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Yuba County History


THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE YUBA RIVER VALLEY

by George Emmanuel Hanson

Preface 

            Few publications have been issued that give a true and detailed account of the early history of Yuba River Valley; in many places the records are vague and incomplete.  But the writer has fortunately had access to the manuscripts, newspapers, published and unpublished works in the great Bancroft Collection of the University, and has furthermore been able to interview a few of those who remember the early days in this region.  With this material and information available, the writer has striven to give the truest account possible.

            This thesis could never have been written except for the unfailing patience, courtesy, and helpfulness of Professor Bolton.  To him the writer owes more obligations than he can well express.  The other men on the Committee, Dean Probert and Professor Louderback have kindly shown their willingness to assist with anything at any time.  The writer regrets that he has not made more frequent use of the privilege to consult with them; but to both he expresses most grateful appreciation.  To Dr. Owen Coy the writer acknowledges many helpful suggestions; and to J. J. Hill and to the other assistants of the Bancroft Library who have generously used their time to place before him the manuscript and newspapers he desired, the writer is likewise deeply indebted.

George E. Hanson

1919

INTRODUCTION

             Facing the ocean and extending into the interior across expansive valleys and towering mountain ranges, the State of California presents a remarkable variety of geographical conditions.  It would be difficult to find anywhere on earth another region which comprises within so small a space so many different types of physical features.

            The more prominent divisions, the shore line, the great valleys, and the mountain ridges have had separate as well as united influences in the settlement and development of  California.

            It was the coast region of this State that first gained the attention of the white men.  Coming by water the white explorers of the sixteenth century found the land which none of their race had hitherto seen.  The event, of course, was not followed by immediate occupation and settlement.  In fact from their first exploration through a period exceeding two centuries their visits were few and were attended by no attempts at settlement.  Cabrillo, the first of the explorers to reach California, made his noted visit in 1542.  Drake followed him in 1579.  Advancing northward in the Pacific, he swept into the bay to which he gave his name, christening the country, New Albion and boldly taking possession of it in the name of Queen Elizabeth.  Vizcaino’s explorations in 1602 effected nothing in the way of settlements.  It was not until white men of other nationalities had enriched themselves with the profits which the furs of the seal and otter had brought them in the market of the Orient, that Spain took measures to establish settlements along the coast.

            Coupled with the object of checking foreign encroachment, was that of christening Indians, in consequence of which settlements arose about such centers as presidios and missions.  Vast stretches of fertile land bordered on the mission sites, and these in time were converted into productive fields, orchards, and gardens.  Here, then, agriculture had its beginning in California.

            With the advent of the Mexican era new commercial activities started along the coast.  New England merchants found the whaling industry and later the tallow and hide trade exceedingly remunerative.  The Mexican authorities demanded high duties for these commercial operations, but exerted at the most very feeble efforts to obtain them, and the traders pursued with no great annoyance the profitable traffic.

            Meanwhile new farmlands had been cultivated.  The Sacramento Valley as well as the coast region had proved its true worth as an agricultural district.  Settlers entering by water and by overland routes slowly established themselves in the Great Valley.

            California, in time, would inevitably develop on the basis of commercial and agricultural advantages.  The growth, though gradual, would likely be slow, in consequence of which the State might long be sparsely settled.

            A well known event in the history of California was destined to hasten its growth and development.  This was the discovery of gold with the attending influx of people from all parts of the world.  Previously men had come in small bands to enjoy the agricultural and commercial advantages which the far west afforded, but now animated by a desire for gold they came in long continuous streams, in caravans which numbered thousands.  It was not the Coast, the Great Valley nor even the climate of California which at this time contained the object of a world wide pilgrimage.  It was the mountains; the gold deposits of the Sierra canyons that called men forth.

            In consequence of the gold rush hundreds of new occupations were opened, and fortunes were made in the most diverse ways.  The permanent inducements, advantages and attractions of the country were revealed to those who came, and many remained to enjoy them.  California, accordingly, grew and prospered with more than usual rapidity.

            The gold region of the State, may conveniently be separated into three distinct divisions, the Sierra Nevada, the Upper Sacramento, and the Klamath.  It is the first of these only that calls for our attention in this paper.  This region, the Sierra Nevada, comprises the mountain territory lying between the Feather and the Merced Rivers, embracing the river canyons of the Yuba, Bear, American, Cosumnes, Mokelumne, Stanislaus and the Tuolumne.  Pursuing their westward way from the high Sierras these parallel streams unite with the waters of the  Sacramento and the San Joaquin.  For the first half of their courses they are generally torrents running steeply down, their beds, deep canons and their walls, precipitous rocks; yet frequently their way opens through flats and beautiful mountain valleys.  But as they descend from the upland and reach the plain, their river-basins, too, lose their identity in the greater units of which they become parts - - the valleys of the Sacramento and San Joaquin.

            How different this western slope is from that of the short, rocky, precipitous wall which forms much of the eastern slant of the Sierra.  From the summit westward, a long grand sweep, well watered and overgrown with cool stately forests, gradually inclines to the barren foothills, which in turn diminish to the level of the plain.

            It was along the westward flowing streams, prolific in deposits of the precious metal, that the early miners found the happy reward of their toils.  Here they procured the gold from the placers or surface washings in the gulches, canyons, and river bars and beds.  Prospecting the main streams and finding all that could readily be obtained, they searched the tributaries and their subdivisions.  In the course of a few years they worked out the territory available for this kind of mining and were obliged to find other sources of gold supply.  This led to the search for quartz veins, and also for the large bodies of auriferous gravel in the hills back from the streams.

            The river region of the Sierras, once the scene of human bustle and excitement, of flourishing towns and prosperous communities is today comparatively quiet and desolate.  The separate streams so celebrated in the early days are now, except those who live in the proximity of them, generally unknown.  Yet the communities which they represent are not everywhere decadent and deserted.  In places, productive mines, thriving towns and fruitful farms testify to a glory which will continue.  The Sierra river valleys, it may be said, have contributed very greatly to the growth and development of California.

            In general aspects the early histories of these different river valleys are much alike.  But each division has distinct towns and communities, with life and events singularly its own, and therefore its separate story.

            This paper aims to set forth the leading events in the early history of the Yuba River Valley, a region unique among the parallel river basins of the Sierra in its diversity of resources and in its consequent industrial development.  It was one of the first valleys to be settled by white men in the pre-gold period, and later, one of the first to be invaded by an influx of miners.  In this region were some of the richest bars, richest ravines, and a number of the most remarkable river claims.  It was here that the different methods of mining as well as the more important inventions and contrivances used in extracting the precious metal from placer deposits had their origin and development.

            There are a number of towns in this region which had their beginning during the gold rush; but instead of passing into decay and oblivion with hundreds of other mining villages are today growing and flourishing.  There are agricultural communities, too, in this region that have steadily grown in extent and importance since the early mining days, and within them a variety of new industries have sprung up as diverse interests have developed.

            The Yuba Valley, then on the whole, is not a region once active and prosperous but now wasted and deserted; the activities of an earlier day have been diverted into other channels.  Its history is still in the making.  This paper aims only to relate the leading events in its early history, embracing a period approximately a quarter of a century of its active existence.

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