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Fresno County Historical Information

• Fresno County was once a vast area of wildlife. Antelope, wild elk, squirrels, grizzly bears, and horses roamed the valley while vultures, owls, and woodpeckers filled the skies. The landscape was dotted by willow, oak, the ash tree that gave our county its name, and at higher elevations, the famous Sequoia gigantea. Fields of poppies, goldenrods, and lupine covered the plains. Two great rivers – the San Joaquin and the Kings – that would eventually serve as the northern and southern boundaries of the county flowed through the area, filled with salmon, trout, and pike.

• The first humans settled in what is now Fresno County between 50,000 and 7,000 years ago. Ultimately, the major tribal group that occupied the Valley floor in what became known as Fresno County was known collectively as the Yokuts. They established over 60 tribes in the Central Valley, each with its own chief, all related by blood and language. These tribes were interdependent. They traded with each other and established an extraordinary means of communication, warning of strangers in the area. A 2-foot hole was dug and a small fire built. When the fire was burning well, a wet tule mat or animal skin was held over the fire, interrupting the smoke and dividing it into puffs that were read as messages. These signals described the invading party, how many people were present, which direction they were heading, and whether or not they were hostile.

• Arriving in 1769, the Spanish established a permanent settlement in San Diego and over the next few decades, built a series of 21 missions along the California coast. In 1805 and 1806, Gabriel Moraga led a series of expeditions into present-day Fresno County to satisfy his curiosity about the region and seek possible new mission sites. Moraga sighted the two rivers that form the borders of our County and named them. On January 6, the feast day for the three Biblical Wise Men, Moraga named the river at which his party camped El Rio del los Santos Reyes – the River of the Holy Kings, today known as Kings River. The expedition traveled north and discovered another river on March 20, the feast day for Saint Joachim. Moraga named the river San Joaquin to honor Saint Joachim and his father, Jose Joaquin Moraga.

• Gabriel Moraga’s 1806 expedition resulted in anther place name important to our county. Moraga’s party left Mission San Joaquin Bautista, reached the San Joaquin River near present-day Firebaugh, and headed east to present-day Chowchilla. Here Moraga and his party came upon swarms of yellow butterflies, and named this area Mariposa, Spanish for butterfly. In 1850, the term was adopted for the largest county that was created when California joined the Union. Mariposa County covered one-fifth of the state and reached from present-day Tuolumne County in the north to San Diego and Los Angeles Counties in the south and from the top of the Coast Range Mountains in the west to the state line of the Nevada Territory in the east!

• In 1844, the United States government sent John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer and later, California senator and officer in the Union army, on an expedition to explore Alta California. The U.S. government hoped to gain information about the area and eventually take it from Mexico. The expedition was also joined by the legendary Kit Carson and reached Fresno County in April. Fremont’s party crossed the San Joaquin River near Gravely Ford, passed within site of present-day Kearney Park, reached the Kings River, traveled near the site of present-day Laton, and headed south through the Valley. In 1845, Fremont conducted another expedition into Fresno County, exploring the Sierra in eastern Fresno County.

• After James Marshall discovered gold in 1848 in Coloma, miners from all over the world rushed to California. Gold mining also took place in Fresno County along the San Joaquin River where the settlement of Rootville was established in 1851. The most famous claim in Fresno County was discovered about one and a half miles south of Rootville, yielding as much as $50 a bucket, but eventually it had to be abandoned due to the narrow and rough channel of the river in this area. In 1851 a fort was established along the river to provide military protection and became known as Fort Miller. In 1854 the town of Rootville changed its name to Millerton.

• Residents of Millerton began to petition the state legislature in 1856 for the creation of a new county. Tulare and Merced counties had been created out of Mariposa in the 1850s, but Millerton residents still found travel difficult to various county seats to conduct business. The California legislature passed an enabling act on April 19, 1856 to form a new county and Fresno County was born.

Additional History
The immigration of Germans who had migrated to Russia to the new land of America German-Russian Immigration
Those who stood out in the early days of Fresno County, both the good and the bad. Fresno Founding Fathers
The Founding of the City of Reedley - It all started with wheat. Reedley: A Pictorial Historical Sketch