by Dottie Smith
Shasta County history begins with the Indians, the first inhabitants. When white men began arriving in the early 1800's, five tribes were living here, each in their own territory. They were the Achomawi, Atsugewi, Okwanuchu, Wintu and the Yana. The first white men seen by Indians were Russians who came from the north moving southward through the Sacramento River Canyon in approximately 1815. The next white men were Spanish soldiers who traveled here from the southern missions. Then came American, British, and French trappers and explorers traveling into and through this area beginning in the late 1820s in large parties of between 50 and 100 people, which included their wives and children. The Indians' relationship with the trappers was good, so good in fact, that trapper Michel LaFramboise supposedly married an Indian woman in each tribe to solidify his good relations. Most of the trappers worked for the Hudson's Bay Company whose headquarters was located at Fort Vancouver beside the Colombia River in Oregon. They were sent here to trap mainly the beaver whose pelts brought top dollar and were used to make beaver hats, the rage of the day.
These trappers established and mapped the first trails into, around, and through what is now Shasta County. However, unrestricted trapping eventually caused the near extermination of the beavers and the end of trapping in the 1840s. But before it did, disaster was unintentionally brought to the Indians in 1832 by John Work and his party who were unknowingly infected with either malaria or influenza. The Indians contracted the disease which resulted in a catastrophic epidemic that killed hundreds (possibly thousands) of Indians and wiped out entire villages. Journals of later trappers told of coming upon abandoned villages whose grounds were strewn with bones and skulls. It is believed this epidemic was so severe and deadly it greatly reduced their populations and made the Gold Rush and subsequent white settlement easier to accomplish.
In 1844, Pierson B. Reading, Lansford B. Hastings, and William Bennitz had all arrived upon the scene and had all applied for free land in the form of land grants from Mexico, who at that time controlled and claimed ownership of California. Of the three, Reading's and Bennitz' requests were granted. Hasting's request for all the upper Sacramento River Canyon area was denied because he refused to give up his United States citizenship to become a Mexican citizen (one of the stipulations required in order to receive a land grant). Bennitz' land grant, however, on the east side of the Sacramento River opposite Reading's grant, was never confirmed because he never claimed it. Pierson B. Reading's request was granted and he became the recipient of a 26,632 acre Mexican land grant (Rancho Buena Ventura) whose boundaries extended from Cottonwood Creek on the south to Salt Creek on the north, and extended approximately three miles west of the Sacramento River the length of the grant. Reading settled on his grant in 1847, and when he did, became the second known white resident in what was to become Shasta County. The first known resident was Lansford Hastings who settled at the foot of Castle Crags beside Lower Soda Springs in 1844.
In 1848 gold was discovered at Coloma in the tailrace of John Sutter's sawmill and Reading went to see. He returned to his grant believing gold to be there also because of the similarities in the terrain, and with the help of his Indian laborers, discovered gold in Clear Creek, five miles from its mouth, at the place known today as Reading's Bar, and began working the deposits. And the rest is history.
By 1849 the Gold Rush was in full swing and Reading had lots of new neighbors. The 'yellow fever' had brought men rushing here from all around the world. Transportation was at first unavailable and nonexistent in this area, so the miners arrived here any way they could. Some took passage on ships to Humboldt Bay then walked inland, others took passage on ships to San Francisco Bay then rode stagecoaches as far north as Sacramento or Marysville, and walked the rest of the way. Others arrived in wagon trains pulled by oxen and/or horses or mules from the midwest. The gold fever grew to such epidemic proportions that officers and crews abandoned their ships in San Francisco Harbor to join in the rush to the northern goldfields. The result left the harbor at San Francisco full of empty, ghostly ships, swaying and creaking to the rhythm of the waves.
Shasta soon became the commercial center of northern California, with Horsetown (located beside Clear Creek at the site of Reading's gold discovery) and Lower Springs (two miles southeast of Shasta) both running a close second. Prospectors overran the entire area, laws were nonexistent, living conditions were mostly deplorable, and housing consisted of lean-to's, tents, and a few log cabins. Every nook and cranny was checked for gold - it could be said the miners turned the area inside out and upside down in their mad search for the elusive yellow metal.
