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~ State of Jefferson ~
Pacific Republic

Cottonwood Community Library

Our new library ~ teamwork pays off

Just North of Saint Anne's Church

Our Picturesque Valley
Secrets of Cottonwood
Mystic Mount Shasta
History of the upper Sacramento River Valley
Lassen National Park
Mount Shasta Mount Lassen

Cottonwood -- where Shasta County's "old west" history began

Helpful historians, past or present:

Myrtle McNamar-- Misc. notes enter here
Judge Richard Eaton-Pic, Behren's Badge
Ed Petersen--Memorial tribute enter here

Cottonwood then and now

Map of northstate ---- Finding Cottonwood
Frémont's Cottonwood ---- Tree and Town
Cottonwood Library civic & community goal

chinook king salmon

Earliest Economy

The Shasta County town of Cottonwood, just minutes south of Redding, is located along the Cottonwood Creek approximately four miles west of the Sacramento River. During the hot summer months, the low-lying valley with its indigenous cottonwoods, live oaks and "digger" pines, was sought out by the migratory hunter-gatherer peoples who lived here before the coming of the Europeans. These peoples were Wintu, including the Nomo-laki (Noe-ma Y-lac-ca). In contrast to the more militant, bellicose Hokan (Yana or Nosa-Nozi) groups to the east, these peoples were said to embrace a gentle, riverine culture. They subsisted on game, particularly Chinook salmon which run each fall in huge numbers in the Creek, but also numerous land game, as well as such abundant staples as piñon or "digger pine" nuts and acorn mash.

One of the better authorities on Wintu culture, Helen Steadman Hogue, admits that Cottonwood "was the center of this powerful tribe" (middle Wintu) My Wintu page tells more.

Sacramento River
click for RS feature
Spanish Period

The first Europeans to California were Spanish-speaking ones who travelled up and down the river we call the Sacramento (they called their Río Grande, later the Buenaventura) trading with local peoples, in particular those to the west of the River; and travelling between this area and the more populated southern California, recruiting teenaged workers, especially female, for the ranchos in southern Alta California. (See Estle Beard's history of the Indian peoples of this area.) An ongoing problem of the Spanish-speaking Californios was how to induce and keep settlers for the ranchos and farms. They constantly sought pobladores, or populators, both through immigration and birth. But with a scarcity of Spanish-speaking women, Indians were commonly wooed, or purchased.

How many of these flags do you recognize?
(move curser over flag for CLUE)

Sir Francis Drake España Fernando y Ysabel cruz de Borgoña Fort Ross Fray Serra
Revolución de 1821 Mexican Republic, 1823 Frémont's Flag Sonoma Bear Flag USA 31-star California

Socalled civilized nations had long jockeyed over nominal hegemony of the western coast of North America, while actual "populators" -- settlers -- were lacking. Then in the 1820's Yankee mountain men and "pathfinders" began trekking through the region. (See Jedediah Smith, pathfinder).

The first permanent European settlement in our area was in 1844 by Pierson Barton Reading (pronounced Redding), an immigrant to Alta California from the United States. From Gobernador Micheltoreña, Reading was granted a vast domain stretching 19 miles in length and three miles wide along the west bank of the Sacramento River from Cottonwood Creek to Salt Creek north of what is now Redding. From the Secretary of State (Bill Jones) we obtained the original Micheltoreña grant in Spanish, of course. Next to it is a translation into English.

Reading established his seat somewhat north of the mouth of the Cottonwood Creek (into the Sacramento River), and immediately west of Goat Island, or Reading Island.

Pierson Reading brand
cattle brand

A protege of John Sutter, Reading was attracted by the beauty of the (now Shasta County) area, the fertility of the low lying soil, the abundance of wild life, and of course was eager to take advantage of the accessibility provided by water transport. The Sacramento River was a "shining highway" which south of Red Bluff meanders leisurely, and only becomes swifter as it falls from the hills north of there (the "Iron Canyon"). The life of Reading offers a fascinating glimpse of pioneer days.

The Cottonwood Creek was named by John C. Frémont in 1845, after he had been asked by the government of California to dispense with his "scientific" exploration, and to leave pronto, por favor. At Isla de la Sangre (now Bloody Island), so the story goes, Frémont, accompanied by Kit Carson, attacked a band of Nosa-Nozi who were rumored to be planning an attack upon local whites. This story has been disputed by the Gover family, longtime ranchers on the Island, who report that according to Old Sheldon, an Indian, the bloody battle was in fact fought just previously to the arrival of the white man, rather than just after it. Two Indian tribes fought here, and while Frémont camped here, his reputed involvement in the battle seems clearly legend, not fact.

