Lake County History

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California Genealogy and History Archives


Lake County History

A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California
Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891



Before the coming upon the scene of the white man, Lake County was one of the most populous parts of California, the Indians swarming in great numbers about Clear Lake and in the neighboring valleys. The reason for this is not far to seek, as the county presents a genial climate and has an abundance of every material necessary for their rude life. Along the shallow borders of the lakes were great marshes of the tule, so prized by them on account of its succulent root. In and upon the waters were fish and fowl in plenty, while berries, nuts and acorns were in great supply in the adjacent thickets and groves. Naturally, the county abounded also in game of all sorts, and hence we are prepared to learn that the first visits of white men to the section were paid by hunters in pursuit of their occupation. The first authentic account is of a party of hunters, names now unknown, who spent a winter in the valley near Lower Lake. They were on their way from Oregon, and took this route instead of that usually traveled down the Sacramento, intending to visit the Russians at Fort Ross and there dispose of their furs. They built a cabin in the valley, and hence to these forgotten men must be credited the first habitation in the borders of what is now Lake County. This was in the very early days, a score or more of years before American occupation. It is probable also that trappers and hunters in the employment of the Russians and the Hudson Bay Company penetrated to this country, although no record of this has come down. The occasional appearance in the early days of an Indian whose skin was much fairer than that of his fellows, would seem to corroborate this fact, as these individuals were more than likely Russian or other half-breeds.

        In 1836, however, comes the first recorded event in the history of what afterward became Lake County. In that year Captain Salvador Vallejo and Ramon Carillo were sent at the head of a company of Mexican soldiers from the mission at Sonoma to make an expedition into the Clear Lake country. Just what was accomplished by this expedition does not appear, except that a few years later, the Vallejos drove in cattle and took informal possession of the valley as a stock ranch, conducted for them by major-domos, or overseers. Later on a claim was made by Salvador and Antonio Vallejo, for a grant of sixteen leagues of land, but for want of adequate proof, this was thrown out by the United States courts. The cattle multiplied fast, becoming wild as deer, and soon filled the valley to overflowing. In 1847, the Vallejos drove out all they could of the cattle, and sold the balance to four parties by name Stone, Shirland and Andrew and Benjamin Kelsey. Of these Stone and Andrew Kelsey came in and took possession, the others not coming in to reside at all, and seemingly never having much to do with the undertaking. They, or rather the Indians for them, erected an adobe house of considerable dimensions, being forty feet long and fifteen feet wide, on the banks of what is now known as Kelsey Creek, immediately opposite the present town of Kelseyville. They treated the Indians very badly, compelling them to work continuously, never paying them anything for their labor, and often supplying them but scantily with food. Parties of them, too, were more than once sent out to other points as laborers, and after the discovery of gold, to dig gold for the whites, most of them perishing on these trips. As a result the Indians became restive and occasionally even threatening. Once they surrounded the adobe and but for the timely arrival of help from Sonoma, would probably have killed the two white men. This was in the spring of 1848. Stone and Kelsey paid no heed to these warnings, but if anything treated the Indians the worse, as a consequence. Finally, in the fall of 1849, the catastrophe occurred. The Indians beset the adobe again and put both the whites to death, burying them near by. As nothing was done to avenge the matter until the following spring, the Indians, fancying they had disposed of their oppressors forever, returned to their old haunts and habits. In the spring of 1850, however, Lieutenant Lyons, who later fell as General Lyons at the head of the Union forces at Wilson's Creek, Missouri, during the Civil war, was sent up with a detachment of soldiers. When they reached the lower end of the lake, they found that the Indians had betaken themselves to an island in the upper part and they could not get at them. Consequently they sent back to San Francisco for two boats and two small brass cannon, which were sent up by wagon. It may be remarked here that these were the first wagons as well as the first built boats ever seen in Lake County. While a part of the soldiers, and volunteers who had flocked in to assist, went across the lake in the boats, the balance went round by land, this latter contingent being under command of Lieutenant (afterward General) George Stoneman. The result was catastrophe, short, sharp and sudden for the defenseless Indians, but a small number escaping from the rifles and small arms of the whites. Later on in the year, B. F. Teschemaker and others came up to Clear Lake, held a grand pow-wow and made a treaty with the frightened Indians which they kept religiously ever after.

