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California Genealogy and History Archives


Siskiyou County History


A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California
Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891





        This county was named after the high range of mountains that pours the waters of its northern slope into Rogue River, and those that fall on the south into the rushing Klamath.



Extending from the ridge that lies between the Salmon and Trinity rivers on the west to the lava beds on the east, and from the Sacramento divide on the south to the Siskiyou mountains on the north, this county contains a total superficial area of over 3,000 square miles. It is essentially a region of mountains. Great ridges and spurs of pine-clad hills reach out in all directions, their cañons, gorges, precipitous bluffs combining with the graceful sides of their green hills to form a picture of wonderful beauty wherever the eye may rest. When intervening hills obscure from view the hoary crown of Shasta and the grand but less imposing peaks on every hand, the eye rests with pleasure upon the obstructing hills themselves and sees in them beauties to admire and love.

        On the summit of the mountain just over the divide in Oregon there is a beautiful level spot watered by cool springs, that overlook the country for miles around. It was here that the powerful Shasta, Rogue River and Klamath tribes used to congregate, smoke their pipes, indulge in dancing and games and exchange those friendly offices so usual with neighboring tribes living at peace with each other. This place they called Sis-ki-you, or the council-ground, the name now borne by one of the largest counties in California.

        This and the rest of the northern tier of counties of the State have a system of water courses distinct from their sisters south. As to the great Klamath River, see a few pages further on, under head of "Mineralogical."

        The Shasta rises in the hills that form the north and western base of the noble Shasta peak, and flows in a northerly course through the valley of the same name till it mingles with the waters of the Klamath a few miles below the town of Cottonwood.

        The Scott River takes its rise in the gigantic ridge between Scott and Shasta valleys and the great Scott mountain that separates it from the headwaters of the Trinity. It runs in a general northerly direction. Its name was derived from John W. Scott, who mined for gold on Scott bar in July, 1850.

        Just beyond the range of mountains hemming in the valley to the west, runs the Salmon River, which runs through an unbroken series of mountains throughout its entire length. Until 1875 the country drained by this stream formed a portion of Klamath County; that year it was annexed to this county.

        Trinity River, lying wholly in Trinity and Humboldt counties, received its name from Major P. B. Reading, who trapped on its head waters in 1845, and named it Trinity because he supposed it to empty into Trinidad Bay.

        That portion of the State embraced now in Modoc County was until 1874 a portion of Siskiyou, and is tributary to the Sacramento River. The waters of this region flow into two great branches of the Sacramento, the McLeod and the Pit. This name is usually spelled Pitt, the mistake arising from ignorance. It received its name from the custom of the natives along its banks of digging pits in which to capture bear and deer, and even entrap strange warriors. These pits were dug in the regular trails made by animals, and were from twelve to fourteen feet deep and conical in shape, with a small opening at the top, which was covered with brush and dirt so carefully as to completely deceive the unpracticed eye. The McLeod (pronounced  McLoud) received its name from an old Scotch trapper who in 1827 or '28 led the first party of Hudson Bay Company trappers that ever penetrated into California. Having passed down from Oregon along the sea coast and entered the Sacramento valley from the west, the snows of winter caught the party trapping beaver on the stream. They narrowly escaped the fate of the lamented Donner party in 1846, and were compelled to cache all their furs and traps and make their way over the snow and mountains to a more hospitable clime. The name of this trapper was Alexander Roderick McLeod. and the river has ever since borne his name. Years later, when white men had settled in this region, a well-known and worthy citizen named Ross McCloud, a surveyor by profession, lived on this stream and the similarity of pronunciation in the two names led to the common error of supposing that his name was the one the river bore; and thus it stands upon the maps.

