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Watershed History


Couple on the Flume, just above current location of golf course clubhouse, circa 1890s.
From the John Nopel Collection.

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 Watershed’s 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 Watershed’s 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:

The first European settlers in the Chico area observed that the resident Native American village populations followed a common lifestyle and spoke a fairly uniform dialect. These Indians have been variously referred to as the Northwestern Maidu, Konkow, Valley Maidu, or Michoopda. These are the Indian peoples who would most likely have occupied sites [within the Big Chico Creek watershed] during the past 500 or so years.

Admittedly, questions abound concerning the cultural-historical sequence in the Chico area, and the nature of the relationships between Chico and Oroville to the south and the Yana territorial boundary to the north. It is precisely for this reason that the sites along Big Chico Creek are potentially important. They may hold the key to understanding late prehistoric relationships between the Yana and the much larger Maidu populations, which occupied the Chico area when John Bidwell first arrived….

[The Big Chico Creek watershed] lies within lands claimed by the Konkow at the time of European contact (circa. A.D. 1850), but near the boundary which historically divided the Yahi to the north from the Konkow to the south…. Prior to the Nineteenth Century, the Yana (of which the Yahi represent the southernmost group) inhabited the Upper Sacramento River Valley, east of the Sacramento River, south of the Pit River, and possibly as far south as Butte Creek (Johnson, 1978, Figure 1), along the western slopes of the southern Cascade Range. Waterman (1918: Map 1) places the southern boundary near Pine Creek (Johnson, 1978, p361), while Dixon locates the southern boundary further south, near Rock Creek….

'Primarily a foothill people, the Yahi, like their linguistic relatives to the north, settled in villages several miles east of the Sacramento River. (Johnson, 1978, Figure 1)…

'Similar to other California Indian groups, Yahi life was based on the nuclear family. Families lived in small, dome-shaped structures fashioned with poles, and covered with branches, brush, and skins. Temporary shelters and caves were also used by single and multiple families. Several family units, together, formed a village. Several villages in an area were represented by a major village which governed the whole, known as a tribelet. The tribelet was ruled by a chief of lineal descent.

Woman collecting acorns to assist the Yahi's "gathering" economy.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico.

Maintaining a hunting and gathering economy, the Yahi sought deer, salmon, slow-water fish, rabbit, quail, rodents, and various other animals in addition to a wide variety of plant resources. Acorns were intensively gathered and processed, as were tubers, roots, nuts, berries, and bulbs.

Generally, Yahi populations were small in size. Kroeber (1925, p341) estimates the Yahi population prior to Euro-American contact at around 200 to 300 individuals. This small population facilitated/required a relatively high degree of mobilization in order to procure needed resources…. And so it was with the Yahi that a pattern of seasonal exploitation was implemented, whereby roots, tubers, and other plant and animal resources were gathered/hunted during the spring; medium and large game animals were actively hunted in the mountainous regions of their domain during the summer months; and salmon and acorns were procured during the late summer and early autumn months. Winter was a season of marginal productivity, but the Yahi were able to maintain minor food stores, and foraged for additional sustenance.

While the origin and tenure of Yahi occupation near the valley floor is [uncertain], the Konkow did occupy that region at the time of Euroamerican contact. The Konkow occupied a portion of the Sacramento Valley floor, as well as the foothills east of Chico and Oroville, near the confluence of the south, middle, north, and west branches of the Feather River, Big and Little Chico Creeks, Butte Creek, and a large portion of the Sacramento River (Riddell, 1978, p370-372). On the basis of linguistic data and geographical distribution, the Maidu have been divided into three primary groups: the Southern Maidu, or Nisenan; the Northeastern Maidu, or Mountain Maidu; and the Northwestern Maidu, or Konkow (Shipley, 1978, p83). It is this latter group which laid claim to all the territory located within the [Big Chico Creek watershed] region at the time of Euro-American contact….

The basic social unit for the Konkow was the nuclear family, although the village may also be considered a social, as well as a political and economic unit. Villages were usually located on flats adjoining streams, and on ridges high above rivers and creeks, or along midslope benches, and were most intensively occupied during the winter months (Dixon, 1905, p175). Villages typically consisted of a scattering of conical bark dwellings, numbering from four or five to several dozen in larger villages, each house containing a single family of from three to seven people (Riddell, 1978, p373). Larger villages, with from twelve to fifteen or more houses, might also contain a kumi, a semisubterranean earth-covered lodge. The village containing the largest of these structures acted as the ceremonial assembly center (Riddell, 1978, p373). Between three and five villages comprised a “village community” which defended, controlled and exploited a known territory.

