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Surprise Valley History
Historic Homes & Buildings

The Establishment of Surprise Valley in the 1860's

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 and water.

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 finally underway.

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 Cedarville.

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 Surprise Valley.

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.

Historic Homes & Buildings Tour
Click on Photos/Links Below for History and Pictures

The Cloud House

The Dees House

The Cressler House
The JK Metzker House

The Cressler & Bonner Building

The Roberts - Van Doren House

The Cedarville Grocery
Formerly The Bank of Surprise Valley

Louie's Buggy Barn

Warner Mountain Weavers

PB Harris House

Surprise Valley Community Church

The Modoc County Library

The Ross House

The Bush House


Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 518
Cedarville, California 96104

Copyright 2012 Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.