Couple on the Flume, just above current location of golf course clubhouse, circa 1890s.
The purpose of this chapter is to summarize the cultural and political prehistory and history of the Big Chico Creek Watershed and to provide information regarding remaining archaeological and historical resources. The list of Works Cited for this chapter identifies key resources for stakeholders who want more information on these topics.
This chapter is divided into five sections, including this introduction. The second section looks at the Watersheds prehistory and the lives of the Konkow and Yahi as discussed in a study of the cultural resources of Bidwell Park prepared for the City of Chico, a participating partner in the Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance.
The third section looks briefly at the impacts upon the native populations as a result of people of European descent entering the area. This section is taken from a cultural resources study prepared for the Master Environmental Assessment for the Chico General Plan in 1994.
The fourth and longest section discusses the historical period. It begins with early explorers, distribution of lands, and the beginnings of agriculture. The reader is then taken on a brief historical tour of the Watershed. This tour begins in the Chico area, heads west to the Sacramento River, north to the community of Nord, and then to the eastern ridges, canyons and mountains, from Cohasset to Chico Meadows. This broad historical approach, presenting short summaries of the early history of numerous parts of the Watershed, was chosen over a more in-depth examination of any particular location. This was done to emphasize the inclusiveness of the Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance, which seeks participation from stakeholders throughout the Watershed, people with links to the Watersheds beautiful creeks, canyons, ridges, and places in between.
The final section of the chapter discusses remaining archaeological and historical resources and key resources for readers who would like more information on the topics discussed in this chapter.
Prehistory and Native Americans
The Big Chico Creek Watershed lies within lands claimed by the Konkow, also known as the Northwestern Maidu, at the time of white settlement of the area. It is also near the boundary that historically divided the Konkow from the Yahi, the southernmost group of the Yana.
Jensen & Associates and Jones & Stokes Associates prepared a Cultural Resources Management Plan for Bidwell Park for the City of Chico's Park Division in July 1996. Its discussion of the prehistory of the Chico area and Bidwell Park and the cultures of the Konkow and Yahi Indians is applicable to the entire Big Chico Creek Watershed. That discussion is presented here in abbreviated form with minor changes in wording for clarification:
Effects of European Contact on Native Americans
An excellent summary of the European Contact period in California and Butte County was prepared by Blayney Dyett and Michael Brandman Associates as part of the Master Environmental Assessment for the Chico General Plan in 1994 and is presented here:
History of Big Chico Creek Watershed
The first explorers of European descent to approach the Big Chico Creek watershed were Spaniards coming up the Sacramento Valley. Spain had laid claim to the region, along with the rest of present-day California, since conquering the Mexico region in 1519. In 1808 a Spanish expedition, led by Gabriel Moraga, looking for a new inland mission site traveled up the Sacramento River to a point that was probably the outlet from Stony Creek. The expedition then headed east, crossing the Feather River near todays location of Oroville (McGie, 30). Based on this route, Moraga probably passed just south of the Big Chico Creek Watershed. In 1820 Captain Louis A. Arguello, on a journey of exploration, passed just west of the Watershed as he traveled north along the west bank of the Sacramento River.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico,
and Mrs. Jessie Cougar.
In 1828 a party of American fur trappers led by Jedediah Strong Smith entered the area. By this time the region had become part of the Mexican Empire as a result of Mexico overthrowing Spain and gaining independence in 1821. Smith and his party of 18 men and a herd of approximately 315 horses were traveling north along the east side of the Sacramento River when they crossed Big Chico Creek, which Smith named the Pen-min. In this area, Smiths party encountered Indian villages, observed Mount Shasta for the first time, and killed two elk and a grizzly (McGie 1957).
The most influential of the early visitors to the watershed was John Bidwell, who became the founding father of the City of Chico. In 1841, he was part of the first land migration of American settlers to California, the Bidwell-Bartleson Party. In March 1843, Bidwell was working at Sutters Hock Farm on the west bank of the Feather River just north of the present location of Marysville when a party of settlers headed to Oregon stole some of the farms horses. Bidwell and two other men went after the settlers and retrieved the horses at the present site of Red Bluff. On this trip, Bidwell crossed the Big Chico Creek area for the first time (McGie 33). He was so impressed by what he saw that he mapped the region. This map later became the basis for the original Mexican land grants.
