Grizzly Entertainment & California Bear Extinction

First published June 15, 2018

The largest and most powerful of bears, the California grizzly, thrived in New Spain when European explorers first set eyes on the land.  At their peak, approximately 10,000 grizzlies lived in California making the population one of the densest in the Pacific Northwest.

“The grizzlies are the commonest kind of bear found in California, and are very large animals, weighing sometimes sixteen or eighteen hundred pounds.”

“Hunting them is rather dangerous sport, as they are extremely tenacious of life, and when wounded invariably show fight. But unless molested they do not often attack a man; in fact, they are hardly ever seen on the trails during the day. At night, however, they prowl about, and carry off whatever comes in their way.”

– J.D. Borthwick, Three Years in California [1851-1854

Dangerous Grizzly is an Enemy of Progress

In the mid to late 1700’s, it was a right of passage for sons of old Spanish ranching families to kill a grizzly. The hunter lassoed the bear, securing it to a tree, using a well-trained horse to hold it in place while he slit the bear’s throat with a Mexican hunting knife (machete).

Other methods included pit traps where the hunter concealed himself in a pit, camouflaged with logs and leaves, bating the trap with a raw beef. When the bear approached, the hunter shot from below.

It is likely that the Spanish were instigators of the bear and bullfights.


Nevada City location where the entertainment took place.


WARNING: Graphics and subject matter in the written material and video may be disturbing to some viewers.

Nevada (City) scene is an excerpt (lightly edited for brevity) from Borthwick’s Three Years in California [1851-1854].


A Very Splendid Fight

I had often heard of these bull-and-bear fights as popular amusements in some parts of the State … I found myself walking up towards the arena, among a crowd of miners and others of all nations, to witness the performances…

Fiddler pre-show performance.

The amphitheatre was a … strongly built wooden structure … enclosed by a very strong five-barred fence … was a hundred feet in diameter. From the top … rose tiers of seats. As the appointed hour drew near, the company continued to arrive till the whole place was crowded; while, to beguile the time till the business of the day should commence, two fiddlers a white man and a gentleman of colour performed a variety of appro-priate airs.

The gay crowd was like a mass of bright flowers

The scene was gay and brilliant, and was one which would have made a crowded opera-house appear gloomy and dull in comparison. The shelving bank of human beings which encircled the place was like a mass of bright flowers. The most conspicuous objects were the shirts of the miners, red, white, and blue being the fashionable colours, among which appeared bronzed and bearded faces under hats of every hue; revolvers and silver-handled bowie-knives glanced in the bright sunshine, and among the crowd were numbers of gay Mexican blankets, and red and blue French bonnets, while here and there the fair sex was represented by a few Mexican women in snowy-white dresses, puffing their cigaritas in delight-ful anticipation.

The grizzly, known as General Scott, had already killed several bulls

… On the green turf of the arena lay the great centre of attraction, the hero of the day, General Scott. He was, however, not yet exposed to public gaze, but was confined in his cage, a heavy wooden box lined with iron, with open iron-bars on one side, which for the present was boarded over. From the centre of the arena a chain led into the cage, and at the end of it no doubt the bear was to be found. Beneath the scaffolding on which sat the spectators were two pens, each containing a very handsome bull, showing evident signs of indignation at his confinement.

Here also was the bar, without which no place of public amusement would be complete.

There was much excitement among the crowd … as the bear had already killed several bulls; but an idea prevailed that in former fights the bulls had not had fair play, being tied by a rope to the bear, and having the tips of their horns sawed off.

But on this occasion the bull was to have every advantage which could be given him; and he certainly had the good wishes of the spectators, though the bear was considered such a successful and experienced bull-fighter that the betting was all in his favour.

Betting was in the bear’s favor

Some of my neighbours gave it as their opinion, that there was ” nary bull in Calaforny as could whip that bar.”

The bear made violent efforts to regain his cage

The bear made his appearance before the public in a very bearish manner … his chain only allowed him to come within a foot or two of the fence, the General was rolled out … very much against his inclination apparently, for he made violent efforts to regain his cage as it disappeared. When he saw that was hopeless, he floundered half-way round the ring at the length of his chain, and commenced to tear up the earth with his fore-paws. He was a grizzly bear of pretty large size, weighing about twelve hundred pounds.

The next thing … was to introduce the bull. The bars between his pen and the arena were removed …  But he did not seem to like the prospect, and was not disposed to move till pretty sharply poked up from behind, when, making a furious dash at the red flag which was being waved in front of the gate, he found himself in the ring face to face with General Scott.

The bull, a very beautiful animal, of a dark purple colour marked with white, made a spendid dash back into his pen

The General, in the mean time, had scraped a hole for himself two or three inches deep, in which he was lying down. This, I was told by those who had seen his performances before, was his usual fighting attitude.

The bull was a very beautiful animal, of a dark purple colour marked with white. His horns were regular and sharp, and his coat was as smooth and glossy as a racer’s. He stood for a moment taking a survey of the bear, the ring, and the crowds of people; but not liking the appearance of things in general, he wheeled round, and made a splendid dash at the bars, which had already been put up between him and his pen, smashing through them with as much ease as the man in the circus leaps through a hoop of brown paper.

