Lassen County History

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A Brief Lassen County History
Lassen's Past
The Sagebrush (or Roop County) War
Peter Lassen
Isaac Roop
Why the "Land of Never-Sweats"?

A Brief Lassen County History

As the discovery of gold in 1848 sparked a flow of westward migration, new settlers sought an alternative to the route through Donner Pass to cross the Sierra Mountain Range. Peter Lassen first explored the area that is now Lassen County and, in 1851, William Nobles began leading settlers over a route that ran from the Humboldt River (in the State of Nevada) to Shasta City at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. Of the thousands of people that passed through what is now Lassen County, some chose to remain in the Honey Lake Valley (what is now Susanville). Among those early settlers of Susanville was Isaac Roop, who established a trading post where travelers along the Nobles Emigrant Trail could stock up with provisions before crossing the Sierra Mountains. First known as Rooptown, Isaac Roop’s settlement later was named Susanville for Roop's daughter, Susan. Today, the William H. Pratt Museum is housed in the original structure that Roop built when he arrived in the Honey Lake Valley. Open daily, Roop's Fort is a must-see for visitors to the area; it is located just off of Main Street in downtown Susanville.

In 1856, Isaac Roop and Peter Lassen led a group of disgruntled settlers, who were unhappy over efforts of Plumas County, California officials to levy and collect taxes in the isolated and sparsely-populated region in and around Susanville. At the same time, those settlers were equally unwilling to be considered a part of the Territory of Utah - a vast region that included parts of what were to become several western states. Roop, Lassen, and their followers opted to form a separate territory, which they named Nataqua. The short-lived Republic of Nataqua was largely ignored, since the region affected had but a few hundred settlers. When the Territory of Nevada was established in 1861, Isaac Roop was made governor of the Territory. A few years later, surveys of the area established that Susanville was actually a part of the State of California and the County of Lassen was established in 1864.

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LASSEN'S PAST by Lassen County Historian, Tim I. Purdy

Lassen County has many interesting facets to explore and its heritage is no exception. Whether your interest is in emigrant trails, railroads, logging, ghost towns, politics, or in another area, something of interest to everyone can be found in Lassen County. Whether you are contemplating a visit or planning to move here, we will provide you with many of the highlights of our past, in what is referred to as the "Land of the Never-Sweats".

Among the original explorers of the region were fur trappers of the Hudson Bay Company who roamed the northwest region of the county known as Big Valley in the 1820s. Little did these fur trappers know that their network of trails left behind in the 1830s would assist John C. Fremont and his small army of the 1840s. Fremont, who was ordered out of the state by Mexican governor Pio Rico, brought his small band of troops to Big Valley and remained there for a time to plan his Bear Flag revolt and embark on his colorful campaign that would lead to the creation of California. However, it would take the gold rush of 1949 before the California region truly was noticed. The development of the Lassen and Noble Emigrant Trails brought emigrants through the region. Remnants of these trails still can be seen today and certain sites have historical markers. While traffic continued through the area, it would not be until 1854 when Isaac N. Roop and Company established a trading post at the west end of Honey Lake Valley. This was the humble beginnings of the town of Susanville, the second oldest settlement in the eastern Great Basin. Two years later, a small gold rush occurred just south of Roop's trading post causing the permanent settlement of Honey Lake Valley and of Lassen County. These new residents found that they needed some type of government for their new home and established the Territory of Nataqua. It was perceived that the area was outside the jurisdiction of California and the Utah Territory (Nevada having not been formed yet), and, so, the settlers thought themselves free from Plumas County and State of California taxes. By the early 1860s, with a survey of California boundaries, it was discovered that Honey Lake was part of the Golden State and, in fact, did belong to Plumas County. The citizens were not pleased with that fact, since a part of their independent nature was due to their isolation and being cut off from the rest of the State by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, nor were they pleased with the fact that now they were being forced to pay taxes. These ensuing events led up to the Sagebrush War, a two-day skirmish fought in Susanville in February 1863 between the residents and the Plumas County Tax Officials. While the residents lost that battle, they did win the war and on April 1, 1864, the County of Lassen was created. The county was named after Peter Lassen. Lassen was a Danish emigrant who came to this state in 1840 and spent his last years prospecting the Honey Lake Valley. He was murdered in 1859 on an expedition in the Black Rock Desert.

