|— Unincorporated community —|
|Elevation||2,129 ft (649 m)|
Several native groups occupied the Humboldt County area before and after the arrival of European settlers. Kneeland lies within the original territory of the Wiyot, who relied heavily on salmon, locally harvested roots, and marine resources for subsistence purposes. Native groups may have maintained the prairies immediately surrounding Kneeland as hunting grounds via strategic burning practices. Prior to 1860, there were an estimated 1500 to 2000 Wiyot living within the Humboldt County area. By 1920, their numbers had declined to around 100, due to introduced diseases and deadly conflicts with Euro-American settlers and the military. Today, many members of the contemporary Wiyot Nation live on the Table Bluff Reservation, located 16 miles (26 km) south of nearby Eureka.
The first nonnative explorers entered Humboldt Bay in 1806, but the region was not permanently settled by Euro-Americans until the 1850s, when the Gold Rush brought a flood of new residents. Nearby coastal communities (Eureka, Arcata, and Trinidad) quickly developed as shipping and supply centers for the mining industry.
After the Gold Rush waned, area residents began to capitalize on locally abundant timber, land, and marine resources and the region became a major center for logging, ranching, and fishing. The Kneeland area, which lies above the timberline and is dominated by prairie vegetation, attracted settlers interested in cattle and sheep ranching. Initially known as Kleizer's Prairie, the area features prime grazing land and climatic conditions suitable for cultivating hay and other fodder crops.
In 1852, John A. Kneeland and his sister Mandana established a ranch in the area, which then became known as Kneeland's Prairie. Other ranchers followed suit, taking advantage of lucrative markets for meat products in nearby mining and logging communities. The 1850s were marked by heated conflict between white settlers and native peoples who sought to defend their claims to the land surrounding Kneeland, but native resistance was severely undermined when the U.S. Army established two stations, Camp Lyon(1862) and Camp Iaqua(1863), in the vicinity and began regular patrols to defend settler's ranches. This era was also characterized by conflicts among squatters, until the Homestead Act of 1862 established a framework for formally settling the area. The early 1860s brought a wave of homesteaders from elsewhere in the U.S. (including states as distant as Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri) and from foreign locales (especially Ireland), but many of these settlers sold their land to larger ranching operations during a period of consolidation in the 1870s. At the turn of the century, several substantial ranches owned by prominent local families dominated the area.
Community interdependence among these isolated ranches was fostered by the need to keep roads passable and coordinate access to markets for meat and agricultural products. In 1869, area residents constructed the first Kneeland School, which also served as a church and a central meeting place. A post office was constructed in 1880, and some hotels catering to stagecoach passengers traveling from Humboldt Bay to San Francisco briefly operated in Kneeland in the 1880s. Starting in the 1940s, extensive commercial logging became an important economic activity in the Kneeland area, which hosted a short-lived sawmill. In 1962, a small airport was constructed in the vicinity of Kneeland, which had long been a convenient site for emergency landings when weather or navigation problems prevented pilots from reaching nearby Eureka - if they are flying small private aircraft! It currently serves as a Helitack station for CalFire.
Today, Kneeland consists of a loose collection of horse, sheep, and cattle ranches (many of which are owned by descendants of the first Euro-American settler families) and rural residences. The community has no central commercial district or downtown area, but the Kneeland post office, Kneeland Elementary School (re-built in 1952), the Kneeland Airport, and the Kneeland Volunteer Fire Department provide services to area residents and form a central location for community activity. The surrounding forested areas remain sites of timber extraction for Pacific Lumber and other local logging companies.
Most of the ranches and the few houses past the post office and toward Bridgeville are also referred to as Kneeland. The cemetery is a good 8 miles from the post office. Memorial Day weekend brings a few of the locals out for a cleanup and get-together to commemorate the history of this small community.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the population of Kneeland was 244. The population was 51.6% female and 48.4% male. The median age of the population was 41.5, higher than the national median of 35.3.
The population was 95.9% White, 1.6% Native American or Alaskan Native, 0.9% other races, and 1.6% identified with two or more races. Only 2.2% of the population was foreign born, and of those, 50.0% were born in Guatemala.
For the population 18 years and over, 89.3% had a high school education or higher: 8.6% had a high school diploma or equivalency, 32.1% had some college education but no degree, 39.0% had attained a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% had earned a graduate or professional degree.
Kneeland is the seat of the Kneeland Elementary School District, and home of the Kneeland School, a public K-8 school which started as a one-room schoolhouse, with separate outhouses for boys and girls, in 1873. Two other schools were in operation at the time: Iaqua School (in Iaqua) and Lone Star (in Lone Star), but these were amalgamted with Kneeland School. The school was modernized in 1951, and again in the 1980s.
See also 
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Kneeland, California
- Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Quill Driver Books. p. 89. ISBN 9781884995149.
- USPS look up tool
- Northwest Fisheries Service of NOAA
- Humboldt County Office of Education
- Kneeland School
- Kneeland School History