Name History: Oustomah, Deer Creek Dry Diggings & Nevada City

Isaac J. Wistar – 1827 – 1905 Lawyer, miner, farmer, animal trapper, mountaineer, Indian fighter, soldier, and author. He served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Before the Gold Rush:
The Nisenan people called the Nevada City area Oustomah. At one time, it was home to approximately 2,000 Indians. It was part of a network of villages along Deer Creek.

August 1849:
According to, California Place Name, Deer Creek was named by Isaac Wistar and Mr. Hunt after leaving a freshly-killed deer. Hostile Indians scared them away.

“Next day we reached camp before dark, and described to eager listeners our creek – then and there christened Deer Creek – with the promising appearance of its vicinity.”
– Isaac Wistar

Hunt returned later, striking a rich gold deposit that he named Deer Creek Dry Diggings.

October 1849:
“Dr. A. B. Caldwell built a log store on Nevada Street, back of Main Street ravine … the place was known as ‘Caldwell’s Upper Store.’”

March 1850:

A. A. Sargent 1827-1887 Journalist, lawyer, politician, and diplomat. A proponent of Chinese Exclusion Act and introduced wording that became the 19th Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote.

“At noon the judges of election adjourned to dinner at Womack & Kenzie’s cloth hotel at the present corner of Commercial and Main Streets, and champagne being freely circulated, it was proposed that the names by which these diggings had hertofore been known, viz: ‘Caldwell’s Upper Store,’ and ‘Deer Creek Dry Diggings,’ be dropped, and a new and more euphoneous name adopted. It was finally agreed that each person present should write on a slip of paper the name he would suggest, and the collected names be referred to a committee of the whole for selection of the best. A great many names were written, and among others ‘Nevada,’ by O.P. Blackman, which was immediately, on being read, adopted by the meeting. Thus Nevada was named.” – 1856 Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory (pages 20-21), A. A. Sargent

Nevada is Spanish for Snow Covered


April 1856:
The town was incorporated as the City of Nevada.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy, History of Us Book Review, Contemporary Nisenan Culture, Historic Trauma & Healing the Past.


California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names, Erwin G. Gudde (pg 104-105)
Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory 1856, A. A. Sargent
Of Mines & Memories; A Story of an Odgers Family, Jean Lee DeLaMare
Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies), Beth Rose Middleton Manning

Online Articles & Links:

“Part of our gold mining legacy is the richness, imagination and humor found in place names. They can tell us a lot about a place and/or its namers.  Compare these robust, descriptive and often sensitive names to what real estate developers offer.  “Alta Sierra” is not in the high mountains and “Lake Wildwood” is neither wild or especially wooded and the “lake” is a dammed reservoir.  “Cascade Shores” sounds like a beach town.  Unlike the early namers who arrived at the place then named it, the investor-namers view the landscape abstractly from a conference table while seeking safe and soulless names.”
– Guilty Pleasures: Yuba Place Names, Hank Meals – Yuba Tales and Trails Blog

My Gold Rush Tales – John Rose Putnam – Mining Starts Around Nevada City
Nevada County Gold – Nevada City was one of the Original Gold Discovery Sites

“At first the surface placers were rich and the camps along Deer Creek grew rapidly. … A population census in the spring of 1850 showed 1,067 inhabitants. By fall there were 6,000.”
– Article by Don Baumgart

Seeks Ghosts
The Union – In the Beginning
The Union – Nevada City Celebrates 162nd Birthday
Virtual Cities – Nevada City
Wikipedia – A. A. Sargent
Wikipedia – Isaac Jones Wistar
Wikipedia – Nevada City, CA

Shelly Covert of the Nevada City Rancheria [6:06] talks about the Yuba River before the white man’s arrival and sings a Nisenan song of spring.

Nisenan Book Review, Culture, Historic Trauma & Healing

Book Review

History of Us, Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria by Richard B. Johnson

First published August 10, 2018

In his recently published book, Johnson describes the indigenous lifestyle (before white men came to California) in a way that makes the heart long to experience the close family ties and feel the intimate connection with the land.

He includes information about the religious and spiritual shamans, both males and females, highly valued for their special herbal knowledge. Native plant enthusiasts will appreciate the flora resources chapter.

