Histories of Some Towns within Plumas County

This page is a work in progress. Currently, the histories available are for Beckworth, Belden, Lake Almanor, and Walkermine ( Walker Mine ) only.


Photo of Jim BeckwourthJames Pierson Beckwourth, from a daguerreotype c. 1855

Beckwourth, sometimes erroneously spelled "Beckworth" or “Beckwith” (on early census reports), was named for James “Jim” Pierson Beckwourth, an unsung, genuine American hero of mixed ancestry who created a lower, safer passage across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the mid-1800s. Jim Beckwourth, generally considered to be an African-American, played a major role in the early exploration and settlement of the American West. Although there were people of many races and nationalities on the frontier, Beckwourth was the only African-American who recorded his life story and his adventures took him from the everglades of Florida to the Pacific Ocean and from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Beckwourth Frontier Days (in Marysville, California) was established to honor the man.

Beckwourth dictated his autobiography to Thomas D. Bonner, an itinerant Justice of the Peace in the gold fields of California, in 1854/55. After Bonner "polished up" Beckwourth's rough narrative, The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians was published by Harper & Brothers in 1856. The book apparently achieved a certain amount of popular success, for it was followed by another edition in the same year, a second printing two years later, and a French translation in 1860.

Beckwourth's role in American history often was dismissed by historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many were quite blatant in their prejudices, refusing to give any credence to a "mongrel of mixed blood". Many of Beckwourth's acquaintances considered the book something of a joke. Beckwourth was a man of his times and, for the early fur trappers of the Rockies, the ability to "spin a good yarn" was a skill valued almost as highly as marksmanship or woodsmanship. While Beckwourth certainly had a tendency to exaggerate numbers or occasionally to make himself the hero of events that happened to other people, later historians have discovered that much of what Beckwourth related in his autobiography actually occurred. Truth often is something much bigger than merely the accuracy of details. To discover the truth of what life was like for the fur trappers of the 1820s, the Crow Indians of the 1830s, the pioneers of the Southwest in the 1840s, or the gold miners of California in the 1850s, no better source can be found than the life of Jim Beckwourth.

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Photo of a stamp mill.An example of a stamp mill (this is not the Ebbe stamp mill)

Stories vary about how the small community of Belden was established. There is a plaque at Belden that states that the community was named for the widow of quartz miner Mr. Belden. Mr. Belden (perhaps John Belden, born about 1824), a native of New York, married a Maidu Indian woman named Susan (born about 1845 at Yellow Creek, near Belden) after he migrated from New York to mine for gold in Plumas County. Mr. Belden and Susan initially settled at Mineral Township. It is not known for certain whether the family actually resided at what is now Belden Town, or if the family lived closer to the Bucks Lake area. Mr. Belden and Susan had two children, Charles “Charley” Belden and Robert “Bob” Belden. Mr. Belden died sometime between 1868 and 1874 and Susan remarried to Robert Workman at some point before 1876. The couple had one or two children, one of which was William Workman. By the 1900 Federal Census, Susan was once again using the surname “Belden”. It is not known whether she was divorced Robert Workman by 1900, or whether Robert Workman died at some point between 1880 and 1900. Whether Mr. Belden or his son, Robert Belden, filed a homestead on the land now known as Belden is a matter of contention. It seems more likely that it was Robert Belden who filed the homestead. Regardless, the Belden family was granted legal title to the land. Robert Belden opened a saloon and a general store during the railroad construction years and also erected a dozen cabins for travelers and year-round residents. The Belden Post Office opened in 1909 and a three-story hotel, The Riverside, was built around that time. The Riverside became a popular resort forfishermen and other travelers along Highway 70.

