“From Hardship to Gold” reprinted by permission os Jim Part II

The second party of prospectors braving the wild country and tough Indians kept to the west and north sides of the Klamath River. Their travels took them along steep ridges and into scores of forested tributary watersheds of the Klamath River. (It must be understood that the forest was much more open then than now. White people the began suppressing wildfires in the early decades of this century. The Karuk people allowed forest fires to burn, even setting fire to areas that were getting too brushy. This burning allowed new sprouts of grasses and shrubs to grow, made travel better, made hunting easier and made spotting an enemy before he got too close more probable.)

This second party was headed for the Scott River. However, they must have traveled either through Seiad Low Gap into Horse Creek or went up Johnny O’Neil Ridge and down Hamburg Gulch. They missed the mouth of the Scott River. They traveled up the Klamath River as far as the mouth of the Shasta River, in Shasta Indian territory. It is believed that they wintered in the area soon to be called Thompson’s Dry Diggin’s; now known as Yreka. [Later research also told that this group was the combined groups of J. M. C. Jones & Ed Bean group that was joined by the Rufus Johnson group who also came up the Klamath River; and this combined group met up with Oregon Territorial Governor Joe Lane’s group in the Sacramento River canyon and wintered in the Redding area called Blue Tent Creek Camp.] Gold was found there, but the land was dry; a high desert land. In the early spring of the next year, gold was found in the ancient mixed soils of the valley bottom, including in the roots of the bunch grass.

The third party searching for gold in these mountains in 1850 included the man now known to have made the biggest gold discovery in the Klamath Mountain Province, John Scott. It is still uncertain exactly what route they took before finally ending up at Scott’s discovery site of nuggets at Scott Bar. (The largest nugget found in later years, found by Wade & Lindsey, was “…five inches long, three inches wide and weighed 16 pounds!”) It has been reported that his band of miners came inland from the port town of Trinidad in California. In the next several years, we know that supplies were brought to Scott’s Bar by way of Trinidad, Blackburn’s Ferry (Cappell Creek), and the wind-swept summits of the Marble Mountains. Later supplies were brought by pack trail (named the Kelsey Trail after the original trail builder W. R. Kelsey; mule packer) from Crescent City over the mountains of the South Fork of the Smith River, Bear Peak and the northern Marble Mountains to Scott Valley.

In 1851, the prospectors who had wintered near the Forks of Salmon, at Brizille Flat, lived through the winter pretty well. However, in the early months of spring they were surprised to see other eager and gold-hungry miners scurry into the Salmon River country. The new group crossed the Salmon Mountains before winter was really over. Spring snowstorms made life miserable for these hasty prospectors! As they waited for warm weather, they ended up eating all the stores of the miners already there. This was called “Starvation Times” in the Salmon River.

By July of 1851, the group of prospectors that had retreated from Wingate Bar, now being led by Captains McDermitt and Thompkins, (owners of Blackburn’s Ferry), moved from the Salmon River back up the Klamath River. They found very large amounts of gold in the gravel at the mouth of Indian Creek. They had survived the mountainous trails, the river fordings, battles with the Karuk Indians and some survived the “Starvation Times.” Now they had good food, warm weather and lots of gold nuggets! This gold-rich location, and its easy living circumstance, was named “Happy Camp!”

Addendum: at right is one of Jim Waddell’s aerial photos of the little town in the narrow and timbered valley of the Klamath River, c. 1991. The Klamath River is seen at the very bottom, Indian Creek heads into the river from the north at top; Indian Creek road is on the right side of Indian Creek and Buckhorn Road is on the left side of the creek.

Happy Camp aerial photo Northern California
Happy Camp aerial photo Northern California

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