Giography of Colusa County.
COLUSA COUNTY is situated in the central western part of the wonderful Sacramento Valley. To be not only an
integral but unequaled portion of this granary of California is among her distinctions of pride and her guerdon
of prosperity. It is bounded on the north by Tehama County, on the south by Yolo County, on the east by Sutter
and Butte Counties, and on the west by Mendocino and Lake Counties. There is a stretch of sixty miles from its
northern to its southern limits, and that, to use a homely expression, it is about as "broad as it is long,"
is evidenced by its width, which, at its greatest extremity, is nearly fifty miles across. It contains, in round
numbers, two thousand eight hundred square miles of territory, one thousand five hundred of which are situated
in the Sacramento Valley proper, and in point of possession of number of acres of land, it ranks twentieth among
the counties of the State. The Sacramento River, on its east, after running north nearly twenty miles, with a right
angled detour to the west of some twenty four miles, again resumes its eastern boundary and flows north To the
west are the Coast Range Mountains, running nearly due north and south, with summits of snow occasionally interspersed
among tall elevations or level ridges of perennial verdure rising between it and the Pacific Ocean. In this broad,
bounteous basin, whose eastern limits are traced by an "exultant and abounding river" on the one side,
and with its western verge buttressed by mountain chains on the other, reposes the banner wheat county of the State,
and one also which, in a few years, will scarcely be second to any in horticultural productions. This remark is
not designed as even the faintest suggestion of prediction, since further on in this work statistical data will
be furnished sufficient to justify the statement.
A glance at the map of Colusa County shows clearly that its water supply, in the form of living springs or creeks,
is most abundant. Apart from the consideration as to how some of these may be utilized for irrigation purposes,
they have done much and will do much more in aiding in the settlement of the territory through which they flow.
In journeying through the western part of the county, no one is exposed to any inconvenience from want of water,
as these streams, clear and sparkling, and refreshing to both sight and taste, are met with everywhere at very
short intervals. Receiving their nourishing supply chiefly at the base or higher foot hills of the Coast Range,
they seek the plain, making their waters a blessing as they flow, reeling off miles and miles of their ribboned
freshness, causing the farmhouses scattered over foot hill and plain to look restful and inviting in their surroundings
of trees of ash, sycamore, walnut, or oak, of fruit trees, vines, and shrubs, or broad pastures of alfalfa. Wherever
these streams meander, their banks, which are frequently from an eighth to a quarter of a mile wide, and from ten
to fifteen feet deep, are covered with a generous growth of light forest trees, around which it is no uncommon
sight to observe the clematis or convolvulus climbing, the latter so attractive, with its large flowers, white
and handsome. In these streams various kinds of fish are to be found, among which the trout, carp, pike and catfish
lure the angler to cast his line in their deep pools or shady shallows.
"The most prominent of these living streams are the Stony, Bear, Elk and Grindstone Creeks. Stony Creek heads
in Snow Mountain and drains a large area of the eastern slope of the Coast Range; it then flows northeasterly to
the northern boundary of the county, finally emptying itself into the Sacramento River seven miles below the county's
northern limit. In the summer season in some years it fails to reach the river, being filtered through the extensive
gravel deposits of which its bed is formed. Bear Creek, which flows through the fertile Bear Valley for a distance
of ten miles, has its source also in the mountain range to the westward and empties into Cache Creek. Elk Creek,
with a similar source in the range north of Mt. St. John's, courses through some very romantic scenery in its windings
east and north before it finds its outlet in Stony Creek. In some places it has worn smooth passages through great
ledges of high rock resembling more the operations of the engineer than the incessant force of a turbulent stream.
Grindstone Creek is another of these streams. It rises near the north western corner of the county, and, stealing
southeast, is merged into Stony Creek. It derives its name from the fact that the rock through which it flows is
manufactured into grind stones. Besides these creeks just mentioned, there are several others of minor note, such
as Walker, Willows, Cortina, Fresh Water and Sulphur Creeks, but which play no very important part in enriching
the limited country through which they pass.
Allusion has already been made to the "trough," it being a stretch of land depressions which form reservoirs
for the reception of the flood water. Into this "trough," which lies between the west bank of the Sacramento
River and the higher plain, the land gradually elevating itself as it recedes from the trough, the river overflows,
and in the winter season is mingled with the water from the foot hills. It is a natural catch basin, is about two
miles in width and twenty two in length, and is remarkably fertile in some places. Large sums have been spent in
endeavoring to reclaim the land from the annual overflow.
