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Early history of Indian Valley revealed

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Crescent Mills is one of the dominant communities in Indian Valley. In the late 1800s it rivaled Greenville in size and was considered the largest town in the county. Photo courtesy Cy Hall Memorial Museum
Samantha P. Hawthorne

Staff Writer
3/15/2014
 


Although Indian Valley is currently small in population, it is rich in history and was for some time known as the largest community in Plumas County.

Over the last 1-1/2 centuries, numerous communities were born within the valley borders. Before the towns were established, however, the area was home to the Mountain Maidu, and before that it was nothing but a large body of water.

Today three dominant communities stand at the cornerstone of Indian Valley — Greenville, Taylorsville and Crescent Mills. The communities of Indian Falls, Genesee, Arlington and Round Valley also hold a place in Indian Valley history; however, as time progressed the communities expanded into each other.

Mountain Maidu
As the first inhabitants of Indian Valley, the Maidu were separated into small groups. Maidu community member Trina Cunningham explained families set up their homes throughout the valley floor and would live in different parts of the valley depending on the weather.

Farrell Cunningham, a respected member of the Maidu community who died last year, said that by gathering only enough plants to sustain them, the Maidu were able to ensure a stable supply of resources.

As American settlers would soon find out, the valley was rich with gold and other minerals. Trina Cunningham said the Maidu held no additional value on gold, and treated it the same as any other mineral found in the valley.

The valley also proved to be a major resource for the timber industry. As the stewards of Indian Valley, the Maidu cared for the forest through traditional ecological knowledge. Every year or two they would set fire along the base of the valley, burning only the underbrush to the tops of the ridges. This allowed wildlife to prosper and kept the rest of the forest safe from uncontrolled wildfires.

Farrell Cunningham said during that time, the oaks in the valley were far more plentiful, as were the acorns that the Maidu considered a staple in their diet.

European settlers found their way into the valley in the early 1860s and by 1888 the Allotment Act authorized the president of the United States to divide Indian reservations into parcels and distribute them to full-blooded Indians only. About two-thirds of Indian land throughout the country was given to non-Indians.

During this time Maidu children were segregated into their own school system called the Greenville Indian Industrial School. The school was treated as a boarding school and housed Native American students from throughout the state. According to Kest Porter, a volunteer and board member for the Cy Hall Memorial Museum in Greenville, students were not allowed to leave, and in some cases, parents were even denied the opportunity to have their children returned.

By the early 1900s, the Maidu population decreased from as many as 2,000 down to only 250 full-blooded Maidu.

Founding of Indian Valley
In search of a place referred to as “Gold Lake,” Peter Lassen made his way through the Sierra Nevada in 1850 and by 1851 he had temporarily settled in Indian Valley. According to the Pat Kurtz book “Mountain Maidu and Pioneers,” he and his party built the first “white man’s structure” in the valley, approximately 3 miles north of Greenville.

Trina Cunningham said that because the Maidu accepted all people as good unless proven otherwise, the indigenous people had no problem with the European settlers moving into the valley.

It was not long after that Lassen and one of his companions planted a garden and opened up a trading post where they sold goods at high prices to travelers. He named the area “Cache Valley”; however, it was eventually renamed Indian Valley.

In the coming years, the population of European settlers in Indian Valley grew as more and more travelers passed through looking for Gold Lake. By summer 1851 there were nearly 1,000 settlers searching for gold within and around the valley.

By the early 1880s, mining was at its peak and with a population of 1,680 white people, Indian Valley was considered the most populated area in Plumas County.

Taylorsville/Arlington
Although Europeans first established trading posts within the valley in early 1851, not one home was erected. Instead, the settlers left for the winter and returned once it passed. One of the settlers, Jobe Taylor, claimed the land where Taylorsville is located today. It was there where he built the first house in the valley, transforming it into a hotel for travelers. Before receiving its permanent name, Taylorsville was referred to as “Taylor’s Place,” “Taylorville” (without the “s”) and “Indian Valley.”

In 1863 a vote was taken to decide the town name and 128 out of 133 voted on Taylorsville. According to Jim Young’s book, “Plumas County, History of the Feather River Region,” Taylorsville at the time held the record as the longest continuously occupied town in Plumas County.

Although Lassen was the first to establish a viable business in the valley, Taylor was the first to establish a community. Taylorsville was considered the “center of pioneer activity,” according to Young’s book.

In 1954, Lassen sold his land and moved out of the valley. Taylor stayed and continued to expand upon the valley, opening up the first blacksmith shop, butcher shop, barn and store within Taylorsville. Other Plumas County residents took advantage of the prosperous valley and began establishing businesses in Taylorsville as well.

According to Porter, Taylor gave his land to anyone who wanted to start a business in the area. By 1882 Taylorsville was the third largest town in Plumas County.

While the towns of Indian Valley were being formed, Arlington was also gaining ground as a community. The main wagon road crossed through the settlement and, despite being small in size, it was home to the county hospital, a zinc mine and Matt Knoll’s brewery.

Round Valley/Greenville
An extremely rich placer field was discovered at Round Valley in 1860, which caused miners from all over to swarm the area. It didn’t take long before Round Valley was home to nearly 400 miners, a hotel, four saloons, three stores, gambling dens, a livery stable, two sawmills, a Wells Fargo branch, a post office and a school.

By 1861 Round Valley was known as one of the “liveliest gold mining camps in the state,” according to the book “Mountain Maidu and Pioneers.” By 1863 Round Valley, also known as “Silica,” was producing 8,000 feet of lumber per day. From 1861 to 1864 three dams were constructed, each built to replace the other. The first two dams could not support the weight of the water passing through them and eventually collapsed. The third and final dam was built in 1864 and it is still standing today.

In 1862 the first house was built in Greenville by a miner named Alfred McCargar. He also built a four-stamp mill in order to work the ore from his mine more efficiently.

Although the town was only a short distance from present-day Greenville, the road to Round Valley proved to be disadvantageous for wagon travel. Round Valley residents and business owners instead decided to stake land near the base of the road, in what is now called Greenville.

As miners flocked into the surrounding areas, John Winthrop Green’s wife took advantage of the activity and started accommodating borders and serving hot meals to workers from inside her Greenville cabin. According to A.R. Bidwell, the cabin was known as “Green’s Hotel.” Because of the popularity of the “hotel,” the town was eventually named Greenville.

By 1864 the mines in Round Valley began to dry up and, with that, its residents started deserting the area. By 1870 Round Valley was a ghost town.

By 1877 Greenville was expanding quickly and within a year the population doubled. By 1882, Greenville was the second largest town in Plumas County with 500 residents. The next year it became the largest town in the valley, followed closely by Crescent Mills and Taylorsville.

Crescent Mills
J.W. Pulsifer built the first house in Crescent Mills in 1861-62. By 1866 mining claims throughout other areas of the valley were becoming fruitless. Several claims in Crescent Mills, however, were so successful that the town grew to be similar in size to Greenville.

In 1880, the Green Mountain Mine located in Crescent Mills was considered the largest in the county. By 1882, Crescent Mills was the fourth largest town in Plumas County.

As Indian Valley grew, railroads were built, school districts were established within every individual community and social events such as dances and baseball games became a highlight of local activities.

For a more detailed timeline of the historic events surrounding Indian Valley, visit the Cy Hall Memorial Museum during business hours. The museum will open for the season in the spring.


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