Long history of Humbug Valley comes full circle with return to Maidu

Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer

Long ago the Mountain Maidu settled among the forested lands of the Humbug Valley — known to them as Tasmam Koyom — living as one with nature and honoring the traditions of their ancestors.

In 1849, however, the first white settler appeared in the valley. Shortly after, the Plumas County gold rush paved the way for more settlers, and by 1855 a stock range and dairy were built. According to a historic marker database, at least 200 miners established mining claims in the area by 1859. Most of the valley, however, was claimed by a rancher named Henry Landt.

Over time, Landt began to sell off acreage of Humbug land to fellow ranchers and businessmen, and by the early 1900s gold mines, sawmills, hotels and ranches were scattered throughout Humbug Valley. All the while the Maidu continued to reside on their sacred, cherished land.

The General Allotment Act was formed in 1887 and gave Native Americans the right to receive allotments of no more than 160 acres each of private property. An “Indian agent” was established to oversee the land for each Native American as a way to protect the landowner from being coerced into selling the land. He, however, had the authority to sell the allotments to power and lumber companies, which was what happened with Humbug Valley, according to a dissertation written by Beth Rose Middleton at the University of California Berkley.

In 1901 a group of three investors announced plans to develop hydroelectric facilities in several Northern California areas, one of which was Humbug Valley. They formed the Great Western Power Co. in 1902, immediately purchasing water rights from the Oro Electric Corp. in the valley. According to an issue of Electrical Review and Western Electrician from 1916, the company had plans to develop a series of power plants in Humbug Valley.

Under the Act of March 3, 1901, the secretary of interior was given authority to grant companies such as the Great Western Power Co. the “right of way” in cases where allotted land was needed to develop telephone lines and offices. The power company took full use of the act and, in 1902, acquired the title to the Maidu land by filing condemnation proceedings in Plumas County Superior Court. By fall 1903 the work commenced and the Maidu’s sacred land was soon cleared to make room for tunnels.

This work caused displacements of the indigenous Mountain Maidu and, in many cases, a reduction in the natural resources they thrived on.

When Pacific Gas and Electric acquired the power company in 1930, it also acquired Humbug Valley. PG&E external communications representative Paul Moreno said at the time of the acquisition, “The land was developed so that a reservoir could be built on the land,” however, rather than do so, PG&E decided to lease the valley to ranchers for summer livestock grazing. The grazing continued until 2000, a year after deciding to sell 140,000 acres of land that was designated for hydroelectric facilities.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and rather than sell the land, it agreed to distribute it to private and public entities for conservation and public use development. The Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council was established in 2004 as the nonprofit in charge of overseeing proper distribution and development.

In 2003, prior to the Stewardship Council’s official debut, members of the Maidu Summit Consortium approached the council to discuss awarding the summit fee-title over Humbug Valley. They made their initial proposal in 2007 and by November 2013 were finally recommended for the title over their homeland.

Kenneth Holbrook, executive director for the summit, said the next steps will involve formulating a long-term management plan and hiring an experienced project manager.

Before being granted legal rights to the property, the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have to approve the summit’s long-term management plan and negotiated conservation easement.

Once they have restored the land, the Maidu envision it being used as a place to educate tribes about Maidu culture so they can keep the history alive for younger generations.

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