Colusa County







Colusa County, also called Colusi, located in the western portion of the lower Sacramento Valley, was one of California’s original counties, founded in 1850. Most of the valley part of it is good crop land, while the foothills are largely used for grazing or recreation. The county is bordered by the Coastal Mountain Range on the west and the Sacramento River, for the most part, on the east. Colusa County used to encompass all of Glenn County and part of Tehama County. Parts of Colusa were given to Tehama County in 1856 and to Glenn County in 1891. Named after the 1844 Rancho Colus Mexican land grant to John Bidwell, the word is believed to have been derived from the name of a Native American tribe living on the west side of the Sacramento River. Agriculture is a vital component of the local economy with the major crops being rice, almonds, and processing tomatoes.

Cities, Towns and Neighborhoods

The two incorporated cities in Colusa County are Colusa and Williams. Colusa is on the east side of the county on the Sacramento River and Williams is in the center along Interstate 5. Arbuckle and Maxwell are also along Interstate 5. Census Designated places include Arbuckle, College City, Grimes, Lodoga, Maxwell, Princeton and Stonyford. Sites is an unincorporated community.

Location and Geography

Colusa County has a land mass of 1150 square miles, with only 6 square miles of water. There are 85 streams in the county, most of which flow out of the western hills. Many of them are typically dry after the winter and spring rains cease.

Colusa County is surrounded by the following counties in clockwise fashion from the north: Glenn, Butte, Sutter, Yolo and Lake. There are five national protected areas within the county: Butte Sink National Wildlife Refuge (part), Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, Mendocino National Forest (part) and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (part). These refuges help to resolve the conflict between the needs of migrating birds using the Pacific Flyway and those of agriculture by supporting wintering populations of ducks and geese as well as providing habitat for endangered plants and animals. Approximately 7,000 people hunt on the refuges each year and thousands more come to view the wildlife. Hiking and biking are allowed in some areas.

Stony Creek flows into East Park Reservoir which is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation for boating, camping, fishing, and bird watching.

Interstate 5 carries north/south traffic through Arbuckle, Williams and Maxwell. State highways include numbers 16, 20 and 45 with 16 and 20 serving the east/west directions. There is one general aviation airport near Colusa.

Demographic Statistics

Colusa County has a population of 21,549 according to the last census. Of those 92% are white, 1.1% are black, 2.7% are American Indian and Alaska Native, 1.6% are Asian, 0.5% are Pacific Islanders and 56.1% are Hispanic or Latino. Some count themselves as part of more than one group.

There are 18.6 persons per square mile compared to the state average of 239.1. Home ownership is 63.5% compared to 56.7% state wide. Per capita income is $21,271 compared to $29,634 statewide.

Median household income is $49,558 compared to $61,632 statewide. Persons below poverty level are 14.4%, the same as the California statewide rate. Unemployment is 14% not seasonally adjusted compared to 9% statewide.

Educationally 70.5% are high school graduates and 13% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The high school dropout rate is 18.9%. The teen birth rate is 44.6 of every 1,000 compared to the state average of 32.1. The state calls this “ significantly higher” but not significant enough to warrant accepting federal money for “abstinence only” teaching. Volunteers from A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville , Yuba County, make visits advocating abstinence in Colusa County. Research statistics suggest that this is an effective intervention for many young people.

Colusa’s economy is based on agriculture and agriculture related businesses. The value of agricultural production in 2011 was $657,735,000 giving Colusa County a state ranking of 16th. The gross value was reported at $647,025,000, the second highest in county history despite declines in rice and almonds. The top crops were rice, almonds, vegetable seeds, processing tomatoes and rice seed.



Thousands of years before pioneer explorers from the eastern United States entered the area, seven Native American tribes lived off its bounty – the Yuki, Nomlaki, Patwin, Eastern Pomo, Northeastern Pomo, Wailaki, and Huchnom. Artifacts and records from more than 1,800 archaeological sites have provided important information about their earlier settlement and use of the region. They may have been shamanistic, following the kuksu religion. The natives made use of the mineral hot springs in the western hills of the region for medicinal purposes.

