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Marysville to Brown’s Valley area
Submitted By: XNGH Jason Thorn Date: May 08, 2010, 06:39:10 PM Views: 7456

Originally published in the Hewgag Monitor by Tom Barry in May, 2000

   While the gold producing areas of some of the mountainous mother lode locations are perhaps more famous to the great majority of our readers, the area of Yuba County that Chapter Ten Clampers will be visiting in May has a rich history of early California exploration and mining.

   A part of Mexican California, the area was very sparsely inhabited by non-Indians. The native California Indians were the Maidu. They subsisted mainly on acorns, hunting and fishing. Hudson’s Bay Company trappers occasionally crossed the region in the years 1830 - 1841.

   In the 1840s, a branch of the California Trail, leading down from what would later become known as Donner Pass, along the ridge north of the Bear River, entered the area. Captain John Sutter included much of the area in his original request for a land grant from the Mexican government, but it was more than allowed by law. Even so, Sutter subletted or leased much of his excess land to others for stock ranches and farms, as his land grant was huge.

   In 1842, Sutter leased the present site of Marysville to Theodore Cordua, who built an adobe dwelling with a trading room (store) and several outbuildings. He called it New Mecklenburg, and the site, at the foot of D Street, was plaqued by Chapter Ten in May of 1985. Cordua was mainly a rancher, but did some trading with travelers on the California-Oregon Trail, which passed through his land. John C. Fremont traveled through the area in 1846 and described the villages of the native Maidu Indians as “a collection of huts, shaped like bee-hives, with naked Indians sunning themselves on the tops, and (large) acorn cribs.”

   Pablo Gutierrez, employed by Captain Sutter, obtained a grant of five leagues of land on the north side of the Bear River in 1844. He built an adobe residence at the site of the crossing of the trail from what would become known as Donner Pass and the Bear River. But Gutierrez was killed while carrying dispatches for Sutter in late 1844. His grant and cattle were disposed of by Captain Sutter.

   The land was sold to William Johnson and Sebastian Keyser for $150. Keyser took the western half and Johnson took the eastern half. Together, they erected another adobe house. This place, about three miles east of present-day Wheatland, became known as Johnson’s Ranch. It was the first settlement of any kind reached in California by emigrants over the Donner Pass portion of the California Trail. It was here that the seven anguished survivors of the Donner Party came to try to get help for the rest of their members in the winter of 1846-47.

   William Johnson soon became the first husband of Mary Murphy, one of the survivors of the Donner Party. He proved to be an unsuitable husband, being quite the drinker and also unwilling to completely give up his relationships with several of the local Indian women, and she soon divorced him and married Charles Covillaud, who later developed a new town on land he had obtained from Cordua. Covillaud named his new town Marysville, in her honor.

   U.S. Army Camp Far West was established about a mile east of Johnson’s Ranch in 1849 to protect American settlers in the area, but was abandoned in 1852, after a series of deadly encounters with hostile Indians and a number of incidents of the soldiers there going AWOL. It was apparently a miserable place to be a soldier at that time. The site is now partly under the waters of Camp Far West Lake.

   Soon after the discovery of gold in 1848, miners had fanned out all over the area, and prospectors had good luck along the sand bars of the Yuba River. The first recorded gold was found on June 2, 1848, by Jonas Spect, at a location later known as Rose’s Bar. At almost the same time, gold was found by Michael Nye and William Foster on Dry Creek near its junction with the Yuba. This is very near the spot where Hammon Grove is located. Dry Creek crosses the highway just up the road from our campsite.

   In the fall of 1848, John Rose and William J. Reynolds opened a store at Rose’s Bar and supplied the miners with goods brought from Sacramento, as well as fresh beef and produce from their ranch just south of Marysville. Rose’s Bar became so crowded by the spring of 1849 that the miners had to limit the size of each claim to 100 square feet per man. Two thousand men worked Rose’s Bar by 1850. Flooding along the Yuba River in 1850 forced the miners to higher ground, and they found gold in appreciable quantities at many locations there, too. The names of some of them were: Gatesville (aka Sucker Flat), Squaw Creek, Cordua, Sawmill and Lander’s and Kennebec Bars. Just opposite Lander’s Bar near the mouth of Deer Creek was Malay Camp, where miners from the Malay Peninsula (the Philippine Islands) worked.