Mexican Land Grants
Three Mexican land grants were made on land that is part of the Big Chico Creek Watershed: the 22,214-acre Arroyo Chico (Little Creek) grant on the north side of Big Chico Creek and the Farwell and Aguas Nieves (Snow Waters) grants on the south side (Deal, 1978, Map 3). John Bidwell purchased the Arroyo Chico lands in 1849 and 1851 (Lydon, 1997, p27).
In 1846, a group of Americans led by John Fremont captured two Mexican generals and declared the independence of California as part of the Bear Flag Revolt. This uprising was cut short by the war between Mexico and the United States, which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, in which California was ceded to the United States. Under the treaty, the United States agreed to honor the Mexican land grants. A Board of Land Commissioners and appeals to federal courts determined the validity of the grants (Trussell 70-71). The Farwell and Arroyo Chico grants were upheld, but the Aguas Nieves was denied.
Distribution of Other Lands
Outside of the Mexican land grants, land was distributed to settlers under various United States public land laws, including the Act of 1820, the Homestead Act, and the Preemption Act. The United States government also made grants to the states of school lands, swamp lands, and lands for agricultural colleges; to individuals as a reward for military service; and to railroads. Rights to these lands were readily purchased throughout the pioneer period (Trussell, p69).
Counties of Butte and Tehama
In 1850, California became the 31st state of the union, and the entire Big Chico Creek Watershed was made part of Butte County, one of the states original 27 counties. Tehama County was formed in 1856 from land that had belonged to Shasta, Colusa and Butte counties. As a result, parts of the Big Chico Creek Watershed became part of Tehama County. A stretch of Rock Creek north of Keefer and Cohasset ridges forms part of the present-day border of the two counties, and several northern tributaries of the creek drain out of Tehama County. In addition, much of the upper parts of Big Chico Creek itself, including its headwaters on Colby Mountain, are in Tehama County. As of Jan. 1, 1998, Butte County had a population of 201,600 and Tehama a population of 55,400 (Calif. Dept. of Finance, 1998).
Beginnings of Agriculture in the Watershed
Livestock grazing was the dominant economic activity on the early land grants of Butte County during the late 1840s and the 1850s. Animals raised included cattle, horses, sheep and hogs (McGie, p90). John Bidwells ranch was the first center of agricultural activity other than grazing. In 1853 Bidwell was raising so much wheat that he built the areas first flour mill. Among the other crops Bidwell grew over the years, were hay, barley, oats, peaches, apples, quince, pears, figs, and grapes (McGie p83). Agriculture in the valley parts of the Big Chico Creek Watershed continued to grow and prosper. To this day, agriculture remains the dominant use of the valley areas of the Watershed, with almonds and walnuts among the most common crops.
Origins of Chico
A few months after the discovery of gold at Coloma on the American River in January 1848, Bidwell found gold at what is now Bidwell Bar on the Feather River. In addition to profiting from the gold he mined, he also established a successful trading post used by other miners flocking to the area. By 1852, Bidwell held title to the entire Rancho Arroyo Chico. In 1860, Bidwell purchased John Potters ranch on the south side of Big Chico Creek and arranged for the county surveyor to lay out streets on this area between Big Chico and Little Chico creeks. Bidwell believed the establishment of a nearby community would help his farming enterprise fulfill its potential and offered free lots to people who would agree to build homes and settle there (McGie p92-93). The community of Chico was born and became an incorporated city in 1872. Today, the City of Chico has a population of about 52,700 (California Dept. of Finance, 1998) and an urban area population of about 94,000 (Sellers, 1998).
California State University, Chico
John Bidwell and his wife Annie continued to play a key role in the development of the community of Chico for many years and their impact is felt to this day. Among John Bidwells important contributions was successfully advocating for, and donating land to, the establishment of Chico Normal School. Now California State University, Chico, the school was authorized by the state legislature in 1887 and accepted its first students in 1889. CSU, Chico is one of the oldest institutions of public higher education in California. Today, the university has more than 14,000 students and approximately 1,900 faculty and staff.
Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
Bidwell Mansion, the home of John and Annie Bidwell, was built between 1865 and 1868. The Bidwells lived in the mansion until their deaths in 1900 and 1918 respectively. Annie Bidwell willed the mansion to the Presbyterian Church to be used as a co-educational Christian school. The mansion was then sold to private interests, who sold it to the State for use by the Chico Normal School, which later became Chico State College. Over the years the school used the mansion as a dormitory, classrooms and offices. In 1963, it was transferred to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and it is now a state historic park (Calif. Dept. of Parks and Recreation, 1983, p15). The mansion and its grounds are being restored to the 1868-1900 historic period. A visitor center was constructed in 1993, and guided tours are available of the mansion itself. The park receives approximately 30,000 visitors a year (Holman, 1998).