There is little in the history of the Indians of this county and the record of their experiences with the whites, but even the kindly General Bidwell had Indian killers in his employ in 1844 who took it upon themselves to seek and kill the Natives in spite of Bidwell’s reluctance. From this we can infer that there were depradations committed by the whites after which Bidwell believed that it was too late to make any fit reparation or restitution when the Indians of the county had been reduced to fewer than one hundred in number.

In 1851 a temporary camp was established at Camp Colus in Colusa County where several Native tribes in the area gathered and signed a treaty of peace and friendship with the US Indian Agent O.M.

Wozencraft. The treaty set forth the sovereignty of the United States over the soil and territory and the Natives accepted the jurisdiction, authority and protection of the United States, promising to refrain from all hostility and aggression toward the Americans. The treaty further designated the area of land for a reservation and the materials that would be supplied to the Indians to help them get settled.

In contrast, now the 84 members of Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community have over 200 acres of land for the Rancheria and they farm over 4000 acres, mostly in rice. In 1969 they built a roundhouse to honor the Creator and in 1993 they improved it with modern materials. In 2004 the first edition of the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians language book was published in cooperation with UC Berkeley.


John Bidwell mapped out a Mexican land grant for American Consul Thomas O. Larkin’s children in 1844. John S. Williams, whose wife was the first white woman in the county, was the overseer of the Larkin property from 1847 to 1849 and built the first house in the county. He brought cattle to raise for the Larkin family and then left to go prospecting in 1849. In 1847 Dr. Robert Semple from Benecia discovered the fertility and beauty of the area’s land. Soon he and his brother and their nephew Will S. Green moved to the area to settle and establish businesses.

Will S. Green, though only 18 years old when he arrived in Colusa with little education, distinguished himself as a businessman, engineer, newspaper editor, and the father of California irrigation. During his last public activity before his death he spoke to a group of important people about irrigation saying “Gentlemen, my only hope, as I am on the decline of life, is that someday I may stand on Pisgah and see a Promised Land for God’s people in this valley”. He was the last of the great pioneers who sought to build a state upon the imperishable land and the unbroken promise of seed time and harvest, not on the risky and short-lived mining industry.

Three of the four officers of the Bear Flag Party were William B. Ide, Henry L. Ford, and Granville P. Swift, each of whom was elected an officer of Colusa County upon its formation in 1851. Swift settled on Stony Creek (Glenn Co) and made a fortune using Indians to mine for gold on the Feather River. Later he used the Indians to help raise stock. Swift had an interesting habit of burying his money on his home rancho and then either forgetting about it or losing track of where he put it. Some may still be out there.

The lands where Williams, Arbuckle, and College City are now began to attract settlers in 1853 and several years later Maxwell and Delevan were settled for farming.

Seven religious denominations were represented early in Colusa’s history: Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Christian, Episcopal and Church of Christ, Scientist. The Methodist Episcopal Church was the pioneer church in Willows which ended up in Glenn County. Trinity Methodist Church celebrated its centennial in 1956. The Catholic Church was founded in 1863 at Dry Slough Schoolhouse. The First Presbyterian Church was third being founded in 1874.

In Colusa’s early days there were also a large number of secret organizations flourishing with large and active memberships, many of which disappeared over time. The Masons, Eastern Star, Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Workmen, Druids, Native Sons, Native Daughters, Grand Army of the Republic, Women’s Relief Corps, Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy, Knights of Pythias, Moose, Foresters, Eagles, Knights of Honor, Federated Brotherhood, Sons of Temperance, Good Templars, have all been represented in the county at one time or another, but the Masons, Eastern Star, Odd Fellows, Rebekahs, Native Sons, Native Daughters, Knights of Pythias, Moose, and possibly the Eagles, were the only ones that survived long term. New orders were organized from time to time old ones give up the struggle, keeping the number of active orders in the county about the same.

Many of the pioneers were members of both the churches and the secret societies. A few men donated money to all the churches but belonged to none of them.

Pierce Christian College was founded in September 1874 and Orland Normal College (Glenn Co) was founded in 1884. Many prominent men and women received their education in these two colleges until they ceased as institutions of learning in the middle of the 1890’s.

