Saturday, January 26, 2008

It must be genetic. My Grandpa was a Fireman.

My Mother, Elsie, was looking through my grandfathers papers the other day and she ran across this document. (click on photo's for enlargement)

Back in the early 1900’s My grandfather, Wilhelm H. Rathjens, was the manager of the El Rancho Primero, a large ranch in the north end of the Laytonville valley. The ranch extended to the Main Eel River and took up all of the Woodman canyon area, also the Black Oak ranch, and Iron Peak area. I’m not sure of the exact boundaries, but the ranch was huge by today’s standards.

Wildfire was a concern back then as it is now, but the ranchers would burn the brush and trees to clear their land for cattle or sheep. Because of the fire hazard involved, large stands of brush were not allowed to accumulate. Even when I was a kid there was much talk about the Indians managing the land with fire, and it was considered to be necessary to burn. They burned very frequently.

Fires would often get out of hand, and burn far beyond what they were supposed to. The only method of fighting fire was by hand. They would use wetted gunny-sacks tied to a stick and wait for the fire to move into the grass land were they would wet the sacks and flail them onto the burning grass, or by building hand scraped fire breaks. A large wall of people with wetted sacks was the best way to stop a wildfire. Often, every able bodied person in the whole valley would be recruited and organized into fire fighting brigades. Every man woman and child would be involved in stopping a wild fire. Houses were protected from an approaching wildfire by burning the grassland around the buildings, and controlling the rate of burn with the wetted sack flails. Controlling a fire would become a large community effort. They packed water by hand or horse, everyone had to be fed. Everyone had a job to do with the fire until it was out. There never seemed to be much blame placed on anyone for starting the fire, probably because most of them were an accident.

Getting back to the document that my mother found. The document was dated 1922. This was before she was born, and she doesn’t recall any stories of fires of that era. But, I found that it was interesting that it was a “voluntary” position. Whatever that means. And, that it was the “California Board of Forestry” that issued it. The document in itself tells a lot, the fact that my grandfather was a “Voluntary Fire Marshal” was indeed interesting to me. There is nobody alive at this point that would know any of that kind of history, and my mother doesn’t remember any “stories” of Warden Grampa.

Does anybody know anything about what that document meant? Maybe Eel River Ernie would know. One of my Grandfathers nicknames was "Willie", do you think that he might have been the original "Piss Fir Willie?"


kmk31060 said...

Ernie, I don't know anything about the firewarden position but just for fun I spent about an hour doing a little research. You probably have this but

The 1940 Great Register Wilhelm H Rathjens is listed as
Rathjens, William H Republican Laborer living in Laytonville in the Long Valley Prcinct.

The Soc Sec. Death Index has
William Rathjens SSN: 564-30-9443 Born: 10 Oct 1888 Died: Sep 1965 State (Year) SSN issued: California (Before 1951 )

The CA Death Index has
William H Rathjens Social Security #: 564309443 Sex: MALE Birth Date: 10 Oct 1888 Birthplace: Germany Death Date: 11 Sep 1965 Death Place: Humboldt

The 1920 census has
William H Rathjens
Home in 1920: Long Valley, Mendocino, California
Age: 31 years
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1889
Birthplace: Holstein
Spouse's Name: Agusta M
Father's Birth Place: Holstein
Mother's Birth Place: Holstein
Race: White
Sex: Male
Home owned: Rent
Year of Immigration: 1912
Able to read: Yes Able to Write: Yes

His wife is in the 1920 as
Agusta M Rathjens
Home in 1920: Long Valley, Mendocino, California
Age: 30 years
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1890
Birthplace: Lorraine
Father's Birth Place: Lorraine
Mother's Birth Place: Lorraine
Year of Immigration: 1913
Able to read: Yes Able to Write: Yes

They are also on the 1930 census and I can get the info if you want it too.

His 1942 draft registration has
William Henry Rathjens
Birth Date: 10 Oct 1888
Residence: Laytonville, California
Birth: Elmshorn, Germany

Here is a link to his ww1 draft reg

Possibly the following link shows his immigration from Germany to US (although I don't have enough info to be sure)
That Wilhelm Rathjen is 26 when he embarked Aug 1912 which is roughly the right age. HE had been living in Hamburg Germany and his father’s name was P. Rathjen. Entrance was NY, NY. He was a steward on the ship.

