History of Colusa, California
From: Colusa County
Its History Traced From A State of Nature
Through The Early Period of Settlement
And Development To The Present Day
By: Justus H. Rogers
Orland, California, 1891


The county seat of Colusa County lies on the western bank of the Sacramento River, near the eastern edge of the county, and south of its middle line. Its population proper, not including Goad's Extension and Cooper's Addition, is placed by the national census, recently concluded, at one thousand three hundred and fifty. It being the oldest town and earliest place of settlement in the county, we have necessarily recorded much of its pioneer history in treating of the early annals of the county and hence to avoid repetition will be justified now in only tracing the merest outlines of its foundation.

In 1846 or '47 Dr. Robert Semple was returning from a visit to some old pioneers at the head of the Sacramento River, and stopped for a short breathing spell at the rancheria of the Colus Indians. He was struck with the beauty of the country and the fertility of the soil, and saw, or thought he saw, here the location of a future great city. On inquiry he learned that the land thereabout belonged to John Bidwell, having been located under a Mexican grant. He made a memorandum of this, and when his brother, Colonel Charles D. Semple, arrived in California, in 1849, he narrated to him how deeply he was impressed with the country and its advantages of position. Colonel Semple, satisfied with the description his brother had given him, lost no time in finding Bidwell and purchasing the grant from him. Early in 1850, Colonel Semple set out with a little steamboat to establish a town on his new possessions. He was directed by his brother to the Colus rancheria, which was hidden entirely from the river. Mistaking, however, a temporary encampment of the Indians for the place to which he had been directed, he landed his men and merchandise at a place seven miles above the Colus rancheria and afterward known as the Seven Mile House

At the period at which Colonel Semple set out on his journey to build a metropolis, his brother, Dr. Semple, was constructing a steamboat at Benicia, and on July 3, 1850, she got under way. She was called the Colusa, like the new town to which her initial voyage was bringing her, though the earliest name in English for the present town was "Salmon Bend." When the mistake in the location of the town was discovered, Colonel Semple took steps to remove all his belongings seven miles lower down the river. The wood choppers who had been in his employ were discharged. Taking with him E. Hicks, a carpenter, and purchasing a wagon and a yoke of oxen, with which to convey most of his goods, he soon was located on the spot originally designed. The other white man who completed this trio of metropolis builders was Will S. Green, then a youth of eighteen years and known everywhere throughout the State as the editor, the original thinker, of the Colusa Sun. Green remained behind about a month, engaged in keeping a rude hotel, where, in this lonely, isolated place, the adventurous miner and the hardy home seeker were only too glad to partake of his hard, yellow, saleratus saturated biscuit and rusty bacon at $1.00 a meal.

In the new town a few streets were at first surveyed and a house built on lot two, block six, now on Levee Street, between Fifth and Sixth. Semple and Green occupied this building as a store, and some pretensions were made to supply the wants of the hungry wayfarer, who might stray into this wilderness of plain. These generally increased in number, since all the goods carried to Shasta and the northern mines were packed on mules or hauled in wagons, and came by way of Colusa. The new city was built to catch this trade. A little steamer called the Martha Jane was purchased by Colonel Semple and made a few trips, but no one would ship by her. Then an iron hulled boat, the Benicia, Captain George V. Hight, undertook the trip, her first cargo being chiefly flour belonging to Louis Johnson, a merchant of Shasta, and R. J. Walsh, afterwards the largest farmer of his day in the county. The Martha Jane, however, failed to reach its destination, having struck a snag and sunk just above Knights Landing. Captain Bartlett, of the Orient, was then engaged. He came up, took the damaged goods off the Benicia and landed them at Colusa. The Orient afterwards continued in trade. In two months after the Orient had made her first landing at Colusa, Levee Street was pretty well built up from Fourth to Seventh. Among the merchants established there at this time were: Carpenter & Spalding, Chenery & Hazzletine, Hoop & L'Ameroux, Alderman Brothers, Proctor N. Smith, Patch Brothers and P. B. Woods; Van Wie & Ca, William Vincent and O. C. Berkey came among the first, and built the Colusa Hotel. J. H. Liening arrived also in 1851 and erected a restaurant, and William Riley set up a blacksmith shop.

