Surprise Valley History
Historic Homes & Buildings
The Establishment of Surprise Valley in the
A bad drought that occurred in the Sacramento
and San Joaquin Valleys in 1864 caused much of the livestock
there to perish. Owners offered up to half their cattle herds to
anyone who would take the animals into the high country to grass
Men who saw this as an opportunity to have
their own ranches and herds recalled the big grassy valley they
had passed through while on the wagon train to California.
Meetings were held in Sacramento Valley towns
and, with the hope of safety in numbers, men hired boys as
drovers and decided to drive cattle to the mountains and face
their worst fears: the Modoc, the Pit River ("Achumawi"), the
Paiute -- all the Indian tribes in and around the Warner
Mountains and its valleys. The settlement of Surprise Valley was
The biggest single year of settlement in
Surprise Valley was 1864.
The cattle did well and many of the drovers
who had brought cattle here were anxious to own their own land.
They stayed on and quickly filed homestead claims.
The first settlement in the area was Deep
Creek, located two miles south of the present town of
In 1865, a cabin was built at Deep Creek by
Henry Talbert. Before long, James Townsend opened a store in the
Talbert Cabin and Mr. Monchamp kept a station there.
Townsend's prices were high - a spool of
thread and a yard of calico each sold for 25 cents.
In 1867, two merchants from Red Bluff, John H.
Bonner and William T. Cressler, came to the valley with a wagon
of dry goods and set up business out of the back of their wagon
at Deep Creek. It was a profitable venture. When James Townsend
was killed fighting Indians, the enterprising young partners
bought his cabin from his widow.
Cedarville was born in 1867 when Cressler and
Bonner moved the cabin to a new location north of Deep Creek,
locating it on a stream they named Cedar Creek.
The two men obtained a large block of land in
the area where they eventually laid out present-day Cedarville
and also established a ranch. As their business grew and lumber
became available, they built a new store.
Cressler and Bonner did an excellent job of
laying out the town. Main Street was made wide enough to allow
18-horse freight wagons to easily turn around. Many of the
streets were named for US Presidents. They also named streets
for themselves and one in memory of Townsend which today is
Highway 299 which runs from Alturas through Cedarville.
Cressler and Bonner later built a large brick
store building and big homes for themselves on either side, all
of which remain important landmarks of the town today.
Cedarville's founders became prominent
throughout the state. Cressler, known as the "Father of Modoc
County", became the county's first State Senator. Bonner built
the first wagon road over Cedar Pass in 1869, opening Cedarville
to wagon roads leading into the Sacramento Valley.
By 1880, Cedarville had a population of 219
residents and boasted of being the largest urban center in
The article above is
excerpted from an account that appeared in the Northern
California Traveler in November 2004. It was written by editor
and publisher Dennis Smith.
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