By Sharyn Cornelius
Mother Nature was not kind to historian Dottie Smith on Mar. 19, 2011, sending strong winds and freezing rain to hamper her sold-out tour of old barns, ranches, and bridges in southern Shasta County. Fortunately for the 50+ participants, most of the sites could be seen from the warm, comfortable seats of the bus, and everyone enjoyed Smith’s running commentary on the personalities and events associated with the 40 places on the itinerary.
The tour began at the Anderson Factory Outlets, and the bus rolled up Deschutes Road, stopping just short of the Sacramento River, so people could see the Sears Roebuck & Co. barn on the west side of the road. Smith explained that this was a deluxe model with windows on both sides, purchased in 1919 for $2,916 and assembled at the site. It is in good repair and still in use today.
The same cannot be said of the fine old Hawes Family ranch house on Dersch Road east of the ranch supply store. Built in 1910 to replace the original homestead that burned down, the once glorious two-story structure has fallen into ruin and appears to be just waiting to collapse.
The third stop on the tour was the Armstrong Ranch on Wildcat Road, a cattle ranch now owned and meticulously restored by Rich Morgan, founder of the Holiday Market chain. Smith told us that Thomas B. Armstrong bought the property in the 1860s and built the house in 1910. Ranch foreman Jerry O’Connor said that the huge green and white barn on the property had been given to Armstrong as payment for a debt and moved to its present site and re-assembled. In addition to restoring the buildings on the property, Morgan has put his crews to work clearing the fields of rocks and constructing rock fences—18 miles of them so far.
From the Armstrong Ranch, the tour meandered down Ash Creek Road to Rooster’s Landing, former site of the Balls Ferry, Hotel and Mill. Smith explained that although the mill sat at the edge of the Sacramento River, the water to run its wheel came from Battle Creek several miles away. We followed the ditch, now called Winsell’s Ditch after the physician who owned a ranch in the vicinity, along the road to Coleman Fish Hatchery, passing the Gover and Giles Ranches along the way. Smith said that the Coleman Hatchery had been created to replace the Baird Hatchery on the McCloud River which had to be abandoned when Shasta Dam was built.
The next stop was the 100-year-old steel truss bridge over Battle Creek at the county line, where a few brave souls exited the bus to walk across the historic span despite the icy wind and spitting rain. Smith pointed out that metal plates on each end of the bridge contain the names of those who constructed it—with different names on the Shasta and Tehama sides.
As the bus rolled toward the Parkville Ranch, Smith pointed out lands that had at one time been promised to local Native Americans for a reservation, and in anticipation of that, many Indians came there to live. But the deal with the federal government fell through and white settlers ended up massacring many of the Indians. At the Parkville Cemetery, some tour participants once again clambered from the comfort of the bus to tour the historic graveyard, led by board of directors member Sherry Miller, who said the directors “don’t want to improve the cemetery, just preserve it.”
The last stop on the tour was the Dersch Homestead and Stopping Place on the Nobles Trail by Bear Creek. Marie Dersch was killed there by Indians in 1866, a murder which set off retaliatory massacres by white settlers that lasted several years. Smith believes Dersch was killed because Indians believed she had desecrated sacred tribal petroglyphs near her home by frequently visiting them.
The tour ended with a chicken dinner catered by Colonel Sanders in the beautiful new barn at the Ponderosa Ridge Ranch. Each table was decorated by one of Smith’s own hand-made quilts and a bouquet of silk flowers in a cowboy boot.