Yuba County History


by George Emmanuel Hanson



Location and Extent of the Yuba River Region 

            Near the summit of the mountains in Nevada and Sierra counties a number of small brooklets rise to join with ever larger streams which hurry on to unite with the waters of the main Yuba.  This stream continues its southwesterly course and empties into the Feather River in the neighborhood of Marysville.

            The Valley has no definite boundaries.  On the south and southeast it merges imperceptibly into the basin of the Bear River as on the west and northwest it unites with the Valley of the Feather.  Its northern limit touches the southern boundary of Plumas County, while its eastern fringe neighbors the summit of the Sierra.  A rhomboidal area sixty miles in length and twenty miles in width extending northwestward from Marysville, the central point of its shorter parallel, contains the territory watered by the Yuba and its tributaries.  This region embraces much of Yuba, Nevada, and Sierra counties.

            Yuba is a name Spanish in origin.  An early exploring expedition is said to have called the river the Rio de las Uvas on account of the abundance of wild grapes which grew upon its banks.  Yuba, the corruption or the American pronunciation of the Spanish word Uva superceded the latter as the appellation for the river and the county it drains.  Although this seems to be the true derivation of the name, some hold that the name was Yuba from the beginning, and that the word is Indian in origin.  Others have supposed that the river took its name from Uber, a person in the service of Sutter.

            The Yuba River Valley extending as it does from the Feather River on the west, to the highest ridge of the Sierra on the east is topographically divided into plain, foothill, and mountain regions.  These divisions blend into each other so that no positive line of demarcation can be drawn.  From the valley of the Sacramento, thirty feet above the sea, this country rises in one grand swell to the summit of the mountains.

            The lower or western portion of the valley drained by the main Yuba has for some time been almost exclusively an agricultural region.  A deep black alluvial soil well adapted for the production of almost any kind of grain, vegetable, or fruit appears throughout on the river bottom, while back from the river and extending even up the slope of the foothill, the surface is of reddish color.  The red soil of the side-hill or table land is not so rich as that of the first mentioned, but under favorable circumstances it is highly productive.

            Floods have from time to time washed sand and debris over the banks of the river, often desolating the neighboring farm sites with their fields, gardens, and orchards.  In the winter of 1846-7, the early settlers tell us, river floods occurred as a result of incessant rains.  They were not, however, of the devastating kind which in later days inundated the Yuba plain.  Those who saw the river region after the debris from the hydraulic mines had worked havoc with the streams, and its borders were greatly impressed by the unhappy change which had taken place.  They remembered the Yuba as one of the most beautiful streams in California; its clear, rushing water gushing in cataracts and torrents down the canons and hurrying on in its channel through the Valley.  From the base of the foothills to the Feather River it was one unrivaled scene of beauty.  Flowers, grasses, and stately oak trees fringed the banks while in choice places near by, gardens and fruitful orchards grew.  Happily the most devastating effects of hydraulic mining were not permanent.  There were instances in which the debris and particularly the lighter portion sometimes known as “slickings” became a new soil and highly productive.  In later years much of the land in this region was found to yield almost as well as it originally did.  It was the immediate effect - - and that lasted a number of years, which was most afflictive.  Ranches and orchards suffered devastation and loss.  Some towns were menaced by perennial floods, while others were swept completely out of existence.

            The foothill region which reaches from the plain northeastward, extends to between 2,000 and 2,500 feet of elevation; beyond are the mountains in their majesty rent in precipitous canyons.  Rising from the plain the country is at first rolling, but becomes more and more hilly, brushy, and rocky, and finally where it assumes the elevation of mountains is uncommonly rugged and broken.

            The country above the foothills partakes of an  Alpine character in its towering peaks; deep valley; and leaping, mountain streams.  Here a number of isolated peaks glisten in their white caps of snow as they crest the Sierra 8000 feet in the sky.  Sierra Buttes situated at the eastern end of the North Yuba rise to an elevation of eight thousand six hundred feet.  It is one of the landmarks of the State, visible from a large area of the Valley of the Sacramento, and most prominently conspicuous by its sharply-defined cone-shaped crest.

            Three great divisions of the Yuba River - - the North Fork, the Middle Fork, and the South Fork, have their sources in the higher Sierras, and from their multitude of tributaries receive the water that falls as rain or snow on the lofty hills.  The Middle and South forks along with Deer Creek water the hill and mountain regions of Nevada County just as the North Fork with its many affluences drains the counties of Sierra and Yuba.  Numerous small and lovely lakes, moreover, lie among the peaks of the Sierras.  These vary from one-eighth of a mile to three or four miles in length; most of them are circular, and considering their small size are remarkable for their depth.

            Dry Creek, the first tributary encountered in ascending the Yuba, has its origin in the foothills far north in Yuba County.  Its general direction is first south but gradually inclining westward it joins the river from an almost due eastward course.  Ten miles above this junction the famous Deer Creek enters the Yuba.  This stream rises in the lower mountains east of Nevada City and passes almost directly west to the river, fed on the way by numerous tributaries.

            Above Deer Creek are the greater branches of the Yuba.  The North Fork has its source among the towering peaks and snow-clad gorges of the mountain ridge, and gathers from any picturesque lakes and babbling brooks a large volume of water before it joins with Slate, Hampshire, and Willow creeks to make the Middle Fork near North San Juan.  Thence it bears that name until it looses itself in the main stream where the South Fork enters.  The Middle Fork has its source in the high Sierras, gathering in its course the waters of Wolf, Kanaka, and Oregon creeks as it flows southwesterly to its junction with the main stream.  In the mountains a few miles northwest of Donner Lake a number of small rills and brooks rise to form the South Yuba.  Like the parallel Forks above and like Deer Creek below it, this branch runs west and southwest and is supported in its course by many tributary streams.

            The region watered by the tributaries of the Yuba, then, is hilly and mountainous - - a country which might seem to have little value apart from what it naturally produces.  However, this is not strictly the situation.  The foothills forming the transition from plain to mountains furnish abundant space for feeding and raising of flocks and herds, while hundreds of fertile valleys, lying between the hills and nestling at higher altitudes are well adapted for the production of cereals, fruits, and vegetables.

            When first seen by Americans, this region presented the appearance in general of a rough mountain country, clothed in the upper part with magnificent coniferous forests of red spruce, balsam fir, cedar, sugar and yellow pine; while the valleys or canyons furnished a rich growth of oak intermingled with manzanita and all the varieties of trees found in the foothills of California.  It was a wild, romantic region, the lowermost half inhabited by a few hundred “Diggers.”  Such was the general aspect of the hill country occupied within the limits of Yuba River Valley.



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