Category Archives: History

Westwood High School Fire of 1927

Westwood High School, circa 1925. Courtesy of Hank Martinez
On February 19, 1927 the Westwood High School was destroyed by fire. Such events are news worthy. In this particular instance how the fire was contained was quite unusual.

It was one o’clock in the morning when the fire alarm was turned on. When the firefighters arrived they found the high school fully engulfed in flames. There was little they could do, as it was impossible to save it. They focused their efforts not only to contain it but also to keep it from spreading to the Grammar school located next door. The heat was so intense that it was impossible to enter the building to salvage its contents. Because of the extreme heat the houses across the street began to smolder as if they were going to spontaneously combust. An unusual firefighting technique was developed for this particular instant, and credit was given to Fletcher Walker for this ingenious idea. With the majority of the town gathered to watch the fire, Fletcher recruited citizens to start throwing snowballs at the endangered houses to prevent them from catching fire. It worked!

As Ted Walker recalled, “Fletcher assembled a large number of bystanders into a snow-ball brigade. This force bombarded the nearby houses with snowballs and succeeded in keeping the roofs and sides of the houses sufficiently damp so that the houses were saved. Shingles and sidings were afire many times, but in each case the blaze yielded to the snow-ball treatment.”


A Honey Lake Earthquake?

Honey Lake seen from Tanner Ranch, January 17, 2018
In the fall of 1938, Professor S.T. Harding of the University of California spent some time investigating earthquake effects and water levels in the Honey Lake Valley. He had heard that an 1889 earthquake created an outlet to Honey Lake. However, he found nothing to substantiate this claim. He noted that from the winter of 1937-38 that Eagle Lake rose seven feet, but was still twenty feet short of the high water mark.

It should be noted there was a major earthquake in the region in 1889, where in Eagle Lake dropped by two feet. Harding would return to the region to extensive research on the water levels of Eagle Lake.


Bieber Cheese Factory

H.C. Watson’s Bieber Cheese Factory. Courtesy of the Big Valley Museum

In 1883, Bieber resident, H.C. Watson established the Bieber Cheese Factory, not only a Lassen County first, but was the only one to exist, though it should noted that there were numerous dairies throughout the region. An interesting anecdote was relayed to me,  from someone who remembers the facility. It was related that the catfish in Pit River at Bieber grew nice and fat thanks to cheese factory—the excess whey was disposed by dumping it into the river.


Eagle Lake – Fritter Ranch

Fritter Ranch, Eagle Lake, 1921. Courtesy of Lola L. Tanner
In 1884, James Fritter, along with his wife Frances and three small children left Butte County and located on the northeast shore of Eagle Lake, claiming 160 acres. Nothing unusual about that. In 1903, he planted an apple and peach orchard, which he had many successful harvests, which is rather remarkable given the elevation at the lake, that even regular gardening can be a challenge.

For a brief time, Fritter had political ambitions. In 1900, he ran for State Assembly and lost. Two years later, he ran for a seat on Lassen County Board of Supervisors and was successful. However, things did not go smoothly. Willow Creek Valley resident, H.A. Morrill contested the election, citing that Fritter was not residing in the district. The matter drug on for some time in the court, but in the end he prevailed. In 1910, Fritter ran for public office for the last time, again for a seat on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors. He lost in a landslide to W.C. Brockman.

As the years went by his grown children moved onto other things. In January 1932, with his years advancing and running the ranch by himself, he opted for retirement at Pacific Grove. He died there two years later. It should be noted the family still owns the original 160-acre homestead.


The Sagebrush War

Roops Fort
Roops Fort
This a Cliff note version of this event that occurred on February 15, 1863, that would result in the creation of Lassen County. In the simplest terms the conflict also known as the Boundary War was the result of John C. Fremont’s selection in 1850 of the 120th Meridian for California’s eastern boundary. The problem was no one knew where that was, and assumed it followed the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the late 1850s, with the settlement of the Honey Lake Valley, officials of both California and Nevada saw the uncollected tax dollars waiting to be had. Tensions escalated wherein an armed conflict from the two states took place at Roop’s Fort, also known as Fort Defiance. In the end a truce was called when both sides agreed to conduct a boundary line survey to locate the 120th Meridian, in which it was determined the majority of the Honey Lake Valley was located in California.


