Nicknames on the Mendocino Coast

Francisco Faria, also known as Portugee Frank, was born in 1799 on the island of Pico in the Azores. As far as we know, he was the first Portuguese to come to the Mendocino Coast. When he died in 1904 at the advanced age of 105 years, he had lived during 3 centuries.

Nannie Escola was a retired teacher and historian who contributed much to the Kelley House Museum. She passed on decades ago, but she left us with dozens of 3-ring binders full of tidbits of local history and, of all things, in one she collected nicknames of her neighbors. . . hundreds of them.

Interesting, the list was almost all male nicknames. Very few were female. Always colorful, some risqué and perhaps not suitable for print, they reflected a person’s ethnicity, job skills, physical appearance, and noteworthy personal behavior, bringing long-gone people into real time focus.

There was Belgian Frank, who ran a saloon near Hare Creek, English George, Dago Pete, Dutch Henry, French Louie, Kanuk Tom (probably from Hawaii), Petaluma Jack, Portugee Frank, Russian John, Tennessee Bill, Texas Tom, Usal Johnson, and Wylacki John who was an Englishman who joined a native tribe in Round Valley.

Your job often was added to your given name or to your last name. Apple Pie Jones planted orchards wherever he lived on the Coast. Strawberry Peterson raised berries at the headwaters of Hare Creek. Chips was a ships carpenter from Caspar. Tanner McDonald ran a hide tannery at Pine Grove. Pitch Pine Johnson boiled out pine sap. Clapper Brown controlled the clapper mechanism that slowed the descent of a board being loaded via apron chute from bluff-top to ship’s deck. Scattering Tom drove a freight wagon and once spilled his load in the roadway – his friends never let him forget it.

Many nicknames had to do with physical appearance. Big Foot Smith was 6 ½ tall and wore a size 14 shoe. There was Broken Nose Alex, a saloon keeper, and Hook Nose Bill. Peg Leg Van was a deputy sheriff and Peg Leg Pete was a drunk. When out of control and nasty, his friends would escort him to his cabin and hide his peg leg until he sobered up. Lame Alex, Deaf John, and Cock-eyed Warner all worked here. Squealing Charlie was an Italian man with a high-pitched voice, while Whispering Winkie had throat damage and a very soft voice.

Fidler Johnson from Caspar played at dances, while Chicken Hawk Peterson stole chickens from yards. Santa Claus Palmer had a very long beard he wore inside his clothing and it was so long the beard stuck out of the bottom of his pant leg. Shitty Johnson had the misfortune of getting drunk and falling off the seat in an outhouse into the cesspit below.

There were very few female nicknames on Nannie’s list, although one woman had three names: Fury Town Racehorse, Blue Lizard (she wore blue), and Fury Town Gallivant. She walked very briskly wherever she went. Fury Town, east of present Highway 1, was the home of several women of ill repute, including a woman named High Tits and another called Squealing Nora.

Delving into Nannie Escola’s notebooks is always fascinating – and you can stop by the Kelley House to browse them. The Museum and Research Office are open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 11:00 to 3:00. We’re located at 45007 Albion Street in Mendocino. Contact us at (707) 937-5791 or curator@kelleyhousemuseum.org.