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Looking back before leaping into the future
By Nancy Pasternack   - 02/10/2009


More Info on This Book: Wheatland

If it's true that you can't go home again, a pictorial book about Wheatland's history might at least help future generations remember what it was.

The town of 3,000 is poised to develop once the economy recovers more than 14,000 residential lots on fields where California's immigrant pioneers once toiled.

Newcomers may not realize, say members of the Wheatland Historical Society who compiled Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America: Wheatland," that the two-stoplight town is a place of many firsts.

In addition to being the staging ground for the Donner Party rescue, Wheatland was

Home to a complainant in what became the nation's first class action lawsuit, and first environmental lawsuit.

The first town in the West to elect a black mayor

The site of the first major labor dispute West of the Mississippi.

Yet, says Rick Paskowitz, co-author of the new history book, "there were no prominent buildings in Wheatland except the hop kilns."

Copies of the picture book will be available in mid-March, and the Wheatland Historical Society will kick off sales with a book signing party at the town's Pioneer Hall on March 25.

The Images of America series currently includes four other titles from Yuba-Sutter: Smartsville & Timbuctoo, Yuba Feather Hills, Marysville, and Hammonton & Marigold California.

Yuba-Sutter, says Paskowitz, 67, "has all the great aspects of California history, including gold mining and a melting pot of immigrants."

Hydraulic gold mining was at issue in the 1880s when James Keyes gathered together other area farmers to sue a mining company for ruining their livelihood.

"They were upset about the miners washing the Sierras into their farmlands," says Paskowitz. The decision that favored Keyes' group came to be known as the Judge Sawyer Injunction.

According to a New York Times article from Jan. 7, 1884:

"The case invalues the agricultural property of the entire Sacramento Valley, and the decision is the most important ever rendered on the Pacific Coast."

Two years after Wheatland was incorporated in 1886, the town elected former Marysville resident Edward P. Duplex, a black man originally from New England, as its mayor.

The people of Yuba-Sutter, says Jane Paskowitz, 63, whose roots in Wheatland go back several generations, "were amazingly tolerant."

Perhaps the best known of Wheatland's notable moments was the hops riot of 1913, which took place on what is still widely known as the Durst Ranch.

On August 3 of that year, an organized group of workers at the ranch, many of them recent immigrants to the United States, rebelled over working conditions. The resulting show of force and subsequent resistance led to the deaths of two Yuba County officials and two workers.

Rick Paskowitz was surprised, he says, at the contributions he received from local residents to help make the Wheatland book project a success.

Some, whose ancestors settled in the town a century or more ago, brought pictures saved in attics and stored in shoe boxes.

"They're farm people, mostly," says Paskowitz, "and we thought everybody would be too busy making a living."

"But as it turned out," he says, "it became a good community story."

Buy It Now: Wheatland $21.99

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