The South Fork of the Feather River rises north of Downieville near Pilot Peak and is the shortest of the three main forks of the river. The middle and north forks each have many branches and come down from high in the mountains. The middle fork runs southwest from the summit ridge of the Sierra Nevada, while the north flows southerly from the area of Lassen Peak. Many smaller streams run into them, some through beautiful mountain valleys but most cut through extremely rough and broken country. One of these branches is Spanish Creek whose path almost makes a complete circle, first flowing south then east for a while before turning north and then finally west until it at last joins the north fork. Along the way it passes through American Valley that, like Indian Valley, was an important agricultural center that provided cheap and convenient supplies of grain and fodder for the mining towns in this rugged and remote region.
In addition to Bidwell’s Bar some noted locations on the Middle Fork of the Feather were Stringtown, 15 miles northeast of Oroville, Nelson’s Point, about 25 miles north of Downieville, and Gold Lake, some 20 mile southeast of Nelson’s Point. Stringtown straggled along the south side of the middle fork with cabins and tents lined up like pearls on a string, and thus the name. Gold Lake is the source of a branch of the middle fork and, because of stories told by a man named Stoddard about a lake of gold, it was the object of huge rush in the early 1850s, but there proved to be no gold in Gold Lake. The most important and roughest mining camp in the Feather River area was Nelson’s Point. Built where three steep mountain spurs meet at the junction of Nelson’s Creek, it was comprised of a few houses randomly crammed intoone another or against the mountain cliffs. It’s location near so many rich mining sites made it a convenient place for miners to buy supplies but it quickly became a center of carousal and other wickedness so that a newsman who visited there in the early days called it “one of the most miserable cut-throat looking places within the range of the mining region.”
Long Bar, Big Bar, Caribou, Cherokee, Greenville, Crescent Mills, Taylorville and Quincy were some of the main centers along the north fork, but the most famous, and by far the wealthiest had to be Rich Bar. The first miner there in the summer of 1850 took out $250 worth of gold in the first pan of ore he worked and a later pan yielded the incredible sum of $1500. Two men dug out 32 pounds of gold in eight hours while two other men recovered $6000 worth in two weeks, fortunes in those days. The word went out and 500 men rapidly settled in to mine Rich Bar. Other close by places, such as Smith’s Bar, Indian Bar, and Missouri Bar, were also loaded with gold but Rich Bar stayed as the most productive and well known and it continued to be an active mining community for years.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush available in paperback, kindle and nook formats.