The Early Pioneers and the Naming of Surprise Valley
As early as 1846, emigrants’ wagons rolled
through Surprise Valley enroute to Oregon and the lower valleys
Lindsay Applegate and Levi Scott branched off
with their party from the California Trail at what later
became known as Lassen’s
Meadow (now named Rye Patch Reservoir and located near Imlay,
Nevada). They followed a northwestern direction across the
Black Rock Desert and through High Rock and Forty Nine canyons
to enter California near its extreme northeastern corner, 29
miles southwest of today’s California-Oregon border.
Their trail traversed Surprise Valley and went
on to cross the Warner Mountains at Fandango Pass on their
journey to the Willamette Valley, the principle settlement
in the Oregon Territory.
The trail this party laid out became known
by various names, including the “South Oregon Emigrant Road”, the “Old
South Road”, or the “Lassen Applegate Trail”.
The importance of the tall, waving grass of this valley was
intensified as most of the wagon trains arrived in late summer
and early fall when bunch grass along the route had lost much
of its nutrient value. Trains would stop long enough in the
valley to harvest some wild hay to carry over the dry parts
of the trail ahead.
Few early pioneers stayed on, though Mrs. I.
Grove wrote, “They
often spoke of this unnamed, unknown valley, little thinking
that in a few years some would return…to make their
From 1848 through the mid-1860s, the route
was much traveled, including by an influx of fortune-seekers
drawn by the 1849 California Gold Rush. Others came after
severe drought hit the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys
in 1864, causing livestock owners to seek higher pastures.
Others had left their border states rather than join in the
Civil War, while former residents of Nevada’s once-booming
town of Virginia City migrated to surrounding areas and began
to build new towns.
Local legend has attributed the name of the
valley to early emigrants, though careful research has shown
the name wasn’t
actually applied until the early 1860s. The August 22,
1863 edition of the Humboldt Register out of Unionville, Nevada
“Surveyor General Houghton and his party appear to have discovered one
of the most inviting valleys to be found in the state. The party named it “Surprise
Valley”, which is appropriate as the men must have been greatly astonished
to find such a valley in that region. It is 50 miles long and from 8 to 15
miles broad and contains three lakes. Grass, clover and wild rye were found
growing luxuriantly. Fine timber in abundance covered the mountains which bounded
on the west.”
The naming of the valley in the 1860s, rather
than earlier, is substantiated by the fact that no records
of travel or Army reports concerned with the area have been
found using the name “Surprise”.
In one early account, Surprise Valley is said
to have been known by the local Indians as “Kibeningnaredols” which
means “Valley of the Long Mountains”.
The essay above was excerpted by permission
Valley: A Collective History of Its Early Years of Settlement” by
25 Apr 2020 12:40:31 -0700