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MailTribune.com
  • Good times and bad in the Queen City

  • In the spring of 1848, Pierson Reading was one of the few white settlers living in what would soon be Shasta County, Calif.
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      Pierson Reading died in 1868, never to see the name Redding put on that new city to the east.
      Residents of Shasta City were furious when the new town took the name of Benjamin B. Redding, the Ce...
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      If you go
      Pierson Reading died in 1868, never to see the name Redding put on that new city to the east.

      Residents of Shasta City were furious when the new town took the name of Benjamin B. Redding, the Central Pacific Railroad's first land agent and a man they had never seen nor met. Perhaps they didn't know that Redding also was a California politician who, in the late 1860s, had become California's secretary of state.

      The brick skeletons of Shasta City's business district anchor California's Shasta Historic State Park, 19 acres of buildings, a barn, a cemetery, and historic sites that recall the daily lives of miners, merchants and families of the Queen City.

      From Interstate 5, California Exit 678, in Redding, drive west 10 miles on Highway 299 to Shasta. Parking is free, and so is the historic park.
  • In the spring of 1848, Pierson Reading was one of the few white settlers living in what would soon be Shasta County, Calif.
    Born in 1816, he came west in 1843 and went to work as a clerk and trapper for John Sutter at Sutter's Fort in today's Sacramento.
    The land was still Mexican territory, with a governor, Manuel Micheltorena, who liked Americans and rewarded good service with land grants. His only requirement was that the American become a naturalized Mexican citizen.
    Pierson Reading was no fool. For a gift of nearly 27,000 acres in Northern California, he was more than happy to be Mexican, at least for awhile. In 1844, he accepted the most northern Mexican land grant ever issued, Rancho Buena Ventura, which in Spanish means the ranch of good fortune — but Pierson's greatest fortune was still a few years away.
    By 1846, he was a Yankee again, joining a group of American settlers determined to overthrow California's Mexican government.
    It took just 26 days for the men to declare California a republic and align themselves with the United States.
    Pierson returned to his ranch, built an adobe home and hired some of the Shasta and Trinity Indians who already lived on the sprawling claim.
    In spring 1848, after visiting the site of John Marshall's discovery of California gold, he and a crew of 66 Native American laborers began poring over his property, looking for signs of the precious yellow metal. After barely a month of searching, they found it at Clear Creek, a few miles southwest of today's Redding.
    In just six weeks, they took out $80,000 in gold — a good haul, when you realize that $80,000 in 1848 is the equivalent of nearly $2 million today. Let's just say that Reading never had to work another day in his life, but he did, and he found more gold.
    The news of a gold strike travels fast, and within weeks, the rush to California's northwest was on.
    The miners' base of operation was a quickly established tent city with a plentiful supply of water, surrounded by timber, about eight miles north of Pierson's fabulous discovery. They named it Reading Springs.
    By the summer of 1850, the town was a major mining center, renamed as Shasta City and chosen as county seat of Shasta County. Miners called her the "Queen City of California's northern mines."
    With a lumber mill now in town and a population of 6,000, wooden buildings replaced tents. Miners, who had found prospecting too tough, became merchants. Main Street was so busy it was dangerous to cross on foot.
    "The Demon Fire" swept through the business district in December 1852, and six months later, while residents were still rebuilding, another blaze destroyed the entire town. Merchants quickly rebuilt in fireproof brick buildings with iron shutters, but Shasta City's best days were already coming to an end.
    Mining claims began to fail, the freight and stagecoach business moved 10 miles to the east to Redding, and there, in 1872, the Central Pacific Railroad located its northernmost depot.
    Residents left Shasta City for Redding in droves, and the Queen City's bricks slowly began to crumble.
    By 1878, the future of "this fair, historic city" was already in doubt.
    "Whatever the future is," said a former resident, "her former sons and later friends will remember her with truest affection."
    In 1887, the county seat moved to Redding. The Queen was dead.
    Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.
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