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History of Yreka

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In March 1851 Abraham Thompson, a mule train packer, discovered gold near Black Gulch while 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" or "white mountain," a reference to nearby Mt. Shasta. Mark Twain, in his Autobiography (p. 162, Harper/Perennial Literary, 1990), tells a different story:

Harte had arrived in California in the fifties, twenty-three or twenty-four years old, and had wandered up into the surface diggings of the camp at Yreka, a place which had acquired its mysterious name--when in its first days it much needed a name--through an accident. There was a bakeshop with a canvas sign which had not yet been put up but had been painted and stretched to dry in such a way that the word BAKERY, all but the B, showed through and was reversed. A stranger read it wrong end first, YREKA, and supposed that that was the name of the camp. The campers were satisfied with it and adopted it.

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 secession movement along the Oregon and California border that has gained cultural traction in the following 


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