Resource exploitation for the Konkow was diverse if not prolific. A variety of plant and animal species was readily available for collection, processing and consumption, with several different food types complementing one another during various seasons. During the spring, a variety of herbs, tubers, roots, and grass seeds were collected from various environments within close proximity to the winter village. Jensen’s (1994) recent investigation of lands immediately adjacent to Bidwell Park supports a hypothesis wherein prehistoric populations living along Big Chico Creek, within Bidwell Park, were actively exploiting wild onion rhizomes and Brodea, which were contained within vernal pools. This level of plant resource exploitation has not been investigated intensively within the Northern Sacramento Valley, and collectable data on this food resource alone offers great potential for additional study and interpretation of food collecting strategies.

During the summer months, individuals and groups would venture into the higher elevations in order to procure various plant and animals. Small, medium, and large mammals were actively hunted within the mountainous regions east of Chico, with only the coyote, dog, wolf, and bear avoided. Several types of insects were collected during the summer, including yellow jacket larvae, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets; all of which could be eaten dry, or roasted, the bulk of which were often stored for the winter months.

The transition between summer and autumn brought with it an abundance of food resources. Late summer fish runs were actively exploited, with salmon providing a large portion of the spoils. In addition to salmon, suckers, eels, and a variety of small, slow water fish were actively exploited, especially during the Late Prehistoric periods (Broughton, 1988). Fresh water mussels were also collected by the Konkow year-round, but were intensively exploited during periods of low water volume [late summer/early autumn] (Eugster, 1990, p114). Several types of nut seeds were collected during the early autumn months, with acorns provided by various oak species representing the greatest volume of nut meat harvested. While several varieties of acorn producing oaks exist, the Konkow preferred the following respectively: black oak, golden oak, and the interior live oak. Other acorn producing varieties include the valley oak, blue oak, and the tan oak. The acorns were collected and then crushed in mortars to form acorn flour. Tannic acid had to be leached from the flour with warm water before consumption could take place. Bland bread was baked from the acorn flour, acting as a carbohydrate staple for the Konkow.

Technological adaptations by the Konkow allowed for a quasi-sedentary lifestyle, especially within the Bidwell Park area where food resources were abundant. Storage played a primary factor in the sedentary portion of their settlement pattern. With storage devices, structures, and methods, resources collected during the summer and autumn months could be consumed throughout the lean winter months. Mammals, fish, and mussels were still exploited during the winter, but few plant food resources were available, which made storage necessary… (Jensen & Associates, 1996, p14-16)

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:

After 1770, Indian populations and settlements were disrupted as a result of Spanish colonial expeditions and trappers from the Hudson Bay Company (Moratto, 1984). A malaria epidemic, brought by early explorers in 1783, greatly diminished the Indian population. Further reductions in local Indian populations occurred over the next thirty years due to diseases such as small-pox, typhoid, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. During this period, the Anglo-Saxon (white) population of Butte County grew dramatically from fewer than twelve persons in 1848 to 3,541 persons in 1850. (Hill, 1978)

The growing white population upset the long-standing ecological balance that the Indians had established. Miners and trappers (particularly those associated with the Hudson Bay Company) created scarcities of game by killing large numbers of deer, salmon, duck, and rabbit. Some species such as the condor, elk, antelope, and grizzly bear disappeared from the area. The introduction of domestic animals, such as cattle and hogs, further changed the environment and reduced the Indians’ traditional food sources by eating the plants, roots, grasses, seeds, and acorns on the best food-bearing lands. (Hill, 1978)

Conflicts between the Indians and the white population were most common between 1851-1863 (Hill, 1978). Probably as a result of the diminished food supply, Indians killed livestock belonging to the white population. Ranchers often retaliated to these and other types of incidents by indiscriminately shooting Indians on sight. During this time, many Indians sought refuge from lawless elements by working for various ranchers, most notably John Bidwell at Rancho Chico (Hill, 1978). In 1863, the infantry rounded up 461 Indians (429 survived the trip) in the Chico area for removal to the Round Valley Reservation, a two-week journey west. (Blayney Dyett. 1994. p8-3, 8-4)

History of Big Chico Creek Watershed

Spanish Explorers

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 today’s 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.

Five-Mile Dam, Bidwell Park, circa 1908.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico,
and Mrs. Jessie Cougar.

