Peter Lassen

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Peter Lassen
Peter Lassen.jpg
"Date Unknown"
Born: 1800
Died: April 26, 1859

Alternately known as Peter Larssen or Peter Lawson. Affectionately called "Old Pete" or "Uncle Pete."


Life In Denmark

Lassen was born October 31, 1800 in the small village of Farum, Denmark. Lassen was the second son of Joanne Sophie Westergaard and Lars Nielsen. "According to Danish custom, Peter's surname would have been Larsen (Lar's son), but later Peter changed it to Peter Larsen Farum. It wasn't until he emigrated to the United States in 1830 that he again changed his name to Peter Lassen[1]."

Lars Nielsen was a farm laborer, and the family often moved around the country in search of work. Around 1809, the family was living in Hillerod. After getting a basic grade school education, Lassen left home as a teenager, moved to Kalundborg, and learned the trade of blacksmithing from his uncle, Christen Nielsen. At age 23, Lassen moved to Copenhagen and practiced his trade. He was described as having blue eyes and brown hair, and was considered short for the time, "standing a bit over five-foot-two" [1]. In order to become a master blacksmith in Denmark, it was required to enter into military service. Unfortunately, due to his short heigh, Peter was only allowed to enter service as "a member of the guard's reinforcement battalion [1]." Apparently this was not adequate service to meet the requirements, for Lassen petitioned the king for permission to join Civic Guard of Copenhagen. Permission was granted, and Lassen went on to become a master blacksmith.

Early Life In America

Despite his status as a master blacksmith, Lassen found he could not make a living in Copenhagen. He petitioned the king for permission to emigrate to America in 1830. Permission was granted that same year, and Lassen quickly sold his shop and left Lassen left Denmark for in America, landing in Boston around the first of 1831. He worked as a blacksmith before heading west to Philadelphia, then Keytesville, Missouri in 1831. While living and working as a blacksmith in Missouri, he met John A. Sutter and others who would eventually head west in 1838. He also became a member of Warren Lodge No. 74 in Keytesville.

There he remained until 1839, when he left with a small group for Oregon. He arrived in Oregon in the fall of '39 and stayed through the winter.

The Rancho Bosquejo Years

In 1843, John Bidwell, Peter Lassen, and others rode north to an area that would later become Red Bluff in pursuit of stolen horses. The horses were recovered and returned to Sutter's Fort. It during this trip that both Bidwell and Lassen would fall in love with the lands that would eventually become their respective land grants.

In 1844, Peter Lassen applied for and was awarded the Rancho Bosquejo land grant by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena.

In 1846, Lassen gave "a square league of the best of his land on Deer Creek.. to another old trapper, Daniel Sill, Senior" [2].

In the spring of 1847, Lassen returned to Missouri as part of Commodore Robert Stockton's party. The 47-man party included John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Archbald Gillespie. They travelled east via the Old Spanish Trail to the Santa Fe Trail, reaching Independence, Missouri in early November.

Lassen's train left Missouri in May of 1848 with Saschel Woods among it. By September 1st, they had reached Lassen's Meadows (now Lake Almanor). Around October 20, 1848, Peter Lassen's wagon train was overtaken by a party captained by Oregon pioneer Peter H. Burnett. According to Burnett, Lassen's train consisted of ten wagons at this point.

Sketch by J. Goldsborough Bruff depicting himself (right) and a sleeping Lassen (center).
In early May of 1850, Lassen hired J. Goldsborough Bruff to lay out a town on his ranch. According to the journal of Bruff, it was never completed.

"In the summer of 1850, Lassen and a companion, Isidore Meyerwitz, went to Indian Valley and selected a suitable location for a ranch, where they erected a log cabin in 1851 to house their trading post. [3]

The Honey Lake years

Peter Lassen arrived in the Honey Lake Valley in 1855. Together with Isaac Roop, he was instrumental in the formation of the brief Territory of Nataqua. For perhaps the last time, Lassen visited Shasta on October 25, 1858 "for the purpose of procuring a threshing machine and irons for a grist mill."[4]


In 1859, Lassen was traveling with Edward Clapper and Americus Wyatt to Virginia City, Nevada with the intent of prospecting for silver. On April 26, both Clapper and Lassen were shot by unseen assailants. Wyatt fled to safety, riding the 124 miles to Susanville bareback. Initially, the culprits were thought to be Northern Paiute Indians. Later theories suspect Pit River Indians, Wyatt, and even disgruntled emigrants who took the difficult Lassen trail to California. It is worth noting that none of the party's supplies were taken by the murderers; which would have been unusual if it were an Indian raid.

Lassen was buried at the site of his murder in April of 1859.

On November 27, 1859, he was reinterred on his Honey Lake property under a mammoth Ponderosa pine tree.

Personality and Character

John Bidwell, another early Californian pioneer and Freemason, writes this about a trip with Lassen to Red Bluff to recover stolen horses:

"I have already mentioned Peter Lassen as being of our party. Peter was a singular man, very industrious, very ingenious, and very fond of pioneering--in fact, of the latter stubbornly so. He had great confidence in his own power as a woodsman, but, strangely enough, he always got lost. As we passed Butte Mountain [now known as the Sutter Buttes] going south, our route of course lay between the Sacramento and Feather Rivers. The point we wished to reach that night was Sutter's Hock Farm, on Feather River. Night had overtaken us when some fifteen miles from it. Peter Lassen insisted on keeping the lead. Our Indian vacquero, however, who knew the country well in that vicinity, pointed to the eastward as the way we should go. Lassen, however, could not be persuaded to diverge to the east, and at midnight we concluded to tell him he must go to the east or we would leave him. But this had no effect on Lassen; he kept on to the south, while we, following the Indian, came to the farm. The only place Lassen could reach was the intervening tule marsh. Now if you have any curiosity to observe a man's humor after being in a tule swamp full of mosquitoes all night, you ought to have seen Peter Lassen. The next morning, when he came to camp at Hock Farm, he was so mad he would not speak to any of us; would not travel in the same path, but kept a hundred yards to either side of us all day. I think he never forgot nor forgave us. Still he was a man possessed of many good qualities. He was always obliging in camp. He was a good cook and would do any and everything necessary to the comfort of the camp, even to the making coffee, provided those traveling with him would pretend to assist. If they did not offer to aid him, they became the target for the best style of grumbling that any man born in Denmark was capable of inventing. Of course, everyone would offer to assist him, and that is all one had to do, for then Lassen was sure to drive him away, and do everything himself, even to staking the tent[5]."

Posthumous Honors

The mountain bearing his name has done so since at least 1875.[6] Lassen County was named in honor of Lassen on April 1, 1864. Lassen National Forest was established on June 5, 1905. Lassen Peak was made a national monument on May 6, 1907. Lassen National Volcanic Park was created on August 9, 1916.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Lewis, Donovan (1993). Pioneers Of California: True Stories Of Early Settlers In The Golden State. San Francisco: Scottwall Associates.
  2. A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California - Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named boggs
  5. Rogers, Justus H. (1891). Colusa County: Its History Traced from a State of Nature Through the Early Period of Settlement and Development to the Present Day : with a Description of Its Resources, Statistical Tables, Etc. : Also Biographical Sketches of Pioneers and Prominent Residents. Orland: s.n. Google Book Search. Retrieved on August 28, 2008.
  6. Swartzlow, Ruby Johnson. (1995). "Peter Lassen: His Life & Legacy." Red Bluff: Walker Lithograph, Inc.

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