Bear Flag

Gold Rush, Wagons West

In following years, there were three geographic and historical phases to Cottonwood`s development. First, a Yankee settlement hastily formed at the mouth (south side) of Cottonwood Creek, across from Bloody Island, and approximately a mile south of Reading's mansion, and it became a semi-permanent "town" due to immigrants from the Sacramento River and then the Noble's Trail from the east. However, farms soon developed between Ball's Ferry and Reading's adobe, then along the present day Bowman [named for the pioneer Antone Bowman], or Tehama, side of the creek, and this continued for some two and a half decades prior to the coming of the railroad. The wagon trail from Red Bluff to Shasta passed right by, and a ferry to cross the creek was established to accomodate traffic. Finally, the railroad was built, in 1872, with Chinese largely instrumental in laying track while Bavarian crews built trestles and bridges. Thus, the "founding" at the present site of Cottonwood occurred in 1872, by Bavarian immigrants led by Jacob Foster (anglicized from Jakob Forster). History accords this entrepreneur and cattle rancher the credit for establishing Cottonwood (on the north side of the creek).

Rivers, Roads -- and Gold!

Transportation has always played a significant role in the geographic attraction of the Shasta area throughout its history. Initially, of course, the transportation provided by the Sacramento River led to Reading`s arrival in 1844, and the location of the "first" Cottonwood at the mouth of the Creek, south bank.

Then, in March 1848 Reading became the second discoverer of Gold in California. James Marshall`s gold discovery at Sutter`s Creek is famous. Click here for Gold Rush info. Less famous is the discovery in Shasta County by Reading and his men south of present-day Redding (4 miles west of Igo) on Clear Creek. Attracted by the news, a Gold Rush ensued, and towns sprung up all over, including Reading's Springs, now known as "Old Shasta," long the County Seat, and also such south county towns as Janesville (Gas Point), Piety Hill (Igo), and Cottonwood.

Shasta County population swelled in the 1850s, with immigrants, predominently male at first, from the East and from as far away as Chile , Hawaii, China. These were Gold Rush days, and the road from Red Bluff to Upper Reading Springs (Old Shasta) passed right by present Cottonwood. Clanton`s Ferry became the first regular operating ferry across the creek in 1852, and a tent city, later permanent town, began to form on the banks of the creek.

In the streams, placer mining prevailed initially, to be superceded by more elaborate quartz methods, including the highly erosive hydraulic techniques. "Some early settlers were farmers in dry weather and gold miners in wet weather, because the mining could only be done in the dry gulches of the Bald Hills area (west of Gas Point, south of Ono) during the wet season."

Even after the gold fever waned, the influx of settlers continued and did not wane. Along Cottonwood Creek, white settlers, largely English speaking, trickled into the valley during the succeeding decades, homesteading or purchasing (or "squatting" on) fertile farmland along the Cottonwood Creek, attracted by the same factors that had appealed previously to Reading, and before him the indigenous Wintu and Nomo Lacke peoples. During these decades a trading nexus developed south of the present day (Foster`s) site.

Socalled "Injun Problems"

With settler encroachments, tensions were inevitable with the local Native American populations, and in 1852 an American military presence was established on Cow Creek, east of the Sacramento River. This outpost was titled Fort Reading, and during the 1850s it hosted such young officers as Lieut. John B. Hood, later a major Confederate leader, and Second Lieut. Phil T. Sheridan, later a famed Union cavalry leader. See this excellent overview of Fort Reading (pronounced same as Redding).

With each confrontation, it seemed, the aboriginal numbers, while never large, declined even further. A notable massacre in the Cottonwood region occurred in 1864, but these were primarily Yana (Nosa-Nozi) people, whom the whites regarded as more aggressive than the Wintu and Nomo Lacke; but who regarded themselves as a courageous warrior people, in contrast to the acquiescent Wintuns. By 1884, the Nosa-Nozi had been reduced to an estimated 35 persons. A generation later, "Ishi," made famous by Berkeley anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, considered himself to be the last of his Yahi group of Yana people.

Nevertheless, on the west side of the River, the "Cottonwood Indians," who were the riverine Wintun rather than Hokan-speaking, and therefore unrelated to Ishi and his Yahi-Yana-Nozi kin, found powerful defenders among the whites. Not only Major Reading, but local entrepreneur-rancher Wilhelm Ludwig championed the Nomo Lacke cause, and stood up against settler prejudice against them. He, like Reading, took a stand for simple justice. (Pierson Reading stated that: "many of our Indian troubles arise in the first place from aggressions made by the white man")

Water and travellers, Fertile soil, and "Traffic" through town

The circumstance contributing to the selection of this location was also transportation related. Ferries had been operated sporadically at this point along the creek and in 1852, as mentioned, the first permanent ferry was authorized to operate at this spot. In 1854, the first bridge was built here. These ferries and bridges were toll bridges, privately built, and profit-generating. Winter rains and spring flooding destroyed the bridges on a recurring basis, but the settlements remained and increased, mostly along the Bowman (south) side of the creek, now Tehama County. In addition to the succession of ferries and bridges, a post office was established at this site south of the creek.

