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From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: The Susan River

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

Built in 1857 by Isaac Roop, this mill was located on the Susan River near where Hobo Camp is today.

by Susan Couso

From its ancestral beginnings at Caribou Lake, to its dissipation into Honey Lake, the little ribbon of water known as the Susan River is a mere 67 miles in length, but its importance to the area surrounding it cannot be over-stated.

The river has not only provided vital habitat for wildlife and been a source of precious resources for local residents for thousands of years, but it has supplied water power to run machinery and hydro-electric energy for Susanville’s first power station, and, of course, helped the Honey Lake Valley to become a major agricultural area. Today, it also supports recreational opportunities along with fantastic scenery.

But just how did this beautiful little band of water get its name? Even though Issac Roop wrote to his brother-in-law and stated that he had named the river after his daughter, Susan, the stream had been named ‘Susan River’ long before Roop had ever laid eyes upon it.

The river, named pom-see-wim, or brushy creek, by the Maidu, had been Christened ‘Susan River’ before 1852.

In 1852, William Asbury traveled the Nobles Trail on his way into California. He reported in his letters to Asa Fairfield that the river was named ‘Susan River’ at that time. Asbury had received a written guide to the trail from William Nobles, and the river, along with other landmarks, was named in the guide. And the emigrant’s first sight of refreshing water for many many miles, was well remembered and appreciated.

A section of the wagon road exploration map from 1857 showing the Nobles Trail through the Honey Lake Valley.

Roop did not venture into the valley until 1853, and in his land claim, dated September, 1853, he included the name ‘Susan River’ as a reference point. Clearly it had been named before his arrival.

In 1851, William Nobles ‘discovered’ the Nobles Trail, which follows the river for many miles, and he used the name “Susan River” when describing the area in his report to the United States Congress in April of 1854, three months before Isaac Roop built his cabin which is today called ‘Roop’s Fort’.

In 1857, Road Superintendent John Kirk, working for the U.S. government to build emigrant roads through the Honey Lake Valley, made a written report which was published in the Sonoma County Journal. In his report, he mentioned camping alongside the Susan River. Kirk wrote, “It is named after Mrs. Susan Noble, the wife of the gentleman who is said to have discovered the pass a little to the north of us, and which bears his own name.”

The discussion over the naming of the Susan River has been going on for many years. Now, most people assume that it was named by Isaac Roop, as he named the little town after his daughter, Susan. But there are other Susans, and one story, told to Asa Fairfield, as he researched his book, History of Lassen County, was that the river was named after an emigrant woman who had died near Nevada’s Buffalo Salt Works while traveling the Nobles Trail.

When dealing with historical facts, one can never be certain, but in the case of the naming of the Susan River, most logical information points to the stream being named to honor William H. Nobles’ wife, Susan J. Parker Nobles, who remained in Minnesota, and never set eyes on its sparkling water.

A train heads down the Susan River towards Susanville in an undated postcard photo.

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