"Becoming California, a series that brings the California Gold Rush alive with the people who lived it."

The Appearance of Stores Was a Sign of Permanence

by Don Baumgart

In the spring of 1849 a cattle corral built by a man named John Rose in Pleasant Valley, near today's popular Yuba River swimming hole of Bridgeport, became the first evidence of a settlement in the Nevada City area.

As sure as spring follows winter, the means to provide gold miners with the bare necessities of life were coming to this area. Rose built a trading post near his corral and a small adobe house for himself. His cattle, roaming the grassy plains as far as the Bear River, supplied the hungry miners with fresh meat.

A man from Oregon opened a store near the Bear River, at the mouth of Greenhorn Creek, in the summer of 1849. At about the same time A.B. Caldwell opened a store on Deer Creek, four miles from the present site of Nevada City.

About the same time, in the year of the Forty-niners, the first settlement appeared at what would become Grass Valley . Five immigrants who had crossed the plains built a cabin on Badger Hill. They and their offspring would be around for two decades. A second cabin made it official -- this was a settlement.

Miners had walked the creeks and panned the gravel for gold nuggets, living and sleeping outdoors, sometimes in the luxury of a tent. Now cabins were being built.

As winter approached, Captain A.A. Townsend, an Iowa man, became the head of something called the "Rough and Ready Company." After a brief dispute with the Randolph Company, located on Randolph Flat, the two divided a ravine between them. Two cabins were built. The future town of Rough & Ready was started.

David Boyer opened a trading post at Rough & Ready's White Oak Springs to trade with the large numbers of Native Americans living nearby who had learned that the yellow dust had value. As was typical the white men convinced the natives to trade for flour and other staples, weight for weight. A pound of beans cost a pound of dust.

The Boston Company came into being in Boston Ravine September of that year and its founders built a store. That same month the first recorded Christian burial in what would be Nevada County took place at Boston ravine with the Rev. H. Cummings, president of the Boston Company, officiating. "An immigrant who had toiled across the plains, only to die on the threshold of his destination, was buried on the south side of the ravine." Those words from the Nevada County Historical Society Bulletin record the event, but not the name of the hapless gold seeker.

It was a bustling fall season that saw Captain John Pennington, Thomas Cross, and William McCraig build a log cabin at the fork of Gold Run and Deer Creek, starting Nevada City.

In October of that year John Truesdale built a log cabin on what is now Nevada City's Broad Street, across from today's National Hotel.

Also that fall a corral was built by a Frenchman to hold mules, on a site now known as French Corral. As winter approached Samuel and George Holt, James Walsh, and Zenas Wheeler built the first sawmill in the area, four miles from Grass Valley.

More than a century and a half ago their first western winter fell on the Forty-niners who had heeded the magic call of gold that drew them to California. Lodgings were few but stores had appeared to provide the basic necessities that would see them through to spring. Civilization, of sorts, had come to the gold fields.

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Copyright Don Baumgart, 2005


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