Biography of Hon. Rufus F. Herrick
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





HON. RUFUS F. HERRICK. - With the early history of Indian affairs in Northern California the names of Mr. and Mrs. Herrick are closely linked and their activity during the period of warfare resulted in a quicker return to peaceful conditions than would otherwise have been possible. Substantial and patriotic traits would be expected of Mr. Herrick, for he is not only of Revolutionary stock, but has the further honor of claiming descent from Leif Ericsson, the Norseman, who established the first settlements in Rhode Island and on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., in the year 1000. The progenitor of the American branch of the family was Henry, Heneric, Hericke, or Herrick (there having been several variations in the spelling of the name, dating from the early Norse "Eric"). He was the fifth son of Sir William Herrick, and was born at Beau Manor Hall, Leicester county, England, in 1604, and settled first in Massachusetts, and Francis, the grandfather of Rufus F. Herrick, served for forty years in the senate of that state. There were many distinguished members of this family during the early history of the nation, and the late distinguished citizen of Humboldt county inherited many of the splendid qualities of heart and mind that characterized his forbears.

The father of Rufus F. Herrick was Capt. Ephraim Herrick, a native of Massachusetts, who became a pioneer of Ohio, which the son claimed as his native commonwealth, his birth having occurred at Wellington, Lorain county, on June 8, 1828, and his youth was spent in Ohio, where he learned to be a civil engineer, in 1849 helping to survey the line of the Cleveland, Cincinnati & Columbus Railroad, now merged with the Big Four. The discovery of gold attracted him to California, and in 1850 he crossed the plains to Placerville, where he mined for two years, going from there to Alameda county, where he engaged in the manufacture of lumber in the mountains above Redwood City, later following farming near San Leandro. Going from there to Santa Clara county, he carried on a lumbering business in that section for several years. In 1857 he surveyed the wagon road from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz, in Santa Clara valley, also raised a company and built a toll road. Over this road he brought his lumber from the mountains where he purchased a large tract of timber in Jones' redwoods. While going over the trail to view the mountains and locate a place for the road he saw a grizzly bear on the trail coming toward him. He tried to turn his mule back, but the stubborn animal would not turn, so he let it go and when the bear saw the mule it was not more than a hundred feet away. The bear gave one snort and went straight up the mountain, stopping about every hundred feet to look back and snort. This trail is now a county road. Subsequently he was county surveyor of Humboldt county for eleven years, surveying the overland road out of the county and most of the roads in the county. For fifteen years he was Deputy United States Surveyor, sectionizing many townships for the government in the county and engineered the first logging iron track railroads in the county.

While in Santa Clara county Mr. Herrick met and married Martha J. Gist, who was born at South Bend, Ind., December 11, 1842, and was reared in the South. The lineage of her family is traced directly to Baron Von Gist, who was born in Germany in 1584 and in 1634 crossed the ocean to Maryland. The early married life of Rufus F. Herrick and his wife was spent in Humboldt county, Cal., where they ever afterwards made their home. Locating on Mad river in November, 1860, for a year Mt. Herrick cultivated a rented farm, and at this place he made the first cheese for shipment in the county. In 1861 he was appointed by the government to collect the Indians and place them on the Klamath Reservation and left Arcata with about two hundred. After completing the task he was appointed by the federal government as farmer on the Klamath Indian Reservation, then in Klamath county. The freshet of 1861-62 destroyed the reservation there and Mr. Herrick was forced to move the Indians to Smith River, Del Norte county. About fifteen hundred Indians were removed under the personal charge of Mr. Herrick and later he had charge of the farming operations on the new ground. However, in 1863 he resigned from a work for which he was eminently qualified, that he might show his patriotic loyalty to the Union by entering the army. After assisting in raising and organizing Company D, First Battalion, California Mountaineers, he was made lieutenant of the same, and at the expiration of thirty days spent in this capacity was given command of the company, its captain being sent on detached duty, and Mr. Herrick was retained in this office thereafter. His previous success in handling the Indians caused him to be given charge of a large company of Indian prisoners, numbering some eight hundred in all, who had been captured on the Trinity river and sent to Fort Humboldt. Before he arrived many of the Indians had escaped, and forty got away on the night of his arrival, the principal cause of trouble being lack of food. Through his efforts, they were given a sufficient ration, also furnished with hooks and lines for fishing, allowed to have occasional dances, and in other ways treated as they desired to be, so defections not only became rare, but in addition two hundred Indians returned to the fort within two months. At the end of two months they were transported by steamer to the Smith River Reservation, accompanied by Lieutenant Herrick himself. Returning to his company, he was in active service until May 21, 1865. During his association with the Indian service he succeeded in having most of the Indians of Humboldt county stationed at Fort Gaston. Both Mr. and Mrs. Herrick were in high favor with the red men, and when Colonel Black attempted to make a treaty with them, they refused to sign until Herrick himself had assured them that the colonel was treating them right and that he had authority to act. Many times the savages had opportunity to shoot Mr. Herrick, but they trusted him as a friend and had no thought of taking his life.

On retiring from the Indian service Mr. Herrick bought two hundred forty acres near Ferndale on the Eel river and for four years engaged in ranching there, after which time he sold the property and purchased two thousand acres of marsh land at the foot of Table Bluff, from which he developed a splendid dairy farm, to which he added three hundred acres, which ranch is now the property of his widow. After conducting this immense ranch with splendid success for many years he leased it in 1897, and from that time until his death he lived in quiet retirement, a part of the time on his ranch and a part of the time in San Francisco, death finding him at his Lolcta home, May 19, 1914.

In politics Mr. Herrick was a Republican from the organization of the party, and was a leading member of Colonel Whipple Post No. 49, G. A. R., of Eureka. In the early history of California he took an active part, and especially in the welfare of Humboldt county, where he made his home from November, 1860, until his death, the most important work of his life being his services in behalf of the Indians. Since the death of Mr. Herrick his widow has continued to reside on her ranch near Loleta. He leaves two sons: Frank E., for many years county surveyor, and with his wife, formerly Miss Emma Gish of San Jose, Cal., residing at Eureka; and George D., who married Miss Jessie Rolph Nicol and resides in San Francisco.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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