Tag Archives: Honey Lake Valley

Commanche Creek

Baxter Creek, circa 1950s
This was the original name for Baxter Creek. In the summer of 1855, Marion Lawrence, better known as “Commanche George,” made one of the first water diversions of any stream in the Honey Lake Valley. In 1864, Lawrence and B.F. Murphy claimed the Buffalo Salt Marsh in the Smoke Creek Desert as a salt mine—that Murphy developed into a profitable enterprise. Lawrence died in 1868 and was buried in an unmarked grave, one mile north of Peter Lassen’s grave


Frederick West Lander

Worth the segment alone dealing with the Nobles Trail.
Frederick Lander was part of several expeditions of the 1850s to locate a route for a Pacific Railroad. There would be many turn of events during this time period, among them the nation’s civil war. When Lander arrived in the Smoke Creek/Honey Lake area, it just happened with the outbreak of the Pyramid Lake War of 1860, and there were several contributing events in the Honey Lake Valley that had a bearing. Lander was caught in the middle. He did keep an excellent account of those activities, which were published by the Desert Research Institute in 1993 with Joy Cleland as editor.

On a side note, even though he died in 1862, one hundred and thirty three years his estate funded a re-photographic survey of Eagle Lake; where in using photographs of the early 1900s, Desert Research Institute went back to those sites to photograph and examine the changes.


Fort Sage School

Superintendent of Schools, Fred Brunhouse letter of approval.
For those who have traveled the east side of Honey Lake Valley, it may seem to difficult to fathom the number homes and schools that once existed. On January 6, 1915, the residents of Calneva, the Western Pacific Station on the stateline north of Doyle, petitioned for the establishment of the school citing that the proposed district had nineteen scholars. The request was granted on February 2, 1915. The school was located in a small one-room building on the Harry Hill homestead. It was later moved to the Aldrich House, a larger building, located in the center of the district. In the summer of 1918, the school was on the verge of being suspended, as enrollment declined to four. The trustees persuaded County Superintendent of Schools, Julia A. Norwood, to keep the school open, as they promised an additional four students would attend in September. The request was granted. The school’s existence was brief and it was closed in 1924. In 1926, the furniture from the school was purchased by the Janesville School District. But, like the proverbial phoenix, the name was resurrected in November 1986. The voters of the Herlong and Long Valley School Districts approved the consolidation of the two schools and the new district was named the Fort Sage Unified School District.

Hot Springs vs. Honey Lake

Wendel Hot Springs, circa 1940.
A reader wanted to know about the naming of Honey Lake, since originally it was known as Hot Springs Basin/Valley. In the summer of 1850, when Peter Lassen and a group of prospectors traveled through there, they named the lake and the valley (Honey)for a sweet dew type substance found on the wild grains.
In 1943, the Oakland Tribune published an article about Fred Lake’s 1892 dream town of Honey Lake City. That prompted a question from several readers as to how Honey Lake received its name. John S. Thomas of Oakland wrote the newspaper and stated: “They call it Honey Lake on account of the honey dew that fall on the borders of the lake. In haying time, if you lay or stand a pitch fork out all night, the handle in the morning will be as sticky as if it had been rubbed with honey. However, W. E. Booth of Hayward questioned Thomas’ claim in a letter to the Tribune. They published his response: “Booth used to live in the Honey Lake Valley and worked on a dairy ranch. Booth insists that he never saw such phenomenon and never heard the story. It would seem that if such a phenomenon was the source of the name of the lake and region, it would have been a matter of common experience and knowledge. The phenomenon of which Mr. Thomas speaks may have been incidental, the sticky handle may have been caused something other than the dew.”


Honey Lake Valley, 1844

Honey Lake Valley, 1898. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal
Long before, Lassen and Roop set foot in the Honey Lake Valley, numerous Anglos had frequented the area since the early 1820s. For a time, Honey Lake Valley was referred to as Hot Springs Basin. In July 1844, William Thomas Hamilton (1822-1908), member of a fur-trapping group, was one such early day visitor. Hamilton wrote in his memoirs: “We reached a beautiful valley called to-day Honey Lake Valley, but at that time without a name. We remained here three months, enjoying ourselves as only men can who love the grandeur of nature. Our time was spent in exploring, hunting, fishing, reading and practicing with all arms.”

Whitehead Slough – Lassen County

Whitehead Slough, near the old Whitehead Ranch. May 24, 2017

Once the Susan River flows past Standish it starts breaking up into various sloughs. Whitehead Slough was named for John Wesley Whitehead.  On September 10, 1886,  Whitehead, then a resident of Pyramid Lake, Nevada purchased 321 acres in the Tule District from Joseph D. & Sarah Smith for $3,000. In 1920, Whitehead retired and moved to Pacific Grove. On April 5, 1922, Whitehead sold his ranch to David and Royce Raker for $1,000.