Fully one half of Colusa County lies in the Sacramento Valley, but in the foot hills and low mountain gaps and
canons are valleys of extensive area, though differing more or less in acreage. Located at a higher altitude than
the plains to the east of them, they are as attractive for their temperature as they are remarkable 'for their
productiveness. In point of natural beauty, they are as gladdening to the eye as the homes which are scattered
over them are hospitable. Whether one surveys them in the winter season, when mantled with living green, or in
the mid year months, when "summer reddens and when autumn beams," when the fields are russet, and wheat,
barley, and oats are waving and bending in golden billows of assured plenty, when the air is musical with steam
thresher and harvester, they possess a charm to lure one to make his home among them, and of which even the recollection
of having once witnessed is most pleasurable to muse over.
The largest of these valleys is Stony Creek, being about forty miles in extent, and stretching from the Black Buttes,
ten miles west of Orland, to the forks of Stony and Little Stony Creeks.
Indian Valley, so named from the multitude of Indians who inhabited it in an early day, is in the western central
part, among the beautiful foot hills.
Antelope Valley lies in the rolling foot hills, due west of Colusa, Williams and Maxwell; Bear Valley, in the southwestern
part of the county; Fresh Water Valley is a continuation of Antelope Valley; and Little Stony Creek Valley, an
extension of Indian and Stony Creek Valleys. As these valleys are merely mentioned here to aid in exhibiting some
of the physical divisions of the county, they will be treated separately in another chapter in this book.
The mountain ranges consist of the Coast Range on the west, which extends from the Golden Gate to beyond the
northern limits of the State, and runs almost due north and south. In the western central portion of Colusa County
is the low range of hills almost parallel with the mountains, and which undulate at their base with uneven stretches
of rich arable and pasture lands. At intervals these hills are completely separated from their connection with
the mountains by the devious course and wide indentations made by Stony and Bear Creeks. These hills, varying in
altitude, sometimes reach the height of one thousand five hundred feet. Of the Coast Range the highest mountains,
which loom up above the foot hills and plains, are the Snow, Sheetiron, South, and St. Johns. The three first named
have an average altitude of six thousand eight hundred feet, while the more pretentious St. Johns looms up but
four thousand five hundred feet. These summits can be observed in distinctness of outline, no matter from what
part of the county the eye may seek them out. Only Snow Mountain is dowered with a mantle of eternal white towards
its summit, standing out in spotless relief among its brown clad sister peaks, crowned with in "convexity
of silent snows," an ever present suggestion of the sublime. This range, as it looms northward, rises higher
and higher, till the strained eye at last rests in awe or wondrous delight upon that fabric of enchantment piled
to heaven - Mt. Shasta. To adequately portray the grandeur of Mt. Shasta, or even vaguely reflect the emotions
when gazing upon it, has been the ambitious but despairing task of poet and artist. Words will ever fail to afford
even a meager conception of Mt. Shasta to him who has never gazed upon this lone majesty of mountains, which, high
above its host of subject foot hills flanking it around in humble vassalage, rises above them fourteen thousand
four hundred feet. The canvas of the painter, also, has confessed itself powerless to limn out its stately magnificence
and ever changing surprises of contour and chromatic splendor. One feels himself spell bound in admiring its unstable
vistas and symmetry of stupendous outline. Both the poetic and devotional spirit seems quickened within him on
beholding it, as if he would fain address it thus:-
"Thou dost make the soul
A wondering witness of thy majesty;
But as it presses with delirious joy
To pierce thy vestibule, thou dost chain its step,
And tame its rapture, with the humbling view
Of its own nothingness, bidding it stand
In the dread presence of the Invisible,
As if to answer to its God, through thee."
But not in this spirit alone may the Colusan gaze upon its high zone. Mt. Shasta is to him more than an object
of reverent wonder or theme of, rhapsody. He can salute it, without inspiration, for its material gifts. It is
to him an indulgent benefactor and friend, since from its side the Sacramento River, which waters his fields or
bears the product thereof out to the world's highways, takes its rise. Though distant from Colusa, the county seat,
some one hundred and sixty miles, and lying therefrom in a nearly northern direction, it can be observed on any
clear day from almost any part of the county.
Of soils there is a variety, and it can be truthfully affirmed of them that there is only an insignificant percentage
which is not productive of some crop or other. In tilling the soil, every year brings fresh surprises to the agriculturist,
and these are usually agreeable ones. It is true that in certain soils, where his efforts have been necessarily
tentative or experimental, owing to his ignorance of its capabilities or adaptability, he has met, in a few instances,
with failure; but, undiscouraged, he has tried the sowing of other seed in the same soil, and was afterwards so
pleasurably and profitably rewarded by the experiment as to, elicit the joyful expression, "It is wonderful
what this soil will produce !" or, "It is good for something, and will yield big after we have ascertained
what the something is to which it is adapted."
