Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Humboldt
 
 
 
Fort Humboldt
by Robert B. Roberts
 
Established on January 30, 1853, by Captain Robert C. Buchanan, 4th Infantry, this post was situated on a 35 foot high bluff overlooking Humholdt Bay at what was then Bucksport, presently a part of the city of Eureka. Intended to provide protection for the area's inhabitants from Indian hostiles, it served also as a supply depot for other posts in northern California. Ulysses S. Grant served here in 1854 as a 4th Infantry captain. In 1866 the garrison, except for one company of artillery was withdrawn and the post then became a subdepot, maintained primarily to provide supplies to Fort Gaston. Department commander Brigadier General Irvin McDowell reported on September 14, 1867, that the company of Artillery had been withdrawn and the post completely abandoned. One historical chronologist reports abandonment took place in 1866, in accordance \with Special Order Number. 243. Department off Californiania. On April 6, 1870, the military reservation, now a state historic monument was transferred to the Department of the Interior. The post hospital, completely renovated, was moved a short distance from its original site. It is now a Museum with Native American and military artifacts, text and photographs. The second building that has been restored is the Surgeons Quarters. This building Is open only for special occasions. Visitors can look in the windows and see photographs of Josiah Simpson, Army Doctor, and his wife Harriett, who lived in the residence from 1854-75. In 2001 the Park added the History in Bloom garden designed to represent a typical personal garden at the Fort in 1853-63. The Fort Museum is open daily from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm most of the year. It is closed on weekends only from November through February. For more info on Fort Humboldt, people can call the State Park at (707) 445-6567.
 
 
 
 
Fort Humboldt
by Justin Ruhge
 
Captain Robert C. Buchanan, 4th Infantry, established Fort Humboldt on January 30, 1853. This post was situated on a 35-foot high bluff overlooking Humboldt Bay at what was then Bucksport, presently a part of the City of Eureka. Fort Humboldt was headquarters for the Northern California District of Humboldt, an area of 20,000 square miles during the Civil War. Colonel Francis J. Lippitt, 2nd Infantry California Volunteers was assigned to the command. Intended to provide protection for the area's inhabitants from Native American hostiles, it served also as a supply depot for other posts in northern California. Eventually, 26 frame buildings were constructed around a 300-foot square parade ground, which overlooked the ocean and bay.
 
With its rugged forests and mountains, the Humboldt District presented its commander with no easy task. "There are so many Indians and they are so hard to find," Colonel Francis J. Lippitt reported, "that to bring them all in by sending small detachments after them would take as long as it would to bring in the squirrels and coyotes." Remember Francis Lippitt from the occupation of Santa Barbara?
 
When the Fort was built in 1853, a lieutenant named George Crook was in its first detachment. By 1861, the Humboldt area had four forts, Humboldt, Crook, Gaston and Bragg and as many camps, Baker, Lyon, Anderson and Lincoln. This number was reduced to only Humboldt, Gaston, and Lincoln by 1865 plus Camp Iaqua, built near Blue Lake in 1863.
 
Humboldt had its problems. One of its early captains, a U. S. Grant, served there for five months in 1854 but spent more time at Ryan's Tavern in Eureka than at the Fort. In 1861 the rains were so heavy that the 26 buildings were abandoned temporarily and shelter was sought in Eureka. At one time, Colonel Lippitt had 300 Native Americans and 35 soldiers under guard
at the Fort where he built a circular stockade 10 feet high and 80 feet in diameter and put everyone in it.
 
In 1854 Colonel Joseph Mansfield, Inspector General of the Army, visited Fort Humboldt one year after it was founded. His eyewitness commentary, which follows will give the reader insight into the conditions and Army customs at that time:
"Fort Humbolt is in latitude 40 degrees 46 minutes and longitude 124 degrees 9 minutes at Bucksport, on Humbolt Bay, on a reservation of 640 acres, of 700 yards from (on the water and town) by 4,444 yards deep; thus securing wood land, and gardens and keeping off grogeries. It is well selected in rear of the town, on the high ground, and commands a good view of the harbour and its entrance. There are four little settlements on this bay. At the northern extremity is the town of Union; 7 miles south of it is the town of Eureka; 3 miles further south is Bucksport; and 4 miles further, opposite the entrance of the harbour, is the town of Humbolt. Thus there is quite an American population on this bay, with a good steam tug to bring in vessels and a small steamer to communicate daily with the different places. The Indians in this quarter number about 250 warriors and are much degraded. On the Mad River and Eel River they are armed with bows and arrows. Fifty miles from this post is the junction of the Trinity River with the Klamath; and this post undoubtedly exercises an important influence over the Indians on these rivers, in conjunction with Fort Jones in Scott's Valley, which is 150 miles distant over a bad and dangerous trail.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
A Sketch of Fort Humboldt in 1854 by Army Inspector General Colonel Joseph Mansfield. Courtesy of the National Archives.