By 1880, settlements had sprung up all over Lassen County – Bieber, Hayden Hill, Toadtown, Madeline, Buntingville, and Paradise City to name a few – some of which no longer exist today. This time period brought the arrival of the iron horse, namely that of the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway which traversed the eastern side of the County. The railroad, sometimes referred to as the Narrow Crooked & Ornery, was a narrow gauge line that operated from 1880 to 1927. It has the unique distinction of being the nation's longest narrow gauge line during that century. Though the N-C-O railroad helped develop the high-desert region of eastern Lassen, it would be the Fernley & Lassen Railroad, built in 1913, that would tap the vast timber resources of the county's western region. Among these developments was the Red River Lumber company's town of Westwood. The Red River Lumber Company was the world's largest electrical sawmill of the times. Two other large mills followed suit and located in Susanville. All three of these companies had extensive railroad logging lines and camps throughout the forest, which finally closed down in 1956. So, do not be surprised if you go hiking in the woods and come across sections of old railroad grades with the ties still in place or an abandoned logging camp. While the large mills are now only memories, they transformed both Susanville and Westwood into the communities we know today. Yet, do not overlook other towns, like Janesville, which missed out by one vote from becoming the county seat in 1864, or Standish, established in 1897 as an experimental utopian village. It took four different attempts since 1892 to establish the town of Herlong. Even once the town was established, Herlong did not evolve until 1942, when it became a part of the Army's ordinance depot. Doyle is the small town with a big heart. Wendel and Bieber are railroad towns in idyllic settings that once helped to serve the needs of the bustling Hayden Hill, which is now a ghost town.

Come explore Lassen County, California for its past, present, and future. We think that you will enjoy it.

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The Sagebrush (or Roop County) War by Lassen County historian, Tim I. Purdy

On Sunday morning, February 15, 1863, the quiet of the town of Susanville was broken by the sound of gunfire as forces of Roop County Nevada and Plumas County California battled for control of the Honey Lake region. The stage had been set for this conflict two years earlier, when an act of Congress approved the boundaries of Nevada as a territory. The concluding line of the act read as follows: '..excepted from the area covered by this description any portion of California that might be included, unless that State should assent to such segregation.' Surveyors had measured out the boundaries of Nevada such that the town of Aurora in the Esmeralda gold fields was on the Nevada side of the line and the town of Susanville in the north was on the California side. Both states claimed jurisdiction over these areas and attempted to govern them simultaneously. Saloon fights and embattled tax collectors became commonplace. Despite pleas by Nevada Governor James Nye, the California Legislature refused to acknowledge the Nevada claim to the Honey Lake region. Bowing to the wishes of some of the citizens of the area that they not be ruled by the officials of California's Plumas County, Nevada organized the disputed area into a new county called Roop. Named after Isaac Roop, Nevada's first Territorial Governor - it's county seat was established at Susanville. Injunctions were issued by both sides to prevent the other from conducting governmental business, and both sides ignored these injunctions.

Plumas County Judge E. T. Hogan sent Sheriff E. H. Pierce and Deputy J. D. Byers to Susanville with arrest warrants for Probate Judge John S. Ward and Roop County Sheriff William Naileigh. They arrived in Susanville on the 6th of February and were immediately served with a counter warrant from Judge Ward. After several arrests and counter arrests, during which Naileigh, Ward, Pierce, and Byers were in and out of each others custody, things began to come to a head on the evening of February 13th. At about 9 o'clock that night, a group of overzealous Roop citizens at Toadtown heard of the latest arrest and release of their officials and rode to Susanville to set things right. Taking the beleaguered Judge and Sheriff into a kind of protective custody, they retreated to an old log fort on the edge of town. They posted sentries and settled down to see what the Plumas contingent would do next.

