Gov. John Bigler signs legislation forming Plumas County from the eastern part of Butte, one of California’s original 27 counties. The new county is named after the Feather River whose three branches run through the region. The North, Middle and South forks of the Feather River are first called Rio de las Plumas in 1821 by Captain Luis Arguello after the Spanish explorer sees what looks like bird feathers floating in the water. Quincy is now the Plumas county seat but doesn’t get the title until besting nearby Elizabethtown in a close election. (Quincy is named after Quincy, Illinois, which is named for John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States.)
Plumas attracts heavy mining activity at the beginning of the Gold Rush, particularly along the Feather and its forks. Many prospectors come based on claims by Thomas Stoddard that he found a lake lined with gold nuggets while lost in the wilderness of what’s now Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Plumas’ growth is also fueled from the 1850 discovery by African American frontiersman John Beckwourth of the lowest pass over the Sierra Nevada. The pass, which bears his name, is longer than the emigrant trail south of Plumas County but its lower elevations keep it in heavy use until railroads became the dominant form of transportation west. In the 1882 Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen & Sierra Counties, published by Fariss & Smith in San Francisco, the split is described as amiable and a long-time coming:
“For four years this section (Plumas) performed the function of tail to the Butte County kite and then the tail became too heavy. The kite was not properly balanced and would not fly as gracefully as before. No law existed here but that to be found in the self-constituted courts of the miners. Not only were the people remote from the county seat but for several months in the winter season they were cut off from it entirely by snow.
” So large a population had gathered here in 1853 that both of the great political parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, held their county conventions in this region where at least half of the voting population resided. They realized then that they were strong enough to support a county government. The subject was much discussed in 1853 and the following winter. The people in the western part of the county were willing to let them go. They were strong enough, and their county large enough, without keeping the mountain section tied to them against their will. “
Butte County Assemblyman John B. McGee, who lives in what would become Plumas County, introduces a bill on February 14 to create the new county. The Senate approves it on March 7. Bigler signs it 11 days later. Since no county seat has been established the three commissioners charged with organizing the government and holding its first election meet at James Bradley’s American Ranch & Hotel, the first sawed lumber building in Quincy. In that first election, the Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen & Sierra Counties says that the vote for assessor between John R. Buckbee and Christopher Porter is a tie. Judge Ward, the county magistrate, must appoint the winner. He and Buckbee are good friends. Porter’s democratic friends convince him the only way to win is to challenge Buckbee to a game of seven-up for the office.
“The two aspirants sat down to a table at Bradley’s hotel, surrounded by a crowd of interested spectators. The fates were against Porter to the last and Buckbee arose from the table winner of the game and the office of assessor of Plumas County for it is needless to say that judge Ward recognized this honorable and equitable settlement of the question and appointed Buckbee accordingly. The thirsty crowd that witnessed the game must have reduced the net earnings of Buckbee’s office considerably by their liberal potations at his expense; for that, too, was as much a point of honor as the action of Judge Ward.”
Ten years later, Plumas itself is split, its northern section carved off to form present day Lassen County. In 1866, Plumas annexes a small portion of Sierra County including the prosperous mining town of La Porte, whose population numbers 10,000. The 2010 Census shows La Porte with a population of 26.