The town of Colusa was incorporated in 1868. The first Board of Trustees consisted of S. Harris, E. Chapin, L. Cary, H. A. Van Dorsten and Gil Jones. S. Harris was president and Gil Jones secretary. Henry Culp was town marshal.

As we have already noted from year to year the early progress of Colusa, its improvements, the leading features in its life, the changes wrought by immigration or the introduction of railroads, its political history, as well as matters which to a nonresident of the county would appear of little moment, but which to the old settler or his descendents or to the sojourner of later years within its boundaries, have a significance and afford an interest which only the blending of a reminiscent past with attachment to home can confer, we feel that to touch never so lightly upon these topics again would be the useless labor of reiteration. Hence we shall now proceed to briefly place on record the more modern town.

Dr. Semple was not mistaken in selecting Colusa as a town with great advantages for shipping. From Colusa to San Francisco barges could carry from six to eight hundred tons of freight, while about three hundred tons were a good load except when the river was high. It was the point, also, of cheap freights, costing only $1.50 a ton to land wheat at the ships in the bay, which was a cheaper rate than that paid by many localities nearer San Francisco. But the introduction of railroads was needed, and they came. When the Northern Railroad was completed, it left Colusa about eight miles to the east, and it was then felt that the town must have immediate and direct connection with that road. For that purpose the Colusa Railroad Company, a narrow gauge road, was formed, and its capital stock subscribed to by purely local contributors. It was completed to Pott's farm, now known as Colusa Junction, where the name of the road was changed to Colusa and Lake, and shortly afterwards was pushed ahead twenty two miles further, to Sites, in Antelope Valley, its present western terminus. This road is a monument to the enterprise and business sagacity of her citizens, and has already worked marvels in aiding in the development of the agricultural and horticultural wealth of the county.

Of schools this town has especial reason to be proud. While the county is noted for being the most difficult one in which to secure a teacher's certificate, it at the same time pays a higher average per teacher in salaries. The result is that the best educational talent is employed. In keeping with these requirements are the school buildings themselves in the town of Colusa,

The Grammar School is a fine building, erected at a cost of $13,000. The High School, one of the ornaments of the city, was built at an outlay of $18,000, and shows in its construction, as well as in its course of mental training, that Colusa is at the front in educational matters. There is also a convent school building, which will soon be ready for occupancy. It is called the St. Aloysius School, and will serve as a parochial school of the Catholic Church, and will afford students an opportunity to receive the benefits of a complete and accomplished education. Lots were secured for this building by Rev. M. Wallrath in 1882, and its erection was begun in 1888. The building is a large and graceful structure, two and a half stories in height and cost $18,000. As a boarding school for young ladies, it must achieve prominence in educational work. In this connection it should be mentioned that there is a library and reading room under the direction of the W. C. T. U., in the town hall.

There are a number of religious congregations holding regular services in their own church buildings. They are the M. E. Church South, the Catholic Church, the Christian, the Presbyterian, and a fund is now being raised to secure the erection of an Episcopal Church building.

Colusa is well supplied with a good quality of gas, furnished by the Colusa Gas Company, a local enterprise incorporated March 5, 1886. The town was first illuminated with gas, March 31, 1886. The receiver holds ten thousand feet of gas, though the manufacturing capacity of the works is sufficient for a town of ten thousand inhabitants.

The public buildings consist of a court house, hall of records, and a jail. They are of substantial construction and architectural merit. They are among the finest public buildings in the State, and cost in the neighborhood of $100,000. The county hospital, under the management of Superintendent Ingrim, is also located here. The town hall, a two story brick building, has recently been completed, and would do credit to a much larger place.

