I’ve been reading about Peter Lassen in Legendary Truths by Ken Johnston. I recommend the book to anyone who wants a detailed account of Lassen’s life and the development of the Lassen Trail. Johnston dispels many old myths about Lassen as a pathfinder and the viability of the Lassen Trail as a route to the goldfields of California.
Although we usually think of Lassen as living at his Mexican land grant, Rancho Bosquejo, on Deer Creek in Tehama County, that is not where he ended his life. In 1855 he moved to Honey Lake Valley, near Susanville, where he successfully prospected for gold.
His gold find resulted in an influx of miners into the region, with the usual subsequent problems of land ownership and disputed claims. In April 1856 Lassen met with his partner Isadore Meyerowitz and eighteen other settlers at the cabin of Isaac Roop to draw up laws for their area.
Being in a sparsely settled region, far beyond the urban centers of Sacramento and San Francisco, these pioneers did not believe that they were in either the state of California or in Nevada (which at the time was part of Utah Territory.) Not only that, they didn’t want to pay taxes to California. So they headed up a movement to create a new territory, which they called Nataqua.
Where did they get the name Nataqua? Ken Johnston says that it was a “local Indian word said to mean “Woman.”” Of course, this doesn’t explain why they wanted to name their new territory “Woman,” but maybe it was actually the name of someone’s native wife.
Pater Lassen was elected chairman or president of the committee meeting, and Isaac Roop was secretary. The committee declared Nataqua Territory to be 240 miles long and 155 miles wide, with coordinates that included most of northwest Nevada and a strip of northeast California. They intended Honey Lake Valley and Susanville to be part of the new territory, although the designated coordinates actually left them outside the bounds of Nataqua.
Peter Lassen is generally considered to be the first governor of Nataqua Territory, although he was actually only elected as surveyor. On his death in 1859 Isaac Roop took over as the purported governor. In 1861 the territory of Nevada was created, but the border between California and Nevada was a matter of dispute and it wasn’t until a survey was done in 1863 that the uncertain border was clarified and Nataqua Territory quietly went away into the mists of history.
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