Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Churntown: An Original Gold Mining Community

The town of Churntown in 1887. The building on the left is the general merchandise store and the building to the right is a private residence with a smaller building in front of the house. The people are posing for a photograph on the street, and on the porch of the private residence. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

Scores of miners prospecting for gold in 1849 staked out placer mining claims along the channel of Churn Creek in Shasta County. These miners pitched up tents and cooked their food in an open fire pit, mostly eating wild game that they killed, along with additional provisions they packed in with them as the advent of the California Gold Rush burgeoned with success in our area. They used rockers and sluice boxes simultaneously as mining activities progressed along this creek.

The Shasta Historical Society published this version of the creeks naming in the 1952 Covered Wagon, on page 5, it states that: “rocks and boulders tumbling down from the mountain sides wore holes in the sandstone base of the creek resembling a churn. One can see this formation in Churn Creek a few miles north of Redding beside Highway 99.” Another theory of its naming appears in Gertrude Steger's book, Place Names Of Shasta County, relating that "a waterfall in the stream near the site of Churntown has carved a hole in the rocks that resembles an old-fashioned churn.” Since its naming, Churn Creek has retained its name over the years.

The community of Churntown came into fruition near the site of this waterfall in October or November of 1849, becoming one of Shasta County's original gold mining communities. Churntown began as a tent community which was prone to Indian attacks. The name Churntown derives from Churn Creek.

The nearest communities to Churntown was Newtown, which was located one mile north, and Buckeye, which was located three miles south of Churntown. Both communities were established as gold mining communities in 1849. According to local historian Edward Peterson in his book, In The Shadow Of The Mountain, he claims the following on page 83: "the site of the first quartz ledge on the east side of Churntown was, nevertheless, in a precarious position to Indian attack."

In January of 1850 the first cabin was erected at Churntown. Unfortunately, there is no record documenting the demise of this building. Additional buildings were erected in the settlement. Extreme threats of Indian attacks remained high as the miners took the risk to mine the area between the years 1850 and 1853.

The Churn Creek diggings near Churntown were yielding lucrative results in April of 1854 as the area was still developing. The name of the settlement was also spelled as Churn Town. According to an excerpt of an article from the Shasta Courier newspaper on Saturday, November 25, 1854, it related the following:

"We also hear that on Thursday last the Indians in large numbers visited Churn Town, on the east side of the Sacramento River, and ran the whites away from the place. The people of Churn Town had, on the day previous, pursued and killed several of the savages while making their way to the mountains with a lot of stolen property." (SIC)

Apparently the above story was one event that the Shasta Courier fabricated and did not check their source, as the newspaper didn't print a retraction, other media outlets in the state heralded the same news obtained from them. Their article caught the eye of a Churntown resident who wrote to them the following correspondence on Saturday, December 2, 1854:

"Churntown is not taken by the Indians, nor is it at all likely ever to be so taken. Neither has there been Indians killed around here for the last two years, nor have they stolen five dollars worth of property during that time. This much, so as not to alarm the friends and relatives of those who are now residing here." (SIC)

According to the above correspondence in later part of this letter there were at that time twenty new homes which were built by local carpenters at Churntown. More buildings were in the process of being constructed as well. As the placer mines continued to yield lucrative deposits it attracted new settlers to the area. A new town was established, that month, located one mile south of Churntown called Manikinsville named after a rather large family who lived in the area by the surname of Manikins. At that time Churntown residents believed that Manikinsville could rival Churntown with an increasing population.

Miners at Churntown in December of 1854 were making $3 to $5 per day while shoveling out dirt with their shovels and using their picks as other miners were sluicing the ground. In 1855, a pioneer by the name of John Mahan, a native of Ireland, relocated from Wisconsin and settled in Churntown. He married Margaret Wallace. Mahan began working as a miner and he held title to a number of placer mining claims in the area, one of his well-known mining claims was the Julia, which was in the Churntown mining district.

The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento heralded the following article on December 23, 1856:

"SHASTA MINING - Accounts from Shasta County give assurance of better times in that region- the streams having been supplied with water to enable the miners to resume work, with assurances of no further interruption for some time. In the extensive diggings of Buckeye and Churntown, between three and four hundred are at work- the claims yielding eight dollars and upwards to the hand per day. Cabins are also being built, and the work of prospecting is constantly going on. It is estimated that with the water already fallen, $60,000 will be taken out."

Over the next two years Churntown boomed with mining activities, and heavy rain storms arrived in the area in early March of 1858. The rain gave miners an additional abundance of water in the channel of Churn Creek and its tributaries for them to use in their placer mining claims. Local miners were kept busy extracting gold from their mining properties. The Republican newspaper from Shasta on Saturday, April 3, 1858, noted the following entry: "Eighty-one quartz claims have been recorded during the last week. All of them are on the east side of the Sacramento near Buckeye and Churntown." Churntown had a lucrative future as additional placer mines and quartz mines were located.

During the years 1857 and 1860, a man by the surname of McManus was the proprietor of a general merchandise store at Churntown. During the local primary elections McManus's store became the local polling place when the elections were held. In fact, the future stores in Churntown became the future polling sites during the elections.