The morning of February 15th found thirty or so Roop County men inside the old stockade originally build by Isaac Roop as a defense against Indians and almost 100 Plumas County men occupying an old barn on the corner of Union and Nevada streets about 150 yards away. While attempting to collect lumber to help fortify the barn, the Plumas men came under fire from the men stationed in the old fort and the battle was on. The hostilities soon settled into a 4-hour exchange of mostly intentionally inaccurate gun fire - both sides feeling that the disagreement was not worth killing or dying for. All the while, negotiations were going on between members of each party that slipped in and out of their respective strongholds. Finally, both sides agreed to a 3 hour truce and broke for dinner together at the Cutler Arnold Hotel. Men who had spent the day shooting at each other now spent a pleasant meal talking and trading stories about the recent fighting! After dinner, the men parted company and headed for their respective redoubts to strengthen the fortifications for the next day's battle. Pierce quickly sent for reinforcements, but learned it would be ten days before any help could be expected. He knew by then his own small force would probably be surrounded by the local Roop County men. When a delegation from the town showed up with a petition to cease the hostilities, Pierce took the opportunity to offer the Roop men a deal. An armistice was signed pledging to cease the battle and submit the grievances of both side to the proper officials in California and Nevada to be settled. A new survey was ordered and it was determined that the town of Aurora lay in Nevada and the Susanville and Honey Lake areas were in California. These boundaries were ratified by both state's governments by early 1865, stranding the Roop County people over the border in California. Unable to completely accept this situation, the Honey Lake residents finally gained independence from Plumas County by forming Lassen County with its seat at Susanville.

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Peter Lassen by Lassen County historian, Tim I. Purdy

Drawing of Peter LassenPeter Lassen was born on October 31, 1800, at Farum, Denmark, a small village located fifteen miles from Copenhagen. He learned the blacksmith trade from his uncle and this skill proved to be most useful for him throughout his life. Like many Europeans, Lassen sought to escape poverty and, in 1830, he was granted permission to leave Denmark for America. He arrived at Boston and there applied his trade as a blacksmith. Lassen continued his westward movement, first to Philadelphia and then, in 1831, to Keytesville, Missouri. Lassen remained in Missouri until 1839, when he left the area with a small group going to Oregon. He arrived in Oregon in the fall and stayed for the winter. In the spring of 1840, he boarded the vessel Lospanna and sailed down the west coast, entering California at Bodega Bay. From there, he went to the Russian colony of Fort Ross and then proceeded to John A. Sutter’s Ranch, New Helvetia (Sacramento).

Lassen found himself appointed as a member of a posse during an incident at Sutter’s Ranch. Two horses had been stolen and Lassen’s group went to the northern Sacramento Valley to retrieve them. While on that expedition, Lassen came upon the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek. He was impressed with that country and so obtained Mexican citizenship, allowing him to own property, and subsequently was granted five Spanish leagues (22,000 acres) at Deer Creek. In February 1845, Lassen’s Bosquejo Ranch was established there and it became the northernmost settlement in California, where he established Benton City.

In the summer of 1847, Lassen returned to Missouri to recruit settlers for his new community. In the spring of 1848, he brought back a small group of emigrants and they were the first to cross over the infamous Lassen Trail. When Lassen arrived at Benton City, he found it nearly vacated as his populous had moved to Sutter’s Mill and other points following the discovery of gold. That was only the beginning of problems that Lassen encountered with Benton City. Prior to his departure to Missouri he had deeded over one-fifth of his ranch to Daniel Sill. In May 1850, Lassen deeded over one-half of his ranch to Joel Palmer to finance the purchase of a small steamboat, Lady Washington. The steamer was to be the easiest method to transport supplies from Sacramento to Benton City. The boat encountered numerous problems with sand bars and snag trees on the Sacramento River and was sunk. That disaster and other financial problems forced Lassen to sell the remainder of his ranch to Henry Gerke. Thus, Lassen, now freed as a landholder, relocated to Indian Valley, Plumas County.