        In its general topographical features, Siskiyou County may be said to consist of two large valleys hemmed in on all sides by lofty ranges of forest-covered mountains. On the south lie the Trinity, Scott and Sacramento mountains, on the east Butte Creek, on the north the Siskiyou and on the west the Salmon range. In the center, from north to south, separating the two valleys and the waters that fertilize them, runs a range from the Klamath River to the Sacramento divide. Among these towering ranges are many places of grandeur that merits special mention. We have space here only for the principal one, which is indeed of world-wide fame, namely,



        The snowy crown of Shasta was a familiar sight to the early settlers in the lower portion of the State long before the foot of white man ever pressed the green grass at its base. From Mount Diablo, between Oakland and Stockton, it is distinctly visible; and from the dome of the State capitol at Sacramento it meets the eye of many a gazer who knows not its name nor the great distance it lies to the north. The Russians at Bodega, who saw it from the mountains in that vicinity, called it Tchastal, that is, the white or pure mountain. The name was also applied by the trappers to the valleys that lie at its northern base and to the river that bears its cold snow waters to the Klamath, as well as to the tribe of Indians that inhabit Scott and Shasta valleys and the mountains to the north. The true name of their tribe they have forgotten or will not tell, having been called Shastas for half a century; but the name of their beautiful patron mountain still remains to us, leka, the white. The Indians have a tradition that the mountain is the abode of the great spirit, and that the whole country about was inhabited by grizzlies, who captured the daughter of the Great Spirit and married her to one of their number; and that these were the progenitors of the Indians. They built little Mount Shasta for a wigwam for the captured girl, that she might live near the lodge of her father.

        Nothing gives so good an idea of the greatness of Shasta as to compare it with the apparently dwarf-like hills that surround it, and which, were it not for the overshadowing presence of the high mountain, would be great themselves. Surely a peak 10,000 feet high like the Goose Nest, is no little hill, and yet beside Shasta it looks like the little pile of snow beside the great snowball the boys roll up in winter. The mountain is an old volcano, which still exhibits its vitality in the shape of the hot springs that bubble up on the apex of the highest peak. A very remarkable feature is the collection of hot springs 200 feet below the top, most of them very small and the largest not more than three feet across. They have a temperature of 100 degrees, and their water is strong with sulphur and .other minerals. From some of them hot steam rushes out with great force and considerable noise. One of these vents throws out a jet of steam two feet in diameter. The heat of the ground at this point is scarcely diminished by the rigors of winter.

        There are several craters upon this mountain. The largest is on the western peak, which is several hundred feet lower than the main summit where the springs are, and separate from it by a deep gorge filled with snow and ice. During the winter of 1889–'90, after an immense amount of snow had fallen, a great avalanche took place from the summit frightening the inhabitants in the vicinity, who thought that the summit itself had fallen in and that an eruption was imminent.

        The height of the mountain is 14,440 feet. There are but two higher points on the coast,—Mount Whitney, 15,000, and Mount Williamson, 14,500 feet. But these peaks cannot approach Shasta in grandeur and magnificence, for their bases rest on the top of high ridges and mountains, above which they rise but a few thousand feet, while the base of Shasta is but 3,570 feet above the level of the sea, thus rendering it more conspicuous than any other mountain in North America.

        Until recently the ascent of this mountain was an undertaking of considerable magnitude and danger; but now, by means of the experience of years and the services of well-trained guides, it is possible to all those who have the strength and endurance to stand the fatigue of so long a climb. It is customary to advance as far as the timber line and remain there all night. From here, by starting early in the morning, the top can be gained and a descent made the same day. After a toilsome climb and an hour or two spent on the summit enjoying the panorama of mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers and ocean spread out before the eye, it is pleasant to sit on the board or blanket used for a sled, and, with a long pole that serves both as a rudder and a brake shoot down the snow surface of the mountain side in one long, wild slide of several miles, the spray-like snow flying in a perfect cloud about one's head and blinding his eyes like a driving, heavy storm. At times there is a sensation of falling through interminable space. After the coaster is halted by the snowless ground in the forest below, he rises to scan the route over which he has so wildly descended, and feels himself all over to see if he is all there, giving a sigh of satisfaction when he discovers himself to be sound in body and mind, and longs to try it again!

