Excerpts from Battling the Inland Sea

American Political Culture, Public Policy, & the Sacramento Valley, 1850 - 1986
by Robert Kelley

In Memoriam

(c) 2012, Mike Barkley

[This is an important and thorough work on the development of Reclamation and Central Valley Flood Control and especially on the destructive nature of and the halting of hydraulic mining. But, although Professor Kelley acknowledges the importance of the 1861-62 floods, he includes very little about those specific floods. I quote those few paragraphs that are more than just mentions.]

In a discussion regarding mining debris and the periodicity of inundations, p. 72:

"...an enormous flood far exceeding anything people had earlier seen swept in to bury the Sacramento Valley. It would be fixed forever, thereafter, in the Valley's memory as historically the most massive of all its floods. Lasting for more than a month, its two peaks separated by several weeks, the double flood of 1861-1862 (December-January) spread devastation throughout the entire Valley. Cattle died in great numbers, city business districts and residential neighborhoods were buried deep in water, farm dwellings were destroyed, and many were swept away to their deaths by high waters. The inland sea had rarely ever spread so widely or had been so deep.

"When the waters finally receded in the Marysville region, there was general shock at what they left behind. A large part of the hydraulic mining tailings which had been piling up in the mountain canyons since the process first began in 1853 was scoured out by the high waters to settle on the flatlands. The territory south of the Yuba was reported to be 'a desolate waste . . . a thick sediment of sand destroying all hopes of vegetation, at least for some time to come.' The editor of Marysville Daily California Express took a ride toward the mountains, crossing the plains bordering the Yuba River, and he came back to his desk to write out a sobering report:
For miles back of the Yuba [i.e., to the easterly of it], in fact almost at the base of the foothills . . . great elevations of sand have been thrown out upon the plains, and fruit trees, which, in low water times, are many feet above the level of the Yuba, are almost entirely covered by sand deposits. A ranch owner up the Yuba . . . informed us that out of about two thousand acres of tillable land in the neighborhood, extending from the Yuba back on the plains a considerable distance, not more than two hundred acres were fit for agricultural or grazing purposes, the sand averaging on the greater part of this region of territory from two to seven feet in depth. [fn 4, Marysville Appeal Jan. 27, 30, and Feb. 3, 1862]
"This was an appalling sight. Particularly disturbing was the knowledge that the lands disappearing under the sands--the bottoms--were among the richest and most fertile in the Valley. The Yuba's original channel, in its natural condition, had been about three to four hundred feet wide, gravel-floored, with steep banks rising about fifteen to twenty feet on either side at low water. From the top of these banks, as a federal judge, summing up testimony in his court, would later describe the scene, there
extended a strip of bottom-lands of rich, black, alluvial soil, on an average a mile and a half wide, upon which were situate some of the finest farms, orchards, and vineyards in the state. Beyond this first bottom was a second bottom, which extended some distance to the ridge of higher lands, the whole constituting a basin between higher lands on either side, of from a mile and a half to three miles wide.[fn 5, Judge Lorenzo F. Sawyer, in January 1884 decision rendered in Edwards Woodruff v. North Bloomfield et al., heard in the federal Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco, in 1883-1884. (9 Sawyer 441)]
p. 79: "In San Francisco a newspaper for the mining industry, the Mining and Scientific Press, had been jolted out of its indifference to the Valley's problems by the immense flood of 1861-1862, and by the widespread outflowing of sands it had produced. Mud was indeed coming from the mines, the paper admitted, and filling up the river channels. This was a fact, of course, which could hardly be denied by a San Francisco newspaper, when for six years steamboats had been catching on the Hog's Back in Steamboat Slough, but the editor insisted that an inundation such as the Valley had just experienced would not come again for a lifetime. For their part the hydraulic miners themselves were reported to be pleased by the great storms, for after the powerful, boiling outflows of 1861-1862 had passed down the canyons and the rivers had subsided, they noted with pleasure how deeply the high water had scoured out the piled-up debris. From all the riverbeds in Sierra County--that is, along the north fork of the Yuba River--an average of ten feet of mining debris had been swept away."[fn 15, Mining and Scientific Press, Jan. 4 and Mar. 1, 1982.] [?? not 1862?]
--Mike Barkley, 167 N. Sheridan Ave., Manteca, CA 95336 (H) 209/823-4817
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