        During these years, beginning in 1846, Jacob P. Leese of San Francisco, had also cattle in Coyote and Loconoma valleys in the southern part of the county, but the genuine settlement of the county can hardly be said to have begun till 1848, when Walter Anderson and his wife, the first white woman in the county, by the way, settled in the lower part for a short time. In 1851, he went on to Mendocino County, an important valley in that county being named after him. In the same year, 1848, William Scott settled in the valley that bears his name.

        In 1853, C. N. Copsey and L. W. Purkerson built a house, the first in the county, near the head of Cache Creek, now the town of Lower Lake. The same year Jefferson Worden settled on Scott Creek, in what is now called Scott's Valley. In 1854 immigrants arrived in Big Valley and settled along the lake shore. In

this party were Martin Hammack and family, Brice Hammack and wife, Woods Crawford and others. People then began to come in more thickly, but until about 1854 no real farming was done, cattle and stock-raising being the only employment. From 1854 on, however, the country was quickly settled up, presenting by 1860 much the same appearance it does to-day, so far as the farming community is concerned.

        The Mexican land grant in Lake County was that of Collayomi, of 8,242 acres, patented to Ritchie and Forbes in 1863.

        Lake County was set off from Napa County, of which it had till then formed a part, May 2, 1861, the first election for county officers being held in June of that year. Lakeport was chosen as the county-seat, and a two-story wooden court-house erected. This burned down February 15, 1867, with the loss of almost all the county records, probably the work of an incendiary. Then began a great fight for county-seat between Lower Lake and Lakeport, the question of its removal from Lakeport having already been voted upon several times previously. After the fire the county-seat was fixed virtually at Lower Lake until 1870, when the contest definitely ended by a popular vote in favor of Lakeport, where it has since remained. As soon as the question was finally settled the erection of the present brick court­house and jail at a cost of about $20,000 was begun, and in the same year carried to completion.

        But probably the most disturbing matter that has ever arisen in Lake County has been that of controlling and altering the level of the waters of Clear Lake. In 1865–'66 a company called the Clear Lake Water Company, a wealthy San Francisco corporation that had probably in view the carrying of the waters to that city, secured the passage of a legislative act which authorized them to build a dam across Cache Creek (the outlet), put up mills, etc. They built the dam and mills, and as a result the lake was raised several feet above the highest point ever known before. Sickness prevailed as a consequence and great indignation followed. Finally in November, 1868, an armed mob assembled, and after securing everyone who was considered friendly to the company, set fire to the flour, planing and saw mills, and destroyed the dam. A heavy suit for damages was the result, but this was finally compromised in 1871. The company, now the Spring Valley Water Company of San Francisco, still owns large tracts of land in the county, upon which it has large vineyards and a complete winery.

        Lakeport was founded in 1858, the first house being built on the site in the year preceding, it being a store for the business of Mr. A. Levy. It is now a prosperous and beautiful town, a good business point, and possessing several large and handsome hotels, which are well patronized by visitors during the summer season. It has a steam flour-mill, sash and door factories, and the various industries that usually spring up in towns of its. size. It possesses also an academy of high merit, excellent schools and churches of the leading denominations, two banks with ample capital, finding a good business.

        Lower Lake was founded at about the same time, and is following well in the wake of its larger sister on the pathway of progress. Its first house was built by E. Mitchell, in 1858. In the country surrounding Lower Lake are several large vineyards and fine fruit farms, and it seems probable that fruit-raising and wine-making will be the ultimate resource of this part of the county, if not of the whole.

        Middletown, in the lower end of the county, is a town of much newer growth, being settled first in 1868, and making comparatively slow, yet a steady progress since. It is an important staging and business town, and possesses a flouring mill and brewery.

        Upper Lake began its history in 1865, when a store was opened and several families moved to it. A blacksmith shop had been built here as early, however, as 1856. It is a quiet little place, with a good dairy and fanning country about it.

        Kelseyville, the home of Stone & Kelsey in early days, is the oldest town in the county. It possessed a store and blacksmith shop in 1857, and is to-day a place of considerable importance, having an academy and several manufacturing establishments.

        Two newspapers are published in Lakeport, the Democrat and Avalanche, established in 1872 and 1886 respectively. In Lower Lake are the Bulletin and Clear Lake Press, the date of their first numbers being 1877 and 1886.

        In Middletown is the Independent, founded in 1888, while in Kelseyville is the New Era, established in 1889. All of these are weeklies, of merit and push.

