Yreka has Mount Shasta as its backdrop.

How ‘something glistening in the grass’ created the city of Yreka

Many California towns can trace their origins to the discovery of some precious mineral. In Yreka, the moment was captured in a photograph. The daguerreotype above shows the mule-train packer Abraham Thompson, left, and two partners in March 1851, shortly after he spotted something glistening in the grass where his mules were eating just south of the Oregon border.

(Siskiyou County Museum)

Thompson’s gold discovery set off what became known as the “second mother lode” during California’s Gold Rush era. By late summer, 5,000 people had swarmed into the area, creating a boom town with saloons, gambling dens, and restaurants. After a visit in 1853, the poet Joaquin Miller wrote of “a tide of people” that was “as strong as if in New York.” They called the place Yreka, a Native American word for nearby Mount Shasta. As California’s gold fever abated, many other boom towns collapsed. But Yreka grew into a bonafide city. Local historians, pointing to the region’s high granite peaks and lush valleys, will tell you the reason is obvious: it’s too beautiful to leave.

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