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Prior to the California Gold Rush, the area now known as Plumas County was inhabited by the Mountain Maidu Indians.
Living in small groups, they gathered roots, berries, grasses, seeds and acorns, supplementing these staples with large and small game and fish. Their existence was suddenly disturbed in the spring of 1850 when a flood of gold-seeking miners poured into the canyons and valleys of the region in search of a fabled "Gold" Lake.
Overnight, mining camps sprang to life. Rivers were turned from their beds, ditches were dug to bring water from distant sources to the diggings and the land was turned upside down.
A sizable Chinese population took up residence here and remained until the early 1900s when, with the decline in mining, most left the area.
The North, Middle and South forks of the Feather River were named in 1821 by Captain Luis Arguello as the Rio de las Plumas (River of Feathers) after the Spanish explorer saw what looked like bird feathers floating in the water. "Plumas," the Spanish word for "feathers," later became the name for the county.
The river and its forks were the primary sites of early mining activity, with many smaller camps located on their tributaries. Over the next five decades gold mining remained the main industry of the county.
In 1850, the famous mountain man, James P. Beckwourth, discovered the lowest pass across the Sierra Nevada and the following year navigated a wagon trail for California-bound emigrants from western Nevada, through Plumas County, to the Sacramento Valley.
Several years later, in March of 1854, Plumas County was formed from the eastern and largest portion of Butte County with the town of Quincy chosen as the county seat after a heated election.
In 1864, a large part of northern Plumas County was carved off to form present day Lassen County. Following this, Plumas County annexed a small portion of Sierra County which included the town of La Porte.
In the late 1850s, Greenville came into existence as a mining and farming community at the head of Indian Valley; Chester, near Lake Almanor, was born as a result of damming Big Meadows and the lumber potential from the timber stands blanketing the area.
Soon after the turn of the century, and
with the construction of the Western Pacific
Railroad in 1910, Portola came into
existence. With the railroad for
transportation, the timber industry began to
emerge as the primary economic force in the
county. Until that time lumber was milled
strictly for local use. Finished lumber
could now be shipped nationwide from Plumas
forests. The timber industry contributed
enormously to the growth and prosperity of
Plumas County and continues to do so to this
The last passenger train ran in 1970, and the line is now devoted to freight traffic only. In 1937, the Feather River Highway, touted as an "all weather route," was completed through the Feather River Canyon from Oroville to Quincy, linking Plumas County year-round to the Sacramento Valley.
by Scott J. Lawson