California – Nevada Chapter 2022 Spring Symposium

An African American panning a stream for gold.
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

Where: the Gaia Hotel and Spa in Anderson, California just off I-15 on Riverside Road

When: Friday, May 6 – Sunday, May 8th

Registration Deadline: April 6th

Download your registration form here.

We would like to invite those who adore trail lore to come to our spring symposium.

The symposium hotel is just west of where Trails West, Inc. has placed a rail marker, beside the river, noting where a ferry crossed the Sacramento River and carried emigrants, packers, and freight wagons across on their way to the Gold Rush town of Shasta and the gold fields discovered on Clear Creek in 1848.

The Nobles Trail will be a feature of the symposium starting with a PowerPoint presentation by Ken Johnston about the trail that became a major route into Northern California in the 1850’s. From the ferry, the trail followed down what is now Riverside Road, past the Gaia Hotel, and ended at Shasta.

Jeremy Tuggle, Education and Community Engagement Manager from the Shasta Historical Society, will do a presentation on Pierson B. Reading, a prominent Northern California pioneer, who entered the Sacramento Valley in 1843 with the Joseph Chiles Party after they traveled down the Pit River. He received the northernmost Mexican Land grant, Rancho Buena Ventura, and made the second gold strike in California in 1848 on Clear Creek, west of his ranch.

The resultant gold rush to the area was responsible for the establishment of Shasta, many small neighboring towns, and later the city of Redding, which was politically mis-named after a railroad official.

Another highlight of the symposium will be a historical enactment by the Voices of the Golden Ghosts. (See below for more on them.) Their mission is to bring to light the interesting and important pages of African American involvement in the Gold Rush, as their stories have been nearly lost from the history books to date.

On Sunday following the symposium, we will meet at Shasta State Historic Park for a tour and historic presentation by Jonathan Sutliff, park interpreter. We will see what remains of the old city at the end of the Nobles Trail, tour the museum, visit the historic cemetery where Phoebe Colburn is buried, then do a post symposium tour back up the Nobles Trail as far as Shingletown.

On the tour, we will cross the river where the ferry was located, then see where Fort Redding was situated. We’ll pass by the Dersch Ranch, a station and camp on the trail where Mrs. Dersch was massacred by Indians. We’ll see the location of Foot of the Mountain Station that was owned by Phoebe Colburn and provided a stopping place on the trail, and we will visit Charlie’s Ranch, where Bear and Bull fights brought people from as far away as Sacramento and San Francisco to witness the excitingly brutal action that was finally outlawed in 1859.

We’ll end the tour at Shingletown, which was named for the shingles it produced for Shasta and neighboring gold rush towns.

Voices of the Golden Ghosts

An actor plays the saxaphone
Victor Martin who played the first saxophone in the
California Gold Rush

The history of California is replete with stories of the ’49ers traveling the emigrant trails to the gold fields and their experiences, hardships, and bonanzas; however, an important and interesting part of that record has been nearly lost—the accounts of African Americans working as prospectors and miners.

Fortunately, a group in northern California is researching the records and reviving the accounts of African Americans, both slaves and free men, working in the gold mines, at the diggings, and panning the streams. Under the leadership of Mark Oliver and Patricia Lord, the group known as Voices of the Golden Ghosts, received a Humanities For All grant from Cal-Humanities and a local grant from the California Arts Council. The group features a cast of local actors and speakers who do living history enactments portraying a dramatic interpretation of the role of black people in Shasta County.

A multigenerational cast of actors and presenters enthusiastically bring their production to Northern California in order to portray the life-stories of the area’s multi-ethnic heritage.

Victor Martin, a talented musician, both plays his saxophone and relays an interesting twist to the history of black miners related to his musical renditions.

Another captivating skit is about the ghost of Phoebe Colburn,

a freed slave, who came to California, and became a successful and prominent resident of Shasta City at the end of the Nobles Trail. She also owned Foot of the Mountain Station, a wayside inn on the trail east of Redding. In the skit, her ghost comes back to interact with a modern young relative to portray an interesting story of her life and success in the Gold Rush days of Northern California.

Daughters Annie (left) and Sarah were photographed with their mother,  Mary Ann Day BPictured: wife and children of Abolitionist John Brown.
Daughters Annie (left) and Sarah were photographed with their mother,
Mary Ann Day Brown, about 1851. (Library of Congress). Mary Brown was wife of Abolitionist John Brown. She came to California on the Nobles Trail after his execution.

People familiar with the story of abolitionist John Brown being hanged for his acts of leading a raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry to incite an insurrection and start a slave revolt to destroy the institution of slavery, may be surprised to learn that his widow and daughters came to California in 1864 to escape the notoriety they received in the East.

They apparently came to the Redding area over the Nobles Trail, and the people of Red Bluff built a house for John Brown’s widow Marie to live in. The house still stands in Red Bluff. Anne Brown, a daughter, lived with a black family and taught at a school for black children at Coyote Creek School near Red Bluff.

Other interesting tales of the African American mining history will also be presented by the actors at the April 16, 2022 CA/NV Chapter OCTA symposium at the modern Gaia Hotel and Spa located on the Nobles Trail just off I-5 in Anderson.