Bodega Bay Area History

Alfred Hitchcock's film, "The Birds," brought worldwide attention to the scenic Bodega Bay and Bodega communities and subsequent interest in the unique influences that shaped their history.

Until the fall of 1775, the Miwok and Pomo Indians with a rich culture and heritage lived peacefully in the coastal mountains and valleys of what we now call Sonoma County. Their lifestyle revolved around the seasons, hunting and gathering from the land and harvesting the sea and rivers. Little changed over thousands of generations (more than 11,000 years) until the first while sails were spotted off the coast and exploration of the Pacific Coast attracted the Spanish, the Russians, English, and later the Americans.

The Bodega Bay area offered very attractive options to the white settlers. There was land for grazing, dairying, and crops; timber for lumber, fishing for food. Even though the Spanish and later the Mexican governments laid claim to all of California, Russia (through the Russian American Company) took Bodega Bay as its most southern Pacific Coast sea port from 1808 to 1841, naming it Port Rumiantsev or Rumiantsev Bay.

The harbor became an active shipping point for otter fur pelts and locally grown foods to Sitka, Alaska. Meanwhile, as Mexico continued to cast a watchful eye over these activities, Russia sought to make its presence more secure and defensible by building on higher ground, establishing Fort Ross in 1812. From there, they experimented with various crops as far inland as Sebastopol and undertook considerable scientific investigation in such fields as oceanography, meteorology, mineralogy, botany, zoology, and ethnography.

Also, with the help of Aleutian Indians, Russia stayed heavily involved in the fur trade and in sea otter skins. They occupied this port until 1841. After the Russians withdrew, the Mexican government became determined to exercise firmer control over the region, granting title of large tracts of land to enterprising individuals loyal to Mexico. Capt. Stephen Smith was such a man and was awarded the Rancho Bodega, after which we are named.

These and many other stories await you in the archives of the Rancho Bodega Historical Society. If you would like to make an appointment to explore the archives, please contact: Robin Rudderow, RBHS Archivist

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