Historical Geography of Cohasset Ridge
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Selections from A Historical Geography of Cohasset Ridge
This publication was originally a thesis written by Elroy Nathan to meet the requirements for a Masters degree in Geography, California State University, Chico, in 1966. Nathan's thorough research on the Cohasset area, including numerous interviews with local residents, produced a document which to this day is the most comprehensive history of Cohasset Ridge.
Because of its outstanding quality. its value as a tool for future historical research on the
Cohasset area, and general public interest in the document, the Cohasset
Historical Society decided to undertake publication of A Historical Geography
of Cohasset Ridge. Working with the original typed version, the Historical
Group entered Nathan's thesis onto the computer, scanned photographs and
illustrations, and reformatted some of the graphs and tables.
This publication is the result of many hours of work donated by several members of the
Cohasset Historical Society, including John DuBois, Amy Huberland, Joan
McDowell, and Joyce Forberg. Other members who provided input and
helped with organization of the publication include: John Forberg, Jerry and
Teddy Goodwin, and Alice Clements. Clancy Gerike created the cover
photograph. Elroy Nathan, friendly and helpful throughout, provided originals
of his thesis to aid in the current publication.
It is the hope of the Cohasset
Historical Group that this updated version of A Historical Geography of
Cohasset Ridge will contribute to the dissemination of information concerning
Cohasset history, and to our understanding of the historical development of
the Northeast California foothill region.
CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION
A. Problems and Purpose
The Cohasset Ridge is a Southern Cascadian ridge near the northern extremity of the
Sierra nevada and frequently considered as part of the latter. It has experienced an
occupance sequence from aborigine Indians to early lumbermen, to farmers and
orchardists, to the current resident and retirement or summer home pattern. These
have, for the most part, been gradual phases with much overlapping, and
accompanied by periods of population expansion and contraction. The ridge is
conveniently located near the moderately sized California city of Chico, a
circumstance that affords mutual benefits: urban employment, shopping, school and
cultural advantages for the ridge residents; with recreation and pleasant summer or
week-end homes for Chico residents. The Cohasset Ridge has not developed as
rapidly as Paradise, a comparable ridge near Chico, even though Cohasset has most
of the attributes of Paradise except for developed water supply and good access
roads. The purpose of this study is to briefly explore the past of the area and to
determine its potentialities. Little of the history of this area has been written except for
a few biographical sketches of early Cohasset citizens in Mansfield's History of Butte
County and the account of the naming of the ridge by W. H. Hutchinson, a work that
will be referred to later in this thesis. To compensate for the deficiency of recorded
historical data much reliance has been made on personal interviews of present and
former ridge residents, to whom is owed a debt of gratitude.
B. Location of the Study Area
The physical setting of the ridge including its land forms and resources have been
considered, as well as its sequent occupance, the basis of its economy, and the
prospects for the future.
Cohasset Ridge is located in the north-central part of the California county of Butte
and follows the northeast-southwest portion of the Butte-Tehama County line where it
extends along Rock Creek, with the northern portion of the ridge projecting into
southern Tehama County.
The complete ridge spans from about 40ø2'40"N in the north to about 39ø50'N, and
from 121ø41'W on the east extending to the southwest to 121ø49'W. It is, essentially,
the area lying between and drained by two tributaries of the Sacramento River, Rock
and Mud creeks.
The ridge lies above the Sacramento Valley and has a general southwest to northeast
upward slope with an elevation rise from about 500 feet at the confluence of Rock
Creek and Anderson Fork, rising to 4,017 feet at its northern extremity.
Some consideration has been given to the valley region between the two streams,
immediately below the ridge proper, due to its close historical links to the ridge itself.
CHAPTER II - PHYSICAL SETTING
The geologic structure of the ridge places it in the Cascadian volcanic system rather
than the adjacent Sierra Nevada. The outstanding geological works of this region
were performed by J.S. Diller and Charles A. Anderson, with the latest study and
preparation of the pertinent portion of the Geologic Map of California done by John L.
In addition to the land forms this chapter will cover the climate, vegetation, and the
natural resources of the study area. The references used for these latter subjects are
the standard, accepted California works as referred to within the text or footnotes, plus
personal observations and interviews of experts in their fields.
A. Land Forms
The basement rocks underlying Cohasset Ridge were formed as early as the Silurian
Period (350 million years ago) by sedimentary deposits when the area was part of the
sea. Frequent oscillations of land and sea resulted in various depositions of silt and
fossils forming the rock structure which was later folded, faulted and metamorphosed.
About the close of the Jurassic era (115 million years ago) an upheaval lifted the
whole of Northern California above the sea. This, so far as is known, resulted in the
first dry land in this region and formed the Sierra Nevada, the Klamath, and the Coast
During the next era, the Cretaceous, the land again gradually subsided and the sea
once more swept over much of this region, including a depression that ran transverse
to the north-south trend of the Sierra Nevada. Diller named this water-filled
depression Lassen Strait as it covered the area where Lassen Peak now stands.
The ocean surrounded the northern Coastal Ranges and extended east to the
western base of the Sierra Nevada. Northward this depression continued into what is
now the state of Oregon, surrounding the Klamath Mountains which became a large
island. The period of inundation lasted about 100 million years to the late Miocene
epoch of the Tertiary Period. Some time during this period the lower end of the
depression around Marysville and the upper end above the Coast Range in Oregon
were sealed, in all probability by sedimentation. Fossils of fresh-water mussels
indicate that the great depression became a fresh-water lake as a result of this
What was to become Cohasset Ridge lay well under water with erosional material
from the Sierra Nevada and marine fossils slowly developing into a thick sedimentary deposit that time and pressure hardened into sandstone. The thickness of the Cretaceous deposits (over 29,000 feet of sediments in what later became the
Sacramento Valley) indicates the great extent of erosion experienced by the Sierra
Nevada and the Great Basin to the east of Lassen Strait.
Sometime after the middle of the Cretaceous Period (about 75 million years ago)
Northern California and Southern Oregon were again uplifted and both the Klamath
Mountains and the Sierra Nevada were given a new prominence over the surrounding
For the next 60 million years the Sierra Nevada underwent cycles of erosion and slight
uplifting until during the Pliocene Epoch more vigorous activity was evident, with the
Sierra Nevada raised as a fault-block to approximately their present height. Their
sharp eastern rise formed an escarpment with a more gentle slope to the west into
which stream action began eroding ridges and canyons. It was during this period,
about 10 million years ago, that volcanic action took place in the Southern Cascades
that built up Lassen Peak and lifted the other volcanic prominences pre-dating Lassen
Peak, whose eruptions supplied the material that covered Cohasset.
This great volcanic outburst lasted, with diminishing vigor, until fairly recent years and
resulted in the formation of a vast piedmont of both coarse and fine materials that filled
the Lassen Strait depression and covered the foothills and the eroded valleys of the
northern Sierra Nevada.
The Geologic Map of California shows that Cohasset has a layer of andesitic flows
covering the older basaltic flows, both being of volcanic origin and both many feet
The question occurs as to how Cohasset and the surrounding area could have been
covered with volcanic originated matter as it is some distance from even the nearest
of the former Cascadian volcanoes. It is too great a distance for a plastic lava flow
and too far for volcanic ash to be thrown and deposited in such a great thickness; the
composition also lacks evidence of the sorting of materials which air transport would
have provided. Study of the material by Anderson disclosed that the substance was
transported by a series of volcanic mud flowsthick, viscous mud, thin enough to
move many, many miles, yet thick enough to transport rocks of substantial size.
Moisture for the mud likely came from melting glaciers and snow pack on the high
volcanic peaks. Mud flows do not sort the material they transport as does water, and
mud of the right consistency can transport amazingly large blocks of pyroclastic rocks
known as volcanic breccia. These avalanche-type flows, which occurred over a
period of many years, piling one atop another, eroded and transported away much of
the original volcanoes during the volcanic cycle, and covered so vast an area as to form a sloping piedmont. This piedmont, in turn, was eroded by stream action into the many ridges and canyons or valleys of today.
Cohasset is one of these ridges thus formed. Even after the erosion which has taken
place on this piedmont there are sections 1,500 to 2,000 feet thick.
Diller named this thick covering of volcanic material the Tuscan Formation. He
describes the tuff of which it is largely composed, as ranging in size from fine dust to
rough, angular blocks of lava several feet in diameter, without definite traces of
abrasions that would indicate transport by water. He also points out that in the canyon
cuts, where the underlying sedimentary layers are exposed, it can be seen that much
of the material was assorted and distinctly stratified. Much of the sediment was deposited in such a way as
to indicate that the area was still under water when the mud flows came to rest on it.
This could account for the rather straight line of the ridge terminations along the
eastern Sacramento Valley edge; the Tuscan Formation abruptly dips under the
The present ridge surface, where it is extremely stony and covered with rough, angular rocks (called breccia by Wentworth and Williams) is the residue after the finer material and mud have been eroded away by wind and water action. The erosion concentrates the larger blocks of breccia on the surface and gives a false impression that the major portion of the
material carried was of this size. This is not evident in higher elevations where, due to a well-developed soil covering and less erosion, the larger pieces have not been sorted.
