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After 150 Years, Sailor Buried with Honor at Mendocino Village


Picture Contributed From The Press Democrat

On a sunny Tuesday at the Evergreen Cemetery in Mendocino, a crowd of about 40 people, including California State Park officials, was paying their respects to an anonymous young man, who was likely a sailor who never received a proper burial when he died, likely from drowning, more than 150 years ago.

The burial plot where the skeletal remains were lowered in a small plywood coffin, has a great view of the coastal town and the bay where it is thought the man perished. As the bagpipes sounded, playing a song written by a Vancouver composer “High Winds and High Waves” as mourners took turns shoveling dirt and redwood that had been saved from the original burial site. Albion stonemason and sculptor Robert Milhollin fashioned the headstone with a wave and a star in a nod to a sailors’ traditional navigational aids. The headstone reads: “Unknown. A Casualty of the Sea, c. 1860.”

This story started when a hiker discovered the burial site on April 21, 1986 on the western outskirts of Mendocino. The bones were intact, all except the hands and feet which was theorized the man drowned because of his missing hands and feet, which is typical in such circumstances. The site also contained 6 brass buttons or snaps for trousers or bib overalls, and porcelain buttons for a collared shirt. 

The bones were sent to Sacramento for further review. But in a mix-up that may have been related to the state’s efforts to identify the remains of Native Americans, Mendocino’s mystery man languished in a Sacramento facility until only a few years ago when there was an inquiry about the bones. 

Emily Carleton, an archeology specialist with state parks who examined the bones, was present for Tuesday’s ceremony. She estimated that the man was in his 20′s and stood about 6 feet tall. She also theorized he was a sailor or logger, based on his skeleton showing he was strong in parts of the body used for pulling or hoisting sails. There was darker sand, that he may have collected as his body lolled about in the surf, also was found where his trousers pockets would have been. Carleton’s analysis showed the man was of Northern European ancestry. 

He may have been among seven crew members aboard the J.S. Cabot who drowned on November 15, 1860 after the vessel struck a rock while trying to get into Mendocino Bay, or he could have been of the five men who rowed out to assist with the rescue and drowned when their boat capsized.

Everything, aside from the $300 price tag for the bagpipe players and the staff time related to the study and transport of the man’s remains, was donated. That includes the plot at the cemetery, which normally goes for $1,400.


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