The Nevada Traveler: Peter Lassen’s final resting place

The peaceful final resting place of pioneer Peter Lassen, who died in 1859.

The peaceful final resting place of pioneer Peter Lassen, who died in 1859.

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF
It’s peaceful at Peter Lassen’s gravesite near Susanville, Calif.
Surrounded by tall pines and adjacent to large, open meadow, Lassen’s final resting spot is picturesque and tranquil. The gravesite, which resembles a small park, is located at 2550 Wingfield Road, about six miles from downtown Susanville via Richmond Road.
Lassen, namesake for a county in California, a national park, a national forest, a mountain peak, and a community college (in Susanville), is today recognized as one of the most important non-Native American pioneers to settle in the northeast corner of California in the 1840s.
Lassen was born on Oct. 31, 1800 in the town of Farum, located near Copenhagen in Denmark. Named for his grandfather Peter, his last name was formed by taking his father’s name (Lars) and adding “son.” Since spelling was haphazard in those days, he was known as Peter Larson as well as Larsen, Larsson, Lawson and Lassen Farum (after his birthplace). Eventually, he simplified his name to simply Lassen.
By the time he was in his mid-20s, Lassen had become a master blacksmith in Copenhagen. But economic success proved elusive, so, in 1830, he migrated to America for better opportunities. After brief periods in Boston and Philadelphia, he settled in Keytesville, Mo., where he worked as a blacksmith and was active in forming a local militia.
In 1838, he became acquainted with John A. Sutter, who was just embarking on a trip to Hawaii and California. Sutter, who eventually settled in the Sacramento area (and founded that community) invited Lassen to join him in Northern California, which he did in 1840.
After a few years of working in California, during which he had success milling lumber, making furniture and building saddles, Lassen was able to receive a land grant from Mexican Gov. Manuel Micheltorena. His new holdings amounted to 22,000 acres at the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek, about 22 miles south of modern-day Red Bluff.
During the next few years, Lassen established a small ranch known as Bosquejo Rancho, which included 2,300 cattle, horses and mules, fields of cotton, a vineyard (from which he made wine) and a trading post/store. His property attracted others and he helped start up a new town, Benton City, near his land.
In 1848, Lassen traveled to Missouri and led a wagon train back to California by way of a more northern route than previous wagon parties had traveled. Known as the Lassen Trail Cutoff, it proved to be a far more arduous journey than the more traveled Carson Pass or Truckee Pass routes. Despite that fact, thousands would follow on his trail.
Some historians note that Lassen had another motive for encouraging travelers to take the Lassen Trail — it led to his ranch, where he could sell goods to the weary travelers.
Despite that, Lassen largely was viewed as a generous man who was quick to organize rescue parties for lost or struggling travelers. He also was constantly seeking new ways to make his fortune.
In 1850, one of those schemes involved purchasing a steamboat that he planned to use to transport goods and products on the Sacramento River. Unfortunately, the river proved too difficult to navigate and the venture went bust. Lassen lost nearly everything, including his rancho.
By 1855, Lassen had relocated to the Honey Lake area, where he established two ranches, one on the banks of the lake (near present day Milford) and another near present-day Susanville.
Lassen also tried his hand at mining, prospecting in the Black Rock Desert region. In late April 1859, Lassen and a band of eight other men headed out to the area to search for silver. The party split into two groups, with five of the miners leaving first to set up camp and Lassen, along with Edward Clapper and Lamericus Wyatt, departing later.
The latter group traveled for a few hours but couldn’t catch up to the main party and decided to set up their own camp. Interestingly, they were only a mile away from the main group’s camp.
The next morning, as Lassen and his friends were sleeping, they were attacked by an unknown party. Clapper was shot in the head and killed immediately as he slept while Lassen was shot and killed after he stood up to see what was happening.
Wyatt, who jumped on his horse and rode 125 miles to Susanville, told residents that Lassen and Clapper had been killed by either members of the Pit River tribe or the Paiute. Some were skeptical, however, since whoever killed Clapper and Lassen didn’t raid the camp, which contained food, clothing and whiskey, after Wyatt rode off.
An expedition rode out from Susanville and found Lassen’s body (but not Clapper’s). They buried Lassen on the site, where he remained until November, when a second party removed him and buried him adjacent to a large Ponderosa tree near his Susanville ranch (where he had previously indicated he wished to be buried).
Clapper’s body wasn’t recovered until 1990, when rock hunters found a skull and upper body skeleton in the Black Rock Desert. In 1992, his remains were buried alongside Lassen’s.
Following Lassen’s death, in 1862, local Masons (Lassen was a member of the order) erected a stone monument adjacent to his grave. By 1917, the 10-foot-tall marker had begun to deteriorate and the Masons erected a larger, taller one adjacent to the site. Today, an enclosure protects the original marker and the Lassen and Clapper gravesites and wooden benches have been set up for visitors to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment