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California Counties The U.S. state of California is divided into fifty-eight counties.
On January 4, 1850, the California constitutional committee recommended the formation of 18 counties. They were
Benicia, Butte, Fremont, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Monterey, Mount Diablo, Oro, Redding, Sacramento, San Diego, San
Francisco, San Joaquin, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, and Sutter. On April 22, the Counties of Branciforte, Calaveras, Coloma, Colusi, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Trinity, and Yuba were added. Benicia was
renamed Solano, Coloma to El Dorado, Fremont to Yola, Mt. Diablo to Contra Costa, San Jose to Santa Clara, Oro
to Tuolumne, and Redding to Shasta. One of the first state legislative acts regarding Counties was to rename
Branciforte County to Santa Cruz, Colusi to Colusa, and Yola to Yolo.
The last California county to have been established is Imperial County in 1907.
Humboldt County, California
Humboldt County History, Geography, and Demographics
County Seat: Eureka
Year Organized: 1853
Square Miles: 3,573
825 5th Street
Eureka, CA 95501-1153
Etymology - Origin of County Name
The county derived its name from Humboldt Bay, which was
entered by a sea otter party in 1806, but was not rediscovered until 1849. In
1850, Douglas Ottinger and Hans Buhne entered the bay, naming it Humboldt in
honor of the great naturalist and world explorer, Baron Alexander von Humboldt.
County QuickFacts: Census Bureau Quick
Organization of Humboldt County
In order properly to understand the early days and organization of Humboldt county the reader should
gain some idea of the organization of the state and its first election. It should be understood that the
first election held in California, in 1849, was not participated in by the residents of the north, if
there were any. In 1849 the state was not organized, and the election precincts were established only in
those interior towns and mining camps that had sprung into prominence during the few months after the
great gold rush following the discovery by the immortal Marshall. Up to this time the adventurous feet
of prospectors had not passed the beautiful verdure-clad hills of the northern latitude. Of those who
were destined to become the founders of the county some were then in the Southern mines, others were
toiling wearily westward or tossing upon the bosom of ocean around the Horn eager to reach the land of
gold and sunshine. Many others were in their Eastern homes with hardly a thought of the faraway land
that was to beckon them to its shores.
Elliott tells us that upon the subdivision of the State into counties in 1850 Mr. Wathall, a member of
the Assembly and of the delegation from the Sacramento district which includes the Sacramento valley as
far as the Oregon line, proposed the names of Shasta and Trinity for the northern part of the State,
which at that time included what is now Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Modoc, Lassen, Shasta,
and a part of Butte county.
It is interesting to reflect that when the State was divided into counties by the act of February 18,
1850, the northern region was generally an unknown land to the Legislators. The excitement in Trinity
county was at that time at its very height, but still very little was known of the entire region, the
population having progressed but little beyond the diggings on the Sacramento river and Clear creek, and
about Shasta. All the northeastern part of this territory was erected into one county called Shasta,
with the county seat at Reading's ranch. The northwestern part was called Trinity county, with the
county seat at Trinidad, and thus the territory was divided into Trinity and Shasta counties.
All that portion of the State lying west of Shasta county and that which was afterwards formed into
Trinity, Humboldt, Klamath, and Del Norte counties was created and known as Trinity county, but as it
was yet a comparatively strange land it was attached to Shasta for judicial purposes. This action was
taken because it was expected that a large population would soon be found on Trinity river and about the
bay of Trinidad. Trinity county was divided in 1852, all south of a line due east of the mouth of Mad
river being Trinity, and all north of that line being Klamath county.
The California Legislature of 1850-51 provided for the organization of Klamath county and ordered an
election to be held on the second Monday in June, 1851. The act was approved on May 28, 1851.
The officers were duly elected and the county government took effect immediately thereafter. This act
recognized Trinity county, and the territory consisted of Klamath at the north and Shasta at the east.
The Legislature appointed commissioners to designate election precincts and superintend the election.
Five commissioners were appointed, none of whom were from what is now Trinity county ; two were from
Humboldt City, two from Eureka, and one from Union, the old name for Arcata.
The following were the first officers elected for Klamath : county judge, Dr. Johnson Price; district
attorney, William Cunningham; county clerk, John C. Burch; sheriff, William H. Dixon; assessor, J. W.
McGee; treasurer, Thomas L. Bell.
By act of the Legislature, approved May 12, 1853, Trinity county was divided into two parts. The western
portion was organized into Humboldt county, and the eastern portion retained the old name of Trinity.
The clerk of Trinity county was required to restore to the clerk of Humboldt county, the books, records,
maps, and papers held by Trinity county, and the same became a part of the records of Humboldt county,
including maps of the towns of Union (Arcata), Eureka, and Bucksport. This change in boundaries made the
territory into five counties as follows : Klamath, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta.
The act provided that its boundaries should commence at a point in the ocean three miles due west of Mad
river, thence due east from the point of beginning to Trinity river, thence up the Trinity river to the
mouth of Grouse creek, thence south to the north line of Mendocino county, and thence to the ocean. This
boundary was rather indefinite and caused considerable trouble thereafter. In 1874 Humboldt and Siskiyou
counties acquired the territory of old Klamath county, and it no longer appears on the maps. In 1874 it
was disorganized, divided, and attached to Siskiyou and Humboldt. Much the larger part was attached to
Humboldt, and at this date the territory of the original two counties has become seven counties, and one
has disappeared. There at once arose a number of contests regarding the location of the county seat of
Humboldt county. Rival towns along the bay did all in their power to obtain the coveted prize, and much
bitterness of feeling resulted as the contest went on, as has been said elsewhere in this history. The
town of Union was designated as the seat of justice, but Bucksport and Eureka were far from being
reconciled. In fact they became jealous rivals. At the first contest for location of the county seat,
people of Eel River, in conjunction with all the rural districts of that part of the county, joined with
Bucksport and supported that place for the location, but Union, or Arcata, bore off the prize. The air
was filled with charges of fraud and dishonesty.