The rocks comprising the breccias and other transported material in the Cohasset area are andesites and basalts with variations in makeup in both. The present volcanoes in the vicinity of Lassen Peak are not of such a composition but of a material of a later age and thereby could not have contributed to the Tuscan Formation. It is thus evident that the flow was from volcanoes older than those existing and that are now concealed by the later flows.
In summary, Cohasset consists of sedimentary basement rocks metamorphosed into sandstone, covered by basaltic and andesitic flows of volcanic origin, and eroded into its present ridge shape by stream action.
Cohasset lies principally in the dry-summer upland, mid-latitude climatic area of
California. The lower, western portion (that in contact with the Sacramento Valley)
has a hot-dry summer, Mediterranean type (Csa Koppen classification). As the ridge
ascends in elevation there is a transition to the "Csb" climate with its dry summers but
cooler and wetter winters. This transition can be noted in the variation of the
vegetation. Within the "Csa" zone first is noticed the park landscape with its grassland
and scattered primarily deciduous trees. This changes to chaparral, or chaparral and
grass on the slopes, which in turn gives way to chaparral and mixed woodland. The
higher areas, in the "Csb" climate zone, have a mixed conifer growth.
The climatic controls of Cohasset Ridge are those of California in general.
Precipitation is controlled by the cyclonic storms that carry moisture picked up enroute
across ocean waters. These storms breed in a low pressure zone that develops in
the North Pacific (the Aleutian Low) and travel across the continent, pushed by the
Westerlies, with their southern limits influenced by the Hawaiian High. The latter is a
high pressure zone which shifts to the north during the warmer summer months and
forces the southern storm limits north of the state. This results in warm, dry summers
for California. In cooler winter months the Hawaiian High retreats to the south and
allows the cyclonic storm track to move south also. As California is situated on the
southern extremity of this track, the moisture bearing storms bring precipitation within
the state, with a diminishing effect to the south.
In these cyclonic storms precipitation results when two air masses of different
temperatures come in contact, a situation that forces the warmer mass to rise and be
cooled below the dew point. As the storms move across the state eastward toward
Cohasset another factor enters, specifically, the orographic effect caused by the rising
elevation of the terrain. The moisture bearing air masses are forced to climb upward
until a cooling below the dew point results in the release of precipitation; the higher the
elevation, the greater the amount of precipitation that is released.
Temperatures on Cohasset are likewise controlled by and correlated with elevation.
Valley temperature readings are notably higher than the mountain temperatures,
which is the effect of the 3.3 degrees normal lapse rate drop in temperature for each
1,000-foot rise in elevation; variations on the ridge itself can be noted by differences in
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The natural vegetation of Cohasset has been controlled by climate (see Chapter II B),
elevation, and soil (Chapter II D). Vegetation, timber cover, and soil maps have not as
yet been compiled for this area. The team making the surveys estimates that this
should be accomplished about 1971 under the current practice of combining all three
facets into one map with appropriate fractional codes.
The more or less general vegetation pattern for the Sierra Nevada foothills can be
observed as a continuation on Cohasset Ridge, with regions of grassland, chaparral,
and pine and pine-fir forests (the montane zone), or combinations of them.
The lower limits are grasslands with a liberal admixture of woodland in a park-like
landscape. These trees are primarily deciduous but inferior conifers, such as the
Digger pine (Pinus sabiniana) are represented as well as a variety of shrubs. The
deciduous trees are principally varieties of oak such as the blue oak (Quercus
douglasii), the canyon oak (Quercus wislizenii), and some valley oak (Quercus
lobata). The Indians avoided the acorns of the valley oak if other varieties were
available; the high tannic acid content of the valley oak was difficult to leach out
Smaller sized vegetation such as buckeye (Aesculus californica), California bay
(Umbellularia californica), coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica, ssp tomentella), buck
brush (Ceanothus cuneatus), currant (Ribes quercetorum), Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon
californicum), and the very colorful harbinger of spring, redbud (Cercis occidentalis),
are evident both as underbrush and as separate growths.
There are but limited areas in grass that are not encumbered with other vegetation. Above the grass-deciduous woodland combination, chaparral growths become dominant, and in some places deciduous woodland growths are interspersed with the chaparral.
The term chaparral embraces many species of broad-leaved shrubs, usually of tough, hard-wood trunks thickly branched. This growth prefers areas with average annual rainfall of fourteen to twenty-five inches, hot dry summers and cool winters and a
growing season of eight to twelve months. Rapid run-off of precipitation on the slopes and the rocky soil of Cohasset Ridge below the montane forest area are favorable for a healthy stand of this type of vegetation despite the somewhat higher average rate of rainfall than is preferred.
The chaparral or scrub growth areas have been influenced by man's as well as by nature's controls. Recurrent fires, probably dating to aborigine man, discouraged the development of larger more valuable species of vegetation. These burnings did result
in the development of two main varieties of xerophytic chaparral which have adaptation abilities that aid in survival under frequently burned-over conditions. One species is the Empyroism or Empyrophytes which, after a fire, develops root-crowns
horizontally just under the ground surface. These woody crowns shoot forth sprouts that develop into new growth. Repeated fires that destroy the growth year after year actually contribute to the horizontal development of this crown, with a resultant growth which becomes exceedingly dense. An example of this type of chaparral on Cohasset Ridge is Arctostaphylos glandulosa, a burl-manzanita. The other main variety is the Pyrodatism. These shallow-rooting, non-crown species are fire-killed and depend upon copiously-produced seeds for regeneration. The seedlings have a fairly rapid rate of growth and mature into a reproductive stage in about five or six years. Cohasset examples of this are the non-burl manzanitas--Arctostaphylos
viscida (whiteleaf) and Arctostaphylos mariposa.
Chaparral growing without control forms dense stands to the point of becoming impenetrable by men or cattle, thus rendering the land virtually useless. On poor soils where forage grasses do not grow anyway this is no special problem except as a fire hazard, but where this brush has encroached upon land of better soils a definite land utilization problem is created. See Chapter IV B for problems of control.
The Cohasset chaparral zone includes chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), Christmas berry (Heteromeles arbutifolia), coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), buckthorn or redberry (Rhamnus crocea), scrub oak (Quercus dumosa), mountainmahogany (Cecocarpus betuloides), flannel bush (Fremontia californica), holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana), whiteleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida), Indian manzanita (Arctostaphylos mewukka), wedgeleaf ceanothus or buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus), pine mat (Ceanothus diversifolius), deerbrush (Ceanothus integerrimus), and the plant that does much to discourage trespassing as the innumerable posted signs to that effect, poison oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba).
There is some overlapping in the non-timber zone of woodland-grass, woodlandchaparral-
grass, and the chaparral zones, making it difficult to draw sharp lines of
demarcation. The chaparral or brush growth extends into the montane zone also,
creating a nuisance and a fire hazard that is difficult and costly to control.
In the montane area of the ridge (generally speaking, above the 2,000-foot elevation
line) the vegetation of commercial value is found. This is a zone of from twenty-five to
eighty inches average precipitation, partly in the form of snow, with a growing season
of four to seven months. It has good, deep soil suitable for fast growing of timber; it is,
in fact, above average in rate of growth and production.
Despite the encroaching brush this is considered an open forest of mixed conifers. The timber tree of most
value found here is the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) although the most numerous of
the commercial species is the Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Other trees of
lesser value include the incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), the white fir (Abies
concolor), red fir (Abies magnifica), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
As lesser growths, such shrubs are found as the greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos
patula) and Mariposa manzanita (Arctostaphylos mariposa), deer brush (Ceanothus
integerrimus) which provides some browse for deer as the name indicates, Sierra
currant (Ribes nevadense), Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii), Thimbleberry (Ribes
parviflorus), mountain misery or bearmat (Chamaebatia foliolosa), and the larger
California black oak (Quercus kellogii). Small patches of grassy areas are sprinkled
throughout this zone. These allow summer grazing, in a transhumance pattern, for
cattle which also browse on the brush.
Three categories of natural resources will be considered here: soils, minerals, and
water, not necessarily in sequence of importance. Other resources such as timber,
grazing lands and salubrious living conditions will be handled elsewhere.
- 1. Soils
The soils of Cohasset Ridge are residual, derived by disintegration of the underlying
rock and distributed by type. Notation was made in Chapter II A, that the mantle of the ridge is either andesitic or basaltic
which has influenced the soil formation. In the higher area (north of 3955') the soils
are of good depth with a moderate to strong acidic reaction and are either gray-brown
podzolic or red podzolic. These are the timber soils on which commercial conifer
timber is grown. A belt of such soils which runs through these foothills and Cohasset
is rated above average for timber growth and production by Mr. Frank Embree of the
U.S. Forest Service. This is the area of highest rainfall, which contributes to the timber growth but also leads to rapid erosion of cleared areas unless protected. Orchard fruits have been successfully grown in the lower fringes of
The ridge soils south of 3955' are residual also but much more shallow in depth.