Their homes, called “hu,” were round and semi-subterranean. The structures maintained even temperatures and were designed to allow for smoke release from the fireplace. Floors were covered with fine grasses and deer rugs. Hammocks were used for sleeping. The entrance was small, a crawl space. This was for heat conservation and protection from intruders.

With all the fires burning in California in recent years, I can’t help but think about how contemporary home replacement designs should follow these principles.

History of Us includes photos of tools that were crafted for hunting, fishing, and food storage as well as ceremonial regalia.

Nisenan territorial map (pink lines) with present-day California Counties. Black shape indicates an approximation of land included in a treaty that was never ratified.

The Nisenan territory was vast. It included the Histum Yani (middle mountains of the Valley) or Esto Yamani that we call the Sutter Buttes all the way up to Soda Springs. Tribelete chiefs and headmen governed villages located up and down Deer Creek where natural resources were managed. Villages had communication and trading systems. At convention-style gatherings, art and culture were exchanged and inter-tribal treaties were made. This was where young people often found spouses.

Although every aspect of Nisenan life, past and present, is captivating, my favorite section of Johnson’s book is belief and tradition stories. Coyote trickery, the creation story, and the Huitals, one-legged people who live in caves, had my imagination working overtime.

Deer Creek Falls

As one would expect, reading about the brutality that the Nisenan People experienced during the Gold Rush is upsetting. It should be. Johnson’s detailed research and chronology of horrific news articles is commendable.

The latter part of the book details termination of the Rancheria’s tribal designation in 1964, citing legal documents, communication threads, and court cases. It lays out evidence the tribe is using to re-establish its federal recognition. This technical section was not as easy to follow as the first 75% of the book.

I can imagine the highs and lows that the author must have experienced while working on this remarkable labor of love.

 History of Us is a valuable gift for future Nisenan generations and a powerful tool.

I hope the book provides, the right information to the right people who can assist the tribe in reaching their goals.

Contemporary Nisenan Culture – [Excerpts from Sierra Streams Institute video]

Click on the image to watch the Sierra Streams Institute video on YouTube.

Quiet Meant Safe

“In past, you didn’t talk about being Indian. If you did, you could get beat up – badly. This is why we’ve been quiet.”

Maidu is a Language, Not a People

“When we discovered that Deer Creek was going to be dedicated to somebody else, not the local Indians, we needed to start communicating. In the late 1800’s they wanted to identify Indian races in California. They came up with names based on linguistic groupings. Concaw and Nisenan Indians were called Maidu. Maidu is a name of a language, not a name of a people. It’s like the word ‘Latin.’  Do you know a people or a country called Latin? We want people to know that we are the Nisenan Nation and we’re still here.”

Today’s Nisenan Nation

“It’s safe, now to say you are an Indian. This community has treated the Native Americans very well. Even during the Gold Rush times, there were people trying to protect the Indians. The Craig family gave us the land where our Rancheria was to live on for eternity – not to be disturbed or moved again. Women of the Golden West provided housing. If it wasn’t for these people, it’s possible that none of us would be here. Even though there were tragedies and atrocities,  there were still some good people who felt that if we were left alone, we would be peaceful, happy, and content. We try.” – says Johnson.

Understanding Historic Trauma

The videos below are the best sources (at the time of research) that most clearly describe and explain historic trauma.

University of Minnesota – What is historic Trauma?

Native American Residential Boarding School Experience

Healing the Past

Syracuse University – Intergenerational Trauma in Native Americans – “Healing The Past” – Dr. Jessic Corey
(Author is reading a research paper, fast. The information and photography are very good. Hit pause and rewind, to absorb it all.)


If you liked this post, you may also like Name History: Oustomah, Deer Creek Dry Diggings & Nevada City.


California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP)

California Native People book resources compiled by Chuck Smith, Anthropology Instructor at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA

California State Parks – Sutter Buttes Spirit Mountain

Firehouse Museum, Nevada City – Nisenan People & Chinese history

Grinding rock specimen at Lake Oroville Visitors Center, a California State Park.

