Trinity County History

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About Trinity County

Created 1850. It takes its name from the Trinity River, named in 1845 by Major Pearson B. Reading, who was under the mistaken impression that the stream emptied into Trinidad Bay. Trinity is the English version of Trinidad. See how Trinity County has changed its borders...

The Wintu Indians

The Wintu Indian tribe were the first humans to make the Trinity County area a permanent home hundreds or perhaps thousands of years before the first white men set foot in the North American continent. Deer and elk living along the Trinity River and its tributaries were plentiful, and provided food and clothing year round. In the summer there were plenty of berries and seeds to be harvested, and small game to be snared. Each autumn the salmon and steelhead making their annual run to upstream spawning areas were easy pickings, and acorns were bountiful.

Bark from forest trees and rushes along the streams made good roofing materials for their homes. Local sedges and willows were turned into beautiful baskets so tightly woven that they held water without leaking. Hot stones were placed in the water to make it boil for cooking.

Winters were generally mild along the river, and the Wintu had little reason to travel high into the mountains unless they were on a trading expedition to the coast or central valley of California.

First Explorers

Though probably visited by fur traders like Jedediah Smith in the early 19th century, the area's first recorded exploration was by Major Pierson P. Reading who discovered and named the Trinity River in 1845. Thinking that the river emptied into the Pacific Ocean at Trinidad Bay, he named the river "Trinity", the English translation of "Trinidad". Four years later two miners, while looking for a way to the ocean discovered that the river flows into the Klamath River, not into the ocean at all.

Early Settlers and Gold

If Major Reading discovered gold at the same time he discovered the Trinity River, as some have suggested, he kept very quiet about it. The big rush for gold in the Trinity River did not begin until late 1849 or early 1850, and was in full swing by the end of 1850. Weaverville and Trinity Centre were area boom towns.

By 1853 close to 2,000 Chinese lived and worked in Weaverville, but, though the Chinese were considered good for the economy, racial tensions with the white miners often flared into incidents. Chinese mining their own claims were subject to a four dollar per month "head tax", while whites paid nothing. Gangs of renegade whites sometimes robbed the Chinese miners.

In 1854 a one-day Chinese tong war, instigated and promoted by whites, was fought with knives, spears, and hatchets in a field near Weaverville. Local white "military advisers", who would not let the Chinese use guns for fear of injury to bystanders, cheered for both sides and placed bets on the outcome. The result was least ten Chinese dead and twenty to thirty wounded.

There were more people living in the Trinity area in the 1850s than have ever been there at one time since. By the 1860s the Trinity gold had all been mined, and the Chinese had moved on to work on the transcontinental railroad being constructed across the Sierra Nevada mountains. The only remaining signs of their community are the Weaverville Joss House, museum artifacts, and miles of carefully piled boulders along Trinity Alps streams.

While the Chinese were treated very badly at the hands of unscrupulous whites, most of the Wintu Indians, as with most California Indian tribes, died off due to small pox, influenza, and outright extermination, leaving few reminders of their long occupation of the area.

After Trinity mining disappeared, gold mining became big business. Corporation invested in large-scale mining operations that continued into the 1930s. In addition to the excavation of deep shafts, hydraulic mining was used extensively. Water for the La Grange Mine, brought 29 miles from lakes at the head of Stuart Fork in the early 1900s, was used to wash away a large part of Oregon Mountain west of Weaverville, where the scars can still be seen today. The remains were deposited in Oregon Gulch toward Junction City.

Ranchers, Timber, and Water

With the miners of the 1850s came a number of ranchers who homesteaded along the Trinity River, mostly in an area north of Lewiston known as Trinity Meadows, now at the bottom of Clair Engle Lake. Some of their descendants are cowmen who still take their cattle to summer pasture in the Trinity Alps.

The area mountains became known as the Trinity Alps when Mr. and Mrs. Anton Webber, who had traveled extensively in Europe, bought one of the old ranches in 1922, and established the Trinity Alps Resort on the Stuart Fork. The area mountains reminded them of the Austrian Alps the Webbers admired so much.

With the coming of the railroads in the late 1800s, logging and sawmilling became more important local industries than mining. The battle between those interested in logging and those interested in conservation has been waged ever since.

Water rights have also been an historic battleground between users and conservationists in the Trinity Alps. Arguments over water rights between miners were often fatal, but had few lasting effects on the land. That ended, however, when southern California and Central Valley water diTransitionals obtained the rights to divert Trinity River water to southern California and the Central Valley. By the 1960s the Trinity, Lewiston, and Whiskeytown dams were completed, forming Clair Engle Lake, and drowning Trinity Meadows and some of the best salmon and steelhead fishing left in California.