He put his head down and charged

He was accordingly again persuaded to enter the arena … after looking steadily at the bear for a few minutes as if taking aim at him, he put down his head and charged furi-ously at him across the arena. The bear received him crouching down as low as he could, and though one could hear the bump of the bull’s head and horns upon his ribs, he was quick enough to seize the bull by the nose before he could retreat. This spirited commencement of the battle on the part of the bull was hailed with uproarious applause; and by having shown such pluck, he had gained more than ever the sympathy of the people. In the mean time, the bear, lying on his back, held the bull’s nose firmly between his teeth, and em-braced him round the neck with his fore-paws, while the bull made the most of his opportunities in stamping on the bear with his hind-feet. At last the General became exasperated at such treatment, and shook the bull savagely by the nose, when a promis- cuous scuffle ensued, which resulted in the bear throwing his antagonist to the ground with his fore-paws.

Wild beasts do not tear each other to pieces quite so easily as is generally supposed

For this feat the bear was cheered immensely, and it was thought that, having the bull down, he would make short work of him; but apparently wild beasts do not tear each other to pieces quite so easily as is generally supposed, for neither the bear’s teeth nor his long claws seemed to have much effect on the hide of the bull, who soon regained his feet, and, dis-engaging himself, retired to the other side of the ring, while the bear again crouched down in his hole.

Neither of them seemed to be very much the worse of the encounter, excepting that the bull’s nose had rather a ragged and bloody appearance; but after standing a few minutes, steadily eyeing the General, he made another rush at him. Again poor bruin’s ribs resounded, but again he took the bull’s nose into chancery, having seized him just as before.

The bull, however, quickly disengaged himself, and was making off, when the General, not wishing to part with him so soon, seized his hind-foot between his teeth, and, holding on by his paws as well, was thus dragged round the ring before he quitted his hold. This round terminated with shouts of delight from the excited spectators, and it was thought that the bull might have a chance after all. He had been severely punished, however; his nose and lips were a mass of bloody shreds, and he lay down to recover himself. But he was not allowed to rest very long, being poked up with sticks by men outside, which made him very savage. He made several feints to charge them through the bars, which, fortunately, he did not attempt, for he could certainly have gone through them as easily as he had before broken into his pen. He showed no inclination to renew the com-bat; but by goading him, and waving a red flag over the bear, he was eventually worked up to such a state of fury as to make another charge. The result was exactly the same as before, only that when the bull managed to get up after being thrown, the bear still had hold of the skin of his back.

In the next round both parties fought more savagely than ever, and the advantage was rather in favour of the bear: the bull seemed to be quite used up, and to have lost all chance of victory.

The people were intensely excited and delighted with the sport

The conductor of the performances then mounted the barrier, and, addressing the crowd, asked them if the bull had not had fair play, which was unani-mously allowed. He then stated that he knew there was not a bull in California which the General could not whip, and that for two hundred dollars he would let in the other bull, and the three should fight it out till one or all were killed. This proposal was received with loud cheers, and two or three men going round with hats soon collected, in voluntary contributions, the required amount. The people were intensely excited and de-lighted with the sport, and double the sum would have been just as quickly raised to insure a continu-ance of the scene. A man sitting next me, who was a connoisseur in bear-fights, and passionately fond of the amusement, informed me that this was “the finest fight ever fit in the country.”

A second bull, looking around him, seemed to understand the state of affairs at once

The second bull was equally handsome as the first, and in as good condition. On entering the arena, and looking around him, he seemed to understand the state of affairs at once. Glancing from the bear lying on the ground to the other bull standing at the opposite side of the ring, with drooping head and bloody nose, he seemed to divine at once that the bear was their common enemy, and rushed at him full tilt.

The bear, as usual, pinned him by the nose; but this bull did not take such treatment so quietly as the other: struggling violently, he soon freed himself, and, wheel-ing round as he did so, he caught the bear on the hind-quarters and knocked him over; while the other bull, who had been quietly watching the proceedings, thought this a good opportunity to pitch in also, and rushing up, he gave the bear a dig in the ribs on the other side before he had time to recover himself.

The poor General did not know what to do

The poor General between the two did not know what to do, but struck out blindly with his fore-paws with such a suppliant pitiable look that I thought this the most disgusting part of the whole exhibition. After another round or two with the fresh bull, it was evident that he was no match for the bear, and it was agreed to conclude the performances.

The bulls were shot to put them out of pain

The bulls were then shot to put them out of pain, and the company dispersed, all apparently satisfied that it had been a very splendid fight.

Borthwick Addresses the Reader

The reader can form his own opinion as to the character of an exhibition such as I have endeavoured to describe. For my own part, I did not at first find the actual spectacle so disgusting as I had expected I should; for as long as the animals fought with spirit, they might have been supposed to be following their natural instincts; but when the bull had to be urged and goaded on to return to the charge, the cruelty of the whole proceeding was too apparent; and when the two bulls at once were let in upon the bear, all idea of sport or fair play was at an end, and

it became a scene which one would rather have prevented than witnessed. 

In these bull-and-bear fights the bull sometimes kills the bear at the first charge, by plunging his horns between the ribs, and striking a vital part. Such was the fate of General Scott in the next battle he fought, a few weeks afterwards; but it is seldom that the bear kills the bull outright, his misery being in most cases ended by a rifle-ball when he can no longer maintain the combat.

– John David Borthwick, Three Years in California


California’s Last Grizzly

Settlers in the late 1800s commonly shot and poisoned bears with arsenic to protect livestock.

The California Governor appointed expert bear hunters.

During the 1850s, the Gold Rush pioneers tenaciously hunted them for sport and for fur.

The repeating rifle (1848) may have signaled the end for California grizzlies.

Thousands of the bears were killed between the 1850s and the early decades of the 20th century.

Less than seventy-five years after the discovery of gold, every grizzly in the state was dead.

The last known California grizzly, over 2,000 pounds, was killed in Fresno County in 1922. By 1924, the bears were extinct.

