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Sierra County: Established 1852

Sierra County is divided by the Pacific Crest at the midpoint, is comprised of two quite different regions. On the west side of the crest of the Sierra it is mountainous and heavily forested, therefore supporting miners and loggers-- the western side of the county is made up of steep canyons and forested ridges. On the east side of the county is the 5,000-foot-high Sierra Valley, which is said to have been an ancient lake bed that was once part of the great inland ocean of Lake Lahontan. It is the largest sub-alpine valleys in the Sierra Nevada range.


The county was home to both Maidu and Washoe Indians, but its modern history is tied to the California gold rush. The discovery of gold, and subsequent gold rush, resulted in some 16,000 miners settling within the county between 1848 and 1860.

In the western part of the county, dozens of communities with colorful names such as Brandy City, Poker Flat, Poverty Hill, and Whiskey Diggins, were settled, thrived for a period and are now survived by Bassetts, Forest and Alleghany, Downieville, Goodyears Bar, Sierra City. During the gold rush, communities in the eastern side of the county, such as Loyalton, Sattley, Calpine and Sierraville, with agriculture as their base, developed to provide commodities to the growing gold camps. A number of century-old ranches still continue the tradition of cattle ranching in the Sierra Valley. As the gold rush waned, Sierra County’s population slowly diminished to its present approximately 3,200.

The Maidu and Washoe Indians

The Maidu and Washoe Indians were the first residents of this area of the Sierra Nevada. During summers they came into the mountains to hunt and fish. During the fall and winter, they returned to the foothills and valleys below. Artifacts such as spears and arrowheads, beads, mortars, pestles and grinding rocks have been found, particularly along Henness Pass Road. James Marshall's discovery of the yellow metal at Coloma signaled the ending of their peaceful way of life.

Downieville 1854—almost the California Capital

Gold in the mountains and valleys slashed by the forks of the North and Middle Yuba Rivers and their tributaries was so plentiful that by April 1852 the area was teeming with people. Sierra County was formed from the then-much larger Yuba County. By the mid-1850's, Downieville, the county seat, was one of the largest towns in California--surpassed only by San Francisco, Sacramento, Grass Valley, and Nevada City. It missed becoming the state capital by only one vote!

A very visible relic of the history of those years is the 1885 Sheriff’s Gallows that remain standing adjacent to the County courthouse. Built for the specific execution of a young murderer, James O’Neill, the structure was used only once.

Mule Train

Until 1860, all supplies were brought in by mule trains, which sometimes included 75 animals, as there were no roads wide enough for wagons. Downieville and Sierra City and points east were reached from Nevada City by way of Alleghany--there was no Highway 49 back then.

Settlers

The settlers who remained after the euphoria of the Gold Rush era was over were a hardy and independent breed. Periodically, winter storms have left as much as thirty feet of snow, blocking roads and passes.

Today we still cherish our country and visitors.

Today, Sierra County is home to slightly over 3,300 souls--no less fiercely independent nor less hardy--who cherish this land of incomparable beauty.

49 THINGS TO DO ON HWY 49

because memories aren't made playing video games

No 3:  TAKE A LOOK BACK AT OUR PAST...

as you stroll through our historic cemeteries in Sierra County. People came from all over the world to be a part of the California Dream. Please be respectful during your visit.

49 THINGS TO DO ON HWY 49

because memories aren't made playing video games

No 12:  MUSIC AT THE MINE...

Music at the Kentucky Mine Ampitheater, under the stars, provides a outstanding way to enjoy an evening of entertainment.

49 THINGS TO DO ON HWY 49

because memories aren't made playing video games

No 18:  SIERRA COUNTY SHERIFF GALLOWS...

located at Gallows Road & Courthouse Square, it was built in 1885, and is the only authentic, standing gallows in California. The gallows were designed to be portable. After its one and only use, the last execution in Sierra County, it was dismantled and stored in the attic of the courthouse, eventually forgotten. Discovered by county employees in 1927, it was reassembled adjacent the courthouse and is a California historical landmark.

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