It's been about 10 days now since the bedside radio woke me with the news that the city of Sebastopol was an armed camp. Men with guns were in the streets.

Good grief, I thought, has the CVS controversy come to this?

Well, of course. I need not have feared. It wasn't OUR Sebastopol at all, it was Ukraine's, the Crimean city on the Black Sea.

How often are these two metropolises confused? Thereby, gentle readers, hangs a tale of Sonoma County history.

This would be the story, in the realm of folklore (which doesn't mean it isn't true, just that there is no official documentation), of how our Sebastopol got its name.

Was it named after the Crimean seaport? Indeed it was, but not, as many people assume, because the Russians who built Fort Ross had a settlement there. Not at all.

The Russians had been gone from here for a dozen years or so before there was even a hint of a non-native community on the Laguna. The origins were purely American — a couple of erstwhile 49ers engaging in fisticuffs at a general store and saloon in a place called Pine Grove.

Meanwhile, war raged in Europe. Are you still with me?

That Crimean War of the mid-1850s, which pitted Britain and the European powers against Russia, produced at least three lingering memories. One is the battlefield heroics and subsequent medical scholarship of a nurse named Florence Nightingale. Another is the bloody battle memorialized in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson called "The Charge of the Light Brigade." And the third is the epic yearlong blockade of sea traffic in and out of the Russian port that the world watched with great interest.

In fact, news of the Crimean War was a milestone in journalism. It was the first conflict to be photographed extensively and written of prodigiously by a new breed of cat called a war correspondent. The result was that not only the nations involved but Americans — even to the remote corners of California — got information relatively quickly (maybe even within months out here in the West) of the war — especially the effects of the yearlong blockade known as the Siege of Sebastopol.

(Note that this Crimean city was (and still is, occasionally) — spelled alternately with a b or v and pronounced with a heavy accent on the third syllable — SevasTOEpull. Like that.)

Meanwhile, in 1854 — in the midst of the siege — a Sonoma County settlement on the Laguna de Santa Rosa grew up around a post office bearing the address of Bodega, serving residents west and northwest all the way to the river known then as the Valhalla. We call it Gualala. But the heart (and soul?) of the new community was a general store and saloon (aha!) run by a man named James Dougherty.

It was there, in the road outside the store, that Jeff Stevens and a fellow known only as Hibbs, got into it — first name-calling and finally a serious fistfight. Hibbs was apparently taking a beating, because he ran for it, seeking refuge inside the store. Stevens attempted to follow, but proprietor Dougherty, fearing for the safety of his merchandise and glassware, forbade Stevens entrance.

So Hibbs was inside, while outside, Stevens was hollering something like "Lemme at 'em!" and a crowd gathered, pleading with Dougherty to give up his protective blockade of Hibbs.

As the county's first historian, Robert Thompson, wrote — "The Pine Grove boys who were always keen to see a fight, were chagrined at this result and cried out that Dougherty's store was 'Hibbs' Sebastopol.'

"From this incident," Thompson reports unequivocally, "The town took its name."

Historian Thompson seems disapproving of the choice. He called the new name "formidable" and expressed a preference for Pine Grove, which he said was "appropriate, as it is surrounded with a perfect nursery of young pine trees."

Nonetheless, it was Sebastopol that stuck long enough to become the new post office name when the increase in population to the west caused the transfer of the Bodega post office to the town of the same name.

So that's the story. And subsequent historians stuck to it, repeating Thompson's tale without amendment up to the early 20th century.

However (You knew this was coming, didn't you?), research on the part of many local historians has turned up no fewer than six other towns in California that were named Sebastopol in that time period.

One has to think that citizens, hearing the European war stories, just liked the sound of it, the way it rolled off the tongue.

The late UC Berkeley professor Erwin Gudde's authoritative work on California place names lists five towns called Sebastopol for brief periods in the 1850s.

There was one in Napa County that became Yountville, and one each in Tulare, Sacramento and Nevada counties. And another, called Old Sebastopol, which can still be found on some maps although it is now under Trinity Lake.

Our People's Republic of Sebastopol is the only one left standing.

As has been pointed out, this is all in the realm of folklore. And it is very hard to believe that it was all as simple as Thompson makes it sound — as if one of the "Pine Grove boys" said to another, "Hey, I like the sound of that. Let's make it the official name."

But the details, alas, are lost to the ages. All we know for certain is that Sonoma County's capital of the West County, the downtown for the People's Republic, the only Nuclear Free Zone for miles around, was probably, somehow, for some reason, named for a Russian city under siege. And there wasn't a Russian in sight.