American Explorers

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, Smith’s party encountered Indian villages, observed Mount Shasta for the first time, and killed two elk and a grizzly (McGie 1957).

John Bidwell

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 Sutter’s 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 farm’s 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 state’s 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 Bidwell’s ranch was the first center of agricultural activity other than grazing. In 1853 Bidwell was raising so much wheat that he built the area’s 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 Potter’s 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 Bidwell’s 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).

Bidwell Park

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 today’s 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). Annie’s deed explains her intentions:

The object of the grantor in conveying this property to the State of California is to preserve after her death the forest growth along said water courses; to prevent the diversion and use of the water for private purposes; to minimize the loss of water by evaporation so that the sub-irrigation of the adjoining lands may be maintained to the natural extent and to maintain the natural beauty of said streams and the integrity of their banks. It is understood that the State of California in accepting this conveyance shall retain the title to the lands herein granted in perpetuity. (Bidwell, 1908)

Sandy Gulch (Lindo Channel), shown circa 1905, became part of Bidwell River Park in 1908.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico and Glady Pelleties.

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 park’s 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:

Said lands shall be used by the County of Butte and by its successors solely for the establishment, improvement and conduct of a public park for the use and benefit of the people of the State….

Said park shall be improved by said county without expense to the State and shall always remain a public park for recreational use by the people of the State of California…. (State of California, 1950)

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:

The County did not want to get into parks and recreation and so leased some to the Chico Area Recreation and Park District (CARD). CARD in turn leased nearly all of the property to a rod and gun club. The merged deeds only resolved some intra-governmental issues for Butte County and for Chico Area Recreation District, the lessee. By the 1960s boundary disputes with neighboring landowners frustrated efforts at developing a master facilities plan. By the 1970s the park was under budgeted. A planned cadastral survey of disputed boundaries was not completed. Hunting, shooting, wood-cutting, dumping, and the intrusion of off-road vehicles defiled the park. In 1972, at the request of petitioning local government, the California Department of Parks and Recreation was mandated by the legislature to study alternative methods to preserve Bidwell River Park. A resulting 1974 report recommended that (the Sacramento River Division of) Bidwell River Park be acquired by the state as part of the State Park System. (Stewart et. al., 1997, p2)

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).

CARD’s 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 City’s 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 Bidwell’s deed and the 1950 state legislation, the park’s 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.

Chico Landing

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 Colby’s 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 Colby’s 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.
and the John Nopel Collection.

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 Sorenson’s General Merchandise store, Cohasset, 1910.
Donald Sorenson in foreground.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico.

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 Game’s Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Management Area Program since 1986.

Humboldt Road

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

Richardson Springs Resort, circa 1930s.
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 road’s 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 today’s 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.

Forest Ranch

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 community’s 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.
From the John Nopel Collection.

Minnehaha Mine

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 Creek’s 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 today’s 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.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico
and Dorothy J. Hill.

Existing Cultural Resources and Sources of Additional Information

Archaeological Resources

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.
From Special Collections, Miriam Library, California State University, Chico

Historical Resources

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.
From Special Collections, Meriam Library, California State University, Chico and Dorothy J. Hill.

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
California State University, Chico
Chico, CA 95929-0295
(530) 898-6342

The Northeast Center of the California Historical Resources Information System
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, CA 95929
(530) 898-6256
Note: The Northeast Center charges for its services.

Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
525 Esplanade
Chico, CA 95926
(530) 895-6144

Chico Heritage Association
336 Broadway
Chico, CA 95928
(530) 345-7522


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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.

Bishop, Will. (1998, July 14). Warden. California Department of Fish and Game. Personal Communication.

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Broughton, J.M. (1988). Archaeological Patterns of Prehistoric Fish Exploitation in the Sacramento Valley. Master’s Thesis. California State University, Chico.

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CH2M HILL. (1993). Assessment of Big Chico Creek Salmon and Steelhead Production. Prepared for City of Chico, M&T Chico Ranch and Parrot Ranch.

Chang, Anita Louise. (1993). The Historical Geography of the Humboldt Wagon Road. Association for Northern California Records and Research. Chico.

Charlton, Lois. (1998, May 28). Lands Officer. Lassen National Forest. Personal Communication.

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Deal, Krista. (1978). The Mexican Land Grants of Butte County. Final Project. Anthropology 306c. Northeast California Collection. Meriam Library, California State University, Chico.

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Eugster, S.E. (1990). Freshwater Mussel Utilization at a Late Prehistoric Period Archaeological site (CA-BUT-12) in the Northern Sacramento Valley, California. Master’s Thesis. California State University, Chico.

