Peter Lassen, born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1800, is the namesake for both Lassen County and Lassen Volcanic National Park. He was a blacksmith by trade and characterized the “old pioneer” spirit and explorations of the Wild West. (Historical records differ on his specific birth date.)
Lassen began his life in America in Boston, moved to Philadelphia and Missouri as he continued westward, eventually reaching Oregon, Fort Ross and Bodega Bay. He traveled south to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, where he was appointed to a posse to look for horses stolen from Sutter’s Ranch.
When Lassen arrived at the confluence of the Sacramento River and Deer Creek, he was so impressed with the country side, he obtained the required Mexican citizenship so he could purchase 22,000 acres at Deer Creek. In 1845 he established the Bosuejo Ranch and then returned to Missouri to bring people to live there. The emigrants in his group were the first to cross the Lassen Trail.
He established Benton City, also known as Lassen Ranch. He built Adobe buildings, a blacksmith shop and a store. Benton City became one of the most important sites in Northern California at the time. It was a residence for Colonel Fremont in 1846, for he and 60 of his men.
Lassen later sold and divided his property holdings between two men and went prospecting for gold. Lassen found gold in 1855 in Honey Lake Valley and held many leadership positions. One of his many roles was president of the Nataqua Territory and surveyor. He was friends with several Native American tribes. He and his party built a cabin for the winter. The cabin burned down in 1896 and was not replaced.
Lassen continued to search for additional locations for prospecting. He discovered a silver mine near Black Rock Dessert in Nevada. He organized a scouting party of two groups to meet at Black Rock Canyon. The day after he and his two traveling companions, Edward Clapper and Lemericus Wyatt, arrived at the site in April of 1859, Lassen and Clapper were shot and killed. Speculation remains if the shot was indeed fired by a Native American or a member of his own scouting party. Native Americans are attributed for their deaths on the Lassen Monument. Wyatt escaped being shot and rode 124 miles to Susanville to share the tragic news.
A scouting party was able to recover Lassen’s body, but not Clapper’s. Area residents erected a monument to Lassen to recognize him for the many good deeds of his lifetime. He is buried under the Ponderosa pine tree he camped his first night in the Honey Lake Valley. The original monument burned in 1917 and was replaced with the current one.
According to historic documents, Clapper’s body was recovered in May 1990 by rock hunters in the Black Rock Desert. They found a skull and upper body skeleton that was determined to be the remains of Edward Clapper. In May of 1992, his remains were placed at the Lassen Monument located on Wingfield Road, just south of Susanville.
High in the northeastern Sierra is Lassen County, where volcanic activity has shaped the landscape. Peter Lassen, a Danish immigrant, came to Oregon in 1839 and later settled in the northern Sacramento Valley. He returned to Missouri and led a 12-wagon emigrant train along “Lassen Emigrant Trail” in 1848 into California.