RANCHO SAN BUENAVENTURA
Ranch of Good Fortune
Granted to: Pierson B.
Reading in 1844 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena
Size: 26,632 acres
Location: Shasta County
San Buenaventura is the Spanish form of the name of St. Bonaventure, who was born in Tuscany (Italy) in 1221. It is said that when his health was restored he exclaimed, "O Buona ventura" ("Oh, good fortune!"), thus acquiring his new name.
BEFORE THE RANCHO
The valley that stretched from the west side of the Sacramento River to the Coast Range mountains was the home of Wintun Indians who fished for salmon in the Sacramento and McCloud rivers, and hunted deer and bear in the hills.
PIERSON B. READING
Pierson Barton Reading (pronounced red-ing) was born in New Jersey in 1816 into a family that included Joseph Reading, a captain in the American Revolution, and John Reading, a governor of New Jersey and a trustee of Princeton University.
Young Pierson left home at the age of 14, became a cotton broker in Mississippi and Louisiana, and eventually married and had a daughter. In 1843 his wife died. When his partner fled taking all the firm's money and leaving all its debts, the business failed.
Reading decided to go west, joining a group led by Joseph B. Chiles. This expedition came into California from the north through the Pit River area and the upper Sacramento River valley, arriving at Sutter's Fort on the lower Sacramento River in November 1843. This group, one of the first organized expeditions into California, faced hardship and starvation on the journey.
At Sutter's Fort, Reading found food, lodging, and a job. Sutter hired him to be his chief clerk and sometime beaver trapper. Sutter evidently found Reading to be trustworthy, for he left him in charge of the fort for some months in 1845 while Sutter was away on a military action.
MEXICAN LAND GRANT
Soon after arriving at Sutter's Fort, Reading heard about the land grants being given by the Mexican government. With the help of his friend, Samuel J. Hensley, who had came to California at the same time, he picked out a tract of land on the upper Sacramento River. He also hired about 28 Indians to make adobe bricks for a house.
In December 1844, having completed the one year residency required by the government, Reading became a Mexican citizen. With a letter of recommendation from John Sutter, Reading was successful in receiving a grant of the land that he had chosen. This was the most northern grant made by a Spanish or Mexican governor. It extended for 19 miles along the west bank of the Sacramento River from Cottonwood Creek to Salt Creek.
RANCHO SAN BUENAVENTURA
When Reading received the land grant, he was still working for John Sutter. He stocked his new rancho with cattle and left Julian, a French Canadian, in charge as caretaker. Sadly, in 1846 a band of raiders killed the caretaker, burned the house, and scattered the cattle.
READING AND THE AMERICANS
Though Reading had become a Mexican citizen, he was one of the American rebels who staged the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma in June 1846. When war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico, Reading enlisted in John C. Frémont's battalion. He was given the rank of major and made paymaster. Reading was a member of the peace commission that signed the treaty with Mexico in January 1847.
BACK TO THE RANCHO
In June 1847, having been discharged from the army, Reading went back to Rancho Buenaventura. In a letter to his brother he wrote, "A more beautiful tract of land I never saw." He built a new two-story adobe house just east of present-day Cottonwood.
Reading now devoted himself to running his rancho. He brought in more cattle and planted grapes, olives (the first in northern California), pears, grain, and vegetables. He also planted the first cotton in California.
Many pioneers of northern California -- Sutter, Bidwell, Lassen, Frémont, Joaquin Miller -- gathered at Reading's ranch house to discuss the affairs of California now that it was under American control.
GOLD AT BUENAVENTURA
When gold was discovered at Sutter's mill in Coloma in 1848, Reading visited the site with his old friend, Sutter. He thought that the soil there looked much like the soil at certain places on his rancho. When he got back home, he began to search the creek beds. He soon found gold on Clear Creek, at a place he named Reading's Bar, and on the Trinity River.
The report is that Reading took out about $80,000 worth of gold within six weeks. In 1849 he found gold at the site of the present-day town of Shasta (known then as Reading's Springs). By this time, hundreds of prospectors had rushed to Rancho Buenaventura.
THE 1850S AT BUENAVENTURA
California became a state in 1850 and Shasta County was organized with Reading's rancho as the county seat and his ranch house as the first courthouse. In 1851 the county seat was moved to Shasta.
With the gold that he had found in his creeks, Reading made a trip to Mississippi in 1850 to pay off his old debts.
In 1851, Reading was nominated by the Whig party to be governor of California, but did not win the election. Reading was now interested in navigation on the upper Sacramento River. He became the owner of several steamboats that made the run down to San Francisco and back.
Reading was appointed by President Fillmore in 1852 as a special Indian agent for California. It is reported that he worked well with the Indians, who found him to be kind and fair. Also in 1852, a U.S. military post was built in Shasta County and named Fort Reading, in his honor.
In 1855 Reading again traveled east, this time to Washington, D.C., to clear the title on his land grant. While in Washington he met Fannie Wallace Washington, and they were married in March 1856. Reading had added a nine-room addition to his ranch house, and it was here that he brought Fannie.
The Readings had six children, all born at Rancho Buenaventura. Reading's daughter by his first marriage, Jeanette, also came to live with them. In 1868, Pierson Reading died at his ranch house. He is buried on a little hill near the house site. One of the daughters, Alice Matilda Reading, lived on the rancho until her death in 1939.
THE RANCHO TODAY
The town of Redding is the major city on the old Rancho Buenaventura land. There is some confusion as to whether the intent was to name the town for Pierson B. Reading. Whether by plan or by mistake, a man named Benjamin B. Redding, land agent for the Central Pacific railroad, who laid out the town site, received the honor. A later move to change the spelling of the name to "Reading" was defeated in the Legislature.