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From the Lassen County Almanac: An Historical Encyclopedia

by Tim I. Purdy (c) 2002

Peter Lassen was born on October 31, 1800, at Farum, Denmark, a small village located fifteen miles from Copenhagen.  Lassen learned the blacksmith trade from his uncle, and this skill proved to be most useful for him throughout his life.

Like many Europeans, Lassen sought to escape poverty, and in 1830, he was granted permission to leave Denmark for America. Lassen arrived at Boston and there applied his trade as a blacksmith.  Lassen continued his westward movement, first to Philadelphia and then, in 1831, to Keytesville, Missouri.

Lassen remained in Missouri until 1839, when he left the area with a small group going to Oregon. Lassen arrived in Oregon in the fall and stayed for the winter.  In the spring of 1840, he boarded the vessel the Lospanna and sailed down the west coast, entering California at Bodega Bay. From there he went to the Russian colony of Fort Ross and then proceeded to John A. Sutter’s Ranch, New Helvetia (Sacramento). 

Lassen found himself appointed as a member of a posse during an incident at Sutter’s Ranch.  Two horses had been stolen and Lassen’s group went to the northern Sacramento Valley to retrieve them. While on that expedition, Lassen came upon the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek.  Lassen was impressed with that country.   Lassen obtained Mexican citizenship, allowing him to own property and was subsequently granted five Spanish leagues (22,000 acres) at Deer Creek. 

In February 1845, Lassen’s Bosquejo Ranch was established there and it became the northernmost settlement in California. Lassen established Benton City on the Bosquejo Ranch.  In the summer of 1847, Lassen returned to Missouri to recruit settlers for his new community.  In the spring of 1848, he brought back a small group of emigrants and they were the first to cross over the infamous Lassen Trail.1 

When Lassen arrived at Benton City he found it nearly vacated as his populous had moved to Sutter’s Mill and other points following the discovery of gold. That was only the beginning of problems that Lassen encountered with Benton City. Prior to his departure to Missouri he had deeded over one-fifth of his ranch to Daniel Sill.

In May 1850, Lassen deeded over one-half of his ranch to Joel Palmer to finance the purchase of a small steamboat, the Lady Washington.  The steamer was to be the easiest method to transport supplies from Sacramento to Benton City.  The boat encountered numerous problems with sand bars and snag trees on the Sacramento River and was sunk.  That disaster and other financial problems forced Lassen to sell the remainder of his ranch to Henry Gerke.  Thus, Lassen, now freed as a landholder, relocated to Indian Valley, Plumas County. 

Lassen, like so many others, had become intrigued by the possible existence of the fabled Gold Lake.  In the late summer/early fall of 1850, Lassen, J. Goldsborough Bruff, and a small group of men explored Northeastern California in search of Gold Lake, though they never found it.  In 1855, Lassen did find gold, in the Honey Lake Valley.  That fall, Lassen, and his companions, Isadore Meyerwitz, Joseph Lynch, Newton Hamilton, Marion Lawrence and John Duchene built a log cabin near Lassen Creek and spent the winter in the Honey Lake Valley.

Lassen continued with many pursuits while he lived in the Honey Lake Valley—he was elected President of the Nataqua Territory and also held the position of Surveyor.  In the fall of 1858, news circulated of the silver discovery in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.  In the spring of 1859, Lassen organized a prospecting party.  It was divided into two groups, one led by Captain W William Weatherlow and the other by Lassen—that group consisted of Lassen, Edward Clapper and Lemericus Wyatt.  The two groups were to meet at the Black Rock Canyon.  Lassen and Company arrived first and remained to wait for Weatherlow’s party—a fatal mistake. 

On the morning on April 26, 1859, Lassen’s camp was awakened by a gunshot, a fatal one, striking the head of Clapper.  Lassen was killed by the second shot.  Wyatt escaped and rode horseback 124 miles to Susanville to safety and to relay the tragic event.  Who murdered Clapper and Lassen is a question still pondered to this day.  Wyatt stated that they had been attacked by Indians.  However, many historians are skeptical about Wyatt’s story and speculate that he murdered his comrades.