The forgotten story of Mercuryville, a Sonoma County ghost town

Although thousands of miners once roamed the Sonoma County ghost town of Mercuryville, its population by the mid-20th century was two: Teresa and Forest G. Mitchell.

The unconventional couple lived on the hilltop oasis in the Mayacamas Mountains, where Forest, a World War I veteran and figure skater, started a 1,200-acre homestead in the 1920s, according to Press Democrat archives.

Mercuryville was a mining town built in the 1870s by Chinese laborers. Mercury, also known as quicksilver, was in high demand because it was used to mine gold.

Forest voted himself mayor of Mercuryville, and in the late 1930s he opened Hog’s Back Tavern. They added a gas station and an outhouse, and the settlement became a road trip stop in northeast Sonoma County for travelers driving to The Geysers over the next few decades.

The Mitchells told visitors they preferred living away from town and were never bored. They enjoyed fishing, ranching, hunting, building and collecting oddities.

“This is my little heaven. I built it myself. Yes, I built my own heaven,” Forest Mitchell told the San Francisco Examiner in 1965.

They also kept a pet deer named Pat who became a media attraction for standing behind the tavern bar and using hooves to hit keys on the cash register.

Longtime newspaperman and state legislator Herbert Slater wrote about Pat in The Press Democrat in 1943. He described how Santa Rosa’s city attorney was startled when what he thought was a stuffed deer “sprawled out on a low lounge” at Hog’s Back Tavern began to move.

“It was the mayor’s pet buck, a member of the family, so to speak … the buck who ‘can tend bar’ drink beer or a cocktail, lick the sugar that remains in the tea or coffee cups, eat out of your hand and do anything,” Slater wrote.

It is currently illegal in California to keep a deer as a pet, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Teresa Mitchell died in 1964, and Forest died two years later. Most of Mercuryville burned down in a fire in the 1970s.

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