Yuba County History
THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE YUBA RIVER VALLEY
by George Emmanuel Hanson
THE DEVELOPMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Pioneer Farmers - - The first settlers of Yuba Valley came as farmers. The bottom lands of the river offered special inducements to them on account of its fertility and because of its contiguity to Sutter's settlements. Obtaining leases from Captain Sutter or acquiring grants directly from the Mexican Government, these pioneers selected the most promising sites where springs and streams maintained a more lasting verdure, and there ventured the planting of small areas of wheat, barley, corn, and vegetables, while over spreading plains roamed their growing flocks and herds.
The first field of grain raised in the Valley was one of five acres of wheat by Theodore Cordua in 1845, between Marysville and Yuba City. From that time until 1848 the few scattered settlers on the Yuba planted some wheat each season. No agricultural implements having been brought by the foreign emigrants or by the American settlers the first frontiersmen were obliged to use the primitive methods of cultivation employed by the native Californians. But as early as 1847 plows and grain cradles of American manufacture which the emigrants were taking with them began taking the places of the cruder tools and implements. Smith, whom we recall as one of the early settlers, had farmed for some time using old ways and means. Nye, another Yuba pioneer, with the aid of the newer devices began in the winter of 1847-8 the planting of wheat and barley besides vegetables of several kinds. In the same year Rowell, who was established on the south bank of the Yuba opposite Marysville, occupied himself in part with the raising of vegetables. Among other things he had some very large watermelons.
The largest stock farm of the Yuba in the early days was Cordua's Ranch. Fremont who visited the place in 1845 as he journeyed from Sutter's Fort northward to Oregon, remarked that it was a "fine cattle ranch." There were thousands of cattle and hundreds of horses at the rancho in 1847, but it was not only a stock farm, grain and vegetables also flourished on its rich soil. Cordua sold a portion of his land and stock in 1848 and all that remained of it the following year, but while it passed from one owner to another it continued until the establishment of its site of the town of Marysville to be a prosperous rancho.
Fruit trees were also planted by the early settlers. The first orchard was set out in 1847 on the south bank of the Yuba near Marysville. The trees were obtained at San Jose and planted by men in the service of Sutter. This orchard, however, was abandoned and ruined when the stampeded to the diggings began.
1848 - - The discovery of gold in 1848, and the consequent rush to the mines temporarily scattered all thoughts of agriculture to the winds.
The New Farming Era - - After the first rush to the mines many an unfortunate gold seeker found that he could not endure the hardships and vicissitudes of a miners life, and discouraged by a want of success that crowned the efforts of hundreds around him, abandoned the pick and shovel for the spade and plow, to win from the fertile valley what the diggings had denied him. Thus it was that the main valley of the Yuba and the numerous smaller ones nestling among the hills and the high mountains were settled and brought under a state of cultivation. By running streams men built cabins, houses, and wayside inns. They kept cattle for beef and milk, and raised grain and vegetables; they planted orchards of peaches, apples, cherries, and other fruits, and set out vineyards of grape vines.
The river bottom and the lowland along the main Yuba extending from its mouth to the lower hills was composed of deep alluvial soil of the richest quality. Much of this bottom land was covered in the early days by a luxuriant growth of wild clover and grass. For several years the cutting of this hay was the chief agricultural industry of the Yuba. In 1850 in the immediate neighborhood of Marysville on the bank of the river fifteen or twenty tons of this grass hay was cut and stacked by one man. The hay was hauled to the mountains where at certain times of the year grass for the stock was less abundant. Returning, the wagons were loaded with lumber in which the lowlanders built up and improved their farms. The last of this wild hay disappeared when the mining debris spread its mantel of sand over the fertile soil that sustained it.
Many of the new-comers who were farmers familiar only with the system of cultivation in the Mississippi Valley thought the soil and climate unsuited for successful farming. But in 1850 some enterprising husbandman re-established what the earlier pioneers of Yuba Valley knew, that barley and other crops would grow and flourish. When the few acres of barley which he planted grew and matured others followed his example and experimented with various crops, all of which proved to yield. A great portion of the river bottom land was soon under cultivation. Mrs. D. B. Bates who lived in Marysville and visited a number of places on the Yuba in 1851 gives the following enlightening account of the agricultural situation at that time, -
"There were some five ranches along the banks of the Yuba. The bottom lands are very rich and productive, yielding an excellent harvest of wheat, oats and barley. Vegetables grow to an enormous size, and surpass in flavor any I ever before tasted. I never dreamed of seeing water-melons grow to such a size as I saw them here. Recollect, now, I only state facts. I saw one water-melon sell for twelve dollars; it was sold by the pound. It was the first year any had been raised in Upper California. Mr. Briggs, who raised them, told me that that year, from the sale of melons alone, he realized twenty thousand dollars."
In 1852 and 1853 a number of flour mills were erected at Marysville to grind the wheat which in a large measure was imported. As time went on the Yuba farmers raised wheat in larger quantities, and of better qualities. The miller then ceased to import grain, and the merchant flour, and agriculture received a great impetus forward.
With the increasing interest in the growing of grain and vegetables was the renewal of attention to the culture of fruits and vines. One of the first orchards planted was that of George Briggs. It was located on the Yuba just above Marysville. In regard to its extent, yield, and excellence of fruit it was for some time the most valuable in the State. With this inception a number of orchards were planted among which was the celebrated one belonging to Charles Covillaud. Vines, too, were set out, in the lowland as well as in the foot hill region to the east.
The choice farming and grazing land along the Yuba which during the fifties was the scene of fruitful orchards, waving meadows and grain fields gradually lost its lovely and flourishing appearance. Year by year the detritus washed down from the hydraulic mines became deeper and deeper covering completely in time the farms on both sides of the river. It was about 1860 that the effects of the mining debris first began to be felt. From 1862 the ruinous work of the deposits progressed rapidly; orchards fell before the sand; fields and gardens disappeared, everything became sadly altered. In 1870 sand and willows covered the areas once marked by fruitful farms.
The sediment from the mines, however, put no permanent check on agriculture. Several years afterwards it was found that the sterile land - made so by the debris, would produce, and that it would become better adapted for farming as time went on. The land back from the river uneffected by the hydraulic operations had always continued its yield.
After the early devastation, those who were persistent enough to follow farming changed their location to the higher lands, where the red soil if not so rich, still yielded bountiful harvests. Here they found farmers already established who for years had tended their flocks and herds or given some attention to the cultivation of grain, vegetables, and fruit. One of the most important industrial interests of this region in the late sixties was the raising of grapes and the making of wines.
In the many small valleys of the Yuba situated at various altitudes more or less farming was done, but always as a subsidiary interest to mining, the principal occupation of that region.
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