Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Major Pierson Barton Reading (1816-1868). This Carta de Vista was taken in 1862. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

Pierson Barton Reading (pronounced like the color red), was born to Pierson Reading and Charity (Guild) Reading in Hunterdon County, New Jersey on November 26, 1816, and in 1830, Pierson departed New Jersey, leaving his family behind at the age of fourteen to live with his step-uncle Charles B. Green in Madison County, Mississippi. 

Then in 1834, Reading begins his career as a cotton broker in Madison County. Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, he goes broke due to the price of cotton crashing at the market. Pierson eventually returns to his family in New Jersey. According to the Reading family lore, and local historians, Pierson marries for the first time even though his first wife’s name is unknown but apparently during their short union a daughter was born to them on August 7, 1842, and they named her Jeanette "Janette” Reading, Jeanette was born in Louisiana. At a later date, he leaves his wife and daughter behind in Louisana for Missouri and Reading eventually becomes divorced.

However, according to my friend David L. Templeman, a great-great grandson of Pierson Barton Reading and Euphan “Fannie” Wallace (Washington) Reading. Templeman claims the following about the presumed first marriage of Major Pierson B. Reading:

"There is absolutely no record of a first marriage. There is a story of Janette's mother dying of yellow fever while in New Orleans, when Janette was a baby. Yet no grave or record can be found. I can only imagine Janette's actual mother was not married to Pierson B. Reading. Perhaps a house servants baby. The spelling of her name is French, which aligns with the New Orleans origin story. Unfortunately, a crew of excited historians spent a lot of time speculating about Janette's origins and have released a couple of unsubstantiated proposals. All hold little or no merit.

The first myth is that Janette is Pierson B. Reading’s illegitimate half sister, through his father Pierson Reading's affair (which is also unsubstantiated). There is a fraudulent letter floating around, written by the "niece of Janette", claiming there was a whole family born to Pierson Sr. (again this is Pierson B. Reading’s father). My grandmother was convinced it was a fraud, a con artist chasing money. The second myth is that Janette is the illegitimate daughter of a Reading or Green cousin in Vicksburg. Personally I like to believe she is my great-great Aunt, daughter of Pierson B. Reading." Templeman is also a keen researcher into his own genealogy.

In May of 1843, at Westport, Missouri, Reading joined a large party of immigrants ranging between five hundred and seven hundred people who were traveling to Fort Hall, in Oregon. This immigrant group was led by Peter H. Burnett, and they ventured across the plains heading west towards Oregon with 113 wagons which carried the supplies they needed to survive the long trek. At this time, Reading became good friends with another man in the group by the name of Samuel Hensley.

In September of that year, the Burnett party arrived at Fort Hall; it took them five months to complete the trip over the rough and rugged terrain as the adventure west ended. Once the immigrants arrived in Oregon a small number of men decided to leave the Burnett party and continue south into California. This new group formed the Chiles-Walker party, and their destination was Sutter’s Fort. After purchasing the necessary supplies needed to descend into California, they departed Fort Hall on September 16, 1843. Besides Reading, the Chiles-Walker Party included the following men: Charles Bradley, Henry Chase, Isaac Chase, James Chase, Joseph B. Chiles, Captain John Grantt, Samuel J. Hensley, William Martin, Milton McGhee, John Myers, Joseph R. Walker, and Squire Williams. It was Walker who led the party.

On Thursday, October 26, 1843, the Chiles-Walker party arrived in the region of what became Shasta County, after passing over the Sierra Nevada Range. On that day, they reached the landmarks which we know today as Pit River Falls and Burney Falls. After stopping at both sites, they continued their journey as they encountered numerous Native Americans along the way, who lived in semi-subterranean homes, they knew the white men were in the area but they avoided them. Eventually, Reading saw his first glimpse of his future home, the Rancho Buena Ventura, and then they continued heading south with his party. California at that time was controlled by Mexico. It was Hensley who suggested to Reading that he should obtain a land grant from the Mexican government for this particular area that they were passing through. On Friday, November 10, 1843, they reached Sutter's Fort (or Fort Nueva Helvetia) owned by Captain John A. Sutter.

In 1844, Pierson applied to receive the above property. Reading’s application for the land grant was signed off by Mexican Governor, Manuel Micheltorena on December 4, 1844. This land grant consisted of 26,632.08 acres of land, which extended from the south at Cottonwood Creek and to the north at Salt Creek in Redding. The grant also stretched three miles west of the Sacramento River. He named his land grant the Rancho Buena Ventura meaning “good fortune” in Spanish. In order to obtain his Mexican land grant Reading had to denounce his American citizenship and become a full-fledged Mexican citizen. This is why most American immigrants in California did not apply for land grants under the Mexican government at that time.

