Thomas Denson was one of the first pioneers to settle in the Pit River Valley in Modoc County. In 1852, Denson headed west across the United States by way of the Santa Fe Trail when he was only 12 years of age and settled along the north fork of the Pit River.
He was a master craftsman by trade and built a crude log cabin around a pyramid-shaped rock, and cut his fireplace out of the rock itself. Meticulously carved, this unusually shaped sandstone formation served as a flue for Denson’s fireplace. In 1871, Thomas Denson’s cabin was complete. It would also become the second building to be erected in the Pit River Valley. Although the cabin doesn’t exist anymore, the rock formation has been preserved as a California Historical Landmark (No. 109) indicated by a marker which was dedicated to the pioneers of Modoc County by Alturas Parlor 159 Native Daughters of the Golden West on September 21, 1932.
The Chimney Rock Historical Monument is located along the Emigrant Trails Scenic Byway, approximately 7.5 miles north of Alturas off of Hwy 395. A dirt road leads down to the monument right next to the railroad where you can leisurely explore the grounds. To the west is the Pit River Tribe - XL Indian Reservation. Chimney Rock is the ancestral territory of the Kosealekte Band of the Pit River Tribe. To the east are the Warner Mountains and the Modoc National Forest, which offer many recreational opportunities, a panorama of beautiful scenic vistas, and endless wildlife photographic opportunities. While there is limited recreation right next to the Chimney Rock Historical Monument, you can spread out in the vast and wide open Modoc forestland for horseback riding, hiking, biking, swimming, camping, hang gliding, para sailing, hunting, fishing, rock hounding, star gazing, OHV explorations, birding and so much more.
To help you plan a cultural tour of Modoc, following are other nearby historic monuments and landmarks you may want to explore:
NO. 6 FREMONT'S CAMP- John C. Frémont's expedition from Fort Sutter to Upper Klamath Lake, which included Kit Carson and other scouts, camped here between May 1-4, 1846. They were the first non-Indians ever to pass this way.
Location: 0.7 mi N of old Alturas Hwy (Co Rd 114) and Hwy 139 jct, 12 mi SE of Tule Lake.
NO. 8 BLOODY POINT - In 1850 one of the bloodiest massacres of emigrants ever known on the Oregon Trail occurred here when Modoc Indians killed over 90 men, women, and children in a surprise attack. The following year another large party narrowly escaped the same fate. The Indians succeeded in killing several smaller parties here.
Location: 3.0 mi S of Oregon border, then 1.0 mi SW on Co Rd 104, 8.3 mi NW of State Hwy 139, E of Tule Lake.
NO. 14 CRESSLER AND BONNER TRADING POST, 1865 - Cressler and Bonner started the first mercantile establishment in Modoc County here, in the first building erected in the town of Cedarville. They carried on a thriving business with emigrants en route to California and Oregon, and later with Surprise Valley settlers.
Location: Cedarville Park, Center Street between Bonner and Townsend Streets.
NO. 15 BONNER GRADE - The first road from Cedarville to Alturas followed the course of the present highway over Warner Mountains from Surprise Valley. It was named in honor of John H. Bonner, who was instrumental in securing the construction of the road over Bonner Grade in 1869.
Location: Cedar Pass, State Hwy 299 (P.M. 51.3), 6.2 mi W of Cedarville.
NO. 16 INFERNAL CAVERNS BATTLEGROUND, 1867 - This is the site of the battle between U.S. troops and Shoshone, Paiute, and Pit Indians on September 26 and 27, 1867. The Indians took refuge in a series of caverns located at the top of a rocky slope. Over a third of the command was killed or wounded in the battle, six soldiers were buried at the foot of the slope.
Location: Ferry Ranch on Co Rd 60, site is 1 mi SW of Ranch, 6.5 mi NW of Likely.
NO. 108 BATTLE OF LAND'S RANCH, 1872 - One of the engagements of the Modoc War took place on December 21, 1872, on what was then known as the Land's Ranch. Army supply wagons, escorted by cavalrymen, had reached camp in safety, but several of the soldiers who had dropped behind were suddenly attacked by Indians hiding among the rocks above the road. Two men were killed and several wounded.
Location: 0.1 mi S of intersection of State Hwy 139 (P.M. 40.4) and Co Rd 114, 12.1 mi SE of Tule Lake.
NO. 111 OLD EMIGRANT TRAIL - Near the present Pit River-Happy Camp Road this old pioneer trail, part of one of the earliest roads in northeastern California, is yet easily traced. Trees eight to ten inches in diameter are growing in the old road bed.
Location: 5.0 mi NW of Co Rd 84, 9.3 mi NW of Canby.
NO. 125 EVANS AND BAILEY FIGHT, 1861 - S. D. Evans, Sr. and Joe Bailey, stockmen from Rogue River Valley, Oregon, and 16 of their employees were driving 900 head of beef cattle from Roseburg to the mines at Virginia City, Nevada when they were attacked by Indians and the two owners killed. Location: On top of hill, 500 ft S of Centerville Rd, 4.9 mi SE of Canby.
NO. 430 FORT BIDWELL - Fort Bidwell, named for John Bidwell, was established in 1865. The fort, which operated until 1893, was one of the last early military posts north of Benicia to be abandoned. From 1898 to 1930, the fort served as a non-reservation boarding school for Indians.
Location: Fort Bidwell Indian Community Center, W end of Bridge Street, Fort Bidwell.
NO. 546 APPLEGATE EMIGRANT TRAIL (FANDANGO PASS) - This spot marks the convergence of two pioneer trails used by emigrants during the years 1846-1850. The Applegate Trail, established in 1846, led from the Humboldt River in Nevada to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Lassen Cutoff, established by Peter Lassen in 1848, turned south at Goose Lake to the northern mines and settlements of California.
Location: Fandango Pass, 10.8 mi E of State Hwy 395 on Fandango Pass Rd (Co Rd 9), 9.2 mi W of Fort Bidwell.
NO. 850-2 TULE LAKE RELOCATION CENTER - Tule Lake was one of ten American concentration camps established during World War II to incarcerate 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, of whom the majority were American citizens, behind barbed wire and guard towers without charge, trial, or establishment of guilt. These camps are reminders of how racism, economic and political exploitation, and expediency can undermine the constitutional guarantees of United States citizens and aliens alike. May the injustices and humiliation suffered here never recur.
Location: NE corner of State Hwy 139 and Co Rd 176, 75 mi S of Tule Lake.