Lost Grizzly Immortalized

Yet the grizzly, a species that civilized man considered a nuisance, continues as a symbol of strength, independence, and California’s adaptability.

If you liked this post, you may also like Helping Humans Burn Fat, Hungry Bears are Losing Ground


California Digital Newspaper Collection – The Sport of Roping Grizzlies in California’s Early Days

California History Online – The First Californians [PDF download]

California Museum – Bear In Mind

HistoryNet – California Grizzly Tales

Librivox Audio – Gold Hunters [Chapter 19 | A Bear and Bull Fight, Chapter 23  Bull Fighting in Sonora, ], J.D. Borthwick

click image to see more life on the creek art

San Francisco Chronicle – When bulls fought bears in brutal Mission District matches

Sausalito Historical Society – Californio Entertainments – Richardson Saga Part III

Sierra College – A Scotsman in Nevada City: The Adventures of J.D. Borthwick in 1851-1854

The Tribune – Bears didn’t fare well during the 19th century

Valley Center History Museum – Grizzly Bear

Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco – Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California

Wiki – California Grizzly Bear

Dammed Disrupted Salmon

First published May 23, 2017

When responding to the urge to spawn, Salmon become a powerful delivery system. If allowed to move freely through rivers and streams, they transport ocean nitrogen and other nutrients thousands of miles inland while providing humans and animals with a rich source of food. They did this successfully until man decided to industrialize their reproduction.

Now billions are spent each year attempting to repair a disrupted cycle of nature.

“In 1851, we could observe a great decrease. Like the poor Indian, they are being driven westward into the sea. During hydraulic mining in the 1870s and 80s the salmon population of California was reduced to near extinction” – C. A. Kirkpatrick reporting on the fate of the salmon

Ocean Fertilizer Transport

Conditions necessary for successful spawning;

  • access to inland rivers and streams
  • cool water temperatures (45° – 58° F)
  • highly oxygenated water
  • correct sized gravel
  • not being eaten

“Salmon and steelhead are indicators of river health, from the headwaters to the ocean, when a watershed is able to support strong salmon and steelhead populations, the entire ecosystem can thrive.” – SRYCL and Partners

“West coast salmon runs have been in decline for decades… Analysts estimate that only 0.1 percent of the tens of millions of salmon that used to darken rivers every summer and fall up and down the west coast before white settlement still exist.” – Scientific American

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Chinook salmon population along the California coast is declining due to;

  • overfishing
  • loss of freshwater habitat
  • loss of estuarine habitat
  • hydropower development
  • poor ocean conditions
  • and hatchery practices

Fish hatchery managed salmon reproduction has weakened the species.

The video below shows numerous corrective attempts that have been made to restore the salmon along the Columbia River.

Salmon Running the Gauntlet  | National Geographic

Deer Creek Salmon Restoration Efforts

April 2017 – 1:29 – A partnership between the South Yuba River Citizens League and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has resulted in leadership and funding for adding spawning gravels to the Yuba River near the confluence with Deer Creek.

Salmon & Steelhead in Deer Creek

“SSI has been monitoring salmon and steelhead in Deer Creek since 2009. From 2011-2013 we implemented three gravel augmentation projects to increase the availability of spawning habitat in Deer Creek, resulting in over a 500% increase in salmon redds observed in Deer Creek in 2013.” – Sierra Streams Institute report

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Grizzly Entertainment & California Bear Extinction.

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art


California Fisheries – Yuba River Steelhead
Crow’s Range: An Environmental History of the Sierra Nevada, by David Beesley [KXJZ, Insight interview 35:46]January 2008  – UC Davis panel on Salmon and Tribes – Klamath River System
Native People along rivers have been affected by dams and loss of natural salmon runs.

South Yuba River Citizens League – Species Profile: Rainbow Trout, Steelhead

South Yuba River Citizens League – Yuba Salmon Now

Wikipedia – Chinook salmon

Invasive Species Choke Natives & California’s Floristic Province

First published June 2, 2018

California Floristic Province

The California Floristic Province is considered a world biodiversity hotspot. It contains a large number of ecosystems that include alpine forest, mixed evergreen forest, riparian forest, sagebrush steppe, coastal sage scrub, redwood forests and more.

Currently, only 25% of the original vegetation remains unharmed.

Highly populated and a producer of agriculture products for 50% of the country, California is also considered ‘one of the four most ecologically degraded expanses in the US.’

Additional Threats to Biodiversity

  • air pollution
  • mining & oil extraction
  • livestock grazing & wildfires
  • invasive species

Fragmentation [human building] has the capacity to generate persistent, deleterious, and often unpredicted outcomes, including surprising surges in abundance of some species and the pattern that long temporal scales are required to discern many strong system responses. National Center for Biotechnology Information

Characteristics of Invasive Species

  • successful invasion elsewhere
  • ability to live near humans
  • food source variety
  • survives in a wide range of environments
  • alters growth to suit changing conditions
  • grows and reproduces quickly
  • fast spreading
  • difficult to eradicate

Invasive species and biodiversity preservation is a topic much larger than one blog post can cover! Below is a brief list of plants commonly found in Nevada County.

The ‘Resources’ section at the bottom of the page contains links for extensive exploration.

Blackberry / Rubus Fruticosus





Creates an impenetrable thicket (bramble).
Grows in areas where soil has been disturbed such as land grading, agriculture tillage, timber logging, housing construction, wildland firebreaks, animal grazing, and road building.
Provides shelter for rats and food for deer.
Damages livestock.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – Management and Control of Blackberries

Hydrilla / Hydrilla Verticillata – Water Thyme




Sri Lanka / Korea. Imported as an aquarium plant in the 1950s


Aggressively invades new aquatic environments.
Displaces native vegetation.
Forms large dense mats.
Impedes water flow.
Cloggs pumps.
Reduces water clarity.
Alters the ecosystem.
Blocks sunlight.
Decreases oxygen water levels, killing fish.
Reduces recreational water use.
Fragments easily carried to new waterways.
Impedes waterfowl feeding.
Impedes fish spawning.
Devalues waterfront property values.
Impedes water treatment and power generation.