These are lithosol soils, quite stony, variable in both color and reaction, not
necessarily acidic. Brush and chaparral growths thrive on these soils which are
generally not suited for agriculture because of their shallowness, stony qualities, and
steep slopes. Although infrequent, there are scattered patches of soils in this zone
with suitable characteristics for cultivation.
Below the ridge proper and nearing the Central Valley elevation, are found residual
soils of fairly shallow to medium depths. These are brownish soils of neutral to basic
reactions on which are found grasslands, and grass-deciduous woodlands, used
principally for grazing.
- 2. Minerals
The 1848 gold rush brought a horde of prospectors into the western Sierra Nevada
foothills and undoubtedly some of these were the first white men to set foot on
Cohasset Ridge. Their quest was futile, however, as no ores were either formed or
deposited in the thick volcanic mantle that covers the ridge. If any auriferous gravels
existed they were covered by hundreds of feet of mud-transported lavas and
breccia.35 Prospectors and geologists alike have long considered this area lacking in
metallic mineral wealth.
- 3. Water
Perhaps the key word to the economic state of Cohasset Ridge and for its prospects,
is the word water. The ridge receives its water resources from the winter months'
precipitation in the form of rainfall and snowpack, plus ground water that may have
originated many miles away, travelling in the underground water reservoir known as
the aquifer. Rain as well as snow melt-water either runs off the slopes into the
numerous small stream beds which feed into Rock or Mud creeks, or it percolates
down through the zone of aeration, the space between the land surface and the water
table, into the aquifer or ground-water reservoir. This aquifer provides the water for
wells and springs and also supplies water to the streams during the rainless periods.
The aquifer is nowhere uniformeither in thickness or in nearness to the surface as it
is dependent upon the makeup and permeability of the subsurface rocks. This results
in springs of plentiful flow in some areas or the necessity of only shallow wells, while
other areas call for wells hundreds of feet deep to reach this subsurface reservoir.
The water table, which is the top of the aquifer, does not remain constant either.
During the periods of precipitation the table level risesthe more surface water (rain or
snow-melt) received the higher the level of the table. During the remainder of the year
there is a constant descent of this table level as water flows out throughout openings
in the ground in the form of springs or as a source for various streams. Man's drawing off the water via wells has been an increasing factor in the lowering of this level.
When the water table drops below the level of the spring opening, the spring ceases
to flow and when the water table drops below the pipes or pumps in the wells, the
wells "go dry." This depleted situation then exists until the water table is again
replenished, either by percolation from the surface or by the flow of additional water
into the aquifer from higher areas. The rate of drop in the table depends on the
number of springs and wells that draw upon it. The rate of replenishment (outside the
rainy season) depends upon the porosity of the rocks through which the ground water
must flow, and the availability of water from higher level water tables.
The ridge water supply is adequate for normal domestic purposes for most of today's
residents as their homes have been built in proximity to good wells. It is more than
adequate for some dwellers who contend that their wells or springs have unfailingly
responded to all demands for domestic or other use put on them the year-round.
Others are not so fortunately situated and their wells run dry toward the end of the
summer, especially a summer following a winter of below normal precipitation. The
alternatives for the latter home owner are to haul in his water supply or to have a
costly deeper well drilled. Wells on the ridge range widely in depth; variances are
from 10 or 12 feet to 800 feet.
The growing trend in land use pattern on the ridge has been for residential use. The
impact on the water table of a marked increase in the number of residents could be
detrimental to many now enjoying plentiful water. If wells are located too closely
together the water table would diminish more rapidly than it would with wells spaced
farther apart. Increasing density of residential development could therefore
necessitate the drilling of deeper wells by the older established residents as well as by
the newcomers. If the water table is persistently lowered faster than it is replenished
even the best of today's wells or springs could "run dry."
The irrigation being practiced today is minor in scope and generally is done from
privately owned reservoirs filled from springs or small spring-fed streams. On
Cohasset, as is true for most of California, commercial crops (those raised for direct
sale or those on which to raise livestock for sale), exclusive of timber, must have
artificial application of water during the growing season to become of economic value.
Under present conditions irrigation on a scale required for commercial orchards or for
forage crops or grazing lands could markedly affect the water table level, certainly to
the jeopardy of the domestic requirements of many residents. Any irrigation program
for commercial crop production must thus await the introduction of water from sources
outside the ridge itself.
The State of California Department of Water Resources, in its California Water Plan and the supplementary Sacramento Valley East Side Investigation has developed a reconnaissance-level planning study which could bring in water from as far as the
headwaters of Butte Creek. Water would be conserved in a 46,000 acre feet reservoir (Jonesville Reservoir) to be constructed in Section 14, T26N, R4E, at the headwaters of Butte Creek. Water released from here would flow down the creek to Butte Meadows where part of it would be diverted via a diversion dam and conduit to Big Chico Creek. After a short run to Chico Meadows another diversionary dam would send this water, supplemented by some from Big Chico Creek, to Cohasset in a gravity flow conduit. This plan was first envisioned by a Cohasset resident, Martin Polk, about 1910.41 It is now, as stated above, a planning study only; actual construction would have to come about as a result of action by a local agency of Cohasset, or the State Legislature. The State has no construction program for projects such as this that are designed only for local water development.
Local action to form a water district was attempted about ten years ago but the
promoters could not stimulate sufficient votes for passage. The minority larger landowners
who stood to benefit the most were outnumbered by the small owners who
feared a prohibitive rise in the tax rate without gaining commensurate benefits.
If the current trend of subdivision of acreage continues to the point of such an
increase in the number of residents as to imperil the water supply of the majority; or if
the land-use pattern would shift to the direction of commercial orchard production with
owners able and willing to finance the water scheme; or if subdivision promoters
would gain control of sufficient acreage at prices low enough to justify the expense of
the water plan (to be recouped with high lot prices), the formation of a water district to
implement such a plan would undoubtedly muster sufficient support to assure
Expansion and full development of the ridge's potentialities will be slow and uncertain
until such time as a reliable source of outside water can be introduced. These
potentialities are discussed in Chapter V hereafter.
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CHAPTER III - SEQUENT OCCUPANCE OF COHASSET RIDGE
As the Indians form the foundation for this chapter it was considered advisable to
include a brief background of the California Maidu people. For this setting reliance
was made on Alfred and Theodora Kroeber, Roland Dixon, and John Swanton, with
other references for latter day considerations. As the chapter continues, lumbermen
opened the ridge for subsequent settlement by farmers. Activities of these pioneers
were very sketchily covered by early historians of Butte County such as Mansfield,
McGie, Wells and Chambers, and Jesse Wood. Much of Cohasset history is
comparatively recent, however, and thus within the recollection of living pioneers or
their children. The conducting of personal interviews with these persons was a
research task of immense satisfaction and pleasure. The development of any
community is accompanied by simultaneous cultural innovations, usually bearing a
relationship to the background of the settlers. The chapter concludes with a subchapter
of these developments on the ridge.
A. The Indian Period
The California Indians have no legends that can be related to definite origins in other lands. It is generally believed that the ancestors of all American Indians came from Asia at a very early age across the Bering Straits which at one time may have been a dry-land bridge. In any event, Indians have lived in the confines of what is now the state of California for so many generations that their origin has become obscured.
B. Coming of the Lumbermen
Here they were blessed with the advantages of a life of relatively easy subsistence
with a hospitable climate and an abundance of wild plant and animal life. In common
with most North American Indians their existence was at a neolithic level at the time of
the white man's entering their domain. They had not discovered the principle of the
wheel, for instance, and had no system of writing. On the other hand they did develop
a unique means of leaching and preparing the abundant acorns for palatable food and
had learned how to make intricately designed baskets in so tight a weave they could
hold water and be used for cooking, which obviated the development of pottery. Their
cultural advancements also included well-developed cult religions and a variety of
dances and feasts performed both for enjoyment and religious or ceremonial
These were not the tall, bronze-colored, feather-adorned, horse-mounted Indians
found on the Great Plains which form the popular conception of the noble red man,
but were a generally short, near-naked, flat-nosed Indian with an apathetic carriage.
In comparison with other regions of North America the California Indian population was dense but by actual count they were not very numerous. The maximum population estimates range from 150,000 to no more than 250,000. This meager population dropped rapidly after the Gold Rush. By 1856 it was reduced to about 50,000 and by 1900 to an estimated 16,000.