   The richest of all the gravel bars along the Yuba was Park’s Bar, about two or three miles west of Rose’s Bar. In 1848, David Parks came to this location with his wife and children. It was very unusual for a miner to have his family with him at this time. Park’s Bar was named after the family and proved to be a very prosperous community. By 1852, it rivaled Marysville in importance. By 1855, however, Park’s Bar had become depopulated, along with its neighboring communities, Barton’s Bar and Union Bar.

   Other early mining camps on the Yuba River above Marysville included Swiss Bar (established about 1850), nine miles up the river, and Long Bar (established October, 1848), a little farther upstream. Long Bar was the longest gravel bar on the river and it also had the greatest longevity for the miners. By 1851, there was a ferry across the Yuba river from Long Bar to Kennebec Bar. A little farther upstream was Chimney Hill and at the mouth of Dry Creek (very near our Campsite) was Owsley’s Bar.

   So, what happened to all these communities alongside the Yuba River? There is no trace left of any of them at this time. This is due to the upstream introduction of hydraulic mining. Among the first of these was the American Hill Hydraulic Mine in Nevada City, begun by Edward E. Matteson in April, 1853. (Plaqued by Chapter 10 in October of 1976) Many other hydraulic mines were in operation by 1857, and their debris was washed into the rivers with little regard for downstream consequences.

   These days, everyone can see the destructive results of hydraulic mining. It is almost unbelievable to realize that the area around our camp, along with most of the communities discussed so far, is covered in at least 70 feet of sand and gravel washed into the river from hydraulic mining. Uncounted millions of cubic yards of muck was washed down, and the resulting raising of the river beds was one of the causes of many of the disastrous floods in the valley. The Sawyer decision in 1884 stopped the wholesale use of hydraulic mining, but before that had been accomplished, men had drastically changed the landscape of millions of acres of land along the streams of the valley. Commercial gold mining continued up till the 1920s and 1930s in much of the area around our camp in the forms of deep mines and dredging. At one time, nearly a dozen dredgers were at work, bringing gravel up from as much as 90 feet below the surface.

   Brown’s Valley, about 12 miles from Marysville, was begun by a settler named Brown, who accidentally discovered quartz gold near his temporary camp. He was said to have taken $12,000 out, and was satisfied to retire on that amount. Other mines in the Brown’s valley area included the Jefferson Mine, the Flag Mine, the Donnebrouge Mine and the Pennsylvania Mine. The Sweet Vengeance Mine, originally owned by Spaniards, was a big producer. The operators carried their ore to Little Creek and ground the gold from it with arrastres. After a French company bought the mine, a stamp mill was employed, which was one of the first to be used in California. Other claims worked in Brown’s Valley included The Daniel Webster, Pacific, Burnside, Paragon, Ophir, Rattlesnake and Anderson. Most of the deeper mines are flooded with water, but gold seekers still work the gravels along the Yuba River.

   Brown’s Valley once had 5 hotels and 24 saloons. Public houses, or stopping places, along the stage line from Marysville to Camptonville included the Sixteen-mile House, the Comstock Place, the Galena House, the Peoria House, the Zinc House, the Stanfield House and others.

   Take some time to appreciate the immense historical significance of the Brown’s Valley area. While California is full of historical sites, this one is relatively close to home and it is well worth the effort to explore it a bit.

   More local history next time!

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  • Kyle Ball: both of mine are paid for. im ready as well. get a new trailer yet cheatham?
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    September 18, 2016, 12:02:22 PM
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  • Kyle Ball: road cleanup this sunday 9/11 8am
    September 06, 2016, 08:11:22 PM
  • Tom Barry: Tom Barry: Mistake on the newsletter page with the plaques. Should be Scotts Flat, not Hammon Grove.
    September 03, 2016, 06:30:03 PM
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