In the western part of the county between 1850 and 1900, many small sawmills operated within what is now the forest boundary. Ranchers living in the Sacramento Valley extensively used the mountains for summer grazing in the late 19th century. Mining also played a role in the history of the area. Most mining activity was limited to exploration for copper in the late 1800s and strategic minerals like manganese and chrome during World Wars I and II.

The minerals that attracted most people, however, were the ones dissolved in mineral and hot springs. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, visitors would travel many miles to drink the water from mineral springs and soak in baths at resorts and spas for their advertised therapeutic benefits. You can see remains of three resort hotels, mineral baths, and a bottling plant for mineral water at Bartlett Flat.

Fouts Springs, Hough Springs, and Allen Springs also boasted popular resort facilities, although little evidence of their buildings remains. Wilbur Hotsprings has been restored.

First set aside as the Stony Creek Reserve in 1907, the area became the California National Forest in 1908 and then the Mendocino National Forest in 1932.

For many years most of Colusa County was opposed to the sale of alcohol. The people were proud of their morality and prosperity and did not want to jeopardize it. Even in those communities where alcohol was served the saloon owners were very careful because they knew the populace would quickly vote the town dry if anything even slightly disgraceful happened.

The cattle men and the shepherds got along, unlike in some other parts of the country where they battled fiercely over grazing land.

The slavery question was a significant one in the early politics of the County. The founders of the town of Colusa and many of the settlers in the area were Southern men, so although the state remained loyal to the Union, the local sympathy was with the Confederacy. On a couple of occasions US troops were sent to the area to cool the enthusiasm for the South. Perhaps the fraternal organizations helped soothe the emotions.

Anti-Chinese sentiment was strong here as it was in so many places in the Central Valley, but the races live together on friendly terms now. Mariko Yamada represents part of Colusa County in the State Assembly.

Places of Historical Interest


A historic Chinatown, Carnegie Library and classic courthouse combine with classic Victorian structures to reflect southern charm combined with the Chinese motif. The city was reportedly founded by a Chinese monk and its cottages and gardens give the appearance of a town in northern China but this comment couldn’t be substantiated in the research.

The Colusa County Courthouse erected in 1861, is a Federal/Classic Revival style building. It is the oldest remaining courthouse in the Sacramento Valley. The ‘Southern’ style reflects the county’s heritage and states’ rights sympathies during the Civil War. In its early years, the courthouse also served as a center for cultural, social, and religious activities.


Green was co-founder of Colusa with Dr. Semple. Although he had no formal education, he was editor and publisher of the Sun with a philosophy that a newspaperman should teach his community social responsibilities and educate men to live happily together. He was an advocate of states’ rights distinguished from slavery. On June 1, 1865 he wrote, “There could be such a thing as a Republic in this country without slavery, but there can never be such a thing as a Republic in America without the acknowledgement of States’ Rights.”

In 1899, Green was the elected first president of The Central and Northern California Press Association. He saw it as an opportunity to discuss problems common to newspaper editors, and to broaden their horizons beyond just their localities. He also saw it as means to resist advertisers who sought articles putting them in favorable light in return for vague promises of future business, in addition to local bodies that demanded free newspaper space for material they were required to publish by law. For his efforts, Green is enshrined in the California Press Association’s California Newspaper Hall of Fame.

In 1888, Green broke ground on the 61-mile (98 km) Central Irrigation District canal and he organized the Sacramento Valley Development Corporation to attract settlers for the soon to be irrigated land. It is therefore not surprising that Green became known as the “father of irrigation” in California.


Williams, gateway to Northern California hunting and fishing, was founded in 1874 and was first known as Central. In 1876 it was later renamed Williams to honor William Williams, who gave much of the land for the town site. It was made a General Law City on May 20, 1920, organized under the general laws of the State. The Catholic Church in Williams was brought there from Marysville where it was situated in a German colony. The church still stands where it was placed and is still being used at 8th and F Street. The land for the Catholic Church, as well as the Methodist Church, was donated by J. O. Zumwalt. The Methodist Church is still in the place where it was built, 9th and G Street. Williams, though not a member of any church, provided his financial support to all the churches.