Remnants of the Whitehead diversion dam. May 24, 2017

One final picture . . .

Whitehead Slough where it enters Honey Lake, 1984.


Milford Creamery Update

Lakeshore Creamery, Milford, 1903

Last month, I lost a dear friend David Wemple (1931-2017). While a contemporary of my mother, I had known David for forty years. The truth be known, I was probably still wearing diapers when I started researching.

Two years ago, I asked David, the story behind the Milford Creamery’s demise and he wrote:  “The main trouble with the creamery was too many bosses and too few laborers. They had to put a lot of money into both buildings, the creamery and the milking shed, that they built. This milking shed may still be standing. It could be that Joe, their father, helped monetarily with the venture. Anyway, the short of it is, the brothers simply didn’t get along that well. My great grandfather, Joseph C. Wemple was, according to Dad, [Claude Wemple] was generous to a fault and John, the oldest son told Dad on one occasion that it was not uncommon for Joe to have in excess of $10,000.00 in cash in his house. This was money from the flour mill located in Milford. I remember these mill stones. They were eventually broken up with a sledge hammer to rock up a spring with.”


Pheobe Masten Slater

Pheobe Masten Hamilton Slater, circa 1877. Courtesy of Philip S. Hall

Various members of the Masten family first arrived in Lassen County and have been involved in many activities over the years, and many descendants still reside in the region. Pheobe was born in 1834, the third child of Peter and Nancy Masten in Ohio. In 1851, she married William S. Hamilton and the following year with her two brothers John and Benjamin Masten crossed the plains and settled in Amador County, California. Several years later, the Masten clan moved to Knights Landing, Yolo County, where he only child, died.

In 1864, at the urging of her brother-in-law Heiro K. Cornell the Hamiltons moved to Susanville. The Hamilton’s stay in Susanville was brief and they relocated to the Tule District and located on what is the present day Fleming Unit of Fish & Game. In 1868, an event had a major impact on Pheobe. Her, and her neighbor, Lurana Sharp dressed prepared the two female bodies of the Pearson Massacre.* In 1880, her husband died unexpectedly, and she carried on with the ranch. In 1882, she not only sold the ranch, but remarried to J.H. Slater, a civil engineer. Slater had visions of a Susan River irrigation system, but could not find any supports. The couple then moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where he died in 1913. In 1918 Pheobe returned to Susanville to make her home with her nephew John Cornell, and died there on 21 January 1919.

*The Pearson Massacre site is one of the few sites I have never attempted to locate.



Smoke Trees

A Smoke Tree on Roop Street, Susanville.

There are a number of varieties of smoke trees which are known for their colorful foilage in the spring and fall. In addition, they are quite hardy, and once established need little care. The reason why bring up this topic, is that they were favorite with desert homesteaders. So when you are out and about in the desert country and you see a smoke tree indicates that at one time there was a homestead there, though the tree outlasted that person’s dream.


Coulthurst Hill

The Belfast District. Courtesy of Bernard McCallister

This rather obscure hill located in Honey Lake Valley’s Belfast District has an interesting tale behind it. Isaac Coulthurst was one of the first Anglo settlers of the region, but in time his sanity came into question.

In 1873 Coulthurst stated that the Lord commanded him to go to the top of this hill. Coulthurst held communion with the Lord in a cave there. He spent a portion of the winter in that cave. Coulthurst stated it was warmed by supernatural heat, but the cave became unbearably hot in the summer. It was then that he discarded his name of Coulthurst and changed his name to the “Second Coming of Christ.” His wife, Mary, had him declared insane. Twice he was placed in mental institutions, each time he spent only a few months. In 1881, a third examination was held on his competency. The courts two examining physicians stated he was fine in all aspects, especially keen in business dealings. They admitted to his religious peculiarity but did not think he would derive any benefit from being institutionalized. After that court hearing, the court proceeded with the divorce proceedings that had been filed by his wife and the court approved it. Coulthurst agreed to the divorce and to pay alimony, but would not divide the property with her. Coulthurst’s refusal to divide the ranch property was based on his belief that it would be the site of a new Jerusalem. Coulthurst contended that a large city would be built there, the streets paved with gold. In 1893, Coulthurst transferred the ranch to his son, Henry, with the provision that his son clothe, feed, maintain, and support him during his natural life. Coulthurst signed the deed “Christ the Lord.”

An interesting footnote when Coulthurst died in 1919, he was the first person interred in the Lassen Cemetery.