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Rock Lines:


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'Scientists show little interest in these walls. One even stated : I don’t know of anyone who’s come up with a credible explanation. I think what you’re getting is an indication that there isn’t any academic work in it.' - William R. Corliss

'Most "scientists" are bottle washers and button sorters.' - Lazarus Long

The old axiom 'believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see'  is the proper perspective to examine the rock lines.  Stories abound, ranching walls, field clearing, game runs, aboriginal fire breaks, geological formations called dykes, the result of games by bored shepherds.  Local residents from both the Sutter Buttes area and the Shasta Valley most commonly claim the rock lines are fences built by the Chinese.  Other labor groups cited as the builders are ranch hands, out of work miners and settler’s children. 

There is no true historical evidence such as photos of the construction, written agreements, newspaper articles written at the time of supposed construction, 1855 to 1870.  The earliest articles show up in the 1950's and are rare.  At the supposed time of construction the USA owned much of this land, if there had been fences built on federal or state land written agreements would have been filed at the Bureau of Land Management or the State Lands Commission.  There are none.

The is no physical evidence supporting any of the aforementioned claims.  The only reasonable sounding guess, ranch fencing, fails for several reasons with the number one being that in the areas examined no rock line or set of rock lines have found that are capable of containing livestock without modifications.  The first place settlers would have built fences would have been on the homestead sites and original fences built at the old homestead sites are almost exclusively wood and barbed wire fences.  Hundreds of old wood corrals can be readily found, but only three stone corrals have been found so far and one of these looks to be a modification of preexisting rock line.   Corrals enclose a very small area, under an acre.  Ranch fencing covers tens of thousands of acres.

In California there are hundreds of miles of rock lines.  Shapes vary from straight lines, dashed lines, curved lines, lines of spaced rocks.  Built in strange patterns and some very difficult locations, lacking any modern function and with no real historical documentation. Heights ranging from inches to over ten feet and constructed with rocks from weighing ounces to tons.  Signs of great age include a covering of undisturbed lichen growth and a veneer of weathering identical with adjacent rock formations.  Partially buried in about 6 inches to 2 feet of fine sediment identical manner to adjacent rocks and rock formations.


The top panorama is from the Lake Shastina area in the Shasta Valley and the bottom from Pass Road in the Sutter Buttes.  The bottom photo shows rock lines made up of nothing but spaced boulders, adjacent to these rock lines boulders are arranged in patterns. 

A search for historical information yielded only one article in Northern California on the rock fences/lines, a school paper written by Don Van Kamp for a folklore class at the local community college and published in 1984 in the Siskiyou Pioneer.  The paper consists of interviews with locals who speculate about the rock fences.  Statements such as “it can be assumed,” “could have been,” “suggested that perhaps,” and “persons interviewed thought perhaps,” are common.  The conclusion of the article was that the rock lines were built to “clear the land and to control the ranchers’ livestock.”  The only tool shown was a stone boat, a crude horse-drawn wooden sled. 

The Van Kamp paper contains only one unsupported first-person quote, credited to August Louie and/or Joe Rose.  “We worked at the Coonrod Ranch in 1860 or 1861 building many rock and rail fences.  The going wage for building rock fences was 25 cents a rod (16.5 feet); we build up to four rods a day.” 

 The Van Kamp paper can be summed up as thus:

   1. The bulk of the article is unverified speculation by residents removed by generations from the 1855 to 1870 area of construction proposed by the paper.  Many statements are phrased as guesses.

   2. Purported historical evidence consists of a two-sentence, first-person statement by two workmen who state they worked on a Shasta Valley ranch, building wood and stone fences in 1860 or 1861.

   3. A photo of a horse-drawn rock sled called a stone boat purported to be the vehicle used to haul stones.  There are rocks in the lines that would have crushed that sled.

Van Kamp’s paper was the exclusive source for the rock lines and was quoted extensively in “Archaeological Explorations in Shasta Valley, California”, by Bossom Hamusek, Eric W. Ritter and Julie Burcell published in 1997.  An archeological inventory compiled for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed disposal of 17 parcels totaling approximately 4,300 acres in eastern Shasta Valley, Siskiyou County. 

