The story of Isaac Roop and Susanville unfolds at the Lassen Historical Museum
Just about everything you could ever want to know about Susanville, Calif., and Lassen County can be found in the Lassen Historical Museum in Susanville.
Interestingly, you’ll also learn about the remarkable connections that Susanville has to early Nevada.
The museum is located at 115 N. Weatherlow St., about one block north of Main Street. Susanville itself is located 86 miles northwest of Reno via U.S. 395.
Susanville traces its name and its roots to one man, Isaac Roop. In June 1854, Roop erected a one-story log house from which he sold goods to emigrants traveling through the area on the Nobles Emigrant Trail, which had been established a few years earlier.
Known as the Roop House or Roop’s Fort (as well as Fort Defiance), the crude building sold staples as well as tobacco and whiskey. In 1856, the structure was the site of the signing of a document forming the State of Nataqua (allegedly a native American word for “woman” or “wife”) with frontiersman Peter Lassen named president and Roop as secretary.
Apparently, that portion of what today is Lassen County and Washoe County (in California and Nevada) was not clearly defined when the boundary between California and the Utah Territory (of which Nevada was then part of) was drawn so residents believed they could create their own territory or state to avoid being taxed by either.
In 1859, the shortlived Nataqua territory became of the effort to create a Nevada territory and Roop was named the first provisional Territorial governor of Nevada (with all believing the Susanville area and Honey Lake were in what was designated as Roop County, Nevada Territory).
This confusion regarding where the boundary between California and the new Nevada Territory persisted until February 1863, when Plumas County, Calif., officials decided to resolve the matter by issuing warrants for the arrest of Roop and other local citizens.
Known as the Sagebrush War, the conflict — which only lasted a day and a half — began when the Plumas County sheriff and 40 men arrived in Susanville to enforce the county’s authority over the region. After a day of unsuccessful negotiation, apparently the two sides began shooting at each other.
The skirmish continued for about four hours with the Susanville/Honey Lake contingent holed up in Roop’s House while the Plumas County group clustered in a barn that was about 500 feet away. During the back-and-forth volleys, either two or three participants were injured but there were no casualties.
Finally, a truce was called and the warring parties (if you call them that) agreed to cease hostilities and let the governments of California and the Nevada Territory resolve the matter. A year later, a survey showed the area was indeed inside California’s borders and in response the California Legislature established Lassen County, with Susanville named the county seat.
Despite not being able to serve as Nevada’s provisional governor, Roop played an important role in the community. Generally considered the town’s founder, the name Susanville is derived from Roop’s daughter’s name. The settlement was originally named Rooptown but was changed by Roop to Susanville in 1857.
As for Roop’s background, he was born in Maryland in 1822 and headed to Shasta County, Calif., in 1850, after his wife died. After establishing a successful farming and trading business, he lost nearly everything in a fire. In 1853, he moved to the Honey Lake area to rebuild his fortune with a trading post.
He served as district attorney of Lassen County from 1864 until his death in 1869.
The Lassen Historical Museum, which encompasses the original Roop’s Fort, offers a number of displays that spotlight regional history. In addition to arrowhead collections and Native American art, it features diplays of antique weapons, equipment, furniture and bottles, as well as an extensive historic photograph collection.
A visit to the fort is worthwhile just to get a sense of the rough and challenging conditions under which the community’s founder once lived and worked.
The museum is open year-round; call for hours at 530-257-3292.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.