First Name: Wilhelm Last Name: Rathjen Ethnicity: German, German Last Place of Residence: Hamburg, Germany Date of Arrival: Sep 03, 1912 Age at Arrival: 26y Gender: M Marital Status: S Ship of Travel: Patricia Port of Departure: Hamburg

Here is a link to what the ship looked like.

This is all public information and easily accessible online so don't worry about the soc sec # etc. But if you are, just delete that part of this post.

Hope I added something new to your info.

Ernie Branscomb said...

KMK31060, Thank-you so much.

You have no idea how much this information will mean to my mother and I. We have done a little research, like Ellis etc. but nothing like what you just provided us. You have an amazing talent.

This will keep us busy for a while.


Kym said...

Sorry about signing in as kmk for some reason blogspot changed me over. I didn't even know I had that account. I didn't realize it had happened until I posted on Eric's.

Anyway glad I helped. I hope that the passenger list turns out to be your grandfather. I loved the pic of the ship.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I should have put the identity together, I guess that I was just too busy being flabbergasted.

If you had any way to access the rest of his life, you would have found that he fought for the Kaiser in the German army in Africa, and he was at one time the personal bodyguard of the Kaiser. I don’t know what the event was that he guarded the Kaiser, but I remember that he told me the password that was used that day, and nobody was allowed to pass that didn’t know the password. I have since forgotten what the word was, but I was very impressed that I knew it. It was like knowing the secret code to open the treasure cave, abracadabra and stuff like that. I often wondered what it would have been like to say hello to the Kaiser. After all, I knew the password, and my grandpa was the guard!

My grandfather’s uncles owned the El Rancho Primero in Laytonville where my grandfather was the manager, and they also owned a large sausage making factory in San Francisco. When I was going to school down there in the early sixties, I remembered a large two or three story brick building, I think it was in the area of Ghirardelli Square. On the side of the factory it said; “Rathjens Sausage company” in a large painted, and very weathered, sign.

I remember telling my fellow students; “Hey, my grandfather’s uncles owned that place”. I remember them saying; “Oh yeah, sure, if your Grandfather’s uncles owned that building, you would be very rich, Hahahaha.” “The Brothers”, as the were known in my family, lost everything in the depression. So my mothers family was some of the few people in Laytonville that were effected by the depression.

The URL that you gave me takes me to a genealogy site that I have to subscribe to access.

Would you recommend some sites that are worth joining? For me and others that might be interested?

Thanks again Ernie

Kym said...

Ernie, I can copy the page and bring it into you at work. However, is the most important genealogy site online. It has an excellent search engine and incredible resources. It does cost some money like about $100 a year but if you are serious about genealogy it is worth every penny.I got most of the info I gave you off of their site.

Most of the other good ones are free. Including, in Miranda, is the wonderful LDS Family Resource center staffed by many volunteers, especially Mary Whitmore who is very knowledgeable. I don't know its hours off the top of my head but they have microfiche readers and access to the LDS microfilmed records. And they can be extremely helpful starting out.

The easiest thing to do is enter the ancestor's name you are researching into google in quotation marks. If you get too many hits, add a location or another keyword like railroad if they worked for the rr company. After you've entered it that way turn it around and enter it last name first.

For instance, take Rathjen and sausage and "San Francisco" and enter those into google. you might get nothing or a lot.

Use Rootsweb, especially

or Cyndie's list

I'll be glad to answer more specific questions too.

Eel River Ernie said...

Ernie, what a great find! Voluntary Fire Warden’s were the backbone of the then “California Division of Forestry” during its formative years and they still exist in practice and by statute.

Fire wardens are appointed by the State Forester (now called Director or Chief) to serve a specific area or county. Fire wardens were authorized by statute in 1909 and could call on “citizens between the ages of sixteen and fifty years, for assistance in putting out fires.” Those (citizens) who refused were deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of fifteen dollars or imprisoned in the county jail for a minimum of ten but no more than thirty days. In times of particular fire danger the State Forester could require the fire wardens to maintain a fire patrol of their respective area. They were also able to accept “expenses” from the “county, corporations or individuals” for fire patrols.