Lassen, like so many others, had become intrigued by the possible existence of the fabled Gold Lake. In the late summer/early fall of 1850, Lassen, J. Goldsborough Bruff and a small group of men explored Northeastern California in search of Gold Lake, though they never found it. In 1855, Lassen did find gold in the Honey Lake Valley. That fall, Lassen and his companions, Isadore Meyerwitz, Joseph Lynch, Newton Hamilton, Marion Lawrence and John Duchene, built a log cabin near Lassen Creek and spent the winter in the Honey Lake Valley. Lassen continued with many pursuits while he lived in the Honey Lake Valley; he was elected President of the Nataqua Territory and also held the position of Surveyor.

In the fall of 1858, news circulated of the silver discovery in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. In the spring of 1859, Lassen organized a prospecting party. It was divided into two groups, one led by Captain W William Weatherlow and the other by Lassen - the latter group consisted of Lassen, Edward Clapper and Lemericus Wyatt <*note {EB}: Mr. Wyatt's given name has been reported at various times as Lemericus, Americus, LeMarcus and LeMarkus> . The two groups were to meet at the Black Rock Canyon. Lassen and Company arrived first and remained to wait for Weatherlow’s party - a fatal mistake. On the morning on April 26, 1859, Lassen’s camp was awakened by a gunshot, a fatal one, striking the head of Clapper. Lassen was killed by the second shot. Wyatt escaped and rode horseback 124 miles to Susanville to safety and to relay the tragic event. Who murdered Clapper and Lassen is a question still pondered to this day. Wyatt stated that they had been attacked by Indians. However, many historians are skeptical about Wyatt’s story and speculate that he murdered his comrades.

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Isaac Roop by Judge A. T. Bruce, published 1869 in the Lassen Sagebrush newspaper

Photo of Isaac RoopIsaac Newton Roop was born in Carroll County, Maryland, on the thirteenth day of March 1822. His parents were natives of New York City and of German origin. They lived for some time in the State of Pennsylvania and, in the year 1790, removed to the State of Maryland. Isaac was reared on a farm and, though his father was wealthy, he enjoyed such limited opportunities for education that, when he left home at the age of eighteen, he could scarcely write his own name. This defect, however, was in due time quite remedied, through the instrumentality of a Miss Nancy Gardner, a graduate of the Transylvania College, with whom, in December 1840, he established at once the twofold relation of husband and pupil. Under her tutorage he received a thorough English education and laid the foundation work for that period of usefulness that succeeded to him in his later years. Miss Nancy Gardiner was born in Pennsylvania December 22, 1822. In the same year of her marriage, she, with her husband, moved to Ashland County, Ohio. Ten years later she died, leaving her husband with three children - two sons and a daughter. Both of these sons enlisted in the service of their country during the Civil war and participated in the Northwestern campaign under Gen. Rosecrans. The youngest, Isaiah Roop, was severely wounded at the terrible battle of Stone River and died from its effects the following year. The remaining son, John V. Roop, is now living in the State of Iowa. The daughter, Mrs. Susan Arnold, came to California in the year 1862. She was much beloved by her father and has stood by his side to cheer him and administer to his comfort since the day of her meeting him here. She resides in Susanville, Cal., in the home made beautiful by the hand of her illustrious father.

On the ninth day of September 1850, and but a few months after the loss of his wife, Roop started for California. He arrived in San Francisco on the eighteenth day of October of the same year and in June following went to Shasta to keep a public house. His first three years in California were spent in Shasta County in farming and trading. During this period he also held the situation of Postmaster and of School Commissioner. He had accumulated in that time upwards of fifteen thousand dollars worth of property, but in June 1853 lost it all by fire. Stripped of everything but an unconquerable will and being of an adventurous disposition, he turned his back upon civilized life and journeying across the Sierras took up his abode in Honey Lake Valley at that time a long distance from any settlement and solely inhabited by Indians. Here he located the land upon which the city of Susanville now stands, built a sawmill near by, and continued to reside here up to the day of his death, February 14, 1869. During his residence in Honey Lake Valley he was engaged in lumbering, farming and trading, filled many offices of profit and trust, and, to a considerable extent, followed the practice of law.