Hardwick, Susan. (1998). Historical Uses and Cultural Resources. Draft Version. Butte Creek Existing Conditions Report. Butte Creek Watershed Conservancy and California State University, Chico Research Foundation. September, 1998.

Hearne, Susan. (1998, June 1). Ranger. Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park. Personal Communication.

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Jensen, Peter M. (1994). Archaeological Inventory Survey of the Bidwell Ranch Subdivision Project Area, 750-acres North of Bidwell Park Between Big Chico Creek and Sycamore Creek, Northeast Chico, Butte County California. Report on File, City of Chico, and Northeast California Information Center, California State University, Chico.

Jessee, James W. (1998). Chico Meadows. A Small Corner of the West: Butte Meadows, Chico Meadows and Jonesville. Butte Meadows – Jonesville Community Association.

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Kehoe, William. (1998, May 14). General Manager. Chico Area Recreation and Park District. Personal Communication.

Kroeber, Alfred L. (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 78. Washington, D.C.

Lucas, Stephen A. (1992). The Historical Geography of Forest Ranch, California. Master’s Thesis. California State University, Chico.

Lydon, Philip A. (1997). A Brief History of Bidwell Park, in Park Watch Training Manual. 1998. Park Department. City of Chico.

Lydon, Philip A. (1998, June 1). Personal Communication.

Management Plan, Park Acquisition and Overall Bidwell Park, The City of Chico, Butte County, CA.

Mansfield, George. (1918). History of Butte County with Biographical Sketches. Historic Record Company. Los Angeles.

Mazzini, Joe. (1991). Historic Overview of Butte Meadows: For the Glen Biggers General Plan Amendment Rezone and Subdivision Map, Butte Meadows, Butte County, California. Jensen & Associates, Durham. Prepared for Butte County Department of Public Works.

McCollum, Robin. (1998, July 31). Superintendent of Flood Control and Drainage Districts, and Tree Foreman. County of Butte. Personal Communication.

McGie, Joseph F. (1957). Early American Fur Trappers in Butte County. The Diggins. Spring Issue. Butte County Historical Society. Reprinted in McGie, 1982.

McGie, Joseph F. (1982). History of Butte County. Vol. 1. Butte County Board of Education. Butte County.

McKee, Dennis Patrick. (1983). A History of Bidwell Park. Master’s Thesis. California State University, Chico.

Moratto, Michael J. (1984). California Archaeology. Academic Press, Inc., Orlando, FL.

Nathan, Elroy N. (1966). A Historical Geography of Cohasset Ridge. Master’s Thesis. California State University, Chico.

Nopel, Dave. (1998, May 16, 18 and September 2). Personal Communications.

Nopel, Dave. (1998). Pioneering Families of Chico Meadows. A Small Corner of the West: Butte Meadows, Chico Meadows and Jonesville. Butte Meadows – Jonesville Community Association.

Nopel, John. (1998, September 2). Personal Communications.

Owens, Noel. (1997). Department of Fish and Game Application for Annual Renewal of a Private Lands Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Management Area License, July 1, 1997 through June 30, 1998.

Riddell, Francis A. (1978). Maidu and Konkow. Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 8: California, Robert F. Heizer, Editor. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. pp. 370-379.

Rogers, Ron. (1998, May 22)). Geologist. Bureau of Land Management. Redding Resource Area. Personal Communication.

Roney, Emma and George. (1998, May 14). Personal Communication.

Sacramento River Preservation Trust. (1997). Trust’s First Land Acquisition Completed. River Run: Journal of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust. Fall 1997: 2.

Sellers, Clif. (1998, May 14, 28). Community Development Assistant. City of Chico. Community Development Department. Personal Communication.

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State of California. (1950). Grant of Bidwell State Park to County of Butte. Recorded July 19, 1950. Book 536, Page 274. Official Records of Butte County.

State of California. (1977). Chapter 536. Statutes of 1977.

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Stewart, William B., et al. (1997). Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park Interpretive Prospectus. Review Draft.

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Trussell, Margaret Edith. (1969). Land Choice by Pioneer Farmers: Western Butte County, Through 1877. Dissertation. Department of Geography. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Available in Archives Collection. Meriam Library. California State University, Chico.

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Waterman, T.T. (1918). The Yana Indians. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 13:35-102.

Wells, Harry L. and W.L. Chambers. (1973). History of Butte County From its Earliest Settlement to the Present time. Volume II. Howell-North Books. Berkeley.