Perhaps the most magnificent legacy of the Bidwells is the park that bears their name. In 1905 Annie Bidwell deeded more than 1,900 acres of land to the City of Chico for the purpose of establishing the park. The park stretched along the north side of Big Chico Creek to a boundary just beyond the end of todays Upper Park dirt road. On the south side of the creek, the park stretched to a point west of Bear Hole. In 1911 Annie added another 300 acres along the north side of Upper Park and a smaller area between the Esplanade and the present-day Camellia Way, now known as Lost Park. The next addition to the park came in 1921 when the City purchased the Forestry Station parcel, the current location of the Chico Creek Nature Center and World of Trees Nature Trail (McKee, 1983, p18 and Lydon, 1997, p27). The Kennedy tract, now a Walnut Orchard along North Park Drive, was added in 1934 (McKee, 1983, p21). Finally, in 1995, the City acquired more than 1,400 acres, most of it between Big Chico Creek and Highway 32 (Lydon, 1998).
Some other notable events in the history of the park include the construction of the One-Mile and Five-Mile recreation facilities in 1918, the opening of the golf course in 1921, and the development of a rifle range in 1926 (Jensen & Associates, 1996, p17-18; McKee, 1983, p39). From approximately 1925 until the early 1930s, the Boy Scouts had a camp on what was called Scout Island, located about midway between One Mile and Five Mile (Nopel, John, 1998). In the late 1930s or early 1940s, the Diversion Dam and ditch were built to divert water from just upstream of Bear Hole to a reservoir at the current site of Horseshoe Lake. The purpose of the project was to supply irrigation water for the golf course (McKee, 1983, p43 and Lydon, 1997, p28-29). Upstream of Salmon Hole, in Iron Canyon, the State Department of Fish and Game built a fish ladder in 1958. The construction of the Iron Canyon fish ladder reestablished migratory fish access to the upper part of the creek. Access had been blocked by 14-foot falls created by a rock slide that occurred about the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (CH2M Hill, 1993, p3-2 and Lydon, 1997, p28). In the 1960s, a horse-riding arena was built just west of Live Oak Grove, between the Diversion Channel and Manzanita Avenue (Lydon, 1997, p30-31).
Today, Bidwell Park covers approximately eight linear miles of Big Chico Creek and encompasses roughly 3,740 acres. It is now the second largest municipal park in the United States (Jensen & Associates, 1996, p 1).
Chico and Mud Creeks and Sandy Gulch Flood Control Project
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed this flood control project in 1965 as part of the Sacramento River and Major and Minor Tributaries Project. Three diversion structures were constructed on Big Chico Creek at Five-Mile Recreation Area and near the head of Lindo Channel to divert peak flows, and a diversion channel was built to connect Lindo Channel with Sycamore Creek.
The purpose of the project is to carry peak flows around the City of Chico via the Diversion Channel, Sycamore and Mud Creeks. Mud Creek eventually reunites with Big Chico Creek shortly before it enters the Sacramento River. The project also included the construction of a levee on the left bank of the diversion channel and 23 miles of levees along both banks of Mud Creek, Sycamore Creek, and tributaries (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1975, p5). The flood control structures are operated and maintained by Butte County in conjunction with the Department of Water Resources.
Bidwell River Park, including Lindo Channel and North Bank of Big Chico Creek
In 1908, Annie Bidwell deeded additional property to the State of California. One part of the property was a strip of land along the east bank of the Sacramento River and Pine Creek, extending north from Big Chico Creek. Another portion of the deeded property included the channel and both banks of Lindo Channel, also known as Sandy Gulch, from Bidwell Park to its western junction with Big Chico Creek. The third part was along the north side of Big Chico Creek, from the Southern Pacific Railroad right of way to the Sacramento River. In width, it extended from the center of the creek to the Second, Seventh and Meridian subdivision of the Bidwell Rancho (approximately the top of the creek bank in most locations). Annies deed explains her intentions:
Sandy Gulch (Lindo Channel), shown circa 1905, became part of Bidwell River Park in 1908.