        Considerable mining is being done in Lake County, chiefly for quicksilver. The principal mines are the Great Western and Sulphur Banks, both of which are being profitably worked and are employing many men. Several other properties are being worked spasmodically also. Borax has also been extensively exported from the county, the product chiefly of Borax Lake, near Lower Lake. Petroleum and natural gas occur generously near Kelseyville, but have never been utilized.

        Lake County is best known probably for its mineral springs, which are of all sorts, hot and cold. The more famous of them are Bartlett, Highland, Harbin, Anderson, Siegler, Adams, Howard, Soda Bay, Saratoga, Allen, Witter, Glenbrook and Blue Lakes, at all of which are found hotels and improvements of extensive character. They are much visited by the sick, and are favorite summer resorts for the wealthy and fashionable.

        A deal of attention is also being paid to the raising of fine horses. Near Middletown is the home of the Guenoc Stud, owned by Freddy Gebhardt and Mrs. Langtry. Above Lakeport is Captain Collier's band of thoroughbred Percherons, and below him the Rodman Brothers' fine trotting stock.

        Lake County is often called the Switzerland of California, and it seems likely that before very long the shores of its beautiful lake will be studded with the villas of the rich, as is already the case to some extent. Its greatest drawback is its isolation. It has no railroad, although three or four lines are pointing towards its mountains. The staging service is good, however, and upon the lake are several fine steamers, making local communication easy and pleasant.

        Lake County has been represented in the State Assembly by R. V. S. Quigley in 1875-'76; A. P. McCarty in 1880; H. J. Crumpton in 1881–'83; E. W. Britt in 1885; L. H. Grüwell, 1887–'89, and others mentioned under the head of Napa County.



        Lake County lies between the two branches of the Coast Range, the western known as Mayacamas, and the eastern as Bear Mountain. Standing in these mountains are a number of peaks having an elevation ranging from two thousand to nearly four thousand feet. The center of the valley so formed is occupied by Clear Lake, a deep body of pure water, twenty-five miles long with an average width of seven miles. It is divided into two parts, Upper and Lower Lake, the two being connected by a strait known as The Narrows. Six miles from the Upper Lake is a group of deep ponds called the Blue Lakes, and which, taken collectively, have a length of three miles by a breadth of half a mile. The only considerable stream in this county is Cache Creek, the outlet of Clear Lake, and which, flowing southeasterly, empties into the Sacramento. While more than half of the county is covered with rugged mountains and water, the balance, consisting of foothill and valley lands, is exceedingly fertile. The mountains here are well timbered with pine and spruce, there being also oak, madrona and willow along the foothills and water-courses.

        The county contains a great variety of metals and minerals; gold, silver, copper, borax, sulphur, asbestos, and cinnabar counting among her mineral resources.

        The Sulphur Banks quicksilver mine is located on the border of Clear Lake, ten miles north from the town of Lower Lake. It has been worked for a good many years, the former production having been much larger than at present. The ore now being extracted comes from what seems to be an eruptive dike breaking through a sandstone formation. The crevices of this dike are filled with a clayey matter, some of which carries a considerable percentage of cinnabar. In breaking out the ore here much barren rock has to be removed.

        Owing to the presence of sulphurous fumes, ore extraction is not carried to any great depth. The work of exploitation consists of open cuts and short tunnels. About two hundred pounds of Hercules powder, No. 2, are consumed monthly. The ore is carted to the reduction works, which consists of ten sublimating furnaces, six of the Knox & Osborn style, and four of the Hutton & Scott. At present only two furnaces are being operated. A total of eighty-six men is employed here—twelve in the reduction works, the remainder in the mine and on the outside. Wages paid range from $1.15 per day and $70 per month. Five cords of wood are consumed daily. Fuel and lumber, the latter at the rate of $20 per thousand feet, are obtained from the vicinity of Lower Lake.

        The Bradford mine, located in 1882, is situated four and one-half miles south from the village of Middletown, on the stage road leading from that place to Calistoga. The vein here, which has a north and south trend, and inclines to the east at an angle of forty-five degrees, lies between sandstones on the hanging, and serpentine on the foot-wall. The mine has been opened by a shaft sunk to a depth of two hundred and fifty feet, and which, at a depth of sixty feet, leaves the vein and passes into foot-wall. This shaft, which is timbered throughout, is fitted with a single reel six by eight-inch spur-geared reversing engine. A No. 4 Dow steam pump, run four hours per day, suffices to handle the water. At present work is confined to the one hundred and sixty-foot level, above which the vein is being stoped, no definite limit having yet been found to the ore shoot. The ore being extracted consists of sulphuret of mercury, mixed with jasper and country rock.

