“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Beckwourth in Plumas County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)

Sierra Valley History

Agriculture in Sierra Valley Panel 1 image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
1. Agriculture in Sierra Valley Panel 1
Caption (clockwise from the upper left):Kirby’s Ranch, circa 1890’s; later the Ramelli Ranch. Herbert Huntley with Aonunk (?) horses baling hay, circa 1900. Massive hay stack in Sierra Valley, circa 1900.
Inscription. This marker is made up of four panels. They are presented left to right.

Agriculture in Sierra Valley
A few years after James Beckwourth settled on what he called the War Horse Ranch just west of here in 1852, more ranches and farms were established throughout the Sierra Valley. By the following decade, these ranches were supplying significant amounts of beef and dairy products to the mines of Plumas and Sierra counties, as well as the Comstock Lode in Nevada. After the valley bottom was drained, local ranchers started growing hay. The primary settlements in the north half of the valley were Beckwith (now Beckwourth), just east of this rest area, Cleveland (now Vinton), and Summit (now Chilcoot), just west of Beckwouth Pass.

Beginning in the early 1870s, Swiss-Italian immigrants began arriving in Sierra Valley. Most came from Tocino, in southern Switzerland, where the Italian language predominates. The first arrivals headed for the gold fields, but many more came to work as laborers on ranches and dairies in the area. They were hard-working, thrifty people, and by the 1880s some of them had purchased the very ranches where they had started out as hired hands. In many cases they added to their properties, acquiring summer range in the surrounding mountains and increasing the overall
Three Railroads Through Sierra Valley Panel 2 image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
2. Three Railroads Through Sierra Valley Panel 2
Captions (left to right): (background photo) Boca and Loyalton Railroad car near site of Portola, early 1900s. Western Pacific Railroad at Portola Station, 1910. Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad at Beckwith Station, circa 1897.
size of their operations. Family names like Dotta, Folchi, Galeppi, Guidici, Laffranchini, Maddalena, Ramelli, Scolari, Tognazzine, and many others became linked with the surrounding countryside. Many descendents of these families still reside in the area; some still live on the home ranches.

Three Railroads Through Sierra Valley
The first railroad to enter Plumas County was the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad. From near today’s Hallelujah Junction, this narrow-gauge common carrier (freight and passengers) was completed west over Beckwourth Pass and stopped east of the town of Beckwith (today’s Beckwourth), where bankruptcy forced its owners to stop construction in 1887. In 1895 the railroad’s owners, reorganized as the Sierra Valleys Railway Company, completed another 14 miles westward to a raucous lumber town called Clairville. By 1903 it ran all the way to Clio in Mowhawk Valley. After more financial difficulties, the railroad changed hands again, and the new owners extended it to the Davis Sawmill, in today’s Greaeagle. In 1918 the struggling railway finally ceased operation altogether.

The Boca and Loyalton Railroad was incorporated in 1900. This standard-gauge railroad began at the town of Boca along the Truckee River and extended north to the lumbering center of Loyalton in eastern Sierra Valley. In 1901, it was pushed northwest
James Pierson Beckwourth: Mountain Man and Entrepreneur Panel 3 image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
3. James Pierson Beckwourth: Mountain Man and Entrepreneur Panel 3
Captions: (left) James Pierson Beckwourth, 1798 – 1866. (center and right) Local oral tradition has it that the square-log building about a half-mile west of this spot, now known as the Jim Beckwourth Cabin Museum, is the third cabin built by him. It was moved to its current location along Rocky Point Road (at right) from the nearby Kirby/Ramelli Ranch in 1985.
to Beckwith, then west past the future site of Portola.

In 1905, construction began on the Western Pacific Railroad linking Oakland, California with Salt Lake City in Utah. Completed in late 1909, this was the third railroad through Sierra Valley. Portola was founded at this time as a railroad town, and many new sawmills opened as a result.

For a short time, between 1910 and about 1914, three independent railroads were operating through this area in very close proximity to one another – a very unusual circumstance. In the end, the Western Pacific acquired both of the other railroads and had dismantled them by 1920. Now operated by the Union Pacific Company, the old Western Pacific line has been in use for over 100 years. Remnants of the two older lines can still be seen in some area of the valley.

