Established on May 26,1852, this adobe built, two-company post was located on the west side of Cow Creek, about two and a half miles from its confluence with the Sacramento River at the present town of Redding in Shasta County. Established by 1st Lieutenant Nelson H. Davis, 2nd Infantry, by order of Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock, 2nd Infantry, commanding the department, the post, often flooded during the rainy season, was primarily intended to protect the mining district from Indian depredations. The fort, one of the earliest posts in northern California, was named for Major Pierson B. Reading, paymaster of the California Volunteers during the Mexican war, and a pioneer settler in California. Although the garrison was withdrawn on April 1, 1856, the post was intermittently occupied until June 13, 1867, and completely abandoned on April 6,1870. The fort's buildings were sold prior to the restoration of the reservation to the public domain on February 15,1881.
Second Lieutenant Phil Sheridan was stationed at Fort Reading in 1855, but not quite long enough to learn about the disadvantages of the place. His tour there lasted only 24 hours, just long enough for him to be told that be was supposed to be somewhere else.
The Williamson Railroad Survey expedition had left a few days before his arrival, Sheridan learned, with West Point classmate John B. Hood handling the cavalry escort and another West Point associate, George Crook, in charge of supplies. Sheridan was supposed to have Hood's assignment in command of the cavalry.
"The commanding officer at Fort Reading seemed reluctant to let me go on to relieve Lieutenant Hood, as the country to be passed over was infested by the Pit River Indians, known to be hostile to white people and especially to small parties," wrote Sheridan in his Personal Memoirs. "I was very anxious to proceed, however, and willing to take the chances; so, consent being finally obtained, I started with a corporal and two mounted men, through a wild and uninhabited region."
On the first night the Sheridan party camped in a cabin. Here they found a sick soldier left behind by the main party "with instructions to make his way back to Fort Reading as best be could when be recovered."
The soldier insisted that he was better. Sheridan agreed to take him along on the condition that "if he became unable to keep up with me, and I should be obliged to abandon him, the responsibility would be his not mine. This increased my number to five, and was quite a reinforcement should we run across any hostile Indians."
By noon of the next day, Sheridan's force was down to three men. The soldier was sick again and had to be left behind. "One of my men volunteered to remain with him until he died," said Sheridan, who could not bring himself to carry out the threat to abandon the soldier.
Four hours later Sheridan heard voices and thought be had overtaken the Williamson party. Fortunately be refused to let his men fire their muskets in celebration. The noise was from 30 Indians who were shadowing the Williamson party.
Sheridan stayed a respectful distance behind the unwanted group and spent the night "somewhat nervous, so I allowed no fires to be built." Supper and breakfast consisted of hard bread without coffee.
The confrontation came the next day. Happily for Sheridan, his unexpected appearance behind the Indians disconcerted them. He moved boldly amidst them, his confidence being bolstered when he spotted the Williamson camp a short distance away.
The expedition continued to Fort Vancouver with little incidence. Sheridan's 50-man cavalry escort dissuaded most hostile observers; the discretion of the soldiers prevented an incident that could have been fatal, This took place when the troops camped next to a hastily abandoned Indian village, posted guards to insure that the tepees would not be disturbed, and, fortunately, convinced a lone Indian visitor that no harm was intended.
The soldiers soon realized that the result might have been bloody had they disturbed the village. Almost 400 men rose up out of the grass "like a swarm of locusts and soon overran our camp in search of food." Sheridan was glad that the intentions were friendly, and the Army force was large.
The Williamson Expedition was one of the major events for Fort Reading. The post was founded in 1852 to control the Indians for 200 miles in every direction but soon appeared to be too isolated to do the job. The hostilities were elsewhere and the other posts which Reading was to supply were too distant.
Reading's location presented two more disadvantages. The site was so unhealthy that sickness was common. The 1852 Inspector General visit found a quarter of the men-including the surgeon -ill with "intermittent fever." The 1854 inspector said that the troops were so frequently ill that they "are powerless in the field with broken constitutions." Only Brevet Lieutenant Colonel George Wright, the post commander, seemed to be spared, added the inspector, "but he tells me that he always takes quinine pills when be feels the attack coming on."
The other complaint about the post was a frequent one for many California camps. Although the creek next to the post was fine for summertime bathing, it often hit flood stages during the rainy season. Not only did the parade ground resemble a lake on these occasions, but the soldiers had to resort to bridges to move between buildings.
In 1856 the Army agreed that there were better sites than that at Fort Reading. The garrison was withdrawn and the buildings used only occasionally until they were sold in 1867.
In 1865 a petition for protection was received from the settlers around Tehama, 30 miles south of the abandoned post. District headquarters suggested that Fort Reading, "at which place we have quarters and a fine stable," would be better than locating at Tehama. The recommendation was not entirely unexpected, considering that by this time the district commander was Brigadier General George Wright, for three years the quinine-taking commander at Fort Reading.
|CARP SHOP||Carpentry Shop|
|MECH'S MESS||Mechanic's Mess|
|QM OFF||Quartermasters Officce|
Fort Reading was still unfinished when inspected in 1854, but report stated, "Quarters are good, and there is an excellent stable and the store houses, etc, ample." Unhealthy area and isolated location caused inspector to lament, "it is to be regretted so much labour and expense has been put on a post situated as this is." Rainy season floods came from Cow Creek, causing soldiers to build bridge to connect barracks with kitchens (bridge is large unmarked rectangular behind barracks). (Redrawn from Mansfield Report, 1854.)
The two company post of Fort Reading at this site had 91 men present in 1854, representing Companies D from both 3d Artillery and 4th Infantry. Each company also had two laundresses. Post was considered pleasant with "great harmony" among the officers despite 1854 inspection note that artillery commander was under arrest.
This page was reprinted with permission from Pioneer Forts of the Far West, published in 1965
Updated 15 December 2015