        There are but three months in the year when it is considered safe to ascend the mountain,—July, August and September. Long before the winter rains set in, storms range about its lofty brow, and woe to the venturesome traveler who has to contend with their fury. In the spring, storms beat upon its face when all is quiet below, and the crusty snow is so hard and slippery that danger attends every footstep. To see the sun rise from the summit of Shasta has been the ambition of thousands, but few have dared to brave the rigors of a night on its frigid top.




Over fields on fields of snow,

By the cañon's gorge, where the cataracts flow,

When deepening sunset burn and fade

O'er the dark Sierra's shade,

Where life is a joy and the heart beats free,—

Away by the slope to the western sea,

The crown and the pride of those sunny lands,

The beautiful mountain of Shasta stands.


With hues of saffron, pearl and rose,

In tints of beauty, its summit glows;

And the ages come and the ages go,

And still on its peak shines the crystal snow.

Leagues away, by the river's side,

Lies the peaceful valley, deep and wide.

Hid in its heart is a golden store,

Cinnabar and the siver ore.


Glossy madrona and lilies of snow

Fast by the giant oak trees grow.

Chilian clover and purple vine,

Ripe with its growth for the amber wine;

Clustering roses, famed in song,

Damascus roses, the whole year long;

Gusty, leaping waters that gleam

Down from the rocks in a crystal stream

From the Palisades, a mighty wall,

And the great Dome glistering over all.


Years ago, when the shouts of men

From old Coloma and Almaden

Burst on the cliffs of the royal State

As she sat enthroned by her Golden Gate,

Girdling the earth by her magic band,

Clasping the belt with her tawny hand,—

Then came the harvest of golden gain,

Thick and fast as the yellow grain

Falls with the tempest of crimson leaves,

In a molten cloud from the bursting showers,

Till every land to old Cathay

Whitened with ships her shining bay.


By the dark sea wall of oak and pine

Stretched on the long Pacific line,

Cities arose on the virgin soil,—

Cities smoking with traffic and toil;

And the simoon's track of the iron band

Mountains and burning prairies spanned,

Over the crag and eagle's nest,

Threading the continent east and west.


Beautiful land by the sunset sea,

Land of the great Yosemite !—

Land where the breezes spring elate,

Blown mid-day through the Golden Gate;

Land of the men of resolute will,

Hearts that thy bounding torrents fill;


Minds at ease with healthful cheer

Day after day through the blissful year;

Women with song those days begin,

Fair as pearls from Comorin;

Beautiful children, ruddy and fleet,

Like clambering roses in every street ;—


Not for the gems, or a golden feast,

Shall the heart, grown weary in the arid east,

Leap to meet thee. Thy glorious eye

Flames like a star from its canopy.

Richer than gold are thy dark lagoons;

Brighter than ore are thy silver moons,

And deeper than all the voices of men

Thy cataracts thunder again and again;

And nobler in heart and nobler in soul

Should those races be when those torrents roll.


As the ages come and the ages go,

Girdling with flame those peaks of snow,

The crown and the pride of that sunny land

Shall the beautiful mountain of Shasta stand;

And the empire star shall rise and rise,

Till it moves full-orbed in those western skies.




        To the northeast of Shasta, in the Butte Creek mountains, is a prominent peak called the Goose Nest, from the peculiar shape of its bald top, on which is the crater of an extinct volcano. The mountain is covered with timber nearly to the top, and above this rises the crater peak, bald and bleak, its circular depression filled with snow. But few people have ever ascended this lofty mountain, the overshadowing presence of Shasta demanding all the admiration the heart can give and filling the eye to the exclusion of all else. Its height is between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, and the whole summit is covered with loose sand and pumice-stone of a dark red color. The crater is from 200 to 400 feet deep in the center and nearly a mile across.

        Other prominent points about Shasta are Sheep Rock and Table Rock. These mountains are very rugged and difficult of ascent.

        In the country lying south of Klamath, Tule and Clear lakes are those immense beds of lava made so famous in history by the exploits of Captain Jack and his band. In this region are many caves, though none of them are very extensive.