Other than to add some vernacular and lipstick there is no apparent additional research done by the authors.   Their conclusions: “Based on extensive research and interviews conducted with local ranchers by Van Camp (1984), it appears that the rock walls/fences within the study area conform to his following hypothesis:

   1. The rock fences were constructed by the original property settlers between 1855 and 1870 with most of the work being performed by Portuguese laborers.

   2. The fences/walls were constructed out of necessity with the available supplies at hand—rocks.

   3. The fences/walls generally did not follow a straight course, as they were often not directly associated with property boundaries lines.  Rather, they were sinuous in nature in order to incorporate natural rock features in their construction and to reduce the work load involved in carrying rocks to the fence site.

   4. The design of the fences was not based on any particular cultural heritage.

   5. The main purpose of the fences was to clear the land in the valley bottom and to control the rancher’s livestock on the range.”

All the above are simply guesses and rehashed guesses, and the physical evidence shows there is no sign of settler construction of the rock lines, in fact there are not any signs of the construction on the rocks and no signs of surface disturbance in the areas adjacent to the rock lines.

This is the official explanation for the rock lines in the Shasta Valley.  No “official explanation” for the rock lines in the Sutter Buttes could be found.

“Archaeological Explorations in Shasta Valley, California” also discloses that there has never been any significant archaeological exploration in the Shasta Valley beyond excavating a Indian dumpsite and a road cut in the northern end of Shasta Valley.  

Before getting to the physical evidence it is duly noted here that no open range in North America has ever been fenced with stone fences, it was simply not possible due to the immense labor costs.  The stories of resourceful settlers constructing "fences/walls were constructed out of necessity with the available supplies at hand—rocks" is a complete fabrication.  Sounds good but it simply did not happen, the settlers built wood fences and later with the end of the open range laws in the 1870's and 1880's they built barbed wire fences. 

What settlers did do from the time of the Pilgrims was to clear rock from land to be tilled and rock was used in fence building to keep the free roaming livestock out of the vegetable garden.  The area cleared is small, an acre or less.  The rangelands where the rock lines exist covers hundreds of thousands of acres.

The physical evidence is presented here in the form of GOOGLE EARTH maps of the rock line networks in California located for the most part by Dave Cuneo. Photographs for the East Bay Walls courtesy of Brad Gushaw and photos for the Burney Area, the Shasta Valley and the Sutter Buttes are for the most part mine. 

The photos show

a.)  The vast majority of the rock lines are in range land.

b.)  Unmodified rock lines are incapable of performing any ranching function and are just there.  By far most rock lines are unmodified, the remainder have been modified by adding fence posts and barbed wire.


c.)  All rock lines are buried in about 6 inches to 2 feet of fine fine dirt, undisturbed adjacent rocks are buried in the same manner..

To move and lift rocks over a thousand pounds into the rock lines would require equipment such as gin pulleys or wenches which use leaves distinctive holes and marks on rocks, these markings are not found on rocks in the California rock lines.  There are also boulders in some rock lines that are far beyond the weight limits for any known equipment of that era.  Barbed wire was the only reason the open range could be fenced.  Based on maps, historical evidence, and physical appearance probably less than 10% of the existing rock lines, rock fences or walls in Northern California are used in the open range fencing and those rock lines only work with the addition of fence posts and barbed wire. 

Rock lines fail to serve these purported functions:

Built as property line markers:  After California became a state, the Sutter Buttes were surveyed by the federal government  between 1851 and 1867, survey notes mention the rock lines.  Map overlays of the rock lines disclose patterns totally inconsistent with any modern or settler construction.  A few rock lines do serve as ownership lines just as roads and creeks, but all evidence indicates the rock lines were in place long before being used as a property line.  The vast majority of rock lines have nothing to do with ownership lines.


About 75 square miles (48,000 acres) in the Sutter Buttes containing about 200 miles of rock lines.

Shasta Valley rock lines are found in an area of about 250 square miles (160,000 acres) of the valley.

Fences or Walls: Unmodified rock lines contain gaps, usually are too short, built in the wrong places and do not effectively fence livestock.  In both the Sutter Buttes and the Shasta Valley livestock can be seen wandering through and around the rock lines with no difficultly nor is there any sign of ranchers being uncomfortable with the situation.  The livestock are contained with barbed wire fences which enclose large segments of rangeland.  Few modified and no unmodified rock lines are part of this containment system.