History Channel – California’s Little-Known Genocide

Nevada City Rancheria website

Nevada City TV – Sentenial episode – Interview with Shelly Covert that includes discussion of Centennial dam

News From Native California – a quarterly magazine devoted to the vibrant cultures, art languages, history, social justice movements, and stories of California’s diverse Indian peoples.

Nisenan partnerships & accomplishments

Nisenan Tribal Members Collect Scientific Data to Restore Land (2017)

The Secret Treaties with California’s Indians (PDF) – Larisa K. Miller [featuring beautiful photographs] – The California Tribe the Government Tried to Erase in the 60s – The Nisenan tribe of the California Central Valley are fighting to regain recognition from the federal government.


Steven Langley II, Voice Actor for Alfred T. Jackson, Gold Miner

rock-creek-deer-creekSteven Langley II of Grass Valley performs the voice of Alfred Jackson in the Deer Creek documentary. Jackson is the character-narrator of the book, The Diary of a Forty-Niner,

“I believe that if it were not for the potatoes, that are fairly plenty, and the fact that the woods are full of game, we would all die of scurvy,” says Alfred.

Steven Langley II

I met Steven in 2011, when he came to my studio for portraits. He was impressive then, with his dance performances (he played the lead role as nutcrackerPrince in the Nutcracker for several years), but what I remembered most about Steven was his incredible voice.

When I decided to include Deer Creek references from the diary in the project, I knew, immediately that Steven was right  for the job.

Between Alfred’s words and Steven’s voice, the viewer will gain a rich and evocative sense of day-to-day life for a young, caucasian, miner in the 1850’s.

Stay tuned for excerpts of Steven’s work in later posts.

cover-pageFrom The Diary of a Forty-Niner, published in 1906:

“Inside the front cover bore the name of Alfred T. Jackson, Norfolk, Litchfield County, Conn., October 10, 1849. The entries range over a period of two years and the people referred to were persons who actually existed, not only in Nevada County, California, at the time covered by the diary, but also in his New England birthplace.”

“The editor can add that the many incidents and happenings so simply noted, tragic and otherwise, have been verified, both by local tradition and the testimony of old-timers still living, and that the diary gives a veracious, faithful and comprehensive picture of the pioneer miner’s life in the early “Fifties.”


If you liked this post, check out Miners Provisions – 1850 Food Prices featuring Steven’s voice work.

Miners Provisions – 1850 Food Prices

“InMarch, 1850, the snow was ten feet deep on the banks of Deer Creek – three times the depth it has ever since attained. Goods of all kinds sold at exorbitant rates.”- Nevada, Grass Valley & Rough and Ready Citizens Directory – 1856 – A. A. Sargent

fresh beef & pork  – .80¢ / lb
molasses – $7.50 / gal
flour – 44¢/lb
potatoes – 75¢/lb
onions – $1.50/lb
calf boots – $20
stout boots – $30 – $40
long-handled shovels –  $16

History comes alive when the written word is given a voice.

Alfred Jackson, the narrator of Diary of a Forty-Niner, lists items on his shopping list, along with what he paid for flour, beans, pork, molasses, etc.

This video is a clip from the documentary, Following Deer Creek. The full version will feature Alfred’s experiences with mail delivery, mining, crime and punishment, and more.

The voice of Alfred is performed by Steven Langley II, a local voice actor.

Many thanks to Steven for his lively and riveting portrayal of Alfred Jackson!

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy The Diary of a Forty-Niner – A Skillful Blending of Fact and Fiction or Steven Langly II to Pay the Voice of Alfred T. Jackson, Gold Miner.

The Diary of a Forty-Niner – A Skillful Blending of Fact and Fiction

In the 1947 centennial edition of The Diary of a Forty-Niner published by James Ladd Delkin, Oscar Lewis, a California historian, researched the origins of the book. Below is his introduction along with his findings.

In the voluminous literature of the Gold Rush The Diary of a Forty-Niner has long occupied a position at once unique and puzzling. Almost every phase of the book’s history—it’s origin, its source materials, its writing and publication—bristles with unanswered questions.

Its bibliographical record is involved and obscure, and the degree of

its authenticity has aroused a great deal of controversy, much of it heated.

