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Lassen County Historic Trails

The Nobles Emigrant Trail: In 1852, William H. Nobles set out with a prospecting party to explore a route that would bring emigrants directly to Shasta City. He started out by following the Applegate Trail.

* Nobles Trail: Photo Tour - Oregon/California Trails Assoc. - Hiking the Trail

* A jaunt to Honey Lake Valley and Noble's Pass (1853)

* Applegate-Lassen Route:  A photographic tour of California via the Lassen Trail

* Lassen Trail Photos

California State Historical Landmarks in Lassen County

NO. 76 ROOP'S FORT - Built in July 1854 by Isaac N. Roop, Roop House was a stopping place for emigrant trains. It was the locale of the 'sagebrush war' fought in 1863 between the citizens of Plumas County and Lassen County. Location: Memorial Park, N Weatherlow at Nevada St, Susanville

NO. 565 PETER LASSEN GRAVE - In memory of Peter Lassen, the pioneer who was killed by the Indians April 27, 1859, at 66 years of age.
Location: 2550 Wingfield Rd via Richmond Rd, 5 mi SE of Susanville

NO. 675 NOBLE EMIGRANT TRAIL, SUSANVILLE - This meadow, now a city park, was a welcome stopping place on the Noble Emigrant Trail, pioneered by William H. Nobles in 1851 and first used in 1852. Here, emigrants en route to the Northern California mines were able to rest, refresh their stock, and obtain needed provisions at Isaac Roop's establishment, from which grew the city of Susanville.
Location: Lassen Memorial Park, S side of Adaline and North Sts, Susanville

NO. 677 NOBLE EMIGRANT TRAIL - This route was first used in 1852 by emigrants to Northern California seeking to avoid the hardships of the Lassen Trail. It crossed the desert from the Humboldt River in Nevada, passed this point, and proceeded over the mountains to the town of Shasta. Later, 1859-1861, it was known as the Fort Kearney, South Pass and Honey Lake Wagon Road. On October 4, 1850, while hunting for Gold Lake, Peter Lassen and J. G. Bruff saw Honey Lake from this point. Location: On State Hwy 395 (P.M. 80.5), 76 mi N of Litchfield

NO. 678 LASSEN EMIGRANT TRAIL - Through this draw passed many covered wagons and gold seekers en route to California over the Lassen Trail during 1848-1851. Approaching this location from the north, the trail passed what is now Bogard Ranger Station. Proceeding southward to Big Springs and Big Meadows (now Lake Almanor), it then turned westward to Deer Creek, which it followed generally to Vina in the Sacramento Valley. Location: Hwy 36 (P.M. 0.3), 2.5 mi W of Westwood

NO. 758 FORT JANESVILLE - Thoroughly terrified by 'The Ormsby Massacre,' the people of Honey Lake valley built themselves a stockade for protection from an Indian attack that never materialized.
Location: 0.1 mi N of Janesville Elementary School, Main St, Janesville

NO. 763 LASSEN EMIGRANT TRAIL, BIEBER - Peter Lassen opened the Lassen Emigrant Trail in 1848 when he led a 12-wagon emigrant train from Missouri to California. The route, which passed near this place, was extensively traveled during the years 1848-53 by emigrants seeking gold, adventure, and a new life in the west - but because of the hardships of the route and the hostility of the Indians, the trail was little used after 1853. Location: County of Lassen Library - Historical Museum, NE corner Veterans Ln and Bridge St, Bieber


Peter Lassen and the Fandango Pass

The Fandango Pass is not in the Sierra Nevada, and its original name was not "Fandango." Its original name was "Lassen Pass," and it was pioneered by Peter Lassen as a way to entice immigrants into California by going around the Sierra Nevada to the north. Once in the state, Lassen intended that they would make their way in a southwesterly direction that would take them through his property, which was located near today's town of Vina, about halfway between Chico and Red Bluff on U.S. Highway 99.

Peter Lassen was a Danish-born immigrant who arrived in America in 1831, and nine years later he trekked to the northwest over the Oregon Trail. He wound up in California in 1840 by taking a boat from the Oregon coast to Fort Ross. He plied his trade for a while as a blacksmith at Sutter's Fort. In 1843, with Sutter's help, he secured a 26,000-acre grant of land from Mexican Gov. Micheltorena for a rancho in the upper Sacramento Valley. It was called Rancho Los Bosquejo, or the "ranch of the wooded places." Here he established a trading post at what is now Vina, about 18 miles south of Red Bluff. It was the western terminus of his trail, and the place where he installed a trading post to cater to the starved and exhausted pioneers who reached it. Lassen had ambitions similar to those of John Sutter; he wanted to develop an inland empire of which he would be lord. As a landowner Lassen suffered a fate similar to Sutter's. He developed part of his land for a vineyard, and he grew cotton and wheat. He was on the brink of success as a landowner when James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma. Not long after the news reached them, Lassen's workers and the settlers who were dependent upon him deserted his barony to prospect for gold in the foothills. After the Gold Rush Lassen was murdered while prospecting for silver.

Also like Sutter, Lassen managed to have many of California's landmarks named for him. There is Lassen Peak, Lassen Creek, Lassen Butte, and Lassen View. Even the federal government honored him with Lassen National Forest and Lassen National Volcanic Park. With typical Gold Rush irony, none of these places is located in Lassen County, also named after him. All are located in Plumas County, except for Lassen Creek, which is in Modoc County. Lassen's rancho, later named Vina (Spanish for vineyard), was in Tehama County. Lassen Meadows is in Nevada.

