MAJOR PIERSON BARTON READING
Any satisfactory history of Shasta county and the town of Redding, particularly in relation to the pioneer period, must make specific reference to Major Pierson Barton Reading, who stood in the front rank of those to whose efforts and influence the early development of this section of the Sacramento valley was largely due. Major Reading was a man of strong character, great ability and fine public spirit and was regarded as one of the real leaders of thought and action in his community. He was born in New Jersey, November 26, 1816, and his wife was born in Washington, D. C. The Major came west in 1843, arriving in the Sacramento valley on October 31st, so that he was numbered among that select band of pioneers who even preceded the great influx incident to the discovery of gold in 1849. In a series of articles written by Walter H. Fink a number of years ago and which appeared serially in the Redding Courier-Free Press, the following reference is made to Major Reading:
“Major Pierson B. Reading was the first white settler of Shasta county. His settlement was made in 1845, near the junction of Cottonwood creek with the Sacramento river. There was no further white settlement in Shasta county until 1849, when immigration trains began to arrive across the plains. There were a number of men from Oregon in the country before this, but they were moving around and made no permanent settlement. The immigration to Shasta county in 1849 came in principally by the Lassen route, now generally known as the ‘old Lassen trail.’ It was Peter Lassen who brought the charter from Missouri for the first Masonic lodge in California, first located at Benton City. On May 9, 1851, the grand lodge gave authority to move this lodge to Shasta. “The Lassen trail came into the Sacramento valley at Lassen’s ranch on Deer Creek. On the arrival of the immigration at Lassen’s the great inquiry was as to where the best diggings were to be found. The mines north Lassen’s were classified as the Northern mines and those on the south as the Southern. The accounts were to some extent conflicting, but the Northern mines were generally credited as being the better, and many selected them because there were but few in them. There were three places which constituted the Northern mines (as the Shasta mines were then called), viz., the Upper Reading Springs, now known as Shasta; the Lower Reading Springs, later known as the Lower Springs, and the Clear Creek diggings, later known as the Horsetown diggings. “These mines were all originally discovered by Major Reading and he and his Indians did the first mining in each of them. These three places became the headquarters of most of the immigrants, and there prospecting companies were organized during the winter of ’49 and ’50, who discovered most of the mines situated between the Sacramento river and Clear creek, from the mouth of Clear creek up to Spring creek and Whiskey creek. “It is difficult for one who is not a pioneer to realize the situation of the immigrants of 1849. They were in the land of gold, but to them it was strange land and everything was new. They occasionally (sic) met men of their own race who had ‘blazed the way’ to the new Eldorado and knew the land—the pioneers of California pioneers—and in such men as Reading, Lassen, Sutter and Moon they met men who could stand in the front among any pioneers the world ever saw. The immigrants seemed to be regarded as intruders by a few of the old Californians, but they were generally received with great kindness and hospitality by those who were here on their arrival. Major Reading was particularly kind and generous. He sympathized with the immigrants and manifested a heartfelt and cheerful desire to aid and assist them by every means in his power, and he had words of kindness and of cheer that were often worth more than gold. Many of the first settlers in Shasta county treasure among their most cherished recollections the kind deeds and kind words of Major Pierson B. Reading. Whenever the early history of Shasta county is written, let his name be inscribed on its brightest page.”
From the pen of Miss Alice M. Reading, now the only surviving member of Major Reading’s family, comes the following interesting and valuable account of the naming of the city Redding, as well as other facts of interest:
“Pierson B. Reading was a pioneer of California in 1843. His certificate can be seen at the hall of records in this city. He received a grant of land from the Mexican governor, Micheltoreno, which extended from Salt creek down the Sacramento river to a point at the head of Bloody island and mouth of Cottonwood creek. Major Reading ran several steamboats up the river to a place called Latona, or Reading, near the mouth of Clear creek, intending to build a town and call it Reading, making it the head of navigation. Accordingly, when General Cadwallader surveyed the townsite and marked the stations for the Central Pacific railroad, Reading was one of them, and was so named by Cadwallader in honor of the pioneer. When the town was laid out, for some reason the spelling was erroneously changed to Redding. Major Reading’s friends protested and had the legislature in 1873 restore the spelling to that of the pioneer’s name.
“For some reason and in order to please a railroad land agent, B. B. Redding, a petition came before the legislature in 1880 to repeal the act of 1873, which was done. That this did not meet with the entire approval of the people is evidenced by excerpts from an article written some time later and published in a Sacramento newspaper, which commented: ‘The city of Redding was named in honor P. B. Reading, but the honor was transferred to B. B. Redding, land agent for the Central Pacific. It would have been highly appropriate for the city to have borne the name of Reading in honor of its pioneer.’ “P. B. Reading’s home was the first county seat of Shasta county in 1851. Recently there has been much discussion over the pronunciation of several California names. A late dictionary gives the pronunciation of Reading, a proper name, and that of the lord chief justice of England, as ‘red-ing.’ This should prove the authoritative pronunciation of the name Reading.”
Miss Reading is one of Shasta county’s most highly esteemed ladies, both because of her family connections and her splendid personality and attainments. She is an artist in oil colors and one of her portraits, that of General Bidwell, hangs in the Capitol at Sacramento. The General and the Reading family were very closely acquainted.
Transcribed by Joyce Rugeroni.
© 2010 Joyce Rugeroni.