        Second only to Mount Shasta in grandeur, but superior to it in many respects for beauty of scenery and natural wonders, is Marble Mountain, called White Mountain by the natives. It is situated in the mountains that hem in Scott's Valley to the westward, and when viewed from a distance has all the appearance of a barren and scraggy height, whose summit has been but lately covered with snow; but upon near approach it proves to be the natural color of the rock which composes it, for it consists of an immense upheaval of lime-stone rock, which under the influences of heat and pressure has been partially metamorphosed into marble, of which nearly every description can be found, from the coarser, rougher qualities to that of monumental purity.



        The settlement of Siskiyou County was occasioned by the Trinity gold mine excitement of 1849. The anxiety to reach the mines led to many expeditions along the coast, the discovery of Trinidad and Humboldt bays, the mouth of the Klamath, Salmon and Scott rivers, bringing thousands into this region and transforming it, in one year, from a beautiful wilderness to the home of civilization. Major Pearson B. Reading, the old trapper who settled upon his ranch on Cottonwood Creek, Shasta County, in 1847, gives the following account of the first mining in northern California:

        In the spring of 1845 I left Sutter's Fort for the purpose of trapping the waters of Upper California and Oregon. My party consisted of thirty men, with 100 head of horses. In the month of May, I crossed the mountains from Sacramento River, near a point now called Backbone; in about twenty miles' travel I reached the banks of a large stream, which I called the Trinity, supposing it led into Trinity Bay, as marked on the old Spanish charts. I remained on the river about three weeks, engaged in trapping beaver and otter; found the Indians very numerous, but friendly disposed. On leaving the Trinity I crossed the mountains at a point which led me to the Sacramento River, about ten miles below the Soda Springs. I then passed into the Shasta and Klamath settlements, prosecuting my hunt.  Having been successful, returned in the fall to Sutter 's Fort.

        In the month of July, 1848, I crossed the mountains of the coast range, at the head of Middle Cottonwood Creek; struck the Trinity at what is now called Reading's Bar; prospected for two days, and found the bars rich in gold; returned to my home on Cottonwood, and in ten days fitted out an expedition for mining purposes; crossed the mountains where the trail passed about two years since from Shasta to Weaver.

        My party consisted of three white men, one Delaware, one Walla Walla, one Chinook and about sixty Indians from Sacramento Valley. With this force I worked the bar bearing my name. I had with me 120 head of cattle, and an abundant supply of other provisions. Alter about six weeks' work parties came in from Oregon, who at once protested against my Indian labor. I then left the stream and returned to my home, where I have since remained in the enjoyment of the tranquil life of a fanner.

        When Siskiyou was first settled, the nearest approach to a road was the old Hudson Bay trail, leading up the Sacramento River through Shasta Valley, across the Klamath and over Siskiyou mountain into Oregon. Wagons had never been over this trail, except six that Lindsay Applegate piloted as far as Wagon Valley, in 1849, and the one taken to the same point by Governor Lane in 1850. From there to the Sacramento Valley a wagon wheel had never made a track. Into this unknown wilderness of forest and mountain chasms the prospector plunged with as much confidence as if on an open plain, undeterred by the fear of Indians well known to be hostile. In the spring, the few pioneer prospectors were followed by an immense throng from north, south and west.

        Gold Bluff was another point whence emanated a gold excitement in May, 1850, which brought a rush of gold-seekers, with the usual result of settling some of the emigrants in that vicinity permanently.



        By the year 1851 the settlers became so numerous that a political organization became necessary. Accordingly the Legislature, March 22, 1852. authorized the organization of the new county of Siskiyou, with the seat of justice at Yreka. The original act of February 18, 1850, left all this unknown region in one county, called Shasta, with the seat of government at Reading's ranch, while all that portion of the State lying west of this was created into Trinity County, comprising the area from which have also been carved Humboldt. Klamath and Del Norte counties. The act of March 22, 1852, described the boundary line of Siskiyou County as follows:

        "At a point known as the Devil's Castle, near and on the opposite side from Soda Springs on the upper Sacramento River, from said point or place of beginning to run due east to the eastern boundary of California; and thence north to the Oregon line; and thence running west along the boundary line of the Territory of Oregon and the State of California to a point on said line due north of the mouth of Indian Creek (being the first large creek adjoining the Indian Territory at a place known as Happy Camp, which empties into the Klamath River on the opposite side below the mouth of Scott River); and thence across Klamath River running in a southeasterly course along the summit of the mountains dividing the waters of Scott and Salmon rivers, to the place of beginning."

