To Know God and make Him Known

YWAM Chico History

YWAM Chico

In the mid 1980s, YWAMer John Dawson was looking around for a property in Southern California for a YWAM training campus. After a few false starts, he came up to Northern California for a visit to San Francisco. While there, he decided to take a drive out to Chico, to visit Cecil and Lillian Cooper, and the Springs of Living Water (SLW) ministry they had founded. Little did he know what he was walking into.

Cecil was meeting with his board, explaining his vision. They saw John was there and invited him to come in and join the meeting. After some conversation, Cecil and John realized that the first 5 of YWAM’s ministry goals were the same as SLW’s original vision statement. And the last of their visionary goals was to train and send young people into the world; a goal they had yet to complete.

This brought about a “marriage” of the two ministries, as John Dawson calls it, not a transaction of property. Since the merger in 1988, Youth With A Mission- Springs of Living Water has continued to be a place that welcomes people from all over, because this is a meeting place, a place of renewal and open heaven. It is a place to focus on youth and youth camp, and a place of individual encounter. It is a place of building up and sending out, and a place of gathering for our extended family all over the world.

Maidu and Early History


Mechoopda Maidu

Presence of the Machoopda Maidu dates back to prerecorded history. Theirs was an oral history, passed from generation to generation by Mechoopda elders who told their stories of how they and their ancestors hunted, fished and lived in Northern California. The Maidu occupied an area extending from the Sacramento River on the west to the heights of the Sierra on the east; from the American River on the south to Rock Creek and the Lassen Peak district on the north. Mechoopda is one of the largest of an estimated 28 Maidu villages located in the vicinity of present day Chico. Ethnographer Francis Riddell has documented well over 148 village sites of the Maidu people in Butte County alone. The Mineral Springs on Mud Creek, now known as Richardson Springs were of great significance spiritually and for physical healing to the more than 1,700 Maidu living nearby.

The nineteenth century was not good to the Mechoopda Maidu – nor all other California natives. The arrival of white settlers brought malaria, small pox and other epidemics. One single event brought more grief to the Maidu than any other in California history – the discovery of gold in 1848. With the Gold Rush came an overwhelming invasion of miners that proved costly to the Mechoopda and all Maidu in Butte County. The miners drove away game and destroyed fish habitat by using mining techniques that ravaged rivers and killed fish and spawning beds. A civilization of hunters and gatherers, the Maidu found that it was the end of their world as they knew it. In 1770 the Maidu population was estimated at 9,000. The current Maidu population is less than 200.

*Disclaimer: This is in no way an extensive history on the aforementioned subjects. Information cited comes from the following sources:

  • Clements, Rodney. Chico Enterprise-Record, August 31, 1999.
  • Richardson, Larry. “A Brief History of Richardson Springs”
  • Cooper, Cecil and Diane Ball. Child of Eternity Cooper, Lillian. “Richardson Springs Story”
  • Youth With a Mission – Chico Staff

The Richardson Brothers

The Richardson brothers who gave the name to the Richardson Springs were sons of Thomas B. Richardson, who was born in Virginia in 1800, and Eliza Chamberlain whom he married in 1831 in Indiana, her native state. Fourteen children were born to them between 1832 and 1854, all in Indiana, prior to their moving to Missouri in 1854 and to Centerville, Iowa in 1856. While we know nothing of his younger life, after marriage he seems to have always lived on farms and was also a distiller. Of the fourteen children, ten lived to become adults and nine eventually became Butte County residents.

It was from Centerville, Iowa that two of the brothers, Pierce C. and Jared V., left April 1864 to join an overland train to California. Dissatisfied with delays on the trail, they left that wagon train and forged ahead, passing several others. In Carson Valley they bargained with a freighter headed for Chico to exchange their bedrolls for a ride on his wagons. Their first night in Chico in November 1864 they slept in a wagonload of wood at the present First and Main Streets. Not finding work, they set out afoot across the Colusa plains for Calpella, Mendocino County, where they found work and engaged in several pursuits.

Pierce returned to Chico on horseback in December 1866. The following summer he ran a roadhouse in Humbug Valley, then found employment on farms with several established ranchers near Chico. Jared passed through Chico accompanied by brothers Alonzo, Joseph and Orlando. In 1870 the oldest brother, William, joined them.

