by Steve Knight
Yreka was born when gold was discovered on the flats near a ravine called Black Gulch in March 1851 by Abraham Thompson, a mule train packer traveling along the Siskiyou Trail from southern Oregon. This discovery sparked an extension of the California Gold Rush from California’s Sierra Nevada into Northern California. By April 1851, 2,000 miners had arrived in “Thompson’s Dry Diggings” to test their luck, and by June 1851, a gold rush “boomtown” of tents, shanties, and a few rough cabins had sprung up. Several name changes occurred until the little city was called Yreka, apparently taken from a Shasta Indian word meaning “north mountain,” a reference to nearby Mt. Shasta.
Well-known poet Joaquin Miller described Yreka during 1853-54 as a bustling place with “. . . a tide of people up and down and across other streets, as strong as if a city on the East Coast.” Incorporation proceedings were completed on April 21, 1857.
In November 1941, Yreka was designated as the capital of the proposed State of Jefferson, a semi-humorous secession movement along the Oregon and California border that has gained cultural traction in the following decades.
While Saturday morning activities were spent listening to many fine presentations *, we were soon forced out into the rain to board our chosen bus tour. Patty and my choice was the Geology trip narrated by Dr Bill Hirt, Geology Instructor at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, the trip wound around the Yreka area highlighting the extensive volcanism that shaped the area and how it contributed to the extensive gold deposits that caused the founding of Yreka and the many small mining era towns nearby. The tour illustrated the sometimes extensive placer mining and local history along with the mandatory arm waving and rock stops (I understand this as I am also a Geologist). The last stop was at Scott Valley Drug Store in downtown Etna for their world renown ice cream served by owner/proprietor Don Murphy. This two story brick building from the 1860’s used the lower floor for the Denny, Bar & Parker Co. main corporate store, providing supplies to the miner and community. Denny, Bar had several branch locations throughout the area and was one of the biggest mining and retail suppliers in California. The company vault is still in use today, and yes that is an almost 2 ounce placer nugget That Don is sharing. Several had to be told that it was not a door prize and they had to give it back, darn! The second floor above believe it or not was the Etna High School still in use to the turn of the century. In the basement there are access doors to the street level sidewalk to receive and deliver supplies from wagons on the street that are opened by a water driven hydraulic pump. Other views are of Etna including the Masonic lodge and museum.
Sunday, we had a wonderful brunch hosted by members of the Orsola Silva’s Epsilon Sigma Phi Sorority who also provided the symposium breakfast and the lunches on the buses. The proceeds are returned to the community to benefit children, elders and students.
The Siskiyou County Museum and Historical Society were hosts.
During brunch we were serenaded by the Celtics, all local musicians. We loaned them a copy of the Trail’s End group’s music, and they changed their theme for the symposium soiree. All their efforts on a early Sunday morning was greatly appreciated. After the brunch and introduction by Richard Silva, we continued next door to Yreka’s fabulous Siskiyou County Museum and Historical Society. I was amazed to learn that most of downtown is a maze of placer tunnels including one long one along main street for almost ½ a mile. Occasionally, a house, street or a car will disappear from view, dropping 60 to 100 feet to the tunnels below, although occurring less frequently now. I bet that will keep you awake at night when the house creeks.