UC Davis – Hydrillia – Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States [PDF]

Yellow Starthistle / Centaurea Solstitialis

Yellow Starthistle


Chilean-harvested alfalfa imported during the California Gold Rush.


Grows in areas where soil has been disturbed such as land grading, agriculture tillage, timber logging, housing construction, wildland firebreaks, animal grazing, and road building.
One plant can produce nearly 75,000 seeds.
Alters water cycles.
Poisons livestock.
Overtakes native plants.

California Invasive Plant Council – Yellow Starthistle Management Guide [PDF]

California Invasive Plant Council – Yellow Starthistle Management Guide [PDF]

Scotch Broom / Cytisus Scoparius

Scotch Broom


Imported from Europe in the mid-1800s as a land stabilizer and garden accent.


Aggressively displaces native plant populations.
Highly flammable.
Fire hazard.
Seeds can remain active for over 80 years.
A mature shrub can produce up to 15,000 seeds.
Seeds can be transported over long distances by animals, water, vehicles, and people.
Grows in a variety of soil conditions.
As a legume, it changes soil chemistry.
After removal, native plants won’t repopulate.

Fire Safe Council of Nevada County  – Management and Control of Scotch Broom

Mussels & Moths

Not pervasive, yet, in California, these animals have caused large-scale agriculture, water and forest management, and recreational problems in other states.

Carefully inspecting possessions after traveling from infested areas, and cooperation with Agriculture Inspection Station agents are ways to help prevent a species invasion.

Quagga / Dreissena Rostriformis Bugensis & Zebra Mussels / Dreissena Polymorpha


Caspian and the Black Sea and Dnieper River, Ukraine. Brought into the Great Lakes in the 1990s through ship ballast water.


Disrupts ecological water balance.
Reduces recreational value, shells overrun sandy beaches.
Impedes water flow.
Encrusts pipes and other structures.
One muscle can produce 5,000,000 eggs during its 5-year lifespan.
Estimated Five billion community costs since first discovery.

Oregon Sea Grant – Zebra and Quagga Mussel Prevention and Control [PDF pg. 7]

European Gypsy Moth / Lymantria Dispar


Europe and Asia. Escaped from breeding experiments in Massachusetts in the 1960s.


Voraciously eats tree leaves and shrubs.
A single moth can consume a square foot of leaves per day.
Leaves caterpillars eat – cedar, pine, fir, spruce, aspen, oaks, birch, alder, manzanita, and western hemlock.

US Forest Service – Gypsy Moth Prevention & Control

There is an urgent need for conservation and restoration measures to improve landscape connectivity, which will reduce extinction rates and help maintain ecosystem services. National Center for Biotechnology Information

If you liked this post, you may also like Native Plants for Healing the Land

click on image to see more invasive species Life on the Creek art



Alameda County Department of Agriculture – Pest Detection (photos)
American Bullfrog – California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Blackberry, Wild – the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
California Department of Fish and Wildlife – California Invaders
California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Why can’t I have a hedgehog, sugar glider, ferret, or other restricted, non-native species as a pet in California?
California Department of Food and Agriculture – Gypsy Moth
California Invasive Plant Council
California Invasive Plants A-Z
CBS Video – Invasive Species Spreading Across America
Common Pokeweed – California Invasive Plant Council
Fire Safe Council of Nevada County – Scotch Broom Challenge
French Broom – California Invasive Plant Council
Hydrilla – NCRCD
Invasive Species Council of California
List of California Native Plants – Wikipedia
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine – Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems (2015)
Nevada County Resource Conservation District
Portuguese Broom –  California Invasive Plant Council
Quagga & Zebra Muscle Infestation & Prevention Program – NCRCD
Scotch Broom – California Invasive Plant Council
Spanish Broom – California Invasive Plant Council
UC Berkeley – Jepson Herbaria – Bruce Baldwin
UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Harmful Shrubs get a Foothold in California Forests
US Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation – Quagga and Zebra Muscles
Weed Threats – My Nevada County
Invasive Species – Wikipedia
Yellow Star Thistle – California Invasive Plant Council

Native Plants for Healing the Land after Fire

First publish ed September 19, 2018

“Destructive fires in California have increased in both number and severity over the last decades. … Recent drought and bark beetle tree mortality has resulted in millions of dead and dying trees … significantly weakened to resist fires.”
– Nevada County 2018-19 Fire Safe Guide


This is California’s new normal,” says Governor Jerry Brown.

Contributors to the New Normal

  • warmer and longer summers
  • more homes
  • more people in remote areas
  • above ground powerlines
  • weakened trees from 100 years of “no forest fires”
  • flammable invasive species growing near roads

“Cal Fire investigators have determined trees coming into contact with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power lines are to blame for two Nevada County fires in October (2017) that burned a total of 897 acres and destroyed 60 structures.”
– Auburn Journal – Cal Fire pins blame on PG&E in two Nevada County fires (5-31-2018)

Nevada County Fire Statistics for October 8, 2017

McCourtney Fire – 76 acres burned.
Lobo Fire – 821 acres burned, 47 destroyed structures.


To date, the 2017 wildfire season was the most destructive and costly in California’s history.