        The commissioners to designate the election precincts and provide for the first election were: Wilson T. Smith, H. G. Ferris, D. H. Lowry, Charles M. Tuft and Theodore F. Rowe; and the first county officers elected were: Wm. A. Robertson, Judge; Chas. McDermit, Sheriff; H. G. Ferris, Clerk; John D. Cook, District Attorney; M. D. Aylett, Treasurer; James T. Lowry, Surveyor; R. B. Ironside, Coroner; Richard Dugan, Assessor, and. D. H. Lowry, Public Administrator.

        The Assemblymen from this county have been the following: W. D. Aylett; 1854; J. R Cook, 1880; W. T. Cressler, 1873–'74; E. J. Curtis, 1855–'56; John Daggett, 1881; John A. Fairchild, 1867–'68; G. F. Harris, 1875–'76; Wm. Irwin, 1862–'63: J. K. Johnson, 1885; W. J. Little, 1871–'72; S. L. Littlefield, 1863–'64; J. K. Luttrell, 1865–'66, 1871–'72; R. M. Martin, 1869–'70; J. W. McBride, 1873–'74; Charles McDermit, 1860; Peter Peterson, 1883; W. G. Procter, 1853; P. C. Robertson, 1877-'78; R. C. Scott, 1863­'64; Wm. Shores, 1869–'70; F. Sorrell, 1861; Elijah Steele, 1867–'68; Thomas H. Steele, 1865–'66; Caleb N. Thornbury, 1862; B. F. Varney, 1857, 1863; A. B. Walker, 1858; Wm. F. Watkins, 1859.

        Three companies served from Siskiyou County during the Rebellion, all of whom were used on the frontier and in the Indian wars on the coast. Charles McDermit, Joseph Smith and Robert Baird were the first captains.

        The first newspaper in this county was the Mountain Herald, issued June 11, 1853, by Thornbury & Co., the proprietors being C. N. Thornbury, W. D. Slade and S. F. Van Choate. It was a four-page, sixteen-column paper, the pages being only 9 x 16 inches in size. Small as it was, it was a great achievement for a little town over a hundred miles up in the mountains. In 1855 the Know-nothing party took possession of the paper and renamed it the Yreka Union; but this regime continued but a short time.

        Mining is still the leading industry in this county, but agriculture is gaining upon it.



        The following paragraphs are from the State report:

        Siskiyou County lies between the parallels 41° and 42° north latitude, and 121° and 124° west longitude. It is the central of the three most northerly counties of the State, bounded on the east by Modoc County, on the south by Humboldt, Trinity and Shasta counties, on the west by Humboldt and Del Norte counties, and on the north by the State of Oregon. It contains within its boundary lines 3,040 square miles of territory, a very small portion of which is arable. A large area, comprising thirty-four townships, designated on the maps as the Lava Bed Road District, and situated in the extreme northeastern portion of the county, adjoining Modoc, is, as its name implies, covered with lava and unfit for cultivation. The remainder, about two-thirds of the whole, is mineral land, and here the various kinds of gold mining—quartz, placer, drift, and river—that exist in California, are prosecuted.

        This corner of the county includes a small portion of the lacustrine system of the State; and the areas of water designated as the Lower Klamath and a portion of Tule Lake, with several of smaller dimensions, in the aggregate cover 100 square miles of surface.

        This county is sui generis. It has no counterpart on the Pacific Slope. Within its borders are found valleys and plains of arable land at an elevation of from 2,500 to 4,000 feet, surrounded by beetling cliffs and serrated ridges that rise from 500 to 900 feet above sea level.