Manufacturing has not yet assumed any great proportions here, nor could it be expected to, seeing that the community has hitherto devoted its capital and efforts to the development of grain fields and fruit orchards. Her enterprises in manufacturing have, been confined to local supply, which, in course of time, must lead to the creation of manufacturing establishments on a larger scale. Prominent among those already in operation are the works of the Colusa Canning, Drying and Packing Company, of which Judge Bridgeford is president, with Messrs. W. P. Harrington, J. B. De Jarnatt, J. H. Pope and F. W. Willis interested with him as directors. In the county, so far, only a comparatively small area has been devoted to fruit growing. The wavering of the price of wheat and the enormous profits derived from the production of fruits in less favored localities of the State, have worked a quiet revolution in the methods of land owners, and the ambitions of home seekers. The mania for large holdings, for princely estates of imperial extent growing only wheat or barley or depasturing large bands of "scrub" cattle, is a thing of the past in the county. Fruit growing and orchard planting on a "little farm well tilled" is found to be the surest and most comfortable way to competence or to small fortunes acquired in a few years in this pleasant industry. And so around Colusa the increase in the planting of vineyards and orchards has been most remarkable. On every hand one sees that fruit cultivation has been taken hold of in earnest. Though yet in its infancy, sufficient has been raised to warrant the operations of this Canning and Packing Company. Their grounds comprise about twelve acres, on which is erected the cannery building, together with a portion devoted to fruit drying. All of the appliances for doing all parts of the work are of the latest character. Fruit is brought in from all parts of the county and purchased by the company and then prepared for the market by either canning or drying.

Such an enterprise must have an important effect on the business of the town and also in stimulating the further cultivation of fruit.

The foundry and machine shop of Gessner & Skinner is quite an indispensable adjunct to an agricultural community. This firm manufactures plows, wagons, buggies, traction engines and agricultural implements. They also repair farm machinery. The marble works of A. A. Martin, noteworthy for the artistic work turned out, must not be omitted in the list of manufactures, as also the cigar factories of John R. Hoenes and Samuel Kirschner, whose domestic cigars have a reputation throughout the county as a reliable, standard article. The Colusa Flour Mill, conducted by a company, of which W. P. Harrington is president and J. C. Bedell manager, is noted for the excellent quality of flour manufactured. It has a capacity of one hundred and twenty five barrels per day.

The Colusa County Bank is the only financial institution of its character in the town, with a paid up capital of half a million dollars. It is one of the most prosperous and soundly conducted interior banks in the State, and has been foremost with its money in assisting every reasonable enterprise which tended to the advancement of town and county. It not only possesses the confidence, but likewise the esteem, of the farmers and business men of the county.

Of newspapers there are the Daily and Weekly Sun, the Herald, weekly, and the Gazette, daily. The Sun is one of the oldest newspapers under the continuous management of one person in the State. It has achieved a reputation for force and clearness in general editorial work that placed its editor, the veteran journalist, Will S. Green, at the head of his profession. In the discussion of local matters, there is a charming simplicity of style, a sort of homely fence rail, plow beam philosophy, coupled with a sincere zeal for the county's advancement, which has made it for twenty eight years the welcome visitor in nearly every household in the county. The first issue of the Sun appeared January I, 1862, and was published by Charles R. Street. He disposed of it in the summer of 1863 to T. J. Andus, who sold it in turn in September of that year to John C. Addington and W. S. Green. The latter commenced to run it alone on June 30, 1866. Mr. Addington went East, but July 3, 1869, he returned to Colusa and again purchased an interest. In 1873, Stephen Addington secured an interest, so that he and his brother owned one half of the paper together. It is now published by the Colusa Sun Publishing Company, with W. S. Green, editor and manager. It was first issued as a daily on November 1, 1889. The Gazette is a daily morning journal, under thedirection of E. I. Fuller, and made its first appearance August 23, 1889. The Herald, a weekly paper of large circulation, Republican in politics, and bright and vigorous in all discussions, was founded by Jacobs and King, July, 1886. Frank Radcliffe afterwards purchased King's interest in the paper. It is now, owned by C. D. Radcliffe.