Fire wardens were the ones who organized and directed the firefighting forces which, as you pointed out, generally included every able man in the area. Timber companies had their own brigades and were responsible for fires occurring on their lands but would often lend a hand in fighting fires on adjacent properties. I am not sure whether or not the fire wardens could commit state funding without the authorization of the county ranger. The Mendocino county Division of Forestry rangers at the time were: A.P. Cheetham, 1920; R.E. Roach from 1921 to 1926; and, Everett R. Roach (son of R.E.) 1927 and 1928. To my knowledge fire wardens are still appointed (generally from cooperating fire agencies) to assist in the enforcement of the states forest and fire laws but are not able to “impress” citizens into service any longer.

Each fire warden was given a numbered state badge; it would be interesting to find your grandpa’s badge number. If you are interested in what the badges looked like you can go to: although the fire warden badge example is a newer version. When I was working for CDF here locally a friend found an original version badge and I tried to find out to whom it had belonged through its number but unfortunately those records had been destroyed. The badge is now on display at CDF headquarters in Fortuna.

Finally, knowing a little bit about your family history, folks like your grandpa were the doers of the country and made things happen and probably didn’t cotton up to much government intervention. Piss Fir Willy’s thrive on regulation and are largely responsible for the state, or non-state, of our forests today, your grandpa was no “Piss Fir Willy.”

PS: at some point your mother might want to consider donating that document to the CDF museum - ERE

Ernie Branscomb said...

Eel River Ernie
Thank you for the information, I knew that they could recruit people off the street to put to work on a fire, I just didn’t know that it was my Grampa Bill that did that. My mother wasn’t born until 1923, so she didn’t know much about Grampa’s activity in the early days. He had earned a bunch or metals in the Kaiser's German Army. My mother says that she will look through them to see if his badge is in there, but she doesn’t think she saw anything like that.

He was a very interesting person, I should do a post about what I know of his life. His life wasn’t easy, and at times it was very dramatic, but at the end of it all he was a very amazing man.

Carol said...

Nice post and comments. Thank you to Kym for the links.

EkoVox said...

Ernie, Gifford Pinchot was the first Piss Fir Willie, I believe.

Great post on fire suppression from both you and Eel River Ernie.

Eel River Ernie said...

I was in the Mattole Valley the week before last engaging in my favorite pastime (chasing the wily winter steelhead) and had a chance to visit with some of the locals. One of the concerns expressed by a lifelong resident was the increased growth in brush and timber in recent years. Many of the areas that once were rangeland are now covered over and useless from a grazing standpoint and as a result present a greater fire risk. In part this is as a result of the larger landholders not being able or willing to conduct the large scale burns that used to be common.

In my early years with CDF range management burns were a common thing and one of CDF’s highest priorities. We even had dedicated Range Improvement (RI) crews whose sole job was to assist with control burns. I can recall many burns in virtually every northern California unit in which I worked. Occasionally these fires would “get away” and go beyond their intended acreage becoming wildfires that had to be suppressed by regular firefighting forces. Over the years as large landholding were divided up and more people moved to what once was wild lands the ranchers became more cautious and less enthusiastic with their burning programs. Then, as government regulation increased and people became more and more litigious, large scale burning diminished to virtually nil.

Wildland fire service folks realize the consequence of the current fuels buildup mixed with rural and urban interface development and have sporadically implemented programs to address the problem with some occasional successes. Recently the Governor appointed a blue ribbon task force made up of union officials and fire chiefs to review the 2007 Southern California fires and their report, which was just released, details more than a dozen specific recommendations to increase permanent state and local emergency services, build additional response to meet catastrophic needs, break down bureaucratic barriers between governmental agencies and establish a new commitment to fire-safe construction and land-use planning ( Hold onto your pocket book! As is typical when fire chiefs and unions collaborate, taxes are going to get raised to “fund” the additional equipment and manpower needed to further delay these conflagrations from occurring.

In my mind the wild lands fuel buildup and encroaching development is one of California’s gravest natural disasters in-waiting and I doubt that much can be done to prevent future conflagrations of epic proportions from occurring throughout the state.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Eel River Ernie
I agree with what you say entirely. The biomass of the north coast is greater than it has ever been in all of history. ( Biomass = brush, trees, grass and other vegetation)

In pre-history the “hell-holes” were routinely burned. A hell-hole was any stand of trees or brush that was close enough knit together that you couldn’t walk or ride your horse through comfortably. The Indians and early settlers would burn these spots.