The beautiful valley first settled by him has grown up into a flourishing country and the little village which he laid out has become a large and prosperous commercial town and the county seat of Lassen County. Honey Lake Valley, as lately as the year 1858, was considered by its settlers as part of Utah Territory. These early settlers, with other residents of western Utah, resolved in the year 1859 to cut loose from all political communication with Utah. Accordingly, a convention was called in July of that year, which, having drafted a Constitution for the new territory formed out of this part of Utah, and christened Nevada, the same was adopted by the people and an election held in pursuance of its provisions for choosing a Governor and other territorial officers. At the election, held on the seventh of September, Isaac N. Gov. Roop was chosen Provisional Governor of the proposed territory (1858) by nearly a unanimous vote. The first legislature elected in this new territory met and organized in the town of Genoa, Carson Valley, on the fifteenth of December 1859. O.K. Pierson, of Carson City was elected Speaker, H.S. Thompson, Clerk, and to the legislature Governor Roop delivered his first Message. The Governor adjourned the legislature to the first Monday in January following, whereof he informed the people by proclamation. In that proclamation Governor Roop gave the reasons of the people of the proposed territory for the organization of a provisional government. The proclamation declared that they had no protection for life, limb or property. They had no courts or county organizations. Their political rights were entirely at the will of a clique composed of those who were opposed to the first principles of our Constitution and the freedom of the ballot box. Under these circumstances all endeavored to secure relief from these impositions and, believing that a provisional government would best assure protection of life, limb and property, an election was held and all necessary arrangements made for the formation of temporary government, until Congress should insure justice and protection.

A short time after, U.S. District Judge Cradlebaugh succeeded in establishing his court in the new territory; a new delegate to congress, in the person of John H. Musser, had been elected and dispatched to Washington; extensive mines were discovered in the Carson Valley, which caused an influx of population wholly unexpected at the time of the meeting of the convention and only a portion of the members of the first legislature were present at its first meeting wherefore, in the language of the proclamation, "I, Isaac N. Roop, Governor of the Provisional Territorial Government of Nevada Territory, believing it to be the wish of the people still to rely upon the sense of justice of Congress, and that it will this session, relieve us from the numerous evils to which we are subjected, do proclaim the session of the legislature adjourned until the first Monday in January 1860; and call upon all good citizens to support with all their energies the laws and Government of the United States". During his gubernatorial term many wise measures adopted for the better security of the early settlers in western Utah, and quite extensive campaigns carried on against the hostile Indians all along the border. He became very intimate with Gen. Lander, and was joined by him in many of his efforts for the suppression of Indian outrages.

After the formation of the territory of Nevada, in 1861, Governor Roop was elected to the Territorial Senate. There he acquitted himself honorably and won the lasting esteem of the entire population of the Territory. In 1862 he became the leading spirit in a movement to join the Honey Lake Valley with the Territory of Nevada. For three or four years previous thereto the boundary line between California and Nevada had been in dispute. During that time many of the citizens of Honey Lake Valley acquiesced in the jurisdiction of Nevada. The legislature of the Territory passed a bill fixing the boundaries of a new county to be called Roop, so as to include Honey Lake Valley, having its county seat at Susanville. A conflict of jurisdiction almost immediately ensued. The Nevada legislature thereupon appointed three commissioners, R.M Ford, Jas. W. Nye and I.N. Roop to present its memorial to the California legislature, with a view to obtaining a change of the boundary line in accordance with the recommendation of Congress. The legislature of the State of California refused to grant the request, and two years afterward Governor Roop had the satisfaction of seeing Honey Lake and its adjacent sister, Long Valley, elected into a separate, independent county government. If he could not succeed in placing his home where it naturally and properly belonged, he had been successful in making it independent of the snows and summits of the Sierras. With this he was partially content, as previous to this time the county seats of the counties claiming jurisdiction over Honey Lake Valley were separated from it by the Sierra Nevada mountains, which were impassable two thirds of the year. At an early day, as soon as a post office was established in Susanville, he was appointed its postmaster, which position he held up to the day of his death.

