Pierson B. Reading, one of the two or three most conspicuous fathers of Northern California, was born in New Jersey, November 26, 1816, and died at his ranch, Buena Ventura, in Shasta County, on the 29th of May, 1868, aged fifty-one years and six months. For about a quarter of a century he had occupied a prominent position in California. In 1843 he crossed the plains in company with the late Samuel J. Hensley, and some twenty-five others, and from that period was thoroughly identified with this region of the continent. The route by which the party arrived is thus described by Hon. John Bidwell:

“The route by which they had come had never to my knowledge been visited or traversed by any save the most savage Indian tribes; namely, from Fort Boise, on Snake River, to the Sacramento Valley, via the upper Sacramento or Pit River. The hostility as well as courage of those savages is well known; and I may refer to the conflicts with them of Fremont in 1846, of the lamented Captain Warner in 1849, and of General Crook in 1867.”

In 1844, Reading entered the service of General Sutter, and was at the Fort when Fremont first arrived in California, in the spring of that year. In 1845 he was left in charge, while Sutter marched with all his forces to assist Micheltorena in quelling the insurrection headed by Castro and Alvarado. The former had shown his partiality for Americans by granting them lands, and this led to the espousal of his cause by our people. Reading, in 1844, had received a grant in what is now known as Shasta County. Later, in 1845, he visited, on a hunting and trapping expedition, nearly all the northern part of California, the western part of Nevada, as also Southern Oregon. He was afterward extensively engaged in trapping – in 1845-’46 – on the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. In all these dangerous expeditions his intelligence, bravery, and imposing personal appearance exercised over the hostile Indians a commanding influence that protected himself and party not only from hostile attack, but also secured their friendly aid in his undertakings.

When it became probable that war would be declared against Mexico, Reading enlisted under Fremont; and on the organization of the California Battalion by Commodore Stockton, was appointed Paymaster, with the rank of Major, and served until the close of the war in this country. After its termination, Reading returned to his ranch in Shasta, which he made his permanent home.

In the events preceding and accompanying the acquisition of this territory, the knowledge and experience of Reading were of great advantage to the Government, and that the flag of our Union instead of that of another nation now waves over it, is in a great measure due to those early pioneers who entered California before the existence of gold in its soil was even surmised.

In 1848 Reading was among the first to visit the scene of Marshall’s gold discovery – Coloma – and shortly after engaged extensively in prospecting for gold, making discoveries in Shasta, at the head waters of the Trinity, and prospecting that river until he became satisfied that the gold region extended to the Pacific Ocean. A portion of these explorations were made in company of Jacob R. Snyder. A large number of Indians were worked with great success, until all were disabled by sickness. In 1849, with Hensley and Snyder, Reading engaged extensively in commercial business in Sacramento, and continued the firm until 1850.

In the fall of 1849 Major Reading fitted out an expedition to discover the bay into which he supposed the Trinity and Klamath rivers must empty. The bark Josephine, in which the party sailed, was driven by a storm far out of her course to the northwest of Vancouver’s Island and had to return. Others, subsequently, acting on the idea, discovered and called the bay after that world renowned traveler Humboldt, by whose name it is now known.

In 1850, Major Reading visited Washington to settle his accounts as Paymaster of the California Battalion. The disbursements exceeded $166,000, and had been kept with such neatness and accuracy, supported by vouchers, that the auditor considered them as being the best of all presented during the war.

While in the “States,” on this occasion, he visited his old home, Vicksburg, where in 1837 he succumbed to the crisis which caused such wide-spread ruin among the merchants of the Southwest. His object was to pay in the gold the principal and interest of his long outstanding and almost forgotten obligations. This he did to the extent of $60,000 – an instance of commercial integrity of which California has reason to be proud.

In 1851 Major Reading was the candidate of the Whig party for Governor of California, which exalted position he failed to obtain only by a few votes. Since then he was frequently invited to become a candidate for political positions, but declined.

For many years previous to his decease, agriculture, with a view of developing the interests of the State, occupied his attention. In 1856 Major Reading married, in Washington, Miss Fanny Washington, who, with five children, was left to mourn the death of their beloved protector.

Memorial & Biographical History of Northern California, The Lewis Publishing Co., 1891

Biography Index