They first leased Spanish Ranch at the mouth of Butte Creek for several years, then the Thomasson Ranch on Edgar Slough and Shasta Road. With Pierce’s purchase of the McKee preemption on which the Richardson Springs resort property now stands, they transferred his stock there and set up residence. The association and partnership known as Richardson Brothers lasted until 1903. They gradually acquired the lands surrounding the original purchase through homestead and purchase until they had 5,000 acres. They also had winter ranges in Grizzly Valley, Humbug Valley, Chico Meadows, and Butte Creek Meadows. In 1875 their parents, brother Elisha and sister Caroline joined them here.

In the following year, 1876, Caroline married Nathaniel Thomasson, who had been in California in 1849 days and who led a party consisting of Thomassons and Bruces to Butte County in 1854. He was a well- established and prospering rancher. The father, Thomas Richardson, died in 1878, brother William in 1880, and the mother, Eliza Richardson, in 1889. The brothers were hard-working men, noted as being generous in allowing others to freely camp and make use of the waters on the property. In some cases, mud baths in the swampy outflow were taken, mostly by persons with crippling rheumatism.

In 1898 Jared opened a hotel with office, kitchen, dining hall, and fourteen rental rooms, and twenty-five rental cottages on the grounds. The resort business was launched. Meanwhile, Joseph, better known as Redman, had proposed marriage to Alice Aldersley, the teacher over the hill at Rock Creek School. One of her conditions was that he leave this partnership, about which she could learn nothing.

The brothers were aging. All considered the Springs range too rough for older men to handle as stock range. They agreed to dissolve partnership, each to take his allotted sharer and go his separate way. In the division of property, Redman was allotted the Richardson Springs, not at all his desire. However, his practical common sense, coupled with the quiet and diplomatic but decisive executive ability of his wife, Alice; together with the genial and friendly ability to meet the public, which was the contribution of Lee Richardson a nephew who became manager, the development of Richardson Mineral Springs was underway.


By 1919 the management announced a remodeling program and had it well underway when, at the height of the season, August 1921, a fire destroyed the hotel, the annex and the dormitory for the Chinese kitchen crew. As the result of remarkable efforts and cooperation, breakfast was served to guests and employees in an improvised dining hall, and business was continued as nearly possible as usual. Reconstruction was begun and present 200 room hotel was to have its formal opening in May 1924, when another fire destroyed the barns, garaged, the stage and service buildings, thus delaying the reopening until September. By then resort had taken on much of its present appearance, though terracing, reconstruction of the spring plaza and bathhouse and other projects went steadily along through several years.

In the course of this work the residence of Redman and Alice Richardson was built. It still stands. The home of Lee and Jean Richardson was built on the site of Mudd Creek House, which had been built in 1875 for the arrival of the parents of the Richardson Brothers.

The business thrived and at one time an offer of $1,000,000 was quickly declined. The depression days affected the resort business, but the resort remained open all year round. World War II, with its shortages, disruptions and regulations took a heavy toll. The Springs had long time been famous for its facilities for conventions, lodge meetings, fraternity and sorority parties and similar affairs: hundreds of participants having fond memories of those days. Baseball clubs came here for winter training, notably the Detroit Tigers. It was also widely known as a place to go for a dinner out, as the food provided by the Chinese chef, Ah kay, and his crew was excellent, the atmosphere informal, homey and relaxed. The drive of a few miles onto the hills was transportation away from the business, worries, heat; whatever needed escaping. And, at the Springs, one was certain to meet someone he knew and a visit.

Time brought changes. Age, accidents and deaths brought about changes in the management. In 1937, Harry Mulock, well-liked assistant manager for many years, left for an investment in business of his own at Challenge, California. His position was filled by John Parks, and, after a few years, he was succeeded by Ned Richardson, oldest son of Lee. The owner, J.H. Richardson, passed on in 1938, leaving ownership to his wife, Alice and nephew, Lee.

It was found advisable to incorporate under the title Richardson Mineral Springs, Inc., Lee being president, and Alice, vice president. In 1945, upon the death of Lee, Alice became president, Ned vice president and general manager. Lee’s younger son, Robert L. (Bob) Richardson became vice president and manager of Richardson Cattle and Land Co., a subsidiary. Alice was the active head of the concerns until her death in 1957, though totally disabled during the last two years. Ned and Bob continued the operation, personally managing the hotel and resort, while the active aid of their wives, Lucian and Kay.