There are constant trains of pack mules between Union and the mining villages on the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon Rivers; and there is a large amount invested in saw mills at Eureka and Bucksport, which should be protected against any combination of Indians who could concentrate on any of these three posts, Fort Lane, Fort Jones, or Fort Humbolt. This post is important now and should be maintained for some time yet to come, if not always, for the defense of this bay-particularly as the troops here on an emergency may be regarded as a reserve that a steamer could transport to any point along the coast. There is abundant lumber, wood, grazing, fresh beef, potatoes, and barley here. All other supplies come from San Francisco. This post is under the command of Captain and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel R. O. Buchanan, 4h Infantry, who established it January 1853. Attached to this post is Assistant Surgeon Josiah Simpson. The force consists of Company B, 4h Infantry, 41 in aggregate: 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, one musician, 17 privates for duty; 1 rank and file in confinement; 2 rank and file sick; 11 rank and file on extra daily duty; total 37 present for duty. 1st Lieutenant J. B. Collins, 4h Infantry, absent on recruiting service; 2d Lieutenant C. S. Rundell on service in New Mexico, not having joined since promoted 5h August, 1853; one rank and file absent sick; one rank and file on furlough. Total present and absent 41.
 
Company F, 4h Infantry (Captain Henry M. Judah), 32 in the aggregate: 1t Lieutenant L.C. Hunt also acting assistant quartermaster and commissary and recruiting officer; 2 sergeants, one corporal, one musician, 15 privates for duty; 3 rank and file sick; 5 rank and file on extra daily duty; total present, 29: 2d Lieutenant John Withers on detached service at Fort Vancouver as regimental quartermaster since 25h October, 1853; Brevet 2d Lieutenant A. E. Latimer on duty at Fort Miller with Company A, 1t Dragoons, not joined since promoted 1t July, 1853; one rank and file absent confined. Total present and absent 32. Thus shewing an aggregate force present for duty of 66.
 
The discipline of this post is good. Both companies were in the old uniform, and their arms and equipments in good serviceable order, and attention paid to the comforts of the men. The quarters however were only sufficient to accommodate one full company. These troops have done a great deal of work, and put up all their quarters, under the direction of Colonel Buchanan, at a small cost in purchasing materials and hiring labour so that all the quarters of this post have cost only 11,664 93/100 dollars, and the men have supplied their own wood and made a very valuable garden. In short, great credit is due this command for its industry &c. A good bakery, hospital, storehouse and magazine have been built, and abundant quarters for officers. The plan adopted by Colonel Buchanan of small, snug plank buildings for each officer is an excellent one and readily executed. There was a post fund on the 30h June of 29 36/100 dollars. Colonel Buchanan gave a handsome battalion drill, and Captain Judah, a handsome company drill at infantry. The drill as skirmishers was indifferent. There was a deficiency of music, only one drummer and one bugler. There is at this post one mountain howitzer with 74 rounds of fixed ammunition for it and 12,500 rounds musket ball cartridges. And the post records in good order.


The Medical Department is under the direction of Assistant Surgeon Simpson and the sick well cared for. This a healthy locality and the greatest heat of temperature in July, 73 degrees, and the changes not great and strongly contrasted with Fort Reading in about the same latitude 175 miles by mule trail eastward over the coast range of mountains and beyond the influence of the north west winds which blow steadily in the dry season.
 
The Quartermaster's Department is in the hands of Lieutenant L.C. Hunt, whom I found in quite ill health and expecting soon to leave. His average expenditures for the last four quarters were 1,890 dollars, and he had on hand at date 3,284 71/100 dollars, which is kept in an iron safe in his office. There are no citizens in his employ and all his records in good order, and supplies well stored. His funds on this account come from Major Cross at head quarters.
 