During the early 1940s a quickly erected labor camp just outside Arbuckle housed laborers during an experimental attempt to grow a shrub to produce natural rubber for use during WW II. When the experiment failed the USDA shut it down and turned it over the military. It housed German POWs while they were re-programmed. After the war it was sold and converted into apartments, a bar and general store. Eventually it was replaced with new apartments and the additional land was subdivided and developed into additional dwellings.


Maxwell, first called Occident, was started in 1878. George Maxwell donated the land for the railway depot and was the postmaster so the town became known as Maxwell. After Maxwell constructed a brick school building, the old wooden school building was bought by the Maxwell Baptist Church in 1883 for a thousand dollars.


Fouts Springs is an unincorporated community best known for being the headquarters of the New Tribes Mission, a nagency that sends missionaries into the most unreached areas. In the 1980s and 1990s a sexual abuse scandal in Western Africa broke that highlighted the weak accountability in the organization. In July 1953, 14 NTM members who were in training for jungle mission were serving as volunteer firefighters. They died in what became known as the Rattlesnake Fire about 25 miles north of Fouts Springs, California in the Mendocino National Forest

The post office was established in 1882, closed in 1913, reopened in 1945, closed again in 1947, reopened in 1950 and closed for good in 1956. The place is named for John F. Fouts who discovered the springs here in 1873. The springs supported a resort capable of hosting 150 guests that operated in the early part of the 20th century.,_California


Grand Island Shrine located on State Route 45 was built 1883. This is the site of the first Catholic mass to be said in Colusa County in May 1856. In 1864, a Catholic mission was conducted and a large wooden cross erected to commemorate the occasion. Masses, pilgrimages and visits were made here continuously thereafter. In order to preserve the identity of the place, Father Michael Wallrath secured a deed from Mrs. Anna Myers to this parcel of land and constructed a small shrine from hand kilned bricks in 1883. Father Wallrath, the first pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, built the shrine and he was responsible for many of the Catholic churches and related structures in the region. The present cross, erected by the Knights of Columbus, replaces the one first erected here in 1864.


This valley was settled in 1855 by Jack and David Lett. The present lake spillway is the site of a tunnel that they built to facilitate drainage. The brothers were killed in 1877 in an attempt to prevent squatters from settling on their land. Land owners typically owned huge tracts of land that went on for miles and they didn’t like people moving in close to them. Several miles, in some instances, was considered too close.


The Indians used the hot springs in this remote area for medicinal purposes. When John Bidwell was searching for gold, one of his men was very sick and the Indians directed him to the hot springs where the sick man recovered and word spread about their healing power. A European style resort was built at this site in 1865 and travelers came by railroad to Williams and then the last 22 miles by stagecoach which took 4 hours. Over the years the resort changed ownership a few times including a period when the Barker family owned it, rumored to be of Ma and Pa Barker fame, gangsters of the early 1900s. In 1972 Dr. Richard Miller began to purchase and restore the property in stages. He opened it to the public in 1974 offering psychology seminars, Esalen (a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies) workshops and eventually some successful treatment for addictions by getting people away from their electronic gadgets and stressful lifestyles.

Famous People from Colusa

Byron De La Beckwith, the man who murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963, was born in Colusa to Byron De La Beckwith and Susan Southworth Yerger Beckwith, both upstanding members of the community. After his father died when he was young, he and his mother moved to Mississippi to be near family. Susan Yerger was the niece of Mrs. Sallie M. Green, Daughter of the Confederacy and president of the Confederate Monument Association, second wife of Will S. Green of Colusa. Sallie Morgan Green was from Mississippi and after Will Green died she continued as editor of the Colusa Sun newspaper. De La Beckwith was tried and convicted in 1994 but two prior trials ended in hung juries.

The Confederate sympathy of Colusa County is in contrast to the refuge for African-Americans and former slaves that Yolo County provided in Guinda and the Capay Valley.

Frederick Carlton Weyand was the last commander of US military operations in the Vietnam War. He served in WW II and Korean War before Vietnam. His understanding of the enemy’s thinking and his strategizing helped make the Tet Offensive in 1968 unsuccessful for the North Vietnamese.


Colusa County voted for Republican candidates in the 2012 election choosing Elizabeth Emken (R) over Diane Feinstein (D) for US Senate. Doug La Malfa (R) represents District 1 in the House of Representatives.