If predictions hold true, this record will be broken.
In urban areas, toxic clean-up becomes necessary after fires.

In areas with steep topography, such as Nevada County, mudslides often follow fires.

If soil from the Lobo Fire has become unstable, Lake Wildwood may have cause for concern.

Native Plants for Healing the Land

As landowners recover from fire, they can make plant replacement choices that will speed land recovery, hold soil in place, create healthier environments, and reverse some of the disruption caused by mass urbanization and exotic ornamental plantings over the last hundred years.

Native plants are;

  • adapted to local soil and microclimates
  • their water needs are small
  • they flourish without fertilizers
  • they have their own natural pest management systems
Native plants also;
  • purify water
  • reduce run-off and erosion
  • contribute to soil health
  • provide food for wildlife
  • attract bees and butterflies
  • prevent the spread of invasive species
  • reflect the unique landscape of the area
  • combat climate change by storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide

What are Native Plants?

Native plants are those that evolved to survive to live in a specific environment.


Doug Tallamy, Department of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology, University of Delaware, states that native oak trees support over 500 species of caterpillars while ginkgos, an Asian import, only support 5 caterpillar species.

If it takes one baby bird 150-200 caterpillars to grow to adulthood, oak trees will support them while ginkos…

How Do We Know Which Plants are Native?

click image to view Life on the Creek art

Plant researchers compare fossil records to notes and drawings that European explorers made of seeds and specimens. While the list of California native changes as new information is discovered, scientists have a solid working knowledge of the plants that originated in the California Floristic Provence.

“The way we garden and create places like meadows will determine what life will look like tomorrow.” Doug Tallmay, author of Bringing Nature Home

Where Can I Buy Native Plants?

Every October, the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society holds an annual Native Plant Sale.


click on image to go to plant sale page


Native plants listed in ‘Native Plants for Healing the Land video.

California Buckwheat | Eriogonum fasciculatum 
Western Redbud | Cercis occidentalis
Narrow Leaf Milkweed | Asclepias fascicularis
Showy Milkweed | Asclepias speciosa
Heart Leaf Milkweed | Asclepias cordifolia

Redbud Chapter, Native Plant Society Resources

click on image for PDF page


click on image for PDF page


click on image for PDF page

Redbud Chapter Publications (700 local native plant species!)

Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California 2nd Edition (2017)

Trees and Shrubs of Nevada and PlacerCounties, California (2014)

*Price discount for Members 
if purchased from Redbud*


If you liked this post, check out Invasive Species Choke Natives or Forest Management and Fire.

click on image to purchase or view the entire Life on the Creek design collection


California Fires

CNBC – Gov. Jerry Brown warns ‘new normal’ of wildfires could bring fiscal stress for California  (8-1-18)
Good Day Sacramento – Lobo Fire Threatening Thousands of Homes in Nevada County (9-4-18)
Living Wild Project – Redbud
NASA – Fire and Smoke (8-7-18)
Nevada County 2018-19 Fire Safe Guide – California’s new normal?
New York Times –  California Fire Now the Largest in State History: ‘People Are on Edge’

NASA Photo – Mendocino Complex fires – July 2018

Population Reference Bureau – Human Population Lesson Plan
The Union – Disaster averted; Firefighters save homes in western Nevada County (7-18-18)

Plants & Animals

Audobon – Why Native Plants Matter
Audubon’s handy database.  Enter your zip code for a list of native plants and the birds they’ll attract.

California Native Grassland Association
California Native Plant Society

Calscape – Gardening and Landscaping
Calscape – Native Plant Nurseries in California
Library of Congress – Edible Wild Plants
Monarch Joint Venture – Counter the loss of monarch habitat
Native American Ethnobotany Database – Nisenan Tribe
Sunset Magazine – Knock-Out Native Plants
UC Master Gardiners of Nevada County
University of California, Berkeley – University and Jepson Herbaria
Wild Seed Project

“By creating a native plant garden, each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.” – Audobon

More Books

Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
by Douglas Tallamay

Growing California Native Plants, by Marjorie G. Schmidt

Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California by Alicia Funk

Yerba Santa – Fire Follower & Phlegm Fighter

First published Juen 29, 2018

Yerba santa – Eriodictyon californicum – is native to California and Oregon.

Its common name is Spanish for “sainted weed” or “blessed herb.”

Native people are thought to have educated the early missionaries about plant uses.


This sun-loving plant generally grows on east or south-facing slopes. It can be found near Douglas-fir, Madrone, Ponderosa Pine, Jeffry pine,  Black, Blue, and Canyon live oaks.

Life Cycle

Seedlings and new growth – spring
Blooms – May through June
Seeds Form – late summer
Drops Seeds – fall

After two years, the plant produces rhizomes, a shallow underground stem system that helps it spread.

Fire Follower

Yerba santa produces hardy seeds. They can lay dormant for ten years or more, waiting for a fire or ground disturbance to germinate.

Glutinous resins produced by the leaves make them shiny. The resins are flammable.

Animal Feed & Honey

Black-tailed deer will eat Yerba Santa leaves early in the growth cycle when the resins are sweet. Seed capsules are consumed by small animals and birds.

Honey made from Yerba Santa flowers has an amber color and a spicy flavor.

Soil Stabilization

Yerba Santa’s shallow root and rhizomes control and stabilize soil erosion.

Human Uses

Commonly called consumptive’s weed, Yerba santa branches and leaves were historically burned in steam baths to relive tuberculosis symptoms.

Leaf compounds, included in cough medicines, dilate bronchial tubes and function as an expectorant – an agent that brings up and expels phlegm.

