From Hoopa: Stories, Legends and Other Things
By BYRON NELSON Jr.
Have you ever wondered how the four counties in our region of the state; Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and Siskiyou came into being? Well it all started out with some very ambitious people living in the new community of Weaverville, California.
When Major P.B Reading found gold in the upper part of the Trinity River in 1848, the hope of riches brought an onslaught of miners into the area and soon the town of Weaverville was established. Aside from the already established Indian communities in northwestern California, the early residents of Weaverville were essentially the first whites to form a community in the region; therefore they were better organized than the ones on the coast.
So the first thing to do was establish a county. And establish one they did. All of northwestern California! Spreading from the northern boundary of Mendocino County all the way up the coast to Oregon Territory and eastward to Shasta County, Trinity County was one of the largest counties in the state.
Once it was laid out in February 18, 1850, an election was held to appoint one of towns within the new county the county seat. Weaverville beat out Eureka even though one poll-book gave the majority to Eureka. This controversy caused another election to be held in which Weaverville again prevailed. In this second election however, more miners had come out of the mountains surrounding Weaverville to vote.
Since counties are political creations, during the early years in northwestern California while the white population steadily increased, different parts of the region competed for power and control. At that time counties had immense power. Once a functioning law enforcement agency and a court system was set-up, a county could do pretty much what it wanted to do. It could even execute people. But the real advantage counties had was garnishing taxes. During the early part of the 1850’s, there were thousands of miners working the rivers and mountains in northwestern California, and the tax collector out of Weaverville would extract twenty dollars per month from each miner, for the privilege of mining in their county. The inflation rate would put that amount to about $470.00 in today’s money.
Mendocino County to the south was also one of the original counties, but it was not organized until an act of the California Legislature in 1859. Up until that time, it was attached to Sonoma County for civil and political purposes. Without any real laws governing Mendocino County, it posed no threat to the activities north of them where gold mining and other capitalistic ventures were going on.
Soon the white population of the region began to shift. More shop- keepers, ranchers, farmers, lumbermen and other business minded people began to increase the population on the coast as compared to the miners inland. As a result, in April of 1851, the northern part of Trinity County was chopped off to make room for a new county. Trinity County still extended out to the coast taking in Humboldt Bay, but from Mad River just above of the Bay to the Oregon Territory and east into the middle of what is now Siskiyou County, Klamath County came into existence. This essentially took the control of the mining country in the Klamath River, Forks of Salmon and Happy Camp areas away from Trinity County.
Originally the town of Trinidad was the county seat for Klamath County until it was moved in 1854 to Crescent City because of its larger population. But the western portion of the county was unrepresentative of the mining interests in the eastern section, and so the county seat was moved once again in 1856 to the great metropolitan area of Orleans Bar.
In the meantime, while Klamath County was playing musical chairs with its county seat, the residents around Humboldt Bay decided that it was time for them to develop their own county. Consequently, in May of 1853 the California Legislature cut off the western portion of Trinity County to create Humboldt County with Union (Arcata) designated as the county seat. Bucksport, located just below Eureka, and Eureka continued battling each other for the right to be the county seat, so in 1854 to determine the relative claims of the other two places, an election was held, with Union winning by a decisive majority.
This did not settle the issue however, and Eureka charged fraud in the election. In the meantime, the new supervisors postponed the building of the court-house until the matter was settled. The controversy continued until the California Legislature of 1855-56 gave the county seat to Eureka, where it remains to this day.
Klamath County, on the other hand, did not fare as well. In March of 1858 a portion of the northern part was lopped off to make room for Del Norte County. Although the county of Klamath lived on until 1874 when it was abolished and divided into Siskiyou and Humboldt counties, it kind of had a slow death. Never economically viable, the official reason for its demise came from electoral corruption; in its last election there were many more votes tallied than people living in the county.