The Indians had a two-fold reason for burning, it improved the land for being able to move about. They moved by the season. They would move to where the food was better, or they would move to get away from other Indians that they didn’t like. Often they would move because their village was old. When they moved they would burn their old village, and build a new one in their new spot. They built their villages out local plants and trees. They would bury their stone grinding bowls at their old place, and dig up the ones that they had left behind in their new place. They had to drag their possessions by hand, so only the most needed stuff moved with them, like hides and weapons, clothes, jewelry, etc.

The second reason, that is well documented, is burning killed the bugs that infested the acorns, and it provided the young new sprouts that they used in basket making, and the young sapling poles that they used for just about everything. There was nothing about a wild-land fire that was thought of as harmful to the Indian people.

Anyone who really thought about it would see that fire was almost sacred to the Indians. Just like in the Phoenix legend, what ever burned came back with much improvement.

I don’t know how to tell the newcomers that this brush load that we have here now, is way beyond “not-normal” for the North Coast. It’s way beyond what we can even began to control, and as many people have said, we are headed for certain disaster. Just one hot summer day, with a strong land breeze, and one little spark, and the whole north coast will look different.

EkoVox said...

Gentlemen, you're encroaching on dangerous ground with those comments. But, you already know that. My brother and I made the very same comments just today. Be sure to blame it on logging and the early day miners. That's kind of par for the course, these days.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Reality has nothing to do with the way some of the new people think. It is always shocking to me that they have information at their finger tips about what has really changed, and how, but for some reason they wanted to discredit the loggers and miners instead.

Just the other day while I was looking for information on the 1964 rainfall records, I came across that on December 23,1964 it rained 7.23 inches in Richardson’s Grove in a 24 hour period. That would be impressive in itself, if hadn’t just rained on the previous day 11.32 inches in a 24 hour period. That’s impressive! Like Larry the Cable Guy might say “I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive”.

Those are official provable records. The record that I’m looking for, that I feel is true, but I haven’t been able to find the official records yet, is the fact that it rained 24 inches in that same 48 hour period in Branscomb California, the head waters of the South Fork of the Eel River. 7 inches of it happening in a 4 hour period. No logged forest, no hillside, no virgin forest, no land at all on the north coast could soak up that amount of water. The land that did soak it up, simply liquefied and slid off the hills. This stuff is all verifiable, why don’t they use their college educations to check out some of these facts.

The loggers and miners had little to do with what went down the river in 1964. I’ve said this a thousand times; “You have no idea how much it rained, You would have had to have seen it to believe it”. Some of us saw it, and it still gives me chills, and it was a warm rain on top of a heavy snow pack in the hills. The feeling of impending doom amongst everyone was palpable! It seemed like the whole world was washing away around us. How does one convey that feeling to someone who wasn’t there? I can prove that you can’t explain this to the new people, they cant wrap themselves around it. It is easier for them to think that it was man caused… Sound familiar?

robin shelley said...

I did see it, Ernie, & I believe it! I also remember that it had snowed, froze & snowed again in Laytonville so there were a few inches (six?) of snow & ice on the valley floor when the deluge started in '64.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thanks Robin, there are few of us true believers left, most people are content to go on thinking that “the loggers caused it”

Although my feet are firmly planted in the modern world, and I believe in modern science, times like the ‘64 flood shake that faith. The ancient Pagans believed that everything was made up of four elements, Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water.

In December of 1964 that was easy to believe, and Water ruled and changed our existence.

On April 25 1992 we saw the Earth change through a series of three earthquakes, where the coast along Petrolia raised four feet out of the water. That same day Kings Peak raised 16 inches in elevation. Some scientists have said that we could experience a much worse earthquake.

I saw the October 12, 1962 blow-down, where millions of trees were flattened on the north coast by wind.

Like Eel River Ernie was telling us about the old timer in Honeydew. The brush-load on the north coast is serious, the conditions are ripe, and we are long over due for a disastrous fire.

It is easy to see why the ancient people thought that there were only four true elements.

Carson Park Ranger said...

It was great to meet Ernie while I was in Garberville this week.

I hadn't read this post yet, but I was commenting to my wife that it looks like a disaster in the making down there. Most homes I saw had no clearing around them.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I hate to damage Carson Park Rangers image, but I found him to be a very nice guy. I also met his wife, also a very nice person.

He introduced himself as being a representative of the Bloggers picnic.

I'm really looking forward to meeting the rest of the bloggers. See you at the picnic.

I assume commenters will be included?