A map of the Rancho Buena Ventura land grant owned by Major Pierson Barton Reading. 

The Rancho Buena Ventura became the second land grant in what is now Shasta County. The first land grant was located on the east side of the Sacramento River which was called the Rancho Buena De Briesgau. It was comprised of 22,000 acres of land, and it was William Bennitz who applied for this land grant which was granted to him on July 26, 1844, by Governor Micheltorena. Bennitz was a native of Breisgau, Germany, which is why his rancho was named De Breisgau. However, Bennitz never settled on his property and due to this reason it was never recognized as an official land grant by the Supreme Court of the United States. Then in, September of 1845, Reading joined the United States military to enlist into the Bear Flag Revolt. He enlisted into John Freemont’s battalion as a Paymaster. Reading worked himself through the ranks and he was eventually promoted to the rank of Major.

During the following year, Pierson becomes an active supporter of the settlers revolt to turn California into a State of the Union and on June 14, 1846, a group of American immigrants and ex-patriots marched on Vallejo’s post in Sonoma to successfully over throw the Mexican Government and they declared Reading’s closest neighbor William B. Ide as President of the new Republic of California.

In 1847, Major Reading returned to live on his Rancho Buena Ventura permanently and he erected an adobe house. Reading became the first permanent white settler of what is now, Shasta County, at that time. (His Adobe House fell to vandals in 1942, but it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is California Historical Landmark No. 10)

It wasn’t long before gold was discovered in California by James Wilson Marshall on January 24, 1848, at Coloma on the American River in a tailrace of a sawmill owned by Marshall and John Sutter. After the reports were confirmed that Marshall found gold, it sparked the California Gold Rush and the rush for riches began as new people arrived in California to search for gold. These new arrivals in California would soon be known as forty-niners.

Major Reading took a trip south to the site where Marshall made his discovery and he noted the same red clay on the property and he determined that it was possible that gold could be found on his own property, or at least near it. Then on March 18, 1848, with the help of the Wintu Tribe of Native Americans, Major Pierson B. Reading discovered gold in Clear Creek at what is now known as Reading's Bar, making the second gold discovery in California. Miners would soon descend upon the Rancho Buena Ventura prospecting for gold and squatting on Major Reading’s property, and placer mining erupted along the creek channels.

While prospecting for gold these miners formed tent communities, and the following are the earliest known communities, which were established in 1849: Churntown, Cottonwood, Horsetown, Lower Springs, Middle Creek, and Reading Springs (Shasta). The first community which was established in what is now Shasta County was Cottonwood. In 1848, Major Reading co-established a general merchandise store with Samuel Hensley in Sacramento which was called Hensley, Reading & Company. The firm only lasted for two years when the partnership dissolved in 1850.

Two years after the advent of the California Gold Rush the Rancho Buena Ventura contained the following livestock: 210 horses, 10 mules, 15 cows, and 30 oxen. Major Reading led a prosperous life in California on the western frontier. Then on, February 18, 1850, the County of Shasta was created as one of the original twenty-seven counties of California. It wasn’t until September 9, 1850, that California was admitted into the Union as the 31st State. Major Reading’s adobe residence became the county seat of Shasta County on, February 10, 1851, it was used for court proceedings and the housing of court related documents but government business was never held there.

Pierson B. Reading of Shasta for Governor. A political advertisement from the Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, June 7, 1851.

Six months later on, August 15, 1851, Major Pierson B. Reading, Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft and Captain McWhinney establishes the Treaty of Peace and Friendship at the Rancho Buena Ventura with the surrounding Indian tribes. With this treaty they were hoping the Indians would become friendlier towards the white settlers. It became one of 18 peace treaties which was never ratified by the American Government.

Then on, September 3, 1851, Major Reading runs for the office of Governor of the State of California on the Whig ticket in the gubernatorial election. Reading loses the election to Democratic opponent John Bigler who led the election with 441 votes. Bigler became California’s third Governor. At a later date, Pierson meets a gentleman in San Francisco who told him that he was ordered to toss out some 4,000 votes to help arrange Bigler’s victory in the election.

Due to Pierson’s interest in the local Native American tribes he was appointed by Congress to become the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California on June 18, 1852. Then between: 1853-1854, Pierson promoted a survey of the Noble’s Pass route for a wagon road and with a  group of businessmen from Shasta, contributed $2,000 to send Hamden Holmes Noble back over the route he discovered in 1851. Major Reading also encouraged and supported the construction of the California-Oregon Stage Road. (It is currently California Historical Landmark No. 58.)