Various types of mining methods were used to collect the gold which began with simple panning. But because of the need to process more dirt faster, the mining methods graduated to sluice boxes, Long Toms, rockers and cradles, hydraulicking, dredging, and drift mining. Most of the miners staked a claim, worked it until it gave out, and then moved on to another claim. Eventually the Gladstone, Washington, Walker, and Mad Mule Mines were established, with many more to follow. And find gold they did, to the tune of millions of dollars worth. However, heap big troubles were brewing - and the Indian was to be the victim.
The thousands of newly arrived miners had one thing on their minds -- find gold. In their mad search to find it, they were quickly polluting the streams that were home to the Indians’ most important food - salmon. They were also taking over the Indians’ hunting grounds for their food, and they even began taking Indian women for their wives or concubines because there were no white women. Indiscriminate killings of hundreds of Indians began to occur, and, in addition to the killing, their homes, belongings, supplies, and food caches were intentionally destroyed.
In 1849, goldminer Abraham Cunningham arrived and described the WHitmore and Manton area as:
....a forest primeval consisting of the greatest stand of pine and sugar pine the world has ever known stood from Manton to Whitmore and from Inwood to the base of the high Sierra's.
As time went on, many of the miners became permanent settlers and turned their attentions to farming, ranching, and the vast virgin forests. Almost every early settler planted a grape vineyard and a fig or some type of fruit tree. Many of those early day fig trees survive today as do some of the fruit trees, especially apple. General George Crook, sent here to control the Indians, gives us this description of northeastern Shasta County in the late 1850s:
....My favorite place to hunt was at the southeastern foot of Shasta Butte. The melting snows from this mountain sent down the most beautiful rills of ice-cold water which wound around amongst beautiful groves of pine and grassy parks, with large patches of whortle and blue berry bushes here and there, filled with lucious berries. The scenery was almost fairy-like here. We would pitch our tents and hunt as our fancies would dictate. Game abounded all through this country. Deer and blue grouse were the most plentiful, but there was an occasional elk, bear, or California lion to be seen, with plenty of mountain sheep high up in the mountains.
But the miners and the settlers never relented in the atrocities committed against the Indians. In 1850, the legislature passed the Indenture Act, which made it legal for white men to further exploit Indians who could now be seized and sold, children as well as adults, or held as virtual slaves as vagrants. If they couldn't support themselves at the end of their bondage, they could again be arrested for vagrancy and "sold" to work off the bond again. It was a never-ending cycle. In 1854, the greatest atrocity of all was committed against them. Military reservations were established on the worst lands available (lands that the white people had not homesteaded or settled on) in counties to the south and soldiers and civilians banded together and began capturing every Indian that could be found and forcibly marched and/or transported them to the reservations.
The Nome Lackee Reservation was established in 1854 in Tehama County between Corning and Red Bluff on Stony Creek. Indians from the Shasta Tribe were brought here. The Round Valley Reservation (also known as Covelo) was established in 1864 in the Mendocino Valley near Paskenta and Indians from all over the state were constantly brought in, arriving so starved and sick they died by the dozens. Others were brought in from Shasta territory, the Pit, Hat Creek, Butte Creek, Feather, Sacramento, and the Eel River areas. These once-great tribes were forced to live together as prisoners-of-war in an area containing about 5,000 acres and with some who were traditional enemies. The establishment of the military reservations caused the break-up of all the tribes and was the straw that broke their backs. The Indians had been defeated, and the whites were finally victorious.
Many small towns and settlements had already been established throughout Shasta County by the time the Indians were forcibly taken to the military reservations. The western side of the county was the first to be permanently settled. The eastern side, which today includes the Fall River Valley/McArthur area, was the last to be settled because of heavy Indian resistance. Shasta, Horsetown, and Lower Springs were the principle early gold mining settlements. Others were Texas Springs, French Gulch, Quartz Hill, Tower House, Mad Ox Canyon, Grizzly Gulch, Muletown, Churntown, Buckeye, Newtown, Eagle Creek, Roaring River, Briggsville, Piety Hill, Janesville, Gas Point, Tuttle Town, and Whiskeytown.