The California Indians were divided into twenty-one linguistic families which were, in
turn, further divided into one hundred thirteen known dialects. The Maidu belonged to
the Hokan super family, one of six such super families of North America, and to the
Penutian linguistic family. Cohasset Ridge lay within and along the northwest border
of the Maidu territory. Rock Creek defined the dividing line between the Maidu and
the Yana people north of it while the Sacramento Valley to the west was the
homeland of the Wintun family. The Maidu, described as a mountain-valley, hunterfisher
people by Lantis, et al., lived in caves or crude brush shelters in the summer
months and partially dug-out earth covered homes in the winter. These winter houses
were circular, from fifteen to twenty-five feet or more in diameter, with a total height of
ten to fifteen feet. To construct them a round excavation of about three feet in dept
was made and lined with posts or split logs four or five feet high. A solid conical roof
of posts or branches was placed over this enclosure with a smoke hole in the center
and a low door was cut on one side of the structure. The whole dwelling was then
covered with earth which effectively insulated the house. Circular mound remains of
some of these can be seen along Mud Creek near Richardson Springs.
The Maidu, of which the Indians of the Cohasset area were members, seldom lived in
this type of house during the summer months but preferred more open brush-covered
summer homes in the higher elevations to escape from the heat and to be nearer
more plentiful food. William J. Bathurst Jr., a longtime ridge resident, has noted
numerous small caves and depressions along Rock Creek Canyon with ceiling smoke
deposits to indicate use by the Indians, possibly just as temporary or summer
The Maidu (the name means man or person in their language) were further
subdivided into divisions and villages, the former being somewhat larger than the
latter. Of possible interest to Cohasset are the Nimsewi, Otaki, Yauku, and Paki
villages which Swanton locates as "northeast of Chico" but which apparently cannot
be localized much more accurately than that. It is not known if any of these were the
names of the two villages located directly on Cohasset Ridge itself although there is
record of the Otaki occupying the area on Mud Creek near Richardson Springs.
Waterland wrote of the Yana Indians (which the Maidu knew as the Kombo) on occasion crossing Cohasset Ridge to attack the Otaki for possession and control of the springs which were valued for their medicinal properties.
Although the California Indians usually lived together peacefully they were commonly prudent enough to position their villages so as to prevent surprise. The hill or mountain groups generally located them on promontories or in sheltered but open coves where an enemy could not approach within bow shot without being discovered. Another requirement, even more essential, in site selection was proximity to a stream or a spring.
It is uncertain if the Cohasset sites were occupied the year-round or as summer
homes. The number and depth of the mortars and the extensive trash and mold
accumulations, especially in the northernmost location, as noted by the white
settlers, as well as what appears to be a sizeable rubbish heap in front of the cave's
broad entrance, indicates either year-round or repeated summer occupances over a
long period of time.
For food these Indians had meat whenever they could kill any game or catch any fish.
They avoided eating the dog (which they considered poisonous), the wolf, coyote and
the grizzly bear; they also refrained from eating the buzzard and all reptiles. Most
often, however, they relied upon vegetation as a food source. Perhaps the
outstanding cultural achievement of the California Indians was the processing of
acorns into their major food staple. This involved hulling, parching, pulverizing and the
leaching out of the bitter tannic acid. Of the acorns available they preferred the
California black oak (Quercus kellogii), the canyon oak (Quercus chrysolepis) and the
interior live oak (Quercus wislizenii).
Kroeber found that the use of mortars for acorn pulverization prevailed over all of
California. The mortars were usually formed in a convenient boulder near the village
and were used until the holes became too deep to be suitable then new ones would
be started. The stone pestles, which were portable and more easily broken, and the
individual mortars are found less frequently than the community mortars. Some of the
mortars which were formed in singular stones were too heavy to be transported very
far so the Indians buried them when they changed camp sites. Occasionally these
unclaimed mortars have been, and continue to be, dug up in fields by farmers or in
various excavations by other individuals. When Mr. W. J. Bathurst Jr. was digging for
the foundation of his barn he found a remarkable specimen which had been buried
approximately two feet deep. This was near the rim of Rock Creek Canyon, about a
mile north of the Indian cave.
The Maidu were linked linguistically but lacked a nation-wide organization; their
highest clan structure was the village and this was usually loosely organized. The
villages varied in size but generally consisted of a few houses of families related by
blood. Each village had a chief but his powers were slight, even in the settlement of the numerous petty quarrels of his villagers. The Maidu on Cohasset therefore had
few connections with other Maidu villages except for a common language tie.
Like most California Indians, the Maidu were not nomadic but had well defined
territories in which they did their hunting, fishing, acorn and other food gathering. To
encroach upon another village's preserve was risking life itself. Social visits were
condoned but to hunt, fish, or pick up acorns on a neighbor's territory was considered
an act of aggression almost on par with the abducting of women, both of which could,
and did, lead to rock and arrow fights. Their territory was intimately known by all
villagers; it was taught to the children, and even became the focal point for legends of
the beginning of and the center of their universe. Other regions were known to exist
and communications were made with neighbors, but life was centered around their
own little world and one seldom left it voluntarily. Houses were burned when the
accumulated filth and vermin became too foul and were rebuilt on a new location.
Sometimes entire villages were burned and moved for the same reason, but
reconstruction was generally elsewhere within their own territory. Thus it can be
assumed that the Indians once established on or around Cohasset Ridge, lived in this
small area for many generations.
The Maidu preferred open country so practiced brush burnings to clear away the
brush from both the timbered and non-timbered areas. This made traveling easier
and hunting better; it enabled them to see farther and to prevent surprise attacks.
These burnings, which were often conducted annually, also encouraged grass and
forage growth which, in turn, encouraged game stabilization, and had a secondary
benefit in forest fire prevention. The dense brush that plagues the ridge now in the
montane zone, as well as, the lower chaparral ares did not exist when the white men
settled there. Their descendants recall the openness of the forests through which
they roamed as children, and have indicated that the dense undergrowth has
developed during their lifetime. California State Fire Laws prohibit the burning of
the underbrush to prevent the hazard of forest fires and to prevent destruction of
seedling growth of valuable timber. The accumulation of underbrush, however, does
pose a fire hazard in itself as it is readily combustible in a dry state and can ignite the
Indian life followed its established pattern for countless generations. The arrival of the
first white men in California, the Spaniards, did nothing to affect the Maidu who dwelt
many miles from the Spanish settlements. Early Spanish explorations of the valley
area of Butte County, such as those made by Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga in 1808 and
Captain Louis Arguello in 1820 apparently did not touch the ridge although both Rock
Creek and Mud Creek were perhaps partially searched for fish and game. Trappers
of the Hudson's Bay Company ventured up and down the Sacramento Valley almost
every year from 1829 until 1845, the year the company withdrew from the Columbia
region, their western headquarters. The company trappers surely explored the creek
canyons for beaver, their prime objective. In 1843 John Bidwell, on the trail of horse
thieves, made his first appearance in this part of California. There is no record or
evidence to indicate that any of these early valley visitors ever explored Cohasset,
which to them perhaps appeared to be just one more of the interminable ridges along
the valley's eastern edge.
Not until the 1848 Gold Rush drew thousands of white men to the western Sierra
Nevada can we be reasonably certain that white men ever ascended or crossed this
ridge, and that was in a futile search for gold. As noted in Chapter II A, Cohasset is
part of the Cascade system endowed with a thick covering of volcanic materials which
is lacking in ore minerals.
When the placer deposits of the Mother Lode gold fields were exhausted some of the
miners swallowed their pride of individualism and began working for wages for the
corporations that could afford to operate the expensive quartz or hydraulic mines.
Some became disillusioned and returned to their homes almost as penniless as they
were when they came, or they drifted to newly discovered mines in Nevada, Idaho or
British Columbia. Others elected to remain in California and looked around for a more
satisfactory means of earning a livelihood. As a general rule they looked for pursuits
similar to their former activities back home; the former mid-west farmers sought fertile
farming lands, the New England lumbermen eyed the forested areas, blacksmiths
searched for areas populated enough to support their trade, et cetera.
The level lands of the Sacramento Valley attracted the farmers so the stretch between
Rock Creek and Mud Creeks below the ridge was acquired early and farms were
started there along with adjacent valley lands. Much of this was originally included in
the Rancho Arroyo Chico, the lands of which the newcomers purchased rather than
preempted or homesteaded. The lumbermen headed for the hills with the tall virgin
timber stands and, although they came primarily to exploit the place, they were the
first non-transient white men to arrive in Cohasset.
The lumber mill locations in the large timber were well above the Indian village sites
so it is unlikely that there was any immediate friction between the Indians and the
white men, if indeed the Maidu still resided on the ridge when lumbering operations
began in the late 1850s. The natives certainly were no longer there when the early
farmers came in the late 1860s and the 1870s; they noted the village sites which
were not occupied.35 Perhaps no one will ever know for certain what happened to
these Indians, what caused them to move, when they left, and where they went, but
there is little doubt that their disappearance was connected with the arrival of white
men in the northern Sierra Nevada and/or the adjacent Sacramento Valley.
