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Our Story

The Wheatland area lies within the territory once claimed by the Valley Nisenan (or Southern Maidu) which are a Penutian speaking central California group. Their traditional homelands once included the lower drainages of the American, Yuba, and Bear Rivers, and the lower reaches of the Feather River.

Few villages occupied the valley plain between the Sacramento River and the foothills. Although both the valley and foothill people hunted and gathered there, the resource focus was along the edges of rich ecotones, either the rivers and the valley floor, or the valley floor and the foothills. The plains surrounding Wheatland fall in between these two rich ecotones, and consist of exposed terrain. It is not likely that Native Americans would have spent an appreciable amount of time in the Wheatland area; instead they would have resided in villages along the Yuba River to the north and the hills to the east.

Early European settlement in the Wheatland area came with expeditions led by Gabriel Moraga in 1808 and Luis Arguello in 1821, both of whom crossed portions of present day Yuba County. Throughout the 1820’s and 1830’s, Yuba County was visited by trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company and American Fur Company, who exploited beaver and other fur resources.

In 1822 California came under Mexican rule when Mexico became independent of Spain. As British and Americans were allowed to become Mexican citizens, they acquired large tracts of land granted to them by Mexico and initially dominated the business and commercial affairs of the region. John Sutter established land holdings that included much of what is now Yuba County. Sutter owned more than Mexican law permitted; therefore, he sublet parts of this estate to other settlers. In 1844, a Mexican who had been in the employ of Sutter, Don Pablo Guttierez, obtained a grant of five leagues on the north side of Bear River, now known as the Johnson Grant. The land grant, dated December 22, 1844, was first known as Rancho de Pablo, for Pablo Guttierez, the grantee. Wheatland falls within the center of this land grant.

By 1849, there were a number of settlements along Bear River established by people engaged in mining, the livestock trade, trading post, sawmills, hotels, cutting hay, and raising cattle. Johnson’s Ranch provided a way station for teams engaging in hauling freight from Sacramento to the northern mines. It also became a stopping place for trappers, explorers, and travelers.

In the 1840’s Johnson’s Ranch was well known as the first settlement reached by the overland immigrants after crossing the Sierra and is considered to be the end of the Emigrant Trail. Here immigrants rested and obtained supplies, and it was even the base for survivors of the infamous Donner Party after they were rescued in 1847.

During the gold rush of 1849, placer gold was recovered from creeks and streams near Wheatland. The gold rush helped to quickly populate the region with prospectors, entrepreneurs, and others seeking easy fortunes.

At the time of Wheatland’s incorporation in 1874, the population was 900, of which 300 were Chinese. Most Chinese came to work on the railroad and service industries (laundries, restaurants, etc.) and later were employed as hop workers. A thriving Chinatown existed from the 1860’s through the early 20th century, when anti-Chinese sentiment forced its relocation several times. The center of the Chinese burial rite was a ceremonial pyre near the Wheatland Cemetery where final meals were cooked for the deceased. The Chinese were buried nearby until they could be shipped back to China for final internment.

Another significant event in Wheatland’s history was the inauguration of Mayor Edward P. Duplex in 1888. Mayor Duplex was the first African-American man to be elected mayor of a western United States city. His barbershop still stands today on Main Street in downtown.

Hop raising on a small scale was carried on in Yuba County around the 1860’s, and D.P. Durst planted the first hops in the Wheatland area in 1874. This ranch was the largest privately owned hops field in the world and Wheatland soon became known as the “Hop Center.” Migrant workers throughout the region were drawn to Durst’s ranch. The Durst hop ranch was also the scene of one of the first labor disturbances in California history. In 1913, violence erupted at a meeting organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to protest low pay and intolerable living conditions of the hops pickers.

The California State militia had to be called in to break up the riot, only after the sheriff, the district attorney, and two workers were killed. The organizers of the strike were later convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In the wake of this tragedy, Governor Hiram Johnson created a commission to investigate the condition of migratory farm laborers, and some reform legislation was passed. However, no substantive improvements occurred and the influence of the IWW in the Central Valley waned. By 1925, Wheatland, then with a population of about 450, was listed as the second largest hops producer, employing 4,000 during harvest seasons. Later in the 1920’s, frequent slumps in the hops commodity led the landowners and growers to turn to fruit and vegetables with marked success. Fruit and nut orchards soon replaced hopes in importance. Four abandoned kilns at the E. Clemons Horst Ranch and the Damon Estates are reminders of an exciting period in Wheatland history.

Wheatland’ first subdivision was built in 1953 when Charles Nichols developed his property bordering the northeastern part of the city. Ten homes were built in the first project that led to the first housing project within the city.

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