The lands in this grant became known as Bidwell State Park. In 1928, survey maps, complete with orientation markers and boundaries, set to scale, were prepared for the State Department of Natural Resources by the Chico firm of Polk & Robinson. These maps, which remain on file with the Butte County Department of Public Works, include a Key Map and five sheets each for what are called the Sacramento River, Lindo and Big Chico divisions. The Sacramento River Division was surveyed its entire length, the Lindo Division was surveyed from the Esplanade to Grape Way, and the Chico Creek Division was surveyed from the railroad tracks to just past Lindo Channel.
Complicating the issue of the parks boundaries, however, was the fact that in 1882, Butte County had also received a conveyance of land extending north from Big Chico Creek along the Sacramento River. This deed of 11.45 acres was to be used for road purposes (Bidwell, 1882). Partly because of the possible overlapping of areas in deeds and conveyances, and the resultant clouding of titles between the State and the County, it was decided in 1950 that the State would convey its portion to the County and thereby merge the deeds (Stewart et. al, 1997).
Assembly Bill 141, passed in 1950, transferred all of the Bidwell State Park lands to Butte County and included the following conditions:
After it was transferred to the County, the park became known as Bidwell River Park. The next part of this history focuses primarily on the Sacramento River Division, where boundary uncertainties persisted because of historic river course changes, bank erosion, and accretion lands:
A 1977 state bill authorized the reacquisition of the Sacramento River Division of the park (State of California, 1977, p1738-1739). The transfer agreement was signed in 1978 (State of California, 1978), and the Sacramento River Division became part of the state park system in 1979. It became known as Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park (Stewart et. al. 1997, p2).
The 1978 transfer document specifically stated that the Sacramento River Division was being transferred to the State and that the Lindo Channel portion of the park was being retained by the County. The transfer document made no mention of the Big Chico Creek section, creating some uncertainty about whether it had been transferred or not. In a 1983 letter to the Board of Supervisors, CARD stated that the transfer document clearly delineates the extent of the properties transferred back to the State and that CARD is confident that the properties so described do not include the north bank of Big Chico Creek (CARD, 1983, p1-2). The 1974 study that recommended the transfer specifically stated that the Big Chico Creek section should remain with the County (Calif. Dept. of Parks and Recreation, 1974, p11). The 1977 legislation that authorized the transfer did not include authorization for transfer of the Big Chico Creek section (State of California, 1977, p1738-1739).
CARDs responsibilities for Bidwell River Park ended when CARD let its lease with the County expire in 1983 (CARD, 1983, p1-2). In July 1995, the section of Bidwell River Park on Lindo Channel from Manzanita Avenue to the Citys western sphere of influence line, just west of Highway 32, was deeded by the County to the City (Sellers 1998). It is designated as a Creekside Greenway in the Chico General Plan. The remainder of Bidwell River Park remains under the jurisdiction of Butte County. In addition to Bidwells deed and the 1950 state legislation, the parks use is governed by Chapter 16, Article II of the Butte County Code.
Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park
The portion of the park adjacent to the mouth of Big Chico Creek is now a day use location called the Big Chico Creek Riparian Area. For many years, the gravel bar here was a boat launching area and popular takeout location for Sacramento River tubers. (See the Recreation chapter of this report for more information about current use.) In 1997, a 58.5-acre parcel known as the Peterson Property, north of where River Road crosses Big Chico Creek, was added to the park. This new addition, which includes the right bank of Mud Creek at its confluence with Big Chico Creek, was deeded to State Parks by the Sacramento River Preservation Trust. The Trust purchased it with grant funds received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the Central Valley Project Improvement Act Restoration Fund (Sacramento River Preservation Trust, 1997, p2). Other parts of this state park are the Irvine Finch River Access, Pine Creek, Indian Fishery, and Chico Landing areas, which are outside of the Big Chico Creek Watershed.
Prior to the arrival of the railroad in 1870, stage roads and the Sacramento River were the primary transportation links between the Big Chico Creek Watershed and areas to the south and north. Chico Landing, also known as Bidwell Landing, was a hub for river transportation. It was probably originally located at the mouth of Big Chico Creek and moved several times with changing conditions on the river (Stewart et. al, 1997). The California Steam Navigation Company provided an almost daily steamboat service from the landing. (Chang, 1993, p11; Wells & Chambers, 1973, 240). Agricultural products produced in the area were sent from Chico Landing to Sacramento and San Francisco and then by ship to other destinations. A piano on display in Bidwell Mansion was shipped to Annie Bidwell from New York around Cape Horn of South America, to San Francisco, through the Bay, and up the Sacramento River to Chico Landing (Hearne, 1998).