The ridge was early called the Campbell Pinery and subsequently the Keefer Pinery
by the lumbering men to give it some identification. The first sawmill constructed was
the Stratton Mill in Section 1, T24. The mill locations were plotted form the J. S. Henning Map of Butte County of
1862 or personal reconnaissance with present or past residents of the ridge who have
personal knowledge of the mill sites.
The fine stands of tall straight sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) soon attracted
competitors and the screeching saws from a number of mills were heard throughout
the northern or upper parts of the ridge. These included the Morrill and Company Mill
and the Vermont Mill (near or on the site of the later Mann Mill)
prior to 1862 and the Burnt Mill, the Gatlin Mill, and the Mecum Mill in Campbellville
in 1862 or subsequent to that date.
J. L. Keefer, after he purchased his large ranch and station on Shasta Road on lower
Rock Creek (now Keefer Lane and U.S. Highway 99E) in 1850, foresaw a potential
lumber market in the Sacramento Valley and built one of these early mills (the Burnt
Mill) on "Jakie's Cove" near the Butte-Tehama County line. He subsequently built
another mill on the Vilas Road. One had a capacity of 22,000 board feet a day and the second could saw 16,000
board feet daily. Keefer was the first large scale mill operator on the ridge and it was
he who built the first road to the valley down one of the Cohasset ridges which still
bears his name. This was a steeply graded and rough road but enabled the ox-teamdrawn
lumber wagons to get the mill products to market. It was reportedly Keefer's
lumber that was the first to be used for construction purposes in Chico in the 1860's.
Keefer was a man of many ambitions. He raised wheat and livestock on his 2,000 acre station ranch; by 1873 he had 5,000 head of sheep, 1,000 head of cattle, and 200 horses and mules and he employed one hundred men. He was also the Rock Creek postmaster until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived. Allen M. and Henry Sadorus built a flour mill in 1852 below the Cohasset Ridge, powered by Rock Creek water and the brothers operated this mill until 1857. In 1860 Keefer bought the
Sadorus ranch and flour mill and built a dam on the creek to furnish a more dependable water supply. The mill has been commemorated by a stone monument, erected in 1958 by the Native Sons of the Golden West.
Hugh Stephenson was Keefer's miller for many years and for five years, 1868 to
1872, the Rock Creek Flour Mill took many prizes in both County and State
Agricultural Fairs. The mill produced five hundred quarter sacks of quality flour daily
(about 12,500 pounds) by the use of the burr process with grinding stones imported
from Asia.47 One of these stones is affixed atop the monument, and another is in the possession of Frank Swift who lives adjacent to the monument position.
Keefer ran his sawmills on the ridge until 1892 when the choice pine timber was
depleted. Keefer, in common with his contemporaries, selected only the prime
sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) and scorned the other timber varieties. Of the trees
chosen, they utilized only the lower portion up to the limbs in order to get clear, knot free lumber. They simply let the rest of each tree go to waste. All of the early homes
built on the ridge and those on the ranches below the ridge, as well as the
construction in Chico, were built of prime, clear, sugar pine. It was not until years later
that Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) was cut and more years passed before other
varieties were selected. Incense cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), for instance, was
neglected completely in the early days and not utilized until fairly recently. Although
this method of selective species logging seems wasteful it did enable lumbering to
continue on Cohasset and gave the ridge the capacity to meet later timber demands.
No records were maintained of the number of board feet of lumber cut or even of the
exact number of mills that operated on the ridge, or their locations. Some of the mills
were small and easily transported when an area was logged over. Commodore P.
Dix, for example, had eight different settings for his mills. Others changed hands
and the second cutting around a mill was most frequently done by someone other
than the original owner. The Mecum Mill at Campbellville was purchased by Eugene
Griswold who operated it until 1903 or 1904. He then moved his operations to the
present end of the hard-surfaced portion of Cohasset Road were he bought another
mill originally built by James Mann and which Griswold operated until 1925.51 Only a barn remains standing there today of
Griswold's large lumber and orchard operations.
The Vilas Mill on the ridge above Mud Creek,
was operated for seven years, from 1907 to 1914, by Perry and Walter Vilas. This mill
used a steam boiler that had been laboriously brought from San Francisco, and which
now stands as a rusting monument to the pioneer lumbermen.
Commodore Dix bought the Vilas Mill and moved what he could of it to Camp Promontory where he had purchased two hundred forty acres. He named his location Camp Promontory as it was near the headwaters of Pine Creek, only a half mile from Promontory Point which Mansfield describes as "a four hundred foot towering rock from which parts of eleven counties
may be seen." The view is impressive from this point but it is believed that Mansfield was somewhat extravagant in his statement of the territory encompassed by the panorama. Dix started operations there in September 1916 and
used a seventy-five horsepower steam engine and boiler to operate a mill with a daily
capacity of 20,000 board feet. He employed twenty-five men in the woods and in the
mill. He also used the innovation of five 5-ton motor trucks to haul the logs to the mill
and the sawed lumber to Chico where he sold it to the Diamond Match Company. In
1917 Dix contracted a cut of 1,500,000 board feet for Diamond Match.
The Gatlin Mill, another of the early mills, ceased
operation about the same time and for the same reason that the Keefer Mills did,
namely, the exhaustion of the choice pine. Between 1920 and 1925 Dix operated an
outfit on the Gatlin Mill site on second cuttings, a mill that he moved from Camp
Promontory when that area had been logged off.
The Cohasset mills, of course, were not unique in the foothills. Neighboring areas
such as Big Chico Creek, Chico Meadows and Butte Meadows had mills of larger
capacity. These mills also employed many more men and some of them such as the
Sierra Flume and Lumber Company on Big Chico Creek provided numerous
Cohasset residents with employment.
Ox teams furnished early motive power in the logging camps and from the mills to the
market. Mules and horses were used, first in addition to and later exclusive of the
oxen. About 1908 the Griswold and the Vilas Mills each acquired two large traction
engines, one to haul lumber to town, pulling as many as seven loaded wagons, and
one with which to log. These were steam powered, tricycle, wheeled tractors, slow
but powerful, which added a hazard of spark-set fires in the woods as did the steam
donkey engines when they were adopted for dragging logs.
The original Keefer Ridge road proved too steep and hazardous so another road was
built along the top of the ridge east of Anderson Fork. This one had easier grades but
it also had danger zones, one of which came to be known as "Cape Horn." During
one of the early years of this century, ca. 1907, a six-horse team pulling two lumber
wagons was descending the grade when all efforts at braking failed. The wagons ran
out of control and turned over, killing four of the horses. The teamster managed to
jump clear and was uninjured.
In 1910 the Vilas Brothers' steam tractor was descending the same road when the
road shoulder gave away under its weight and the heavy rig rolled over the cliff into
Anderson Fork. Perry Vilas, the operator, was not hurt nor was the machine
extensively damaged. It was repaired in place and driven out of the canyon under its
own power on a road which had to be especially built for it.
All in all there have been many mills on the ridge to harvest the second and subsequent growths of the timber. The last cycle of them was during the post World War II period when seven mills sprang up and employed many men on the ridge in
response to the heavy demand for lumber of all kinds. Most of these were small,
mobile outfits whose locations would be difficult to spot today. Sorenson's which can
still be seen near the Cohasset School, was a larger, stationary operation. The largest of this group, a mill started by Dave
Ramme just east of the Monk's Store building, has been completely dismantled and is marked only by a moldering saw
dust pile. The demand for lumber was so great during this boom period that
anything was cutred and white fir as well as pine.
During the opening weeks of World War II the Japanese dispatched fire bombs by
free-floating drift balloons toward the Pacific Coast states with the obvious intent to
start destructive forest fires. One of these landed and exploded east of the Grafton
School site. The explosion created a hole ten feet across and two
feet deep but fortunately no fire resulted. George Coen, then residing on the ridge,
found it; however the news was suppressed to keep the Japanese from learning of
the success or failure of their balloons in reaching the U.S. shores.
In harvesting of timber the general practice is to select the larger and better trees, but
in each successive harvest the standard goes down, thus smaller and smaller trees
are cut. Sierra Forest Practice Rules, compiled by the lumber industry and the
California Division of Forestry, and subsequently adopted by the State, prescribed a
minimum of twenty-inch diameter trees, except for land clearance when permission is
given for lesser cuttings. The last ridge logging was just above this minimum. There
is an economic factor and definite relationship between tree size, production costs,
and lumber values. Production costs for cutting small diameter trees is considerably
higher than for trees of a larger size, and lumber grades of lower value are more
common in the smaller trees. There is evidence in forests not replanted by man that
less desirable species tend to displace the preferred species. Thus smaller sized
trees and inferior stock contribute to higher costs and poorer quality lumbera two
way decline for the timber owner.
Another important factor in lumber production is the type of ownership of forest lands.
