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New Pine Creek is a border town with a dual identity | Bartell's Backroads

A fire brought two towns together, but then a border dispute broke out and led to a brief identity crisis. A Bartell's Backroads adventure.

NEW PINE CREEK, Calif. — In the far northern reaches of Modoc County, there’s a visible divide between the residents in the town of New Pine Creek. That’s because this little community is a border town.

One half is in Oregon, the other half is in California and for a short time, there was a bit of a standoff in the town of 200 people.

Longtime resident — and Oregonian by 700 feet — Edna Schulze says growing up, the state border only caused minor problems like post office mistakes and sales tax complaints, but those minor problems turned into big problems when land managers in Sacramento discovered the location of the state borderline was in the wrong spot.

“The legislature from California decide they wanted the property back,” says Schulze.

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The problem dates back to 1868 when surveyor Daniel Major made a bit of a mistake. Oregon’s border was supposed to be a straight line along the 42nd parallel, but because of primitive survey equipment, the border ended up looking like jagged teeth on a saw blade.

In reality, both states lost and gained some land because of the crooked line, but the land California claimed to have lost was valuable.

“There were some timber and mineral rights that California would have got if the border was changed,” says Schulze.

Arguments over the border ultimately ended and the state line remained the same. As for the mineral rights both states were fighting over, they didn’t affect rock hunter Frank Newman one bit. 

“I am about the only one selling obsidian like this,” says Newman as he shows off a shiny piece of his inventory. “Blue like this color is very rare.”

Gold mining and farming brought some of the first settlers to New Pine Creek but Rainbow Obsidian is what attracted Frank. 

“Obsidian is made with the volcano, of course, but it has to be made under the water,” he says.

Because of the area's unique geology, Frank says Rainbow obsidian is only found in this region. He’s got permits to pick up rocks in both states and because he knows where to find the obsidian his roadside rock shop brings in lots of tourists. 

“Everybody knows me in town. I couldn’t hide if I tried,” says Newman.

The original town of Pine Creek was named after the old pine forest and a now-dried-up creek that ran through the community. When a fire burned the town down in the late 1800s, people on both sides of the state line rebuilt and renamed themselves New Pine Creek.

Today, the road signs are the only visible divide between the towns, but if you stopped in and met the people of New Pine Creek, you wouldn’t notice a divide at all. 

“We don’t know where the border is. Ha! We help each other out. All of us,” says Schulze.

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is almost here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit

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