Origins of Nord
Another important Sacramento River transportation site was Colbys Landing, a shipping point for products going by boat to Sacramento, established in 1858 about seven miles northwest of Chico (McGie, p95). When the California and Oregon Railroad reached Butte County in 1870, it greatly increased the speed by which products could be sent south to the larger cities and thus began to replace river transportation.
To take advantage of the new transportation link, a train station and the community of Nord were established east of Colbys Landing along the path of the new railroad, just east of Rock Creek. Today, Nord is a rural community of about 326 people (1990 census per Betts, 1998). To the north and east of Nord, Rock Creek and its tributaries drain the northwestern region of the Big Chico Creek Watershed, including Sugarloaf Mountain in Tehama County, Keefer Ridge and much of Cohasset Ridge.
Origins of Cohasset
The community of Cohasset lies on the ridge between Mud and Rock creeks. The ridge became a lumbering area in the late 1850s and was called the Campbell Pinery and later the Keefer Pinery. J.L. Keefer was a rancher and farmer on lower Rock Creek who became the first large-scale mill operator on the ridge and built the first road to the valley down what is today Keefer Ridge. This original road was so steep and dangerous, however, that another was built east of Anderson Fork, a tributary of Rock Creek, along the top of Cohasset Ridge (Nathan, 1966, p60-62, 70).
Store, Post Office and Train Depot, Nord, circa 1895.
The first permanent settlers of the ridge were farmers who came in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Their early farms were generally at a subsistence level with cattle, sheep, hogs, a garden plot and land for cultivation. For cash, farmers worked at the mills on the ridge or walked to other mills on Big Chico Creek (Nathan, 1966, p85). In the late 1800s and early 1900s, apples became a successful crop, with local farmers growing prize-winning varieties (Nathan, 1966, p89).
In 1878 a school district was formed and given the name North Point, which eventually became the name of the entire ridge. In 1887 residents requested the establishment of a post office but were told that there were already too many postal stations with North and Point in their names. Ridge residents gave two women, Marie Wilson and schoolteacher Electa Welch, the task of selecting a new name. Their choice was Cohasset, which means City of Pines in the Algonquin Indian language (Nathan, 1966, p82). Today, Cohasset is an unincorporated community of Butte County with a population of approximately 741 people (1990 census per Betts, 1998).
Cohasset Ridge to Musty Buck Ridge
To the south of Cohasset Ridge, along Mud Creek, is Richardson Springs. The mineral springs at this location were first discovered and used by Native Americans. In the early 1860s, a Rock Creek rancher by the name of Solomon Gore came across the area and called it Nepheling
Samuel Sorensons General Merchandise store, Cohasset, 1910.
Springs. The Richardson family, which had moved west from Iowa, purchased the land in 1868, and a resort and health spa was begun in 1903 (McGie 164-165). The spa offered steam and mineral baths and in its heyday was promoted as a playground for the rich and famous. In 1968, the resort was leased to Springs of Living Water Christian Ministries, which purchased the land in 1969. The Springs of Living Water at Richardson Springs is now a nondenominational nonprofit Christian conference center. Its beautiful hotel, built in 1923, is still in use. In 1985, the California Historical Resources Commission listed the site as a Point of Historical Interest. (Please see the Recreation chapter of this report for more information.)
Bordering Richardson Springs is the largest portion of two sections of privately owned lands managed as the 9,300-acre Musty Buck Preserve, which extends down into the Big Chico Creek Canyon. Given the same name as the ridge that separates Mud Creek and Big Chico Creek, this area has historically been used for grazing, a use that continues today. This preserve has been managed as a hunting club under the Department of Fish and Games Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Management Area Program since 1986.
