Scott Bar – Then and Now

By Eilene Lyon

Scott Bar. Scott River. Scott Valley. Scott Mountains. All these geographic features center on a 60-mile-long river in Siskiyou County, California, that flows into the Klamath River near the California-Oregon state line. Sources agree that the features were named for a prospector who found gold at Scott Bar in 1850.

Previous to that, fur trappers called the valley and river Beaver. Of course, long before miners or trappers came to the area, it was home to the Shasta people. In their language, Scott Bar is Asupak. Scott River is Kowatsaha. Scott Valley is Iruai or It-to-wi.1

Scott Bar around 1857, viewed from north of town to the south. Note how sparse the trees are. (California State Library)

Wells’s history of Siskiyou County only gives the miner’s name as John Scott. Wikipedia and the U.S.G.S. add a middle initial, W. What no one seems to know is who was John Scott? Where did he come from; where did he go? Given such a common name, it is likely to remain a mystery.

Curiously, I found a John W. Scott who escaped from slavery and reportedly arrived in California in 1844 with the Frémont expedition. But he does not appear to have been the leader of the mining party in 1850. Unfortunately, Wells does not name any members of the party besides Scott which could have helped parcel out the right man.

This view gives you an idea of how narrow, steep and rugged the river canyon can be.

On my recent visit to Yreka to do research for my E.D. Pierce biography, I took the time to drive out to Scott Bar. (I drove through Scott Valley and through the Scott Mountains to Trinity River on my last visit, but as it was nearing dark, did not get any photos).

Pierce and his three business partners, Paris S. Pfouts, William S. Good, and James Brown, opened a store at Scott Bar in early 1851, having brought a pack train loaded with supplies from Shasta City in late 1850. This made them some of the earliest settlers at Scott Bar. Later in the year, they relocated to Shasta Butte City, later renamed Yreka.

View from the post office looking northeast where a bridge crosses the Scott River and a side road follows Mill Creek.
A closer view of the mining scars from the previous picture.

In June 1851, Brown found a 15-pound gold nugget. I took this story from Pierce’s memoir, supported by newspaper accounts. Later, I located Pfouts’s version of events, which does not specifically mention the one large nugget.

“In taking a close observation of Scott’s Bar, I had become convinced that rich strata of decomposed quartz ran diagonally across it. I took great pains to convince Brown of this fact. I also pointed out to him an abandoned claim, thought to be worthless, which had been worked to the edge of this quartz, and advised him to go to work upon it….

“After about three weeks’ labor, Brown … reached the decomposed quartz rock, and in less than a half-day took out seven thousand five hundred dollars worth of gold, coin value, and the next day nearly as much more.”2

That’s an impressive haul! At $16 per Troy ounce, Brown pulled out over 900 ounces of gold from the quartz. Today it would be worth close to $1.5 million.

On the east side of the bridge, looking toward the town of Scott Bar.

Scott River originates in the Scott Mountains and meanders north through Scott Valley toward Ft. Jones. Then it enters a narrow canyon served by a paved, two-lane road. It’s a slow drive, but quite scenic. There aren’t many places to pull out for photos.

Though you can continue on a short distance to Hwy 96, I only went as far as Scott Bar and went back south to Ft. Jones. In retrospect, I should have taken the highway!

The only notable commercial operation I passed in the canyon was the Scott River Lodge. This exclusive property serves up high-dollar, Christianity-based couples therapy weeks. If that’s your sort of thing, check them out.

The post office/library.
An incredibly sad headstone in the Scott Bar Cemetery.
An early-day burial in the Scott Bar Cemetery.
Entrance to the Scott Bar Cemetery.

Mining in Scott Bar has never really ended, and you can see the scars on the hills across the river from the little village. There is a post office (also serving as the library) and a very nice cemetery. About 14 miles to the northwest, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Klamath River.

“The locals”

I didn’t run across any of the locals (except the turkeys) while I was there, so I don’t have a feel for what it might be like to live in this remote spot. The area is certainly a great place to “get away from it all.”

There’s no cellphone service in the canyon, which would explain this anachronism in the middle of nowhere.

Feature image: Looking upriver along the road to Scott Bar.

  2. Paris S. Pfouts, Four Firsts for a Modest Hero: The Autobiography of Paris Swazy Pfouts, ed. Harold Axford (Portland, Oregon: The Grand Lodge, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, of Montana, 1968), 67. 

34 thoughts on “Scott Bar – Then and Now

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  1. Your story makes me want to learn about the founders of Scott Paper Co. Across the river from our property in Washington, the timber land is owned by Scott. My uncle worked for Scott in Anacortes and Nova Scotia. Two Scott brothers started the company in the 1870s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your photograph of Scott Bar, River, Valley and Mountains – what a contrast to the vintage photo you showed. Seeing how steep the terrain was, I am imagining how rigorous of a job it was to haul the mining materials and the booty collected around. But they were a determined bunch of prospectors weren’t they? That’s great you got to see the entire area this time. That’s impressive how much the price of the gold rose from then to now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Linda. It is a pretty area. I enjoyed getting a good look at Mt. Shasta as I drove up I-5 to Yreka. McAdams Creek, however, was a sorry sight. Dredging for gold has left a valley full of rock. I’ve seen similar in some other places. The miners were not a benign presence on the landscape! I checked the price of gold before posting: $1558 per ounce! Essentially a hundred times what it was back then.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is too bad that only rock remains, but the scenery was still pretty from what I saw in your photos. That’s amazing for the price of gold today. Yukon Cornelius would have been a very rich man had he strayed to that part of the country!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well I’m also embarrassed to tell you who Yukon Cornelius was … I’m older than you so I really enjoyed the childhood show “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and it was one of my annual traditions to watch it on TV every Christmas. I even have the VCR tape. In that animated show, one of the main characters was a gruff old prospector called Yukon Cornelius. He was enroute to make a fortune and kept taking his pick axe, hitting it against the ground and then examining it to see if it was gold.

        Liked by 1 person

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