by Shanti Edwards
After my last blog post about the cultural landscape of Little Black Mountain, I’d like to share some of the rich stories from the homesteading era of Cazadero, collected by Leslie Smirnoff, a former SSU graduate student. Leslie surveyed and recorded the property’s cultural sites, sifted through county records and historic maps, and interviewed neighbors to produce a “cultural resources management plan” for Little Black Mountain. The document chronicles the prehistory and history of the landscape and provides recommendations for the safekeeping of culturally sensitive areas. Based on this document and other stories shared by neighbors, here is a brief history of the Cazadero area and Little Black Mountain.
The forced relocation of Kashia Pomo from their ancestral lands on the Sonoma Coast — and a burgeoning era of European immigrant homesteading, ranching and logging — left its mark on the hills surrounding Cazadero. The post-gold rush era of Sonoma County history is characterized as a time of increased homesteading settlements into rural areas by European immigrants who engaged in farming, ranching, logging, the tourism industry and other related trades. Nearly the entire area was settled by 1897. By 1908, all land had been claimed.
Cazadero was initially called Austin when a post office was established in 1881. In 1886, the North Coast Pacific Railroad established a spur running from Duncan’s Mills along Austin Creek to the town, enabling the expansion of the lumber industry and tourism economy. In the early 1880s, Silas Ingram established a resort, and in 1886, the town was renamed Ingram’s after the resort. The bustling resort town and two-story hotel was subsequently re-named Cazadero (Spanish for “the hunting place”).
The rail line made it possible to transport lumber from vast tracts of forested land. Lumber hauled from Cazadero would arrive in Duncan’s Mills and float down the Russian River to Duncan’s Landing where it was loaded onto ships headed to San Francisco. Following the economic downturn of the Great Depression, the rail line was abandoned in 1933 and the last train left Cazadero for Sausalito on July 31 with a funeral wreath. In the 1940s, Berry’s Lumber Mill was established in Cazadero by Loren Berry, a descendent of George Montgomery (credited with naming the town Cazadero).
Sonoma Land Trust’s Little Black Mountain Preserve is approximately two miles west of the town of Cazadero as the resident golden eagle flies. According to longtime neighbors, the name Little Black Mountain first appears on maps in the 1940s (likely due to the dark rocky outcrops). The issue is further confused by the presence of two other features named Black Mountain and Little Black Mountain in the vicinity. The property we know as Little Black Mountain was not unified under its current configuration until the 1950s. There are two homestead settlements on the property that remain today — the old Petersen Ranch homestead built in the 1920s, and what we currently refer to as the Hedlund Cabin. Old hunting cabins and early settlements may have utilized redwood post foundations, any remnants of which would have disappeared in the Creighton Ridge Fire of 1978.
The western portion of the Little Black Mountain property was purchased in 1911 by Roman Alexander, a carpenter from Finland. The story goes that one day he completed a carpentry project for a family and demanded payment. The man of the house did not have any money at the moment and Alexander grabbed the lady of the house and asserted that he would take her as payment. The matter was resolved after Alexander explained that this reaction was a compliment in Finland and he was allowed back for further projects. Alexander was skilled at building saunas and opened Roman’s Resort in Cazadero around 1912, but by 1921, the Peterson Family purchased the ranch parcels and began building other farm buildings and structures.
Bernhard and Ellen Peterson emigrated from Sweden around the year 1900. Their son Arthur was 13 by the time they moved to Cazadero, and our longtime neighbor tells us that the old stone chimney that still remains at the homestead site was built, stone by stone, from rocks Arthur had to carry in his knapsack every day on his way up the hill from school. Bernhard and his son were automobile mechanics and operated a repair shop in Cazadero. Voter registration records show that he lived in the area until 1945 when they sold the property and relocated to Santa Rosa.
The eastern section of Little Black Mountain was settled by Jack and Verlie Branstetter in 1937, who were the first ones to utilize the property regularly. Originally from Missouri, the Branstetters also resided in Sacramento and Jack was a salesman for Pillsbury. In addition to the construction of a quaint wooden cabin, Bransetter established a small concrete dam and water conveyance system on a neighboring parcel, which was registered in 1939 with the California Division of Water Resources. This source continues to be one of the best producing springs on the property.
In 1965, they sold the property to Joe and Margaret Key, who sold the property in 1966 to Roy and Sarah Jane Hedlund. Upon moving in, Jane Hedlund tells that there was a wooden plaque above the door engraved with the words “The house that Jack built.” Jane Hedlund was deeded the property in the late 1960s by her parents and lived there off the grid with her small pottery studio and garden until the 1980s. The cabin still stands today with Jane’s potter’s wheel positioned on a knoll with a view of St. Helena in the distance. Jane generously deeded the property to Sonoma Land Trust in 2005 to unify the preserve.
In 1952, Dr. William and Mrs. Rose Hatch acquired five parcels and unified them in the shape currently known as Little Black Mountain. During their ownership, portions of the property were leased for the purposes of logging. The property changed hands a number of times and was acquired in 1974 by Nion Robert “Bob” Thieriot (of the San Francisco Chronicle family), who donated the ranch to Sonoma Land Trust after the Creighton Ridge Fire of 1978.
Bob Thieriot’s conservation vision and legacy is deserving of an entire blog post of its own. Stay tuned for the next chapter in the history of Little Black Mountain ...
Shanti Edwards is a stewardship project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.