Students and collectors of Californiana have taken widely divergent views of its value. Some have pronounced it a hoax and dismissed it as a work of light romantic fiction, wholly without historical importance; others have stated just as positively that it presents as true and graphic a picture of day-by-day life in the California placer camps as can be found anywhere.

It [The Diary of a Forty-Niner] presents as true and graphic a picture of day-by-day life in the California placer camps as can be found anywhere.

The reasons why this unpretentious, spirited, and uncommonly readable little tale of Gold Rush experiences has aroused so much discussion, such sharply divided opinion, become clear enough once one begins delving into the complex story of how it came to be written and published.

The book was first issued a little more than forty years ago but it had its beginnings of a good many years earlier. The author, Chauncey Leon Canfield, was born in Litchfield, County, Connecticut, in 1845; when he was seven he was brought to California by his father and lived some time in Mariposa County where he gained first-hand knowledge of life in the Mother Lode diggings.  Later he drifted into newspaper work, and from 1876 to 1879 he edited and published the Weekly Leader in the then-booming silver mining town of Eureka, in central Nevada. From there he went to Chicago, where he continued his career in journalism, working first for the Record-Herald and the, from 1884 – 1887, for the Chicago Times. It was while he was serving as “railroad editor” of the latter journal that the management of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad sent him back to San Francisco as general agent for that important transportation system. This position Canfield continued to hold until his death in 1909.

Around the turn of the century, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul’s San Francisco headquarters were on the ground floor of the old Palace Hotel. The office had two entrances, one on Market Street, the other opening on an inner corridor of the hotel, and, because the business of the railroad did not require so much space, Canfield sublet the rear room. His tenant was a colorful early California figure named Lewis Hanchett. Hanchett, born near Joliet, Illinois, had come west during the Gold Rush, had worked at various placer claims in the Grass Valley-Nevada City area, then had gone into quartz mining, supervising large-scale operations in Nevada, Colorado and elsewhere. It was from this inner office in the Palace Hotel building that Hanchett, then an old man, looked after his varied interests.

The Diary of a Forty-Niner owes its existence to this fortuitous meeting of the practical mining man, Hanchett, and the former newspaperman, Canfield.

Occupying connecting offices, the two were in daily contact; Hanchett’s fund of stories of the life in the Northern Mines captivated the younger man, who encouraged his reminiscences and made copious notes, sometimes calling in his assistant, Carl Kniess, to take down the old man’s words in short-hand.

It was from this mass of material that Canfield, who had long made an avocation of writing—he had published a volume of short stories in 1888—compiled the narrative here reprinted, casting it in the form of a diary and availing himself of the fiction-writer’s privilege of weaving into his factual story the pretty romance that—in part at least—must account for the book’s long-continued popularity.

But it is abundantly clear that when he penned the Diary the author had a more serious purpose than merely to write an entertaining piece of light fiction evidence exists that while the manuscript was in preparation he visited the area described in the Diary and spent some time in the Nevada County newspaper office of Leonard S. Calkins, carefully examining the early files and checking the accuracy of his story’s background.

So much for the writing of the Diary; it was based mainly on the recollections of Lewis Hanchett, supported by Canfield’s own independent researches, plus his imaginative embroidery designed to give the book a romantic quality it would otherwise have lacked.

The record of how the manuscript found its way into print is hardly less involved than that of its writing. When it was finished, the author turned the work over to A.M. Robertson, who then conducted and active publishing business connection with his retail bookstore on Stockton St. During the spring of 1096 the Diary was set in type and printed; then, while it was being bound, occurred the earthquake and fire of April 18thand Canfield’s volume, along with most of the city, went up in smoke. It has been stated that a single copy escaped destruction, but the subsequent history and present whereabouts of that problematical unique copy is not of record.

Undeterred by this set-back, Canfield looked about for some other means of getting the Diary published. All the local print shops having been burned out, his quest took him further afield. There had recently been established in the East a publishing house that was, in a sense, an outgrowth of an enterprise founded a few years earlier in San Francisco. This was the Morgan Shepard Company, then located at 225 Fourth Avenue, New York.  Shepard, a former bank clerk had, in 1898, formed a partnership with Paul Elder, who had served his apprenticeship in the well-known San Francisco bookshop of William Doxey. The two opened their retail book business at 238 Post Street and presently began publishing a group of small books so attractively designed and made that the firm soon gained a considerable renown: within a year or two their productions were being sold from coast to coast. Elder & Shepard continued to operate for seven years; then Shepard, whose major interest had always been in the publishing phase of the business, withdrew and moved to New York where he launched his own publishing venture.