In areas where digging post holes by hand is a difficult task rock lines have often been modified for fencing purposes by using the rock line to support fence posts for barbed wire fences.  Because the rock lines The barbed wire fences inserted into rock lines are .  Much easier to insert a wooden fence posts into an existing rock line.  The rock line extends unbroken throughout the base of the hybrid rock line / barbwire fences.  If the rock lines and the barbed wire fences were part of the same project then it would seem to be logical to assume that rocks would only be found around the base of the fence posts not in the areas between the fence posts.

Many of these barbed wire / rock line fence hybrids seemingly wander aimlessly just as many unmodified rock lines do.  Barbed wire fences create a very different pattern very commonly following ownership lines and not the wandering strange patterns of the rock lines.  

Field Clearing: Fields are cleared of rocks to allow plowing and cultivating of land.  Large tracts of range land where most rock lines exist is not cleared of rock as it would be very labor intensive, costly and would not increase productivity from said lands.  In both the Shasta Valley and the Sutter Buttes, removing a rock from the ground will most often just expose more volcanic rock.  Many of the lines run along ridge tops and many through dense areas of surface rock with no signs of the adjacent ground being cleared of any rock. 

To take any hypothesis seriously attributing settlers with the rock line construction it would need supporting evidence explaining these problems:

a) how were the boulders weighing tons moved and placed, 

b) the purpose of the strange patterns of the rock lines and why they are so different from the layout of barbed wire fences in the same areas,

c) the mini rock lines and their purpose,

d) the lack of modern functions of the rock lines,

e) the how and why of the rock lines which on hillsides with grades up to 80%,

f) the buried and partially buried rock lines,

g) the heavy undisturbed lichen growth identical to adjacent rocks.

h) why do areas adjacent to the rock lines not show any markings, scars or roads consistent with construction.

i) what is the purpose of the many rock lines which are lines of spaced boulders.

It seems rather unlikely the rock lines, an engineering feat involving conservatively at least a half a million tons of rock and hundreds of miles of lines in the Shasta Valley, would from the onset be constructed in a defective non-functioning manner.  Even more oddly the builders ignoring these defects and proceeding to build hundreds of miles more of defective rock lines.  If the rock lines were built by a variety of builders, how could it be that they all made the same "mistakes"?  Why do the same "mistakes" appear in the Shasta Valley, the Sutter Buttes and elsewhere?

No attempt has been made to determine approximate minimum age through lichen growth, but many of the rock lines have heavy undisturbed lichen growth.  Local gravestones from the 1850s to the 1880s do not have near the same level of lichen growth where are strong indications that the rock lines go back much further than 1850.  The really old age of the rock lines is shown by the fact they are buried in a layer of fine sediment generally between six inches and two feet thick.

Looking toward known Native Americans as potential line builders also has negative results.

a) No California Indian tribe or tribes have ever made the slightest claim as to having constructed the rock lines.

b) No aboriginal function can be shown for the rock lines. 

c) There are portions of the rock lines which absolutely demanded an advanced technology to: 

        lift and place rocks weighing many tons;

        to place rocks of any size in rock lines on grades so steep (over 56%) that archeologists refused to climb them and chose to do their work with binoculars.  

     d) There are portions of some rock lines that are on grades up to and 80% and more.  Indian tribes like the settlers simply did not have the technology to construct portions of the rock lines. 

e    e) The rock lines were a monumental project involving over a half million tons of rock in the Shasta Valley alone and the rock line networks exist within multiple tribal territories, some hostile to each other.  

            Compare the Google Map of the California rock lines to this map taken from "The California Indians, a Source Book" by R.E. Heizer and M.A. Whipple.  


      f) The rock lines and adjacent rocks and rock formations show the same signs of great age, probably in the tens of thousands of years.

      g) Similar ancient are found in many different parts of the world including underwater in lakes and ocean shallows.


1)  The rock lines are many thousands of years old and despite academia's worst efforts have not been explained away. 

2) The origin of the rock lines is unknown and they were constructed well before the time academia claims men first came to the North American continent.  

3) The rock lines appear to be just a part of something much larger which includes the rock formations connected and adjacent to the rock lines. 


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