In the way of secret orders, the fraternities of benevolence and co-operation, are well represented, there being a lodge of Masons, a commandery of Knights Templar and a Chapter with stated convocations. There are also flourishing lodges of Odd Fellows, order of the Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, Workmen, Knights of Honor, a parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and a parlor of Native Sons.

The business houses of Colusa are much admired for their substantial construction, as well as for the taste exhibited therein. They have an appearance of solidity much in keeping with the character and financial standing of the merchants who conduct them. They number as follows: General merchandise, dry goods, clothing and groceries, two; groceries, four; dry goods, one; druggists, two; books and stationery, two; clothing, one; harness, two; fruit stores, three; jewelry, two; restaurants, two; hotels, three; boots and shoes, two; millinery, three; livery stables, three; abstract offices, two; physicians, five; attorneys, eleven; dentists, two; builders and contractors, five; blacksmith shops, three; saloons, ten; hardware and agricultural implements, three; newspapers, three; flouring mill, one; planing mill, one; lumber yard, one; marble works, one; tin shops, two; nursery, one; tailor shops, two; furniture and undertaking, one; several Chinese stores and laundries.

The Colusa Guard is a State organization, of which the people of Colusa feel justly proud. It is composed of the bright young men of the town, who, by their thorough training and discipline, and their fine physique, give Company B high standing in the Eighth Infantry Battalion, to which the company belongs. The company was organized in June, 1887, with the following officers: Captain, B. H. Mitchell; First Lieutenant, F. C. Radcliffe; Second Lieutenant, J. W. Moore. The company was mustered in on the 10th of October, i887. The officers then elected were: Captain, B. H. Mitchell; First Lieutenant, Frank Wilkins; Second Lieutenant, G. W. Hamilton. In September, 1889, an annual election occurred with the following result: Captain, B. H. Mitchell; First Lieutenant, Frank Wilkins; Second Lieutenant, J. R. Shelton. In March, 1890, Captain Mitchell was promoted to rank of major of the battalion, thus necessitating another election, which resulted as follows: Captain, G. W. Hamilton; First Lieutenant, J. R. Shelton; Second Lieutenant, Ross McAmis. Owing to the refusal of Captain Hamilton to qualify, a special election was called, and the present set of officers elected. The personnel of the company is now as follows: Captain, J. R. Shelton; First Lieutenant, Ross McAmis; Second Lieutenant, W. K. De Jarnatt; First Sergeant, C. C. Johnson; Sergeants, L. I. Gilmour, C. D. Stanton, J. D. McNary, F. B. Roberts; Quartermaster Sergeant, J. W. Moore; Corporals, N. J. Johnson, U. W. Brown, W. J. Crane, Jas. Kenny, H. Ford, W. B. De Jarnatt, N. O'Donnell, G. V. Herbert; Privates, M. L. Arthur, E. C. Barrell, A. K. Ball, C. W. Redell, J. E. Bond, A. B. Bond, W. L. Bond, J. J. Brophy, C. D. Coleman, C. O. Cook, Tim Cronin, J. W. Davis, W. M. Durham, J. M. Deter, C. A. De Ligue, A. De Artney, J. Donohue, R. E. Danner, Jas. Fitzgerald, A. Fogalsang, W. Frank, T. A. Fitzgerald, M. J. Gessner, R. C. Gilmour, H. B. Gillaspy, A. W. Gray, Chas. Gust, J. G. Hanson, C. L. Herd, W. H. Jacobs, R. Joseph, J. D. Lopez, J. McKenna, J. C. Mogk, C. H. Manville, F. C. Newton, C. W. Nickerson, A. H. Pope, J. W. Potts, F. O. Pryor, C. D. Radcliffe, John Riley, M. L. Roberts, Ed. St. Maurice, Chas. St. Maurice, Tom Sullivan, O. P. Smith, W. T. Smith, S. B. Smith, J. R. Totman, Jr., W. F. Walker, W, W. Walker, F. Weyand, D. J. Westapher, Grant Wills, James Wills, W. I. Welch and Walter Weast.

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