Sunday, November 22, 2020






Mendocino City, a coastal California town in Mendocino County, California, was established as a logging community that served the rapidly growing West beginning in the 1850’s. Its picturesque setting assures its long term survival as a tourist destination. For a short time in its history Mendocino was the primary site for the distribution of G. M. Henderson’s Bonanza Mineral Water.



Embossed G. M. HENDERSON’S / BONANZA / MINERAL WATER / MENDOCINO / CAL. , its history has remained somewhat of a mystery.


George Marshall Henderson was the fourth of 12 children born to Irish immigrants, Robert J. Henderson and Eliza Ewing, in New Brunswick, Canada. He was born about 1836, spending his early years in Canada and marrying Elizabeth Stockford there in 1861. They had one child, born there in 1865 – James Albert Henderson.  Apparently Elizabeth died early leaving George a widower, along with their young son. George then married his second wife, Ann, early in 1872.  George and Ann then moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he was first noted running a boarding house.


By 1874 Henderson had become a Chicago policeman in the 10th Precinct, a job that he maintained until he left Chicago about 1887. His marriage with Ann appears to have been quite acrimonious. George’s son, James Albert Henderson, was sent to Mendocino County, California, to live with relatives about 1876. George M. Henderson’s sister, Anna Jane Henderson Mann, had moved to Mendocino County by 1875 where she joined her husband, John Mann, who had already established himself at Albion as a lumberman. It is likely James lived with them for awhile; however, the 1880 U.S. census schedules James A. Henderson living with another Canadian, James S. Corrigan, at Big River in Mendocino County.


In January 1880 George Henderson applied for homestead land in Mendocino County, at the head of the North Fork of the Albion River, ultimately comprising about 360 acres. He was still living in Chicago at that time and it is surmised that the required occupation and improvement of the homestead was actually conducted by his sister and brother-in-law, who were living in the same general area at this time. To be sure, his young son, James Albert Henderson, was living in this same area, as he was noted several times in the local Mendocino City newspaper. One of the most notable references was in the Mendocino Coast Beacon, October 2, 1880.

Albert Henderson, the boy mentioned in the BEACON last week as having killed two bears near Robert Dart’s place, the 13th ultimo, on the Albion Ridge, comes to the front again this week by killing three more, near the same place, making six in all this Summer.  Evidently he is a boy of nerve, being only sixteen years old, as he goes alone into the forest and faces these savage denizens of the woods single handed, trusting alone to his faithful Winchester rifle.  The lot of bears, which the boy has killed, have been known to exist in the Albion Ridge woods for several years, and have often been hunted by experienced hunters, but without success, and now comes a boy, a swaddling nearly, and carries off the palm.

George and Ann’s marriage conflicts became particularly pronounced in 1885 when he left his wife without any financial support. She was forced to pursue legal avenues against her husband.


Legal action to gain financial support was effected by Ann Henderson in 1885. (The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, September 19, 1885)  


The couple soon resolved their immediate issues regarding their relationship, as noted in another newspaper.


Apparent reconciliation was noted in the Chicago Tribune. (Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, September 19, 1885) 


With continuing matrimonial issues, by 1887 the marriage was effectively over when George Henderson left Chicago and abandoned his wife, moving to his homestead property near Comptche, just east of the town of Mendocino City, California. Anna stayed in Chicago at least until 1895, with directory listings noting she was widowed. George became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. on August 10, 1887, in Ukiah, California.


Taking up residence on his property, Henderson finalized his homestead rights to his ranch near Comptche, upon which his soda spring was located. (Mendocino Coast Beacon, Mendocino, California, March 24, 1888)  


It is not known if George Henderson was initially aware that his homestead property contained a mineral water spring, but soon after he took up residence he embarked on the challenge of selling his own soda water in the bottle shown above, probably by 1889 and certainly by 1890. He called the product BONANZA MINERAL WATER, which was embossed on his bottles. This name has caused some confusion over the source of the water due to another soda spring also called Bonanza Springs, about 100 miles to the east in Lake County.


Contrary to some sources, the Bonanza Springs in Lake County, California, located between Seigler Springs and Howard Springs, some 100 miles east of Mendocino, was not the source of Henderson’s Bonanza Mineral Water. (Sacramento Daily Union, June 21, 1882) 


George M. Henderson’s dream of becoming a successful mineral water bottler came to an abrupt end early in 1892 when he died of what was diagnosed as stomach cancer on January 29th. He was obviously aware of serious health issues for some time previously as he created a will on January 6, 1892. In his will Henderson left $1,000 to his sister, Anna Jane Mann, with the remainder of his estate to his son, James Albert Henderson. His wife that he left in Chicago was specifically excluded from any inheritance. She was probably the same Anna Henderson who died in Chicago on February 7, 1896, and is buried at Oak Woods Cemetery.

His son was obliged to sell a majority of the property in order to pay off debts. The Albion Lumber Company purchased 280 acres Henderson's timber land and James kept the remainder which included the house, some bottom land and the soda spring. The will also left his son certain named equipment including two horses and a buckboard. Also scheduled in his estate inventory were, “20 cases of soda water bottles”, valued at $25.00. One of which is undoubtedly pictured above.

It is not known if he later sold the bottles or recycled them, but it is highly unlikely he continued to bottle the mineral water as there is no record of any further sale of the water. James A. Henderson worked in the lumber business and was a butcher for most of his life.  He died in Mendocino on February 13, 1938.


George M. Henderson's obituary. (Mendocino Coast Beacon, Mendocino, California, February 6, 1892)








1 comment:

  1. Great info Eric! I had always thought his springs was the one located in Lake County and the water exported over to the Coast. I know from digging a lot in the Mendocino area that his bottles are not found in post 1890s context. They do come with applied and tooled tops. I remember you telling me about the ones you found in Mendo years ago. The people that lived across the street from where you found yours also found a few on their property. Do you suppose the "soda works" shown on the Sanborn map had anything to do with Henderson? I sort of doubt it since not even a piece of the bottles had been found there.