Jim Nielson (R) was elected over Michael Harrington (D) for State Senate District 4. Colusa County is split between CA State Assembly Districts 3 and 4. The town of Colusa is in District 3 represented by Dan Logue (R) and Williams is in District 4 represented by Mariko Yamada (D).

Current Issues

Research done by UC Davis indicates that if water were cut by 25% to the Colusa and Glenn in order to protect the salmon and other fish endangered by the irrigation pumps and canals, Colusa County would lose $12.5 million or 5% of their county income while Glenn would lose 2.5% of its county income or $6.25 million. Since these two counties have the lowest personal income levels in the Sacramento Valley and the highest reliance on Agriculture in their economies their loss would be painful. Colusa County would lose the most jobs.

Colusa County has tried every type of industry to create a payroll for the county but nothing has succeeded. There are few raw materials for manufacturing and a limited number of potential employees so conditions are not very conducive to anything g other than agriculture. This atmosphere of industrial failure, however, hangs heavy over the county, especially when the US Bureau of Reclamation and environmental groups propose reductions in water delivery to the farms and ranches.

When Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner pleaded guilty to drunken driving incidents, the CHP chose not to book him into the county jail so he didn’t become part of the public record.

Colusa County and Sutter County are the last two counties to allow medical marijuana to be grown there. Some farmers in Glenn, Colusa and Tehama counties have indicated they would consider growing marijuana only if it was legalized federally to ensure protection against prosecution and their subsidy programs. Others in the area have said they would never grown pot because of a moral objection.

Wildfires scorched the western foothills of Colusa County during the summer of 2012, but no homes were lost and no serious injuries were reported. The fires burned 59,380 acres, including parts of Lake and Yolo counties. All but the Sixteen Complex Fire was classified as suspicious.

The Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians, also known as the Colusa Indian Community, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Friday in hopes of stopping the Enterprise Rancheria from opening an off-reservation casino. The Cachil Dehe Band believes the proposed facility will draw patrons from the Colusa Casino. The complaint cites a loss of revenue and even employees to the new development.


Pray that God will set his plumb line in Colusa County and that all things will be measured by and called into alignment with His standard of truth and righteousness. Pray that the eyes and ears of the people will be sharpened to see and hear what God has for them; that they would break up their fallow ground; and that fertile seeds of the full Gospel message will fall on good soil, take root and produce a hundred fold harvest of souls.

Declare that Jesus is Lord and that Holy Spirit is the territorial spirit over Colusa County and its people; that Eastern and new age philosophies, lawlessness, pride, independence and mixture will not prosper in Colusa County. Declare the door closed to any racism and mixture still clinging there.

Pray that the Body of Christ becomes hungry and thirsty for more of God; that knowing about him is not enough – TO KNOW HIM intimately and enjoy him become our priority. Pray for a revealing of the sons and daughters of God, of the Father’s heart for them, and a restoration of our identity and destiny in his Kingdom.

Pray that passion for holiness overtakes the Church; that we will seek unity, true humility, obedience and godly submission in our relationships with each other and with the authorities God has positioned over us. Pray that the Spirit of intercession is released along with a fresh revelation of the Power of the Blood of Jesus Christ; that pastors and leaders are refreshed and renewed by personal experiences in the glory of the Lord’s presence.

Pray that people in distress will turn to God for comfort and direction and not to sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography or anything else the world offers. Pray that gambling loses its attraction and precious resources are not wasted. Pray that farmers will not be persuaded to grow marijuana even if it becomes legal at the federal level.

Pray for a release of hope to all who are discouraged and oppressed. Pray for families under pressure and hardship; that marriages remain intact and children have the benefit of both married parents, a mother and a father, to raise them. That human life is highly valued, respected and treated with dignity and that abstinence and holiness are best. Pray that all plots to traffic in human lives are discovered and thwarted along Interstate 5.

Pray for men and women to be elected to positions of leadership in the City, County, State and Nation who will govern with godly wisdom and discernment so that we might enjoy peaceful, productive lives and faithfully spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pray for men, women and children to have powerful encounters with Jesus; that they would be equipped for the work of the ministry; and that they would follow the Word of God as faithful disciples.