The Total Length of Deer Creek is Approximately 34 Miles
At 3100 feet elevation, the North and South Forks of Deer Creek meet. It flows into Scotts Flat Reservoir at 3069 feet. Deer Creek travels through Nevada City, (2300′) then drops down into Lake Wildwood (1200′). From there, it descends 1100 feet where it converges with the Yuba River below Englebright Dam.
“The storm changed from snow to rain in Nevada, creating an immense rise of the water in Deer Creek. On Friday evening it was ascertained that the theatre, called the Jenny Lind, was in danger; and during the night a heavy drift log came in contact with the pillars on which it stood, taking some of them away, and materially disturbing the others. Early the next morning the Broad street bridge was carried off by the rushing waters. all the forenoon a large crowd were in waiting, expecting every moment to see the other bridge, the theatre and adjacent houses go downstream.”
“At 12 0’clock a heavy log came in contact with the Main Street bridge, which was immediately above the theatre, and took it from its foundation.”
“The accumulated mass took the remaining props from under the theatre, and the building settled into the current, becoming almost instantly a total wreck, going down the foaming stream in fragments.”
“The Illinois Boarding House adjoined the theatre and shared its fates. The loss to the town and individuals was about $10,000.”
“The peaceful character of the Creek the year before encouraged people to build over it, but the lots have been unoccupied since this catastrophe.”
First published November 12, 2017 | updated & edited September 28, 2018
Nevada City, CA September 21, 2017
During the first weekend in October, when 44 studios open their doors across Nevada County for the Fall Colors Open Studios Art Tour, artist Lisa Redfern will be showing a range of her artwork while spotlighting local watershed awareness with her Life on the Creekart series. Focusing on Deer Creek, the series features plants and animals that live there.
Redfern will be accepting donations for Sierra Streams Institute.
“Deer Creek is a sweet little waterway that runs through our backyard,” says Redfern. It became a passion and focus of the art series last winter when storms turned the creek into a powerful, churning force that threatened homes and businesses.
Redfern began blogging about it after photographing high water levels and comparing them to images she’d taken in 2011. Having recently read The Diary of a Forty-Niner by Chauncey L. Canfield, she was drawn to the Deer Creek references. As a writer as well as an artist, Redfern was inspired to use her blog, Following Deer Creek, to tell a bigger story about how the creek was formed, what plants and animals live around and within it, who are the native people that inhabited the area, how the gold rush and contemporary living habits have affected it.
“Research for every blog post consistently led to the Sierra Streams Institute website. I knew about their programs for school children, but until I started working on the Deer Creek project, I hadn’t fully appreciated everything that they do to study and care for our local watershed,” says Redfern.
“What became apparent very quickly,” she continues, “is that even though Deer Creek is smaller than the Yuba River and other rivers in the news, it shares the same problems as watersheds across the globe.”
“Once I had enough information on the blog to show where I was going with the idea, I contacted Sierra Streams Institute,” said Redfern.
“Art and science are natural allies, and this project is a terrific example of how art and science can come together to inspire us to appreciate and protect the natural world,” said Joanne Hild, biologist and SSI’s executive director. “We were delighted to discover that the science background and data on the Sierra Streams website was so helpful to Lisa in developing this innovative project, and are excited to expand the collaboration as the project develops.”
Postcards with information on ordering custom Life on the Creek items online will also be available at Redfern’s booth.
Events where I plan to show art provides motivation to create new pieces.
click image to see more Life on the Creek art
‘Deer Creek Bridges’ was created for the 2018 Nevada County Fair photography competition.
click on image to see more Life on the Creek art
The ‘Pine Street Historic Bridge’ piece was made for display and sale during the 2018 Fall Colors Open Studio Tour.
Video Productions doing Double Duty
This video was created for the blog post, Native Plants for Healing the Land After Fire. It was produced a few weeks before the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society conducted their annual Native Plant Sale. It helped tell the story about the importance of native plants in the Deer Creek Watershed and promote the event.