Anyone at all conversant with the progress of agricultural development in Northern and Central California, is aware
how slow and discouraging was the process in its early stages. Every step toward success has been made in the teeth
of the most hostile criticism and doleful prophecy from the knowing ones. Every improvement made in cultivation,
every salutary lesson in seed or soil adaptiveness, has been acquired by careful study, at much expense, along
new lines of agricultural and horticultural thought, and almost in defiance of all previous theory and practice.
In fact, they are discoveries.
Absorbed in the breathless pursuit of gold, the early miner or adventurer became impressed with the worst features
which his untrained observations could furnish him concerning both the condition and possibilities of California
soil. He looked across the great plains of the San Joaquin or the Sacramento, saw them, perhaps, under a hot sun,
when the luscious wild grasses, wild oats, or wild clover had lost their inviting verdure and succulence as well,
and from his heart disdainfully pitied the few pioneer ranchmen settled thereon, who had the hardihood to try to
make a home there. California to him was productive of nothing but gold, and when that was exhausted, then would
come the retreat and stampede back to the East, where "they know how to farm." It required some years
to convince this class, among whom were multitudes of farmers, that barley and wheat could be profitably raised
on this "baked soil" or that "winter mire." Now that the marvelous harvests of a few years
had caused him to gingerly concede this much, he again sought refuge for his Cassandra like prophecies in his self
opinionativeness, by sapiently proclaiming that the soil yielding its fifty or sixty bushels of wheat or barley
was good for nothing else, and would soon exhaust itself. It could not raise fruit, he morosely, contended - no
kind of fruit like that which sometimes hung in mellowness and plenty on the strained, aching, autumnal branches
of the old farms "back in God's country." The wiseacre and croaker, representatives of a large class,
all of whom are not under ground yet in Colusa County, wanted "another sign," and it was shown them,
very much to their discomfiture. When, after a few years of intelligent industry, of persistent efforts to make
the acquaintance of the soil on the part of the perplexed farmer, his despised lands had brought to maturity such
wonderful plums, pears, apricots, and peaches as neither the croaker nor his grandsire had ever deemed possible,
the baffled vaticinations of this dismal oracle of sullen stupidity should have made his tongue vouch for his vision.
But they didn't. Then, when golden oranges, tender prunes, sweet figs, and varieties of grapes unequaled in the
valley of the Guadalquiver or in the sun lands of fair Provence, were found to grow as if indigenous, in astonishing
rapidity and generous plenty, there was left nothing for the croaker to do, it would reasonably seem, but to admit
his errors and acknowledge with a good grace that he was now only too glad to mingle his congratulations with those
whose skill and patience and stubborn faith in works had made these marvels possible - and it is needless to add
that the croaker then and there made his submission. The effects of his conversion were truly astonishing. He who
had formerly and for years dispensed his dismal discouragements to his farmer neighbors; who had squatted in a
shallow furrow, and would neither cultivate it nor permit anyone else to try it, is changed in heart and in faith.
So strong a sway does the zeal of his new conversion exercise over him that his sneer and arrogant pity over experimental
farming have given way to a credulity almost boundless enough to be infantile. He will now champion the soil of
Colusa County as capable of producing anything that was "ever raised out of doors." In fact, we opine,
it would not be difficult to convince him that chicken feed could be grafted on any barn yard chanticleer and produce
a sufficient supply of provender to render every chicken self sustaining, provided the experiment were made in
On the plain lands of this county, or those extending from near the river to the foot hills, is found a diversity
of soil, such as adobe, clay loam, gravelly loam, red clay loam, and alluvial gravelly soil, the latter being notable
for the success with which it is planted to fruits and vines, and particularly in the cultivation of the raisin
grape. In the foot hills is chiefly an adobe earth of great fertility, covered with a natural growth of wild oats
and clover, as were all the valleys in early times before they yielded to the plow of the settler. In the northern
central part are the Black Buttes, elevations of semi mountainous prominence, broken into ridges or furrowed by
the waters of Stony Creek, which rise to a height of six hundred feet, and are covered with a rich soil almost
to their top. The red gravelly land, which was in former years looked upon with discredit by many, is found in
various parts of the county, and has proved to belie its appearance and previous record in other countries, since
it has now convinced everyone that it is equally remarkable in the raising of cereals or of fruits.