History of Tulare County

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Web site maintained by George Pilling, District Librarian, Visalia Unified School District.

Last updated December, 2009

 

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   Introduction

Tulare County is just south of  the center of California. When California became a state, the government divided California into counties. One of the largest of these was called Mariposa County. It covered the whole middle of the state. It was so big that a man on horse would need several weeks to go from one end to the other. In 1852 it was divided, and the southern part was named Tulare County. Later Tulare County was divided again, making Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Inyo counties as well as Tulare County.

The name Tulare comes from the tules (too-lees), a kind of plant that grows in wet areas. There were many wet areas in Tulare County before people started farming here. In fact, Tulare Lake, near what is now Pixley, was the second largest lake in the west. Now Tulare Lake is dry and the bottom is used for farming except in very rainy years.

Only one-third of Tulare County is flat on the valley floor. The rest of Tulare County is in the foothills and mountains, with the high Sierra Nevada Mountains in the east part of the county. The snow that falls in the mountains melts all summer long, giving water to the valley farms.

The first settlement in Tulare County was  where the old Indian trail crossed the Kaweah River, about ten miles east of Visalia. In 1850, John Woods and some friends built a bridge across the river and a cabin there where travelers could stop. The town was named Woodsville. Many people were going to mine gold in Northern California and they followed this trail because it came from the south where there was less snow in the winter, so the mountains were easier to cross.

At that time, the Indians who lived here were very angry about the settlers taking their land. In December, 1850 the settlers in Woodsville were attacked by Indians. Only two men escaped. The United States Army was busy fighting other Indian attacks and could not help the settlers. In 1853, more people moved to Woodsville and built a hotel and a post office for travelers.

By that time, Visalia, ten miles away, was growing larger. The land was flat and it was not hard to build a good road through the valley. There was a fort in Visalia for protection. Soon Woodsville was a ghost town.

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Tule plants in Tulare Lake


Founder's Tree, near where
Tulare County started.

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Sierra Nevada Mountains from Lindsay
Photo by Debbie Helm