A heated argument ensued between Giles Wauson and Charles Patrick, which turned into an assault, and became deadly, in January of 1861. Patrick pounded on Wauson's door and confronted him about stealing from him. After many offensive remarks and threats against Wauson, Patrick pulled a bowie knife upon him as he attacked him. Wauson freed himself and ran out of his own residence.

After realizing that Patrick departed his house Wauson returned home. Patrick returned within the hour with the intentions of assaulting Wauson again. Wauson had no desire to fight him and he wanted to be left alone. Patrick approached his door and was given a warning from Wauson to back off. Patrick continued without realizing Wauson was armed with a loaded gun and he fired upon him through an open window as his lifeless body fell to the ground.

Wauson surrendered himself to Sheriff John S. Follansbee at Shasta. This is where he went before a Justice Court, and the following week while Wauson was on trial he denied robbing Charles Patrick. It was Justice of the Peace, Chauncey C. Bush who released him from custody due to Bush believing the shooting was made in self-defense. Wauson returned home to Churntown and he continued mining with great success.

The April 13, 1861 edition of the Northern Argus, a newspaper from Horsetown, reported the following about Wauson:

"NUGGET - Wauson & Co., found recently in their claim at Churntown, a piece of pure gold weighing nineteen ounces and five dollars."

A school house was erected on the north bank of Churn Creek at Churntown when a grammar school was organized in that building on November 6, 1862. The school served a long lost void in the community for those families with children in the area. The school was organized the same day as the Churntown School District. The first teacher at the Churntown schoolhouse was Augusta Eames of Shasta. She would commute from Shasta to Churntown each day while the school year was in session. At Shasta in 1874, Eames married a Churntown resident by the name of William C. Whiting, a native of New York, and together they relocated to Shasta. Her husband served as a Deputy Sheriff of Shasta County in 1880.

Sylvester Hull, was a Churntown resident who married Martha Whiting a sister of William C. Whiting in 1862 at Shasta. He owned and operated a general merchandise store in Churntown. Local residents of Churntown petitioned the United States Postal Service headquarters in Washington D.C., for a post office to be established called Churntown in June of 1863. Their petition was accepted and the post office name was granted as Hull became their first and only postmaster who took charge on June 12, 1863, his store became the post office. 

Churntown was now an official town recognized by the United States Postal Service. Hull served, honorably, until the post office was discontinued on December 12, 1866. In September of 1871, Hull began serving as Shasta County Sheriff, and held the position until 1881. Then in 1877, Hull relocated from Churntown to Shasta when George Burtt acquired his store from him.

Above: Sylvester Hull was born at Twinsburg, Summit County, Ohio on June 21, 1831 to Samuel P. Hull and Emily (Post) Hull. He died on November 23, 1899 at Redding, Shasta County, California. He was given the nickname of "Vet". He first came to Buckeye in 1854, where he mined for gold. He was interred into the Shasta Masonic Cemetery. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

John Mahan's wife Margaret gave birth to their first born child Julia Ann Mahan in Churntown on August 4, 1864. Julia’s birth is the earliest record of a child birth in Churntown that I uncovered during my research, however, previous births may have occurred in this town. Their daughter Julia became a life-long resident of Churntown who eventually married John Flanagan a placer miner in the area. Present day Flanagan Road is named after this family which is located just off Lake Boulevard in north Redding.

Another daughter named Mary Mahan was born to John Mahan and Margaret (Wallace) Mahon on March 11, 1868 at Churntown. Both daughters Julia and Mary were raised there. It's more than likely that John Mahan's noted placer mining claim was named after his first born daughter, Julia. 

During the year 1865 an express company from Red Bluff began conveying passengers into Shasta County and hauling the United States mail. The name of this express agency was Watkins Express and Passenger Line, whose proprietor was Caleb Watkins and he had offices located in Red Bluff and Shasta. This line conveyed passengers from Red Bluff to Jelly's Ferry, Battle Creek, Parkville, Millville, Buckeye and Churntown.

Patrick Mullee and his wife Ann were natives of Ireland. The 1867 Great Register of Shasta County records Mullee spelled (Mulee) living at Churntown and working as a merchant. He registered to vote on April 29, 1867. Then on January 14, 1868, local residents were astounded when Patrick Mullee's general merchandise was destroyed by fire.

After the store burned down Mullee became a full-time miner. According to the 1870 U.S. Census the Mullee's was living at Stillwater that year, where Mullee did some mining. According to the Shasta Courier edition of March 13, 1871, the Board of Supervisors ordered North Cow Creek, Copper City, Churntown, Buckeye and Round Mountain to transition into an election precinct called Township Number 5.

Mullee did a little mining at Churntown as well. Mullee and his wife Ann eventually returned to Churntown where Patrick was elected as a Justice of the Peace in November of 1874 for Township Number 5 of Shasta County. Mullee died in Churntown in 1876. He is buried in the Shasta Catholic Cemetery in Shasta.