In politics, Governor Roop belonged to the Wig party as long as it had an existence. In 1860 he voted for Stephen A. Douglas. At the outbreak of the civil war in America he heartily espoused the Union cause, and was identified with every movement among his neighbors, to render aid and comfort it the soldiers in the field. In 1864 he supported Lincoln, both with his voice and his vote. In 1865 he was elected to the office of District Attorney for the County of Lassen, receiving the entire Democratic vote and nearly two thirds of the Republican vote. In 1867 he was reelected without opposition. From his earliest settlement in the country he took a leading part in all measures tending to the welfare of its citizens, and has had much to do toward shaping the affairs of this coast. He was a man of enlarged mind and noble and manly character. He possessed the elements of popularity in a high degree, being frank, sociable and courteous, and of unbounded hospitality. Naturally he was a man of quick perception, sensitive, high minded, and of approved courage. Though owner at various times of large property, and surrounded with a rude abundance, such had ever been his liberality in dealing, and so numerous his kind offices, that at no time was his condition one of financial independence. He was a man of fine physical development, standing nearly six feet high, and well proportioned. He possessed regular features, and an intelligent, cheerful, good natured countenance. His florid complexion and light blue eyes indicated his active temperament and love of outdoor pursuits. He died at his residence in Susanville, February 14, 1869, after an illness of six days. He was buried with Masonic honors.

The following extract from the resolutions passed by the Lodge of which he was a member show the esteem in which he was held, and finds an echo in every heart that knew him. "In the death of Isaac N. Roop the Masonic Order has lost an ardent friend, one ever attached to its precepts, one whose heart and hand were ever open to the melting appeals of charity, whose benevolence, knowing no bounds, seemed to embrace the vast sea of humanity, whose generous will extended itself for the good of Masonry, and whose enlarged mind was ever impressed with the controlling tenets, Charity, Relief and Brotherly Love. The benevolent impulses, the charitable disposition, the generous promptings, emanations of a noble heart the persevering will and manly attributes that adorned the intellect and character of Isaac N. Roop. will ever be remembered by his brethern of Lassen Lodge." - From Representative and Leading Men of the Pacific, edited by Oscar T. Shuck, 1870.

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Why “The Land of Never-Sweats”? Excerpted from The California Gold Rush by Lassen County historian, Tim I Purdy

Making a living from the Honey Lake Valley soil was so easy that the settlers who followed Roop and Lassen soon acquired an undeserved reputation for indolence. In Northern California and in Western Utah Territory, the Honey Lake Valley settlers were known as the ‘Never-Sweats’, a term that persisted until well into the sixties. The Humboldt Register for April 30, 1864 published a sneering anecdote to justify this sobriquet. “A ‘help-wanted’ advertiser”, said the Register, “once interviewed three applicants for a job. When he discovered that the men where ‘Honey Lakers’, he stalked off in a rage, muttering darkly, "Honey Lake be damned! I want men to work! Honey Lake!"” But, the Never-Sweats of the fifties had earned their ease, if they ever really had any. Many of them had drifted into the valley in the wake of the Gold Lake excitement and had seen much of the hard and dangerous life along the Yuba and Feather Rivers. Men like Pelio Trutters, Comanche George Lawrence, Sylvenus Conkey, Dolphin Inman, and Ireton Warp had ‘seen the elephant’ long before. Weather-beaten and sinewy, they had survived the perilous illusions of the gold rush, and they yearned to put down stakes. If the rich hay grew wild and the deer waxed fat, they deserved the fruits. After all, unlike the fledgling and impressionable gold seekers, they had the fortitude it took to settle down.

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