Prior to 1855, a man named Richard Bland Lee II was stationed as a Lieutenant at Fort Reading on Cow Creek in Shasta County. Lee became great friends with Pierson and he became a frequent visitor to the Rancho Buena Ventura. It was Lee who persuaded Reading to pursue his niece Euphan “Fannie” Wallace Washington since he was planning a future trip to Washington D.C., where she lived. Fannie was a nickname she was often called by her close family and friends. She was born in September of 1831 to Anna Matilda (Lee) Washington and Doctor Bailey Washington III., at Washington D.C., she was an elegant young lady.

The main reason for the trip east was to check the legal status of his land grant. It was during December of 1855, when Reading traveled east towards Washington D.C., and upon his arrival he immediately began courting Fannie. While Reading was checking his status of ownership of the Rancho Buena Ventura land grant, the Supreme Court of the United States approved his ownership on January 11, 1856. The patent was signed by President, Franklin Pierce. Reading’s trip east was a double success because his land grant was confirmed and a wedding date was decided by Pierson and Fannie.

Then on, March 13, 1856, they were married in Washington D.C., by the Reverend George Cummins at the Trinity Episcopal Church. On this day, a gift was presented to Pierson by Elizabeth (Collins) Lee who was the maternal grandmother of Fannie. It was Elizabeth who told Pierson that he reminded her of President George Washington and then she presented Reading with a lock of the president’s hair of whom the Lee & Washington families were related too. A month later on, April 5, 1856, Mr. and Mrs. Reading departed New York to take his bride west to California crossing the Isthumus of Panama while they made their way towards San Francisco.

While aboard the steamer James L. Stephens, Fannie became sea sick, and the newlyweds reached San Francisco on May 4, 1856, once they reached land Fannie began feeling a lot better. At San Francisco, they checked into the Oriental hotel. They stayed in the city for a while before they resumed their journey north to Shasta County were here they arrived at the Rancho Buena Ventura on May 12, 1856. This was the first glimpse of her husband’s property that Fannie saw that day. Fannie was now among the early pioneer women of Shasta County, she would start writing letters home to her family about her “western” adventures on the frontier of California.

Eupan "Fannie" Wallace (Washington) Reading (1831-1918). Circa 1860s, the photographer is unknown. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

The adobe house which Pierson built in 1847 was too small for him and Fannie to raise a family together so during the year 1856 he added onto the adobe structure by erecting a two-story building. It was a wood framed structure that contained eight rooms. Pierson never referred to it as a mansion but local residents dubbed it the “Reading Mansion”.

The Reading Mansion appears here in this sketch by Alice M. Reading, a daughter of Major Pierson B. Reading. The adobe on the right is the original structure which was built in 1847 by Reading. The 2-story house was attached in 1856 after his marriage took place. The house contained 8 rooms and it burned down in 1881. The adobe fell into decay in 1942. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society. 

Euphan “Fannie” Wallace (Washington) Reading would eventually bear Pierson six children between the years 1857 and 1865, respectively. Those children were the following:

1. Anna Washington Reading (1857-1906)
2. Alice Matilda Reading (1859-1939)
3. Pierson Barton Reading Jr. (1861-1862)
4. Richard Washington Reading (1863-1925) [twin]
5. Robert Lee Reading (1863-1918) [twin] {actually lived in Shasta County, civil engineer of Shasta County}
6. Frances Collins “Fannie” Reading. (1865-1888)

During the interim, of the above births of their children, in January of  1862, the Original Williams & Kellinger Gold, Silver & Copper Mining Company was incorporated at Copper City with $75,000 divided into 300 shares of $250 each. There principal stockholders were the following people: J.J. Bell, John Kellinger, Major Pierson B. Reading, Dr. George Silverthorne M.D., Charles Williams, and Hogue Worley. Copper City was located on the Squaw Creek, about thirty miles north-east of Shasta. The above company owned and operated the Williams and Kellinger mine located on Kellinger Hill (now Killanger Peak). It was a mine discovered by Charles Williams, but the hill it was located upon was named after his mining partner John Kellinger.

Major Reading had a vision to navigate Steamboats up the Sacramento River north of Red Bluff to Clear Creek between: 1850 and 1860. His dream never became a reality, however, between the years: 1863 and 1864, Pierson establishes a town called Latona in Shasta County as the head of WHOA Navigation to bring steam boats up the Sacramento River. The meaning behind WHOA Navigation defines it as being a slang phrase to describe Shasta in the 1850s. Shasta was the end-of-the-line on the wagon road. Major Reading hired Colonel William Magee to survey this four hundred acre town site for him. Latona was named after a Greek goddess.