In 1846 Jessie Applegate blazed a trail from the Humboldt River in Nevada to the southern Willamette Valley in Oregon as an alternate route to the northern section of the Oregon Trail. Lassen used Applegate's Oregon trail and the Truckee River emigrant trail to create an alternate route into California. In 1847 he traveled to Missouri and led a large wagon train across his new route to his rancho in California, where he had plotted a town for them called Benton City. It was named for Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, the great expansionist politician who was Lassen's idol.

Lassen's settlers formed the first Masonic Lodge in California; but they deserted him in 1848 when word of Marshall's gold discovery at Coloma reached them. Also in 1848 Lassen began selling off portions of his land. In 1852 he conveyed what remained to Henry Gerke. Thirty years later Gerke sold 9000 acres of the original Lassen grant to Leland Stanford for a vineyard, which the early California mogul later donated to Stanford University.

Lassen's route diverged from the Truckee route on the Humboldt River in northwestern Nevada at a place that became known as Lassen Meadows, which is now the site of Rye Patch Reservoir about 40 miles southwest of Winnemucca along Interstate 80. From there the route led north through the Surprise Valley to Lassen's pass in the Warner Mountains, just inside the eastern border of California in Modoc County, almost to the northeastern corner of the state according to its present boundaries. At 6,100 feet the pass was relatively low, but it was still a rugged passage through the mountains, and there were long, arid stretches both east and west of the pass. The pass today is found in Modoc National Forest about 10 miles east of the southern tip of Goose Lake, which was an important geographical feature for prospectors on the Lassen trail. Fandango Pass Road connects U.S. Highway 395 and Surprise Valley Road, which runs along the west shore of Upper Alkali Lake. The pass is about 10 miles from the California-Nevada border.

To the Warner Mountains, the route was essentially Applegate's Trail that eventually came to a fork. The right branch took trekkers north into Oregon, and the left branch turned south to become Lassen's trail. The trail followed the Pit River to Big Meadows, which is now covered by Lake Almanor. It then ran through Deer Creek Pass southwest along the course of Deer Creek to Emigrant Springs. The trail enters the upper Sacramento Valley near Los Molinos, about four miles north of Vina.

Lassen's northern route did not make for a very good passage, and it was no short cut. It was a long, round-about cut-off through steep, precipitous mountain country infested with hostile Indians, Paiutes in the east and Modocs in the west. The way was especially long for those '49ers heading for Sutter's Fort; they had another 130 miles to travel after reaching Lassen's trading post at Vina.

The trail also extended the duration of the journey into the more inclement months of the year, especially for any latecomers on the California trail. Moreover, the extra mileage came at the end of the trek when the pioneers were half-starved and exhausted, and when their animals were tired and weak, making them both especially vulnerable to harsh weather conditions.

A large number of wagon trains was diverted from the Truckee River route to Lassen's trail late in 1849. These were latecomers, and word had reached them that cattle traveling on the Humboldt River trail before them had consumed most of the grass along the Truckee River route. Thus, they opted for Lassen's northern route that had been little used. Doing so, however, put them at risk of adverse weather conditions in the mountains. Disaster was averted only because a relief expedition under the command of Major D. H. Rucker was sent out from San Francisco to distribute food and supplies as needed and to help the immigrants get through the mountains, especially the women and children. By the end of the 1850 migration season few wagon trains followed Lassen's trail. It had developed a very bad reputation.

One of the first '49er companies to traverse Lassen Pass was the Wolverine Rangers from Michigan, who camped in Fandango Valley the night they completed the passage. The weather grew so cold, it was said, the men had to dance all night to keep warm. Hence, the moniker, "Fandango." Other pioneers, however, claimed that the Rangers were so glad they'd negotiated the pass without incident that they pulled over the wagons and began dancing a fandango in celebration. Hostile Modoc Indians nearby heard the commotion and investigated. They became so frightened at the unseemly sight of white men stomping around in the snow and whooping and hollering that they massacred every one of them.

While apocryphal, these stories tended to underscore the difficulties in using Lassen's route into California. The problems were ameliorated somewhat by the development of Ceder Pass about 15 miles to the south. At 6,300 feet it's a bit taller, but generally a better passage into California. It was developed by William Cressler and John Bonner, Cederville merchants whose trading post on the route offered provisions and supplies to the immigrants as they entered the state. The use of Ceder Pass led to the development of an immigrant route now covered by California Highway 299 that runs through the pass about halfway between Alturas and Cederville.  

A more sensible route into Northern California was pioneered by William Nobles, who established a legitimate short cut into California from the Humboldt River. From the big bend of the Humboldt River (Winnemucca), his trail led due west through the Black Rock Desert and entered California almost 100 miles farther south than Fandango Pass. Overall Nobles' route was more than 200 miles shorter than Lassen's trail and put the prospectors closer to the northern mines. The route led through the vicinity of the city of Susanville, then it proceeded north and west around the north flank of Lassen Peak (10,453 feet). By passing Lassen Peak on the north, the route avoided the Sierra Nevada, which commences its southerly run from the south flank of Lassen Peak. Nobles' Pass is located about 10 miles northwest of Lassen Peak at an elevation of about 6,100 feet. It was well used by prospectors and immigrants until 1867 when a railroad was extended across the Donner Summit.