However, World War II with its shortages, disruptions and regulations took a heavy toll. The changes this period brought about in living conditions and especially in travel and vacation concepts, had disturbing effects upon resort businesses in general, certainly including that of Richardson Springs. It became unfeasible to remain open during the winter months. Even the gates were locked because of liability insurance costs. In time it was made known that the Springs were for sale, but years passed before an interested buyer was found.

A religious group, interested in establishing a non-denominational meeting ground for conventions and retreats, took a lease in 1968 with a right to purchase after a year, which they exercised in 1969 when Richardson Springs passed into the hands of Springs of Living Water, Inc. Ned Richardson passed away 17 March 1970. Bob lives in semi-retirement at Palm Springs.

Springs of Living Water

In the summer of 1966, a Christian businessman named Cecil Cooper had a vision to open a Christian retreat center. He heard from God that besides a place for accommodations, it would have a service station, post office, grocery store, bookstore, snack shop, Laundromat, print shop, and barber shop, among other things.

He looked all over Paradise, California for the right spot but God led him to Richardson Springs.
“Driving along the secluded road, with only the occasional sighting of a few birds, a deer or a coyote, it was easy to believe we might be on the wrong road. Winding around several curves with buttes hovering high above us, we were in awe of the size of this canyon and the beauty of the creek that flowed through it. As we passed the third concrete bridge and rounded the bend, we saw some storage buildings on a road that ran below the main oleander-lined drive. A service station stood beside the buildings. Number one on the list of things the Lord had shown us!” 
He went on to explore the rest of the hotel and grounds and found all the things the Lord had spoken to him about, and knew that this must be the place.
At the time that Cooper went to look at Richardson Springs, representatives of Chico State University were also looking to purchase it—and even then Governor Ronald Reagan had come to see the place.
Through various avenues, the Coopers received confirmation that they should pursue the purchase of Richardson Springs, even though they did not have the $500,000 needed to buy it, and so they began to negotiate with the owners. In the end, they had worked the price out to $420,000.
By October of 1967, they had formed a corporation and in early 1968 they moved to Richardson Springs, now Springs of Living Water. Along with the Coopers, many others gave sacrificially to the ministry, selling houses, giving from their retirement, giving up careers and positions in their communities, all in order to follow the Lord in this endeavor. All of them would work for their food and lodging. In April, they had their first conference.

“It was a group of about twenty-five young people from College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California. On Sunday morning, [my wife] Lillian and I were invited to attend their worship service. Several of the young people told of being saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. As tears ran down our faces, I turned to Lillian and said, ‘Honey, if nothing else ever happens here, what we are hearing here this morning would make it all worthwhile.”

It did not end there, however. It was in fact, only the beginning. In the following years thousands of people have been saved as a direct result of the ministry of the Springs of Living Water. Homes have been restored, people delivered from habits and evil influences, and literally thousands of physical healings have happened—by the power of God.

There were also miraculous provisions, including a large amount that was needed to pay the bank in order to avoid foreclosure, and the provision (both financial and foundational) to build Ebenezer Hall on Mud Creek, and for remodeling the hotel.
On the prominent northeastern butte, the community erected three crosses, a representation of the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves who hung beside him. A friend of the Springs community painted a landscape of Three Cross Hill, a painting that has an interesting story.
“Oh, it’s a beautiful painting!” said a friend. “I especially like the three white doves hovering over the crosses in the blue sky.
“What doves?” asked the artist. “I didn’t paint any doves.”
“Well, here they are,” said her friend, pointing to the canvas to the right of the crosses.
“There are three doves there!” exclaimed the painter. 

This painting still hangs over the fireplace in Cooper House.

In April of 1988, the directors of Springs of Living Water met to consolidate the ministry with Youth With A Mission.

Cecil Cooper went to be with the Lord on November 27, 1989, but his vision for a Christian conference and retreat center lives on in the mission of YWAM.

Cooper, Cecil. Child of Eternity, p. 22

Ibid., p.34

Ibid., p. 51