On the opposite side of the canyon from Musty Buck is the ridge that forms the eastern border of the Big Chico Creek Watershed. Separating the Big Chico Creek Watershed from Little Chico Creek and Butte Creek, this ridge played an important role in the development of the region. In 1861 silver was discovered in the West Humboldt Mountains of the Nevada Territory. In response to the opportunity for commerce with this new mining area, John Bidwell and four partners purchased a road-building franchise and began construction of Humboldt Wagon Road, which was in use by 1864 (Chang, 1993, p10-15). The wagon road generally followed the path of today's Humboldt Avenue and Humboldt Road in the City of Chico, Highway 32 along the southeast rim of Big Chico Creek Canyon, and the continuation of present-day Humboldt Road
From Special Collections, Miriam Library, California State University, Chico
and Condensed History of Butte County, p134.
from Lomo to Butte Meadows and beyond. Although the wagon roads original destination was the mining areas of the Humboldt range, it was later routed to Silver City, Nevada in response to other mining strikes (Chang, 1993, p19). Many of the places on todays map of the corresponding stretch of Highway 32 were stage stops on the old Humboldt Wagon Road, including Ten-Mile House Trail, Fourteen-Mile House Road, Forest Ranch and Lomo.
In 1853, Paul Lucas, a native of St. Louis, drove his ox teams into Chico Canyon (Mansfield, 1918, p873). The Lucas family purchased land 14 miles east of Chico and established a ranch that supplied beef to miners who were drawn by the gold rush. According to one researcher, the Lucas Ranch was sometimes referred to as the Forest Ranch and may be the origin of the communitys name (Lucas, 1992, p46), but this issue remains uncertain (Nopel, John, 1998).
With the opening of the Humboldt Wagon Road, the area became one of the leading logging areas in Butte County until becoming less competitive than mills upstream utilizing the new flume (Lucas, 1992, p47-49). Increased travel on the road also increased the demand for temporary lodging. The Lucas family operated what was known as the 14-Mile House Hotel, and Horace Weld built the Forest Ranch Hotel at what is now the town center in 1865 (Nopel, John, 1998). In May 1878, the Forest School District was formed, and in June the United States Postal Service opened a post office, giving Forest Ranch a legitimate standing as a new and lasting community (Lucas, 1992, p49). Today, Forest Ranch is an unincorporated community straddling Highway 32. It has a population of approximately 947 people (1990 census per Betts, 1998). Only that part of the community on the Big Chico Creek side of the ridge is actually within the Watershed. The remainder of the community is within the Little Chico Creek and Butte Creek watersheds.
Stage at County Seat Grade on Humboldt Road, circa 1890s.
Upstream from Forest Ranch along Big Chico Creek is the Minnehaha Mine, located on property owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Intermittent gold mining at the Minnehaha site goes back to at least the 1930s and involved underground placer mining of an ancient stream bed high above the current drainage (Rogers, 1998). The mine site created a chronic siltation problem in the creek, especially when dikes on settling ponds failed, releasing selenium, mercury, chromium, and other pollutants. In one incident in the 1980s, 135,000 gallons of serpentine clay slurry were released into the creek (CH2M HILL, 1993, p4-12, 4-13; Bishop, 1998). In response to this incident, the Department of Fish and Game cited the mine operators, and the Bureau of Land Management issued an emergency closure. Local citizens who visited the site reported finding remnants of old cabins, at least 15 refrigerator carcasses, piles of machinery, bulldozers and other garbage on the property (Nopel, Dave, 1998, personal communication). The mine operators did not have the resources to clean it up, however, and eventually the BLM and other public agencies paid for a cleanup costing more than $35,000. The miners responsible for the incident relinquished their claim, but others reclaimed the mining rights. Today, vehicle access is still prohibited, erosion has been stabilized, and the property is being revegetated through natural processes (Rogers, 1998).
Chico Meadows, Lumbering and Cattle
Further upstream, not far from Big Chico Creeks headwaters on Colby Mountain, is Chico Meadows, one of the centers of early logging operations in the Watershed. The opening of the Humboldt Road opened up vast tracts of previously inaccessible timber (Hutchinson, 1974). Markets for lumber from the Watershed continued to grow with the arrival of the California and Oregon Railroad in Chico in 1870 and then the completion of a V-shaped flume extending from Chico Meadows to just outside Chico in 1874. A branch of the flume also connected with mills on Cascade Creek. The flume carried lumber down the entire length of the Big Chico Creek Canyon to a point just above todays Five-Mile Dam in Bidwell Park, where a small community called Oakvale sprang up to process the lumber (Nopel, 1998, Pioneering Families).