As the gold fever diminished, many turned their attentions to farming, ranching and lumbering on the eastern side of the Sacramento River, gradually spreading further east. Parkville and Shingletown were founded in the early 1850's; Shingletown was first called Shingle Camp and named for the many shakemaking shingle camps in the area. Millville began being settled in 1853 while Clarkville was established in 1856. Fall City (Fall River Mills) was first to be settled in the late 1850's, but because of ongoing Indian hostilities, many left and serious immigration didn't begin again until 1868.
In 1862 the Homestead Act was enacted to provide any citizen or first paper alien (except Indians) to claim 160 acres for $10 on the condition he or she lived on the land for five years. Many people took advantage of this opportunity. Others, when they received title/patent to the property, sold it for a pre-arranged price. Many of the early large ranches were developed this way. As more and more land was taken up by the homesteaders, the pressure continued to move the remaining Indians to the reservations.
In 1872 the railroad arrived from the south laying tracks northward. When the tracks reached Cottonwood Creek, the first railroad depot in Shasta County was built at Cottonwood, on the north side of the creek. A small community already existed on the south side of the creek; the new depot caused the creation of a new business district near the depot on the north side.
Track laying continued northward and another new business district at Anderson was created when another depot was built there, also in 1872. When tracks reached the area of what is today Redding that same year, work stopped - for ten years. The railroad named their temporary end-of-the-line terminal town Redding, for B. B. Redding, a railroad land agent, and began laying out their new town. The original outer streets forming the city limits were named North, South, East and West. The inner east/west streets were named for the counties where tracks had already been laid prior to reaching Redding: Placer, Yuba, Sacramento, Butte, Tehama, and ending with Shasta. Redding quickly became the busiest and most important town in Shasta County.
In 1882 track-laying resumed northward out of Redding and as they crept northward, additional new towns and settlements were born in the Sacramento River Canyon around the station houses built at Antler, Dog Creek, Sims, Gibson and Castella. When track-laying reached Dog Creek in 1884, track-laying was temporarily halted again. Here the railroad established another temporary end-of-the-line terminal town and named it Delta because the terrain resembled the Greek letter delta. The town was laid out just like Redding had previously been, and Shasta and Redding merchants flocked to Delta to open stores believing it to be another redhot railhead town. Lots sold like hotcakes and Delta soon became the urban center of the entire Sacramento River Canyon. But when track-laying resumed northward out of Delta in 1885, the town disappeared almost as fast as it had appeared. In 1887, the last spike was driven at Ashland, Oregon, where it connected with the southbound track.
In 1897 copper replaced gold as the #1 mineral produced in Shasta County, a distinction it held until the 1950's. The principle copper deposits were, and still are, located in a 30-mile crescent shaped copper-zinc belt extending from Iron Mountain on the west northeastward to Backbone Creek and east to Ingot. Copper was first mined at Copper City (now under Shasta Lake) in 1862. Iron Mountain eventually became the most important copper district and included the Balaklala, Keystone, Mammoth, Mountain Copper, Shasta King and Sutro Mines. The Bully Hill District was next in importance and included the Bully Hill and Rising Star mining groups. Next came the Afterthought Mine at Ingot.
The first copper smelter was built at Keswick, and before long Keswick became home to three large smelters. Others were built at Coram, Kennett, Bully Hill and Ingot. The smoke and fumes from these smelters caused immediate major problems because of the poisonous toxins they released into the air. The toxins killed every type of vegetation it touched. Almost overnight, vegetation for miles around, in all directions, was dead or dying. In addition, fish were dying in all the streams and rivers, fruit trees as far south as Anderson and Cottonwood were dying. The smell was so obnoxious and strong it could be tasted in the air. Violent protests resulted, the copper companies were taken to court, and by 1919 all the smelters were closed by order of the courts. Alternative methods were developed to process the ore but copper mining eventually ceased because of the presence of too much zinc in the copper, low prices, high costs of shipment to the refineries, and increased competition. The declining copper industry occurred mainly at the turn of the century.
Looking back to the year 1844 when the first settler built the first building in Shasta County, and then ahead to the year 1900, A PERIOD OF ONLY 56 YEARS, an almost unbelievable change took place here....a change consisting of the complete takeover and habitation by a new race of white people who established a totally new culture and nearly eliminated the Indian people by means of extreme brutality in the process.
The Dictionary of Early Shasta County History - 2nd Edition by Dottie Smith.