Responsible Art Production
Since most of my work is digital, time and hydroelectric generated power (as well as computing hardware) are the main production resources involved in making these creations.
Historical Research Inspires New Design Concepts
As I do background research for posts, I also generate an art piece. At the time of this writing, 62 designs are in the Life on the Creek collection.
While I started with graphic designs involving text, Latin names, and waves, several recent posts inspired a new layout direction.
$5 from every online sale helps support the Following Deer Creek website/film project. (Production cost of selected item + $5 LoC savings + tax & shipping = total price.)
Pony Express help wanted advertisement.
‘Pony Express Riders’ is a blending of a public domain map and a help wanted advertisement. This came about after discovering that Joaquin Miller, Poet of the Sierras (and a mining camp cook who developed scurvy for the post Scurvy in California’s Food Capital) was also a Pony Express rider.
*In the newer designs, you may notice an absence in the ” wording at the bottom of the Following Deer Creek logo. These pieces were created after I moved the website from a free site to a paid site in an attempt to reduce unwanted advertising clutter.
Made-to-Order Art Reduces Environmental Impacts
FineArtAmerica.com hosts my artwork online and produces made-to-order prints and household items.
At my Open Studios Tour booth (#30) October 13th and 14th, I will have a number of these pieces on display.
Though Timbuctoo and Smartsville are in Yuba County, we are including them in our creek history because water from the Yuba River and Deer Creek watersheds flowed through them causing one of the first land use limit laws to be written in the country.
Hydraulic Sluce Blocks for the Blue Gravel Claim, Smartsville, Nevada County
In the 1850s, Timbuctoo and Smartsville were centers of activity. The population was between 1,000 to 4,000, many of them were Irish immigrants. With the invention of hydraulic mining, it became one of the wealthiest regions in California. Estimates say that millions of dollars of gold dust were moved through local business and the Wells Fargo headquarters in Smartsville.
Gold attracted more than miners. Famous robbers such as ‘the Timbuctoo Terror,’ Jim Webster and Black Bart prowled the roads.
Profits from hydraulic mining encouraged boomtown growth, enriched mining corporations, and filled state coffers.
Between 1850 and 1878, the Excelsior Company sent approximately eight million cubic yards of debris and plant matter into the Yuba River at Smartsville.
The town of North Bloomfield is located near Malakoff Diggings.
Silt and debris washed out of the steep mountains and settled, changing the course of waterways and making channels shallow.
Riverboat traffic conducting trade between Sacramento and San Francisco was threatened.
Alarmed by the danger of downstream flooding, farmers and townspeople created costly levee systems.
A lawsuit against the North Bloomfield Gravel and Mining Company and others was filed. In 1884, the United States District Court in San Francisco ruled in favor of the farmers, putting an end to hydraulic mining.
Commentary from Yuba Trails and Tales blog by Hank Meals
“In the late 1870’s, the annual value of the dry-farmed wheat crop alone had reached $40,000,000, more than double that of the dwindling gold output. According to geographer David Larsen, “The trend was clear and irreversible the pivot of prosperity had shifted permanently toward the fields.”
“Obviously, by outlawing the dumping of tailings there was improved water quality and fish habitat and there would be less toxins inadvertently released but this particular environmental remediation was incidental to the intent of the law. Except in a very general way there were no environmental considerations addressed in the 24 volumes of testimony that were collected for Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company. This law was not created out of respect for Gaia, or any consideration whatsoever for stream ecology. Simply put, the issue was business interests in the Sacramento Valley (agriculture) were losing income to the wasteful procedures of a powerful upslope industry (hydraulic mining). Specifically agricultural lands were being covered with choking mud, towns were periodically flooded and steamboat operations were hampered by the decreased navigability of the rivers. I can’t see how the Sawyer Decision exhibits environmental activism but it does represent the beginning of regulations in the public interest. The Sawyer Decision effectively limits the ideology of laissez-faire, which legitimized the single-minded pursuit of wealth at all costs. This alone is a very big step in the direction of conservation and sustainability.” – Hydraulic Mining in the Yuba and Bear River Basins – Yuba Trails and Tales, Hank Meals
Pioneer Day – Yearly – Last Saturday in April
If you liked this post, you may also like Geology or Geography.