        Scott Valley is situated near the central portion of the county at an elevation of 3,000 feet. Twenty miles from Mount Shasta this valley is forty miles long by six miles in width, or about 240 square miles in all. Etna, its principal town, is at the head of the "wagon-road navigation." From this point supplies are sent by pack animals to the Salmon and Klamath regions.  A short line (six miles) of railroad is in progress of construction from Montague Station, on the line of the California and Oregon Railroad, to Yreka, the county-seat, which, when completed, will be the terminus of the railroad system in this county.

        Volcanic cones are marked features in the landscape of Siskiyou. In this county, particularly in the Klamath, Salmon, and Scott Ranges, mountains lose their smoothly-rounded summits. Table lands are seldom seen; sharp, serrated ridges have replaced them, with deep gorges and precipitous cañons. An important change is to be noted in the topographical features of this county. The Coast and  Sierra Nevada Ranges are here merged into one. The strike, or trend, of the stratification has been changed from west of north to north twenty degrees east. The formation and metalliferous belts of Siskiyou are not so clearly defined as in the middle and southern counties of the State, where they are easily traced for long distances.

        Besides gold, other products of commercial value are found in the county, viz.: platinum, silver, copper, cinnabar, plumbago, and antimony.

        The Klamath River and its tributaries have been important agents in the distribution of gold throughout the county. The Klamath takes its rise in the high table lands and mountain ranges of Southern Oregon and Northern California, and where the lacustrine system of those regions is found. Upper Klamath, Lower Klamath, Goose, and Rhett lakes, which are connected, give the river its source, and are the reservoirs from whence it draws the main volume of its waters. Its general course is ten degrees south of west, till it disembogues into the Pacific Ocean at a point forming the western extremity of the dividing line between Del Norte and Humboldt counties. The Klamath runs a tortuous course on its way to the ocean, and bears to every point of the compass before it loses itself in the great sea. In the northern portion of Humboldt County the river plunges through box cañons miles in extent, and, emerging, becomes a broad sheet of water apparently currentless and smooth, but there is an undercurrent that renders this place dangerous to the bather. Rapids, whirlpools, and eddies mark its whole course after this brief repose. In no place and at no season of the year is the river practically navigable for vessels of any burden. During the freshet of 1862 its waters rose in one of the cañons to 102 feet above low water mark. A rise from forty to fifty feet is not an uncommon occurrence. The Klamath is well stocked with several varieties of trout, and with salmon in their season. Its length, from the point where it crosses the north boundary line of California, at an elevation of 4,368 feet above ocean level, to its mouth, with contour lines, as given by the United States Coast Survey, is 362 miles, its average grade being twelve feet to the mile. At Happy Camp, 130 miles from this river's outlet, a rain gauge shows the precipitation to be for the past five years an average of about forty-six inches annually.

        It is estimated that there are about 1,000 Chinamen engaged as miners in this county, and the number is rapidly increasing. They may be found principally on the Klamath River and its tributaries, where lie the auriferous placers. Many of these people own the ground they work, more work as " tributers," paying a royalty to the owner of the claim, and a minority work by the day. Several shrewd wage-workers receive but small remuneration; their actual business on the ground is to spy out its value and report the same to their wealthier countrymen who deal largely in mining properties. The output of the claims owned by Chinamen cannot always be ascertained, as often the wily Celestial takes his own bullion to San Francisco and ships it thence to China direct. "John's" gold seldom appears tabulated in Wells-Fargo's statements, or in the annual statistics of the United States Branch Mint. Placing the average earnings of the Chinese at the low figure of $1 per day, it would make their yearly harvest from the gold gravels of this county $365,000; but this amount can, with safety, be quadrupled, as these people own and work some of the richest river claims in Siskiyou.

        Mining Districts: Cottonwood, Yreka, Humbug, Deadwood, Oro Fino, Callahan's Ranch, Scott River, Oak Bar, Seiad Valley, Cottage Grove, Liberty, South Fork of Salmon, and Forks of the Salmon.


Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.