by Carol Withington
In my possession are two commemorative postmarks and stamps from a small community in Plumas County. One is stamped Beckwith, dated 1908--the other is Beckwourth, dated 1970. Although the Beckwith post office opened in 1870, it was not until 1932 that the name was officially changed to Beckwourth. And to add to the confusion, the spelling of Beekwith is listed in the 1894 Great Register of Plumas County. This definitely was an error.
Named for the famous African-American mountain man, explorer, trapper and scout, some records reveal that James Pierson Beckwourth was born into slavery as James Beckwith in 1798. Let's not forget still another moniker--"Bloody Arm" because of his skill as a fighter.
According to Rudolph Lapp's "Blacks in Gold Rush California", when gold was discovered in 1849, Beckwourth guided several groups of migrants to California. It was while exploring the Pit River Valley in 1851 that Beckwourth discovered the pass that now bears his name. It soon after became the major overland wagon routes to the upper Sacramento Valley.
Beckwourth eventually settled in a small valley at the mouth of the pass near Portola. Over the years, he raised cattle and attempted to promote a wagon road through his pass to Marysville. However, the community did not accept his efforts for financial aid. In fact, a frustrated Beckwourth sent a letter to the "Marysville Herald" in August 1853 which read--"I intend to start today to the forks of the road at the sink of the Humboldt, to induce emigrants to travel this road--although the citizens of Marysville do not think it worthwhile to pay me for my trouble, or even pay me the amount I have paid out to get the road though it is more to their advantage than to mine."
There are many stories about this adventurous individual. Some come from Beckwourth himself. For along with his many skills, he also had the ability to "spin a good yarn". However, it is doubtless he ever told anyone about his strange encounter in Shasta County while visiting his friend--James La-Tour. This will be featured in that March edition. By the way, La-Tour is now spelled Latour. Oh well, what's in a name.