Later, the flume was extended into Chico along the south side of what is now East Eighth Street to Pine Street, where it turned north to discharge its water back into Big Chico Creek. There was good trout fishing in this Pine Street section of the flume (Hutchinson, 1974). A factory to process the cut was built east of Pine Street between the flume and Humboldt Road (Hutchinson, 1974). According to local historian Dave Nopel, a virtual torrent of wood began pouring down the flume, and the Chico Meadows mill became one of the most storied of its time. Butte County became the state leader in pine production (and) Chico called itself the Pine Capitol of California (Nopel, 1998, Pioneering Families).
The New Arcade Mill in Chico Meadows was operated through 1894. The Sierra Lumber Company then shifted operations to the Providence Mill, also called the West Branch Mill. This mill, which operated between 1895 and 1906, was located near the junction of Big Chico Creek and Campbell Creek (Hutchinson, 1974). In addition to the flume, the mill also utilized a narrow-gauge railroad that ran upstream about 4-5 miles to where Little Smoky Creek enters Big Chico Creek (Nopel, Dave, 1998, personal communication). In 1907, the Sierra Lumber Company was acquired by the Diamond Match Company, which built a new mill in Stirling City. Today, most of the private forestry lands in the Watershed are owned by Sierra Pacific Industries. Lower Chico Meadows is now occupied by Camp Lassen, which is operated by the Boy Scouts of America. (Please see the Recreation chapter for more information.)
Chico Meadows, especially the upper meadow, has a long history as one of the numerous cattle summer pastures in the mountains. A primary cattle trail of the region, the Campbell Trail, passed nearby. Valley ranchers would gather their cattle together in the spring and drive them up the trail to Butte Meadows. The drives consisted of several hundred to several thousand head of cattle and lasted from seven to ten days, depending on the number and type of cattle being driven (Butte Creek Watershed Project, 1998; Roney, 1998). From Butte Meadows the cattle would be sorted into smaller herds and driven to one of the various summer pasturing areas in the mountains (Jessee, 1998).
Mechoopda kumi or assembly house.
Existing Cultural Resources and Sources of Additional Information
Numerous archaeological resources are located in the Big Chico Creek Watershed. They include bedrock mortars, petroglyphs, lithic scatters, temporary and permanent habitation sites, and burials. Other resources that may remain include middens, mortars and pestles, arrowheads, grinding stones, knives, pipes, and a variety of hand implements. A records search conducted by the Northeast Center of the California Historical Resources Information System for the Chico General Plan found 112-recorded prehistoric sites in the planning area. Areas considered to be highly sensitive for archaeological resources in the Chico area include the entire area within the City of Chico, areas along the major creeks between the foothills and the Sacramento River, and the foothills above 300 feet in elevation (Blayney Dyett and Michael Brandman Associates, 1994, p8-4). One area of the Watershed, the Mud Creek Canyon Archaeological District, is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places (U.S. Department of the Interior, 1996, p12), and a 1996 study concluded that sites within Bidwell Park should also be nominated for the Register (Jensen and Jones & Stokes, 1996, p35).
Chico, east side of Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets, circa 1866.
Numerous historical resources are also present in the Big Chico Creek Watershed, including remnants of mines and timber mills, historic buildings, cemeteries, rock walls, watering troughs, and roads. Bidwell Mansion, the South of Campus Neighborhood, and several buildings in the downtown Chico area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1996, p12). The sites of the old Hooker Oak and the Chico Forestry Station and Nursery in Bidwell Park are listed as California Historical Landmarks (Calif. Dept. of Parks and Recreation, 1996, p19-20), and Chico Flour Mill and Richardson Springs are listed as California Points of Historical Interest (Calif. Dept. of Parks and Recreation, 1992, p5-6).
Chico, near Post Office on First Street and Broadway, circa 1895.
Sources of Additional Information
Readers interested in additional information regarding the rich prehistory and history of the Big Chico Creek Watershed and existing resources are encouraged to utilize the list of Works Cited following this chapter. In addition, the following are especially valuable local sources of additional information:
Special Collections, Meriam Library
The Northeast Center of the California Historical Resources Information System
Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
Chico Heritage Association
Bettinger, Robert L. (1993). Hunter-Gatherers: Archaeology and Evolutionary Theory. Plenum Press: New York.
Betts, Stephen. (1998, June 1). Associate Planner. Butte County Development Services. Personal Communication.
Bidwell, Annie E.K. (1908). Indenture of July 1, 1908. Filed August 20, 1909. Book 111, Page 320. Deeds. Butte County.
Bidwell, John. (1882). Indenture of November 15, 1882. Filed November 16, 1882. Book 22, Page 193. Deeds. Butte County.
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