The coarse ore is treated in a Knox & Osborn furnace, of twenty tons daily capacity, the fine in a thirty-ton Livermore furnace. Iron condensers are used, the draft being aided by an exhaust fan. The reduction works are connected with the shaft by a tramway eight hundred feet long. A total of thirty-five men are employed here; white men are paid $2.50 per day, and Chinese $1.25. Two cords of wood are consumed daily.

        The Great Western mine, which has been worked since 1856, is located four miles south of Middletown. The claim covers six thousand linear feet on the vein, which strikes east and west, and dips to the south at an angle of sixty-five degrees. The hanging-wall is clay-slate, quite soft near the vein; the foot-wall is serpentine. In the first instance the mine was opened by and worked through a tunnel two thousand two hundred feet long, intersecting the vein at a depth of two hundred and nineteen feet. Work is now carried on through a shaft three hundred and fifty feet deep. Both shaft and tunnel are thoroughly timbered.

        For ore hoisting a ten by eighteen-inch double spur-geared reversible hoist is used. For handling the water a No. 6 Dean steam pump, with two one and one half-inch columns, is employed.

        The ore is cinnabar, the fine being worked in a twelve-ton Knox & Osborn furnace; the coarse in a thirty-ton Green furnace. For creating draft in the condensers, blowers driven by a six by eight-inch horizontal engine are employed. Water is brought on the premises through two miles of flume and three-fourths of a mile of piping. Six cords of wood are consumed daily —three for steam purposes and three in the furnaces. About two hundred pounds of Safety Nitro powder are used every ninety days. The company employs thirty men in the mine, and fifteen in the reduction works, the white men receiving $3 per day and the Chinese $1.15.

        Gold and silver-bearing ores of low grade have been found at several localities in the county; deposits of copper, borax, sulphur, and chromic iron being also met with. In Paradise Valley, about five miles from the Sulphur Banks, a shaft has been sunk to a depth of sixty feet on a ledge of quartzite. The ore, which is much copper-stained, carries considerable pyrites, and assays from $3 to $9 in gold per ton, with a small percentage of silver. Gold-bearing quartz has been observed in the vicinity of Mount St. Helena, also near the Bradford quicksilver mine, and at a point between Anderson Springs and the Geysers. The croppings of these quartz veins contain a small amount of silver.

        One mile east of Bradford much copper float is to be seen, and near Harbin Springs a shaft has been sunk to a depth of sixty feet in a cupriferous vein, but the ore is of too low a grade to warrant further sinking.

        Situated about a half mile east of the lower end of Clear Lake is a pond, the water of which is highly charged with the biborate of soda. During the dry season this water mostly disappears, through evaporation, and the borax crystallizing out is found in the mud on the margin of the pond. Twenty-five years ago large quantities of this salt were manufactured here, the first made in the United States said to have been produced at this place. There has, however, no work been done here for a long time, the business having been given up on the discovery of more extensive and productive salines in the southern part of the State and Nevada.

        In Jerusalem Valley, eight miles east of Middletown, occur several large veins carrying chromic iron. Owing to the cost of transportation to market, nothing except a little prospecting work has been done on these deposits. The presence of this mineral has been observed, also, in the serpentine near the Bradford mine.

        Some twenty years ago a good, merchantable article of sulphur was produced in considerable quantities from deposits of this mineral, several of which occur on and near the eastern shore of Clear Lake, and at some of which solfataric action is still going on. Works for the distillation of the crude material were put up at one of these deposits, and run for several years, but, the cheapness of the imported commodity rendering operations here unprofitable, they were finally suspended, and have not since been resumed.

        The water obtained by artesian boring, on the outskirts of Kelseyville, proves so highly charged with natural gas that the latter burns readily. The well put down here is one hundred and fifty seven feet deep, and being lined to within a few feet of the bottom, this gas evidently comes from a lower stratum. Five other wells sunk in this vicinity to a depth of sixteen feet each, though they yield no water, emit gas, which under a slight pressure burns freely, with a colorless flame, giving off the odor of sulphuretted hydrogen. These wells are in an adobe soil, about two hundred feet above the level of Clear Lake. This gas is to be collected and utilized in a fruit drier. A well put down near Upper Lake also gives off natural gas. 


Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.