 Mining was the primary activity at Belden and the surrounding areas in the early days of Plumas County. While placer mining (by panning, dredging, or hydraulic methods) was probably the most popular method in the Belden area, some quartz mining also occurred there. Gold (usually in small amounts) is contained in quartz veins called ore. The ore was underground. Therefore, miners created tunnels to get at the ore, as well as equipment to break the ore into a powder, so that gold could be removed from it. A stamp mill was a piece of equipment in which heavy pieces of steel were lifted vertically by a cam and then suddenly dropped. Miners dug out ore from inside deep mining shafts and sent it out on carts or hoisted it out in large buckets. The ore was then place on the stamp mill and the steel “feet” of the stamp mill landed on the ore and crushed it. The ore was then washed with chemicals, which left behind pure gold. There is a beautifully preserved stamp mill (the Ebbe Stamp Mill) displayed at the rest stop on Highway 70 across from Belden. 

With hydroelectric power demands on the rise, the Belden powerhouse was completed in 1969. The Belden Powerhouse penstock is 1,292 feet long with a drop of 770 feet. The powerhouse takes water from Belden Forebay, below Seneca on the North Fork Feather River. 

As of the 2000 Federal Census, there was a reported population of 26 at Belden. Today (as of 2006), only three individuals live at Belden year-round. The town and the resort remain privately owned.

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Lake Almanor

Photo of Lake AlmanorLake Almanor, with Mt. Lassen in background

You know that you are nearing Almanor country when you spot Mt. Lassen, which used to be the only active volcano in the United States. Its last official “tantrum” was in 1917 and, since then, it has become a national park - a good place to spend a day seeing the sulfur hot springs, or climbing to the top of the 10,448 foot volcano to look out over Lake Almanor, which lies at the volcano’s base. 

Lake Almanor currently is one of the largest man-made lakes in the State of California and sometimes is referred to as the “Gateway to the Lassen Volcanic National Park”. Located in Plumas County, where 1,000 of the 1,600 acres are unspoiled national forest land, Lake Almanor sits against a backdrop of gorgeous mountain scenery. The lake itself offers swimming and boating, water skiing, hiking, biking, and camping. Fishing in Lake Almanor is available year-round and is excellent, especially in spring for salmon and trout. There are several other streams and rivers in the Lake Almanor area, including the Middle Fork of the Feather River, which has been named a National Wild & Scenic River. 

Before there was a Lake Almanor, the Maidu Indians called the area "oy-ding-koyo", or Big Meadows - the lush, bountiful land at the foot of the volcano where evil spirits dwelled. Spanish explorer Luis Antonio Argüelo was the first European to enter Feather River - named for the waterfowl present on its waters. He was followed by a scattering of trappers and lone mountain men until 1848, when Peter Lassen led a party bound for California via a "short cut" from the Oregon trail that wound through Big Meadows. These parties shortly thereafter were followed by other seekers of the “new land out west”: ranchers, dairymen, farmers and miners, who recognized the varied riches of the area and saw no need to travel further. 

Mountain streams, abundant hunting and fishing, and the cool summer climate brought vacationers from the Sacramento Valley long before there was a lake. Since the 1860s, travelers have come to Big Meadows from the hot valleys and busy cities to spend weeks or months. Julius Howells, a geology student from Harvard University, visited the area in the early 1880's. When he returned again in 1901, he envisioned the hydro-electric potential of the Feather River and convinced Edwin Earl and Guy C. Earl, of the Great Western Power Company, to finance the building of a dam. In 1914, the first dam was completed and Big Meadows became the bed of Lake Almanor, named for Guy Earl's three daughters, Alice; Martha; and Eleanor. 

The Great Western Power Company later became part of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). PG&E, along with the U.S. Forest Service, developed Lake Almanor into a beautiful recreation area. The lake is approximately 52 square miles, rests at an elevation of 4,500 feet, is 13 miles long and six miles wide, and is approximately 90 feet deep at its deepest point (when the lake is full). The present dam was constructed in 1926/1927 and stores 1,308,000 acre-feet of water which covers over 28,000 acres of land. 