James Pierson Beckwourth: Mountain Man and Entrepreneur
James Pierson Beckwourth is legendary in the annuals of the American West. He was born a slave in Fredrick County, Virginia on April 26, 1798, and at the age of 26 was emancipated by his slaveholder father, Jennings Beckwith. James changed his name to “Beckwourth” and received a basic education, as well as training as a blacksmith. During his adventurous life, he was a fur trapper, a trader, an army scout, a prospector, and an accomplished explorer. He lived among
Early Transportation in Eastern Plumas County, California Panel 4 image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
4. Early Transportation in Eastern Plumas County, California Panel 4
Captions (clockwise from the top left): Plumas County Highway, circa 1939. Sierra Valley Railway Company track over Beckwourth Pass, the highest point on the railway at 5,230 feet. Photo circa 1895. State Route 70 through the Feather River Lumber Yard, Delleker, 1914. 1953 Western Pacific Railroad Overhead east of Beckwourth Pass. Hallelujah Junction in the right background. Horse and Buggy at Beckwourth, circa 1900.
the Indian people for long periods of time and was War Chief for the Crow Indians.

The spring of 1850 found Beckwourth, along with many others, searching for gold high in the northern Sierra Nevada. What he located instead was a low-elevation pass on the east side of the Sierra Nevada which he believed could be used as part of a superior emigrant route to California. By 1851, he had blazed a trail from today’s Sparks, Nevada, crossing “Beckwourth’s Pass” to reach American Valley near today’s Quincy. From here, the route continued along an already established pack trail leading to Marysville. Beckwourth is said to have led the first train of emigrants and their wagons over the route. The Beckwourth Emigrant Trail ran through the northern part of Sierra Valley directly past where you are standing.

By the spring of 1852, Beckwourth had established the first trading post in Sierra Valley, a place he called the “War Horse Ranch.” In his own words, it was “... the first ranch (the emigrant) arrives at in the golden state, and is the only house between this place and Salt Lake.” His place was located on the small hill directly west of the rest area and, despite his more colorful name for the place, it was better known simply as “Beckwourth’s Ranch.” The emigrant trail and trading post brought little of the wealth he sought,
Sierra Valley History Marker image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
5. Sierra Valley History Marker
and by 1858 he had left what he called his “Pleasant Valley” for the last time. Jim Beckwourth died in late October of 1866, apparently while living with the Crow Indians.

Early Transportation in Eastern Plumas County, California
Today’s Highway 70 travelers little realize they are following the general route of the Beckwourth Emigrant Trail through Sierra Valley. At the east end of the valley is Beckwourth Pass, discovered in 1850 by explorer and mountain man, James P. Beckwourth. The emigrant trail was built the following year and in a short time evolved into a stage route. By the 1930s it was paved and was being advertised as an “all-weather route.”

The information presented on these panels has been taken from official California Department of Transportation files, as well as from file publications of the Plumas County Museum and the U.S. Forest Service, Plumas National Forest. The cooperation of these groups in collecting the photographs and permitting the use of their materials is greatly appreciated.
Location. 39° 49.41′ N, 120° 24.814′ W. Marker is near Beckwourth, California, in Plumas County. Marker can be reached from Feather River Highway, on the left when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is at or near this
Lester T. Davis Safety Roadside Rest image. Click for full size.
By Barry Swackhamer, June 4, 2013
6. Lester T. Davis Safety Roadside Rest
Dedicated to the memory of
Lester T. Davis
Member of the
California State Assembly
From 1946 to 1952
postal address: 78646 Feather River Highway, Beckwourth CA 96129, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Step Back In Time (here, next to this marker); Beckwourth Trail – The Road Forks (within shouting distance of this marker); James P. Beckwourth Ranch and Trading Post (within shouting distance of this marker); Jim Beckwourth Trading Post (approx. 0.4 miles away); James P. Beckwourth (approx. 0.4 miles away); Hope Lodge No. 234 F & AM (approx. 1.8 miles away); Plumas County Honor Roll World War Two and Korea and Vietnam (approx. 3.4 miles away); a different marker also named Sierra Valley History (approx. 13.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Beckwourth.
More about this marker. This marker is located at the Lester T. Davis Safety Roadside Rest Area.
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Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. This page has been viewed 445 times since then and 117 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on , by Barry Swackhamer of San Jose, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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