Bordered by the mighty Sacramento River and dominated by the tumultuous Feather River's four main branches, Butte County is a land of plentiful water, fabulous agricultural soils and high mountains. Here the volcanic Cascade Mountain Range of the Pacific Northwest meets the uplifted Sierra Nevada Range. Eons of river-born soil deposits created hundreds of square miles of the finest agricultural soils; lava cap from volcanism in the Cascades created magnificent land forms such as Table Mountain and hundreds of acres of vernal pools; creeks and rivers flowing from the mountains cut deep canyons and high timbered ridges. Rich gold bearing gravels existed throughout the Feather River drainage. The varied and near pristine natural areas have been used as the setting for many Hollywood films, including Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Gone With The Wind (1939).This rich land once supported extensive Native American populations, including large permanent villages. White settlement began before the discovery of gold in 1848, and mushroomed into dozens of gold rush towns after gold was discovered at Bidwell's Bar on the Feather River (now dammed to create Lake Oroville). The city of Oroville ("Gold town" in Spanish) was once one of the largest cities in California. Built on and surrounded by hundreds of acres of dredger tailings, it literally and figuratively grew on gold. Eventually, as the gold rush waned, the Mediterranean climate provided the ideal setting for vast orchards of citrus and olives. It was once the largest orange growing region in California.
To the north, the city of Chico emerged with a very different character as a center of transportation, agriculture, commerce, plant experimentation and higher education. Chico was founded by John Bidwell and named for his Mexican land grant Rancho Arroyo Chico. A major transportation center, goods arrived by riverboat at Chico Landing on the Sacramento River and from there were hauled up the Humboldt Road, which originated in Chico, to the Nevada and Idaho mines. Bidwell Park, donated by the Bidwells and remaining mostly in its natural condition, is one of the largest municipal parks in the nation, running up Chico Creek from the city's downtown to steep canyon terrain some 25 miles into the foothills. John Bidwell began experimenting with plants on his huge Rancho in the 1860's, and one of the nations two first Plant Experiment Stations was located there in the 1880's.
Today agriculture in Butte County includes nut orchards (walnuts, almonds and pistachios), olives, citrus, rice, vineyards and kiwi fruit as well as cattle and sheep in areas where lava rock dominates. Timbered areas of the county have produced lumber and other forest products, including being a major supplier of naval stores (made from pine resins) for the Union Navy during the Civil War.