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