Lands in small lots and diffused ownership do not lend themselves to effective
management and sustained yield practices as do large holdings under forwardlooking
administration or in national forests. The ownership trend on Cohasset
Ridge is developing into a small lot and diffused ownership pattern where many
people are purchasing acreages for residences or retirement homes. They are not
dependent upon the timber as a prime source of income and have more interest in the
trees for their esthetic and recreational value than in timber management. The private
owners of larger acreages do practice selective cutting but seldom depend upon this
for a sole source of income. The Diamond National Corporation is the only large
lumber company with holdings on the ridge. This company owns acreage in the
eastern sections of T24N, R2E and virtually all of T25N, R2E except in Section thirtysix,
which is essentially all of Cohasset Ridge north of the Butte-Tehama county line.
Some of the landowners cooperate with the Untied States Department of Agriculture
in the Agricultural Conservation Program to improve the timber stand by keeping their
timbered areas clean of undesirable trees and by encouraging the growth of young
trees of commercial value. The program provides a small payment to the landowner,
the amount of which depends upon the number and size of valuable trees that the
owner preserves through the removal of worthless varieties that over-top or interfere
with the growth of the desirable species.
Some owners participate in the Western Woodproducts Association Tree Farm
program, a voluntary undertaking under the sponsorship of the Association. This is,
essentially, a program of fire protection and good timber land management which is
beneficial to the landowner and to the lumber industry in general. The farmer is under
no obligation to sell his timber to any company, or even to sell it at all. No
remuneration is received by the landowner, but he is authorized to post Tree Farm
signs on his property as long as he complies with the basic timberland management
practices. These signs are designated and furnished by the Association.
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C. Trouble With the Indians
Despite the absence of Indians living on the ridge after the arrival of the lumbermen, troubles between the ethnic groups did occur. The Caucasian population growth of California was virtually an explosion after 1848 and soon whites outstripped the natives in number. Not surprisingly, racism was a strong factor in the makeup of the newcomersboth in the law-respecting elements and in the numerous outright criminal elements. The Indian was considered as an inferior to be used as "indentured laborer, slave, or concubine," or as a menace to be eliminated if he offered any trouble. In the absence of formal laws and local peace officers in the foothills, the keeping of order was frequently by a volunteer committee or posse that was formed to enforce the laws of revenge. Any act of violence by the Indians against the whites was cause for quick retribution, but injustices committed against the Indians were usually condoned and the perpetrators were seldom punished. Such a situation, plus circumstances wherein the white men were cutting off the Indians' natural food sources and were pushing them off their long established home grounds, was bound to cause retaliatory acts.
D. The Farmers and Permanent Settlers Arrive
It was the Yahi Indians from Deer and/or Mill Creek who offered the most resistance
to the white intruders in this vicinity. They raided unguarded camps, stole food and
livestock and, on occasion, killed isolated whites. In 1859 a posse under Harmon "Hi"
Goode and Robert A. Anderson, who later became sheriff of Butte County and whose
grandson, Volney Anderson, currently lives on Cohasset Ridge, pursued a group of
Yahi warriors who lured them on a circuitous chase around the base of Lassen Peak
and back to Keefer Ridge without once offering them a clear shot. The posse, having
been on the trail for weeks, gave up the pursuit there only to have the Indians
promptly attack two teamsters, Perry McIntosh and Mr. Lindsay, on the Keefer Ridge
road. Neither was killed but Lindsay was seriously injured.
The Yahis continued their depredations throughout the foothills. Their tactics included
stealing or wantonly killing livestock, burning cabins, pilfering food and attacking
whites. On June 18, 1862 a meeting of irate and vengeful settlers was held at the
Forks of Butte in Kimshew Township to organize a retaliatory force. The following
statement of grievances was drafted at this meeting:
The Indians known as the Deer or Mill Creek Indians, having of late
committed numerous depredations in this vicinity, such as robbing
mining camps, murdering white men and killing stock; and whereas,
they have acknowledged to be the murderers of Michael Walsh of
Chico, and Mr. Dunbar, or Dunlap, of Mud Creek, together with
numerous other murders on the Washoe Trail near Lassen's Peak;
also to two recent murders of persons whose names we have been
unable to ascertain; but from description given of a recent murder
committed by them, we judge it is Mr. Haynes, of Chico Meadows,
but do not know for certain; also they are threatening to murder
every white man on Butte Creek, and capture all the white women
Just six days after this meeting, on 24 June 1862, Thomas Allen, a teamster who
worked for Keefer was killed and scalped as he was hauling a heavy load of lumber
from Morrill's Mill down the steep Keefer Ridge road toward Chico. An Indian
employee of Keefer's, who was accompanying Allen, was seriously wounded in the
attack, but he escaped and notified the nearest settlers. It was determined that the
perpetrators were the troublesome Yahis.
A family named Hickok had a farm on Rock Creek a short distance above the Keefer
Grist Mill. On the day of the Allen slaying three Hickok children who had been picking blackberries along the creek were abducted by the same small group of Indians. The frightened family aroused neighbors who relayed the alarm to a group of twenty-four volunteers that had been formed at the Forks of Butte meeting. Members of this
group began a search from the berry patch and soon found the remains of the horse
and the dog that had accompanied the children. Not far away, traced by bits of torn
clothing, were the bodies of the two girls (ages thirteen and sixteen); the eldest had
been slain with thirty arrows. It was not until two weeks later that the hidden, badly
mutilated body of the obviously tortured younger brother was found. The posse
tracked the killers to their village on Deer Creek and made an attack by rifle fire; they
killed eight of the inhabitants and caused the rest of the villagers to flee in panic.
This seemed to end the Indian raids and the Indian history on Cohasset Ridge. The
following year, 1863, over four hundred Indians were rounded up from the hills of
Butte County and sent to a reservation in Humboldt County. Within a year many of
these had filtered back the long distance to Butte County, although none ever
returned to Cohasset.
No land grants were made on Cohasset Ridge during either the Spanish or the
Mexican periods of California history as ample level valley lands were available for
grantees. Since the late 1850s teamsters had travelled the length of the ridge
between the lumber mills and the valley, but except for other infrequent mills which
they passed enroute, theirs was a lonely journey. It is not certain who formed the
vanguard of the settlers who came in the late 1860s and early 1870s to occupy the
early farms. These newcomers came from states ranging from Maine to Missouri as
well as numerous families moving up from the contiguous valley when homesteads
became available. The pioneer families had names like Blanton, Campbell, Cole,
Conway, Garrison, Gibson, Harvey, Hartt, Higgins, Hume, Kerr, Lynn, Mann, Nichols,
Polk, Scott, Spencer, Stokes, Tarney and Woodward. The listings of the North Point
and Cohasset residents in the Butte County Great Registers for the years 1884, 1888,
1900, and 1918 are included in Appendix "E". These listings, while informative, of
course did not include all of the ridge residents but only those registered to vote.
As mentioned previously, the early lumbermen designated the ridge after the pineries.
A school district was formed July 16, 1878 to provide a place of learning for the
children of the growing number of pioneer families and was given the name of North
Point District. The entire ridge came to be known by the name of North Point. In
1887 the ridge residents requested the United States Government to establish a post
office there, to be named North Point. The Post Office Department concurred in the
need of a postal facility but balked at the requested name. There were already too
many stations in the country with either North or Point in their names so it was
requested that another name be selected. For a name selecting committee two young ladies of the ridge, Miss Marie Wilson and Miss Electa Welch (the school teacher) were appointed and they chose the name Cohasset, meaning "City of Pines"
in the Algonquin Indian language. There was a precedent for this in Cohasset,
Massachusetts, a charming resort city of pines and rocks located on the seacoast
southeast of Boston. The new name was satisfactory and the first Cohasset,
California post office was established February 20, 1888.
The impetus for the settlement on Cohasset came with the availability of land under
the 1862 Homestead Act which gave one hundred and sixty acres of land to settlers
after five years of residence and cultivation (or "proving up"). This was modified in
1912 to reduce the length of necessary residence to three years and also in that year
the 1909 Enlarged Homestead Act which raised the maximum acreage available from
one hundred and sixty acres to three hundred and twenty acres was extended to
California. General Land Office surveys were made of Township 23 on Cohasset in
1865, 1867 and 1872 and of Township 24 in 1867, 1872 and 1878. This was a
necessary preliminary to open the lands for homesteading although preemption rights
were recognized for the settlers squatting on the public domain prior to the surveys.
In 1862 the Pacific Railroad Act (amended in 1864) granted the Central Pacific
Railroad Company of California two hundred feet of right-of-way on each side of the
trackage (four hundred feet in all) in addition to land for stations, buildings, shops,
depots, switches, sidetracks, turntables, etc. Furthermore, it was granted alternate,
odd numbered sections of public land for twenty miles on each side of the railroad
(amended from an original limit of ten miles on each side because of the dearth of
arable land between the Sacramento River and the Nevada border). It was this act
that enabled the Central Pacific Railroad Company to get a patent on all of the odd
numbered sections on Cohasset. The railroad filed for its sections in Township
twenty-three on March 17, 1875 as well as on sections one, eleven and thirteen in
Township twenty-four. The remaining sections of Township twenty-four, on Cohasset,
were filed for on January 24, 1880. The correction strip, T23˝, was not filed on by the
Central Pacific until February 10, 1927. See Appendix D.
