Archaeologists have determined that humans have lived in this area for more than 14,000 years. The last native people here before Europeans arrived are known today as the Northern Pomo. The Pomo made and used tools of local rock and volcanic obsidian from their homes in the Clear Lake area. Bird feathers and beads made from seashells decorated some of the elaborate, highly prized baskets that Pomo women coiled or twined from plant parts. Today’s Pomo descendants honor and perpetuate the cultural and environmental practices of their ancestors.
While most settlements were on the coast or in the valley, the Pomo frequently traveled to and through redwood forests. Hunting and gathering parties set up short-term, seasonal camps in small open valleys among redwoods. The Pomo used the trees for building materials and wove tree bark into cloth to make clothing.
Parties of European explorers sailed by the Mendocino coast beginning in the 1500s, but the area’s rocky shores precluded landings. Historians think that the Pomo people’s first non-native contact was with the Russian fur trappers who eventually colonized Fort Ross in 1812. Spanish and Mexican colonists eventually found their way to the Mendocino area, and the 1848 gold rush brought hordes of eager settlers to California, creating a huge demand for lumber.
The native people lost their homelands, and those who survived violence from the settlers and the contagious fatal epidemics they brought were relocated to one of many reservations, including the one at Fort Bragg, from 1857 to 1864. One-time Mendocino county assessor Andrew Jackson Montgomery and his wife, Elizabeth Anderson Montgomery, later filed a homestead claim here on 160 acres in 1884. Montgomery Woods is named for them.
The late 1800s brought a profusion of timber harvesters eager to cut down the big trees along the Mendocino Coast for their lumber value. Most of the redwoods in the area were quickly logged, but the steep canyon along Montgomery Creek made these trees harder to reach. As mechanized logging became more sophisticated, the heart of this redwood grove also faced the logger’s axe. Part of an old logging road can be seen between the Kellieowen and Ynes Mexia groves on the trail.
SAVING THE REDWOODS
In 1919, plans were made to harvest the trees in Montgomery Grove. Noted botanist Ynes Mexia (1870–1938) brought the grove to the attention of Save the Redwoods League. Within a year, the League managed to halt the harvest. It took another 25 years before the trees were permanently protected. Landowner Robert Orr donated the first nine acres in 1945. The League’s work continues to result in subsequent donations of land and dedicated groves; the natural reserve’s size is now 2,743 acres. The League has also helped upgrade park facilities. From 2008 to 2010, a new parking lot, signage, an ADA-accessible restroom, and a picnic area were installed near the trailhead.