However, in 1871, a small number of arson related fires occurred in Churntown and finally one of the culprits was captured when a cabin belonging to Thomas Keaton near Churntown was destroyed by fire. A suspect by the name of John Wooley was arrested on suspicion of starting the fires and he was later indicted by the county court in September of 1872. A jury found him guilty of 2nd degree arson and he was sentenced by Judge Hopping to serve three years imprisonment at San Quentin Prison.

After a long declining state on March 23, 1878, Churntown locals witnessed a rejuvenation period when local miners discovered an immensely rich quartz ledge at Rat Tail Gulch near Churntown. Media outlets reported the strike and the town boomed once more reminding locals of the town’s glory days. During the 1880s a series of placer mines were located by various miners.

Another pioneer by the name of Isaac M. Hiatt, also known as Ike, was a native of New York, who earned his fortune at Churntown while mining for gold. This is where he had resided since 1867. At a later date he became the proprietor of a general merchandise store in town. Hiatt employed Frank Wentworth as his store keeper and together they served the community of Churntown until Hiatt's death in 1884. 

George Porter Seamans, a native of New York, was a rancher during the 1870s in the Churntown region who kept a large and valuable ranch. He worked as a farmer. In 1879, he was a proud owner of a large and desirable vegetable garden. He sold vegetables in Churntown and loaded his wagon with a variety of vegetables to sell in Newtown, Buckeye, Redding and Shasta. His wife Romanda (Hill) Seamans sometimes accompanied him during these business trips. 

Above, L-R: George Porter Seamans and Romanda (Hill) Seamans. This picture was taken at Churntown in June of 1902. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

A miner named Ben Martin discovered a rich gold bearing pocket on a branch of the east fork of Churn Creek about one mile from Churntown in May of 1883. His discovery attracted additional attention to the area. The town continued as Hiatt's store closed it remains unclear if Hughes and Croft purchased Hiatt’s store or if it's an entirely new enterprise. However, they began operating a new general merchandise store in Churntown. During the latter portion of the 1880s they were known for their wild holiday parties as Christmas celebrations would be held there for the community to enjoy. Presents would be given to those who showed up, as it brought a little holiday cheer to this mining town.

A miner by the name of George P. Jewitt located the Blue Ribbon placer mine in the Churntown mining district on January 31, 1884. It yielded him lucrative results. Then on Saturday, May 17, 1884, the Shasta Courier reported the following about the Churntown and Buckeye communities being an anti-Chinese region:

The Churntown and Buckeye miners never have, nor now propose to allow Chinamen to work in the mines of those districts, and all attempts to introduce the Mongolians there fails. We hope that every Mongolian who there hereafter attempt to put a pick in the ground of those districts will be sent away with stripes on his back minus his cue.” (SIC)

Another miner named Jesse Walcott located the Diablo placer mine in the same mining district on November 10, 1884. Desiring a good rainy season the miners hoped to continue to work their mining claims in 1884.

The Churntown School was reestablished as part of the Churntown School District on May 4, 1885 because there were more families with children in the area at that time with L.B. Greer as their teacher. Churntown was then located nine miles from Redding. Community dances were held at the local school house and they were great events for the people of the town to gather and enjoy themselves. Sometimes a potluck would be held with the dance.

Above: the students of the Churntown school on the school property at Churntown. The students are unidentified. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

During the decade of the 1890s Churntown stayed prominent as correspondents writing to local newspapers kept track of their local daily activities and it remained the same well into the turn of the twentieth century. The school stayed active off and on, until it was reestablished for the last and final time on October 4, 1938. The Churntown Cemetery is still there today off Nellie Bell Lane on private property, according to records at the Shasta Historical Society, the earliest known burial in this cemetery dates back to 1901. Today, the town of Churntown is no longer there due to their community becoming a suburb of northern Redding with Buckeye. Reminisces of historical names on different street signs provide us with glimpses into the past.


The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, November 25, 1854

The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, December 2, 1854

Shasta Mining - The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, December 23, 1856

The Republican newspaper of Shasta, April 3, 1858

Nugget - The Northern Argus newspaper of Horsetown, April 13, 1861

In the Shadow of the Mountain A Short History of Shasta County, California, by Edward Petersen ©1965

The 1867 Great Register of Shasta County

1867 California Voters Registration

1870 U.S. Census

The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, March 13, 1871

1873 Great Register of Shasta County

The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, September 23, 1876 - Patrick Mullee death notice.

1880 U.S. Census

1881, History and Business Directory of Shasta County, California

The Shasta Courier newspaper of Shasta, November 25, 1899 - Sylvester Hull obituary.

1900 U.S. Census

Index To Mining Claims Book 1, in the archives of Shasta Historical Society.

Index To Mining Claims Book 1, 1877-1909, in the archives of Shasta Historical Society.

Our Storied Landmarks – Shasta County, California, written by May H. Southern, published by Balakshin Printing Company, ©1942.

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

The Covered Wagon, 1952. Published by Shasta Historical Society.

Place Names of Shasta County by Gertrude Steger, published by La Siesta Press, ©1966

The Flanagan residence at Churntown on Flanagan Road. Date unknown. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

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