferred also. The Company had already chosen a new cook for the new camp in Little Valley and said NO. This new cook and his steward did not show any special favors to the bunch and they soon waxed sore and decided to run the Chinese out and the rampage resulted.

One Chinaman claimed the loss of $125 and the other $85 that disappeared from their cabin when it was looted. The Sheriff came out and the District Attorney planned to prosecute the offenders. One would question if they were ever allowed to work for Union Lumber Company again and how much restitution they had to pay?

It was said logging camps and sawmills ran on the quality of their cooks. Good food and there were happy workers. Bad food and you had problems. But seldom did your preference for one chef over another lead to such mayhem. 

The Kelley House Museum has more information about the Mendocino Coast’s Finns, Chinese, and lumber camps at our www.kelleyhousemuseum.org. From the homepage, select the Collections tab, then Online Collections, then Keyword Search. Then type your search word in the search window. Be sure to wrap in “quotation marks” any phrase containing more than one word. Enjoy!