Yerba santa has also been used to for;

  • headache
  • colds
  • stomachache
  • asthma
  • hay fever
  • rheumatism
  • pulmonary and bronchial congestion
  • blood purifier


Leaves can be used fresh or dried in tea.

Fresh leaves can be applied to the skin (they stick). They can be rolled into balls and sun-dried. Chewing them (bitter at first, then sweet) is a natural mouthwash.

Mashed leaves can be spread over cuts, sores, and to relieve aching muscles.

Responsible Harvesting

Harvest light green, new-growth leaves from early to late summer. Only take a few from each plant, leaving the root systems intact.


If you liked this post, you might also like – Native Plants for Healing the Land


Calflora – Yerba Santa

Encyclopedia of Life – Eriodictyon californicum

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art

The School of Forest Medicine – Yerba Santa the Holy Herb

USDA National Resources Conservation Service – Yerba Santa Plant Guide PDF

USDA Forest Service – Yerba Santa

WebMD – Yerba Santa

Wikipedia – Eriodictyon californicum

Mugwort – Dream Plant with a Long History

First published May 23, 2017

Aromatic mugwort has been used to help women with menstrual and menopausal issues, it has been included with greens to stuff geese, and used to make beer before hops became popular.

Its generic name, Artemisia, comes from the Greek moon goddess, Artemis, patron of women.

In Pagan ceremonies, a belt of mugwort was worn while dancing around the fire summer solstice celebrations. When the dance was over, the plant was thrown into the flames to ensure protection for the coming year.

Romans planted it at the edges of roads so travelers could put it in their shoes to relieve aching feet.

Some Native Americans rubbed mugwort leaves on their skin to prevent poison oak rash.

They called it the ‘dream plant’ because they believed that it helped to remember their dreams.

For this purpose, they dried the leaves, burned them as incense, or stuffed them in pillows to sleep on.

Sometimes mugwort was worn on the body to keep ghosts away or to ward off evil dreams.

The next time you are out in the grassy wilds of Nevada County or walking near the creek, look for mugwort. Roll a fragrant leaf between your fingers and smell it while thinking about the many ways people have used this plant.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Yerba Santa – Fire Follower and Phlegm Fighter.




Artemis, Greek Mythology


Central Miwok Ceremonies, Anthropological Records (PDF), by E. W. Gifford, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1955, medicine, pharmacology, mugwort

Indian Herbal Remedies: Rational Western Therapy, Ayurvedic and other Traditional Usage, Botany (Google books)

Native American Plant Mythology website

Native American herbal books on Amazon

WebMD  – Mugwart overview, uses, side effects, interactions and dosing

click image to order or see more Life on the Creek art

Wikipedia – California Mugwart, Artemsia, douglasiana




Mining Pollution Legacy and Clean-Up

First published May 21, 2017

In the mid-1850’s hydraulic mining filled the stream channels and muddied the waters all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

Mercury was used in sluice boxes to amalgamate gold. “It is estimated that ten million pounds of mercury were lost into the streams,” comments Kyle Leach, Geologist for Sierra Streams Institute.

“The tale of the Gold Rush is a greedy tale,” says Shelly Covert, Nisenan Tribal Council Secretary. “Miners came for the land and for the gold. All of the trees, waterways, fish, and plants that  our families lived on were gone.”



Crow’s Range: An Environmental History of the Sierra Nevada, by David Beesley [KXJZ, Insight interview 35:46]

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

Abandoned Mine Clean-Up | Sierra Streams Institute

  • Providence Mine (2015)
  • Stiles Mill (2013) – Under Pine Street Bridge
  • Pioneer Park (2017)
  • Providence Quartz Mill (ongoing) – off Providence Mine Rd.



Development of Lake Wildwood & Current Events

First published May 21, 2017

“Ed Colwell owned the Anthony House [current location of Lake Wildwood] before Boise Cascade bought it…  He had peacocks and big white geese, which he would rent out for such things [as] pulling weeds from spinach beds. He raised turkeys and some cows. Mostly, however, he raised horses. He had 300 brook mares and one Palomino stud…He sold the Palomino colts. This was during the Roy Rogers era; …Everybody wanted a Palomino,”  says Alice Magonigle in the article Long-Time Rancher Looks Back by Marianne McKnight, 1999 – Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce.

  • 1967 ranch land purchased by Boise Cascade
  • 1968 Lake Wildwood Association incorporation
  • 1969 early summer – construction began on the dam, road construction, golf course, marina, and buildings
  • 1969 Lake Wildwood filled


E. Coli Contamination at Lake Wildwood

CBS 13 – Sacramento – Geese Euthanization – July 12, 2018
KNCO – E.Coli Restrictions Still In Place Lake Wildwood – Feb. 23. 2018

If you liked this blog post, you might also like, Anthony House & Penn Valley Under Lake Wildwood.



Article: The Union – Urban refugees, country-seekers flock to Nevada County developments for ‘good life’– The Union – July 27, 2014
Book: Shapping the Sierra; Nature, Culture and Conflict in the Changing West by Timothy P. Duane – LWW sewage treatment plant

1996 Lake Drain

Video: 1969/70 Boise Cascade development in San Bernadino County

Website: Lake Wildwood Home Owners Association

Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld

First published September 1, 2018

The shrimp sized roly-poly kids love to play with has a night job making soil a nicer place to live…if you’re a plant or microorganism.

Photo Credit: Franco Folini

Also Known As…

Doodle bugs, potato bugs, wood shrimp, pill woodlouse, armadillo bug, log-louse, boat-builder (Newfoundland), cheeselog (England), chiggy pig (Devon, England), monkey-peas (Kent, England), and slater (Scotland) these tiny animals are best known for a defense reaction.