Golf is popular sport at Lake Almanor, since there are several courses laid out in beautiful, lush, natural settings. Wintertime brings skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoors sports to the lake. Autumn in LakeAlmanor is dazzling when the mountains are set ablaze with color and is a jewel in the northern California wilderness and a great place to spend a vacation. 

Since the creation Lake Almanor, numerous resort-type communities have been laid out in the Lake Almanor and Lake Almanor Penninsula areas. Today, many of those communities are grand, gated neighborhoods.

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Walker Mine (Walkermine)

Photo of Walker MineAn undated photo of the town of Walkermine

During the 1920s and 1930s, Plumas County was Number One in state copper production. Engels Mine on Lights Creek in northern Indian Valley produced $25 million over its lifetime. Walker Mine, 15 miles south, put out $23 million. Walker Mine competed with Engels Mine as the most productive copper operation in the state during the 1920s, achieving this status in 1929. Situated at a 6,500-foot elevation in central PlumasCounty, the mine is about 12 air miles east of Quincy. During its two-and-a-half decades of operations, Walker Mine had more than 1,000 employees and 3,000 residents during its peak years.

George Bemis made his discovery at Walker Mine with local assistance in 1904. However, mining operations did not begin until 1911. Initial yields by 1914 were sufficient to warrant construction of a bunkhouse and three cabins for workers. High-grade ore assaying 12 percent copper was struck during October 1915. A new flotation plant was completed in 1916 with a daily capacity of 85 tons. The mine’s sawmill, run by Charles Campbell, was capable of cutting 7,000 feet daily. Electricity arrived in 1917, when a power line was brought from Indian Valley to the mine by the Great Western Power Company.

A unique feature of the Walker Mine operation was its 9-mile tramway, completed in 1919. It was built to transport copper ore in 3-foot- by-4-foot buckets from the mine to the Western Pacific Railroad (WPRR) siding at Spring Garden. There, the copper ore was loaded into gondola carts and freighted to Tooele, Utah for smelting. Also transported by the tram during winter periods were food, freight, mail, and occasionally people. During winter, the company town was cut off from the outside world, except for the tramway. The line ran on wooden towers, each from 20 to 60 feet in height. In winter, when the snow was extraordinarily deep, crewswere employed near the summit of Grizzly Ridge to shovel the snow out of the line of travel of the buckets.

The Boca & Loyalton Railroad (B&L) was built in 1901. The first B&L feeder track into Plumas County was laid in 1902, northwesterly through Sierra Valley and on to Beckwourth. In about 1907, a 2-mile spur was builtnorth along Grizzly Creek in order to haul logs. Five years later, in 1912, ice from Charles Gulling’s 14-acre ice pond became another commodity to haul. The Walker Mine Copper Company also used the Grizzly spur for a brief period. Copper concentrates from the company’s mine on the slopes of Mt. Ingalls were hauled by wagon to the Grizzly spur and the B&L for shipment to the Southern Pacific Railroad (SPRR), then eastward to Utah.

During Walker Mine’s most productive years, it was operated by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The company town of Walkermine was built to support work crews and their families during that period. The town supported a hospital, a movie theater, a school, a library, dining facilities, a store, a tavern, a post office, a service station, a baseball field, and a ski hill. Occupants of Walkermine lived in 132 company-constructed homes, 4 bunkhouses of three stories each, and 68 private homes. During its heyday, 75 students attended the school at Walkermine and were taught by just three teachers. Walkermine officially became a defunct settlement in 1941, when Walker Mine closed permanently. The mine and the town were sold at auction in 1945. The beginning of the end for Walker Mine and its company town occurred when copper prices and yields began dropping and the company suffered a loss of $300,000 in 1939. The monthly payroll in 1940 for the 325 remaining employees was $75,000. Now, nothing but scars and a logged-over bit of rubble remain of this once-flourishing area.

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This page was revised last on Thursday, March 24, 2011 9:10 .


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