A petition signed by more than one-third of the voters of Humboldt county was put in circulation and an
application was made for another contest, and this was entered into with great bitterness on both sides.
In order to settle the matter an election by popular vote was immediately called.
It is interesting to recall the claims which were set forth by Bucksport at the time of the second
contest. In a signed argument the proposition appeared in the following language : "That Bucksport is
the most appropriate place for county seat in Humboldt county. It has the best townsite, the best
natural advantages for a commercial city, and by far the best water off the bay for shipping purposes.
That it is the nearest central of any of the places proposed, and most accessible; that it will
accommodate the citizens generally better than any other place, produce more general quiet, and that,
when once established, will be far more likely to remain permanent than any other place on the bay; are
facts of so general notoriety and so well established in the minds of the public, that arguments in
substantiation are unnecessary."
In the Humboldt Times of October 14, 1853, is published a conveyance from William Roberts to the
committee for the purpose of laying such honorable motives before the public as shall secure the
selection of Bucksport for county seat. Mr. Roberts agreed to convey by deed to the trustees named by
him a large portion of his quarter section of land at Bucksport on which is situated that most beautiful
plateau overlooking the bay. The deed provided for surveying the tract into lots 50x100 feet and that
every citizen of the county "outside of Bucksport precinct shall be entitled to a lot of that size for
the nominal price of $1 if he shall support Bucksport for the county seat and it be selected as such."
The result of the matter was that neither place received the majority of the votes cast. Union retained
the location until the act of the Legislature in 1856, removing it from that place to Eureka, which act
took effect on May 1, 1856.
The board of supervisors at a special meeting April 12, 1856, accepted the proposal of R. W. Brett to
furnish the county with a court room, two jury rooms, clerk's, treasurer's, and sheriff's offices, at
Eureka for one year from the first day of May, 1856. Mr. Brett reserved to himself the use of the court
room, and with this reservation furnished the rooms mentioned for $200 per annum.
On Thursday, the first day of May, L. K. Wood, the county clerk and ex-officio recorder, removed the
records, books, files, a safe, and other property belonging to those two offices to Eureka, in
accordance with the act declaring Eureka the county seat of Humboldt county from and after that day.
R. W. Brett, who owned the building at Eureka occupied by the county for court room and offices, had
them improved by January, 1857, by having the court room extended through to the front of the building
the same height and width, making the various spaces to some 25x25 feet and sixteen feet high. These
rooms were used until the court house was built.
In 1860 Humboldt county purchased a block of ground lying between Second street and the bay, being above
the termination of First street and between I street on the west and K on the east, with a large frame
building thereon built at that time.
The contract was then entered into for placing this building on the block, adding wings thereto for a
court house. The main building was eighty feet in length, parallel with Second street, by twenty-four
feet deep. There was a front projection for entry way at the center extending towards Second street
The affairs of the county were managed by what was known as the court of sessions from its organization
in 1853 until 1863, when they passed into the hands of the board of supervisors. The county judge, as
chief justice, and two justices of the peace as associate justices, composed the old court of sessions.
Annually the county judge convened the justices of the peace of the county, who selected from their own
number two who should act as associate justices of the court of sessions for the ensuing year.
The duties of the court of sessions at first were chiefly to administer the affairs of the county, a
function which is now always discharged by the board of supervisors. In time a radical change was made
in the powers of this court by conferring upon it the criminal jurisdiction previously exercised by the
district court. It had the power to inquire into all criminal offenses by means of a grand jury and to
try all indictments found by that body except those for murder, manslaughter, and arson, which were
certified to the district court. In 1863 the court was abolished and its powers were conferred upon the
county court. This was the highest local tribunal of original jurisdiction, embracing chancery, civil,
and criminal causes. As at first created it had original cognizance of all cases in equity and its civil
jurisdiction embraced all causes where the amount in question exceeded $200, causes involving the title
to real property, or the validity of any tax, and issues of fact, joined in the appropriate court.
This court had power to inquire into criminal offenses by means of a grand jury and to try indictments
found by that body. In time the Legislature took from this court its criminal jurisdiction and
conferred it upon the court of sessions, leaving it the power of hearing appeals from that court on
criminal matters, and the power to try all indictments of murder, manslaughter, arson, and any causes in
which the members of the court of sessions were interested.
More info at
History of Humboldt County California - Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, 1915
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 4,052 square miles (10,495 km˛),
of which, 3,572 square miles (9,253 km˛) of it is land and 480 square miles (1,243 km˛) of it (11.84%)
- North: Del Norte County
- Northeast: Siskiyou County
- East: Trinity County
- Southeast: Mendocino County
- West: North Pacific Ocean
Cities and Towns:
- Blue Lake
- Eureka (County Seat)
- Rio Dell
Enter County Resources and Information Here
The history of our nation was a prolonged struggle to define
the relative roles and powers of our governments: federal, state, and local.
And the names given the counties
, our most locally based jurisdictions,
reflects the "characteristic features of this country!"