Conglobation is the act of rolling into a ball. Entomologists say this behavior also preserves water when the surroundings become too dry.

Pill bugs are isopods (without a backbone); not bugs at all, they are crustaceans most closely related to shrimp and lobster.

Photo Credit: Sandstein

The scientific name, Armadillidium vulgare, was given for its likeness to the armadillo conglobation behavior.

Out of the Water but Retaining Moisture

Millions of years ago, these crustaceans moved from the ocean and adapted to life on land.  Gills formed pleopods that act like lungs. These must be kept moist to function.

Staying damp is a powerful pill bug motivator.

A fascinating behavior is a 911 pheromone call. Responding to the chemical communication, a large number (70+) of like-species aggregate. Animals arrive to cover an individual with their bodies to assist with water retention.


Typical habitat is under rocks, leaves, or fallen logs and in compost piles. Generally, millipedes, earthworms, and sow bugs are found in the same places. Pill bugs need moisture, but they don’t like saturation.

Studies measuring the biomass (total number) of animals in different locations on farms found that pill bug populations are stronger in untilled soil and in environments where pesticides have not been used.

Because pill bugs need calcium to maintain their exoskeleton; they prefer soil with a neutral pH.

Although Armadillidium vulgare can be found during the day, most of their activity occurs at night.


Fortunately, pill bug dietary requirements align with the need for moisture. They feed on decaying wood, plant matter, and fungus. Occasionally they will also graze on algae and lichens.

Their excrement further breaks down nutrients making them available for microorganisms and tree roots.

Heavy Metal Indicators

Pill bugs consume copper, zinc, lead, and cadmium. Rather than absorbing and eliminating the metals, they accumulate and store them in digestive glands. Because of this, pill bugs are useful bioindicators of heavy metal pollution.


Predators include ground beetles, scorpions, spiders, birds, frogs, toads, newts, and lizards. When young are soft after molting, sometimes pill bugs eat each other.

Life Cycle

Females produce one to two broods per year consisting of 100 to 200 eggs. She carries them in a marsupium-like pouch on her underside for nearly a month. After hatching, the young remain in the pouch for several weeks, feeding off marsupial fluid.

Once leaving the mother, babies molt every two weeks for the next four-and-a-half months gaining body segments and additional legs.

Adults can live for two to five years.

Next time you spot a roly-poly, you’ll appriciate that its much more
than a ‘bug’ that rolls into a ball.

If you liked this post, you may also like Cuckoo Wasp – A Living Jewel.


click image to order or see more Life on the Creek art

American Orchid Society – Sow Bugs and Pill Bugs
Carolina Biological “Critters in the Classroom” Pillbugs
Encyclopedia of Life – Armadillidium vulgare – Build a Roly-Poly Terrarium
Insect Identification

Isopod Newsletter
Marine Species.Org – Isopodia – Ordway Biodiversity Inventory
Maurizio G. Paoletti, Dipartimento di Biologia Università di Padova
lab. Agroecology and Ethnobiology
–  Woodlice: their potential for sustainability and as bioindicators
Midwood Science Research – macro pillbug photos
PBS – Pill bugs emerged from the sea to conquer the Earth
Science Daily – Invasive Roly-polys Might Actually Help The Soil, Study Reveals (2005)
Scientific American – Student Science – Springtime Science: What’s Home Sweet Home to a Bug?
ThoughtCo. – 15 Fascinating facts about Pill Bugs  (Note: Isopod photo with the article is a Sow Bug.)
University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – How to Manage Pests in 
Garden Landscapes
University of Illinois Extension – Composting for the Homeowner
University of Florida – Pill – Armadillidium vulgare – Woodlouse


Cuckoo Wasp – A Living Jewel

First published May 21, 2017

The Cuckoo wasp is an eye-catching creature that is easy to see.

Its brilliant turquoise color is created when light refracts between hollow layers of the exoskeleton. This adaptation makes the stealthy insect virtually invisible when it enters the dark burrows of its prey.

Foraging for nectar during a hot afternoon. Cuckoo wasps are most active between May and August.

The Cuckoo wasp is parasitic. It watches and waits to find ground bee and wasp nests. To enter, it will often hitch rides on victims being dragged inside. The bumpy exoskeleton of the Cuckoo wasp protects it from stings.  It also has an indented midsection, like a pill bug, that allows it to curl into a ball– another protective measure. Once inside, the Cuckoo wasp lays its eggs inside the host larvae. Its stinger evolved into an egg-laying tube, so it couldn’t hurt you if you wanted to let one crawl on your hand.

One species of Cuckoo wasp first came to California from Africa in the mid-nineteenth century. It parasitized mud dobber larvae aboard sailing ships.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld.


Bay Nature Magazine – Bug Guide

Texas A&M- Cuckoo Wasps

Wikipedia – Cuckoo Wasp

Bird’s Nest Fungi – Spores Spread by Rain Drops

First published May 20, 2017

At first glance, they look like curious, minuscule insect nests. Tiny baskets, holding a collection of

‘eggs,’ clinging to a dead log at the edge of Deer Creek.

Identification investigations revealed something more interesting than ‘just’ insects.  Bird’s Nest Fungi – Nidulariaceae, Cyathus stercoreus – mushrooms that use raindrops to propagate.

Moving with the Rain

Raindrops aren’t the only way they move from place to place. At the base of the peridiole (spore sack) is a cord that unfurls when disturbed. Like newborn spiders, these cords are long and sticky. They cling to whoever or whatever passes by.

Anatomy of a Fungus

Once the peridiole drops off or is eaten and excreted by an animal, the spores are released to begin a new life cycle.

