History of Tahoe National Forest: 1840-1940

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 12 December 2015

History of Tahoe National Forest: 1840-1940,
A Cultural Resources Overview History

My two favorite parts of this history are the pre gold rush era and the late gold rush era.

Pre-Gold Rush History of the Northern Sierra Nevada Region.

Below find the "meat" of
Pre-Gold Rush History of the Northern Sierra Nevada Region:

 "As was the case of most of the interior portions of California, the northern Sierra Nevada region was not settled until after gold was discovered in 1848. There was, however, some contact between whites and Native Americans, exploration by U. S. government expeditions, and transits of the area by pre-gold rush immigrants to California."

 "Exploration and settlement during the Spanish and Mexican periods was limited. During the Spanish period (1768-1822), a small number of expeditions were made into the interior of California, but these were largely aimed at locating runaway Mission Indians, chasing livestock, or examination of the terrain for possible future mission sites. Several of these expeditions, led by Lt. Gabriel Moraga and Lt. Luis Arguello between 1805 and 1817 skirted the foothills on the eastern side of the Central Valley as far as the Feather River. It is not thought that the Spanish expeditions entered the Sierra Nevada foothills within the Tahoe National Forest (Bean 1978: 43)."

 "Activity increased during the Mexican period (1822-1846), but no permanent settlements were made east of the Central Valley. The ranchos granted to John Marsh near Mt. Diablo and John Sutter at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers were for a long period the only attempts at settlement within the Central Valley (Bean 1978: 66-67)."


 "The growing American interest in the Trans-Mississippi West and California stimulated the U. S. government to dispatch expeditions to explore the region, produce accurate maps, and report back on the region's inhabitants and resources. The first of these that reached interior portions of California was that of Lt. Charles Wilkes, USN, who was sent into the eastern Pacific "in the interests of the American whaling industry" in 1841 After passing through the Pacific Northwest, a detachment of Wilkes' men traveled down the Sacramento River, rejoining the main body of the expedition in San Francisco Bay (Caughey 1970: 161-162). Wilkes' men apparently did not venture far into the Sierra Nevada foothills."


 "Perhaps the most famous of these explorers is John Charles Fremont, an ambitious and talented member of the Army Topographical Engineers. During his career as an explorer he undertook four expeditions into California. Fremont's expedition in 1845-1846 traversed the central portion of the Sierra Nevada over Donner Pass and down the mountains into the Central Valley. Fremont and his men moved up the Truckee River camping at Cold Creek south of Donner Lake on December 3, 1845. "All the way, they appear to have followed the traces of the Stevens-Townsend-Party of 1844, which had entered California via this route." (Egan 1977: 307) Fremont measured the altitude of Donner Pass as his men traversed it, and was within forty feet of its actual altitude. Fearing being caught by winter weather, the party moved quickly to the west and south, spending the night of December 4 in a mountain meadow."

 "Six days more was all it took for the men to work their way out of the mountains. But those six days were long and hard as they climbed in and out of canyons, along crests of ridges, through great stands of virgin timber, down the South Fork of the American River and through the foothill region . . . Tough going was putting it mildly, but once they broke into the open, they saw the rolling hills and valley oaks. (Egan 1977: 308)"

 "The group arrived at Sutter's Fort a few days later."


 "While Wilkes and Fremont explored under orders from the U. S. government, private individuals were traveling overland from the U. S. into California. Beginning in 1841, overland immigrant groups entered California on foot or with wagons, crossing the Sierra Nevada as the last major obstacle on their journey. (Stewart 1962: passim) The first overland groups, however, did not cross the Sierra Nevada within what is now the Tahoe National Forest, but rather to the south at Sonora and Walker passes, or to the north along the Malheur and Pit rivers." 

Also See,

Early California History.

Sonora Pass History.


Big Money moves to Strip Sierra Resources:

 Below find the "meat" of 
Era of Development and Diversification, 1859-1906

"During the years between the discovery of silver and gold in the Washoe in 1859 and the establishment of Tahoe National Forest in 1906, the economic activities begun in 1849 changed in their scale and focus. New mining technologies, coupled with refinements of systems invented before 1859 and the influx of outside capital for financing changed gold mining from the nascent industrial form that had been established earlier, to a modern industrial system dependent on technical skills, scientific knowledge and processes, and a permanent, trained work force. In drift, hydraulic, and quartz mining such development altered the mining system forever."

 "The entry of outside (i.e. San Francisco, New York, or London) capital contributed to the development of other industries in the Forest. Initially investing only in mining, capitalists now poured their money into logging, transportation and water development. Each had reached a plateau by 1859, and thereafter was primarily advanced by the entry of new sources of money to aid further development. While large scale capital did not directly effect agriculture, the new markets for agricultural goods in the Washoe, and those opened by the Central Pacific Railroad, led to greater agricultural development within the Forest. Increased agricultural production required more intensive use of resources, and led to the system of irrigation and grazing on the public domain present today."

 "The period of development and diversification of industry and economic activity on the Forest also affected community development. As we have seen, the early transitory mining camps that sprang up in the early years of the gold rush were replaced by more permanent towns based on deep deposits or favorable locations. Industrial mining after 1859 continued this process. In addition, new communities developed independent of direct ties to mining. Settlements identified with railroad stations, logging and lumber industries, and agriculture expanded during these years. There was greater stability in population. The periodic "rushes" and mining excitements, with a few exceptions, ceased, and the great population fluctuations associated with the gold rush decade were tempered. As mining and other communities became more "family" oriented, a higher percentage of women and children were present than in the earlier settlements."

See Twain's California, for a "romantic" view of the West prior to the "stabilization" and asset-stripping mentioned above.

Post up your historical resources.


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