This land was granted to the railroad with the reservation that any such lands unsold
or undisposed of by the company within three years after completion of the railroad
were to be opened to settlement and preemption like other lands, at $1.25 per acre to
be paid to the company. To induce early and rapid sales the Central Pacific
Company offered this land for sale from $1.00 to $5.00 per acre on the easy terms of
one-fifth in cash plus one year's interest on the remainder and five years to pay the
balance at seven percent interest, payable annually.
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An advertisement that appeared in 1886 listed all of the railroad sections yet available
These lands are situated for the most part in the foothills and
mountain districts; but they are in many respects very desirable.
Thousands of acres are heavily timberedall are valuable grazing
lands, and on almost every section there is land susceptible of
tillage, on which an industrious family might make a home.
Purchasers may acquire much or little of these lands, and the price
now set upon them is not varied. They offer a most favorable
opportunity to settlers of all classes.
The Cohasset pioneer farmers achieved their land holdings either under the
Homestead Act or by purchase from the railroad. (See Appendix D, Land Grants by
the United States Government). Their farms were primarily subsistence types with a
few head of cattle, sheep, and hogs (the latter fattening on the plentiful acorns), a
garden plot and some land suitable for limited cultivation. For cash income most of
the farmers worked at the mills, either those mills on the ridge or they walked to the
large Sierra Flume and Lumber Company mill or others on Big Chico Creek or Chico
Meadows. They worked and remained there during the week and walked home to
Cohasset for the weekends. During the winter months trapping was another of the
few sources of cash income with pelts of fox, skunk, wildcat and martin being sought.
(Appendix A is a listing of the animals of Cohasset Ridge.)
Many of the farmers experimented with fruit trees to determine the suitability of the
ridge's agricultural conditions for various deciduous fruits. Ira Hume grew fifteen acres
of freestone peaches and a few cherry trees on the old Indian village site, with an
apple orchard across the road therefrom. Other farmers had success with varieties of
pears. Ben Harvey planted a grove of olive trees in Section four, T23 1/2 that is still in
production. It was learned that the combination of the elevation and suitable soil
conditions produced an excellent quality of crisp apples that encouraged rapid
expansion; many apple orchards, some relatively large, were planted to the exception
of other fruit. This was the period when apples constituted the chief California orchard
product and in 1880 there were more apple trees in the state than those of all other
deciduous fruits combined.
Samples of Cohasset apples submitted to the 1904 St. Louis Universal Exposition
(April 30 to December 1) won the silver medal for Thomas H. Benton Polk and the
bronze medal for Augustus B. Hartt of Cohasset, the latter for his Stamen Winesap
variety. Figure 19 shows these orchard locations as plotted by personal observations.
Figure 28 is a copy of the certificate awarded to Mr. Hartt. The medal and certificate
awards to Mr. Polk were presumably lost during the burning of his home about 1900.
Mr. Polk purchased his property in Section twenty-seven, T24N in the late 1870s and
built a farm on Vilas Road. Although his orchard has been completely neglected,
remnants of it can yet be seen despite the unrestrained growth of brush and trees
around the original fruit trees. In the spring time the blossoming of the apple trees
make them distinctive from the others. Polk's barn became noted
locally as the home of many barn swallows (Hirundo erythrogaster); these birds
returned to it each year as faithfully as those of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Augustus Bolin Hartt homesteaded the NEĽ of Section twenty-two, T24N about 1875.
Although he only planted about three acres in apples, the fruit produced was of high
enough quality to warrant the bronze metal as mentioned above. He sold his farm in
1910 to Mr. Preising who increased the apple acreage to about fifteen.
Commodore P. Dix, the lumberman, received a full bearing forty acre orchard of a
variety of winter apples with the one hundred and fifty acre ranch that he purchased in
Section fourteen, T24N in 1909, and which he named the Buena Vista Ranch. At an
exhibition in Watsonville, California in 1911 Dix entered sixteen varieties and won
thirteen gold medals, thereby attaining for Butte County the best record for high quality
apples of any county in the state.
Almost every farmer on the ridge set out apple trees and some of them planted
enough acreage to be commercially profitable. Alex C. Locey bought a one hundred
and sixty acre Cohasset ranch in section twenty-six, T24N, and put fifty acres in a variety of apples including Baldwin, Yellow Newton, Ben Davis, Delicious and
Arkansas Black. He named his planting the "Highland Apple Orchard."85
George Washington Harvey, a horticulture enthusiast, came to Cohasset in 1880 and
planted some 2,500 trees both as nursery stock and for apple production; he also
planted grape vines between the trees. This land was later sold to W. A. Bathurst, Sr.,
who added two acres of strawberries to the production. Frank Hitchcock from
Tennessee owned it next and sold it to O. L. (Jack) Tetreau who still tends the apple
orchard. This orchard consists of Arkansas Black,
Winesap, Banana, Rome Beauty, Delicious, Yellow Pippin and other varieties. Mr.
Harvey, the original orchard owner, besides being an amateur horticulturist, also had
unique mechanical abilities and patented an invention, the Harvey Automobile wheel
with a system of shock absorbers built into the wheel itself. He sold shares to help
raise capital to produce and market the wheel but it was never accepted by the
When Eugene Griswold bought the James Mann lumber mill and acreage in Section
eleven, T24N, he planted one hundred acres in apples and became one of the ridge's
The growers with large acreages, such as Griswold, Dix and Locey, raised many tons
of fine quality apples annually. A big cooperative packing shed was build and
operated for many years in the area across the road from the present Mid's Store. This was a substantial aid in more
uniform packaging and marketing. In 1910 3,500 boxes of apples were packed.
The fruit was principally marketed in the valley communities with a large percentage
being sold in Chico. The Wells Fargo Company developed a brisk two-way trade with
Mexico, exchanging Cohasset apples for Mexican oranges and tangerines which had
a ready market in Northern California.
The proven capability of the ridge to produce fine apples was seized upon as an
advertising point to draw more settlers. A group of ridge residents interested in the
promotion of both Cohasset apples and real estate formed the "Cohasset
Improvement Club" in 1912, headed by John Christenson who was instrumental in
organizing the club. Mr. Ted Hartt served as the club secretary. A display of
Cohasset apples was arranged in the Oroville Orange and Olive Exposition in
December 1912 and a brochure was prepared for the event. A reproduction of the
pamphlet which extolled the virtues of Cohasset is included as Appendix B.
The Cohasset fruit was advertised and earned its reputation for quality as a nonirrigated
product. Most of the small scale growers let their trees grow practically
untended, but the big producers cultivated their orchards in a dry farming procedure to
conserve soil moisture and to make it more readily available to the tree roots. Tree
spraying for insect control was not practiced and apparently was not necessary.
Disease and insect infestation seems to be a latter day problem caused by pests that
have been introduced into the area; although there may be some credibility to the
belief, held by a few ridge residents, that the insects were largely restrained by the
periodic controlled burning of the brush and undergrowth.
Apples, of course, were not the only agricultural items produced, but they were essentially the only one in sizeable commercial production. Alex Locey raised acorn fed hogs on that portion of his farm not devoted to apples. G. W. Harvey raised cattle and hogs, gradually building up the quantity of both to a respectable number. In addition to his peach and apple orchards, Ira Hume built a blacksmith shop and general merchandise store, and provided lodging and meals to teamsters and freighters. The other farmers practiced mixed subsistence farming, with cattle and hogs, a few apples, and some also sold the marketable timber off their land.
Cohasset took on the aspects of a thriving rural community in the 1880s and
Cohasset news items in the Chico Morning Chronicle and Chico Enterprise papers of
that period listed numerous minor social events and calls made by visitors. The ridge
was no longer an isolated, little visited area despite the inadequate roads and slow
transportation. Phillip Coen, a ridge resident of that time, received an overnight guest
in the early 1880s and learned later that Charles E. Bolton, the guest he had
entertained, had been captured and identified as the celebrated Black Bart.
In that same period another outlaw of the horse drawn stagecoach days, Harry
Frazer, robbed such a stage of a sizeable amount of cash, presumably on Shasta
Road in Tehama County. He carried the money into the hills to the Beach cabin on
Cohasset Ridge near the Butte-Tehama county line where he secretly buried it under a large cedar tree. The Tehama County sheriff tracked and caught him there and,
after a brief trial, Frazer was sentenced to serve twenty years for the robbery. He
served his time, then returned to Cohasset in 1900, dug up the money and departed
for good. For the twenty years many local men in the performance of logging
operations and the driving of cattle had worked near and over the buried loot without
suspecting its presence. A large rock between Pine Creek and Rock Creek was
named the Frazer Rock to mark another of his hideouts.
