Plumas County is a county located in the Sierra Nevada of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 20,007. The county seat is Quincy, and the only incorporated city is Portola. The county gets its name from the Spanish words for the Feather River (Río de las Plumas), which flows through the county.
Prior to the California Gold Rush of 1849, the Mountain Maidu were the primary inhabitants of the area now known as Plumas County. The Maidu lived in small settlements along the edges of valleys, subsisting on roots, acorns, grasses, seeds, and occasionally fish and big game. There was no official tribal leadership and most groups remained in and around their own valleys. Areas with high snowfall, including Mohawk and Sierra Valleys, provided hunting grounds in the warmer months.
Life quickly changed for the Mountain Maidu, however, when gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills in 1848. Miners were attracted to Plumas County in particular largely due to the wild tales of a man named Thomas Stoddard, whose claims of stumbling onto a lake lined with gold nuggets while lost in the wilderness attracted gold hungry prospectors to the area. Though hopeful miners scoured the glacial lakes of what is now Lakes Basin Recreation Area for months, they could not find the alleged lake of gold. However, some of them did have success in the rivers and creeks in the area, which led to the development of many of Plumas County’s first non-Indian settlements.
Towns quickly sprung up around successful mining areas, including Rich Bar, Indian Bar, and Rabbit Creek (now La Porte). The Feather River, named by Spanish explorer Captain Luis Arguello as "Río de las Plumas" in 1820, was the site of many of these settlements.
Contributing to the wave of Euro-Americans entering the Plumas County area was African American frontiersman James Beckwourth’s discovery of the lowest pass through the Sierras, Beckwourth Pass, in 1850. Using the pass, he blazed a trail that began in Western Nevada and went through much of Plumas County, eventually terminating in the Sacramento Valley. He also set up a trading post in western Sierra Valley that still stands today. Though the Beckwourth Trail was longer than the original emigrant trail that ran south of Plumas County, its lower elevations kept it in heavy use until about 1855, when the railroads became the favored transportation method for westward-bound travelers.
Plumas County was formed in 1854 and was carved from the eastern portion of Butte County. Quincy, originally a mining town, was chosen as the county seat after a heated election against nearby Elizabethtown. A large portion Plumas County was taken to create Lassen County in 1864, and shortly afterward Plumas County annexed part of Sierra County, including the prosperous mining town of La Porte.
Over the next decades, different industries influenced the growth of the various settlements that sprung up around the county. Greenville began as a mining and farming community in Indian Valley in the late 1850s. Near the area that is now Lake Almanor, Chester was formed as a result of cattle ranching and the timber industry. When the Western Pacific Railroad was constructed in 1910, Portola sprung up as an important railroad stop. Thanks to the railroad, Plumas County could export its lumber beyond the local area, which allowed the timber industry to become the dominating force in the county’s economy. The railroad’s route up the Feather River Canyon also brought the area’s first tourists and sightseers. When the Feather River Highway was completed in 1937, Plumas County became linked to the Sacramento Valley year-round thanks to the route’s low elevation.