The road to Anderson, first called American Ranch by its founder Elias Anderson, followed a succession of routes. At first it went round the east of Cottonwood Hill, the same path the railroad would take. The round trip stage ride was an all day matter in those days. Later, a road was made along what is now Locust, and along what is now Rhonda Road. This was old US 99, a lane with traffic so sparse that boys played large marble games in the middle of Main Street, knowing they would have plenty of warning should a vehicle interupt them.

The farming attraction along Bowman and the Balls Ferry (Parkville) area was a primary factor. But additionally, there was the simple fact that Cottonwood lies roughly midway between Red Bluff and the next good sized (post Gold Rush) town of Shasta, a good day`s journey from each back then. (Redding did not appear till the railroad, with its agent Benjamin Redding, came in 1872). Travellers were a dependable source of income for entrepreneur-farmers like Foster. Moreover, during flood times when ferry or bridge was inadequate, stranded travellers would accumulate at inns on either side of the Creek.

So Cottonwood was the convenient stopping place between Red Bluff and Shasta (formerly Reading's Springs). North of Cottonwood, there were two routes to Shasta, the low road and the high road. The low road went around (or over) Cottonwood Hill, through Anderson, along the river to what is now Redding, then east. The high road went west throught the area now known as Happy Valley, up through Horsetown, and on to Shasta.

In the early 1870`s the California and Oregon (C&O) Railroad was surveying, for the best route to Oregon. Cottonwood fell along the route they selected. Jacob Foster played a major role in this history. Foster contracted with the railroad to build a depot for the railroad on the north side of the creek in addition to his hotel, tavern and livery stable, all along present day Front Street which parallels the railroad. For pictures, click here. Thus, in 1872, the coming of the railroad became the seminal event in the Cottonwood founding and the shift to the north (Shasta County) side of the creek.

Still another Cottonwood claim to fame was the Logan family. Of part African American heritage, the Logans were early-day `pillars` in Cottonwood's diverse boom-town days. Lita Claire Nueske has provided clues to these ancestors of hers.

Ecology and the Coleman (Chinook Salmon) Fish Hatchery

Cottonwood has survived and flourished as a result of a variety of factors, but the same factors that attracted the first inhabitants have never lost their appeal -- including the alluvial fertility of the soil, the natural beauty, etc. If summer is hot and mediterranean, spring and fall are very mild and beautiful. Cottonwood Creek is still the largest uncontrolled, undammed tributary of the entire Sacramento River Valley. While the yearly salmon run has declined in economic importance, the local Coleman Fish Hatchery, across the Sacramento River, nevertheless deserves mention. Coleman Fish Hatchery on Battle Creek just east Bloody Island is operated by the Dept of the Interior, and is the largest Chinook Salmon hatchery in the United States, and the largest federal fish hatchery of any species. To Riverdale School's salmon info.

Cattle and the Heyday of the Hayfork Trail

Of greater economic impact through the years, however, has been the production of cattle and other livestock. Just as the Indians formerly migrated up the Cottonwood Creek in the late spring, following the migratory patterns of deer and other game, then back down again in the fall, the white settlers did a similar thing with their cattle, taking them up their drover`s trail into Hayfork Valley rangeland for summer pasturage, then down to the "greasewoods" and the Cottonwood area for winter. Cottonwood with its C&O railroad, later Southern Pacific, became a natural site for stockyards to locate.

This cattle industry has been a principal economic mainstay over the years and is commemorated by the existence of such Cottonwood "institutions" as our famous yearly Cottonwood rodeo, parade, and the still flourishing stockyards north of town, called the largest auction yard in the United States west of the Rockies, which has been in continuous operation for over 35 years. Volume of transactions ranges from 5,000 odd head of cattle every Friday, plus auctions of horses, pigs, sheep and goats on the last Tuesday of the month. Click for Bobby Jones Arena and the Livestock Auction Page. See Pro rodeo cowboy page

Present day, the Redding Area, Recreation, Retirement, Antiques

Additionally, along with much of the rest of Shasta County and the north state, Cottonwood shares an appeal as something of a recreation and retirement haven, offering plenty of summer sunshine, and lots of rural beauty to people alienated by the congestion or exorbitant cost of living, and presumed rampant crime, of the major heterogenous metro urban areas south of us. The local county EDC proclaims that our area (greater Redding) has been rated as the best place to retire in California and the United States according to a 1987 Rand McNally study. "Crime rates are extremely low and housing is affordable with plenty of wooded acres, hills, streams, mobile home parks and horse ranchettes to choose from." Even today we in Shasta County can call our area Northern California's Tourism and Recreation Capital. And now, Field and Stream (February 2008) has named Redding one of the nation's top 20 fishing and angling hot spots in the country. Nearby Shasta Lake is the largest man-man lake in California, an attraction for recreation-minded visitors far and wide.