It was to this newly-formed firm that Canfield, soon after the 1906 fire, sent The Diary of a Forty-Niner. The book, designed by Shepard and bearing his imprint as publisher, saw the light on October 30, 1906. It was well received by readers and critics alike (although the latter were in doubt as to whether to classify it as fact or fiction), and it passed rapidly through several printings. Then the bad luck that had dogged the venture from the beginning stuck again; in April 1908 Canfield wrote a correspondent that a fire in a New York printing plant had destroyed the entire stock of the fourth printing. The book thereupon went out of print and remained so for twelve years. It was then reissued by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, in a new format but with the text unchanged. This 1920 edition, however, met with indifferent success, and a year or two later most of the unsold copies were bought by Harold Holmes, who sold them at bargain prices in his San Francisco and Oakland stores. Then occurred a singular phenomenon familiar to all collectors: like numerous other worthwhile works of Californiana, the book, once common, speedily disappeared from view; for nearly twenty years it has been rated a scarce item, with copies of the first (Shepard) printing bringing in $20 or more and the Houghton Mifflin edition somewhat less. The present reissue of the book is long overdue.

The subsequent career of Morgan Shepard is interesting. Sometime after 1906 he adopted the nom de plume of John Martin and for many years he was widely known under that name as a writer of children’s books and as editor of the John Martin’s Book, a highly popular juvenile magazine. He died May 6, 1947, at the age of eighty-two.

Through all its vicissitudes, The Diary of a Forty-Niner has remained among the most entertaining of the many narratives picturing mining camp life during the heyday of the Gold Rush. A skillful blending of fact and fiction, it presents an admittedly romanticized view of the great adventure, for Canfield endowed his chief characters with a degree of luck far beyond that enjoyed by most miners; but on the other hand

it gives so lively, varied, and well-rounded a picture of the time and place as to make it not only extremely easy reading but enormously informative.

For all the author’s tendency to view his subject through rose-tinted glasses, the book is sound in its fundamentals, and any present-day reader curious to know the feel and flavor of life in the Sierra diggings a century ago can hardly gain this information more pleasantly than on the pages that follow.

Note: For much of the information in this Introduction I am indebted to Messrs. John Howell and Lewis E. Hanchett, San Francisco, and to the staff of the California Room of the State Library, Sacramento, to all of whom grateful acknowledgment is made.

–Oscar Lewis


More Oscar Lewis Information:

Magazine writer and California historian Oscar Lewis became well known in the late 1920’s and 1930’s for titles such as; The Big Four, Bonanza Inn, Silver Kings and Fabulous San Simeon. 

New York Times – Oscar Lewis 1883-1992 – rare, collectible book editions

Oscar Lewis books on Amazon


Louis Hanchett Mentioned in the Diary of a Forty-Niner

“We had a marriage up at Scott’s ranch last week and Marie and I went to it by invitation. Lou Hanchett, the boss miner on the ridge, has been courting a pretty girl at Selby Flat. They were friends of the Scotts, and the wedding was held at their place. About twenty of the boys from Selby Flat were there, as well as all of the miners from Rock Creek. Lou provided a big blow-out and ended up with a dance, which we kept up until midnight and then scattered. Hanchett is one of the best fellows in the country, but the boys are not exactly pleased with his capturing the belle of the county and taking her away from the Flat.

(Note. Hanchett and wife settled at the camp afterward known as Moore’s Flat, where he discovered and opened one of the richest mines in the State. A girl baby was born to them in 1853, who passed her girlhood in that pretty mountain town. She married George Crocker, son of Charles Crocker, one of the original projectors and builders of the Central Pacific Railroad, and died in Paris two years ago. Lou Hanchett and wife still survive and are living in San Francisco at the present time.) ”

Lewis Hanchett Genealogy


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