If you live in Lake Wildwood, Rough & Ready, Smartsville, Penn Valley, on Beale Air Force Base or off McCourtney or Lime Kiln Roads, you’re on ground zero for the Nisenan People of Nevada County, the land of broken promises.
Long before houses and roads were built, this land was designated in a treaty between the local tribes and the United States Government.
Tribal Headmen gave careful consideration to where the boundary lines would be drawn. Their decisions were based on changing elevations and food sources. The traditional Native way of life depended on moving with the seasons according to when plants were ready for harvest or when game was available.
Village sites with significant populations along Deer Creek in Nevada City were released in good faith for the promised lands.
Approximation of treaty land made between the United States and Indian Headmen.
The Nisenan way of life changed drastically during the Gold Rush era.
In his book, The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization (1976), Sherburne F. Cook, states, “He was driven from his home by the thousands, starved, beaten, raped, and murdered with impunity. He was not only given no assistance in the struggle against foreign diseases, but was prevented from adopting even the most elementary measures to secure his food, clothing, and shelter.”
“The utter devastation caused by the white man was literally incredible, and not until the population figures are examined does the extent of the havoc become evident.”
Due process. The Native People trusted it. Yet the treaties they worked so diligently to form remained in a drawer, unratified by the other party. It was a colossal ‘gotcha’ that remains an unresolved wound on the face of the Nation.
Before the white man came, the Anthony House / Rose Corral area of Penn Valley was home to Nisenan Headman Pamelo. The village, Cocosa, was once a vibrant trading site.
“The very earliest settlement of which we can obtain a trace in the territory now known as Nevada County, was in the summer of 1848, at a place known as Rose’s Corral, between what is now the Anthony House and Bridgeport. A man named Rose here built an adobe house, in which he traded with the Indians of the neighborhood, and a corral.” – A. A. Sargent, Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory 1856
Historic Property Listing – May 8 & 15, 1852 – NEVADA JOURNAL A Rare Chance.
FOR SALE – The Anthony House, together with a splendid Ranch of 160 acres of the best sort of land, situated in Spring Valley, Deer Creek. Four yoke of oxen, wagon, timber, carriage, a quantity of poultry, hogs, etc. A garden, spring house, water in abundance all season. The house is capable of accommodating fifty boarders and in full trade at present. The team earns twenty-five dollars daily, by contract. As the subscriber wishes to return to the Atlantic States, in consequence of the ill health of his wife, there will be a good chance for the purchase to realize a fortune in a short time. Apply on the premises or to J. WARREN, Star Bakery, Grass Valley
Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce – Long-Time Rancher Looks Back (Anthony House), Marianne McKnight 1999
“Before Lake Wildwood was built, the road meandered alongside the Creek, on what is now the other side of the lake. …There was a one-way bridge across Deer Creek.”
Found nowhere else in the world,
Aesculus Californica is a true California Native.
Photo Credit: Halava – Distribution map for California Buckeye
In late winter and early spring, the California Buckeye blooms with long strands of sweet smelling flowers. This early blooming season is a unique adaptation of the plant to its environment.
Another unique adaptation is when it goes dormant, during the arid summer months.
In Nevada County, (Calif.), Buckeye bushes are found at lower elevations, in grasslands, and growing near oak trees and Ponderosa Pines.
Some beekeepers transport their bees to the valley when the Buckeye blooms because the flower pollen and nectar contain alkaloids. Alkaloids are toxic to honey bees. It’s not only the flowers that contain toxins, but the fruit, leaves, and shoots too.
Nisenan Tribal Member Processing Buckeye Nuts
Native American Uses for Buckeye
Native Americans used the plant’s poison to their advantage. They ground nuts or hulls into a powder, throwing it into pools in the creek. Fish in those pools, stunned by the water additive, floated to the surface where they could be scooped out. (Toxins didn’t transfer to the person eating the fish.)
