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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 40: WILDCAT ROAD (PART 1)

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about our natural resources. In 1854, it meant a lot to many Lake County residents.  Hot springs kept the resorts in business. Later, the Geysers, on Mayacamus Mountain, gave the County electrical power from the steam of the super-heated springs. Timber, metals, and minerals, furnished employment and gave the pioneers an income.

Steam power and mineral water were not the only things that came out of the ground. The discovery of gold in California had men digging in every promising hill and gulch in Lake County. Men forsook their families and their farms for gold. Lumber gave the settlers homes and kept them warm in winter. Mercury and the Borax brought jobs and money into the County.

Wildcat Road is famous as one of the main places in Lake County, from where much of those raw materials came. It was the road that led to most everything settlers needed. Wildcat Road was also one of the major trails, which the settlers followed to find their way from the plains into Lake County.

In 1854, one of these parties searching for a place to settle was led by Martin Hammack. These determined souls drove their Oxen Teams from the Middletown area to the crest of a hill near some of the Springs. The land before them looked good.

They descended to a level meadow near shallow Rice Lake. There was good pasture for their horses and oxen. From what they had seen and from the signs, there was also plenty of game. They camped for a few days then continued their search for a place to make their homes. Coming upon an old hunter’s trail, that, by the looks of it was well used, they followed the rough path.

That trail would later be called Wildcat Road. When Hammack, and his two-dozen immigrants, reached the base of Mt. Hannah, they drove the oxen through a stand of fir, yellow pine, and cedar to a fork of two streams; Cole Creek and a smaller tributary. There the land changed. It dropped to a flat and that spot became the Cole Creek Ranch.

The party turned east. They had little choice because that is where the trail led them and it seemed to be a way of going to better sites for a place to settle.

It was a hard way to go. The road was littered with sharp-edged obsidian rocks that cut the hooves and battered the wagons and made the trail nearly impassable. After a while the road became better; it broadened out at a wider place in the creek. The wagons and oxen forded the stream and a valley opened to them. Studded with shallow lakes, this pleasant land would later become the sites of the McIntire and Hildebrand ranches. They crested the last of the small hills when someone called, ‘There it is. Dead ahead. The Clear Lake Basin.’ The caller was right.

What lay before the new settlers was beautiful Clear Lake. Little did Martin Hammack, or the twenty-four men and women in that wagon train, know or suspect that one day the Lakeside stops they made, and the connecting Wildcat Road, would change the history of Lake County.

In the years ahead those stops would one day be the sites of mills and mines that produced minerals, grains, and products. Those mills and mines would supply earnings, wealth, and jobs to the young County’s economy.

 Next Episode: Hang on to your hats. You are about to learn priceless information about Lake County’s timber.

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

e-mail: genepaleno@gmail.com

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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