The ‘nests’ are approximately five millimeters in diameter, about half the size of a pencil top.

Bird’s Nest Fungi can be seen in late winter and early spring. Look for them in shady places growing on dead or decomposing wood.

Click on image to order or see more Life on the Creek art


Fungi of California

Mushrooms, Fungi, Mycology

Wikipedia – Bird’s Nest Fungi – Nidulariaceae

Exclusionist State Governor

First published March 13, 2017

Peter Hardeman Burnett: California’s First Governor

Peter H. Burnett 1807 – 1985 Store owner, lawyer, farmer, road builder and Provisional Supreme Court Judge. Signer of Oregon’s first exclusion laws. California Gold rush miner, land sale broker, and first Governor of the new state of California (1849-1851). A supporter of Chinese Exclusion Act and extermination of local California Indian tribes.

Before securing his position as California’s first Governor (1849 – 1851), Burnett moved his family from Missouri to Oregon on a wagon train.

“As a legislator in Oregon, Burnett proposed that all free blacks be forced to leave the state. Any who failed to leave were to be arrested and flogged every six months until they did leave.” – from The Governors’ Library

Excerpts from Governor Burnett’s State of the State Address

December 21, 1849

The New State

Twenty months ago California was inhabited by a sparse population – a pastoral people – deriving their main sustenance from their flocks and herds, and a scanty cultivation of the soil; their trade and business limited, and their principal exports consisting of hides and tallow.

Within that short period has been made the discovery of the rich, extensive, and exhaustless gold mines of California; and how great have already been its effects! The trade and business of the country have been revolutionized and reversed – the population increased beyond all expectation – commerce extended – our ports filled with shipping from every nation and clime – our commercial cities have sprung up as if by enchantment – our beautiful bays and placid streams now navigated by the power of the energetic, intrepid, and sensible people of California have formed a Constitution for our new State – the Pacific Star.

Payment of Taxes

There are some individuals in California who intend to remain here only while they extract her gold, and enjoy the protection of her laws, and who would willingly return without paying anything. This is particularly the case with respect to the great mass of foreigners in the country. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849

Free Blacks Should be Excluded

Our Constitution has wisely prohibited Slavery with the State; so that the people of California are once and forever free from this great social and political evil.

Governor Burnet was instrumental in drawing the first county boundaries in the state.

For some years past, I have given this subject my most candid and serious attention, and I most cheerfully lay before you the result of my own reflections. There is, in my opinion, but one of two consistent courses to take in reference to this class of population, – either to admit them to the full and fee enjoyment of all the privileges guaranteed by the Constitution to others, or exclude them from the State.

If we permit them to settle in our State, under existing circumstances, we consign them, by our own institutions, and the usages of own society, to a subordinate and degraded position, which is in itself but a species of slavery. They would be placed in a situation where they would have no efficient motives for moral or intellectual improvement, but must remain in our midst, sensible of their degradation, unhappy themselves, enemies to the institutions and the society whose usages, have placed them there, and for ever fit teachers in all the schools of ignorance, vice, and idleness.

It could be no favor, and no kindness, to permit that class of population to settle in the State under such humiliating conditions, although they might think otherwise; while it would be a most serious injury to us.

We have certainly the right to prevent any class of population from settling in our State, that we deem injurious to our society. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849

Had they been born here, and had acquired rights in consequence, I should not recommend any measures to expel them. They are not now here, – except a few in comparison with the numbers that would be here, – and the object is to keep them out. I, therefore, call your most serious attention to this subject, believing it to be one of the first importance.

California’s Destiny

We have a new community to organize, a new State to build up. We have also to create and sustain a reputation, in the face of the misconceptions of our character that are entertained elsewhere. But we have the most ample and the most excellent materials, out of which to construct a great community and a great State. The emigration to this country from the States East of the Rocky Mountains consists of their most energetic, enterprising, and intelligent population, while the timid and idle, who had neither the energy nor the means to get here, were left to remain at home.

Either a brilliant destiny awaits California, or one of the most sordid and degraded. She will be marked by strong and decided characteristics. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849


The California Militia and “Expeditions Against the Indians”, 1850 – 1859

Google e-book – Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer, by Peter H. Burnett

History Channel – California’s Little-Known Genocide

Subsidized Indian Massacres, Murder & Legal Disenfranchisement of the Native Californians  by Chuck SmithAnthropology Instructor, for the Cabrillo College’s Anthropology 6 class “Native Peoples of California.”

The Secret Treaties with California’s Indians (PDF) – Larisa K. Miller

Wikipedia – Peter Hardeman Burnett


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.

First published May 30, 2018

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

First published March 4, 2017

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

First published April 7, 2017


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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Changing Water Levels & Following Deer Creek Beginnings

Coincidence or synchronicity may never be known but on a stormy January day, Lisa Redfern happened to be reading a book that came highly recommended from a friend, The Diary of a Forty-Niner. It’s an engaging account of a young gold miner who worked on Rock Creek [North Bloomfield area] between 1850-1852.  At the time of the reading, part of the book’s allure, aside from many mentions of well-known Nevada County landmarks, was the unknown element if the book was fact or fiction.

JANUARY 12, 1851 “It’s been raining all the week and the creeks are running bank-full. Over on Deer Creek it drove all the miners out and filled their claims with rock and gravel.” – The Diary of a Forty-Niner by Chauncey L. Canfield

On JANUARY 10, 2017, Lisa hiked down to Deer Creek to capture the images in the video below.

Once Redfern finished reading the book, research commenced. The story behind it, involving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, is as interesting as the contents of the book!

Explore more here.