During 1864, Pierson engaged himself into mining activities with Kendall Vanhook Bumpass. Bumpass was an early day miner and prospector. Pierson and Bumpass owned a mining claim in the Lassen area. This mining claim turned chaotic with deep pockets of lava flow in which Bumpass lost his leg and he had to have it amputated. Today this mining claim is known as “Bumpass Hell” and it is now located in Lassen National Park.

The esteemed pioneer, Major Pierson Barton Reading, died on his Rancho Buena Ventura land grant on May 28, 1868, at the age of fifty-two years. He was buried in the Reading Family Cemetery on Adobe Road in Cottonwood where other members of his family are interred at this location. Fannie survived her husband another 50 years until she died. Fannie remained on the Rancho Buena Ventura for another three years until she relocated in the east where she settled at Alexandria, Virgnia, in 1871. She made another move in 1878 from Alexandria to Washington D.C., where the pioneer died on May 4, 1918.

There are currently nine historically important sites in Northern California which are dedicated to the memory Major Pierson Barton Reading:

1. Reading’s Bar in Shasta County on Clear Creek, located south west of Redding is named for Major Reading. This is where gold was discovered by Major Reading on March 18, 1848.

2. Reading’s Bar in Trinity County near Douglas City is named for Major Reading. Reading made the first discovery of gold in that county as well in 1848 at the mouth of Reading Creek.

3. Reading Creek in Trinity County is named for Major Reading.

4. Reading Springs (a creek) in the town of Shasta is named for him. (Note: the town of Shasta was formerly called Reading Springs before June 8, 1850, when the town was renamed Shasta by Armstead C. Brown who named it because it was the closest town to Mount Shasta, at that time. Mt. Shasta was in the original boundaries of Shasta County. Siskiyou County wasn’t established until 1852.)

5. Reading Island on the Sacramento River just below the bluff of the Reading Adobe in Cottonwood is named for Major Reading. Due to the channel of the Sacramento River changing, this island is no longer in existence.

6. Fort Reading which was established on May 26, 1852, along the west side of Cow Creek in Shasta County, was named for Major Pierson B. Reading.

7. Reading Rock on the Pacific Ocean is named for Major Reading, it is located near Orick, Humboldt County, California.

8. Reading Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park was named in honor of Major Pierson B. Reading in 1943.

9. The Reading Family Cemetery is named in honor of Major Reading’s family who is buried there on Adobe Lane in Cottonwood.

Above: the present site of Major Reading's adobe on Adobe Lane in Cottonwood. The adobe fell into decay in 1942. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.

Above: the original Reading Adobe monument at the present site of Major Reading's adobe on Adobe Lane in Cottonwood. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.

Above: a newer sign with photographs helps record the history of the Reading Adobe on Adobe Lane at Cottonwood. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.

Above: the location of Reading's Bar. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.

Above: the entry way into the Reading Family Cemetery where Major Pierson Barton Reading is buried, its located on Adobe Road in Cottonwood. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.

The Reading Family Cemetery where Major Pierson Barton Reading is buried with members of his family, its located on Adobe Road in Cottonwood. This photograph was taken by Jeremy Tuggle on July 8, 2018.


My Playhouse Was A Concord Coach, an anthology of newspaper clippings and documents relating to those who made California history during the years 1822-1888, by Mae Hélène Bacon Boggs. Published by Howell-North Press ©1942

Shasta County, California A History by Rosena Giles, published by Biobooks, ©1949.

Man Of Destiny Pierson Barton Reading Pioneer of Shasta County, California by Helen S. Giffen, edited by Eleanor Lee (Reading) Templeman, published by Shasta Historical Society, © 1985.

The Journal of Pierson Barton Reading Overland to California, 1843, by Madge Richardson Walsh, ©2003 published by the Association for Northern California Historical Research.

RP-004 - Reading, Pierson Barton Pioneer Plaque File on file at Shasta Historical Society.

Mining Corporations – The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, May 16, 1863

Death of Major Reading - The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, May 30, 1868

Died - The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, May 30, 1868

Funeral - The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, June 6, 1868

Pioneer Woman Called Beyond At Washington - The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, May 6, 1918

An E-mail Correspondence - Subject: Jeanette Reading dated August 9, 2018 between David L. Templeman and Jeremy M. Tuggle, filed in the RP-004 Reading, Pierson Barton Pioneer Plaque File on file at Shasta Historical Society.

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