The Bremner Dam

The Bremner Dam, 1906.

While there were numerous proposals to construct dams in the Susan River Canyon very few ever came to fruition. This dam was constructed in 1886 on the Susan River about a half-mile above  Hobo Camp. It was an impressive structure being 250 feet long and 25 feet high. It created a reservoir in which water was backed up over a mile. The dam was constructed to provide waterpower for a sawmill at the location to be featured in a future post. The sawmill and subsequent power plant was destroyed by fire in 1894. The sawmill was never rebuilt and the power plant located downstream where a flume from the dam provided the waterpower. By 1900, this too, had gone by the wayside, and residents were concerned about a possible dam failure, flooding people downstream. In 1906, some unknown party attempted to blow up the dam with explosives, but not familiar, did little damage. Between the railroad construction, in 1913, and time the dam slowly deteriorated. During the drought of 1977, the foundations of the dam were revealed.



A Wendel Story

Highway directional sign to Wendel

In 1929, some one had high hopes for Wendel. Nearly sixty years later, some one in Germany thought it had occurred. At that time I had received a call about wanting to know the nearest international airport was for Wendel. In addition, what kind of accommodations were available and did Wendel have a Holiday Inn Hotel. Alas, I had to explain to Armin deWendel current state of affairs. Armin’s interest in Wendel was due to the fact it was named after his family who were investors in the NCO Railroad. Needless to say, after I sent him some photographs of the town, his interest to visit the place went by the wayside.


Remember When?

The proposed Lassen Shopping Center
In February 1976, L & H International Development of Alameda announced plans to construct a new shopping center, to be known as Lassen, at the east end of Susanville on land located between Main Street and Fair Drive. At that time the property was occupied by Susanville Auto Wreckers and Langslet Mobile Homes. One of the biggest hurdles in the project was the acquisition of a small segment of the Paul Bunyan Logging Road. When the shopping center opened, its anchor store was Holiday Market. The Round Table Pizza Parlor is only business that has remained since the Lassen Shopping Center opened.


A Wanderer Until I Die

The cover of Clark’s first book.

Leonard Clark was one of those interesting Never Sweats who went on to live a very colorful life. Clark was born in 1907 in British Columbia, but was raised in the Honey Lake Valley, as his mother was a member of the pioneer Brubeck-Grass-Litch families of the same place. After he graduated from Lassen High School in 1925, he was struck with wanderlust. By the early 1930s he had explored Asia extensively and wrote his first book, A Wanderer Until I Die. The book published in 1937, as one review began, “Aviator, soldier of fortune, mountain climber this young American has adventure in his blood. From tiger and python hunting in China, treasure hunting in Malaysia . . .” The following year he married Jean Wingfield, daughter of Nevada tycoon George Wingfield.

Because of his vast knowledge and contacts in China and Mongolia, during the early stages of World War II, he was recruited by the American OSS, the forerunner of today’s CIA to conduct espionage and guerrilla warfare in those two countries. After the war, he continued with his adventures and now focused on South America. In 1952, his most popular book, The Rivers Ran East was published, which is his account for the search of the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola in the Peruvian Andes. It was also in South America where he met his demise. On May 4, 1957, Clark drowned in the Caroni River, Venezuela while on a diamond mine expedition.


The Rabbit Problem

The site of the original McKissick Ranch on the Madeline Plains.

The desert homesteaders of eastern Lassen County encountered numerous problems in their quest to make their land there productive. One unassuming predator they had to deal with was the rabbit. In 1920, the residents of the Madeline Plains requested aid from their Congressman, John E. Raker, to help them with this particular problem. A study sent to Raker reported: “As soon as the crops are up and making good progress the rabbits begin work on them. The heaviest damage is done during August. One rancher reported losing 100 acres of wheat last summer. They take this crop in preference to oats and rye. It was reported that 70 tons of rabbit meat [to make tamales] had been shipped last season to the San Francisco market. It appears that the animals cannot be killed fast enough in this region to furnish relief to the ranches.”