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E. Cohasset Cultural Developments
Schools have played an important part in the community ever since the North Point School District was organized July 16, 1878. The schoolhouse was built in Section thirty-four, T24N, the site of the Monk home today. In 1888 another district, the Grafton School District, was organized with that school located farther north in the same township. North Point came to be considered the winter school and Grafton the summer school, with sessions usually suspended at the latter during the months of heavy snow, November through April. This system allowed some children to attend both schools. These early schools did not operate during the same calendar months every year as adjustments were made for weather conditions, availability of teachers, or other reasons.
School life offered its minor moments of excitement as when Miss Clara Cook, the
teacher at the Grafton School from April to October 1898, a period of many petticoats
and long dress styles, was ringing the school bell to terminate the period of recess
when a small lizard ran up her clothes. Pandemonium set in with Miss Cook's
screaming and shouting and the boys questionable help in efforts to extricate it.
On July 1, 1921 North Point and Grafton were united to form the Cohasset School
District and thereafter only one school operated on the ridge. In 1948 two teachers
were engaged for the school, one for the elementary grades of one to four and the
other for the upper grades through eight. This pattern, with modifications, has
continued to the present with the exception of a few years in the 1950s. See
Appendix F for a listing of the school teachers on the ridge and such data on
attendance as was available in the existing school records.
A fine new school building, completed in October 1965, is
located in Section twenty-three, T24N, and serves the elementary grades one through
six, with a present enrollment of thirty-five pupils. The Cohasset School District was
unified with the Chico School system effective July 1, 1965 so the Junior and High
School pupils are bussed into Chico daily.
The pioneer, Ira Hume, donated a piece of land in Section twenty-seven, T24N, for a
church and cemetery as well as some material and labor for construction of the
church. The church building was erected in 1896, largely by Anson Sweeney of Red
Bluff, California, on the old New England and Eastern states pattern of the cemetery
in the church yard. This was a Baptist Church and the Reverend Slaughter of the
First Baptist Church in Chico preached at the inauguration service. The community
had no regular, ordained ministers at first. Mr. Gaumer, Mr. Dix, and Mr. Kidwell, all
ridge residents, preached as lay ministers and numerous evangelists visited
frequently. Occasionally American Baptist ministers from Chico would hold the
services. A dam on Maple Creek on the Polk farm, a short distance from the church,
created a small pond and it was here that the early church performed baptisms.
Ridge residents have predominantly been Baptist and no other denomination has
ever had enough followers to form another congregation. The non-Baptists who wish
to attend other churches drive to Chico to worship.
The original church building was used until 1918 and then for many years there was
no organized church on the ridge. The building remained standing but as it had been
constructed of prime, clear sugar pine, various people helped themselves to lumber
therefrom during the World War II period when building material was scarce.
In 1945 Mr. Arthur Speacht came to Cohasset from Chico to organize another church;
he was backed and financed by the First Baptist Church and the Baptist Home
Mission Board. The newly formed congregation met under the trees near the school
during the summer months of that year.
In 1908 Mr. Samuel Sorenson build a Community Hall in Section fourteen, T24N for
general use of the ridge residents. It was used until 1915 for old fashioned dances,
plays, meeting, and other community events. That year it was partitioned off and
used as a residence for several years by Mr. Theodore Hartt who operated the store
across the road. It next saw use as a warehouse for the Forest Service who rented it
as a place in which to store equipment and supplies. In 1928 a logging company
working nearby used it as a cook house in which to feed their men. Mr. Donald
Sorenson, Samuel's son, later made use of it for the inside storage of wood, much of
which had to be handled through the windows. In 1945 Samuel Sorenson donated it
to the newly reorganized Community Baptist Church who remodeled it into the
The original church building was completely dismantled for the wood remaining in it
which, along with materials and labor donated by other members, served to remodel
the old Community Hall building. The site for this new church is on Cohasset Road in
Section fourteen, T24N which makes it more accessible to the majority of the ridge
residents who live adjacent to this main road.
On October 25, 1945 upon completion of the building, the Cohasset Community
Baptist Church was formally organized with seventeen members; when Mr. Speacht
left in October 1948 the church had sixty-nine members. The next minister was
Ruben Bishop who remained from November 1948 to June 1949. There followed a
succession of ministers, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Meyers, and Mr. Casterson, all of whom
served for periods of less than one year. Mr. Lloyd Pole next ministered for four years
to June 1955 when Mr. William E. Funkhouser arrived. Mr. Funkhouser performed
the duties of a clergyman for a year and a half before being officially voted in as
minister on January 1, 1957 and he functioned as such continuously from that time to
1966. Mr. Funkhouser devotes part of his time to general contractor work in addition
to his serving as community minister. The present church membership is about fifty
members with a Sunday School enrollment of between fifty and seventy pupils.
Carl Hume, the four-year-old son of Ira Hume, was, in 1880, the first person to be
buried in the Cohasset Cemetery which continues to serve the community as a free
burial plot facility. Another early occupant was John E. Hammond, a young man who
was killed the very day he began employment in the woods. Today, by reading the
inscriptions on the markers of this serene spot beneath the pines (shown in Figure 35)
one can get a thumbnail history of the occupancy of the ridge from its pioneer days to
The first store to open on the ridge was one built by Ira Hume about 1877 on his
homestead, Section twenty-two, T24N. This was a general merchandise store and it
supplied the needs of the neighboring farmers as well as those of the men working in
the ridge lumber mills. Lodging and meals were also provided to travelers and
The next store was built by Samuel Sorenson in 1907 on Section fourteen, T24N
across the Cohasset Road from the present Community Baptist Church. This general
merchandise store primarily supplied the needs of the men employed at nearby mills.
There were three busy mills located within a mile of the store, each employing thirty to
forty men. Sorenson operated this store until 1914 when Theodore Hartt,
his brother-in-law, took over and continued the operation of the establishment until
1919 when he terminated its functions.
The next store was a small one started by Mr. Gatlin in 1942. It was more of a tavern
type facility but carried a small line of groceries. Mr. Gatlin subsequently sold it to Mr.
Fay Robinson who continued in business until 1952.
James C. Monk built another general merchandise store during World War II, in 1944,
on Section thirty-four, T24N, at the intersection of Cohasset Road and Vilas Road. He
ran it for the next fourteen years and then leased it for another seven years. When
Mr. Monk died in 1965 the store was closed and the property is currently for sale.
Monk's Store and the Robinson Store were operated concurrently for a number of
Another store, Mid's was started in 1961 and since the closing of Monk's Store has
been the only one on the ridge. In May 1966 the name was changed to the Cohasset
Shopping Center. This is a small general merchandise store with groceries, a few
meats, some hardware items, notions and outer wearing apparel. It also has a
service station and a snack-bar and offers free picnic facilities nearby for visitors. It
has been operated by Mr. and Mrs. David Vaughn since February 1966.
Cohasset was without electricity, other than small, privately owned home power
plants, until 1947. That year the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, taking recognition
of, and being prodded by a growing demand by ridge residents for Rural Electrification
Administration action, installed power lines. The James Monk home was the first to
be lighted by the company supplied electric current.
Christmas 1947 was memorable on Cohasset for the introduction of colorful electric Christmas tree lights in
many homes, a special delight to the children.
Early in the 1900s telephone service to satisfy local needs was improvised by private
action with the stringing of connecting wires between residences. This "farmer line"
served well and was eventually extended into Chico. After the installation of the
power lines static interference developed in telephone reception and requests were
initiated for regular public utility telephone service. A matter of economics held back
this service until 1955 when Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company ran the lines
to serve approximately forty subscribers, at an installation cost of nearly $100,000.00.
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company power poles were used to carry the telephone
wires. Cohasset numbers are considered local Chico calls with no toll charges.
North Point mail was originally received at the Chico or the Rock Creek Station post
offices. Martin Polk was the first to carry the mail up the ridge from Chico for pay, a
job he performed on horseback. Later a stage was operated by various individuals
under government contract to haul the mail to the post office. The first ridge post office
was opened February 20, 1888; subsequent offices were located in three different
places prior to cessation of postal operations in 1919. On February 1, 1961 another
office was opened as a postal station in Mid's Store with Miss Mildred Rexroat as
postmistress, but it was closed in 1965 as part of the Federal Government's economy
drive. Today mail is received daily by rural free delivery with Cohasset Stage as the mailing address. The post offices were usually located in the ridge stores as is evident by a list of former postmasters:
Mr. Ira Hume
Miss Electa Welch
Mrs. Lillie Sorenson
Mrs. E. E. Hart
Mr. Theodore Hartt
Cohasset has always been dependent upon the community of Chico for medical,
legal, and other professional services which are not mentioned above. For police
protection the Butte County Sheriff has appointed a local citizen, Thomas Handy, as a
deputy and he patrols the area. For fire protection Cohasset looks to the California
Division of Forestry fire stations at Nord or Chico except during the summer forest fire
season when a fire station on Cohasset in Section twenty-six, T24N is manned with
an eight man crew.
There's much more fascinating information in the complete file, including photos, statistics, maps, charts and references. Download the full pdf file.
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