Our neighbor to the south, Tehama County, while not as populous these days, historically is actually older than either Cottonwood or Old Shasta by just a bit. So, many of the same advantages apply to Red Bluff, which shares with Cottonwood not just the Sacramento River, but a rich and illustrious cowboy heritage as well.

Welcome to Redding area

Keep Cottonwood a Secret
Just so you hear it from me first. Yes, we have our flaws in history. A couple Indian massacres (See Ed Peterson's book) and a lot of "ordinary" prejudice and discrimination of minorities. But many in our community are resolutely committed to opposing that sort of stuff. West Valley High School consistently tops the academic ratings, but a stone's throw from West Valley, a couple of zealous evangelical Christians crept into the home of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder and shot them to death (while they were sleeping). Their only crime was being gay. When KKK activity attempted to terrorize African Americans, at least one community dared to rally together and proclaim, "Not in our town." (Anderson). (The solution is not to keep our dirty little problems a secret. The solution, as Trish Clarke said, is having the courage to address them.

But we are on the move in our area. For example, a vast region stretching from Cottonwood to Shasta Lake City has been designated an Economic Enterprise Zone. An immense parallel of Reading's historic land grant, this Shasta Metro Enterprise Zone is by far the largest such business incentive zone in all of California.

Currently a handful of Cottonwood businessmen have been conspicuous in promoting the old town area as an antique and tourist mecca, highlighting the architectural Old West motif, and empowering a Historic Preservation Committee, which requires all new construction within a 3 block area of downtown to be in the late 1800s style. Most recently, the Cottonwood Beautification Committe has been authorized to begin construction of Brenda Christian's sculpture project along Main Street - entitled End of the Trail.

Besides attracting sportsmen, hikers, nature-lovers, out door enthusiasts, boaters, rafters, fishermen (this list could go on), our area even attracts such more unusual past times as rock hounds and treasure seekers. Here's a hidden treasures of northern California page. For the star trek type culists, actually there is solid science on this, the Hat Creek observatory (Allen Array) to the east of us is in the forfront of SETI research, worldwide. "ET" link.

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COTTONWOOD RODEO WEEK: The famous Cottonwood Rodeo - Every year culminating with Mothers Day Rodeo. Big success again this year. Bar B Q Fri. Big Rodeo Parade, the Cowboy Dance, and the Rodeo itself - Sun.

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Cottonwood Chamb Commerce Cottonwood library - a team effort Cottonwood Real Estate
Willie Nelson country boy SCEDD : for economic growth Princess Diana' favorite hymn
Wintu values and opportunity The Grant to PB Reading Poetry - Edgar Guest
A native timely prophecy? Jedediah Strong Smith NCSC - rural networking (MIRA)
Story of a beautiful hymn Immigrants and Heroes Black Cowboys - Buffalo soldiers
Living words of Native wisdom Family History resources Morgan's Holiday Markets
Our [banjo] ghost town ~ SOUL to SOUL ~ More Cottonwood history
Alvin Coffey - black pioneer Historic Route 99 [Doug Pruitt's] Never give up (Native)
No Room for Racism Shasta County Judge Eaton : a brief bio Rancheria Responsibility


-Firefighters - the 1999 Fires-

The Happy Valley Fires

students report 1 students report 2 USA today FireHouse eZine

Just a Few ~ Who've showed their SPIRIT

Interagency Coordination Response some strange quirks of history West Valley High Red Bluff Fire Dept

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Saluting the Danes

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Anderson Historical Museum: here's a local place loaded with artifacts, historical relics, and lots of fascinating items right out of our own "Old West" heritage. Ongoing exhibits, just two blocks east of the Anderson Post Office on Ferry Street.

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my Friendly heritage

Mother Teresa

Page here since August 1998

our rich history

Erich Fromm wrote: "I submit that if people would truly accept
the Ten Commandments or the Buddhist Eightfold Path as the
effective principles to guide their lives, a dramatic change in
our whole culture would take place."

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