Passed through Shasta County the first time in 1843 while enroute to Sutter's Fort as a member of the Chiles-Walker Party. Lived and worked at Sutter's Fort for John Sutter as a clerk and trapper until 1847. Returned in 1844 to view the land he planned to obtain from Mexico as a land grant (Rancho Buena Ventura) recommended to him by Samuel Hensley, also an employee of John Sutter. Became a naturalized Mexican citizen in 1844, a condition he had to fulfill in order to receive the land grant. Obtained the grant (the northernmost Mexican land grant issued) the same year from Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena but continued to work for Sutter making wide explorations and trapping expeditions in 1844/45. Returned briefly to his grant in 1845 to select building sites and field locations and left a caretaker named Julian in charge.

Was active in promoting the settler's revolt (Bear Flag Revolt) of 1846. Enlisted in John Fremont's battalion and served for a short time as Lt. of Artillery. Fremont's battalion became the California Battalion and Reading was promoted to Paymaster with the rank of Major, the title he carried the remainder of his life. Returned and settled on his grant permanently in 1847, built a second house (the first was built in 1845 and burned by Indians the following year), cultivated 40 acres, and planted pear and olive trees, cotton, grapes, grain and vegetables. Discovered gold in Clear Creek in 1848 at the place now known as Reading's Bar (this was the 2nd major California gold discovery) and worked the deposits with a large group of Indian laborers. Gold was taken out of the placers by the panful, sewed in fresh beef hides and transported to Sutter's Fort and exchanged for coin and general merchandise. Made a 2nd gold discovery later the same year in Trinity County near Douglas City which also became known as Reading's Bar. Worked the deposits again with Indian laborers but left abruptly and returned
home when confronted by a group of Oregon miners who objected to his using Indians as laborers. Obtained large revenues from miners who were charged $5/month for mining privileges on his land, also from wood sales and cattle and sheep grazing. Carried trout in buckets from Hat Creek to Manzanita Lake in 1848. Established the general merchandise firm of Hensley, Reading and Co. with Samuel Hensley in Sacramento also in 1848 but the firm dissolved in 1850.

Unsuccessfully attempted to navigate the Sacramento River north from Red Bluff to Clear Creek beginning in the 1850s until mid-1860s. Began branding his cattle in 1850 but did not register the brand; it was registered in 1902 by his son Robert.. Began making plans in 1850 to lay out the town of Latona in anticipation of river navigation on the Sacramento River with plans to make Latona the head of river navigation - the name was later changed to Reading because of a public outcry over the name (Latona was a Greek goddess who conducted herself in a very improper manner). Was a candidate for Governor in 1851 but lost.

Appointed purchasing agent for local Indians in 1852 and was given $25,000 cash for their benefit. Filed a petition in 1852 with the Board of Land Commissioners for confirmation of legal title to his land grant but his request was denied and questioned by the courts until 1856 (his grant was finally patented in 1857). Employed William Magee in 1853 to survey and begin selling portions of his grant (without legal title). Established a grist (flour) mill prior to 1853.
Approved the hanging of an Indian at his rancho in 1853 for stealing beef. Appointed as special agent for the Cottonwood, Cow Creek, and the Indians in the vicinity of Shasta in 1855. Married Fannie (Euphan) Washington in 1856.

Land grant was patented in 1857. Signed an agreement in 1861 with the California Steamship Navigation Company to make the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Clear Creek navigable the entire year for steamers and barges. Was a stockholder of the Original Williams and Kellinger Gold, Silver and Copper Mining Company in 1862. Received an award from the California State Agricultural Society in 1862 for having the finest California stock farm. Over 5000 acres of the land grant was sold by 1866. During that year Reading borrowed $34,125.00 from the estate of his longtime friend Samuel Hensley and used the remaining rancho lands as collateral. In 1868 Reading died unexpectedly. Shortly thereafter the Hensley family demanded payment of the unpaid loan resulting in the forced sale of the rancho at public auction in 1871. Land speculator James B. Haggin purchased the remaining rancho lands for $34,438.32 (the highest bid). The only remaining lands from the original 26,632 acre land grant after the auction was the Washington Section, a 640 acre section purchased by Mrs. Reading's mother and a small plot on which the family house stood. Almost penniless, his widow Fannie and their five children moved to the East in 1871 to live with Fannie’s family. Readings' Bars in Shasta and Trinity County are named for him. Reading Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park is named for him.

SOURCE: The Dictionary of Early Shasta County History - by Dottie Smith - copyright 1999

Biography Index