Lieutenant Hunt also performs the duty of commissary of subsistence and the supplies good and abundant. The price of fresh beef here is 15 cents the pound on the hoof. Other supplies come from San Francisco, and are sometimes shipped beyond this to Crescent City and have to be reshipped back, thereby increasing the time and causing damage. There is no necessity for this as lumber vessels are constantly here direct from San Francisco. Lieutenant Hunt had on hand on this account 995 66/100 dollars, which is also kept in an iron safe in his office. His funds for subsistence come from Brevet Major Eaton at head quarters. There was condemned in this department this year 20 barrels of flour and 185 pounds of coffee.
 
The duty of recruiting officer too is performed by Lieutenant Hunt, and he has in his hands on account 346 dollars in an iron safe in his office.
 
My attention was called here to the flannel shirt which is white, and shrinks so badly after washing as to be unfit for service: whereas I was informed the coloured flannel does not shrink.
 
The American population capable of bearing arms in the four little towns on this bay may be stated at 200
 
For a sketch of this post see L hereunto appended."

 

 

 
The Army life and conditions continued pretty much as outlined in the above report by Colonel Mansfield for the foreseeable future.
 
After the Civil War, the need for Fort Humboldt lessened. In 1866, the garrison, except for one company of artillery, was withdrawn and the post then became a sub post to provide supplies to Fort Gaston. Department Commander Brigadier General Irvin McDowell reported on September 14, 1867 that the company of artillery had been withdrawn and the post completely abandoned in accordance with Special Order No. 243. On April 6, 1870 the military reservation was transferred to the Department of the Interior. The Fort site eventually became a part of the California State Park System. Under the Park's management, the post hospital was completely renovated and moved a short distance from its original site. Still standing is the restored building which formerly housed the commissary's headquarters. It is now a museum that houses a model of the original Fort and other historic displays, including a bronze, 1850s mountain howitzer and carriage. The Bancroft Library at Berkeley, California has a very fine photograph of the Fort taken in the 1860s.
 
 
 
 
Fort Humboldt
by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired)
 
Fort Humboldt was headquarters for the Northern California District of the Humboldt, an area of 20,000 square miles during the Civil War. With its rugged forests and mountains, the Humboldt District presented its commander with no easy task. "There are so many Indians and they are so hard to find," Colonel Francis J. Lippitt reported, "that to bring them all in by sending small detachments after them would take as long as it would to bring in the squirrels and coyotes."
 
When the fort was built in 1853, a lieutenant named George Crook was in its first detachment, it was just about the only military establishment in the area. By 1861, the Humboldt had four forts (Humboldt, Crook, Gaston, and Bragg) and as many camps (Baker, Lyon, Anderson, and Lincoln). This had shrunk to only Humboldt, Gaston, and Lincoln by 1865, and Camp Iaqua, built near Blue Lake in 1863.
 
Humboldt had its problems. One of its early captains, a U. S. Grant, served there for five months in 1854, but spent more time at Ryan's Tavern in Eureka than at the fort. In 1861 the rains were so bad that the 26 buildings were abandoned temporarily and shelter was sought in Eureka.
 
Twenty-five men scouted through the brambles and brush in the sixties with such enthusiasm that they were "so entirely destitute as to make it impossible for them to leave the camp, however urgently their services are needed," Lippitt reported. In other words, they had no pants.
 
At one time, Lippitt had 300 Indians and 35 soldiers under guard at the fort. He built a circular stockade 10 feet high and 80 feet in diameter and put everyone in it.After the Civil War, the need for Fort Humboldt lessened. It was closed in 1866 and abandoned in the 1870's. Only one building, the hospital, remains today. It was shifted from its original position, so today nothing at Fort Humboldt remains as it once was.
 
 
 
 B  Barracks
 BK  Bakery
 BLK  Blacksmith
 GH  Guardhouse
 H  Hospital
 LAUN  Laundress Quarters
 OQ  Officer's Quarters
 ST  Stable
 
U.S. Grant's home in 1854 was said to be the L-shaped one in top row of officers' quarters. (Redrawn from California Beaches and Parks data.)
 

 

This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Northwest, published in 1965
 
 
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Updated 14 December 2015