At a period in the history of California when the treasures of the centuries were to be had for the asking or the taking, John Cardigan chose that which others elected to cast away. For him the fertile wheat and fruit-lands of California’s smiling valleys, the dull placer gold in her foot-hill streams, and the free grass, knee deep, on her cattle and sheep-ranges held no lure; for he had been first among the Humboldt redwoods and had come under the spell of the vastness and antiquity, the majesty and promise of these epics of a planet. He was a big man with a great heart and the soul of a dreamer, and in such a land as this it was fitting he should take his stand.
In that wasteful day a timber-claim was not looked upon as valuable. The price of a quarter-section was a pittance in cash and a brief residence in a cabin constructed on the claim as evidence of good faith to a government none too exacting in the restrictions with which it hedged about its careless dissipation of the heritage of posterity. Hence, because redwood timber-claims were easy to acquire, many men acquired them; but when the lure of greener pastures gripped these men and the necessity for ready money oppressed, they were wont to sell their holdings for a few hundred dollars. Gradually it became the fashion in Humboldt to “unload” redwood timber-claims on thrifty, far-seeing, visionary John Cardigan who appeared to be always in the market for any claim worth while.
Cardigan was a shrewd judge of stumpage; with the calm certitude of a prophet he looked over township after township and cunningly checkerboarded it with his holdings. Notwithstanding the fact that hillside timber is the best, John Cardigan in those days preferred to buy valley timber, for he was looking forward to the day when the timber on the watersheds should become available. He knew that when such timber should be cut it would have to be hauled out through the valleys where his untouched holdings formed an impenetrable barrier to the exit! Before long the owners of timber on the watersheds would come to realize this and sell to John Cardigan at a reasonable price.
Time passed. John Cardigan no longer swung an axe or dragged a cross-cut saw through a fallen redwood. He was an employer of labour now, well known in San Francisco as a manufacturer of split-redwood products, the purchasers sending their own schooners for the cargo. And presently John Cardigan mortgaged all of his timber holdings with a San Francisco bank, made a heap of his winnings, and like a true adventurer staked his all on a new venture—the first sawmill in Humboldt County. The timbers for it were hewed out by hand; the boards and planking were whipsawed.