In seasons where acorns were not plentiful, Native Californians ate Buckeye nuts. Processed like acorns, bitterness and harmful substances are leached out before eating.
Once the minerals were exhausted, many hastily built mining towns were abandoned. Grass Valley and Nevada City persisted after the Gold Rush because San Francisco investors gambled on hard rock mining, water rights, and power generation.
Large cattle ranches had become established. Lumber mills continued to operate, supplying timber for the railroad (mid-1860’s through 1870’s). Railroads moved goods and people between coasts.
The age of the automobile, beginning in the early 1900’s, led to road development. By the end of WWII, in the 1940’s, travel and outdoor recreation had become a trend that middle-class America embraced.
1950: Freeway Proposal
Traffic problems between Nevada City and Grass Valley were documented by the California Division of Highways. Logging trucks jammed narrow roads. Some residents remember it taking between 30-45 minutes to drive between towns, a distance of 4.2 miles.
1951: Choosing Sides – Historical Preservation vs. Commerce Development
If there was a historic rivalry before, the coming of the freeway strengthened it. Folks were divided about where the road should go. Some merchants thought that downtown offramps would stimulate business while others lamented about the loss of historic buildings.
1960’s: Freeway Construction Begins
In the early 1960’s right-of-ways had been obtained, structures were removed and dirt work commenced. When the building contractor declared bankruptcy, it took the Highway Department nearly a year to secure a replacement.
Nevada City residents, disturbed by the altered landscape, called the Broad Street area a ‘Calamity Cut.’
Courtesy Searles Library
1965: Beryl Robinson came in as Nevada City Manager. Downtown was in trouble. He inherited ‘a mess.’
Nov. 15, 1966. Unfinished bridge on the Broad Street freeway crossing collapses. Eleven men injured, no fatalities. Photo courtesy Searles Library.
1968: The controversy and upset over the freeway project may have garnered public support for Nevada City Historical Ordinance 338, written by Bill Wetherall, Nevada City’s Attorney. (The ordinance governs preservation of Mother Lode architecture. It was the first one written in the State of California.)
“Nevada City’s future is in the preservation of its past,”
is a quote from former City Council member and mayor, Bob Paine, that hung in City Hall for many years during that time.
1969: Freeway is Complete
In December, twenty-two two years after the first traffic survey, the Golden Center Freeway opened for traffic.
City Freeway Expenditures
$7,000,000 spent by the City of Grass Valley
$5,000,000 spent by the City of Nevada City
1972: Nevada City received a grant to move utilities underground. Gaslights were installed. Neon signs removed.
Page 16 from Nevada City building Design Guidelines
Thanks to keen observers, county civic organizations, and city leaders the historic Mother Lode charm of Grass Valley and Nevada City remains. Since their beginnings, the towns along the Deer Creek watershed have been community gathering places, a hub of entertainment and a place to enjoy nature.
Nevada City’s Mission Statement – The City of Nevada City is dedicated to preserving and enhancing its small-town character and historical architecture while providing quality public services for our current and future residents, businesses, and visitors.
Grass Valley Mission Statement – The City of Grass Valley’s Public Works Department is committed to providing essential municipal infrastructure maintenance and improvement services that preserve and enhance the quality of life in our community for residents, businesses and visitors alike, while providing a safe and productive work environment for Department employees.
Moving forward, if lessons learned are heeded, the area will continue to thrive while remembering and honoring its past.
Nevada City – Housing element 2014-2019 [PDF]
The focus on preservation of a strong sense of community, coupled with geographic, topographic, and infrastructure constraints has limited growth to a slow, manageable pace.
The Oak Woodland Forest ecosystem is prevalent in California. It contains both evergreen (live oaks) and deciduous types of oak trees. Oaks are considered foundation species because of their role in the web of life.
Identifying California Oak Trees
Acorns – One of the Most Important Protein Sources for Native Americans