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California Counties

The 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. The last California county to have been established is Imperial County in 1907.

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Modoc County, California

Modoc County Education, Geography, and HistoryModoc County, Califronia Courthouse

Modoc County is a county located in the far northeast corner of the state of California. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 9,686. making it the third-least populous county in California. The county seat and only incorporated city is Alturas. Modoc county was formed on February 17, 1874, from an eastern section of Siskiyou county. The county is named from a fierce Indian tribe which lived at the Pit River headwaters.

A large portion of Modoc County is federal land. Several federal agencies, including the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, have employees assigned to the area, and their operations are a significant part of the economy and services in this rural area.

Etymology - Origin of Modoc County Name

The county derived its name from a fierce Indian tribe that lived at the Pit River headwaters. One historian suggests that the word modoc means "the head of the river." Another states that the word is derived from the Klamath word moatakni meaning "southerners," i.e., the people living south of the Klamath tribe.


County QuickFacts: Census Bureau Quick Facts

Modoc County History

Modoc County, California was formed on February 17, 1874, from the eastern section of Siskiyou County. It was first purposed to name the new county "Canby" for General who lost his life in the Modoc Indian War. Later name "Summit" was suggested but there were many objections and it was finally named Modoc.

Modoc County is a land which the Indians called "The Smiles of God" and so intense was their love for this land of ragged lava plateaus, fertile valleys and towering mountains that many hundreds of these aboriginal inhabitants defended it to their death against the invasion of the white man. Because of those fierce Indian wars between 1848 and 1911, this area was once referred to as the Bloody Ground of the Pacific.

It was felt that the land which is now known as Modoc County, underwent more government changes in its time than any other county in the state.

Modoc was a part of the Utah Territory, and then transferred into the Nevada Territory when it was created. When Nevada became a state, Modoc County was placed within the boundaries of California, becoming a part of Shasta County.

Shasta County contained what is now Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Lassen and Modoc counties. Shasta County was divided into two counties in 1852, Shasta and Siskiyou, with Modoc being placed in Siskiyou County.

In 1872, an attempt was made by the residents of Surprise Valley, along with others who had settled in this area, to form a new county. On February 17, 1874, a bill was passed and signed by then Governor Newton Booth authorizing the formation of a new county - Modoc.

An election was held on May 5, 1874, to elect county officials and to select a county seat. Lake City received the highest votes as to being the county seat; however, the county fathers decided to Make Dorris Bridge (now Alturas) the county seat, as it contained the majority of people. It was also felt that Dorris Bridge would serve the interests of the new county to better advantage than Lake City, as it was located at the crossroads of the main north-south and east-west routes.

Previous county seats include Lake City and Centerville; the latter is now a ghost town. The county borders Nevada and Oregon.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 4,203 square miles (10,887 km2), of which, 3,944 square miles (10,215 km2) of it is land and 259 square miles (672 km2) of it (6.17%) is water.

The Modoc National Forest offers plenty of recreational opportunities and provides a remarkable haven for the region's eagles, bighorn sheep, wild antelope and other rare species. The Lava Beds National Monument is a land of geological chaos. Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created a rugged landscape marked by cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves and pit craters.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • North: Lake County, Ore.
  • Southeast: Washoe County, Nev.
  • South: Lassen County
  • Southwest: Shasta County
  • West: Siskiyou County
  • Northwest: Klamath County, Ore.


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